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The Accidental Photographer - Andrew Suryono

7 years ago

Andrew Suryono calls himself an “accidental photographer”. He came to photography by producing simple product shots for his eBay site and never looked back. In 2015 he became the Indonesian National Award winner at the Sony World Photography Awards with his now iconic image of an Orangutan.

Born and raised in Indonesia, you moved to America to study engineering. At what point did photography become part of your life?

My introduction to photography was both unexpected and funny. When I was in college, I decided to sell my old items on eBay to get more money. Because I didn’t know the value of my old items, I did some search on eBay for previously sold items that were identical to mine. Then, I noticed something interesting. For two identical items, the one with a better photo got sold for a higher price. That’s when I realised the power of a photograph.

So, if I want to maximize the value of all the items that I’m going to sell, I’d better learn some photography, I thought. This was the start of my photography journey. I started to learn basic photography techniques and buying gear for product photography. I found myself enjoying the learning process, and soon became interested in other types of photography.

After I became proficient at product photography and could make decent money online, I ventured into other forms of photography. I became interested in landscape, people, wildlife, buildings… and everything that I can point my camera at! This is what eventually led me to become a travel photographer.

What is your photographic philosophy?

I don’t like to stage my photos. I love to capture that raw, candid and unique moment in time. I don’t believe you can truly capture the essence and emotion of a scene no matter how well you stage your photos. On top of that, I do the minimum amount of work in post processing. I strongly believe that fancy post-processing tricks are not a substitute for well-captured moments and emotion.

You won Indonesia National Award 2015 with your charming image of an orangutan hiding from the rain. Can you tell us how you managed to capture this remarkable moment?

Absolutely. I went for a vacation with the whole family to our favourite destination, Bali Island. We stopped by a local zoo and when we got there, it was about to rain. Then, I noticed a baby orangutan picking up a Taro leaf. As soon as I saw the baby orang-utan, I had a feeling that I’m about to see something exciting so I got my camera ready.

My family had found a place to cover themselves from the rain and they were shouting at me to get away from the rain and join them. I heard them but I was so into the moment that I didn’t care about getting myself or my camera wet. When the rain started pouring, the baby orangutan lifted the Taro leaf to cover his head and I immediately held my shutter button as long as I could. I used the burst mode on my camera. I got several images and this one is the one that I liked best. It truly captured the emotion in that particular moment so deeply.

Your winning image quickly went viral and was published in a wide range of international publications. Today a Google search of your name + ‘orangutan in the rain’ results in nearly 8000 hits and recently the image was included in National Geographic’s new book ‘Rarely Seen’. How did being part of the Sony World Photography Awards affect your photographic work and visibility?  

To be honest, I never expected this image to go viral and be so famous. The funny thing is, I didn’t even know about that Google search results before you told me. Both Sony and the World Photography Organisation have so many networks around the globe. Being a part of the Sony World Photography Awards has given my work tremendous exposure.

Before I won the National Award, my photo was selected for the “last call for entries” press release. As soon as the press release was published, I saw my image literally everywhere online. I saw it on CNN, Huffington Post, Daily Mail, Telegraph and other big international sites. It was also featured in big news site in Indonesia and on social media.

A lot of my friends, families and relatives saw that picture and my name on their favourite news site and they sent me congratulatory notes. Even until today, I still see my image being reposted on Instagram and Facebook by different people everywhere very frequently. I honestly didn’t expect to get this kind of visibility by winning a photo competition.

As part of your prize you were flown to London to attend the Sony World Photography Awards Gala together with other photographers and industry professionals from across the globe. Can you tell us about your time in London?
Oh, I had a blast in London. I’ve never been to London before so everything was so new and exciting for me. Before the Gala dinner award ceremony, Sony arranged a photography tour for all the winners from South East Asia. They took us to famous places around London and to other local towns such as Bath and Castle Combe. I became good friends with other winners from South East Asia and I am still in contact with all of them.

I’ve also met many interesting people from the photographic industry during the ceremony. I learned a lot by discussing photography with them. To sum it up, I had a really wonderful, positive experience during my stay in London and I will cherish this for a long time.

What are you looking for when you take a photograph?

I am always looking for that raw, special and unique moment. I am always on burst mode and set my autofocus to continuous to increase my chance of capturing that moment. On top of that, I also pay close attention to composition and lighting, as they are the elements that can make or break your photo.

Where do you find inspiration for your work and what is your favorite subject?

I find inspiration by looking at other photographers’ work in magazines, photography books and photo competitions. I don’t limit myself by only looking at certain work. My bookshelf is full of photography books and magazines of all kinds. I also love to browse around the previous winners’ work in many photo contests. I’m a travel photographer so I love to shoot a bit of everything!

How important is it to have the right camera equipment and what do you prefer to shoot with?

It’s very important to have the right equipment in order to capture the moment. However, it’s more important that you carry the right equipment with you everywhere so you can prepare yourself for that moment. This is the primary reason why I switched from DSLR to Mirrorless camera. I love shooting with a DSLR camera but as time goes on, I often find myself too lazy to carry it around due to the weight.

I now shoot primarily with a Sony a7ii Full Frame Mirrorless camera. I also have the Sony a7s and I use it for shooting in low light and for video. My favorite lens is the Carl Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 lens and the Carl Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 lens.

What are your top 3 tips for other photographers considering entering a photography competition?

The first one is you must know the contest rules inside out. You need to be absolutely clear on what the judges expect to see from your work. Pay attention to the details such as deadlines, image specifications and copyright usage. It wouldn’t be nice if your entries were disqualified because you didn’t follow the rules correctly.

Next, you should spend considerable amount of time selecting only your best work. A lot of photographers will submit only their best work in a photo contest and you won’t stand a chance if you don’t submit your best work.

Lastly, have confidence in yourself and in the images that you submit. It can be quite intimidating comparing yourself to other more accomplished photographers but you never know what can happen in a photo contest! If you win, that’s great! But if you lose, nothing bad will happen. You’ll learn a lot from the experience and you can take that lesson to improve your photography skill further. Joining a photography competition is a fun and rewarding experience!

Why would you recommend other photographers to enter the Sony World Photography Awards?

For the potential exposure that you can get for your work. There’s a tagline from the previous SWPA event that said “One image can change your life.” Speaking from my experience, I couldn’t agree more with that tagline.

What can we expect to see from you in the future?

You can expect to see two things from me in the future. The first one is more travel photos. I have a list of places that I want to visit and photograph in the future and I am excited explore these places with my camera!

The second one more photography courses. I love to share my knowledge by teaching photography to passionate photographers. I do this by giving photography tips on my blog, creating online photography courses and conducting live workshops in the city that I live in.

To see more of Andrew’s work visit

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