One of the most important skill-sets to have is the ability to adapt and adjust to changes in the marketplace. Advancements in technology have rendered certain industries obsolete in very quick time and will continue to do so with many industries.
One guy who understood this for some time now is Andy Lim, who started out in graphic design before morphing into a web designer and subsequently taking the plunge and going into a completely different profession as a photographer.
Lim talks to SAVVY about the process of making that career change, the challenges that go with it and the importance of continuous learning so that you can continue to adapt to survive when the time comes for you change yet again.
You began your career as a graphic designer. What made you decide to move into web design?
My first job was in the advertising industry but when the dotcom boom happened, I joined a technology company to satisfy my curiosity with the Internet. It was while I was there that I honed my web design skills. Web design was a natural progression from graphic design. It utilised part of the skills I’d already mastered yet had this online element which was new and exciting. I really liked the idea that my work would be visible to the world.
What would you say characterised your design sensibilities?
My design sensibilities were largely shaped during my time in the advertising world doing graphic design. It was then that I had the chance to work with some very talented designers who today are established designers with successful businesses of their own. My role at that time was focused on corporate identity design, and I learnt to design from the pencil sketch and not the computer as my starting point.
In your time as a web designer, you did hand-coding. As a designer, you’re probably a right-brained person. Is it challenging for a right brained person to learn programming?
I was familiar with standard web design software like Dreamweaver, which was easy to use but I found that I’d have more control if I hand-coded. It took a lot of practise, believe me, but eventually I did learn how to hand-code from scratch. And this paved the way for me to achieve the next skill level which was integrating static HTML code with dynamic scripts. At that time, these included ASP from Microsoft and CFM from Cold Fusion. This all sounds very technical and it is but I had to learn it.
At some point in your career you switched to photography. How did that come about?
I had long dabbled in travel and landscape photography, which was a hobby. One day a friend asked me if I could take his wedding photos, and it turned out quite well. That gave me the confidence to do wedding photography as a part-time endeavour.
Was it difficult psychologically to make the switch from web design to photography?
When I first started charging for photography work, I still had a full-time salaried job. I did the photography on the side. So, there wasn’t a sudden leap from one profession to another. It was only when the tech company I was working with went through tough times that I had to seriously think about what I was going to do next. Do I go on with web design, which was starting to get commoditised because of the rise of many template-based services or should I throw myself into photography? I decided to be bold and become a professional photographer.
Did you take courses to equip yourself to become a professional photographer?
I was already doing wedding photography and clients were happy with my work when I made the change. So, I felt confident that I could do it just leveraging on my skill sets at the time. Of course there were areas that needed improvement but as I shot more and more weddings, I got better and better at it. And that allowed me to charge higher rates.
How did you market yourself as a photographer when you were starting out?
I started off with a blog on my personal website (www.andylim.com) and eventually moved it to my photographer website (www.emotioninpictures.com). Social media didn’t exist at that time so there was no Facebook Page or Instagram for me to use. I just put my portfolio on my website and relied on word of mouth for business.
You’ve carved a niche for yourself for Indian weddings. How did that come about?
One of the guests at a church wedding which I photographed asked me if I could shoot his upcoming Indian wedding. He knew I had no prior experience in Indian weddings but said that they had faith in me. I guess they must have seen my portfolio on my website. That’s why it’s important to showcase your work.
Isn’t photography a cut-throat business with many new photographers coming in and undercutting everyone else’s rates?
Yes, price cutting is rampant but I believe in setting myself apart with a consistently high standard of work and a narrower niche. So, I don’t compete on price alone although I try to be competitively priced, of course. But I’m definitely not the cheapest photographer you’ll find in the market.
If someone wanted to get into either web design or wedding photography, what advice would you give them?
Many are already jumping onto the bandwagon no matter what advice you offer. But many will eventually burn out by undercharging and overworking. My only advice is to charge what your time and effort are worth.
When looking at how the economy is changing and how the nature of jobs and employment is changing, do you think a career change is something many people will have to contend with whether they like it or not?
It may not be as drastic as a career change entirely, but it could mean changing the way we currently work in our industry. For example, I have shifted from being purely focused on stills photography to offering videography services as well.
How important is video to wedding photography?
Video is expected in a wedding package these days so I do offer it although I don’t do the video shooting myself. I’ve built up a dependable team that takes this responsibility off my shoulders, letting me concentrate on what I do best — stills photography. If there’s one thing I learned about business, it’s that you can’t do everything yourself.
What’s the most important thing for someone to future proof themselves?
We all need to be adaptable and flexible when it comes to future-proofing ourselves. Don’t rule out industries that you may not have a lot of experience in. Everybody starts from somewhere and we can all start doing something new, even if it’s on a part-time basis.
How important is the Internet to you?
The Internet is essential for doing research and marketing my business. Most of the websites I follow are related to marketing. I believe that I have reached a plateau in terms of learning technical skills in photography, but I never stop learning about marketing.
If you could go back in time to when you just finished secondary school, what career choices would you have made and why?
I wouldn’t change a thing. But as a parent I wish to equip my children with the tools and attitude to learn business skills regardless of what area they choose to go into. Business skills are essential in any industry.