Eugene Tan is the guy who started Aquabumps, a site that has become the de-facto beach lifestyle photography site for Sydney-siders and beyond. The initial idea came about in 1999 when he combined his three passions: photography, surfing, and the web, and has grown from an early email list to running a gallery out of Bondi that now employs 15 people or so.

Aquabumps is a website and daily email dedicated to early morning beach life depicting images of waves, surfers (good and bad), swimmers, sunrises and whatever happens in the wee hours down at Bondi Beach every morning.

We spoke to Uge about all things photography, staying organised, working with Google and gets him stoked.

Eugene Tan

Who are you and where are you based
My name is Eugene Tan, and most people call me ‘ Uge’ – yooj. I’m a beach photographer based in Bondi Beach, Australia

For a solid look into Uge’s history, hit up >> https://www.aquabumps.com/history

What’s your day to day look like?
I shoot every day (in the water, from helis, on cliffs), have done so for 20 years. I live on the beach, so I spend a lot of time in the mornings down there shooting – when the light is good. After shooting it’s all about kids and teaching them to grind a bowl at our local skatepark before school. The rest of the day I’m an office jockey like everyone else except I surf around lunchtime (Aquabumps HQ is very close to the beach). Office jockeying for me is updating websites, posting on social media, assisting staff (there lots of them these days), coming up with new marketing ideas and hanging in our beautiful gallery garden (mainly on the phone or email). Our Bondi Gallery is super busy! We ship artworks all over the world.

How did you get into photography?
When I was nine years old, I purchased a crap Instamatic camera at a garage sale for five bucks. Since then I’ve documented everything around me. I started by processing my shots at home in a makeshift darkroom, and then swung to digital in the nineties. I’ve always loved to capture moments – it’s what keeps me going.

Current photography setup?
So what’s in my bag(s) that I lug around:
2 x Canon EOS 1DX2s
2 x Canon EOS 5DSRs
1 x Canon 1D Mark 4
2 x Canon 5D Mark 2’s
1 x Trichromatic Phase One XF with IQ3 100mb back + 55mm + 80mm
EF 14mm f/2.8
EF 35mm f/1.4L USM
EF 50mm f/1.2 USM
EF 17-40mm f/4L USM
EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM
EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM (Mark 2 and 1)
TSE 24mm f/3.5L
EF 200mm -400mm F4.0 USM IS

All that stuff above is carried around in:
ThinkTank Airport International V2.0
2 x Pelican Case 1624
2 x Pelican Case 1730

I also use many water housings to shoot the pics while swimming. And use Aquatech (15 years with these guys!) housings – Dave Kelly is the master for odd cameras

Couple DJI Drones for kicks, Mavic 2s

Photography

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt going from dealing with small fry brands to brands like Google and Cannon?
Do your absolute best, all the time. Stick to your guns, don’t let clients dilute your direction. But put in the time – and really excel at every given chance. I always like to overdeliver.

What is the most important thing you’ve learnt about being a successful photographer?
Be humble/grateful.

What would you consider your “specialty” and how did you find it?
Beach, beach culture, beach landscapes – anything with salt water in it. 12 years ago I released an aerial series over Sydney’s beaches. That was a game changer back then (well before drones). Everyone was blown away by the unique angles I was getting. I found it on my first flight, that my beautiful wife Debbie bought me for Chrissy! I’ve been helicopters constantly ever since. (Around 30 heli shoot flights a year all over the globe)

Do you have a routine when preparing for a shoot?
Yes, you have to be organised. I always prepare the night before – or I can’t sleep. I have back ups for everything, cards, batteries etc.

Is there a certain photo/shoot that you’re particularly proud of?
Earlier this year we collaborated with The Australian Ballet, Dropbox and Dion Lee to produce a series of 12 limited edition images from a blackened pool. It was a tough shoot – very technical with flash lighting underwater and big crew. (I normally work solo). The images came up amazing and something different for me. Trying new stuff is good – makes you grow.

Looking back, what do you think the biggest factors were that got you to where you are today?
There’s no question I had good timing when I began in the nineties. Guys were shooting the surfing tour but NO ONE was documenting beach culture well, let alone Bondi beach (which is now the most popular Australian location shot on Instagram). So getting in early with pure, original ideas really paid off.

Hard work. I’m relentless. Possibly a tad annoying when I want something. Ask my staff. They know. Also, I’ve got up every day and shot since 1999…so what type of fanatical lunatic would do that?

I used mentors. People I respect. I listen to every word they offer.

Hacks for the aspiring photographers on the move
There are no shortcuts – do the hard work. Develop your OWN style, do not copy. Stand out, or you will be washed into the abyss of photography online.

Eugene Tan Aquabumps

Medium

(do) You still shoot film. Can you tell me your take on the pros/cons of film
Nah, no longer shoot film. Just too slow to work with and too much work involved in post (dusting etc). I still have film cameras, especially panoramic Fuji’s…but never use em.

Do you also use film when it comes to your client projects?
Never.

Do you approach a shoot differently if your using film vs digital
Nah, not at all. Same same just not in a stinky darkroom and in an air cond office with a computer.

Shots for the ‘gram – Do you do a quick edit on the phone or take the time in Lightroom?
I use Capture one. Don’t edit on my phone.

Do you have an ideal setup you use, or do you find yourself whipping out the phone?
I use anything to create images. I’m using a Google Pixel 3 phone at the moment and love using it to shoot stuff on the fly. My morning shoots are a bit more structured and have all my gear. But it really depends on conditions for my big morning shoots – in the water, from the land, or in the air.

Extras

What do you listen to while you work?
Podcasts mostly or chill music. Music – I just got back from Mykonos so anything they play at Scorpios!

Podcasts- Gary Vee is quite inspirational. Casey Neistat is a lunatic but makes me laugh. Kevin Rose, Tim Ferris. Love hearing Ray Dalio talk economy and business.

What are you currently reading?
I’m ashamed to admit I don’t read. I’ve had a book on Elon Musk by my bed for one year – still on chapter 3. I learn from listening to people and talking to people. Oh, I often read camera manuals and tech stuff, cause I’m a rad nerd. Can’t believe that I admitted that.

The best advice you’ve ever received?
The harder you work, the luckier you will get. Listen to your gut.

What apps, software, tools make your life easier?
I’m a to-do-list maker, and use Google Keep for that. Latergramme for managing my Insty. Commbank, tap and pay. Love it. Don’t carry a wallet any more. I’m a big fan of voice – so I write emails in the car using dictation on my Pixel 3. It’s so good.

Where do you love to travel?
It changes, but currently in love with Italy. Europeans know how to live – and they go big. It’s also so incredible to shoot. The Amalfi coast is timeless.

Find out more about Eugene Tan –
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/aquabumps/
Pinterest – https://www.pinterest.com.au/aquabumps/