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Tue, Dec 10, 2013
The Sunday Times
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Smile, groupfies
by Bryna Singh

Move over, selfies. There is a new picture- taking trend that could very well be called "groupfies". Groups of people are booking slots at photo studios to take pictures on their own.

Without a photographer directing the shoot, the users have free rein.

They may wear wigs, use props, jump about and direct one another to ham it up for the camera. These moments are captured to mark a special occasion, such as a birthday or a friendship milestone, or simply for fun.

There are at least two photo studios here - Studio Me and Cheezz Studio - which offer what they call a "DIY" or "self-shot concept" with no professional photographers on hand.

Studio Me, which opened in June in City Square Mall, coordinates 150 to 200 such sessions a month.

It offers 30-minute slots at $25 each. It has three studios, two of which can hold five people each while the other can fit 10.

For each session, customers can choose a set of 16 backgrounds. When they are ready, someone just has to hit a foot pedal and the photo will be taken in five seconds.

Mrs Dee Koo, 39, started Cheezz Studio with a partner in Parklane Shopping Mall two years ago. It has one studio, which can accommodate up to 14 people.

The charges range from $10 a person on a weekday to $15 a person on a weekend for a 30-minute session. Customers pick a background colour and use a remote control to snap their pictures.

Mrs Koo says business has doubled from last year. She used to see about 40 groups a month but now handles about 80 groups a month.

Customers at both places can take as many pictures as they want within their half-hour slot and they get a soft copy of all the photos.

Bank employee Marian Ng, 42, organised a birthday party for her son and his group of seven friends at Studio Me in August when he turned eight.

But all the parents soon shed their inhibitions and joined in the fun, she says. "The boys taught one another how to pose. I felt it was a good way for them to spend time together."

Customer relationship management consultant Andy Lee, 39, also had fun when he tried this photo- taking concept in September with his wife and four children, aged four to 10.

"We wanted to see how creative and enterprising our children could be, so we gave them free rein to decide on the poses," he says.

That is exactly what Studio Me's owner Marie Tang, 34, wants. She runs the place with two other business partners and says the "groupfie" experience is supposed to be about fun and bonding, "with nothing to be embarrassed or unhappy about".

She provides props to fit various themes and inject authenticity. For example, luggages and sunhats go with a travel backdrop, while microphone stands and wigs are provided for a rock concert backdrop.

Some users enjoyed their session so much that they are now regular customers.

One of them is Mrs Santha Muthuvelu, who has gone to Studio Me three times in four months, each time with the same three colleagues. All are in their 40s and work as operating theatre staff at Thomson Medical Centre.

Mrs Santha, 41, says they stumbled upon the studio in July and have been hooked since. "After the first visit, we colour-coordinated for the two subsequent shoots and we are planning three more next year."

The colour theme for their session next month will be red "to celebrate Chinese New Year", she adds.

Customers say they keep going back because the sessions are fun and they usually post their pictures on Facebook.

Cheezz Studio's Mrs Koo says these "friendship shoots" are so popular that they now make up 60 of the 80 shoots that she coordinates each month.

"It's very satisfying to hear their laughter, knowing that you have given joy to people through the service provided," she says.

This DIY photo concept is catching on among couples too.

Accountant Jessica Koh, 26, signed up for a pre-wedding shoot with a bridal studio earlier this year. But she decided to go for a self-shoot session as well with her self-employed fiance Elvin Ong, 29, "just for fun".

"It was relaxing and so much cheaper. My friends say the pictures are unique," she says, adding that she will be using the 30 pictures she took in the shoot for a slideshow at her wedding later this month.

To keep up with changing customers' taste, other studios that do not offer the self-shot concept now give customers a choice of locations.

Mr Benny Chow, 26, who set up Firefly Photography with a partner two years ago, offers outdoor shoots at $98 for a 90-minute shoot.

Customers can choose from five locations, which are usually green spaces such as the Chinese Gardens and MacRitchie Reservoir.

"Going outdoors is becoming increasingly popular as it gives people the freedom to move around," he says.

He entertains some special location requests but has been known to put his foot down sometimes. "I once had a customer who wanted to be shot at the cemetery for no particular reason," he says. "I said no because it's disrespectful to the dead."

Mrs Koo of Cheezz Studios has also received odd requests, one of which was from a man in his 50s who said his group of male and female friends in their 50s wanted to take nude shots.

She turned him down as she has some ground rules. These include no nudity and "legalised pets only", meaning no endangered species.

"Creativity is fine but bra and panties must be kept on," Mrs Koo says.

Studio Me, however, provides a curtain in its studios. Ms Tang says: "Customers can change outfits and do whatever they want within their time slot."

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To celebrate their friendship and coming of age, Ms Prudence Eve Poh and her two best friends, Ms Garett Ann Ocampo and Ms Wong Manyan, went to a photo studio earlier this year to have their pictures taken.

The 21-year-olds - Ms Poh is studying while the other two are working as air stewardesses - have known one another for nine years. "We met when we were in Secondary 1 at CHIJ St Theresa's Convent, so we thought it'd be nice to wear our school uniform for the shoot," says Miss Poh.

"We've kept it all these years and can still wear it."


Good friends Rena Tan, Ivy Lai, Ng Hong Sheng and Brandon Chua, all 25, have taken three group shots in as many years.

They use these sessions to mark the graduation of different members in the group. For the latest session last month, they coordinated their outfits and paid $98 for a 90-minute shoot at Hort Park.

Ms Tan says: "These pictures are good keepsakes of our friendship as we move on together towards different milestones in life."


Customer relationship management consultant Andy Lee, 39, went to Studio Me with his wife and four children three months ago. "It was a good chance for my children to have fun, be funny and be themselves," he says. "There wasn't a photographer to tell us what to do, so it was up to us to conjure what we wanted."

Mr Lee, who runs a blog Sengkang Babies, says they enjoyed the hour- long trial session. He is posing in a pink wig with his children Boon Kang, eight, Boon Yee, six, and wife Teo Meng Choo.


Accountant Jessica Koh, 26, took some of her pre-wedding pictures at a photo studio with her fiance Elvin Ong, 29. She says these photos were more fun and cost a lot less than her bridal studio pictures.

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