His Story: Adrian Seetho

Tell us more about yourself?

My name is Adrian Seetho, and I’m a 27-year-old photographer based in the sunny island of Singapore. I might not be a psychic, but I know what is running through your mind right now – “Are you Singaporean?” Yes I’m born and bred in Singapore, and so are my parents. “Seetho” is the English spelling for the Chinese compound surname “司徒” and even though it’s pretty rare here in Singapore, it is not uncommon in Hong Kong and China.

I graduated from University of Buffalo, State University of New York with a Bachelor of Arts, Majoring in Communication. My childhood ambition was to be a war photographer, but I guess we are always fearless when we were younger. Sports and wedding photography is definitely a safer alternative.  

Do you have any quirky secrets that you would like to share with our readers?

I used to be really good at hula-hoops when I was much younger. I even won a hula-hoop contest, beating all the girls in my estate. And they gave me a teddy bear as a prize. I guess they really didn’t expect a boy to win it. I’m not sure if I should be proud of that now. But it’s definitely quirky enough. Haha!

What is your personal outlook of life? 

I think life is a series of adventures. Some are big, some are small, some are distressing and some are exhilarating, but all of them are what makes up who you are as a person. I believe with each adventure, you give a little part of yourself away, but you also acquire bits and pieces of the world around you. That’s why when you look back at who you were 10 years ago; it’s completely different than how you are now.

What made you pursue photography?

I’m wedding photographer by profession, but I do shoot for a couple of online fashion stores from time to time. I think about this often, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just what I was born to do. When I was young, I had a bunch of different pastimes, but my absolute favorite thing to do was taking a disposable camera and photographing absolutely everything around me. Eventually, my camera and I became inseparable, and now photography is such a huge part of my life, I doubt I’d be happy doing anything else.

What’s funny is I never saw myself working a desk job. While photography has its desk-bound moments, I just never saw myself sitting at a desk doing something I wasn’t happy or excited about. Photography has been really liberating in that sense.

What do you think makes Singapore unique among the other countries in South-East Asia?

Food. I’m a huge food lover, and I must say we have the absolute best fusion of all the yummiest food in South-East Asia.

People always say that Singapore is so tiny and that there are no natural landscapes only urban developments. Do you agree with this statement?

I hate to admit but natural landscapes in Singapore are a scarcity. But that doesn’t mean there are none. In fact, I see it as a blessing in disguise - photographers in Singapore are forced to work outside their comfort zone, passionately searching and discovering new shooting spots in our beautiful island - areas that might otherwise be forever gone with time.  

Has that pushed the boundaries for you to capture photographs with a different perspective?

It is not circumstances that shape us, but we react to react to these circumstances. Our lack of natural landscape forces us to look for different perspectives – be it making the best out of existing locations, looking for different perspective, or learning to work within the window of the best available light to produce the best images.

What are your top 5 places that you would recommend to people when they come to Singapore for a vacation?

  1. The heartland where all the best food in Singapore can be found. Skip the restaurants, all the best foods are found in the hawker centres!

  2. Tiong Bahru, where most of Singapore’s heritage are preserved. They have some really nice cafes there as well!

  3. Pulau Ubin – we might not have the nicest beach, but I think Pulau Ubin is the closest one get to the wilderness, away from the bustling city!

  4. Chinatown/Little India – A good mixture of culture and people, where one can experience the true beauty of the Singapore culture.

  5. HDB – There is nowhere better than home. Go visit a friend, and spend a good day walking in the park, playing soccer or basketball with the heart landers or spending good quality time in the comfort of one’s home.

What made you love sports so much? 

I have been an athlete my entire life – a gymnast in primary school, basketball player from secondary through army. (I’ve) even tried dragon boat for a year before picking up competitive lifesaving in university. Unfortunately, I never really excel in any of them.

I guess I just love hanging out with friends, and sports offer the best company! It also helps to validate our competitive nature and ignite our hidden passions; adrenaline is undeniably addictive. In essence, sports acts as a medium for one to showcase the wide range of emotions one may unknowingly have.

The sporting world is also populated with people who strive for excellence. Being in their presence – directly, as fellow athletes or indirectly as fans makes motivates us to lift our sights a little higher and encouraging us to loftier standards in our daily lives.

Did that spark your interest in sports photography?

It certainly did! I guess most photographers enjoy photographing something they can relate to. With sports being such a huge part of my life, it certainly sparks my interest to photograph sports, and in someway, contribute back to the community.

Sports photography offers me a rare insight into the life of an athlete – the struggle, sacrifice, tears, joy and jubilance. A part that I really love is the fact that I am shooting people that are living their dream also. In the photos, the athletes’ faces are so expressive. You can see that they love what they are doing, and that excites me. As an athlete myself, I understand how much it means to these athlete and their parents to have their pictures taken during their competition – a intangible reminder to their years of hard work and sacrifices.  I was reaffirmed when these athletes and their parents started thanking me for the pictures, and it really motivates me to keep capturing these precious moments for them.

How and when did you first get into photography? 

It was my dad who first exposed me to photography – chronicling my brother’s and my childhood with a 35mm film camera. Over time, I developed a keen interest in photography, recognizing it as the only way possible to document a moment and keeping it carefully stored for future generations. And I’m a pretty sentimental person, so memories and pictures mean a lot to me.  

How do you define “the usual challenge of capturing that special yet often fleeting moment” in a photograph?

Precious moments that can never be undone or redone. Be it a victory cheer, an intimate moment between two individuals, or even a simple smile.

Do you think that capturing such fleeting moments is mostly by luck?

I believe it’s about getting into the right position, being patient and praying no one gets into your frame. Haha! So yes, luck does play a part!  

What is the beauty in sports that draws you in to capture moments in a picture?

The adrenaline, the passion and overwhelming emotion that comes with each perfect moment: “the fingertip win, a glorious jubilation, an athlete’s love of the game.”

Looking through your website and Instagram feed, we might know the answer but what is your favourite sport to shoot and why so?     

The water is my first love. I was exposed to swimming at a really young age, and competed briefly when I was in primary school. Though I am not a competitive swimmer, I enjoyed being in or near the water. I was reunited with the water when I took up life-saving in university and started doing it competitively. During my first lifesaving competition, as a spectator, I felt a little transient and felt like I needed a purpose, so I picked up a camera and started documenting the competition. Until then, I had never been particularly interested in sports photography – I just fell into it this way.

Do you think it is challenging to shoot the match and race in action?

It definitely is! Everything happens so fast, and you have to always keep your eyes peeled to ensure you don’t miss any crucial moments!

What do you look for when you capture an image?

I have always felt that light is the greatest influence. Even the most boring of subjects—when lit creatively and artistically—can become a work of art. So studying light patterns, intensity and position is what I look out for when I capture an image.

What do you think are some key factors that would aid one to be a better photographer?

I guess one needs to keep shooting to improve and having a good knowledge of the sport does help a lot. It is also important to have the right basics, like getting the right exposure, shutter speed and white balance!  

Have you ever thought of transitioning to other styles of photography?

Wow! That’s a tough question, as I have really never asked myself that question before. Probably wildlife or journalistic photography? Something that offers me the same level of adrenaline!

We understand that you are the photographer for the Singapore Aquatics Team. How did you manage to attain that role?

I started photographing the Singapore Swim Team about 2 years ago during SEA Age Group in 2013. From then on, I started shooting any swimming event I was permitted to shoot, from school based competition to regional competition. With the recommendation of the swimmers and coaches, Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) then gave me access to document the other swimming events leading up the SEA Games, and eventually the SEA Games itself.

Swim Finals_2015-06-011_Photo by Adrian Seetho-15.jpg

What do you love about your photography assignments with the team? 

The Singapore Aquatic Team is the most humble, down-to-earth and passionate group of athletes I have ever worked with. They are also very welcoming and fun to work with, which makes photographing them really easy and enjoyable!

Did you manage to forge memorable friendships during your assignment?

Throughout the trainings and games, I managed to forge a good relationship with all the staff from SSA, as well as athletes from the various aquatic disciplines – swimming, diving, synchronized swimming and water polo. But I became particularly closes to the swimmers namely Russell Ong, Sheng Jun, Clement Lim, Joel Tan, Ting Wen, Coach Gary, Richard and Leonard, who helped me a lot leading up to SEA Games and during SEA Games itself. 

Were you cordially invited to shoot for the 28th SEA Games held in Singapore? Could you tell us about your experience?

Singapore Swimming Association and Singapore National Olympic Council presented me with the opportunity to shoot the event.

Though the 15 days have been really tiring- surviving on minimal hours of sleep, enduring my own stinky sweat and having meals at ungodly hours, I will never trade this experience for anything else. As the saying goes “choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” It was also exciting to be photographing and cheering on the team at the same time. I guess I was so emotionally involved in the Games that I felt as though I was driven by own adrenaline for the entire 15 days. I was completely worn out and lost when the Games ended.

Compared to past assignments, what made the photography assignment of the 28th SEA Games so exhilarating for you?

It’s the first international event I have documented, and the atmosphere was unmatched – intense and electrifying! It was also a great experience to shoot alongside some of our country and regional best photographers. And I guess the home crowd really motivated our local athletes, providing us with more emotional shots.

If you could re-watch one game/race again, what would it be and why?

Without a doubt, the Women's 4x200m Freestyle Relay, consisting of Quah Ting Wen, Christie Chue, Amanda Lim and Rachel Tseng, was the best race I have ever witnessed. It was such an intense and close race between Team Singapore and Team Thailand, only for Quah Ting Wen to pull away at the last 20-25 meters. My heart was pumping and my hands were trembling throughout the entire race. I was screaming and cheering my hearts out when they touched first. That moment was simply unforgettable! 

What sort of equipment and gear do you bring along to shoot during the 28th SEA Games? Were any of your camera gear broken or misplaced by the end of the event?

My usual equipment setup is the Canon 1DX and Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender. Fortunately not! I thought I nearly lost my monopod a couple of times!

Tell us about a star-struck moment you experienced during the games?

There wasn’t any star-struck moment during the games, as I have met most of the athletes even before the Games. But if I really had to pick one, probably seeing Joseph Schooling? Haha!

Tell us about a moment that you wished you captured on camera, but missed the opportunity to.

Joseph Schooling dedicating his win to the victims of the Sebah Earthquake. I wished I could have captured it from a better angle.

What advice would you give to budding sports photographers in Singapore?

To be an individual, and to pursue your dream even if nobody believes in you. The learning curve might be steep, but you can only get better with more experience. It also helps to get yourself exposed to as many events as possible. Do not be afraid to approach any sports organizations if you wish to document a certain sporting event, they are often more than happy to have you around!

What are your future goals and aspirations in terms of sports photography?

I really hope I will be able to shoot a world international event in future! Like the Olympics or the World Cup!

Lastly, what do you have plan for the rest of 2015?

Back to the grind! Capturing more beautiful weddings and hopefully some nice images during the upcoming FINA World’s Junior Championship!