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TEDx Sydney: Standing out with your art with Aquabumps' Uge Tan

The Aquabumps legend looks at carving out your artistic niche to stand out online.

4 min read
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Eugene 'Uge' Tan has built an amazing brand over the past 21 years. His creativity within the very specific niche of shooting the beauty of Bondi Beach every day has made his photographic art desired all around the world. So hearing his perspective on exploring your own creativity to stand out in the busy online world of today is quite an opportunity.

"Everyone is bombarded with so much stuff," says Uge. "How do you elevate your brand and stand out? I'm going to show you examples of people I think do a really good job and teach you a few things about what we do here."

How do you stand out?

Use starts by looking into the battle to stand out. People are spending 2 hours and 24 minutes per day on social media, according to research, and there's 95 million posts per day on Instagram.

"There's this huge sea of content that has taken over," says Uge. "It's really hard to shine. To stand out."

"I sell photos so Instagram is a great channel to promote my work. But how do I get out in front? You have to sharpen your game. You can't just put stuff on there and expect people to see it. You need an act."

Uge points out that a lot of people's work looks the same online, especially in the photography world. People are going to the same locations – so much Italian coastline, for example – and using the same presets.

"You download them, put them in your software and they make your work look a certain way," he says. "I find presets are making everyone's work look so similar so it's hard to stand out. It's all at a good level, but it's all looking the same so it blends in. So I don't use presets. I have a few for my daily email because I have to process fast, but I always put my own take on it."

So how do you find your way to stand out? You need to be innovative, and find your niche. The thing you will be known for.

Uge talks about how he found his niche with Aquabumps, which began back in 1999.

"I'm known as 'the guy who shoots Bondi Beach every day'," he says. "I've heard that so many times over 21 years. It's a simple thing, but it's a unique angle because I shoot every day at sunrise at Bondi Beach. I was a surfer, loved swimming, lived on the beach, why not pull those passions together? That's how Aquabumps started."

Seeing a shot from that morning emailed to you the same day really stood out in 1999, before blogs and social media brought people such an immediacy. The emails led to requests to purchase prints, and when he finally added a 'Buy' link a few years later it was a groundbreaking moment.

Find your uniqueness

To help people think about originality, Uge walked through some stand out artists of yesterday and today that show what it means to carve out an original and unique artistic idea.

From the past, he looks at Andy Warhol and Piet Mondrian and how they were so groundbreaking for their times. From today, he highlights the work of other Australian artists standing out globally, including George Byrne for his photography of colourful LA scenes, CJ Hendry who creates photorealistic pen and pencil drawings, and Tom Adair who prints photographs in a duotone style and airbrushes the dots.

"These guys have become successful because they've developed a style."

The simplicity of the concepts, the consistency of the work produced, and how quickly you know that the work is by the specific artist just by looking at it are all elements that stand out for Uge. Finding that theme that defines your work can be a big part of standing out and really being noticed.

In his own work, Uge shows how he was unique by shooting in the water at Bondi and posting within an hour or two. That immediacy of delivery was part of what captured people's imagination. Even today, that daily routine of getting shots out in his daily newsletter before 9am is about consistency. Along with his camera in a waterproof housing, he relies on a Dell XPS laptop to work quickly.

"It's fast, it's got a lot of grunt to process my high-res files so I can get the posts out that morning."

He also got into aerial photography well before drones became a big thing.

"The top down angle is obviously very done at the moment with drones," he says. "But 15 years ago it was cutting edge. Photographers only hired helicopters if they were doing real estate shoots. No one really did the long lens. I couldn't believe it. No one was shooting long lens from above, so that became a style I really got stuck into."

Today, Uge says his business is based on people coming to him for prints because they know his work has a certain style that stands out.

"That's what I urge content creators to do these days. Find the uniqueness."

His critical tips? Define your style and stay true to it, and be consistent in the work you produce. But most importantly – enjoy your work!