Breakdancing with Peter Tsai

Every now and then, a photographer on Flickr really catches your eye. The most recent of these for us was Peter Tsai. His unconventional portraits, action shots, beautifully executed HDR images, and every day photos really caught our attention. It’s obvious that Peter enjoys photography and this comes through both in his photos and this interview. Plus, he turns out to be an Aputure user! Read on to learn more about this talented photographer from America.

Peter Tsai © Peter Tsai

Name: Peter Tsai

Hometown: I’ve split equal time between Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Atlanta, Georgia and Austin, Texas

Tell us about yourself: I’m a mostly self taught photographer with an interest in environmental portraits that capture a sense of motion.  However, my first love is travel photography.

How did you get started? When I started traveling abroad, I wanted to document my experiences.  I stayed in China and Taiwan for 3 months in 2000, and I shot 24 rolls of film with an Olympus point and shoot camera. I really loved the results, but buying and developing film was expensive so I didn’t fully get into photography at the time.

Before my first trip to Europe in 2002, I picked up a Canon S30 to document my trip.  As soon as I took my first pictures, I was hooked.  The instant feedback and negligible cost of digital had me taking hundreds of pictures a day, every day. I learned all I could about photography by reading books and playing around with the manual features of my camera.  The excitement of creating images has not diminished since then.

Breakdancer © Peter Tsai

Favorite camera and lens? I shoot with the Canon 5dmkII for its amazing full frame sensor, low light capabilities, and HD video. Although it’s not the best lens in the world, I love the Canon 24-105mm f4 L for its wide focal range and image stabilization which is perfect for shooting on the run.  It’s the lens I have on my camera 75% of the time.  I also love the Canon 70-200mm f22.8 L lens, but it’s a beast.

If you could shoot anywhere/anyone/anything, what would it be? I definitely have the travel bug – I would be exploring the world to experience and document different cultures.  A few years ago, I set a goal to visit every single continent in the world.  I’ve almost completed my goal, lacking missing Africa and Antarctica.  I’ll get there eventually, but my next trip will be to Brazil and Argentina.  I really enjoy shooting portraits of dancers too, so I would be pursuing that as well.  In particular, I would like to do controlled portraits of breakdancers around the world.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat © Peter Tsai

What’s your shooting style? When I travel, I like to shoot street scenes that capture a sense of the place.  I shoot mostly from the hip, because once you see a moment happening, you have to shoot fast before it’s gone.  I like to include people in my photographs when possible because they give the photograph a sense of scale and motion, but the more elements you include in a photo, the more difficult it becomes to make a great photo. I like to be more controlling in my portrait sessions and control the tempo of the shoot. I try to make my models as comfortable as possible so they can be natural in their photographs.  I also do a lot of scouting for location because it’s very important to me.

What’s your favorite photo? I love Gjon Mili’s photograph of Pablo Picasso using a light pen to paint a Minotaur.  Picasso is crouching in the photo and is perfectly framed by the pottery around him.  Mili’s flash fired at exactly the right time to capture a surreal moment.  This photo was the inspiration for my self portrait photo in this article. (Editor’s note: Peter’s Bboying and Dance set on Flickr contains a lot of our favorites)

What’s your most memorable shooting gig? They are all fun, but I have a few interesting ones that come to mind:
Shooting runway shows in the media pit at New York Fashion week and seeing dozens of celebrities each day.
Getting a black eye when a breakdancer kicked my camera because I got too close during a shoot
Photographing competitive gun shooting for a magazine with my camera dangerously close to the action (I actually used the Aputure RF remote to trigger the camera shutter).

Sydney Opera House © Peter Tsai

Who is your favorite photographer? Why? I appreciate all of the old masters like Henri Cartier Bresson and Ansel Adams because they were doing work that had never been done before. They blazed their own paths, followed their passion, and were master storytellers.

What does the future hold for you? I’m currently working on a coffee table book that will feature over 150 photos of the city of Austin, Texas.  The book is scheduled to be published in the Spring of 2011 and will be called Austin, Texas: A Photographic Portrait.  Once I wrap that project, I plan to get back into portrait and fashion photography again and take advantage of the new studio space I have in my house.

View Peter’s work at:
www.petertsaiphotography.com <- portfolio site and blog
www.austinphotobook.com <- Austin, Texas photo book site
www.flickr.com/supertsai <- my Flickr site
And a few more photos here:

Shooting Range © Peter Tsai

Dancer © Peter Tsai

Go Dance Studio © Peter Tsai

Austin © Peter Tsai

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