Sometimes photography is a doorway that allows us to expand our lives in ways we might never have expected. Yan Zhang’s love for and connection with the outdoors grew in significant ways once he picked up a camera. From the beaches of Sydney to the mountains of China and Patagonia, amazing images aren’t the only thing that have come out of these journeys. -J
Who are you and where do you live?
I am Yan Zhang, I live in Sydney, Australia.
How (and when) did you get started in photography? In short, tell us the story of your photographic journey.
I got my first DSLR camera, a Canon 400D, in 2007. That is when I started to take photographs around my home. After couple of years, I was getting more serious about landscape photography. My photographic journey probably reflected my evolving perception of our natural world. I first focused on taking seascape photographs around the Sydney area because Sydney has the most beautiful beaches and seashores in the world. In 2011, I participated in a photography workshop in New Zealand, which completely opened my mind to exploring the beauty of landscapes through my photography. More recently, I was able to visit New Zealand and China very frequently and this helped to greatly expand my photographic subjects.
Since 2014, I have developed an interest in exploring the New Zealand alps. For that I completed a mountaineering training course in Mount Cook, and then began to climb the Southern Alps in New Zealand. In the last two years, I have climbed in the Southern Alps as well as the North Island mountains several times and taken alpine photographs. The New Zealand Mountains have become my greatest inspirations. I believe that climbing and geographic exploration have be nicely integrated into my photography journey.
Who (or what) have been your main photographic influences and inspirations?
Firstly, I must mention Peter Dombrovskis (1945 – 1996) who was a pioneering Australian nature photographer. He spent most of his life photographing the wilderness of Tasmania. His amazing images illustrating the raw beauty of Tasmania have given me great inspiration in the early stages of my photography.
Galen Rowell was another photographer who inspired my journey into mountain adventure photography. Now my mountain photography has extended from New Zealand and China to South America (Patagonia).
Your Photo.net portfolio is primarily filled with landscape landscape photography. How did you get started with that type photography?
This probably is due to my interest and passion for nature. In fact, from the very beginning I have focused on nature scenes in my photography, which gave me more emotional responses than other types of photography. On the other hand, from a personal perspective, I feel more freedom in photographing nature scenes than in photographing subjects with people involved. So all my photos on Photo.net are of landscape and nature, although I do take people portrait photos occasionally.
Explain how you see your body of work and what draws you to do the photography that you do?
For a photographer, photography is a way of interpreting his/her personal vision of this world. In that sense, my photography works also reflect my personal interpretation of our natural world. Most of my photographs represent essential elements of nature, such as water, sky and land. I want to capture specific moments that illustrate the beauty of these elements in various environments.
I think each photographer has his/her own style and preference when making images. For me, I always love to reveal something on the edge, which means that something we may not be so familiar with, but it exists in nature. For example, many of my photos are about the transition between day and night, about surreal scenes and mystery. I attempt to represent these scenes on the edge in an artistic as well as authentic way. It is a great challenge in landscape photography.
Have you ever worked as a professional photographer? If “no”, why not? Is it something you would like to do? If “ye”, do you wish you could do more of that work? What does it bring or take away from your photography?
No, I am not doing and professional photography. This is because I also love my current work as a university professor, and I enjoy teaching and research so much. Having said that, I may do more photography after I retire from my current work, or even start photography as my second professional job.
What do you enjoy most about photography?
I most enjoy being in the wilderness, in the mountains, and in any kind of outdoor environment. Photography has been my primary motivation to go out. By doing photography, it actually changes my perception about our world. For instance, I have become more and more interested in protecting our environments, and I have developed a passion in mountaineering and geographic exploration.
What was the most recent photographic technique that you learned or mastered? And what is the next photographic technique that you would like to learn?
Well, my photographic technique is pretty ordinary. At the moment, I use Nikon D810 camera, I have three Nikon lenses: 14-24mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, and 70-200mm f/2.8.
Basically, during my photography in the field, I put a lot of effort into finding an appealing composition from my personal viewpoint. I think this probably is one of the most important aspects of doing landscape photography. The light certainly is key to making an image come alive. But this is something I think that can be learned by a photographer, there are some principles we can study for handling light. Composition, or more broadly, personal vision, is something built into a photographer’s mind, which usually comes from a basic instinct, cannot be learned in a systematic way.
For me, I always want my images to reflect my personal vision in a particular location at a particular moment.
What was the most recent piece of truly useful photographic equipment that you purchased? What is the next piece of equipment that you are looking to acquire?
As I mentioned earlier, I just have a collection of Nikon camera and lenses equipment. I am not a big fan of equipment. I believe equipment is always secondary for a photographer. By saying that, I would not turn down the opportunity to try a medium format DSLR if there was a chance.
What is in your camera bag on a typical day?
To be honest, I don’t have a typical camera bag. Since I am an outdoor person, I am always backpacking in the wilderness and mountains. So for each of my trips, I usually carry camera equipment as well as outdoor gear, such as sleeping bag, food, tent, even climbing tools like an ice axe and crampons, etc. So for my needs, I just use different sizes of backpacks in which I put my camera and lenses inside. If I only do a day trip, I would carry a 40L daypack, otherwise, I would carry a 75L backpack for a 2-4 day trip.
What is your typical downloading/storage/sorting/processing procedure? Where do you store/backup your images? What programs do you use for post-processing?
I have my own photography website. Once I finished processing my images, I usually uploaded this final image onto my website, as one ultimate backup. At the same time, I always store my raw files and processing files (such as psd files) onto two different but identical storage disks, and place them into different physical locations.
I use Photoshop CC, Nik Collection and TK Luminosity Mask package to process my photos.
What words of advice or encouragement do you have for anyone just starting on their photographic journey?
People have said that a stunning photo must have three elements: sound technique, fine light and appealing composition. I think it is important for someone starting a photography journey to remember: photographic technique can be learned with some effort. Light can be handling following some rules. But personal vision is the key to defining his/her style in photography. And this is what the photographer should pay the most attention to when practicing and learning.
Lens: 14-24mm f/2.8
Focal Length: 14mm
Shutter Speed: 15 seconds
Mount Taranaki, also called Mount Egmont, is an active but quiescent volcano located in the Taranaki region on the west coast of the North Island, New Zealand. The 2518-meter-high mountain is one of the most symmetrical volcanic cones in the world.
In early July 2015, I undertook a backpacking trip to this mountain. I trekked to two specific mountain huts: Maketawa Hut and Pouakai Hut, and witnessed one of the most dramatic weather phenomenons I have ever met during my time in the mountains.
During my stay in Pouakai Hut, starting at mid night of 2 July 2015, a severe storm attacked this area and lasted for about 20 hours: the wind speed reached above 100 km/hour, and I could feel the hut was shaking all the time. There was nothing I could do except to stay in the hut. But was hoping to have interesting light conditions when the storm stopped. The storm ceased around 9pm on 3 July. And that moment is when my photography around this amazing place began…
I came to this location at 3:30am on 4 July 2015. It was a full moon night. The moonlight starry sky was impressive over the summit of Mount Taranaki. This was one single shot capturing such amazing mountain and sky and their reflections in the tarn.