Breaking gender norms one photo at a time with Sony's Alpha 7R III
By Lauryn Ishak
My name is Lauryn Ishak, a German-born, Singapore-based photographer who has lived in countries of Germany, Indonesia, Hong Kong, New York, and Switzerland.
I possess 11 years of experience as a commercial and editorial photographer for a broad field that encompasses travel, lifestyle, portraits, hospitality, and food and beverage. My diverse range of clients spans from hotels, restaurants and bars to magazines and newspapers.
Finding my calling
My photography journey began 20 years ago in high school when my father—a photography enthusiast—handed me his camera and encouraged me to take up a photography class.
Despite my initial teenage indifference to his suggestion, I ended up taking two photography classes in high school, which ignited a newfound love for the craft. My passion eventually spurred me to apply for the Photography and Imaging undergraduate degree at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. To my delight, I was accepted.
Alpha 7R III | FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM | 33mm | 1/400 sec | f/3.2 | ISO 400
The four-year programme was before the advent of peak digital photography, where a five-megapixel digital camera was the best thing out there during my freshman year. I am thankful to be part of the generation that straddled both analog and digital equally.
Film isn’t free, and neither is paper nor a darkroom. These were important factors in my development as a photographer as I had to judiciously use film by evaluating which images were worth developing. Learning to print images in both colour and black and white effectively in a darkroom was fundamental too. Plus, there were no LCD screens on cameras back then. The ability to imagine the frames in my mind was crucial.
Alpha 7R III | FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM | 47mm | 1/640sec | f/5 | ISO 320
Breaking into the industry
After graduation, I left New York and returned to Singapore to hone my craft in the travel and lifestyle industry. I gave myself five years to see where I’d land in the trade. I went on “portfolio” vacations and met photographers who have helped me along the way. More than a decade later, I’m still here with the same feeling of fulfilment in pursuing my chosen profession.
There is no particular type of photography that I shoot more often than others. It tends to be evenly spread across various genres of travel and lifestyle, food and drinks, portraits, interiors, and landscapes. I don’t adhere to many of the usual rules of photography in how I shoot either. Instead, I tend to break them such as shooting into the sun, having an affinity to shoot on a wide-open aperture and going tripod-free.
Alpha 7R III | FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS | 70mm | 1/250sec | f/6.3 | ISO 320
My ethos in photography
With that saying, I still do live by a few personal rules.
Firstly, I believe in photographing what speaks to you; what evokes your emotions—be it feelings of beauty, joy, sadness, or desire. I try to approach every shot from a fresh perspective, to do something different and to challenge myself technically and creatively. This sustains my passion for the craft.
Next, I believe in being informed and being well prepared before any shoot. I make the effort to know my subjects, survey the available angles, figure out the limitations, and always approach things with an open mind.
Alpha 7R III | FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM | 43mm | 1/800sec | f/4 | ISO 400
Leaping into Sony’s mirrorless
Shooting with Sony’s Alpha 7R III definitely changed my shooting style. It is smaller in size than the DSLRs I used to shoot with, so it tends to be less intimidating to the subjects I’m photographing. Although the electronic viewfinder did take some getting used to in the beginning, I’m comfortable with it now.
What I love most about my Alpha 7R III is shooting with the Live View. Its responsive nature enables me to capture many angles that may not be possible when shooting with a DSLR, especially when photographing a scene from a higher vantage point in an area without a high ground to stand on.
Alpha 7R III | FE 90mm F2.8 Macro G OSS | 90mm | 1/125sec | f/4 | ISO 400
The camera’s low-light capabilities also impressed me. Even when utilising high ISO in challenging low-light conditions, the image quality was left uncompromised.
When travelling is concerned, downsizing my equipment and commuting light take priority.
I am mainly a prime lens shooter with my Alpha 7R III. My favourites include Sony’s FE 55mm F1.8 ZA, FE 35mm F2.8 ZA, and FE 90mm F2.8 Macro G OSS. With those three lenses, I can cover most of my assignment needs with minimal weight. Occasionally, I will supplement with Sony’s FE 24-70mm F2.8GM and FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS.
Foraying in a man’s world
The photography industry today is a completely different realm from a decade ago. The advancement of technology, the birth of social media and the accessibility of images have helped the art flourish.
It is still predominantly male, however.
Historically, photography is a trade that is assumed to be physically demanding (it is), technology and mechanically driven (it also is) and women are thought to lack physical strength and knowledge.
Alpha 7R III | FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS | 148mm | 1/160sec | f/2.8 | ISO 400
What encourages me is that that landscape is improving as more women are jumping into the trade through sheer determination, good work ethics and more than anything, churning out fantastic works. Creatives from all over the world are recognising the value and importance in portraying diverse work and, sometimes, as a woman, it is much easier to gain access for an assignment as we are deemed to be less “intimidating”.
The demanding side of the profession
For anyone hoping to pursue the trade, I encourage it but not without having immense discernment. It is not an easy profession. My particular field may look glamorous on the outside, where it paints a picture of travels around the world, meetings with famous personalities and experiences that are once in a lifetime.
Alpha 7R III | FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM | 38mm | 1/250sec | f/3.5 | ISO 400
However, ask any photographer and they will tell you that our jobs can be far from glamorous. It is physically and mentally demanding. A lot of time is spent on the road, hotel-hopping for weeks on end, and the stress of meeting multiple tight deadlines to boot. Our personal and social lives also take a backseat.
Photography fatigue definitely happens, often after a long stretch of assignments without any time to decompress. Most recently for me, this was between October and December 2019, when a string of assignments took me to places such as Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Macau and New Zealand. When this happens, I shift my focus on one assignment at a time.
Live in the moment
Once I do get a bit of breathing room, I like to unwind by hiking up mountains, and being alone with nature and my thoughts. Wake up, eat, walk, sleep, repeat – life in this form is simple and ideal.
Alpha 7R III | FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM | 25mm | 1/25sec | f/5.6 | ISO 400
I can hit the reset button and re-evaluate what’s past, what’s important, what’s next and what’s keeping me stuck. Most of the time, truth be told, I don’t bring my camera. Sometimes, not everything needs to be photographed – just being present helps me be better for what comes next.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not reflect the opinions or views of Sony Singapore.