Five Questions: Neil Ta

10 May 2018

My name is Neil Ta and I'm a photographer based in Toronto. I'm influenced by different genres of photography which is reflected in the diversity of what I photograph. On the professional side, I earn a living by photographing weddings, doing corporate and editorial portraits, licensing and selling fine art prints. For fun, I love to travel and work on personal documentary style projects. In the past, I explored Toronto from unique perspectives, photographed the streets with a Hasselblad XPan in Havana, and documented everyday life in Cambodia.

What was your first introduction to photography?

My first real introduction to photography came in 2003 when I purchased the Canon S45 camera. Though it was just a point and shoot, it was quite advanced at the time. I think I paid about $600 for it and it came with a 32 MB CF card! I used this camera while interning in Vietnam for six months and captured a couple of decent photos that I went on to license later on (for free). It wasn't until 2008 when I invested in a basic Canon DSLR that I really learned how to properly create photos. I quit my corporate job as a Marketing Manager in late 2010 and started doing photography full time in 2011. I haven't looked back since!

What's in your camera bag?

The question of gear is always a hot topic of conversation, but at the end of the day, I will use whatever I need to get the job done. Usually, I'm just carrying a Fujifilm X100F but it depends on the situation. The X100F is without a doubt my favorite camera; the 'it's with me everywhere' camera. It's practically an extension of my body. And for as much as I've raved about the X100F, I do not have any affiliations with Fuji, though it sometimes sounds like I'm trying to push their products a little hard. I simply love their products and innovation. I've traveled to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Japan photographing exclusively with the X100F. It was really liberating to be able to just shoot with what you have and not have to worry about carrying a large pack and making decisions on what lenses to use.

For weddings, I will bring a Canon 5D Mark IV, 5D3, the X100F, three or four Godox flashes, and the basic Magmod system. I will add a variety of stands and modifiers to that list for corporate and editorial work. I can't say how happy I am with the Godox flash system; it's reliable and affordable. The AD200, in particular, is a game changer for people that need a versatile flash system. I'm a big fan.

I also love to tinker with film. I recently purchased a Fujifilm G617. It is a medium format panoramic film camera and an absolute beast! I get four shots on a roll of 120 but the scans I get from this thing is absolutely bananas. I had a print done for a client that was 2.5 x 7 feet (from a 140 MP Imacon scan). It was very impressive to see detail in such a large print.

Do you have a go-to or favorite system?

As you can tell, I am a bit of a Fuji fanatic! But as I said, I will use the system that is most appropriate for getting me the images I want to create. If money wasn't an issue and if I didn't have to earn a living with photography, I would probably still shoot primarily with the X100F but integrate the GFX 50S and X-Pro 2 in there as well. That being said, there's a reason I am still on the Canon system. When it comes to ergonomics and speed, I can change settings on the 5D4 and 5D3 quickly without even really needing to look -- it's automatic. I find that I'm much slower changing settings on mirrorless cameras because the buttons tend to be smaller and you sometimes need to access options in a menu system. When I am shooting something that requires some level of speed, I still rely on the Canons.

Who's your inspiration?

This is a question that I've never really thought much of before because I think inspiration is a lot different than influence or motivation. My family came to Canada after fleeing war-torn Vietnam. I was born in a refugee camp in Malaysia after escaping Vietnam by boat. Although we lived a pretty normal and happy life, we definitely did not have as much as other families of the friends I grew up with. I think this has a lot to do with why I am inspired by the stories of people who have had to struggle in their lives. Those who have overcome adversity to succeed in life or who have made sacrifices so that others could benefit from their hardship. So with that being said, it would have to be my parents. They made the decision to leave their home with four children and to risk their lives to give them all a better life. It was their sacrifice that has made my life possible.

What's the best advice you've received or given as a photographer?

I wrote an article that was picked up by Petapixel that revisits a conversation I had with Sara Lando, an amazing photographer, and educator from Italy. The entire discussion we had included so many great takeaways but the one that I will remember most is this: "Neil, I think you’re a really talented photographer and obviously you know all the technical aspects of photography. But right now – you’re just a really good cover band.” Essentially, the advice was to shoot with more purpose and intent. To want to know the story you want to tell. I already had the technical skills to tell the story, I just could not piece it all together because I was too busy trying to emulate others and not carving my own path.

Thank you Neil Ta for your perspective on photography this week!

Amy Arroyo

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