InstaCamp is right around the corner, which leads us to our very first director–Chris Wong! He’ll be heading up our Landscape station and will be teaching everyone all of his tricks on how to perfectly capture Mother Nature. To read about how he intertwines people into his photography and how he preps for a photoshoot outside, scroll on down for a good read!
Tell us about yourself. What makes you, you?
Ten things about me: I’m a music nut. I love lemon. I’m passionate about photography and Instagram. I’m the world’s best parallel parker. I’m a city boy but I love getting out of the city to shoot landscapes. I’m a communications and marketing consultant but I’m writing a book about jazz and I used to be a music journalist. My Instagram feed consists of about 50% iPhone shots and 50% DSLR shots. Dining at In-N-Out Burger is one of my guilty pleasures. I occasionally DJ weddings and parties using the name DJ Wongski. I’m one of those rare people who likes to give presentations so I’m excited about teaching at InstaCamp.
How would you describe your photographic style?
My photographic style is very diverse. I can go from doing the most urban architecture shots to very calm and contemplative landscapes. But there are connecting threads between both: my style is clean, linear, symmetrical, vibrant, and humanistic.
Did you have professional photography training or did you teach yourself?
I have never taken a photography class but I learned a lot by watching my dad shoot and I’m constantly learning from my fellow Instagrammers. I had no idea what I was doing when I started in Instagram (as far as what kind of photos engage people); I learned just by doing it and observing. Attending Instameets has also accelerated my learning because at meets, I can shoot side-by-side with talented photographers.
Did you start as a landscape photographer or did you slowly evolve into one?
I don’t consider myself as strictly a landscape photographer because my style is so diverse. But my approach has evolved to the point where I need to go to places to shoot sublime landscapes – as often as I can – because it not only makes for fulfilling photography, but it’s good for the mind and soul. My friend Jena created a word and an approach to communication that describes the feeling you get when you commune with nature, and it’s called “calmversation.” Photographing landscapes is like having a great calmversation, and that appeals to me a lot.
What is it about landscape photography that inspires you?
There are so many great landscape photographers on Instagram who constantly inspire me with their incredible images. Three that immediately come to mind are in California: David Hsia, Attila Adam, and Theresa. Great landscape photography by excellent photographers like these fine folks inspires me because their images show extraordinary places in a way that conveys a sense of wonder and respect for nature’s power and beauty.
When exploring a new city, what are three essential photos you take to capture the city’s aesthetic?
Three photos I always try to take in a city I’m visiting include a sunset and/or sunrise shot, a shot of a cool staircase (preferably a spiral one), and a portrait of a local human.
Mother Nature is unpredictable. How do you prepare for a photoshoot?
I always check the weather forecast before a shoot. If it’s going to be nice and sunny then no special preparations are needed, except if the plan is to shoot a sunrise or sunset. In that case you need to Google the time of the sunrise or sunset in the location where you’ll be shooting, and show up at least half an hour before to capture the change in light. You also need to find in advance a good spot, where you will have a clear view of the sun going up or down.
If it’s going to rain, you don’t need to cancel your shoot. Bring a colourful umbrella for the subject of your shots to hold so there’s a splash of colour.
You’re right that mother nature can be unpredictable. So it doesn’t hurt to bring that umbrella regardless of the forecast. I’ve done some fun shots with people holding umbrellas at the beach in sunny weather.
Do you usually include people in a landscape shot? Why or why not?
When it comes to landscape shots, if possible, I try to include people. And my preference is to shoot it so the people look small. Why? Because there’s something very powerful about capturing tiny people in a big landscape. That’s the best way to convey the scale of a place. But if there are no people around, it’s perfectly OK to shoot just the landscape. Actually that’s another thing that works well: documenting big and majestic places that are completely empty. That’s when you let the landscape speak for itself. So you win both ways.
How important are captions for you? What kind of captions do you write for your photos on Instagram?
Captions are hugely important to me. They’re almost as important as the photo, because it’s all about storytelling, and it’s a better story when the image and words are equally compelling. Sometimes I write long captions when there’s a lot to say, but I try to ensure that every word counts and that there’s a flow to them. Captions don’t need to be long to make an impact – a few well-chosen words can leave an impression.
What is one misconception people have about landscape photography?
One misconception about landscape photography is that you have to go somewhere far from a city to do it. You can do it right in an urban setting. There are pristine spots in the middle of cities, and it’s also interesting to capture natural landscapes alongside built environments.
Can you give us a sneak preview of what you’ll be teaching at InstaCamp?
My workshop will be very active and hands-on. I will talk about important elements that you can work with in landscape photography, such as light, colour, composition, and symmetry, and then we will practice by shooting specific scenarios on and near the grounds of the very colourful Saguaro Hotel. The emphasis will be on shooting with your mobile device, including how to get the most out of your phone camera and how to get even more with apps and add-on lenses. There will also be tips for people using DSLRs. It will be like an Instameet, where we’re on the move, shooting, learning together, and having fun.
Interested in learning all of Chris’ tips in a face-to-face setting? Click here to learn more about InstaCamp on May 21st in Palm Springs!
*featured image photo credit: Glenny Sipacio