Baby Whisperers

We are Red Dot Juanderers. And this is our Singapore story.

Trading their corporate jobs and shifting their focus to a full-time business that was once just a hobby was undeniably a daunting career leap — but for Timothy (Singaporean, 32 years old) and Yuyeth (Filipino, 34 years old) of “Bows and Ribbons Photography,” it was a risk worth taking. After 120+ photo shoots since they started, these newborn baby photographers have finally developed their own niche in the market: producing timeless photos that document special milestones of families from the mother’s maternity to the baby’s first year.

Our Singapore Story:

YUYETH: My inclination towards baby photography started when my sister (Gelai) was born and I was only 13 years old then. I documented all her baby milestones from her 1st month all the way to her 6th using a film camera. I didn’t have the money to print the photos at that time and she was already 7 months old when the first batch of photos were processed. That was probably the first exposure I had with cameras and babies.

In Singapore, when I met and started seeing Tim (he was into photography and he also worked for a media company reviewing cameras), that’s when I really started learning more about photography. At first I was just his model and the subject of his photos, but on the side, he also taught me how to take better photographs.

TIM: You could say I already knew photography all this while, but for her, she sort of got into it more because of social media. She learned all the basics of photography from using her iPhone and uploading pictures on Instagram — from framing shots using the rule of thirds, color composition, to exposure.

As I was into photography while she likes newborns, we then decided to invest in a new camera and thought: why don’t we start taking pictures of babies as our subjects?

Starting Our Own Business

YUYETH: One of my colleagues was pregnant at that time and was about to give birth, and so I asked her if we could take photographs of her newborn for free. She asked us what’s the name of our photography service, and so we had to come up with a name at that point that really represented us. We thought: baby boys are usually dressed in bow ties, while baby girls usually wear ribbons as headbands, so why not: “Bows and Ribbons Photography.”

He is like my bow and I’m his ribbon.

During our first shoot with my colleague, she said: “you look good working together and it doesn’t look like you just started doing this.” That’s when we thought: “okay, maybe we can do this more!” We had our first-ever paying gig who was a friend recommended by the aunt of the same colleague. Word of mouth is so powerful and that’s when we started getting recommended to other friends of friends.

TIM: We started really slow with a few paid gigs here and there, but we weren’t really thinking of starting a real business then. We thought we could be more of freelancers. We still had our full-time jobs back then and we did photography only during weekends.

Anyone in the corporate would be afraid to venture out and start a business on their own. We didn’t enter newborn photography because we wanted to make money per se, and we didn’t really think about it as a business only until this year. We were juggling our time between our corporate jobs with the shoots and editing, and so we eventually thought: “we could probably do a better job for our customers (to give them better photos and service) if we really focus on this full-time.”

YUYETH: I didn’t want to let go of my corporate job that I had for the longest time. My job was the main reason why I’ve moved from Manila to Singapore, and that’s the same job I’ve been doing for the last 10 years. I wasn’t prepared to just give that up for photography. I’m always afraid of not having a monthly income. There were lots of discussions, arguments, and convincing that happened. He kept telling me: “you can do this!” We realized this was something that we really like doing together. I couldn’t do it alone, and he can’t do it alone either.

TIM: I did a lot of different things in my corporate life. I wasn’t very attached to a specific field, but no matter what I was doing, I still get roped in somehow to be a photographer in projects. And like any job, it’s a risk no matter what. You can do poorly in it or you can do well. You just have to take a lot of things into account as you’re running your own show.

Behind Bows and Ribbons Photography:

YUYETH: We want to offer a sense of ‘timelessness’ in photographs. If you take a photo of your baby today, in 20 years, we want parents to still be able to proudly hang the photo on their walls — and feel that it’s still relevant. Before jumping into this, we did our own homework and research on what’s lacking in the market. You have a lot of shoots with landscape and floral backdrops — which can be nice, but we feel that such photographs may not feel relevant in the future. That’s why we decided to take inspiration from rustic and vintage elements.

TIM: We take design and aesthetic styles from the past that have been proven to have lasted over time. We take elements that have sentimental value or nostalgia. We want people to remember the way their babies look as much as possible and not to be focused on the outfit they were wearing during the shoot.

Experience in Handling Babies:

YUYETH: I have lots of colleagues who bring their babies to the office and they call me the “baby whisperer” because they know I can handle babies quite well. It’s quite natural for me to hold babies. I seem to have a good connection with newborns. It’s a different case for Tim as it took him a while before he personally handled a baby. He is still extra-careful today but everything has a learning curve. For most first-time mothers in our shoots, they feel at ease when I hold their babies. The funny part is, every time a baby cries in our shoots and I ask the mom if I can hold them, the baby suddenly just stops crying and they will ask: “what did you do?” Most first time mothers are a little tense and maybe afraid when they hold their babies, at least for the first few weeks. We try to assure them that they will get better in time.

TIM: Before we started this, we watched a lot of videos and we did lots of reading. For most men, handling babies doesn’t come naturally. You try to combine what you learn: the artistic part (poses) and the biological part (what babies need and why they cry).

YUYETH: The majority of our clients we handle are first-time parents. They sometimes get surprised that we don’t have children of our own yet.

Most Memorable:

TIM & YUYETH: Our sessions could last for five to six hours. The longest one we’ve had lasted for seven hours, simply because the 7-day-old baby girl had two other older brothers. For all the moments to be perfect in that particular shoot, we stayed over for lunch all the way to tea time. A successful session isn’t just about having a sleepy baby. It’s a team effort with the family. Older siblings tend to have a mind of their own too and it’s important to not be too hard on them if they don’t always cooperate.

We remember shoots when we feel like we’re part of the family and we get to know the family better.

We also do ‘cautionary spotting’ (i.e. paying close attention to the baby where they’re in a pose) and we are always ready whenever the baby drools, pees, or poops (which happens a lot), so tissues always come in handy. It’s never the two of us taking photos at the same time. Safety is always something that we try to improve.

Adjustments as a Couple:

YUYETH: When I first came to Singapore, I only gave myself six months to stay here as I still thought I would move back to Manila someday. But when I met Tim and we started dating, that’s when I thought, hey, I can spend more time in Singapore.” We’re married for two years now.

TIM: When a couple from two different countries get together, it makes sense that they settle in one of the countries where they are from and wherever you can get jobs in. And of course, you also look at the standard of living too: Is it safe? Is it clean enough? Are the food and other necessary amenities accessible?

Why did we settle at the moment in Singapore? It’s the convenience of a lot of things. Somewhere down the road, we are still open to explore other countries where we can live in as well. Who knows, Philippines might be a possibility?

Most Adventurous Activity We’ve Done Together:

YUYETH: We spent our honeymoon in Batanes and it was an adventure for us because we were not carrying our phones the whole time. We are internet addicts and this was a refreshing experience. There weren’t a lot of people there, and it was just the two of us roaming in Batanes with a tour guide.

TIM: The scenery was breathtaking. You will never expect a place in Southeast Asia to look like that. Batanes also had a nice weather — really cool. You don’t perspire as much. If you don’t want too many tourists, then it’s a good place.

What Kind of Parents We’ll Be: 

YUYETH: I think I will always be the bad cop, while he will be the good cop. He is kind of like that to me now. He strikes the balance for the two of us. I was strict with my sister when she was growing up and I’m also controlling towards my friends — so I don’t think I will be any different to my future child.

TIM: When people look at us they often say, “oh, you guys will be fantastic parents.” I don’t think parenting is just about how you handle a baby or how you feed a baby. In parenting, you have the whole life of your kid to keep in mind. You have to prepare them for school; you have to prepare them for the world. The only thing we can do is try our best.

Photo Shoot for Our Future Baby: 

YUYETH: In the shoot, I would like to wear what I usually wear, while my baby will be in a onesie or in a plain cloth wrap. We’ll be beside a window or on top of a nice looking bed. I want it to appear like it’s a normal day. I would want my baby to remember how I looked like at that moment (maybe horrible — but happy!). We want it more natural and clean-looking. It’s not really about what the baby is wearing or what props we’ll be using.

TIM: It doesn’t have to be completely glamorous. But we want to capture the emotions and the way we’re supposed to look at that moment — with a natural look of joy and happiness on your face.

How Singaporean/Filipino are We Now: 

TIM: Aside from the slight change in her accent, she has a way of communicating with people that’s unique. She’s happy to learn the local lingo like some Mandarin or Malay terms when talking to people, or even to use Singlish.

For me, I now have a better understanding of how Filipinos think, how they feel, and how they make decisions. When you’re in a bicultural/mixed marriage, you may have preconceived notions about what the other race is like. But you realize that there are many things that you see on the surface, and there are many other things you don’t see as well. Just because they speak a different language or they eat different food, it doesn’t mean they are any different.

What if: We Get Abducted by Aliens – Would We tell Anyone?

TIM & YUYETH: OF COURSE WE’LL TELL! We’re sci-fi movie fans and we would love to meet an alien in real life. If they don’t kill or eat us first, of course. Then maybe, we won’t be able to tell anyone anymore. But friendly aliens, most definitely! If they introduce us to baby aliens, that will be a dream come true. They would be adorable!

About the Red Dot Juanderer:

We are constantly on the lookout for inspiring, aspirational, and relatable stories from our fellow Juans living and working in the Little Red Dot. If you know any Filipino in Singapore that should be our next Red Dot Juanderer, email us at [email protected] // Interviews and photos by Paolo Avis; Assisted by Jaypee Quitco

Share your thoughts below: