Travel & The Photographer’s Eye: The Photography Of Yiming Hu

The Bisti Badlands wilderness area is located in the high desert of New Mexico, a remote landscape of strange and haunting beauty. Surreal hoodoos and other rock formations are an unforgettable experience. Yiming Hu took two exposures—one for the night sky, the other for the ground.
All Photos © Yiming Hu

When Yiming Hu was a freshman in college he rented a camera and fell in love with photography. After he moved from China to the United States he was drawn to landscape and travel photography and learned advanced photo techniques from books, magazines, the Internet, and lots of experience. Today he works as a computer engineering professor at the University of Cincinnati doing research, and as a second career he shoots landscapes and travel subjects in many locations to satisfy his photo appetite. I spoke with him recently about his work.

Shutterbug: Tell me about how you prepare for your photo travels.

Yiming Hu: I use road maps, books, and the Internet to find scenic areas that interest me in America and abroad. Landscapes offer me a variety of terrains, such as mountains, rolling hills, cityscapes, and farmlands. Some aspects I find may be somewhat repetitive, but I take the time to shoot from diverse viewpoints, in new and familiar locations.

The Lower Antelope Valley, Utah, is one of the most visited spots in the American West. Hu tried hard to find new possibilities and came up with this fresh composition. It has become one of his most popular images and has been licensed by Apple Inc. many times for use on their website and in Apple stores.

Manchester Farm, a historic landmark in Lexington, Kentucky, is a beautiful horse farm on rolling hills. For a unique image of this famous location, Hu got up very early on a summer morning and was lucky to capture the ethereal low-hanging ground fog. The fog disappeared 10 minutes after he arrived.

SB: On your website (www.majestic-nature.com) you discuss a “travel photography philosophy.”

YH: My philosophy of travel photography is different from that of my landscape photography. The latter is more about poetic expression toward natural beauty and less about disclosing the real world. I also include storytelling, which I feel presents an artist’s vision of the geography and its people. My own pictorial angles express realities, and I believe the best images speak for themselves when I show cultures and lifestyles, including buildings and natural features.

SB: What parts of your education influenced your photography?

YH: With no formal artistic training, I learned to choose subjects and make compositions from instinct, with influence from other people’s images. I found that a good path to success is taking pictures from numerous viewpoints.

The best time to shoot the city at night is during the “blue hour,” about 30 minutes after sunset when the sky is a beautiful dark blue. There is enough ambient light so buildings are not completely dark. This image ran as a three-quarter spread in “National Geographic Traveler China.”

“Bashang” is a high-altitude grassland located about eight hours from Beijing. On weekends many city folks drive there for sightseeing and horseback riding. On a chilly, foggy autumn morning from the top of a hill, Hu captured one of the most amazing scenes he had ever witnessed.

In the corridor of Siena Duomo in Italy Hu decided to experiment with this shot. One of the pro’s secrets is to use an ultra-wide-angle lens and position the camera low to the ground. Unusual points of view create strong visual impact. This image has been sold to a few magazines.

SB: What else about landscapes helps describe your approach?

YH: While photographing landscapes my process is aided by my inner emotions toward forms that influence my compositions. When I find their most aesthetic aspects, I wait for the most dramatic lighting conditions. Many worthy locations are difficult to reach when they involve hours of hiking. Conditions too hot or too cool also face photographers who, if they are not discouraged, may make beautiful discoveries. Some landscape images you admire in books or exhibitions may have taken days of waiting for vivid light to make outstanding images. Patience can augment success.

SB: How do you achieve “storytelling” images?

YH: Typically, travel photography puts viewers in locations through a series of images that show what you have seen. Examples include including city skylines, merchants in the marketplace, and picturesque parks. Sometimes blurring movement in an exposure adds interest.

Hallstatt, Austria, is arguably the most beautiful lakeside town in the world. Hu shot this in the morning to capture the beautiful clouds and mist on the lake. A soft graduated neutral density filter diminished the light on the left side, which was much brighter than the scene on the right.

In Venice, Italy, one of the most photogenic cities in the world, Hu arrived at St. Mark’s Square when it was flooded by seawater. He waited until about 30 minutes after sunset for a deep blue sky with the camera on a tripod very close to the ground to capture reflections of the basilica.

SB: How does lens selection influence your eye?

YH: Some scenes that are easy to reach may seem uninspiring to untrained eyes, yet experienced photographers make them dramatic by finding offbeat viewpoints and choosing the right lenses. Wide-angle and telephoto lenses can help distinguish your photos. Wide angles spread subjects, though you may have to deal with some distortion. Telephotos compact subjects and help make landscape compositions you didn’t realize were there. When using heavier lenses for landscapes and architecture, a tripod is essential. On the street I shoot hand held for flexibility and to attract less attention.

SB: What is one of your most memorable photo locations?

YH: In Venice, Italy, a very photogenic city, I arrived at St. Mark’s Square when it was flooded. To avoid crowds I set up on a tripod after sunset when the sky was deep blue, and I captured reflections of the basilica on the water. The square is flooded about 200 days a year.

SB: How do you capture the culture of a location?

YH: One way is to include people and their activities as symbols along with settings, rural or city. Another approach is to shoot a prominent historic spot within a modern setting. Stirring viewers’ memories is an important function of travel and landscape photography.

To make an image of this iconic architecture, Hu awaited the first rays of sunlight. The incredibly warm colors of the light lasted only a few minutes, and he caught the statue between the shadows of two columns.

SB: What about editing and making selections, and how do you like to present your work?

YH: I carefully edit my pictures and make photo books. There are many companies making them now and if you keep only your best images, you will have a minimum of bored viewers. It is also useful to write descriptive information and observations with your photos to help you recall where, what, and when.

Many tourists enjoy travel photography in their snapshots. More advanced photographers understand that good research for subjects, roving eyes to spot scenes and unexpected opportunities, and especially patience while waiting for the best light all add up to success.

To see more of Yiming Hu’s work, visit his website at www.majestic-nature.com.

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