In today’s influencer world, it’s common for them to pose in cafes and other new, popular Instagram-enabled spots. Usually in these locations they don’t even need a professional photographer to get some decent snaps of them.
However, if you saw a picture from an influencer like the one below, not some Insta friend or mom or dad is going to cut it. You need a professional photographer and one who is able to do underwater photography.
A pose that needs more than a “1, 2, 3, smile!” / Image source: Cheah Kim Hup
This is where someone like Cheah Kim Hup would come into play.
A journey from land to sea
Cheah’s career in underwater photography actually began on land, where he worked as a nature guide in the rainforests of Penang and Langkawi in 2014.
“I’ve always loved watching documentaries about the ocean and have participated in some conservation activities,” Cheah told the Vulcan Post. Some of these conservation experiences included working with sea turtles, dolphins, dusky leaf monkeys, and more.
One thing led to another and soon he applied for a diving license in 2017. His love for the underwater world only grew so much that he quit his job and went to Sabah in early 2018 and joined Sipadan. joined Kapalai Dive Resort to make underwater video recordings for its resort guests.
So it’s no wonder that underwater videography equipment isn’t cheap. Cheah revealed that all of the DSLR equipment with underwater housing costs more than RM40K.
Dictionary time: The underwater housing is a camera bag for your popular topside camera, but it allows full control of the camera when diving, is waterproof and pressure-resistant and in many cases as ergonomic as using your camera without it.
Fortunately, the resort paid for the equipment and provided him with underwater video training, all of which took about 3 months before he could take clients on for them.
Not average camera work / Photo credit: Cheah Kim Hup
Customers also have to carry loads for a shoot
The diving equipment alone weighs around 15-20 kg, which is really heavy for beginners who make up the majority of its customers.
Thanks to the camera equipment, Cheah himself has to carry an additional 5 to 10 kg of additional weight with him, and he also helps guests who are not used to the weight of their own diving equipment.
How much additional equipment he has to take with him also depends on the situation of the dive. In bad weather, poor visibility, or a night dive or deeper into the water, he’ll need to add more lights to his equipment to ensure a clearer shoot.
On every dive, Cheah will actually have an instructor with him and the clients when their first time at it, but if the clients themselves are licensed divers a buddy system can be used (if more than one licensed client is present).
For licensed divers, all he has to do is guide them in their poses, including positioning their flippers, controlling their buoyancy, and so on. But for newbies, it’s a different story.
The different methods he’s taught his clients how to pose underwater / Photo credit: Cheah Kim Hup
Dealing with anxious customers
“Beginners panic easily and their bodies become stiff because they are afraid of water. When that happens, we usually guide them to breathe slowly and help them practice some basic safety skills before going deeper, ”he explained.
“I will also try to distract them from their fear by encouraging them to focus on the beauty of their underwater environment.”
There are cases where Cheah actually needs to ease their anxiety and practice those safety skills with clients for hours because some of them were afraid to dive.
Sometimes customers give up diving altogether, and in those cases Cheah would convince them to take a snorkel shoot instead.
Taking a break from shooting people every now and then / Image source: Cheah Kim Hup
More customers from China than locally
Although Cheah works with local influencers, he is more popular with Chinese tourists and influencers because he actively posts on Douyin (Chinese TikTok, for those unfamiliar).
“I have 80.4K followers on my Douyin, so these tourists and influencers from China met me and approached me to work with them on their underwater shoots during their travels,” he shared.
“Usually, before we go underwater, I discuss with them which angles they like and which they don’t and try my best to meet their expectations during the dive. But at the end of the day the output really depends on your movements and your pose, which with a little practice comes closer to what you want. “
In addition to influencers, Cheah has also worked with well-known brands such as WeChat China, PADI China, Insta360 China and even Douyin China itself. These major brand collaborations usually involve underwater product reviews, as he did for the Sublue Underwater Scooter and Insta360 camera.
A pool of new models for him / Photo credit: Cheah Kim Hup
Usually the service is a 2 dive shoot and if you work with him at the resort you will be charged RM900 for 1 to 2 people and RM250 per person if more than 4 people. But if you work with him outside of the resort it’s between 600 and 1,000 RM for 1 to 2 people depending on the location. Cheah told Vulcan Post that he has worked with over 500 customers since its inception.
But of course the pandemic changed things for him. Cheah cannot do client work as the tourism industry has been badly hit and the majority of his Chinese clients are now absent.
So he’s back on land in his hometown of Sungai Petani, Kedah, working as a freelance videographer. He’s taking this break from his underwater career to focus on continuing education on product and corporate photography, but is definitely looking forward to getting back in the water when it’s safer.
- You can learn more about Cheah Kim Hup Here.
- You can read more about other photographers we’ve covered Here.
Photo credit: Cheah Kim Hup