Meet Ryan Chang, Singaporean touring photographer of While She Sleeps, Bullet For My Valentine, and Ghost: “I don’t doubt for a moment, the amount of talent we have at home.”

Meet Ryan Chang, Singaporean touring photographer of While She Sleeps, Bullet For My Valentine, and Ghost: “I don’t doubt for a moment, the amount of talent we have at home.”

Synchronised flames of red, orange and yellow shooting into the sky. A sea of sweating, but gleeful concert-goers with their arms up and moving to the beat. Musicians engulfed by the illumination of stage lights, diffused through a cloud of theatrical fog. These are some of the things we see at a life-changing live performance, to be experienced in the flesh – but capturing the magical moment, to be materialised in print and remembered for the rest of time, lies in the hands of an almost unnoticeable presence on- and offstage – the photographer

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Ryan Chang
, a Singaporean photographer who has worked for the likes of While She Sleeps, Bullet For My Valentine, and Ghost, is one such profile. With leaps of faith and his strong resolve to make things “happen” for himself, the music photographer had even travelled to the US to shoot for the Vans Warped Tour shortly before his National Service at 19 years old. After moving to London for university, though, Ryan’s career took a definite flight – and eventually got him to where he is now, as Singapore’s one and only photographer featured in A Music Photography Magazine’s A Virtual Gallery, which features the likes of Billie Eilish, Post Malone, Slash, Hayley Williams, and more.

Ryan’s pass for Vans Warped Tour, 2016

Even before COVID-19 put a damper on live music worldwide, the saturated arts industry has made it so that even in pre-coronavirus times, breaking through required more than sheer talent. As the world continues to battle with a year-long standstill, we got Ryan Chang to share with us his success leading up to A Virtual Gallery, in addition to his thoughts on the music photography industry in Singapore, how to support it, and chasing your dreams. 

Here’s what the music photographer, and director of Marijannah’s recent Istanah Live At The Projector said:

Hi Ryan, congratulations on being the only Singaporean photographer featured in A Music Photography Magazine’s “A Virtual Gallery”. How do you feel about this?

Thank you! There are many fantastic music photographers in Asia and perhaps unfortunately, it’s an under-represented region in the context of this fantastic exhibition. There are two other talented Asian photographers on show but it seems like I’m the only one born and bred in Asia. I’m always proud to fly the flag on a world stage. The music industry in Asia has been growing steadily this past decade and with it, has produced many talented photographers. Hopefully more will get the opportunity to showcase their work in the near future. I think it’s great that Bandwagon has made itself a platform to showcase great photography from our part of the world.

How did the opportunity of getting your work selected for the exhibition come about?

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I’ve known one of the exhibition’s curators, Adam Elmakias, for quite a few years. Before I started working internationally, my portfolio was based on concerts I had photographed in Singapore. My work was hosted on Tumblr, of which there was a dedicated international community of other music photographers. Adam was one of them. I looked up to his craft a lot while I was trying to kickstart mine. Over the past few years we crossed paths on numerous tours and hence, had been able to be kept informed on each other’s work. This exhibition is the third iteration of a body of music photography that Adam had curated from around the world. The first two were published as limited print magazines, one of which I was published in.

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Besides While She Sleeps, Bullet For My Valentine and Ghost, who else have you gone on to photograph? Which experience has been the most memorable for you and why?

Passes of tours and projects Ryan was involved in

These 3 bands are the ones that I’ve had a substantial personal working relationship with. Others who I’ve had a brief opportunity to work directly with included Of Mice & Men, Coldrain, Mallory Knox, Crossfaith, Hiatus Kaiyote, Cane Hill, SHVPES, The Caulfield Cult, Caracal, etc. Lastly, via multiple publications and promoters, there had been many other artists as well.

The Caulfield Cult, 2015, in Osnabruck

Caracal, 2010

I think all these years with Bullet For My Valentine, While She Sleeps and Ghost had been very special to me and I find it hard to pick one. They were all very different experiences as all three of them are very different bands. Sleeps took me on my first ever full scale bus tour. They’re also passionately DIY, which had presented a couple of incredibly fun ‘rough it out’  tours. My favourite moment with them would be when they played St James Power Station in my home country. That was one of my early ‘come full circle’ moments. Bullet were the ones who truly showed me the world. I think it’s only the continents of Africa and Antarctica left to tick off the list! They’re the ones whom I’ve had the longest working relationship with and through it, Matt has gone on to be one of my best friends. My favourite moment would be when I first heard the title track to ‘Gravity’, and that I couldn’t wait for the world to hear it almost a year later. 

Bullet For My Valentine, in the studio writing ‘Gravity’

Lastly, Ghost is the only band amongst this trio of which I was a passionate fan of before working with them. (I obviously now know every song from all three bands inside out and am a huge fan of all of them). They’re also the only Grammy winning artist that I work with so far. My favourite memory would be standing on stage photographing them in front of a packed out Stade De France, on that massive Metallica stadium tour.  

Ghost, performing at Stade De France

What do you think about the music photography scene in Singapore, especially compared to other countries? What more should be done to improve or support the industry?

I don’t doubt for a moment, the amount of talent we have at home. From a technical viewpoint, some of our photographers would have no problems standing shoulder to shoulder with prominent music photographers from around the world. I think it is an issue of opportunity and experience. It’s very difficult to come across opportunities to work directly with prominent musicians, which in turn gives you international touring experience, which ultimately builds you a recognisable portfolio that catches the attention of the major artists and their labels. This unfortunately means not being able to consistently work for musicians big enough to afford you a consistent respectable wage, which you can turn into a full time career.

Ryan, in North America

Music photography wouldn’t exist without the musicians. Hence support should first go to them. I think a country with adequate venue infrastructures and healthy funding, would naturally help spur our musicians’ growth. When a musician starts to break even and maybe make a living from their work, they might even consider hiring a photographer. And this is the part that I staunchly believe in: that long term collaboration only grows one’s quality of work as a photographer. It’s great to see Singaporean musicians touring and reaching out to fans beyond our shores more than ever, and with that, the opportunity for our photographers to document this journey. With that, comes the opportunity to network and meet other like-minded people!

It’s not easy to take good photos of musicians, especially while they’re performing. Are there any tips for budding photographers on what they should focus on when shooting live music performances?

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There are probably a lot of technical articles online that offer great tips. Adam Elmakias has put out quite a few great articles in that respect so check it out.

If you care about future collaborations, then consider photographing as if the photographs are for them and not yourself. Images of the artist performing to a sizable crowd, and of their magnificent stage productions such as pyrotechnics and light shows. These images can be valuable publicity instruments for them. Secondly, if there are hundreds of photographers in the same area of the photo pit, stay as far away as possible. Why would you want to produce the same images as everyone else? Lastly, consider watching the most up to date footage of concerts from the band you’re about to photograph, making notes on key light and movement moments.

Bullet For My Valentine, 2019, in Austria

Photographs are an important part of the live music experience because they capture the essence of the show and what took place, even after it’s ended. Are there any tips or tricks that artists should use to ensure their photographers can get good live photos of their shows?

Give your photographers all the access they want, as long as they’re not impeding your ability to perform! This includes areas directly behind the drummer and at Front of House. These two are critical vantage points if you care about photographs that showcase your sea of passionate fans, your magnificent stage production, and the significance of the venue you’re performing in. Also, if you’re performing to a click track, it’s always useful to afford your own radio pack. This makes it easier for them to count in your movements, your light show and pyrotechnic sequences, as well as make a better judgement on when to move around the venue as they can hear you perfectly despite finding their way through a labyrinth of stairwells around the venue. 

Ryan’s radio pack

With COVID-19 putting a halt on live music and music photography, what have you been focusing on? How have you been learning to adapt?

I’ve been extremely lucky that this was always meant to be sort of a quiet year for me, as both Bullet For My Valentine and Ghost have finished their cycle and were meant to be in the studio writing away. In a sense, I’ve managed to plan for this lull in touring financially. But nonetheless, the pandemic had prevented me from building new working relationships and photographing new artists. I’m very thankful that Bullet engaged me to be with them through the entirety of their album making process, which is a form of stable employment in these uncertain times. Besides that, I’ve been working on some non-music photography projects to stay productive.

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Are there any ways music lovers can support music photographers, in and out of the pandemic?

Prints! A few of my peers have been selling prints of their amazing work. Ed Mason has incredible images of Architects, and John McMurtrie has an impressive back catalog of Iron Maiden photographs through the years. Check them out. Of course, while this exhibition is free, it also gives you the chance to donate to a fund for the global music industry, which in turn supports photographers’ opportunities down the line.

What are you looking forward to doing once COVID-19 is over?

I can’t wait to fight over slices of lukewarm after-show pizza with my colleagues and suffer every minute until arriving at the day off hotel, where I stand under a long hot shower with no anxiety of a bus call for the rest of the day.

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A Music Photography’s A Virtual Gallery will be available for viewing for free until 9 December. 

To check out more of Ryan’s work, visit his website or his Instagram page here.

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