Ronald found me, and when I headed over to his website I saw some amazing images. It’s not everyday you come across a photographers portfolio that is filled with male models. Once you’ve read his interview check out his work and add him on Twitter. He’ll be more then happy to chat with you.
Tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Ronald Nyein Zaw Tan and I am Burmese, self-taught photographer specializing in mens fashion, beauty, portraiture, and pets. I have been a professional photographer since May 19, 2007 (the day I relocated to Los Angeles) and I am currently living in the San Francisco bay area, on a brief hiatus from photography, concentrating on composing the next chapter of my life while working on my personal projects: DEFIANCE, MR. BOLLYWOOD, and PET PORTRAITURE.
I was born into a family of physicians and surgeons and it was considered tradition to continue the academic excellence and officiating in Medicine. I was conditioned throughout my life to lead a scientific and scholarly life; however, I recall my interests in sketching and doodling when I was young. Art as a viable career was discouraged in my family. My parents enjoy acquiring expensive Burmese paintings, but when their eldest son chose to live the life of an artist (photographer), all hell broke loose and caused a great friction between my father and I.
What made you get into photography?
I think photography chose me and it can be considered serendipity. I was familiar with photography and was familiar with world-renowned, eminent photographers, e.g. Mr. Ansel Adams, Ms. Annie Leibovitz, etc. It never occurred to me then that I would be on a similar path. While I was studying to be a pharmacist, I majored in APPLIED PHYSICS and PRE-PHARMACY at UC DAVIS. When presented with electives for my physics major—OPTICS or ELECTRONICS—I chose OPTICS. I remember my optics professor showing photographs (practical examples of lenses and optics). A few lectures later, I was enamored with the “art” behind optics. When summer arrived, I saved up and bought a used Canon PowerShot S30 point-and-shoot camera with manual controls and started playing around in the backyard, photographing bees, insects, my dog Zaw Zi, and my university friends.
I later found an analog 35mm CANON EOS ELANIIE SLR (from 1995?) collecting dust in the attic with its old kit lens. I decided to take it out and use the analog 35mm SLR to teach myself photography. I bought Provia, Velvia, and Astia Fujichromes and purchased the EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM as my main portrait and macro lens. I used the old Nikon film scanner from UC Davis’ Media Lab to scan my chromes. These events and experiences occurred circa 2006. At the end of 2006, I met Mr. SEAN ARMENTA ModelMayhem.com and he wrote me [paraphrased]: “Your passion will make you to seek out information on your own.” Partially, Sean provided a catalytic enzyme to commence my reaction, perfect for transitioning into the next question.
How did you get started?
Sean and I further exchanged emails and when February 2007 arrived in time for my 26th birthday, I made a decision further increasing the friction coefficient between my father and I: I was going to move to Los Angeles and have my jumpstart my photography career. I stayed with a family friend whom I affectionally address as “Uncle Thet Aung & Aunty Ohnmar Aung” in El Monte, CA. All the images you see on my website are photographed either in their backyard, hallway, or my room.
My location publication work took me to El Mirage Dry Lake, Palm Springs, and two of my favorite beaches in Malibu—El Matador and Leo Carrillo state beaches. I met with nearly all the agents of MENS fashion agencies in Los Angeles and several agencies in San Francisco, Miami, and NYC are familiar with me and my photography. Within two years, May 2007—2009, I established my publication credibility and collected several editorial tear sheets (COVERS, multi-page spreads, and feature articles on me) in Australia, France, UK, Germany, Canada, Spain, and the US.
What sort of photography do you mainly do?
MENS fashion, beauty, portraiture, and pets. Pet Portraiture is new, created in August 2010 in memory of my Zaw Zi—he passed away August 13, 2010.
What gear are you using?
I started out with a used Canon PowerShot S30 P&S and later found an analog Canon Elan IIE with its old kit lens and bought EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM (2006). Before I made the move to LA, I bought a Canon 30D body and continue using the old kit lens from the Elan IIe (2007). Even to this day, I still kept and use the old kit lens, but I upgraded my 30D into a 7D and have a Nikon D40X as an auxiliary body with its kit lens: 18-55mm.
As for lights, Sean recommended I look into Speedotron Blackline. When I moved to LA in 2007, I bought the location battery Speedotron Blackline Explorer 1500 with (2) 202VF strobe heads with: 22” beauty dish, 30-degree grid, 3’ x 4’ soft box, 7” reflector, and 11” reflector. I use PhaseONE CaptureONE PRO as my RAW software converter and upgraded my Photoshop to CS5.
What’s your favourite lens and why?
Since I only have two lenses—28-80mm kit lens and my 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM—my macro lens is my favorite, if I had to pick between these two.
How are you marketing yourself?
I have made and data-mined my own target clients, I am using MailChimp as the email blasting tool to send out monthly emails to my list I’ve compiled.
What’s your favourite photo you have taken?
Advice for new photographers looking to go pro?
My advice to anyone thinking of trying to be a professional photographer is, “What are you waiting for? Come on board! I know it is getting tight in the spaces, but we can always fit people.” Having said that, I also HIGHLY recommend you familiarize yourself with the technically knowledge of photography so that you can consistently deliver the images your clients expect. That is the nature of a “professional.”
I DON’T recommend you go to photography school, there is NO guarantee that you will be rich and famous with work lining up after graduation. I receive several emails with perfect CVs and resumes from photography school graduates wanting to intern or assist under me. Invest in business and marketing courses. You can learn about the art on YouTube, RetouchPro.com, many online sources. You can buy the Alien Bees as an entry level lighting kit to experiment and learn from trial-and-error. STROBIST is a fantastic resource page. It is amazing what is possible with hand-held flash models when innovative, resourceful, and smart. I take my hats off to Strobist.
Remember the old saying, “You will never have to work again if you find something you love.” Find that love. Money will come later. Know that your actions and decisions will come with consequences. I made my decision with the expense of friction between my dad and I.
NEVER consider a fellow photographer as your enemy, even though you may be competing for the same market: the world already has an abundance of “Us Vs. Them” and the artistic world does not need another photographer harboring a negative spirit and attitude toward others. Do you best to help out with integrity, honesty, and sincerity. Karma knows kindness and you will be rewarded when you needed most.
SAVE your money and only buy equipment that you absolutely need. I was able to make the images with either two lights, one, or natural light. If you’re unable to be crafty and creative, I am calling your incompetence and you don’t deserve to be admitted into the already crowded room. The old debate of equipment versus artist is void and null. There are no excuses. If you say, “I am poor and have limited income and can’t afford lighting.” You have the sun and can use a cheap reflector. Look at the Strobist people producing incredible images using their hand-held flash models.
Last, but not least, welcome to the club! Most of us (myself included) did not become photographers to be rich and famous. Photography has been my refuge and haven from academia. If you have any further questions, please feel free to reach me via my website and I’ll do my best to help point you in the right direction. Thank you for your audience and I am honored and proud to be given a chance to share my “CHASING DREAM” story with you.