Faces of Singapore

A book containing rare aerial photographs of Singapore will be launched on Friday.

Richard Koh took the aerial photos for Over Singapore, which includes a picture of rainwater filling up an old granite quarry on Pulau Ubin (above). PHOTO: RICHARD WJ KOH
Floating forest. PHOTO: RICHARD WJ KOH
Lady in the Sand. PHOTO: RICHARD WJ KOH
Richard Koh (above) took the aerial photos for Over Singapore, which includes a picture of HDB flats in Choa Chu Kang. PHOTO: SNG SIOK AI

If you think you know how Singapore looks, wait till you see it from the sky.

Over Singapore, a book containing rare aerial photos of the cityscape, will be officially launched on Friday. The 168-page hardcover contains more than 120 photographs taken from the top of soaring buildings such as Swissotel and Pinnacle@Duxton and from helicopters provided by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and ST Aerospace.

The photographs will be accompanied by essays about Singapore's changing landscape by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Ambassador-at- Large Professor Tommy Koh, who was approached by the publisher Editions Didier Millet because of his knowledge of the country.

The photographer for the book, Richard Koh, 43, was commissioned by the publisher. He is the owner of photography company Aerophotoworks, which specialises in aerial and aerospace photography. He is the official photographer for Aerospace Singapore magazine.

On why he does aerial photography, shot from a helicopter, Koh says: "It's thrilling, very different from on the ground photography. You feel you're in a different world where you're looking down on the planet from above, silent save for the sound of the helicopter."


    WHERE: The Fullerton Hotel

    WHEN: Friday to Aug 13 (11am to 7.30pmdaily)


Over Singapore is divided into four sections based on geography, namely North, South, East and West. Helicopters travelled to the furthest reaches of the airspace, from Tuas to the Causeway, in order to get unique shots.

This is the fourth edition of the book, with three versions published in 1985, 1993 and 2007 by the same publisher. These also contain aerial photos of Singapore, albeit at a different stage in her development. The 2007 edition of the book, titled Over Singapore: 50 Years Ago, has black-and-white photographs taken by the British air force during the 1950s .

In the process of shooting for the new book from mid-2013 to end-2014, Koh ended up taking more than 25,000 shots of Singapore from above. He got to shoot the Red Lions SAF Parachute Team during a practice parachute jump.

Aerial photography has its challenges, he says. Usually, he goes overseas to shoot in places such as Uluru in Australia and Siem Reap in Cambodia. Chopper rental can cost more than $1,000 a flight, each lasting about an hour.

In Singapore, due to the limited airspace, clearance must be sought from the authorities to fly on specific days. During the flights, there is a limit of one to 11/2 hours of flight time, due to the limited fuel.

While in the helicopter, Koh straps himself in tight with a harness as the door of the helicopter is left wide open and loose objects are fastened to himself or the helicopter, lest they fly out. The helicopters fly up to heights of about 3km above sea level.

One of the roughest parts of the shoots was the unpredictable weather. Says Koh: " The haze was very bad last year. We had to make last-minute decisions whether to go up, since all the photos would be useless if the haze didn't clear up.

"We got some of the best photos in December during monsoon season, even though it was supposed to be the worst time to fly."

He is the recipient of multiple photography awards, including a Your Shot Readers' Choice feature in the December 2011 issue of National Geographic. His photos were also chosen to represent Singapore at the 2011 Asean Day photo exhibition in Bangkok. He uses two cameras for his photos: a Nikon D800 and a Sony a7R.

An exhibition featuring 30 of his photographs will be held at the Fullerton Hotel from Friday till Aug 13. Visitors can buy prints from $960 and 10 per cent of the profits will be donated to St Luke's Hospital.

One photo Koh is particularly fond of is titled Space Ships, depicting a shot of ships in the sea which ended up resembling the sky in the photo.

"The most interesting shots are those that make you see the country in a way you never thought possible. For example, we saw so many faces in the landscape that I could do a book dedicated to the 'Faces of Singapore'." Here, he refers to parts of the landscape resembling human "faces".

"You may see one thing on the ground, but it's different once you're up in the air. I live to capture these unique perspectives and hope others will appreciate them."

  • Over Singapore is available from major bookstores at $42 (before GST). 10 per cent of the profits from sales of the book will be donated to St Luke's Hospital.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2015, with the headline Faces of Singapore. Subscribe