Photographer Spotlight: Tim Ho of Malaysia | Sport Diver

Photographer Spotlight: Tim Ho of Malaysia

Pygmy Seahorse shot with handheld torch

This was shot in Bunaken in bright light conditions. Stacked close-up lenses while fully zoomed with handheld torch in my left hand crossing under my right hand to cast light from the right. Lighting is slightly angled upwards from the right. **SPECS: **Canon Powershot S95 + Ikelite Housing + Staked Close-up lenses + handheld torch. Shot on “M” mode: 1/200, F4.9, ISO100

Tim Ho

Sunset behind the nudi

I started off shooting this nudi branch during one of my sunset dives at the Salang Jetty and at first started off shooting it with my built in flash. It was approximately 5 inches off the sea bed stuck onto one of the jetty pillars. As I moved my camera around shooting it, I ended up with my face almost touching the ground looking at the nudi thru my camera display. This is when I noticed that if I positioned my camera just a little bit lower, I could actually see the sunset and it would be possible to place the sunset right behind the nudi branch. I turned off my flash and switched to natural light to get this shot. SPECS: Canon Powershot S95 + Ikelite Housing + Stacked close-up lenses Shot on “P” mode: 1/60, F2, ISO320

Tim Ho

Layang Layang on Natural Light

Tim Ho


Tim Ho

Glass Fish on Natural Light

Find a very dense population of glass fish, attach 1 close-up lense and shoot with a normal AF frame set for the centre and on macro mode. This was shot in the Similan Islands on my Canon Powershot s95 + ikelite housing + IDAS close up lens Shot on “P” mode: 1/60, F3.2, ISO125

Tim Ho


SPECS: Shot on Canon Powershot S95 + Ikelite Housing + stacked close-up lenses & handheld torch only. Shot on “M” mode & full zoom: 1/50, F4.9, ISO100

Tim Ho

Durban Dancing Shrimp at Richelieu Rock

These are rather common shrimps in Thailand and easily found in almost every crack in the wall at Richelieu Rock. There were heaploads of them in the background but all blacked-out by my camera settings in this shot. Lighting conditions in cracks and holes are always dark and shooting on a shutter speed of 1/60 in a dark hole already will yield a black photo. So the sharp beam torch comes into play and lights-up only the 1 point i want light at. SPECS: Canon Powershot S100 + Ikelite Housing + stacked close-up lenses + Handheld torch This was shot in “M” mode: 1/60, F4, ISO80

Tim Ho

Banded Boxer Shrimp Close-up

This was shot in Hin Daeng in Thailand using my wide beam I-torch & stacked IDAS +8 lenses. Canon Powershot S95 + Ikelite Housing + Stacked close-up lenses + wide beam torch. Shot on “M” mode, full zoom with small AF frame on the eye. When shooting on stacked close-up lenses on full zoom, your eyes are now your most important focussing tool. As the camera is already fully extended, it is not able to independently focus itself for you. your hands now become your focussing mechanism and your eyes your gauge of when to click. 1/30 - F4.9 - ISO80

Tim Ho

Porcelain Crab experimental at Koh Bon, Thailand

Here’s another experimental shot using my sharp beam torch.I have yet to purchase and learn how to use Photoshop, so any shots you see to-date are manly experimental shots playing with light positioning and not post editing for black bakgrounds. In this shot I am shooting the crab from its side and my torch light is in my left hand shining from top-down at an angle that allows just a bit of the beam to touch on the side of the crab to give it this effect. SPECS: Cannon Powershot S95 + Ikelite Housing + stacked IDAS close-up lenses + handheld torch.Shot on “M” mode: 1/80, F3.2, ISO80

Tim Ho

Bubble Coral Shrimp

SPECS: Canon Powershot S95 + Ikelite Housing + Stacked IDAS, close-up lenses + Hanhdeld torch, Shot in “M” mode:1/80, F4.5, ISO80

Tim Ho

Another Experimental Shot in Anilao

I found this nudibranch on top of a small rock while using a stacked close-up lens combination (+8 x2). When shooting with my handheld torch technique, I normally start off with setting my shutter speed and aperture until I am satisfied with the light cast over the subject. Once this setting is right, I hold my camera in position and my left hand holding the torch starts to move around shifting light into different positions. Normally if I see something I like, my right hand clicks and the torch continues moving ... clicking each time I see a light-cast that I like. I use inexpensive torches, but always carry two with me. I have one broad beam and one narrow beam, but this day, my choice was one torch (broad) and Illumenox 1W (Sharp). SPECS: Canon Powershot S95, Ikelite Housing, 2x IDAS close-up lenses, handheld Illumenox 1W. f/2.8, 1/160 sec, ISO 80.

Tim Ho

Always Experimental in Anilao

So many critters and so much time to spend shooting them if diving offshore. My favorite dive site in Anilao is Secret Bay, not only because of the density of critters here but more so because of the ease of diving from shore. This shot was taken in 2012 with a very common hermit crab. I brought a mirror along with me on a sunset dive to see what effects I could get if trying to capture subject plus reflection. Many such shots have been attempted with nudibranchs mirroring the bottom, but I was hoping to get a subject looking at itself in the mirror. In this shot, my sharp-beam torch is directly above the hermit (held with my left hand), while my camera is behind the hermit and facing the mirror (stuck in the sand in an upright position). Because I used a single close-up lens, the reflection in the mirror is slightly blurred as I focussed on the eyes closer to my camera. SPECS: Canon Powershot S95, Ikelite Housing, close-up lens, handheld torch, pocket mirror. Shot on “M” mode: f/4, 1/50 sec, ISO 80.

Tim Ho

The Catedral, Koh Ha, Thailand

Three cave chambers - the smallest of the three is a dead end; the medium and large caves are connected on top by a huge air pocket. The shallowest part of the cave entrance is at approximately 10 metres, while the bottom is approximately 16 metres. That's a 6-metre cave entrance with heaps of light entering the chamber. If you choose to pop your head out of the water inside the cave, you will find that the ceiling of the cave (in the air pocket) is about 4 metres from the water’s surface. Little holes in the wall let in shards of light from outside the cave. This shot is taken from inside the largest of the three caves. My back was against the inner wall shooting out towards the monstrous opening. On the right side, you can see the top of the next cave’s entrance, but the opening that connects the two caves starts at 10 metres all the way up to the ceiling of the air pocket. For this shot, I set white balance outside the cave before swimming in, as the focus of the shot is based on what’s outside the cave and not what’s inside. SPECS: Canon Powershot S95, Ikelite Housing, IDAS UWL04. Shot on “P” mode, f/3.2, 1/30 sec, ISO 80.

Tim Ho

Smiling Leopard Shark

Diving the Andaman waters off Thailand’s west coast, divers usually come by with a “to see list” that varies. But to those who have done their homework, the three most common marine life found on a diver’s want-to-see lists are whale sharks, mantas, and the friendly leopard shark. Having dived the north-most to the south-most points over the past three years, my personal opinion is that the chances of leopard sharks are highest around the Phi Phi island areas. Dive sites like Bida Nok and Hin Bida are sites that almost guarantee these friendly, smiley-faced sharks if you are early enough and the dive boats before you haven't scared them away from their resting places (normally as shallow as 12 metros). This shot was taken at Bida Nok. SPECS: Canon Powershot S95, Ikelite housing on natural light and no additional lenses used. Shot on “P” mode, f/2.8, 1/60 sec, ISO 80.

Tim Ho

Underwater Homes by Carlsberg

One of my favorite shooting playgrounds in Malaysia is under the Salang Jetty in Tioman Island, Malaysia. As I was swimming along one day, I saw this tiny damselfish rush into its bottle home as I was approaching. I stopped at approximately 16 metros and moved my camera into place using only one close-up lens (i normally use two stacked). My close-up lens already touching the mouth of this bottle, I stayed there shooting and adjusting till I managed to get one of the fish clear and right in the centre of the bottle. This photo isn’t cropped. SPECS: Canon Powershot S95, Ikelite Housing, close-up lens. Shot on “P” mode with natural light only, f/3.5, 1/6 sec, ISO 200.

Tim Ho

USAT Liberty - Tulamben - Bali

SPECS: Canon Powershot S95, Ikelite Housing, IDAS UWL04 lens. Shot on “P” mode, f/3.5, 1/60 sec, ISO 100.

Tim Ho

Coral Garden, Tulamben, Bali

SPECS: Canon Powershot S95, Ikelite Housing, IDAS UWL04 lens. Shot on “P” mode, f/3.5, 1/60 sec, ISO 100.

Tim Ho

Tulamben, Bali

This photo and the next two are part of a series of natural-light shots taken at and around the Liberty Wreck. The beauty of natural-light photography in a wide-angle shot is that it captures “what your eye actually sees”. It’s a totally different game from a strobe-shot in wide-angle, where the “strobist” needs to find a subject in the foreground to light up. What he lights up will be bright and colorful, but in most cases, the background becomes darker and a very enhanced shade of blue, which is nothing like what we actually experience while diving. SPECS: Canon Powershot S95, Ikelite Housing, IDAS UWL04 lens. Shot on “P” mode, f/3.5, 1/60 sec, ISO 100.

Tim Ho

Smiling Parrotfish

This shot was taken in Thailand on a night dive. The idea upon finding the parrotfish was not to get this result, but as I tried to avoid shining my light into its eyes, the display on my camera showed me a smiling fish. So I moved into position for this shot. SPECS: Canon Powershot S95, Ikelite Housing, IDAS close-up lens, handheld LED sharp beam torch. Shot on “M” mode, f/2.8, 1/30th sec, ISO 80.

Tim Ho

Self-taught, Tim Ho produces notable imagery without the aid of Photoshop and Lightroom editing, nor the use of strobes. He spent most of his diving years teaching in Malaysia. As an instructor, Ho has been based in the Perhentian Islands, Tioman, and Mabul, but recently, has branched out of teaching to focus more on photography and videography. He has spent the last three years diving and living in various parts of Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. He shoots customer photos and video on the live-aboard Peterpan Cruise Thailand.

Sport Diver Asia Pacific: Where did you first start diving?

Tim Ho: I started diving in 2003 after being practically forced into doing the open water course by a close friend (who was an instructor). He was very persistent and I eventually agreed to do the course just to get him off my back. Little did I know this would be the spark that would ignite my scuba diving life. I was still living and working in Kuala Lumpur at this time, so my diving began in a pool and ended in Dayang Island, southeast of peninsular Malaysia.

SDAP: What camera did you first use and what camera system do you use now?

TH: My very first experience with photography was in 2007 while I was on the Perhentian Islands. I had a soft plastic bag-like case that I would place my Sony Ericsson camera-phone into and go diving. It thrilled me as I would play mp3s on the phone while taking photos of divers underwater. I started with 3- to 5-metre dives and eventually brought it down to 18 metres. Beyond 18 metres, the plastic would compress the buttons, making it impossible to operate anymore.

After the dives, mobile phone photography also made it easy for me to bluetooth photos to those diving with me. This worked very well for me and I continued using my mobile phone until 2009, when I purchased my first compact camera — the Canon IXUS80is.

Over the years I moved from my Canon IXUS80is to the Canon G10, then to a Canon S95, Canon S 100 and back again to the S95. I have been shooting with both Canon and Ikelite housings only. I also own an IDAS +8 close-up lenses and the IDAS UWL04 (wide angle).

I also do not carry any strobes with me, so if any light is needed, I usually manage with any LED light I can get my hands on. My lights are not mounted onto any trays or arms. Normally, I’m either shooting using natural light or handheld torchlight.

SDAP: That’s an interesting choice in gear. What type of photography do you prefer?

TH: I actually am a fan of both. I like shooting both, but it depends on the sun’s intensity and water clarity of the day. I find thrills in shooting both, but if the sun’s not burning up above head, I usually opt for macro.

The kind of photography I would describe as the kind I love is creative and experimental photography. I like to take the time to look at a subject already shot by millions of others and try (to the best of my knowledge) to do something different. A new outcome … a shot that people would look at and say, “Wow, now that’s different”.

I do conduct workshops in compact camera photography, and what i normally try to drill into the minds of attendees is, “don’t show me a clear shot — show me something new”.

So, to answer the question above — creative photography because sometimes even blur can be worth looking at in a gallery.

SDAP: What is your most memorable moment underwater?

TH: It was a recent experience in Anilao, Philippines, at the end of 2012. I was diving with two friends at Secret Bay where macro is the only kind of shooting that is done.

I found a whip coral with a tiny shrimp on it and decided to settle myself there at approximately 12 metres. My two friends decided not to hang around and swam off to look for their own critters.

I must have been there shooting this shrimp for a good 20 minutes with stacked close-up lenses, a torch, and my camera set to shoot black backgrounds.

After a while, I decided to change position to shoot upward towards the surface, to attempt to place the sun behind the shrimp. Just as I turned my camera upwards, I saw a huge dark shadow in my camera's display. I moved the camera and just above my head a huge 4-metre whale shark passed by.

Shock and excitement! I jumped up and started banging my tank while trying to keep up with the passing whale shark — I had one hand fumbling while trying to remove my stacked close-up lenses.

Still banging my tank while swimming, I got the lenses off and pointed my camera to shoot, then I realised I was set in “manual” for black backgrounds. Now, I was swimming, fumbling with settings, and still banging my tank to get my friends’ attention. I finally managed to get back into natural light mode. I pointed at the whale shark and realized it was in full zoom.

Arghhhhhh … swimming, fumbling with my camera, and still trying to bang my tank, I finally was ready to shoot. Panting, I only managed to get one shot before it disappeared from my sight.

The first thing that popped into my head at this point was did my friends hear me? Did they come and see this too, or would I be the only witness to this? I turned around and saw my two buddies wide-eyed, hovering mid-water behind me in disbelief. Thank god I had witnesses.

SDAP: That’s a great story! Have you received any awards for your work?

TH: I’ve always found it hard to find competitions to join and even harder to sit down and submit a photo. So most of my uploads in 2009 and 2010 were to — which was more to test the response and get tips and pointers than to participate in a competition.

I did however manage to get placed in the 2010 annual winners list — I was one of seven medal winners out of almost 11,000 entries from across the globe. This to me became the boost to continue shooting and experimenting with my Canon G10 — no strobes, no flash and no Photoshop.

A good friend nominated me for a place in Edition Fifty Fathom’s 50 Macro Portfolio’s list. After the submission, I managed to make the cut amongst some excellent photographers whose works I had respected and admired over my few years of shooting.

SDAP: What are you proudest of?

TH: I am proud not of achievements or awards, but proud to have managed to find what I am passionate about and to make a humble living from it … proud to have the knowledge to share what I have learnt with people who want to learn … proud to have become friends with some super photographers from around the world whose works I have admired and respected as a beginner.

SDAP: Who do you admire?

TH: There are too many artists to name, but the ones to be admired most are the photographers who survive on photography 100 percent. It’s not an easy lifestyle to live and there are many days where it is uncertain from where and when the next paycheck will come. Struggling with travelling and diving expenses, heavy cost of the tools, the difficulty of marketing one’s work, and having to handle the customer who passes you his usb drive and says, “Here’s my usb drive, may I have that wonderful shot"?

SDAP: Given that it can be a tough profession, what advice do you have for beginning photographers?

TH: Look at the equipment you already have — have you fully explored what your camera is capable of before moving to the next camera? I meet a lot of people who say, “I can’t get any nice shots because my camera stinks.” Then they come dive with me and I find that they have better equipment than me.

Sign up for workshops or photography courses. Ask questions, and learn from people you know who have been shooting for longer than you. Learn the fundamentals of the camera and how it works. Apply the principles to whichever camera you own and experiment. Remember, pressing the wrong button will not make your camera explode. Try your test shots on land. Place a peanut on your dining table and shoot it while trying different combinations of settings. Do not jump into the water and try to figure out the settings while the dive guide is asking you to move on.

SDAP: Where are you going next?

TH: I will be in Thailand until May 2013 and then will move home to Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia, travelling between May and November 2013.


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