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Trash the dress by Edmund Tham

Trash the dress
The Star
Publication Date: 21-12-2009
The winning shot that earned Tham ninth placing at The Wedding Photojournalist Association’s World’s Top Photographers competition last year.

There was a time not too long ago when, in the hierarchy of photographers, the wedding photographer was near bottom (if not at the very bottom). They came in after the leaders of the pack: commercial, editorial and fine art photographers.

How things have changed. These days, wedding photographers are a highly sought-after bunch who can afford to charge a lot for a basic “wedding package” – photos (and sometimes, videography) of you, your spouse and your friends and family on that grand occasion. Pre-wedding shots (engagement, registration, rehearsal dinner, etc) come with extra charges.

In the last couple of years, I have interviewed four wedding photographers who have (through their public relations people – yes, that’s how big they are) actively lobbied for their stories to be published. And, through the course of work, I have met at least five up-and-coming photographers who are just starting out in this lucrative industry.

In short, wedding photographers are hot property. To snag their share of the wedding market – the demand is always there – the photographers have to stand out from the rest. Besides taking good photos, they have to shoot each photo in a way no one else can or has. You know, be different.

The winning shot that earned Tham ninth placing at The Wedding Photojournalist Association’s World’s Top Photographers competition last year.

Emerging wedding photographer Edmund Tham did exactly that. Apart from journaling a couple’s wedding via pictures – he takes dramatic, candid and composed shots – Tham has taken his wedding photography to new heights by introducing a relatively new post-wedding concept (new to Malaysia, at least) dubbed Trash The Dress or TTD.

First introduced in the United States sometime in the early 1990s, TTD is a sort of post-wedding ritual; an edgy extension to wedding photography where an immaculately dressed couple decide to trash their wedding clothes to signify their commitment to each other. Destroying your dress means you don’t intend to ever get married again – ideally, that is.

A TTD photoshoot is akin to a fashion shoot; the creativity of the shoot depends on the photographer, says Tham who embarked on TTD photo shoots early last year.

“Some shoots see the bride walking into the sea or on the beach and that’s considered Trashing The Dress. I like to take it to the extreme. I have taken a bride in a dumpster, a bride in her gown sprayed with bottles and bottles of Coke, splattered with ice-cream, trashed in a greasy car workshop, a photoshoot in a wet market … and more.

“The idea behind this is really nice. It’s about the couple showing their loyalty to each other. After all, you won’t be wearing your wedding dress after your wedding, so either you store in it a box somewhere, or use it for a photo shoot like this.”

Tham concedes that TTD is not for everyone. “I only suggest it to couples I think are adventurous and are willing to try something different and daring,” he says, adding that the TTD photoshoot is not included in the standard wedding photography package.

So far, the response to TTD has been positive. “Many couples are curious. They find it interesting and they quite like the idea,” he adds.

Tham discovered photography as a teenager. While still a secondary school student in Kuala Lumpur, he worked part-time at a photo shop. He was a sales assistant to a boss who was generous enough to teach him the basics of photography.

“I loved it immediately. Soon after, when I turned 17, I bought my first SLR camera. It was a film camera, of course. I think it was the EOS 5. With my new camera, I started shooting and that was it,” says Tham, an award-winning photographer who was ranked ninth in The Wedding Photojournalist Association’s World’s Top Photographers index last year. Tham was one of two Asians who made it the list.

Despite his love for photography, Tham did not go to photo school. He studied graphic design at the then Alif College (now known as Alfa International College) and worked at an advertising agency for three years before deciding to become a full-time photographer.

“It was hard in the beginning. While I was working as a graphic designer, I did some freelance photography and through recommendations, I managed to get new clients.

“Initially I did all kinds of shoots to make enough money to get my business going,” shares Tham. He also advertised his work and services in several bridal magazines and in Weddings Malaysia, a comprehensive directory of wedding services and resources, which brought him a steady stream of clients.

In 2005, Tham started his own outfit – Edmund Tham Photography, focusing mainly on wedding photography. Recently, he opened eGallery in Selangor as a platform to exhibit some of his prize-winning pieces as well as the photos and videos of weddings he has shot.

Tham decided to specialise in wedding photography because “weddings are happy occasions”.

“Everyone is cheerful and at every wedding, I get to hear happy love stories. Weddings are a lot of fun and sometimes, it doesn’t feel like I am working,” he explains.

Despite being in the industry for close to a decade, Tham cannot afford to rest on his laurels because the wedding photography market, though not saturated as yet, is very competitive.

The number of up-and-coming and apprentice wedding photographers – many of whom are self-taught and highly passionate about their art – are impressive. To stand strong amidst such competition, Tham joined Signature Photographers, a professional wedding photographers’ outfit that strives to raise the standards of wedding photography in Malaysia by conducting workshops for potential clients (on how to select a wedding photographer that suits you, what is needed for a good photo shoot, etc) and interested members of the public. The members share know-how and sometimes even clients.

“We are all experts in different styles of photography. I am good at conceptual photography but I am not a master of candid photography. So, if I come across a client who wants only candid shots, I will recommend one of the members of Signature Photographers who is good at that,” says Tham who has photographed weddings throughout Malaysia and Asia as well as in Australia and Britain.

Tham does not feel uneasy about handing over clients to other members of Signature Photographers. “I am not worried. There is enough work for us all. We can only shoot one wedding at a time, so it’s better that we share the load.”

Signature Photographers currently has seven members: Tham, Patrick Low, Jason Victor, Zung, Jim Liaw, Alvin Leong, Saiful Nang.

One reason wedding photography has become such a lucrative business is because of changing consumer behaviour.

“People are slowly changing. The traditional way was to have your photos taken at a bridal studio. You still pay a lot of money but you can have your photos taken at your convenience … a month before the wedding or even a month after. It did not matter because they were taken at the studio and the shots were only of the bride and groom.

“Now, the younger generation, those who have studied abroad or who are educated and well-read, they want their wedding day to be documented in photos. They’re willing to spend a little more. After all, isn’t it better to shoot on your wedding day with all your family and friends there. It’s a once in a lifetime event for most people, and you have to capture it,” says Tham, convincingly.

On his part, to make sure he does not miss a crucial shot during the ceremony, Tham briefs his clients on how they should “pose” during their wedding. Even for “natural” shots, Tham believes strongly that some amount of co-ordination is necessary.

“Moments like the first kiss or the exchanging of the wedding rings, for example, are crucial and I don’t want a situation where the couple end their kiss too soon before I have a chance at a good photo. Or, imagine when they’re exchanging rings and the groom has his hand covering the ring. What kind of photo will that be?

“To avoid all that, I advise the couple to always pause for a few seconds so we can take some shots. When they kiss, hold it for a few seconds longer. When they walk down the aisle, look at their guests and smile. Just some guidance,” he says.

A good wedding photographer, Tham reckons, has to have a great attitude. “I think it’s important to be able to communicate and listen. You have to listen to your clients to find out what they want and what they’re like. And you have to be creative, of course.”


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