At 500px amazing photography is at our core, but these photos would not be possible without the talented people behind the lens. The 500px Spotlight series highlights the global and diverse photographers that are part of the 500px Community.
This week we are excited to introduce you to conceptual still life photographer Priscilla Ong who captures things with humor and precision.
Hi Priscilla, introduce yourself to the 500px community!
Hi, I’m Priscilla, and I’m a visual artist based in Singapore. I love all kinds of photography but have mainly focused on shooting travel and landscapes over the last decade. It was during lockdown last year when I decided to dive into the world of conceptual still life and product photography—a personal project I started right from home. I have a deep appreciation for bright and colorful images with a minimalistic approach, and I’m driven to find beauty in everyday objects with the aim of provoking a smile.
Humor seems to play a large part in your work, how do you come up with these witty concepts?
I do have a weird sense of humor, and while I don’t always intend to be funny, I really enjoy making unusual connections between ideas, and presenting new juxtapositions. In the conceptualization phase I like to come up with a list of words associated with an idea or an object; tapping in on puns, metaphors, analogies, similes, double meanings etc. I then build concepts around it, which can sometimes come in the form of quotes or pop culture.
I love when my work prompts a smile or a wince from the viewer who didn’t see the link until it was presented. I hope to encourage a greater appreciation for beauty in the ordinary.
We love to hear the stories of how photographers got started. Was photography always a part of your life, and how did you come to decide to take it on as a professional practice?
For as long as I can remember, photography has accompanied and fascinated me. I was given one of those plastic, medium-format film cameras (Holga) when I was 19, and I had my first taste of creating surrealistic images by playing around with vignetting, light leaks, and double exposures. It involved taking spontaneous photographs of random objects/scenes with little attention to technical details nor with any artistic ambitions. Getting a properly exposed photograph without any light leak or mishap was more sheer luck than design. There was a huge element of surprise, and I was instantly hooked!
I’ve been obsessed with photography ever since then. And, I believe it’s also partly because it’s a passion I share with my (then boyfriend) husband, who probably taught me all the basic functions of a digital camera (aperture, f-stop, focal length etc.). We would go on photo walks together and constantly think of new fun ideas for our next shoot. Photography has also been a great source of motivation for us to travel and explore some of the most remote places on Earth. Getting up at 2 am to hike to the summit of a mountain to capture sunrise at 5 am is not uncommon for us, and more often than not, we would be rewarded with the glorious alpine glow. I love that even when we’re in the same place at the same time, the photos we took always ended up quite different, providing a well-rounded perspective of our adventures together.
Like everyone else, the inability to travel has impacted us in several ways. The pandemic definitely took a toll on my mental health. It was during the lockdown that I decided to explore a different creative outlet to channel my obsessive desire to hit the shutter button, starting with objects I found at home. That’s when I realized that the possibilities are endless, and that product photography does not have to be boring.
I then learned to listen to my heart about what truly sets my soul on fire, and finally took the leap from a serious hobbyist to a working professional.
Color is another element of your work that seems core to the concept, would you mind describing how you decide on a color palette?
I’m obsessed with colors, and it is definitely a key characteristic of my work. I’m always searching for the perfect balance of colors, textures, and shapes. I typically work with vibrant pastel colors to inject joy and lightness in my images. But lately, I’ve been exploring bolder combinations, to add depth and dimension while leading the eyes to the subject. I love that color has the ability to communicate so much—different colors convey different feelings and evoke different moods. While it’s important to have a solid grasp of color theory and psychology; I sometimes go by intuition, bend rules as I see fit according to what feels right rather than what is trendy.
What inspires you to create? Are there any specific activities you do to help get the creative juices flowing?
I am crazily passionate about many things, but photography really feeds my soul. It gives me energy and makes me feel so alive. I particularly love when my work evokes a smile or simply arouses curiosity.
I do believe that inspiration is in the everyday, and all around me, as long as I allow my mind to wander, be playful, and curious. I try to look at the world through the eyes of a child, while considering the story I wish to communicate through my images. Very often an idea emerges at the most random of times, although there are some that take a longer time to be nourished. I think creativity is like a muscle and can be flexed through the act of regular practice.
When I’m stuck, I often look to nature for inspiration. It’s important to be exposed to a wide variety of creative disciplines too, to understand what styles and subjects resonated with me the most. There’re so many different ways to look at things, the world is really our oyster!
As a visual artist, working predominantly with still lifes where the lighting is key to an image excelling, what are your lighting tips and things to avoid?
After having experimented with various types of light sources (I first started out using a bedside table lamp), I now believe that investing in a good light will pay off in the long run, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be an expensive one. I now mostly shoot with a strobe, and I tend to work with a mixture of hard and soft light. Photographing with artificial light has so many advantages. I am no longer dependent on the time of the day.
The setup doesn’t have to be complicated, I typically work with one light source and use a white foam board to bounce light back into the scene. The key is to find the light (natural or artificial), experiment a lot, and figure out what works best.
I’ve also learned not to be too fixated on a certain conventional lighting setup. So even if you think you’ve nailed the perfect angle for a subject, and it’s difficult to tear yourself away from that money shot, always try a different one. It might surprise you.
How did you discover 500px and what has your experience been like on the platform? Are there any specific features you’ve enjoyed engaging with?
It was during one of 500px’s initiatives to repost work on Instagram that I somehow managed to capture the attention of a photo editor, who gave me a great deal of positive feedback. That vote of confidence meant the world to me, and when she suggested I jump on the platform so she could feature some of my work I was thrilled (literally jumped for joy). Being featured on 500px is a dream for every photographer and it has brought enormous international visibility to my work. It’s been such a privilege and I am forever grateful for this incredible opportunity.
One of my favorite 500px features has got to be the monthly/weekly photo Quests that are designed to showcase works of a specific theme based on a creative brief. While we tend to think that infinite creative freedom can generally fuel more creativity, it’s often from constraints that we’re allowed to think outside of the box, producing some of our best works. Therefore, the 500px Quests provide an excellent chance for photographers to hone skills in multifaceted and diverse ways.
Are there any tips you’d give to other photographers working to create content for brands? How do you ensure you know their vision before starting new projects?
I love being hired as an ‘artist’ rather than a ‘photographer’, one where the client gives complete creative reign and trusts my vision. But projects like that can be few and far between, although when the stars do align, they are definitely a dream.
Communication is really key though when collaborating with a brand, to ensure both parties are on the same page. Having an effective onboarding process is a crucial step in the overall client experience.
When I started out, I didn’t really have a system in place, and I didn’t know what it meant to onboard new clients. Scheduling a call with a potential client and asking all the necessary questions about the brand goals/identity will help set expectations for the project.
Do you have a favorite image on your 500px profile? If so, which one and why?
I’ve always been drawn to images that convey a simple yet powerful message in a creative manner. So, if I have to pick one now it has got to be one of my most recent works called ‘Battle Far From Won’. With this photograph, I’m hoping to instill a sense of hope and faith in science and medicine; while urging everyone to remain vigilant in this fight because sadly, our common enemy is yet to be defeated.
Are there any exciting projects you are working on currently that you would like to share with the 500px community?
Projects are a little on hold at the moment, but I’ve been toying with the idea of creating a still life series that explores our relationship with the environment, uncovering topics that reflect our place on earth. While photography alone cannot change things, it can be a part of the movement for change. Our creative voice matters.
I’m also trying to produce more video works, specifically stop motion animation because I believe that is the future of digital media. It’s a tedious and long process to capture images frame by frame before stringing them together, but one that provides me with immense artistic fulfillment too.
Other than that, I’m taking the time to heavily invest in education as well, learning as much as possible, and fine-tuning the business side of things. It is really important to constantly develop new techniques, reflect on mindsets, and redefine my style from time to time. My dream is to be able to publish a photo book or hold a mini photo exhibition someday.
Not on 500px yet? Click here to sign up.