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 www.underwaterphotography.com — 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.