Mother Nature | Shawn Tang
Shawn Tang is a New-York based photographer whose work focuses on landscape and
traveling photography. Traveling almost full time during his childhood earned him the
passion for photography, and photography has shaped his way of finding the littlest beauty in
life. He was shortlisted 3 years consecutively in the landscape category of International
Photography Awards(IPA) and Sony World Photography Award; he had his first solo
exhibition at the Depin Art Gallery in Guangzhou, China in 2016 at the age of 17.
As a beginner photographer, he feels too ashamed to say anything more in his biography in
the third person, so here he stopped typing.
When and how did your journey as a photographer begin?
Growing up in Europe (mainly Nordic countries), I have always been immersed in MOTHER NATURE, and that makes me appreciate what nature has to offer at a very young age. I went to China for middle school in American schools there, and sometimes I miss the times back in Europe, however, the photos online were just not the Europe I knew; and that’s where I realized that I need to start taking photos. At first, photography was merely just a way to document things, but as I travel more and more, photographs became a very important medium in my art-making process.
What camera(s) do you prefer to use?
I have a Nikon D810 with an 18-24mm lens which has been my go-to camera for almost 3 years now, and I also own three analogue cameras Contax G2, Fujifilm 645 and Rolleiflex M4A. I prefer Contax G2 for street or landscape photography and Rolleiflex for my portrait work. The reason for me being shooting film lately is that I realize the immediacy of digital cameras these days is slowly killing our creative process. With analogue cameras, I have now learned to appreciate the moment instead of triggering the shutter and thinking about the composition. And also because of that, I’m having fewer photos in my D810 after each trip.
What is your greatest source of inspiration?
Light and shadow. As cliché as that might be, I believe that light and shadow together make a symphony, and it’s simply everything. Though it might require a certain degree of appreciation towards the little things in life and trained eyes to find the beauty that lies within the composition of light and shadow, the emphasis here is not the image — it’s the moment of negation. That’s the most intriguing part of photography to me, and the more experience I gained from time to time has allowed me to use it as a guidance in photographing landscapes/street.
What photographers have influenced your work?
At the beginning of my photography career, my approach is more towards fine art landscape photography. Elia Locardi taught me how to produce HDR-like quality photos without using any HDR settings during the retouching process, and I remember that was just mind-blowing for me. Then there was Daniel Ernst. I swear I’m on his website 3 times a day. If Elia Locardi taught me how to polish a moment, then Daniel Ernst must have taught me how to be present in the moment. Having a very wide-open angle while maintaining the focus definitely have pushed me forward so much in my photography journey. And then is Dan Tom, whom I wouldn’t have known without Instagram. He uses a white border in every single photograph of his, and I will tell you with all honesty, it took me a few months to truly learned the essence of that white border. What he taught me were the storytelling and emphasis. Instead of showing the whole grand scheme of a landscape, he zoomed in and stressed the emphasis of the subject then tell a story by giving back the true colors to the images.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
This is the most difficult question yet. My aesthetic can change throughout the time like the shift in my own photography work. But recently my aesthetic tends to find the beauty of subtlety: photos by Chiara Zonca, Andy Ross, and Marcus Jew can provide some great examples.
Are there any photography projects you are currently pursuing or would like to
I will start a personal project this summer exploring the relationship between city and people in China. That sounds very broad and vague but don’t worry I will break it down for you. I’m currently an architecture student, and through the lens of that identity of mine, I’m starting to find that the way people use the public space around them is very interesting. Sometimes a public space is intended to be used for people to exercise, but some people set up a booth and start selling items(very typical in China). And throughout the time this place will be used as a marketplace rather than exercising, but it worked out for them just as well. Some place is being used as a gathering space but old people sometimes occupy it to take an afternoon nap. Most buildings are built for people, but some of them don’t provide as much convenience, and in the end, people have to work their way around it which defeats the purpose of having that building.
What general process do you undergo to produce your work?
Once I decided where to go, I would scout the place on Google Map first, and then use
TPE(an app on iPhone) to see the track of the sun and the moon at a given range of
time. I would most likely know where to go at approximately what time after checking
TPE. After that, I would go to the place and photograph the shot, but sometimes the
weather was not looking good on the side of the mountain that I intended to shoot at,
and that's okay because usually, I ended up finding another spot with a rare view that
was just as stunning. The key here is to not give up and always know that there’s a
After shooting I usually send my films to a lab in California to develop and scan
because, as much as I would love to, I personally don’t really have time to do that
myself. And the digital files I will make sure I backup to the hard drive and also
Google Drive as well, just in case the hard drive failed.