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Inspirations >> Photos & People

220 Days Abroad: An Entrepreneur with an Eagle Eye


Guided by a blazing passion for photography and travel, Joseph Mak makes a living from discovering and documenting what he likes to call, “the greatest vistas around the world”. By capturing these uncommon glimpses, he hopes to share these beautiful visual experiences so that they are accessible to everyone.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM @ 67mm, f/8.0, 1/1250, ISO 250

He doesn’t share his experiences through photos alone! This intrepid 38-year-old helms an unusual business – aptly named UNUSUAL Expeditions – that takes amateur photographers and like-minded hobbyists around the world with him on photography expeditions. Participants have travelled to remote desert locales, snowy plains of Hokkaido, and even lush Indian jungles – Joseph or his fellow instructors would impart tips and tricks so that each participant can improve their travel photography skills from real-time experience.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM @ 35mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO 1000

It wasn’t even too long ago when Joseph picked up his first camera (a Canon EOS 30D paired with a Canon EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens) in 2009, but he has come a long way from merely being a passive admirer of well-shot photos. “The first spark I had was during my pre-wedding photo shoot in Krabi. My photographer asked us to stand in front of a line of trees by the busy roadside, but it turned out looking like we were in a forest! I was so impressed!” he tells us. After a Vietnamese friend loaned him a Canon DSLR, Joseph was hooked. There was no turning back.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon TS-E24mm f/3.5L II @ 24mm, f/20, 1.6”, ISO 50

He turned to instructors from The Photographic Society of Singapore for advice, and counts photographers like Hui Man Yan, Sparka Chung, and Goh Kim Hui as his mentors, apart from picking up some skills from the Canon Imaging Academy when he first started out. 

Canon EOS 5DS R, Canon EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM @ 26mm, f/20, 0.6”, ISO 50

Currently, his photographic vision leans towards a fine arts aesthetic. Joseph’s personal mantra is that less is more. “I love simple pictures that are direct and to the point. One look and you’ll know the entire story,” he says. And it’s easy to see what he means, looking at his impressive shots. Every photo feels multi-dimensional; layers of colours and emotions permeating through each image. It is through years of experience and familiarity with his lenses that he is able to achieve the signature Joseph Mak look.

A good travel photograph to this master, then, is a lot more than just technique. Joseph believes wholeheartedly that a travel photograph should be felt – by the viewer, and most of all, the photographer. This means immersing yourself in the travel experience and environment. “The photograph comes second,” he says. Every image you take should capture that moment in time, and recreate the feelings you had as accurately as possible. In today’s world where holidays are enjoyed through a lens rather than first-hand experiences, Joseph’s words are a reminder to experience first and shoot second.

Canon EOS 5DS R, Canon EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM @ 63mm, f/8, 1/125, ISO 50

Despite adhering to a stoic philosophy, Joseph remains a candid personality. When asked if there were any favourite moment he wished he had captured but didn’t, Joseph was unabashed. “I missed a lot of moments, to be frank – I’m a lazy photographer! But it’s OK. You miss some, you gain some. I don’t have any moment that I wish to capture on a photo because I’ve already captured it with my eyes and heart.”

So what’s a typical day like for this globetrotting photographer? Let’s find out!

Canon Snapshot (CS): Where have you travelled to? Do you have any favourite locations?

Joseph (J): Well, I have been to a lot of places. I am overseas for more than 220 days in a year. I’ve shot in Norway, Iceland, Kamchatka, Kenya, Namibia, Antarctica, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, China, Cambodia, Jordan, Romania, Italy, France…

My favourite place is Singapore. Secondly, Norway — the country is clean, while the feel and environment is so surreal and calm.

In 2016, I’ll be revisiting some places, and venturing to new locations like Cuba and Tanzania!

CS: Wow that’s amazing. We can’t imagine being on the road for most of the year! Can you share what your day is like when abroad? Every day is probably very different, but what’s a ‘typical’ day?

J: My daily routine for certain trips looks like this:

3.30am ­– Wake up

4.00am – Assemble at the hotel lobby for a simple breakfast

4.10am – Race off to catch the sunrise

5.00am ­– We reach our photo spot and it’s time for a little exercise! We climb for about 30 minutes (no mean feat with 15kg of equipment!) and we’re ready to catch the sunrise. We shoot for two hours!

7.30am – Time for a location switch! More shooting.

10.00am – Head back to the hotel for a proper breakfast if the lighting is bad. It’s a good time to take a short break too.

12.00pm – Lunch!

1.00pm – Off for more shooting until dinner!

7.00pm – We finally break for dinner at a local restaurant.

8.30pm – Head back to the hotel. Not to rest but to shoot photos of the milky way! This continues until 12am.

Rinse and repeat for 5 days and that’s just one photography expedition.

Other trips see us shooting for 16 hours straight without any real rest. No one complains though, because they paid for the experience!

CS: What is your favourite thing about being an adventure travel photographer?

J: I get to travel to exotic places where very few have been to, and be amongst the first few people from Singapore to venture there, which allows me to frequently show others a fresh culture and landscape.

CS: Lastly, what advice do you have for aspiring travel photographers?

J: Be mentally prepared to leave home for a long period of time. There is no one to guide you, and the world is yours to explore. You need to personally experience the culture and way of life by not clicking the shutter button too often. Take a step back to view the world — it is so much nicer than looking through the viewfinder. The best camera you have, is your eyes.

All photos courtesy of Joseph Mak.