Jeryl Teo is a photographer who was born and raised in Singapore, a location that has influenced his photographic style since he first picked up a camera about three years ago.
After first experimenting with photography on the weekends as a way to relax, Jeryl devoted himself to the craft. His gorgeous photos are all the more impressive when you learn that he’s colorblind — something he sees less as a deficiency and more as a fact of life.
I caught up with Jeryl to learn about how he became a photographer, what elements he considers most important in his work, and how his colorblindness affects his images.
What was your journey to becoming a photographer?
Instagram was the initial impetus and was what drove my passion for photography when I was serving my mandatory National Service in 2015. It’s a statutory requirement for all male citizens in Singapore to be conscripted into the military so, during that period, any leisure time felt especially precious to me. I chose to spend my weekends exploring different places in Singapore while experimenting with my iPhone’s camera. At that time I realized, I was easily drawn to the symmetry, patterns, and geometry of almost all the buildings in various estates around this island. Subsequently, shooting and exploring became second-nature to me, coupled with a pure passion to share my perspective of the world.
I believe that passion, people, and perspective played a vital part in my journey to becoming a photographer. Passion was the fire burning inside me, that motivation to get out of bed to catch the sunrise and that hunger to travel abroad to see the world. I’ve also met a lot of people, many of whom are photographers in Singapore and abroad, with very admirable stories and humble beginnings. These people were my inspiration to delve deeper into photography and improve as a person.
Finally, I believe having a unique perspective is about more than just composition. To me, it’s also about including a personal touch in each picture that can speak to my own aesthetics. Places and landscapes are free for all to visit and photograph, so the difference becomes what stands out to an individual person, and the unique moment someone can capture in that same place. I want to show moments that are only valuable to me in that particular instant – either with the right combination of lights and shadows, or a concept that has room for me to get creative in post-processing.
How would you describe your style?
I enjoy patterns, symmetry, and leading lines, which are, more than often, the characteristics of architectural structures, interiors and urban landscapes. By living in a city, I subconsciously trained my eye to see perspectives created by different textures, as well as the lines and edges of the buildings around me. I also experiment a lot with light and shadows — sometimes that “shadowplay” can be from a wider perspective that we don’t often see (like with shots captured with my drone). Besides all the elements of composition, I find it more pleasing to capture more colorful and vibrant scenes.
Do you have a specific process when you’re out shooting?
Before heading out to places around Singapore, I usually have a shot already in mind that I want to capture. But more than often, at the end of the day, I find myself fascinated with other perspectives along the way, most of which are shot spontaneously. Besides, most of my personal favorites are captured with little forethought. So I would still say being spontaneous is my preferred method.
Your Instagram profile says, “A colorblind born into a world so colourful.” What are some of the difficulties with being a colorblind photographer, and how do you overcome those challenges?
I was born with red-green color deficiency, but to be honest, I have never seen color- blindness as a handicap — I simply learn colors instead of seeing them, so to speak. In fact, knowing that I have this deficiency has made me more color-conscious in my photography, especially when it comes time to do post-processing for my photos.
In the past, I didn’t dare to include too much vibrance in my pictures because I was afraid they would turn out over-saturated. Now, it’s a gradual process of experimenting with different color combination that somehow allows me to find the right emphasis between the subject and the background, and this process is pretty dependent on how I feel toward the specific subject matter. Therefore, each and every one of my photos has to be edited from scratch. I tend to spend a lot of time just playing around with the color sliders, split toning, and gradients, but the overall process is nonetheless worthwhile when I look back at how I’ve progressed as a photographer.
Do you think being colorblind gives you any kind of advantage over other photographers?
That has never crossed my mind, but I don’t think so. Instead, I feel that the mentality of knowing that I’m color-deficient has made me subconsciously more aware of the different mix of colors in my surroundings. I think this translates into having the right balance of colors in my pictures — which I understand is totally subjective, but I’d like to think that what’s only pleasing to my eyes will be what defines my personal style.
A lot of your photos feature distinct pops of color. As someone who is colorblind, how do you compose these beautiful shots?
I depend a lot on shooting under the right light condition for a more distinct contrast of colors. In post-processing, I tend to adjust the overall balance using temperature and tint first before deliberately over-saturating specific color sliders in Lightroom (so that I see each color clearly). After that, I re-adjust each color to a luminance that feels right to me. Ultimately, my motive is to have a balance among all other colors while bringing emphasis to the color of the subject matter at hand.
Do you prefer drone photography or using your handheld camera?
I actually enjoy aerial photography more than shooting at street level. Besides having more freedom and creative space up in the air than on land, there’s a greater sense of scale when shooting urban landscapes and architecture from above.
What have you learned about life, the world around you, and yourself by being a photographer?
Love this question. I believe there’s so much more to my short three years of experimenting with photography, yet those same three years were filled with opportunities I’d never thought I would be given. It has been amazing how what started as a hobby became something I cannot live without, something that has allowed me to connect with people both locally and abroad. Photography is something I can be proud of, yet at the same time it serves as a reminder deep down to stay humble, for there is so much more to know, and so much more to create by being a photographer.
Also, one thing I have learned from photography is to embrace change. Styles and trends are fluid and ever-changing. I never imagined doing aerials or including so many colors when I first started out. However, what I feel is important is not to conform, but to adapt while maintaining something special about one’s own aesthetics — this is especially important to stay relevant in the creative industry, or rather, it’s just the right mentality to have toward being a photographer at all.
What have been some of your favorite places you’ve traveled? Where do you hope to travel for photography in the future?
Currently, my favorite places have to be Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Shanghai. Aside from the unique urban landscapes and iconic streets, these places have really good eateries, friendly locals, and efficient public transportation systems, which are what I enjoy most about new destinations. In addition to those cities, Tainan and Bali have been some of my favorite places to visit for natural landscapes – something different than what I normally shoot. What all these places have in common is also a rich culture — each unique in their respective ways — that can be easily captured.
In the near future, I wish to stop by the UAE and also travel to various parts of the United States. I especially want to see New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles to experience some of the most beautiful cityscapes and hopefully capture something beyond usual city life amid the bustle.