Photographer Alan Lim was already sketching on scraps of paper when he was just three years old.

After seeing his siblings’ efforts early, he developed a love for drawing and by the time he entered kindergarten, he was drawing “three-dimensional objects with shadows in a still-life fashion”.

Little did he know that these doodling exercises would be the foundation of his ability to compose captivating photographs later.

One day, he found a twin lens reflex camera abandoned in an old cabinet at home, and his world changed.

He walked around constantly with the camera and looked at his surroundings only through the lens.

“I was fascinated,” he says. “Unlike modern cameras, the images through the camera were upside down and I had to recompose my surroundings constantly.”

“It felt like an extension of my eyes and yet at the same time, I had to use my imagination.”

Even as a young boy, he was always very observant and particular about little details. This continued for many years and after his O levels, he knew he wanted a career in photography.

He pursued an Associate of Science in Photography degree at the Art Institute of Florida in Fort Lauderdale, United States, before returning to work as a photographer for The Straits Times for 12 years.

Sharing knowledge

In recent years, he noticed that more people were taking up photography and many of them were investing in DSLR cameras.

However, he found it  shocking that “most people who owned a state-of-the-art DSLR camera could only shoot in auto mode”.

This inspired him to start the School of Photography Singapore (SOP). “I want to share with Singaporeans the knowledge of photography and to broaden the photography culture locally,” he explains.

SOP, which was opened in January this year, is currently the only local photography school set up by a professional who has worked in various fields of photography for more than 15 years.

“Most photographers specialise in a particular genre but I was fortunate enough to be exposed to various genres of photography from journalistic, commercial to fashion,” he says.

“Because of this background, I understand the requirements of each genre better and am able to curate and oversee the course syllabus more appropriately.”

He believes that theory should come before practical and structures his courses that way. He wants his students to “appreciate the art and science of photography”.

This way, when they finally take a photo, they will “understand what makes a good picture and what would make a picture work”.

Currently, he has 10 instructors in the school, all of whom are handpicked by him.

Other than their skills set, he is extremely particular about the person’s willingness to share their knowledge and experience.

In March, they launched a photo competition called Point and Shoot, which was open to the public.

The only criteria was that no DSLR or photo editing programmme could be used to produce the photograph.

“I wanted to prove to people that it is not the equipment but the photographer that takes the photo,” he says when asked about the objective of this competition.

New hobby

To promote the photography culture, he holds photo exhibitions by renowned photographers that are open to the public every two months.

In one of SOP’s more interesting programmes, foreigners can sign up to do a photography tour during their time in Singapore.

They are taken to wet markets and hawker centres to experience what everyday life is like here and the guide also educates them on how to take good pictures.

Two other groups he hopes to reach out to are retirees and students. He wants to help retirees discover a new lifestyle through learning a new hobby, and wants to help students develop their talents. During the June holidays, he will be holding a Photography BootCamp for youngsters.

His vision is for SOP to eventually have schools in different parts of Asia.

When asked if he has any advice for those thinking of “living their passion”, he says: “Better to die for something than live for nothing.”