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International Spotlight: talking unique landscapes with Yan Zhang

Recently we caught up with Australia's Yan Zhang about his interest in landscape photography. He took some time out to explain how his interest in photography began, and what his plans are for the coming year.

28 November 2016

Recently we caught up with Australia’s Yan Zhang about his interest in landscape photography. He took some time out to explain how his interest in photography began, and what his plans are for the coming year.

Yan Zhang

D-Photo: Can you please give us a rundown on your photography?

Yan Zhang: I got my first DSLR camera, a Canon 400D, in 2007. Since then I started to take photographs around my home. After a couple of years, I was getting more serious about landscape photography. Basically, my photography is self-taught. I read books, looked at other photographers’ works, and most importantly, went out to shoot quite frequently.

My photography 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. In following years, I had been visiting New Zealand very frequently, and my photography subjects and locations have been greatly extended in recent years. Besides New Zealand and Australia, so far, I have also shot in many other places such as China, Rocky Mountains in Canada, and Patagonia in South America.

Yan Zhang

Since 2014, I have developed a strong interest in exploring New Zealand’s Southern Alps. For that, I completed a formal training course of mountaineering in Mount Cook, and then started to climb the Southern Alps. In the last two years, I have climbed various New Zealand mountains, both in the North Island and the South Island, and captured many alpine photographs. New Zealand mountains have given me my great inspirations. I think climbing and geographic exploration have been nicely integrated into my photography journey.

Can you explain a bit about yourself? Where are you located, are you a full-time photographer?

I am living in Sydney, Australia. I am not a full-time photographer — in fact, I am a full-time university professor in computer science with a specialization in artificial intelligence, although photography is also my passion. Each year, I devote some of my personal leave for traveling and taking landscape photographs.

Yan Zhang

What sparked your interest in the photography realm?

I love outdoor activities — that kind of instinct probably sparked my interest in landscape photography. When I was an undergraduate student, I started to travel alone, especially to some mountain areas in China. Although I did have a camera at that time, I always enjoyed being in a wild environment and felt myself so close with nature.

How would you describe your style of photography?

This is an interesting question. I think that every photographer, during his/her practice and exploration in the world of photography will eventually develop his/her own style.

For myself, most of my photographs try to reflect a kind of surreal mood, such as an ethereal feel and a transition between day and night, because when I am capturing images, I am always intrigued by such feelings and atmosphere and want to express them in my photos.

Now I am doing quite a lot more mountain photography in New Zealand. My ultimate goal for this work is to capture the various intriguing and ‘on-the-edge’ moments in these beautiful mountains.

Yan Zhang

Can you outline what it is in your equipment kit at the moment, and what gear you are enjoying using?

I have a Nikon D810 body and a Nikon D800 body, Nikon lenses 14–24mm f/2.8, 24–70mm f/2.8, and 70–200mm f/2.8, and a Sigma telephoto lens 150–600mm f/5-6.3. I use the Berno tripod C2980T, and RRS BH-55, and Berno B2 ball-heads. I also use Lee and NiSi ND, GND, and CPL filters.

What projects have you got on the go at the moment? What will you be working on in the future?

At this moment, I am focusing on all of my New Zealand Southern Alps photography, but I will also explore several volcanic mountains in the North Island.

Mount Taranaki, Yan Zhang

In 2016, my photograph ‘Mount Taranaki’ was recognized as a finalist in Australian Geographic’s 2016 Nature Photographer of the Year competition, and then selected as one of the three advertising images in Australian Museum’s photography exhibition (August 18–October 9, 2016). Also, my photograph, ‘Darran Mountains’, was recently selected by New Zealand Geographic to be published in an article.

My current project of photographing New Zealand Alps will continue for a while, because I feel there are so many mountains I want to climb and photograph in next a few years.

At the same time, I will start my new photography project in Kakadu National Park, Australia in 2017. This national park has over 19,800 square km — the second largest national park in the world, and it’s bigger than some European countries. There are many beautiful and unique landscape sceneries in this park, and I would like to devote my time and passion to exploring and photographing my own visions.  

Yan Zhang

If people want to see more of your work, where would you suggest they visit?

Most of my works are displayed on my website Some of my images are also presented on website — the largest curated online photography gallery in the world,