Interview With Yan Zhang

I first saw Yan Zhang’s photos on 1x.com and I loved them. Then I followed the link to his own website. Needless to say – I wasn’t disappointed. Yan is a very talented and passionate nature photographer. Luckily for me and you, my readers, he kindly agreed to an interview for Photopathway.

Ladies and gentlemen please welcome Yan Zhang !

Yan Zhang

Click on the photo to enlarge.

Tell a little about yourself. What do you do for a living?

I am a computer scientist, currently working as a professor in University of Western Sydney. I have been in academia in last 16 years.

How did you get involved with photography?

Well, this is an interesting question. I had a manual SLR camera before 2007, but only used it when I travelled. In 2007 I noticed that digital SLR cameras had become more and more popular, and I decided to buy one as well. I just went to a camera shop and asked which camera was good. The shop owner showed me Canon 400D, and said this was the best camera so far. So I bought it :).

Since I had my Canon 400D, I started to shoot around and during traveling. Sometime around 2008, I developed a deep interest in landscape photography, and since then, landscape photography has become my unique focus in photography.

Church of the Good Shepherd

Photo by Yan Zhang. Click on the photo to enlarge.

 

Your landscapes are magnificent. How do you choose your locations?

I think locations for landscape photography are not as hard to find as people usually think, except for those extreme places. In fact, some of my landscape photos were taken just around my home or my work place. For instance, the following photo (Reeds) was the first photo I sold since I had my first digital SLR camera in 2007 and it was taken at an unnamed small pond near my home.  The next photo (The Touch) was taken in my university campus this July.

Reeds The Touch

Photos by Yan Zhang. Click on the photo to enlarge.

 

In general, I always pay special attention to subjects that have certain characteristics. Once I found something attracting me, I then imagine whether it would look interesting under suitable light and weather conditions. Photograph “The Touch” was made this way: In order to capture the best light and sky, I went to this location more than 30 times within 3 months.

Since I am living in Sydney, I think I am very lucky to have the access to beautiful coast areas near Sydney.  The following images were made on the East Coast of Sydney this year:

 

Under the Storm Ocean Symphony

Photos by Yan Zhang. Click on the photo to enlarge.

Nevertheless, most landscape photographers believe that travelling to those unique places probably is essential to make original and stunning photographs. In recent years, I have travelled a lot to several places overseas to make photographs. China and New Zealand are the two special countries that I go for my landscape photography, because these two countries have many unique landscape locations and are relatively easy for me to travel to.

When you are planning your trip abroad, to the place you’ve never been before, how do you decide on your photographic locations?


This is a hard task indeed. Usually, I do a lot of research before I go. Looking at other photographers’ works on those candidate locations is very helpful. Traveller’s guide is also another information source. However, sometimes I think it is more important to discover some places that haven’t been considered by other photographers. In that case, it takes me a lot of time to find such interesting places abroad.  However, once I found one, I would come back again and again to make good photographs.

 

Echo Point

Photo by Yan Zhang. Click on the photo to enlarge.

 

Where do you draw your inspiration? What motivates you?

I have a deep passion for the nature, which always motivates me to experience such a pure beauty only existing in the nature’s wilderness. For a very long time, I knew that I was so passionate about the nature, but somehow I did not know how to express that until I started landscape photography in 2007. For me, I think photography probably is the most effective way to get close to the nature.

 

Do you hike and photograph alone, or you have a partner?

Most of the time, I travel only with my camera and make photographs alone. However, since I’m living relatively close to Blue Mountains area of Sydney, almost every weekend, my wife and I spend one day hiking in the Blue Mountains. Sometimes I take my camera gear with me on our hike.

 

What photographic equipment do you use?

As I mentioned earlier, I started with Canon 400D, then in 2008 I bought my Canon 5D Mark II full frame digital SLR camera. Now I am still using it. Since I only focus on landscape photography, filters are critical to my photography. I use both Lee and Singh Ray graduated ND  (Neutral Density) reserve and graduated ND filters. I also use CPL (Circular Polarizer) filter sometimes for certain subjects such as waterfalls.

For landscape photography, I think that having a complete filter system and mastering it in practice are very critical to achieve high standard landscape photographs. A stable tripod is also essential.

 

Gibson's Beach

Photo by Yan Zhang. Click on the photo to enlarge.

 

How do you post process your photos? What software do you use, and what are the main adjustments that you perform?


I believe in the principle of “getting it right in camera in the first place” in my photography practice. During the process, I always put great efforts in the field to make proper shots. Nevertheless, post process is an unavoidable procedure in current digital photography. I always shoot in RAW format and process in Photoshop CS 5.

Generally speaking, my approach to photo adjustments in CS 5 is quite standard: first open raw file in Adobe Camera Raw, perform necessary adjustments there, then load it to CS 5 to perform further adjustments, such as using layer masks, curves, contrast, etc., to adjust the photo to meet my vision.

However, from time to time, I apply a specific Photoshop technique to do a certain adjustment. It is called Tony Kuper (TK) Luminosity Mask technique (http://goodlight.us). It is a very powerful technique allowing you to do some very subtle adjustments on certain pixels to increase/decrease their brightness, and so on.

 

Moonlight

Photo by Yan Zhang. Click on the photo to enlarge.

 

Do you have any specific goals that you want to achieve in or with your photographs?


I said earlier that I started my digital landscape photography in 2007, and I sold my first landscape photo in the same year. Since then, each year I would sell some of my photographs through various art exhibitions in my area. In September 2010, I established my own photography website. Recently I sold several large prints. As an amateur photographer, I feel I am very lucky to be selling photos.

Having said that, I should stress that my photography goal is not just to make my works to be of some commercial value. More importantly, I wish my works to be recognised by the professional photography community. This was the main motivation that brought me to get involved in 1x.com photography website’s activities.

 

 Morning Mist

Photo by Yan Zhang. Click on the photo to enlarge.

 

This one is a selfish question, but I had to ask it :). In my photographic portfolio, landscapes section, did you see a photo that you particularly liked? And if you did, what did you like about it?

Yes. I like this shot:

because this image presents a nice mood with mist in the forest. The vertical trees in the mist create a good depth of field,  which makes me try to explore this wilderness.

 

And finally, my traditional question. If you had only two advices to give to a beginning  photographer, what would they be?

My two advices for beginning photographers who are dedicated to landscape photography would be:

(1) Originality – I believe that originality is the key to make photographs that differ yourself from other photographers;

(2) Persistence – to make outstanding photographs you have to be persistent, to stick to the idea you have in mind and then try every effort to fulfil this idea or adjust it in the field.

 

The Touch The Lone Man

Photos by Yan Zhang. Click on the photo to enlarge.

 

Yan, thank you very much for this interview, and good luck in your future artistic endeavors!

You can see more of Yan’s beautiful photographs on his website:

http://yanzhangphotography.com

 

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