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Capturing Architecture in Photography

Samuel Isaac Chua is the Photo Editor at The Edge/Edgeprop. In this interview, he shares how he represents space through the medium of photography and how good design evokes emotions.

Hi Samuel, what do you do as a photo editor at Edgeprop/The Edge?
Since we have a very lean team for photography, I’m usually out shooting and making images rather than being tied to my desk. I’m also responsible for maintaining the imaging archive of our publication and setting the tone and style for most of the photos.

What was the journey or timeline like to you becoming an architectural and interior photographer?
Before working, I majored in journalism and briefly studied the basics of photojournalism. When I started working at The Straits Times, I didn’t want anything else other than being a photojournalist. I also hadn’t known anything else.

That all changed in 1999 when I was introduced to Peter Mealin. I became his assistant for a short time as he photographed the then-new Portman Ritz-Carlton Shanghai and the Louis Vuitton flagship stores in Taiwan. I had never done any architectural or interior photography before this. To be able to watch and learn while working for a master of the craft like Mealin was truly unbelievable. 10 years later, I was given the chance to develop my skills at The Edge/EdgeProp and I’m really grateful for that.

Do you approach the photography of architecture and spaces differently than other subjects?
Firstly, I work for a weekly business newspaper, so speed and accuracy are paramount. Long shoots or reshoots are a luxury. What’s important to me is being truthful in my images. I don’t ever want our subscribers to feel like the actual space is different from the photos they see. So there's always a real conscious decision to use Photoshop minimally. I don’t believe that less photoshopping necessarily equates to boring or pedestrian images.

How then, do you make a space look its best?
I may ask myself: What is the designer trying to achieve? Where are the focal points in this space? Are there any strong elements and do they help or hinder? Such questions help me find a perspective that flatters the space. The ‘rule of thirds’ also applies when I’m making or composing the image. Part of this rule comes from my time with Peter Mealin, who taught me to pay attention to the foreground, the mid-ground and the background, which effectively separates a space into three segments

Do you usually begin with an objective in mind when you are shooting residential interiors?
When I arrive at a space, be it a show flat or an actual unit, I try to avoid preconceived notions of the space that will affect my judgement. Instead, I try to ‘listen’ to what the space has to ‘say’ to me. I’m not engaging in some pseudo-spiritual babble here. Great design can make you feel certain things when you are in the space. I also think about how I can create an image that fashions a relationship between the elements in a space.

In transforming a space, there are both the tangible and intangible. The intangible is about how the space makes you feel, the emotions and the memories it evokes. I look forward to the mix of emotions I’ll feel when I see the development from a distance, right down to the moments when I’m walking about inside.

Meyer Mansion sales gallery and a residential unit in Wallich Residence. Photography by Samuel Isaac Chua for The Edge/Edgeprop.

You’ve been exploring 3D photography, which allows a great level of details to be captured and viewed in a virtual space. What prompted the use of this 3D technology?
Coronavirus. When Covid-19 hit and we were heading for a lockdown, my CEO swiftly tasked us to use 3D technology to provide an exciting way for prospective home buyers to view properties. Not just in glorious 4K resolution but also with total freedom to view the spaces from multiple angles.

Virtual 3D space of Midtown Bay’s show flat. 3D photography by Samuel.

How have 3D photography and virtual show flats changed things for you as a photographer?
As a photographer, I no longer have control over perspectives as an image-maker. I can’t say, look at this combined living and dining room from this angle, since viewers can now navigate the room however they wish. This also means that I have to ensure every single detail is spot-on, and plan how and where the camera stops and moves again. If this was a movie set, I would be the director, cinematographer, assistant set designer, and grip all in one. It is a lot of work for one person but it trains me to devote even more focus and care into the work.

Lastly, how do you make sure that you keep evolving as a photographer?
It helps to keep in mind that I can always do better and it’s important to learn from others. It’s also important to travel, which is not possible right now, unfortunately [due to COVID-19]. Travelling to see art and architecture really opens my eyes to the possibilities. One particular place that absolutely reached out and touched my soul was the Benesse Art Site on Naoshima Island in Japan. Physically walking and bathing in the light and the space of Ando’s works… I almost forgot to breathe.


Samuel recommends climbing to the top of the stairs off Pearl’s Hill Terrace for a treetop equivalent perspective of Guoco Tower. But for a truly elevated vista of the development, one can find a great view from Blk 5 Banda Street.

“On a clear day, when the blue-tint glass enveloping Guoco Tower matches the sky, it looks like it’s equally part of the sky and rooting the sky into the earth. A totemic tablet, brilliantly blue… especially when framed against all of the other buildings around it.”

Guoco Tower. Photography by Samuel Isaac Chua for The Edge/Edgeprop.

Samuel Isaac Chua graduated from RMIT University with a BA (Distinction) in Professional Communications, majoring in journalism, and was briefly at Penn State University learning the basics of photojournalism. As the Photo Editor at The Edge Singapore & EdgeProp, he seeks to bring journalistic integrity to his environmental portraits and architecture/interior photography by providing new perspectives that are honest and real. He also looks after 14 cats with his wife and teaches the only cat care workshops in Singapore that are supported by the SPCA.


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