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Photographing Australia's Beaches with Eugene Tan

Eugene Tan's passion for the ocean started when he was pretty young and here he reveals how he has turned this love into a thriving photography business, Aquabumps. He also shares the lessons he has learned about success in photography, from his early days in Cottesloe to the iconic sands of Bondi Beach.

On being inspired

I really love what I do, I love taking pictures every day. This is how I want to live my life and it's going great. I'm not showing any signs of slowing down.

I grew up in Western Australia and the beaches are a big part of the lifestyle over there. We're windsurfers, surfers, water skiers, anything to do with water. That connection to the ocean has been the common theme throughout my whole life and then later the photography developed. I guess it was just an extension of my passion to document what I really loved doing.

Eugene Tan
Image by Eugene Tan. Shot with Canon EOS 5DsR using a EF 100-400 Mark II lens.

On capturing images

I honestly just document anything around me. That kind of reportage started early for me.

I first picked up a camera when I was about nine after buying a tiny camera in a garage sale. I regularly started shooting beaches in the morning in the 1990s. Just little pocket cameras, shooting the beach at sunrise – it was kind of my escape. I'd take a few photos for an hour, and then I'd go to my day job. Perfectly honest, I wasn't that interested in my day job. All I was thinking about was taking my pictures down on the beach in the morning.

On camera choice

I just think it's one of the best cameras they've ever brought out. The speed, image quality, low light capabilities and focus – it just ticks all boxes for me.

I use the Canon EOS 1DX Mark II. It makes my images sharp when I blow them up and the shadow detail is so much better now. I love the above angle. It's one of my signature shots – beaches and surfers from above. I'm lucky enough to go up all the time in helicopters. On New Year's Day there was 40,000 people on Bondi Beach and it was an incredible site to see.

Eugene Tan
Image by Eugene Tan; shot with Canon EOS 5DsR on the EF 100-400 Mark II lens.

On creating Aquabumps

Aquabumps all started from my daily emails. I would go down, take some photos, attach them to an email and send to some friends.

Aquabumps just evolved and today about 50,000 people get that email. I have had some subscribers for 10 years who read it every single day, and that's the basis of Aquabumps, which now has about 84,000 fans on Facebook too. With a commitment to always delivering fresh content, it is continually updated a few times a day.

On great partnerships

We want to partner with brands that we use. I use Canon cameras, we're partnered with them. I've been shooting with Canon cameras pretty much my whole life. 

The big Aquabumps audience has brought in people that wanted to advertise on our site with a natural progression to have commercial partners. We are now working with Speedo and have brought out a Havaiana's thong with a print on the sole.

Eugene Tan
Image by Eugene Tan; shot with Canon EOS 1DX Mark II. 

On building a business

Be innovative and always invest in your photographs and new ideas. Don't just follow what other people are doing. Cut your own path.

I've had a gallery for nine years and sell my prints here – it's just my work. I invested in some large format printers to print our photographs in-house, which is a big step. I can control colours a lot better and test a lot more rather than outsourcing to a lab. And we're shipping prints to places like London and New York all the time, and get visitors from all over the world and they want to take a piece of Australia or Sydney or Bondi back home with them. We can run off a print in a couple of hours, roll it up, and they can take it home with them. It's a great way of running a business.

On becoming a photographer

Every day, I learn something new. That's why I love photography. And that's what you're addicted to. You get addicted to perfecting your art and getting the shot that you haven't got yet.

My advice is to find your niche. Photography is a big spectrum. You don't have to be a wedding photographer or a portrait photographer. I take pictures of the beach and I share them with a lot of people and I sell pictures in my gallery. It's a simple business but we've been going for a long time nowAquabumps is living proof that you can make a business out of your passion.

Image credit: Eugene Tan.