Photographer got paid to travel through Asia to take stunning pictures for SilkAir

SINGAPORE - You could say he had the best job in the world, traipsing through Asia on his own to snap photographs of his adventures wherever he went. And the best part of his travels was, he got paid for it.

Singaporean photographer Kang Li did just that for two years, travelling across 14 cities while on an assignment commissioned by SilkAir in 2013.

His brief was simple too: Snap as many pictures around the region to stock up SilkAir's image bank.

Kang Li, who is the co-founder of video production agency Little Red Ants Creative Studio, was also given free reign to snap at will in countries such as India, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and Myanmar.

The 32-year-old told AsiaOne: "Because I was shooting for a client, I had to make sure that I covered key attractions of the places. But apart from that, my assistants planned the itinerary and I just went with the flow, making adjustments to the plan after speaking to local guides."

"We usually didn’t overplan and I left myself to the mercy of nature and the goodwill of locals."  

His journeys even led him to dive in the waters off Makassar in Indonesia, and jump off a cliff at a remote island off Boracay in the Philippines.

Jealous yet? Wait till you hear about his off-beat encounters.

Of all the cities he captured on his lens, the most unforgettable was a trip to Visakhapatnam, the largest city in Andhra Pradesh, India.

In a testament that mingling with the locals gives you the most authentic experiences, Kang Li's best takeaway was that of his "passionate and infectious" guide, a Mr Rao.

Kang Li told AsiaOne how Mr Rao went beyond his duty as a tour guide. He said: "Mr Rao, after understanding what I needed, became a trailblazer for me. He would enter the scene first and tell everyone to continue with what they were doing, as if we weren't around."

"When people asked him what we were doing, he would upsell me by saying that I was a very famous photographer from Singapore and I was there to promote the city."

The good sport was even game to be a stand-in-model who had no qualms with climbing walls or getting wet and dirty.

His final night in the city was the most poignant for the photographer, as he recounted: "After the last attraction was done on the last night. He (Mr Rao) walked us out and gathered us in a small circle.

"He solemnly said 'And that, my friend, is Visakhapatnam for you. We are a team.' It was as if from Day One, he had been waiting to say this. I almost teared."

Photo: Calcutta, by Sam Kang Li

Fortunately for Kang Li, his adventures were made better with fuss-free travel, little creative restriction and minimal supervision.

Kang Li never needed to attend any pre-production meetings and was only accompanied by his assistants on the trips.

He wrote in a Facebook post: "From start till end, I could only remember two singular requests - 'more food pictures' and 'more vibrant colours' - each only once. There wasn't even any pre-production meetings."

He added that all communication happened via "sparse emails" and each trip started with a request for air tickets and ended with a set of DVDs containing his photographs couriered over to SilkAir.

Although grateful for the airline's hands-off approach, minimal feedback did get the photographer a tad nervous.

He said: "Time and time again, in between the trips and even till this day, I really wanted to know what they thought about my work for them, but for some reason, I didn't have the guts to ask, for fear of opening a can of worms.

"I always feared that my coverage was not enough and that the photographs were not exciting enough. But as a creative, I am more than grateful for their hands-off approach, trusting me to do what I do."

Here are some tips Kang Li has for aspiring travel photographers:

1. Wear comfortable shoes.

2. Wake up early and learn to make friends with the sunrise. A mountain guide in Lombok once said to me: "I have two sons - Sunrise and Sunset."

3. Don't kill yourself with too much equipment. It prevents you from dancing with the crowd and going with the flow.