Of all the many things that inspire Kai Tan, love appears to reign supreme. In every aspect of his work he is not only surrounded by it, but is also very much drawn to it. From the newlyweds who are soon to make their vows, to the families who find joy in one another, there is a story to be told. We even witness an unwavering love from far beyond the camera, Kai’s supporting wife driving him to pursue his passions. Therein lies some of the magic that we see within his images.
An architect by trade, it was only until his friends invited him to shoot their wedding that Kai’s talents truly came to fruition. From a hobbyist, to a part-time photographer, and now his career, he made the leap once he realised how much he enjoyed connecting with his subjects. Working with each one extensively, they all become his muses.
Kai’s style of portraiture is unique in many ways, his composition allows you to focus on the people in frame but he also compliments them with strong structural elements. Each component working in harmony, the photograph pulls in different stories, emotions and visual intrigue together.
It is not only his muses that dictate his work, art and movies help form a canvas in his mind. Some of the greats like Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar Wai have inspired Kai, pushing his work into unexplored realms.
“Some people described my style with terms such as natural, architectural, cinematic, etc. My method may be different depending on different muses who carry different stories of theirs; probably the only consistency is my personal preference on certain elements such as natural emotions and inclusion of a sense of place and time. I also try to be versatile if I’m in different places, situations, or weather, and I avoid applying the same formulas to my muses. ‘Become like water’ as Bruce Lee said.”
Enjoying the wind before the storm, Singapore - Nikon D750, ISO400, f/1.4, 1/500 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G at 58mm
An intimate moment, Singapore - Nikon D750, ISO110, f/1.4, 1/4000 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G at 58mm
Silhouette of a couple against the traffic, vibrant night life and Big Ben, London - Nikon D750, ISO100, f/22, 3 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II at 110mm
'The universe of ours’, Bali - Nikon D750, ISO100, f/2, 1/1500 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G at 58mm
Soft love against rigid line, Paris - Nikon D750, ISO1600, f/1.7, 1/250 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G at 58mm
In this line of work, it is often that one will encounter people who are camera shy, but this can in turn bring out something unique within a picture. It is down to Kai to build an atmosphere that fosters the right kind of chemistry. Through conversations and a little directing, he rises to the challenge and aims to make them feel more comfortable in the given setting. There is always a struggle to balance someone’s comfort level while perfecting light, composition, body language and emotion; but Kai always puts their enjoyment first in order to create a worthwhile experience.
“My favourite thing about capturing people is the precious emotions that they didn’t even expect to come from themselves.”
Kai recounts a moment with one particular couple whom at the end of their session thanked him for the opportunity to be photographed. They said that through the experience they had learned a great deal more about each other. Kai truly loves being able to facilitate in these bond-building moments.
Beyond couple portraits, Kai has also branched out into photographing weddings, maternity shoots, and family snapshots, each requiring a different strength of his. During weddings he needs to remain highly energised to snag those impromptu moments, and he knows he has done a good job when his muscles are left aching the next day from keeping up with the jubilations.
Maternity shoots are a more zen affair as these are done quickly and simply as to allow the mother to be at ease. For family portraits, Kai usually spends more time opening a dialogue or playing with kids. “I need to be ‘invited’ and become part of the family in order to make the photos good. In general, I like to express the flow of energy of my muses in my photography.”
Sunset makes unusual vision possible, Singapore - Nikon D750, ISO400, f/4.8, 1/500 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G
A father and his son enjoying the sea view, Bali - Nikon D750, ISO100, f/8, 1/750 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G at 28mm
A single shot of a couple through a truck window and mirror against the old and new architectural context as background, Bali - Nikon D750, ISO2200, f/6.7, 1/1,500 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G at 28mm
Sea water might be the best natural filter for a beautiful sunset, Bali - Nikon D750, ISO500, f/4.8, 1/4,000 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G at 58mm
A random passerby who walked by with two dogs, Paris - Nikon D750, ISO500, f/9.5, 1/350 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G at 28mm
There have been many moments in Kai’s career that have shaped his perception, skills and being. However, he feels the most rewarding experience he has had was an assignment in Bali last year. He spent his time there shooting two unique couples and two different families from Singapore and Australia.
“I learnt from the families about how to enjoy time together as family and how to bring up kids by giving them space for confidence and independence. From the couples, I learnt about preparing for the unexpected, and yet to live in the moments given the unexpected. Lastly, the most rewarding part of me going through all these experiences has been the selfless and continuous support given by my wife. That is gold.”
Bearing witness to love in so many different forms has certainly left its mark on Kai. He has proven that he will go to great lengths to capture the perfect moment, and one particular memory of a shoot in New Zealand stands out.
After spotting an exceptional sunset in the distance, Kai and the couple he was photographing hopped out the car for a 5 minute session. Having to stay quite still during the process, Kai was battling heavy winds from one direction, but he stood his ground. Only after getting back in the car did he noticed the left side of his face had gone numb, leaving him with a bad headache and windburn. All worth it in the name of love!
A sunset view on a road trip, New Zealand - Nikon D750, ISO100, f/11, 1/500 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G at 28mm
A casual graduation portrait of a couple, Singapore - Nikon D750, ISO100, f/2, 1/1000 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G at 28mm
A mother and her baby in the gentle morning, Bali - Nikon D750, ISO100, f/1.4, 1/3000 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G at 58mm
A portrait of an old couple who shared their stories in many ways, Bali - Nikon D750, ISO200, f/2, 1/3000 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G at 58mm
’Quiet the mind, and the soul will speak.’ - Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati. Bali - Nikon D750, ISO360, f/1.8, 1/3000 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G
A successful proposal to win a lifetime partner, Paris - Nikon D750, ISO140, f/2, 1/1500 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G at 28mm
Sunset and lovers, London - Nikon D750, ISO560, f/2, 1/2000 seconds, AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G at 58mm
No matter the occasion Kai prefers a minimal set up; not only does this help his subjects to feel a little more at ease, but also it allows him to travel light. He tries to stick with one lens with the AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G being his usual choice. “I prefer not to change my lenses too frequently during my photo shoots, especially during weddings considering that moments can be fleeting.”
In his bag you will usually find two cameras, the Nikon D750; one to be place on the left and one on the right to capture different perspectives. He also often carries two lenses, a wide-angle lens to provide more context of the scene and a medium-long zoom lens to capture emotion.
A master of composition, candour and affairs of the heart, Kai’s portraits are a lesson in picking up the energy of your subjects. Even in fleeting moments, he is able to harness an array of elements that present a tale of togetherness. Creating images as unique as each story he encounters is no small task, but as a man who cherishes love a great deal, the role is in good hands.
A Singapore based photographer specializing in weddings and lifestyle portraiture, Kai Tan is a former architect turned professional shutterbug. He still gathers much of his inspiration from the cityscape, incorporating them into his romantic portraits and family affairs. Having recently become a father, his baby girl has only solidified his love for capturing family fun moments.