Janet Fung Ka-wing has always loved flipping through the latest fashion magazines. In fact, they are what inspired her to become a photographer. Known by her online persona Jannah Velma Noir, she's worked with brands such as Moussy & Sly, Nine West, and Swarovski. But things weren't so easy when she first started taking pictures at age 16.
Back then, Jannah couldn't afford any equipment, so she borrowed lenses from her neighbour and only shot in natural light. She looked up online tutorials and joined forums to learn how to photograph people, and how to retouch images.
She also looked at other photographers' work. Jannah studied where the shadows hit certain points and tried to recreate those images. But now that she has a few years of experience, she is determined to add her own spin to her photos.
After she saw some improvement in her photography and editing skills, Jannah started a Facebook page. "It was purely out of personal interest," she says. Having a close-knit community of photographers is great, but it can also backfire, though. "Everyone's style becomes very similar, so it is not conducive to developing your own identifiable style," says Jannah.
Photography is a growing trend for teenagers in Hong Kong, and there are many Facebook pages devoted to student photography. Because they are international, these Facebook groups help students grow and find their own style. Jannah is still part of the community and found work as a freelance photographer.
Right now, there is some new blood in the student photography scene: Justin Wong, Toby Chan, and Sophia Chae all specialise in portraits and are also doing editorial shoots. And there is the great success story of 21-year-old Lauren Engel.
A former Island School student, Lauren worked as a model when she was young. "I was more comfortable in front of the lens," she says. At the age of 15 she discovered her talent behind the lens and now she has has more than 12,000 followers on Instagram. She's also a regular contributor to C-Heads Magazine based in Australia and has been featured in Vogue France and GQ France.
She started out by joining a Facebook group for student photographers. There she met Gabrielle Angeline Shamon and Anastasia Salnikow, who held workshops to train up-and-coming photographers. "They taught us how to manually use a DSLR, and we shared our personal editing techniques," Lauren says.
Both Jannah and Lauren built careers out of their experiences in a community of student photographers. Facebook helped, because as Jannah says: "The student photography community is not really big in Hong Kong."
Lauren agrees. She feels success might have come faster in another city, saying: "The community in Hong Kong is pretty small so brands slowly became more aware of my work."
For those interested in photography, Lauren believes that professional training isn't necessary to get started nowadays.
"Whatever you want to learn can be found online through tutorials," she says.
For beginners, Jannah advises using Photoblog, a local website that brings amateur photographers together. The site provides a great platform for up-and-coming talents who want to learn skills as they go along.