I’ve been aware of Tony’s photography since at least 2005, when I was an active member of the xanga photo-blogging community. Despite shooting common subjects (weddings and women), he always stood out from the rest of the crowd with awe inspiring, unconventional shots and impeccable Photoshop skills. More than five years later, Tony is still going strong with a professional career that sees him prominent in the NYC area, and takes him around the world. Dive in to one of our most in-depth interviews yet, and learn what its like to be a wedding photographer, boudoir shooter, and more…
Name: Tony Yang
Hometown: Fort Lee, New Jersey, USA
Tell us about yourself:
You can’t tell from my photos, but I am a shy introverted person. I love to observe rather than participate, so perhaps that’s why I would be a good photo journalist. Ever since I was a child I’ve been blessed with non traditional Asian parents who supported my art endeavors. I have been drawing since I was a kid, and I always thought I’d grow up to be an architect for some reason. I eventually got into digital art with my first 386 laptop and eventually my first 486 desktop. I would painstainkingly draw an image in Microsoft Paint pixel by pixel. One day my dad introduced me to Adobe Photoshop 3 when I was 10 years old. I also have to thank my dad and my brother for being tech savvy, which allowed me to learn all about computers so I am not just a typical computer illiterate artist.
I graduated from Rutgers, Mason Gross School of Arts for graphic design rather than architecture, because for some strange reason, I thought architects needed to know math, and I really hate math. I was completely wrong! I also dabbled in 3D computer animation and thought I’d someday work for ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) or Pixar.
How did you get started in photography?
To continue the story, I never thought about being a photographer until the end of my senior year at college. I had taken darkroom classes in high school and college. My dad gave me a Kodak DC280 digital point and shoot freshmen year in college and I just started taking a lot of candid photos of friends at club meetings or gatherings. I always had interest in capturing people only, and the occasional landscape or object when convenient (still applies today). Thank goodness for knowing Photoshop, I was able to edit all my point and shoot photos to something more polished. Eventually my photography caught on with the students and they always expected me to have a camera at events. Eventually I also upgraded to a Kodak DC4800 with some manual controls which allowed me to practice more with digital photography.
One day, I saw a friend’s professional modeling photos and I said to myself I wanted to take photos just like that. I asked all my female friends to model for me on a 35mm Rebel film SLR. I eventually shot enough events that an acquaintance asked me to shoot her wedding on 35mm film. Long story short, I shot my first 2 weddings on film before diving into my first DSLR, a Canon 10D, purchased in 2003 with my first 0% interest credit card as a college student. I would then slowly build up my equipment list with each paid gig. The rest is history!
Favorite camera and lens? Why?
After using a Canon 1-series, I can’t go down to a smaller body. I’ve been using a 1D Mark II-n for over 4 years and recently upgraded to a Mark IV. I love the large solid grip, 45-point AF, and weather seal. Nothing screams professional like a 1-series body.
For weddings, I almost always use a Canon 50mm 1.4 and Canon 35mm 1.4L. I can cover almost the entire day with these two primes, and it allows for a lot of ambient lights with minimum flash if needed.
If you could shoot anyone/anywhere/anything, what would it be?
Since I love shooting models, what better model than Gisele Bundchen from Victoria’s Secret… on some exotic island of course. After having her name in my portfolio, who else can’t I shoot!?
What’s your “off camera flash philosophy”?
I try to minimize flash as much as possible for wedding photography because it’s an artificial light not already there in a scene. People see the ambient light, so it’s best to capture as much of that as possible. The reason why I love off-camera flash is to simulate a theatrical spot-light look. Ideally having a constant powered spot light would be easiest, but it would ruin the mood of a wedding reception. It’s very popular now to have one flash as a fill, and a second less powerful flash as a direct highlight, or even a lens flare inducing light. This method is a lot harder than hotshoe flash, but the results are significantly better looking and more “natural”.
What’s it like being a wedding photographer?
There are always ups and downs, challenges and rewards to any job. I’ve been shooting weddings for 7 years now, and I still love it. There have been good weddings and bad, but the good ones out number the bad ones, so I still look forward to what other amazing weddings that may come my way. One of the exciting perks about wedding photography is you will never know who you’ll meet. There are some amazing folks, and sometimes very dry and boring ones too. I would say 95% of the weddings are standard issue, same routine… but it’s the 5% that just makes you say “wow” after all these years that makes all the hard work worth it.
It is because of destination weddings that allow me to travel around the world… and get paid doing it! I can’t think of many other “normal” jobs that would allow that. I use to joke that I get paid every weekend to eat filet mignon!
Wedding photography is by no means easy. Imagine carrying professional camera bodies and lens for 10 hours, standing and walking (sometimes running). Being alert the whole time trying not to miss a moment. At the end of the day you just look forward to taking off your shoes and recover in bed.
What is the best thing about being a photographer? Worst?
There are so many amazing things about being a photographer that not one thing can be best. Perhaps the biggest difference photography has made in my life is getting me out into the world, otherwise I would still be my shy, introverted self that stays home on the computer all day. It’s opened me up to a new world, through the view finder.
The worst part might be the fine line of doing art versus work. Most people would agree that anything that becomes a job is no longer fun. I keep some photography strictly personal, and only accept limited paid jobs. The practice of photography is rarely ever a bad experience, instead, it is having to deal with clients and money that might be the worst part.
Tell us about your Intime project…
I have always been shooting intimate portraits of women, but it is usually personal art work. I did not get paid, it was only a hobby. I would be very selective of what subjects I would work with. While I have gotten paid offers before for portfolio work, it wasn’t until this girl Jane paid me to photograph her for her husband that I decided I to start a new service for any woman that wanted intimate portraits. This is different than photographers who are hired for modeling portfolios. I called it “intime” (French) not knowing there was already a market called boudoir (also French) photography. Boudoir photography in New York area was a very small market, and by the time my intime website started hitting wedding forums and booking soon-to-be-brides, there was probably only three to four top referrals for boudoir photography including me. I believe what made me stand out was the more natural approach to these photos, and less dolled-up makeup or extravagant setups. My clients love the more natural look.
Starting out shooting intimate portraits of Asian women before anyone else helped my name get out to the tri-state area. Not many others photographed “regular” women professionally, especially Asians! Hence most of my clients for intime are Asian too.
What’s your most memorable shooting gig?
For me, there would be two types of memorable photo experiences, first would be chemistry between the subject and I, the second would be location based. Unfortunately I can’t talk about the most memorable intimate shooting experiences I’ve had, so I can only share the most amazing locations I’ve been for photography gigs!
The most exotic location I’ve been to is the Maldive Islands for a Beijing couple’s photo session. Some other memorable locations include Italy and Hawaii. While I love shooting on islands, they generally look the same – beach, palm trees, clear blue waters. I just recently got back from Switzerland exploring the top of the snow covered Alps at over 12,000 feet, then driving all the way to Lake Como, Italy. That was definitely one of the most beautiful locations I’ve seen and photographed.
What does the future hold for you?
I say this to many aspiring photographers, “I expect photography to be a lifetime of learning.” I don’t expect myself to ever be satisfied with my photography, and I will keep learning until old age. While I am passionate about photography, I am not success-crazed trying to land every job or big-name client or climb the ladder. I put a high priority to enjoying my art, and I only shoot what I enjoy and see where it takes me. Perhaps you can say I am more of a passive type, and in reality I don’t want to be begging for jobs. I want to be good enough that people will notice me and want me. So this all means I have no future plans, I am just going along for the ride. Happy shooting!
A few more of Tony’s pictures…