A Day Through the Lens of Local Fashion and Travel Photographer Tommy Shih
From exotic and eclectic to engaging and exquisite, the images local boy Tommy Shih captures are nothing short of amazing.
By Stacy Makiya
Photos: Aaron K. Yoshino; Travel and Fashion Photos Courtesy of Tommy Shih
When Tommy Shih graduated from UC San Diego with a degree in management science, he never would have predicted that his career path would take a severe detour. Neither would is parents. “When I told my mom I was quitting my marketing job and that I didn’t have another job lined up, and that instead I was going to pursue photography, it was met with silence,” recalls Shih. “I thought we got disconnected.” The course change wasn’t a snap decision. He’d held the job, for a photo and film scanner company, for five years, and during tradeshows, Shih would sneak away and take street photos. “I’d bring my shots back to the floor and ask professional photographers for critique and advice on composition and lighting.”
From there, Shih landed small jobs, including taking headshots for actors, which paid next to nothing. And then, an unexpected event led the photographer to (nearly) lose focus of his dream. “A couple of months after I quit my job, my apartment got broken into. Most of my camera equipment was stolen (about $10,000 worth),” says Shih. “I thought I was done. But, my cousins pooled together and bought me a new camera. That gave me the motivation to work really hard and recruit clients. I managed to make $10,000 my first month, and from that point, I knew I could make it.”
Zoom in to today: Shih is one of the most in-demand editorial photographers in Honolulu, winning multiple awards for his work in the fashion industry. His mastery of lighting and composition blended with his attention to detail and easygoing nature have garnered him past gigs with iconic alohawear giant Tori Richard, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, and a rare opportunity to shoot fashion show producer Lynne O’Neill at New York Fashion Week. Here, we expose a day in the life of the Punahou alum and Instagram addict who likes to take cheap shots—of coffee.
Morning Glass breakfast burritos.
Grab a Keurig coffee—I like the Donut Shop K-cups and they’re cheap at Costco—and yogurt at home. Then answer work emails and delete all of my 67 spam messages. If I have to meet a client, I’ll suggest Morning Glass ’cause I’m a fan of its breakfast burritos and muffins.
I work from home so the commute from my kitchen fridge to my computer is awesome. On a typical day, I’m processing photos, usually from advertising clients and editorial publications, which sometimes can take all day. What people don’t understand is that when I shoot for a campaign or fashion feature, there are about 1,200 photos that I have to review. Imagine going through that many photos and narrowing it down to 20 options. It’s a long process to ensure the best photos are being delivered. Today, I don’t have too much on my plate, just a couple hours of wrapping up loose ends.
I’m kinda lame; I don’t go to the gym. I do a P90x3 and Insanity MAX:30 Hybrid workout program right before lunch, in my living room. I die after each session and have to lie on the floor for a good 10 minutes after.
Break for lunch. My two favorite lunches are 7-Eleven egg salad sandwiches (if I’m broke, which is often) and a Piggy Smalls burger with the smoke meat (if I just completed a big job).
Check out Treehouse for film. It’s one of the only sources where you can purchase analog photography products on the island. Since I’m around the Ward area, I’ll stop by South Shore Market and visit friends who work there.
I’m meeting up with my friend Myspace Tom [Anderson]. We’re going to grab a boba tea from Tea Boss and go somewhere to shoot the sunset. Maybe drive over to Ala Moana Beach Park or Spitting Caves on the East Side. He usually likes to fly his drone, while I like setting up a tripod and shooting long exposures.
Sit down with my fam for dinner. My mom is very well known for her cooking in the Taiwanese community. My favorite dish is her tsao mi fun, or Taiwanese fried vermicelli noodles. It’s the best I’ve ever had.
Since I’m not on a deadline, I’m working on past images from travels or personal shoots that might make it onto social media or in my portfolio. If I’m going on a trip with my friends, I’ll research things to do and where to stay at our destination. We usually send each other ideas over group texts. Last year I visited Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, Budapest (Hungary), Slovenia, Florence and Venice (Italy), Taiwan (for the first time in 22 years), Banff (Canada) and Japan.
Photos: Tommy shih
Start retouching photos.
I don’t watch too much TV, so to wind down after an exhausting day of checking Instagram, I read. I’m currently reading a book by John Sandford. It’s part of a series about a Minnesotan police detective who uses unconventional methods to track down serial killers. I’m enjoying it.
Lightning Round Questions
If I wasn’t a photographer, I’d be a: wealthy photographer.
Something I’m proud of: No cavities!
Sport that I suck at: Flag football and surfing. Injured myself badly doing both.
Daily wardrobe: Jeans, plain T-shirts with no brand logos, slippers or super cheap Ben Sherman chukkas.
Most expensive camera you own: $3,300 Nikon D850.
Go-to karaoke song: Warren G’s “Regulate” feat. Nate Dogg (RIP).
Celebrity I’d most like to photograph: Gal Gadot. Just an amazing expressive face and she has a million-watt smile.
Nickname in high school: Only my best friends know and I’m keeping it that way.
Favorite way to chill: Glamping at Bellows.
Favorite ice cream flavor: Brownie brittle from Lucy’s Lab.
Favorite pizza place: Boston Pizza.
Favorite shop: Mori. I just picked up the Andy South panda musubi shirt. It’s dope. Shop local!
Favorite beach to shoot at: Alan Davis and Cockroach Cove/Eternity Beach. The small patches of sand along the rocky eastern coastline are magical to me.
READ MORE STORIES BY STACY MAKIYA