You might recognise him from his crazy YouTube videos. Or perhaps from his stint on Survivor. Or maybe from his epic landscape shots on the Gram. But where-ever your path crossed that of prolific creative and photographer Jarrad Seng – it was sure to have left behind a lasting impression.
Renowned for his quests behind the lens on diverse projects from international music tours to tourism campaigns, we tracked Jarrad down to discuss everything from photography tips and tricks to some of his most epic travel adventures.
You have some pretty phenomenal photography going on. Can you talk me through your first steps into the industry?
I guess it all started about 9 or 10 years ago. I was very into music and loved going to concerts and listening to music. It was then just a natural progression to start taking photos of concerts and my favourite artists. Music journalism was where I thought I would always go, but it evolved into photography. I was taking a lot of concert photography and it was a bit of a rush being able to get up close to my favourite musicians. It started from there and then gradually turned into all kinds of photography.
Where you freelancing or working for a publication at the time?
I’ve always been freelancing, which is the only way I know how to do it. It’s very stressful – there’s a lot of pressure when you’re doing everything yourself because you have to keep yourself in check. If you drop the ball for a second then you only hurt yourself, you can’t rely on anyone else. But with that extra pressure comes a lot of extra benefits and I love the freelance lifestyle – being able to do whatever I want and travel wherever I want without having to answer to anyone.
You seem to be travelling a lot! Is this mostly for enjoyment or for work?
It could be for anything really at any given point in time, but what’s coming up next is a few tourism campaigns. I work very closely with Qantas, so we’re promoting a few destinations around Australia. I also run workshops overseas, so there’s a workshop in Iceland and Namibia. There’s even a potential Antarctica trip on the cards, so it’s all happening – but yes, it means I’m on the road most of the year.
Not giving away your workshop intel, but do you have some tips that you could give budding photographers?
It basically boils down to work hard and be nice to people – that’s my number one tip. It’s really easy to learn the technical side of photography, like anyone can do that – it’s just theory, just a bunch of rules and that kind of thing you can learn on the Internet… but the real stuff is getting out there and hanging out with other photographers. You start learning from each other and learning different styles.
In your opinion, how much of photography is in the editing process? Do you use Photoshop and Lightroom?
A bit of both, but I guess Lightroom is the bulk of it. Editing is important – it’s probably half the job; half of it is getting the photo and half of it is getting it to look like how you saw it in your head when you took the photo. It is actually not that easy, and that’s what really separates photographers – how you make yourself distinct is through an editing style. Even with places like Iceland where millions of people visit – you’ll find yourself taking the same photo as thousands and thousands of other people, but the way you can differentiate yourself is firstly coming up with a new take on a location or angle but as well in how you edit it. It’s pretty important to have a personal style. I always like it when people say they have known that a photo was mine without looking at the name – that’s really nice to hear. I think photographers should aim for having a style that people can recognise without knowing it’s you.
Talking about Iceland. You have some pretty epic shots of the Northern Lights. Any secret tips you can give away in regards to capturing them?
The technique is not crazy, it’s just the same as taking any kind of photo at night – which is have a tripod, have a wide lense and keep the shutter open for 20 or 30 seconds. That stuff is basic, but the key to those kinds of images is just being dedicated. When you shoot the Northern Lights, you can’t just walk out the front door and click away – you have to watch the weather, you have to be committed to driving maybe a couple of hours to get away from the clouds. It’s just all about the dedication you put into it.
I always say that the more effort you have to put in to create a photograph, the less people have done it. That’s what I tell myself when I’m questioning my life choices when I’m hiking up a mountain or driving around in the middle of nowhere at 3am – but you just tell yourself, each extra step I take is another one where someone else has probably dropped out. The more you push yourself, the more things you do that are uncomfortable, the less other people have done it as well. It’s all about committing. Half the time it won’t work out, but the rare times that you do get something really special – it makes it all worth it.
How many photos do you reckon you take for one that you post on Instagram?
I don’t really post that much on Instagram anymore, I try not to make it a huge part of my life. Obviously my work requires it, which is fine, but you always have to remind yourself that Instagram is just an app on your phone – you can’t define yourself by Instagram. In saying that, I’m pretty picky with what goes on there… I probably take a thousand [pictures] to one [post]. I’m a full-time photographer, so there’s thousands of photos being taken a week of so many things – but I keep Instagram stuff to the crazy adventures that I go on. There’s a lot of things I do that aren’t very exciting, but that’s days in the real world and not the digital one.
Do you find with many campaigns, brands want you in the picture – or are they mostly after your landscape shots?
It’s a mix of all of it really. If it’s a social media-focused campaign, then it usually does help to have me in photos; I look pretty weird and different, so it’s nice to get me in shots! I love the self portraits from very far away when my hair’s blowing in the wind, that adds an interesting element to a photo. The upside of looking kind of weird is that it makes the photo different – no-one else has a random long-haired Asian man standing on a cliff.
Has being on Survivor affected your professional life?
To be honest, it hasn’t really affected it at all. I guess a few more people recognise me now and people that would not normally know who I was, but professionally – I would say really nothing has changed. It’s not like I went onto the show for that purpose anyway, I just loved Survivor and wanted to be a part of it. It was definitely a crazy experience that I want to remember forever – and luckily if I want to remember it, I’ll just go download the show again!
You seem to be constantly on-the-go with your photography. Do you ever want to slow down and take a break?
I love just being everywhere around the world for work. It’s always a case of trying to squeeze things in and yeah, I’d love to have a break every now and then – but it’s not really possible. Co-opportunities are popping up every day and you just can’t say ‘no’; You’re like: ‘well, maybe if I just go straight from Texas to Antarctica and not go home in between, maybe that will work…’ and you end up never having a break. I think I just don’t want to miss out on all these crazy things happening while it is happening, who knows how long this whole lifestyle will last – I try to make the most of it. It’s also really hard to take a break because I’m always in the most amazing places around the world. There are times where I could take a break as I don’t actually have to be working on anything, but I’ll be in like Kenya or something and I’m thinking: ‘I could be sitting around doing nothing… or let’s go find some giraffes!’
What has been your favourite campaign to ever work on?
I really love the group overseas destination shoots – they’re really fun when you get a bunch of photographers and influencers together and just go crazy on a place.
We saw the shot of you with Gypsea Lust’s Lauren Bullen and Do You Travel’s Jack Morris…
With those guys, I was on tour with Passenger at the time and we had three days off in between shows and Lauren messaged me and said: “why don’t you come to Barcelona, we’re hanging out.” And I was like, “yeah, you know, I will!” It was such a random spontaneous thing, but that’s what I get to do with this lifestyle – meet friends all over the world.
Were you friends with Lauren and Jack beforehand or had they just seen some of your work?
I hadn’t met Jack before, but I had worked together with Lauren and we’ve loved each other’s photography since way back. We did a Queensland campaign a while go and we’re good friends. Whenever we can get the chance to cross paths – it’s not very often – but when we do, we try to make the most of it.
What are your favourite photography tools?
I don’t really take much stuff when I’m on the road. I use a Canon 5d and I have three lenses that I always take with me, a tripod and a remote shutter so I can do those self portraits, and that’s pretty much all I ever need. I travel very light.
What are the lenses you use?
My three main lenses are a 16-35mm f/L 2.8 – which is great for the big landscapes and the night sky, and my portrait lenses are 50mm f/L1.2 and a 135mm which are great for portraits and more in-your-face landscapes. That’s really all I take around with me, and I guess my phone… If you see me in my night sky photos holding up a light – it’s always just my phone because I forget to bring any other light! I’m just standing on a cliff with my iPhone in the air with the torch app on.
Are you ever scared when you’re doing these cliff-top night time shots?
Nah, not really! The cliffs are fine – I’m not scared of heights and I’m very sure of myself, I’m not worried about falling off a cliff. But I do get a little bit scared sometimes when I’m out in the middle of nowhere at night by myself doing these astro-shots – it’s pretty freaky the places I go. One time I was driving in the Northern Territory outback and I wanted this Milky Way shot, so I drove an hour out of town to get it and it was getting really quite grim. I parked next to a random shed in the middle of nowhere that had this light on inside and all I could think of was Wolf Creek. I remember I was standing on top of my car for 30 seconds and the Wolf Creek killer was probably 10 metres away! I’m holding my phone in the air and these bats just kept swooping the lights and I was like: “Oh my God!” That’s when I get scared – it’s more psychological versus the actual danger of things that I do.
You must have thought Survivor was a breeze!
Yeah! I’m like guys: “We have each other, we have Lachie – like a six foot spartan warrior here, we’re fine! We’ve got protection, don’t worry guys.”
Very last thing, where do you want to see your career headed? If I came to you in 5 years’ time, what would you like to say you’re doing?
I guess what I’m always trying these days is long term partnerships with the brands that I love. And it’s going really well, I’ve got partnerships with Canon and Qantas and Bose and just some really great brands. I’d love to get it to a point where I have these maybe 5 or 6 partnerships with brands and that’s all I need to financially have set aside – just knowing I’ve got work with these brands. Then on top of that, I can just do whatever I like – travel to the craziest places in the world and not have to worry about having to come home and do this or that commercial job to boost up the funds a bit. It would be great to get to a point where money didn’t really matter and people were just backing me to do whatever I want – which is always something crazy and cool anyway! I’d love to just be able to come up with my own ideas and people just back me and not have to scramble around to make things work.