Photographer, Sze Kiat

Spotlight / Creative Spotlight
Koh Sze Kiat
Gosling Gao
Jan 18, 2022
Sze Kiat Koh is one of our key exclusives on iStock and our ambassador in Singapore who not only creates content but also manages the local contributor community. He is a self‑taught commercial photographer who loves to explore the facets of life in Singapore, and is also a young father of two children. Despite his busy schedule (from work and personal life with a newborn baby), we found time to talk about his journey in photography, his approach to shooting with real people, and a lot more!
[Gosling Gao]: How did you get started in photography?
[Sze Kiat Koh]: I started photography when I was in high school and then continued when I went into the army. I used to bring a film camera everywhere, shooting whatever was happening around me. It was in the army that I realized I could document that experience, and decided to explore this growing passion. That passion turned into a hobby and eventually into full‑time paid work. I graduated two years later in 2010 ‑ and ever since, photography has been the first and last job for me.

[GG]: Besides creating stock content, you are also working for clients. How’s the experience working in both worlds?
[SKK]: My main photography work has been on the corporate side. In that area, I shoot portraiture, food, and interiors. I joined iStock back in 2007, but it wasn’t until 2019 when I was reintroduced to stock by the former ambassador of Getty Images Singapore. I like the freedom and variety in what I can choose to shoot for Getty Images/iStock.

[GG]: For people who are not familiar with your work, how would you describe your style in three words?
[SKK]: In three words – simple, clean, and unobtrusive.
I keep an open mind – knowing that things may not turn out the way I planned. With that in mind, I remind myself that my shoot plan is a rough guide, because on set I want to be open to approaching moments differently and expect challenges that might push me in another direction.
[GG]: You’ve created your own work style and authentic aesthetic which fits perfectly for stock content. How do you achieve it?
[SKK]: I keep a flexible mindset. The basis of most shoots is driven by the needs from Getty Images, from you and your team. That’s where I get the concepts and ideas to work on. On top of the shoot plan and shot list that I want to achieve, I keep an open mind – knowing that things may not turn out the way I planned. With that in mind, I remind myself that my shoot plan is a rough guide, because on set I want to be open to approaching moments differently and expect challenges that might push me in another direction.
[GG]: You light your shoots beautifully and naturally. The lighting helps in the storytelling. Do you have any lighting secrets you could share?
[SKK]: Stock imagery has moved from the very clean to more natural looking shots, and a more authentic, documentary style. I use natural light as much as possible. For certain shoots, I do add in extra lights but keep it very minimal to avoid a studio‑like or artificial look. To better understand the lighting on location, I visit the venue prior to the shoot. I need to be aware of the ambient lighting, the spotlights, where the natural lighting is and where the windows are on set. For the shoot of the florist and mother at home, I did add lighting ‑ as the light in her house was slightly dark in the shadows and created a strong backlight from the kitchen window. I decided to add two lights to bring more focus to the story. When I am on set, I always have my lights with me just in case.
[GG]: Capturing aspirational yet real moments makes your work stand out. I believe your casting plays a crucial role in it. You cast models and real people for your shoots. How do you make that connection and direct them in shoots?
[SKK]: There is definitely a difference between shooting real people and ‘models’. If I am shooting real people, I try to build up a connection prior to the shoot. I direct models more openly, and give them general direction but try not to be nit‑picky about what exactly they should be doing. Shooting with real people can be awkward, so it helps to get real friends to shoot so they are more at ease. I want to get as many variations of real emotions as possible, so I let everything flow ‑ especially for moments of interaction.
[GG]: Letting it flow brings out spontaneous moments, which helps add an extra layer of authenticity to your shoots. Does that approach work for kids too? 
[SKK]: Prior to having my own children, I shot a lot of kindergarteners for a client. I realized that the more instructions I give kids, the more confused they become. Therefore, I always let them be and try not to interrupt them too much. When their emotions run high things can get messy and difficult to shoot, but this is when I let them rest and take a break.
A great example is a recent shoot of a young family with three kids at home. Their parents are close friends and one of their children has hearing loss. Since the kids know me very well, and the location was in their home, the whole experience was much easier and relaxed – especially for a child with additional needs.

[GG]: What type of gear is in your photo kit when you are shooting for stock imagery?
[SKK]: A Sony A7 RIII and prime lenses. I used to be an 85mm person for shooting portraits – however, everything is close‑up with no context. By shooting more stock imagery, I started to widen my focal length, and tend to shoot on prime lenses mainly 35mm and 85mm. That’s where I found myself most comfortable and get a fine balance of proximity with subjects.

[GG]: What do you enjoy the most about shooting stock photography?
[SKK]: I love the experience, and the people I meet along the way. I make new friends and create new networks which wouldn’t happen otherwise. And I enjoy stepping into the lives of others and creating a window into their experiences.
Photographer, James O'Neil