If you’ve been clubbing in Shenzhen, chances are you’ve seen Johnson Zhang taking pictures, and probably been shot by him, only to find yourself up on Shenzhen Party a few days later. I’ve known Johnson for several years now, and every time he’s always getting busy making excellent off-camera flash party photos, like a true Strobist would. You can see his collection here. I’m always impressed by his shots, which do well to capture the party atmosphere. But Johnson is more than just an events photographer. He came by the studio recently and we sat down and chatted about his photographic story. Read on to learn more about the local photog…
Name: Johnson Zhang
Hometown: Qingdao, China
Tell us about yourself:
I’ve skated for 10 years, and was the Safari team manager for two years. When I finished skateboarding, I went to a fashion magazine to be a photographer. I also worked for P1.cn, and have worked for ShenzhenParty for three years now.
Why move away from skating?
Skateboard is your dream work, but if you want to live in Shenhen, you need to make more money. If you are a pro skater, you can only make 2-3K per month. First I worked as marketing manager. Right now, I also do graphic design and posters for local bars and clubs.
How did you get into photography:
When working for Safari, I always needed to take pictures for website. Canon 20D was my first time to try the camera. I felt like: I like this. I learned everything from the internet. Before, I studied in Xian at an art university, and already had the feeling for making art. So I just needed to learn how to use the camera. I never use the flash on camera, I always use it off, maybe because that’s how most skateboard photographers shoot.
What’s your favorite camera and lens?
Canon 5DII and 24-70 f/2.8L. Good pictures are not about what lens or camera that you use. So I only use these for my work. For my favorite lens, I use 50mm 1.4. Its cheap and simple, and makes pictures real.
What’s your experience with Shenzhen Party?
I’ve worked there for three years. Its fun, you can go to a lot of parties, meet a lot of people. Two years before it was more fun, but now I’m so tired. I go to nightlife a lot, and every time is the same: I’ve seen this before, I’ve seen this girl before. You never see anything that you want to take pictures of anymore. Now, if i’m intersted I’ll go. I shoot about 20-30 times in the high season, and about 10-20 times in low season.
What’s your approach to party pictures?
Its like painting. If you go to some dark party, you need a flash. Bad party pictures are always too dark in the background. My focus is always to capture the background, and feel that it is colorful. Use the flash to lock the people in the picture. I never ask for poses, I just say “I need to take picture”, but I always change the angle and the background. I don’t want the background to be so dark. I ask people if I can take their picture about 50% of the time. Sometimes poeple dont like it when you take their picture and put it online; that’s happened before.
Food magazine, restaurants. I’m interested in food photography. You can prepare everything by yourself. All of my work is finished by myself. If you do it alone you can be more quick.
What’s your favorite shot/shoot?
The first time I took pictures for a magazine, I prepared for three nights. Before I had never taken pictures for something so important, so every day I learned on websites. The magazine had a makeup concept for a summer issue, about what girls need. I used all my focus because I’ve never done this before. I learned and used new tricks.
Tell us about your skateboard photography?
I know I can do it but I don’t try, because you need to work with them every day. The pay is not that much. I have one good photo on the cover of Whats Up – a local skateboarding magazine.
What does the future hold for you?
I want a team. Now I take pictures using the clients ideas. I don’t use my own ideas, its just work. I never use my own ideas, thinking about “I want that feeling”. I want some guys to help me with photoshop, to give some ideas. Sometimes you just say something, but I need someone to talk to me and give me the idea and the passion.