Photographer Liam Wong
Liam Wong is a photographer with a background in the gaming industry. This experience has given Liam an interesting perspective as a photographer and that influence shows quite vividly throughout his portfolio. This interview is part of my Creating Awesome Series which attempts to examine the experiences, events and locations that may have contributed to a persons’ creativity. By exploring underlying motivations and inspirations we hope to learn more about the creative process.
— Hi Liam, thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my invitation for this interview.
After learning about your passion for photography and seeing the incredible work you’ve been doing, I wanted to learn about your interests, experiences and background, and explore how people, places and events may have contributed to your creativity as an artist and photographer.
Early Life Experiences
Where did you grow up?
Please describe a favorite place from your childhood that you can easily visualize and explain how this might have impacted your desire to create?
Edinburgh is known for having a huge castle on a rock right in the middle of the city which I always kind of took for granted but it’s a beautiful sight.
I think the most noticeable connection would be that I grew up 10 minutes walk from Rockstar North – creators of Grand Theft Auto, so I was surrounded by video games and the creativity that comes with it.
What era did you grow up?
What is your earliest memory, anchored to your creativity or craft?
Playing video games as a kid and eventually creating artwork for games at home. I would spend hours creating skins for The Sims.
What inspired you to start your journey into artistic expression?
I think from an early age I was always drawn towards art, mainly because I knew how much I struggled with anything else. As with most artists, I was encouraged by peers/teachers to choose a different path. At some point I just ignored what others around me were saying and so I stuck with it.
Who do you consider your biggest influence?
My family most likely – they have always been supportive of my career choices. My older brothers – they introduced me into art and gaming. My father also had a big interest in photography ever since I was a kid.
Can you pinpoint a moment in your life, that might have contributed to your creativity.
When I was 9 my (bad) drawing made it into the annual school calendar for the month of October. That was pretty neat.
What was your first job and did it influence your creativity in any way?
My first job was as 2D Artist at Crytek – creators of Crysis which was one of my favorite games. I absolutely influenced me and the work I would go on to create. It was my first time being in such a big team and I was able to learn so much from them.
Are there any other jobs you held, that may have influenced your creativity?
I did freelance work a lot growing up, mostly graphic design: logos for companies, websites, artwork for bands or gaming clans.
Interests and Influences
What music do you listen to?
I have a playlist I made for my photography:
What is your favorite movie? Why?
Oldboy – it was one of the first foreign films I watched and I loved the cinematography, the acting and the story itself. The music also happens to accompany it well.
What is your favorite book?
Neuromancer. I don’t read as much as I would like – I usually read books based on recommendations from friends.
Who is your favorite author?
Who is your favorite character, from a book, movie or game? Please explain how you relate to that character and why they are important to you.
Peter Parker & Spider Man. For a long time I would wear a Spider-Man mask instead of showing my face for my photography. I liked that separation between my work and my art rather than being a personality as such and so I have a custom Spider Man mask that I travel with sometimes.
Who is your favorite artist? What artist(s) influenced you most and why?
Syd Mead – his work throughout his career is exceptional. I love how his skill in graphic design comes through in every piece. His work inspired mine a lot, particularly with my photography and I was able to connect with him through that.
What do you fear most?
Why is that your greatest fear?
I used to seriously struggle to present ideas in front of people. Over the past 5 or so years I have been doing it as often as I can to get over that fear. As much as I have done it, it’s still a thing I am working on and hope to improve.
World Building – The Creative Process of Photographer Liam Wong
Where do you get your ideas for your photo sets?
From watching movies or playing video games – I have quite a good visual memory and so I try to consume ideas from many places so that I keep a visual bank of imagery in my head. I also study the work of classic photographers and try to set myself mini challenges now and then.
What is your mindset when starting a project?
Make sure it will be fun and feasible – something that will keep me on track and that I will still be passionate about days/weeks/months/years down the line.
It seems from your work that you have a strong interest in science fiction. What draws you to these types of stories?
The visuals and technology mostly.
Are there any other genres you would like to work in?
I would like to explore darker themes through my work.
Many artists and writers integrate pieces of their own life into their work, relying on personal experiences and connections to establish a sense of reality in their conceptual vision. How do you feel about this practice?
I find it interesting that a lot of people say that my work reminds them of video games given it was my career for many years.
How much real life do you put into your artwork?
I like to capture real moments and turn them into the surreal. In some images it is very much real life through my own filter, in others they are quite abstract but still contain real imagery beneath.
Based on the photography I’ve seen, it’s quite apparent that you have an extremely vivid imagination with an eye for futuristic imagery, which you capture quite eloquently. Do you consider yourself a futurist?
I think a lot of it just comes from my love for film and games.
Do you have any plans for your next project?
I have been freelancing for a while now and am working on my first venture into film, future photography projects and also an indie game.
Most of your photography is shot outdoors at night, with no tripod, yet your images have almost no visible grain, and very little blurring, other than what seems to be intentional motion blur. If you don’t mind, please talk a little bit about your camera settings and shooting style that allows you to achieve such stunning results.
Do you have a default setting that you rely on?
I mostly shoot manual and will tweak settings based on what I picture in my head. I am a very visual person and so I typically have a clear idea of how I want the image to look – if it doesn’t match, I fiddle with the settings until it works.
Do you use Manual or Auto Focus?
A mix although I find myself shooting Manual these days – but I would shoot in Auto Focus for a long time as I was starting – the settings on a camera are quite overwhelming.
What White Balance do you use for your night shots?
All the way to blue.
What ISO do you typically use?
I like to keep my ISO as low as I can – if I want grain I add it in post.
What aperture and shutter speed gives you the best results?
I’m not much of a technical shooter, it really depends on what I’m taking pictures of, so I wouldn’t say there’s one single approach.
Do you find that the equipment you use has a big impact on the quality of your photography?
It depends what you are trying to capture. I shoot mostly street photography and I take a lot of pictures on my phone. With my phone and street photography it is a lot easier and subtler than using a larger camera on the streets.
I will say having multiple lenses allows for a little more creative control and enables me to inject different feelings into the pictures. For my first two years of photography I only had a kit lens, when I finally upgraded it I definitely noticed the difference in quality.
Professional vs Personal Projects
Being that your day job was an art director in the gaming industry, how do you transition from your daily routine as art director, to creating such beautiful photography?
I found separating the two to be what worked best. As I got into photography I would find time on lunch breaks, after work and on business trips or vacations to learn and grow my knowledge of photography. Being able to segregate the two in terms of time helped massively.
What helps you make that transition?
Style as a topic is very much the focus in both parts of my work as a photographer and as a game art director and so my learnings and the things I wish to improve upon are focused around that so it helps to have that structure.
Does your personal work influence your professional work and vice versa?
Absolutely. Whilst working in video games I learned a lot about things such as style and marketing. Photography really took me out of my comfort zone and helped build my confidence, particularly when working with people and directing photo shoots. At some point the two overlapped and it was where I began to grow as an artist/individual.
Which part of the creative process do you enjoy most? And why?
I find a lot of enjoyment in the early conception stage – with any project I always create a style guide – doing research and experimenting, coming up with ideas, foreseeing what it could be. Once I figure that part out – I find maintaining consistency fairly straightforward as I have a clear idea of the project and it acts as a guiding light.
What motivates you to continue creating art day after day, and what do you consider the greatest reward for your efforts?
When you take a picture, you’re mostly capturing a moment but with social media I never realized that it could have a much longer lifespan beyond that. One thing which motivates me a lot is when people reach out, or they create works inspired by pictures I took – I find that one of the most rewarding things and so I end up sharing those on my networks.
What is your dream job?
Being my own boss. I like the creative freedom and being on my own clock, it means I am able to travel freely and find ways to give back through things like events and public speaking in between.
What advice would you give new artists who want to make a career in game design or photography?
Work on your craft as often as you can. Surround yourself with talent. Put yourself and your work out there.
Connecting With Photographer Liam Wong
Please talk about your methods of building your audience. Have those strategies evolved over time, or do you have a formula that’s worked since the beginning?
In my experience I just post when I feel like it and share things that I like. As your audience grows it’s important to use that platform to showcase the work of others and help them grow too.
How do you feel about social media?
It is a great way to connect with people and find inspiration but I also think it’s healthy to unplug from it now and then.
Have you had any experiences with other platforms, websites, publications etc, and have any helped your career in any way?
Through connecting with people across different platforms I have been able to have some really cool opportunities which I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
I think it’s fantastic that you actively engage with your audience. When did you start this practice, and How has it helped you?
I think if someone takes the time out of their day to leave a comment on my work then I will try to find the time to reply. I have done it ever since I got my first job and often actively reply to career type emails through LinkedIn. I also used to run an art share on Twitter a couple of years back. As my audience has grown, it has been a little difficult keeping up but I try my best to respond.
I find it really cool when people emailed me some years back and they get in touch again to tell me they finally got into the industry. A lot of people helped me with career stuff on the way into the industry so I feel it’s another thing that helps make a positive impact as an artist/creative.
Have you collaborated with other photographers, or would you consider collaborating with others on future projects? If so, what are you looking for in a collaborative Partner?
Yes! One of my favorite things is going to a new city and asking if anyone wants to shoot. I have many memories in places like Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York and London where I just met with random people that followed me, they would show me the best spots in their cities and we would hang out over dinner and drinks.
I have taken assistants in the past, I mostly look for people who are passionate over anything else.
How can people find out more about you, and if they’re interested how can they connect with you?