By JASON LIOH
Photos by LUKE CHUA
I was introduced to photographer Luke Chua’s blog by a friend, and I was really amazed by his work. His photos, technically and artistically, were definitely not the work of an amateur. In fact, they looked at the very least like the work of a semi-professional.
Now here’s the catch: Luke has been paralysed from the waist down and wheelchair-bound since a freak accident fractured and burst his spinal cord in 2001. He had to go through multiple surgeries before surgeons managed to fix a metal plate on his spinal cord that allowed him to sit up.
Today, not only is he able to move about on his own, he is also an athlete and a national basketball player, representing Malaysia in numerous international tournaments.
“I woke up one day and realized that something was missing from my life. I lacked of a hobby.
“I wasn’t very sure about picking up photography as my hobby, even though I had a compact camera with me all the time and I enjoyed capturing things that caught my eye,” said Luke, who only picked up photography two years ago.
He started out by spending two months researching photography and cameras, learning things such as shutter speed, aperture, ISO, focal length, the many different types of lenses, composition and lighting. He also learned by studying other photographers’ photos.
His wife Kathy Foo also encouraged him to get a DSLR, and he eventually settled for a Nikon D90.
Unlike most photographers who can move around easily, Luke has to plan ahead and wait patiently to capture the photos he wants.
“As I am on a wheel chair, my view is often blocked by the crowd and there are certain angles that I cannot reach. As such, I always have to plan ahead by checking out the backgrounds, lighting conditions and subjects of the locations before I go back with my camera.
“I will wait at the right spot, sometimes up to 30 or 40 minutes, just to wait for a subject to enter the frame, to get the photo I want,” said Luke.
He often uses objects around him, such as walls, pillars or tripods – and sometimes his wife – to support himself while he reached out for angles beyond his wheelchair.
Luke particularly enjoys taking candid and natural shots of people and animals.
“I do not like posed photos. I like my subjects to be natural and not realize I am taking their photos. You cannot predict their reaction too. I like my photos to have a story in it, be it by capturing whatever they are doing or using the background to convey a message,” he said.
Luke goes to the streets of KL two to three times a week, together with his wife and friends, but has cut down lately as safety is a concern for him.
He added that by shooting with a group of like-minded friends, he is able to discover his weaknesses, learn photography and post-processing tips and tricks from them. Reading photography magazines and websites and studying other photographers’ photos are part of his learning process too.
“I do not review my photos immediately but a month after each shooting session. By letting the photos and myself settle down, I am able to look back and see what was missing or lacking in my photos and improve them the next time I am there,” said Luke.
One of the most challenging photo assignments he had was shooting the Hindu religious festival of Holi at Shree Lakshmi Narayan Mandir Temple, KL, in March.
“There were a lot of people throwing coloured powder and water and both items were not good for my camera. With that in mind, I used duct tape and a plastic bag to secure my camera before entering the temple.
“I also knew I would be drenched at the end of the day, but it did not bother me as long as I had good photos to go home with, which I did,” said Luke.
As a competitive basketball player, Luke is a very driven and competitive person who always strives to be better.
“Photography and life is like basketball. In order to pass or receive a ball, I have to calculate the possibility and distance and be alert of my surrounding at all times. There will be a lot of obstacles and if you want to move ahead, sometimes, you just have to push yourself and trust others,” he said.
Jason Lioh, after interviewing Luke Chua, is now super psyched about going out to shoot some photos. What is your reason for not going out to capture the moment? Tweet him @jasonmumbles if you want to join him and Chua for any upcoming photo walks.