Computer Science PhD Turned Professional Photographer Ada Zhang: Exploring the Unknown

After obtaining her PhD in the Computer Science Department in the National University of Singapore and then working there as a teaching assistant for two year, Ada Zhang decided to switch gear to become a full-time professional photographer. She has since made waves in the photography scene in Singapore for making creative storytelling portraits. We interviewed her on a Saturday afternoon in Kith Cafe Isetan in Shaw House Singapore. She just delivered her first baby 3 months prior to this interview.

Here is her story.

On making a major career transition

My transition was actually an easy one from computer science research to professional photography. I think there are many similarities between computer science research and portrait photography. Both are about exploring the unknown. You would not know what the outcome is when you are given a research topic in PhD or when you first meet the person you will take photos of.

Ada Zhang in her studio

On falling in love with maternity photography

Ada’s own maternity photos, designed and shot by herself

I was particular creative during my pregnancy. For example, I got curious about what women in ancient times would wear during their pregnancy. And hence I did a lot of research in history and produced a series of selfie shots based on what pregnant women in Ming and Han dynasties would wear. It took me a long time to experiment and design the dress and the makeup, but it was totally worth it.

Ada's Tang Dynasty portrait during her pregnancy

On being a female voice in the photography field

As a female photographer, I have always been trying to find my own identity among a sea of male photographers. I think it’s reflected on how I chose my camera bag. I don’t like the dull canon logo on camera straps. I don’t like the black camera bag everyone is using, because it looks too masculine and boring and has no personality. I sewed a pink colored camera bag myself a few years ago and loved it so much. Too bad it’s very torn now.

My current camera bag is also handcrafted and looks very feminine. Some people find it very unprofessional, but I think my photos will speak for themselves.

On being a busy young mother

My mentality towards time management has changed quite a bit. I was a lot more whimsical before, but I started to do more planning since my son was born. Time is more precious now as I would love to spend more time with my son while doing my work well. And I would say I am more motivated now. I guess like any other mother, I want to be a role model for my son.

What’s in her bag?

Besides phone and wallet, I always bring a lipstick and a bottle of Daiso eyebrow coating gel. Lipstick is a huge confidence booster for me, and for many other girls. I have very thin eyebrow and this coating gel does magic for me. Since my son was born, I started carrying an ice bag to store my breastmilk bottles and an electric breast pump.

What Ada normally carries in her backpack

I also always bring a pair of jeans. When I am doing a photoshoot, I will be in all sorts of awkward positions and hence need something that’s very flexible. Sometimes I would bring a flattering dress if I need to see friends right after work. Some of my friends even bring different outfits for meeting different types of business clients. It's absolutely necessary for a modern working woman to be feel like herself as she moves from place to place in various occasions throughout the day.

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