Tay Xian Yao: Embracing the Art of Photography

Jun 19, 2024 | Friends of Tamron

Meet Tay Xian Yao, a photographer and videographer from Singapore, whose journey into the visual arts began with an amusing yet unforgettable moment during his secondary school days. 

An alumnus of Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Film and Media Studies, Tay not only honed his skills in photography and videography but also embraced the role of Program Manager at the Ngee Ann Photography Club, where he shared his passion with fellow enthusiasts.

Tay recalls his first real interaction with a DSLR: “It felt like entering a tiny cinema,” he says with a smile. 

He remembers panicking at a school event because he couldn’t see anything through the viewfinder, only to realise he had forgotten to remove the lens cap. The laughter from the hall of students is something he still laughs about to this day.

Since those early days in 2013, Tay has grown significantly in his craft, marking each phase of his journey with new challenges and milestones. His first major leap was purchasing his own mirrorless camera, the Canon M10, quickly followed by his first Tamron lens, a 70-300mm, which opened up a new world of wildlife photography for him. 

Now, he mainly uses a Sony A7R2 adapted to a Tamron 18-400mm lens, which offers incredible versatility. He also occasionally uses his Canon 80D and M6 for specific projects.

Exploring Photography Style and Techniques

In the realm of photography, Tay Xian Yao stands out for his adaptive style, quickly moulding his approach to fit the theme or scenario demanded by his clients or projects. Tay explains, 

“If the project requires Bollywood vibes, I’ll suggest vibrant sarees for the portraits to enhance the theme. For street photography, I prefer using a smaller camera with a 50mm lens to remain inconspicuous.”

He usually adjusts his aperture between F/2.8 and F/4 to strike the right balance between sharpness and maintaining some beautiful bokeh. This helps in not fully blurring out the background, allowing the scenery to be appreciated as well.

Tay is particularly fond of experimenting with various photography techniques that add depth and emotion to his images. 

Whether it’s employing leading lines, the rule of thirds, or playing with perspective and symmetry, his technical knowledge profoundly shapes how viewers engage with his photographs.

“Using natural lighting is crucial, especially in wildlife and long-exposure photography. For portraits, I prefer using a diffused ETTL flash or bouncing light off surfaces to achieve softer lighting effects,” he notes. 

Each project Tay undertakes is a blend of meticulous planning and spontaneous adaptation, allowing him to create compelling visuals that resonate with both his clients and a broader audience.

“Whether it’s a long exposure shot with light trails or a portrait with a stunning backdrop, each photograph is a narrative pieced together through my lens, guided by a deep understanding of both the art and science of photography,” Tay concludes.

Tay’s Experience with Tamron Lenses

Tay Xian Yao’s journey with Tamron lenses began in 2018 when he first used the Tamron SP 70-300mm lens, primarily for wildlife photography. The lens’s built-in vibration control system was a game-changer for him, especially at longer focal lengths where camera shake can be problematic.

“The vibration control was what initially drew me to Tamron. It’s crucial for getting clear shots at 300mm without the blur,” Tay shares.

Over the years, Tay has transitioned to using the Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD, this lens has significantly influenced his work, allowing him to capture everything from distant wildlife to intimate portraits without changing lenses.

“I used to struggle with image blur and lack of sharpness with my old lens, especially at longer focal lengths. Upgrading to a Tamron lens with superior vibration control and lens clarity made a world of difference.”

Tay appreciates several key features of Tamron lenses: “What I value most about Tamron lenses are their reliable vibration control, exceptional sharpness, and fast autofocus system. Plus, they are weather-sealed, which is perfect for shooting in various conditions.”

The Creative Process

Tay Xian Yao’s approach to a photography project begins with meticulous planning and preparation, tailored to the genre and specific requirements of each assignment. 

“For long exposure photography, for instance, I start by scouting locations using Google Maps and previous photos to determine the best spots and angles,” he explains.

“I always make sure to pack light but essential gear. This often includes my trusty Tamron 18-400mm lens which covers all the focal lengths I might need, a camera trigger to avoid shakes during long exposures, and of course, my tripod,” he says.

In post-production, Tay’s creative vision comes to life as he fine-tunes each image. 

“Once back, I import the photos into Adobe Photoshop for colour correction and grading, adjusting the images to match the look I envisioned for the project,” he details. 

“In terms of composition, I ensure elements are balanced within the frame, employing techniques like leading lines and the rule of thirds to guide the viewer’s eye,” he shares. 

Lighting and exposure are also critical elements of his workflow. “I generally use natural light for most of my photography but will adjust with reflectors or diffusers to control shadows and highlights effectively.”

This careful balance of technical expertise and creative intuition defines Tay’s photography. “Each project is a new opportunity to explore and express my artistic vision, bringing together all the aspects of my experience—from planning through to the final edits.”

Drawing Inspiration: The Creative Fuel Behind Tay’s Photography

Inspiration plays a pivotal role in Tay Xian Yao’s photography, shaping the way he captures and portrays his subjects. “I find a lot of inspiration through Instagram feeds and by revisiting my past works. It helps me build on my vision and continuously improve my approach to different projects,” Tay explains.

His sources of inspiration are not limited to the digital world. Tay draws significant influence from the cinematic realm, with directors like Wes Anderson and Christopher Nolan shaping his aesthetic sensibilities. 

For Tay, inspiration is also about the exchange of ideas and experiences within the photography community. “Interacting with other photographers, whether through social media or during photo walks, always provides new perspectives and techniques that I try to integrate into my work.”

Translating these inspirations into visual imagery involves a careful blend of creativity and technical skill. Tay emphasises the importance of experimenting with different styles and subjects. 

“I enjoy the challenge of trying new things in my photography. Whether it’s a different genre or a new technique, each project is a chance to learn and grow, inspired by everything I’ve absorbed from films, other photographers, and my own experiences.”

Memorable Moments: Highlights of Tay’s Photographic Journey

Throughout his career, Tay Xian Yao has accumulated a series of memorable experiences that not only shaped his approach to photography but also deepened his appreciation for the art. One such moment stands out vividly—an encounter that brought lessons and inspiration from the wild.

“As a Program Manager for the Ngee Ann Photography Club, I had the incredible opportunity to invite Jayaprakash Bojan, the National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year 2017, to speak to our members,” Tay recalls. 

“His insights into wildlife photography and the stories behind his captures were profoundly enlightening. It was like reliving the thrill of watching a National Geographic chase scene unfold right before my eyes.”

Another significant milestone in Tay’s career was winning his first photography award in 2022. “Receiving second place at the Urban Redevelopment Authority Pinnacle Photography Competition was a breakthrough moment for me. It validated my efforts and boosted my confidence immensely,” he shares.

Tay also cherishes the simpler, more personal moments that photography brings. “One of my most cherished photographs is of three monkeys, which won a stars award from Tamron on Valentine’s Day. It’s special to me because it captures the close-knit bond of a monkey family, a moment of pure, unscripted emotion.”

These experiences underscore the impact of Tay’s work, both on a personal level and within the broader community.

Challenges and Growth: Tay’s Path Through Adversity

Tay Xian Yao’s photography journey, like many creative endeavours, has not been without its challenges. These obstacles have served as crucial learning opportunities that have helped him refine his craft and approach to photography.

“One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is dealing with things not going according to plan,” Tay shares. “Whether it’s bad weather, equipment failures, or unexpected interruptions during shoots, I’ve experienced them all. These setbacks taught me the importance of always having a backup plan.”

“Every failure has been a stepping stone. I’ve learned that setbacks are not just obstacles but opportunities to learn and come back stronger. Now, I approach each project with a proactive mindset, ready to adapt and overcome.”

This proactive approach extends to his ongoing development as a photographer. “I actively seek feedback, not just from clients but also from peers and mentors in the community. This has been invaluable for my growth, helping me see my work from different perspectives and improve continuously.”

In discussing growth, Tay also highlights the importance of community and collaboration in his development. “Engaging with the photography community, both online and through clubs like the Ngee Ann Photography Club, has not only inspired me but also provided a support network that is vital in this industry.”

Sharing Wisdom: Tay’s Advice for Aspiring Photographers

“First and foremost, study great photographs and learn from seasoned photographers,” Tay advises. “Understanding what makes a photograph stand out—be it composition, lighting, or subject matter—can profoundly influence your own work.”

Tay stresses the importance of not being overly reliant on equipment to define one’s skill level. “Never blame your gear for poor outcomes. It’s tempting to think that better equipment will automatically improve your photography, but the truth is, understanding and mastering your current tools is what will truly elevate your work.”

For those looking to expand their knowledge and skills, Tay recommends leveraging modern technology. “Platforms like OpenAI’s ChatGPT can offer a wealth of information and advice that can help clarify doubts and improve your understanding of photography—resources I wish had been available when I started.”

Reflecting on his own beginnings, Tay wishes he had been more proactive in learning and experimenting. “Be bold in experimenting with your camera settings and techniques. The more you try, the quicker you’ll learn and adapt to different photographic situations.”

Lastly, Tay highlights the value of community involvement for personal and professional growth. “Engage with the photography community, both online and offline. Attend workshops, participate in photo walks, and join photography clubs. These activities not only build your skills but also expand your network, which can be crucial for your career development.”

As Tay continues to evolve and adapt in his own photographic journey, he remains a passionate advocate for continuous learning and sharing knowledge within the photography community. His insights encourage a thoughtful, introspective approach to this art form.

Looking Ahead: Future Goals and Aspirations

As Tay Xian Yao reflects on his past experiences and lessons learned, he also looks forward to the future with clear goals and aspirations that guide his continuing journey in photography.

“In the short term, I’m planning to set up photography workshops,” Tay reveals. “I want to give back to the community that has helped me grow by sharing my knowledge and helping others develop their skills.”

Tay’s long-term ambitions extend beyond individual projects to establishing a more prominent personal brand within the photography industry. “My ultimate goal is to be recognised as a reliable and creative photographer, someone clients and peers look up to for guidance and inspiration.”

While Tay is currently content with his arsenal of equipment and techniques, he remains eager to explore new creative territories. “Although I don’t have a specific project in mind right now, I’m always open to new experiences and subjects that challenge my creative boundaries.”

He also sees potential in integrating emerging technologies into his work. 

“I’m curious about how AI can complement traditional photography techniques. I believe there’s a synergy there that could potentially transform how we approach photography.”

“Photography, like any art form, evolves. My aim is to evolve with it, continually adapting and learning new ways to express visual stories through my lens.”

With these goals in mind, Tay Xian Yao is set to continue his journey in photography, pushing the boundaries of his craft while inspiring and educating others along the way. His story is a testament to the power of perseverance, creativity, and the ongoing pursuit of excellence in the world of photography.

Editor’s Words

As we conclude this month’s feature with Tay Xian Yao, it’s clear that his journey encapsulates the spirit of passion and perseverance that “Friends of Tamron” seeks to highlight. Tay’s story, marked by continuous growth and a keen ability to adapt and innovate, makes him an exemplary figure for our June spotlight.

We are thrilled to have shared Tay Xian Yao’s story with you this June. His achievements and outlook on photography not only enrich our community but also serve as a beacon for aspiring photographers everywhere. We look forward to seeing where Tay’s lens will take him next, confident that his future endeavours will continue to inspire and impress.

For those who wish to follow Tay’s ongoing projects or connect with him, visit his Instagram @yaollingatyou or explore his portfolio on his website. Join us in celebrating his artistry and wishing him continued success.

Thank you for joining us in celebrating another remarkable member of the “Friends of Tamron” community. Stay tuned for more inspiring stories as we continue to explore the journeys of talented photographers who choose Tamron as their partner in creativity.