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Self-taught photographer Jerry Thai talks about what it takes to succeed

Jerry Thai says success in photography requires passion and curiosity far more than experience or the best camera equipment.
Jerry Thai says success in photography requires passion and curiosity far more than experience or the best camera equipment. Athena Zelandonii

Self-taught photographer Jerry Thai talks about what it takes to succeed

From a long time back, Vantha “Jerry” Thai wanted to draw. The problem was, drawing wasn’t for him.

“I couldn’t synchronise my hand to my brain,” he says.

Thai found his calling six years ago when he picked up a camera as a way to depict his surroundings. It was a Canon 550D.

“I turned it to auto-mode, and when I shot in auto-mode, I found it was like shooting on a compact,” he says. “I had no idea about aperture, shutter speed or ISO.”

Put off at first, Thai found success by adopting a more open mindset to taking shots.

“Once you tell yourself it’s not difficult, you can just go . . . If you say it’s hard, you’ll never learn,” he says.

Thai credits this can-do attitude with bringing him to his current heights in Cambodian photographic circles. He’s spent four years as a lecturer at the Canon Imaging Academy, and is also the team leader at @home photography.

“I trained myself,” he says of his journey into photography.

This year marks his fifth as a judge at the Canon PhotoMarathon.

“From my experience, the judging process is not easy because there are a lot of photos, and we need be true and see which one [fulfils the criteria], and discuss with the other judges and see which photos make the shortlist,” says Thai, who is judging the Open category this year.

Each category can attract up to 500 photographs, he says; the judges need to bring that down to a shortlist of about 50 images and then, after another round of selections, to 10 category finalists. From those 10, the judges will pick three or five winning images.

If the sheer volume of entries sounds intimidating to people interested in entering the competition, Thai advises them not to be discouraged. The first step in the judging process, he explains, is to see whether the image is directly or indirectly related to the set theme; in previous years, up to one-fifth of the submissions were rejected because the photographer didn’t understand the theme or didn’t bother to follow it.

And for prospective entrants worried they don’t have the experience or can’t afford the expensive gear some photographers carry, Thai says the right mindset is far more important.

“Anyone who enjoys photography as an amateur or a professional, what inspires you is to keep exploring. Even if you don’t have great gear – gear makes a bit of difference – but the story makes much more. If people fear entering the competition because of their ability or gear, then they’re holding themselves back,” he says, passing up the opportunity to gain experience and meet other photographers.

And while skill, technique and the ability to reproduce a photo are all part of the criteria that the judges use, Thai says even people wielding a camera-phone can enter.

“Everybody needs to go on and let everything out. You need to go and express yourself, and don’t be afraid of losing,” he says.

Thai’s other piece of advice to would-be entrants – and one that he takes pains to emphasise – is for competitors to “learn about the topic before taking a shot”.

“Don’t be too obvious. You need to be flexible. Don’t stick to the words [of the theme] – stick to the meaning,” he says. “And anything that comes into your head in the first five minutes, throw it away; it’s too obvious, and others will have thought of it already.”

The Phnom Penh Post is a media partner of the 2016 Canon PhotoMarathon. This year’s PhotoMarathon will be held on October 9 at Koh Pich. For more details, and to register, please go to: www.facebook.com/iQlickCambodia.

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