We chatted with Sydney-based photographer Geoffrey Chuah – who produced the beautiful photography for our first ever magazine shoot (with Beeb Designs) – about his style, advice for emerging artists, and the story of TWO disaster shoots he worked on.
When/how did you realise you had a passion for fashion and photography?
I first realised very early on when I first started taking photos that I wanted to shoot fashion. My first experience shooting a model was when we went on a field trip for one of the photography classes I was taking. We were on location and the instructor had a model with him that we all took turns shooting.
At the time, I had no idea what I was doing. All I did was apply the techniques he taught me and when I got the prints back they looked really good. I think that was when I wanted to shoot fashion.
How would you describe your style of photography?
My style has changed overtime from dark, moody and gritty to soft and super clean to now with what I would call cinematic with a touch of romance to it.
Would you say your personality suits your style of photography, or is it a complete rebellion of who you are?
My photography style is nowhere near the person I am. If you look at some of the playlists on my phone you would be pretty shocked to see what I listen to. Or the movies I like to watch.
Can you run through the process of a standard photoshoot? And have you ever had a disaster shoot?
Once I have been confirmed to shoot for a client, I usually like to set up a pre-production meeting so we can chat about the concept and ideas for the shoot. If it is a location shoot, I try to source the location myself, otherwise the client does that as they are the ones who have the initial vision for the shoot. As the photographer, I am the one who brings their ideas to life. If it is a lookbook shoot, that is easy – most of the time it is in the studio with a white backdrop. So, the only thing that can go wrong is if the lights break down or the back drop falls over!
As for a disaster story, one that comes to mind is when I was shooting a personal project called “Surface to Soul'''. It was a swimwear book showcasing 10 Australian swimwear brands. I was working with a writer who had sourced a model for me and we both thought she would be good to shoot for the book. My assistant, stylist and makeup artist got ready at my house and then drove down to Tamarama beach.
We gave the first one-piece to the model and she took forever to come back to the set to start shooting – I think it would have taken her around 10-15 minutes to put it on. When she did eventually come back, she said she’d spoken to her agent and told her that the shoot wasn’t what she thought it was and didn’t want to continue with the job. So, as you could imagine I wasn’t happy with what had gone down. I messaged the writer I was working with and she called her agent and it turned into a very messy conversation. I think the model was expecting something like a Victoria’s Secret set. This was a self-financed project so it wasn’t like I could have five assistants running around for me.
Another disaster I can recall was a shoot for my online magazine LaMode. The location was down South in Bundeena. We were driving to the location and the road that we were driving on at that moment was pretty busy. I needed to change lanes, so as I glanced up in my rear view mirror to check the traffic and I saw that a police car was following us. The lights and siren went on and pulled us over. I was thinking to myself “what the hell have I done?” which was basically what I said to the police officer when he asked for my driver’s licence. He also asked for the model’s ID. I am pretty sure that he was thinking I kidnapped the model and was driving away with her somewhere! After I told him I was a photographer and the model was an agency model and we were driving to our location, he realised we were legit. I can tell you my anxiety levels went through the roof.
On a side note, I could actually make a short movie on all the things that have happened to me on shoots.
Who are some clients you’ve worked with? And other magazines/brands you’ve worked with?
To name a few, I've worked with Culture, Estatica, Stab, and Lucire for editorial, and for commercial I've collaborated with Nookie, Maurie and Eve, Goldfish Swimwear and Karen Gee.
What are your do’s and don’ts (for advice) for people who want to start getting into photography space as a hobby or career?
Keep it simple. Don’t over complicate and keep in mind that photography is all about light and that the camera you are using is a light, tight box with a hole in it. And everything else on that camera is there to help you take that photo (e.g. aperture, shutter speed and ISO speed rating). As for the post-production side of things, learn the six colours in the colour spectrum. You need to learn that when you are adjusting the colours and contrast.
What/who inspires you?
I have been a long-time fan of gaining inspo from movies – specifically the cinematography. I love the beach and the countryside – I can’t get enough of either of those. As for who, the two photographers I admire are David LaChapelle and Peter Lindbergh. Both have had a huge influence on me as a photographer.
Who is your dream model/celebrity/icon to photograph?
Johnny Depp and Christy Turlington.
Can you share with us three of your favourite photographs (by you)?
Image 1: This is the cover of my 5th anniversary issue of LaMode magazine. Believe it or not, my makeup artist is behind that umbrella holding it from blowing away. No photoshop was needed to take her out of the picture as she wasn’t seen!
Image 2: I took this with my first digital SLR which was a Canon 5D. I love the muted colours of this photograph as it reminds me of a painting – not a photo. Location: Surry Hills.
Image 3: This was shot in The Beauty Bar in New York on film with my trusty Pentax 67. It was published in an Australian fashion and hair magazine called Culture.