10 minutes with Peter Yang

Interviews with Photographers August 11, 2014 7:35 am

When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer?

I discovered photography a year into college. I was feeling pretty lost as a business major and wearing my one wool suit to job fairs in the Texas heat was a bonus drag. I tried out for the Daily Texan, the student paper at UT, and my eyes totally opened up. Before then, I hadn’t shot more than a roll or two of film, and I didn’t know a thing about photography. I asked a million questions, read every “how to” book I could, and started seeing the world as pictures. It’s been that way ever since.

How did you family take the switch from majoring in business to pursuing photography? Who were the first artists that inspired you?

I think my mom was a bit nervous that I was picking something like photography as a career. I was always an artistic kid growing up, and she definitely encouraged that, but when it came to talking about careers, she definitely understood the doctor, lawyer, engineer path way better. But whatever reservations she had, I had experienced tenfold. I made the same argument why I should change majors to her as I had to myself, and that was enough. I think she understood how much I had thought it through, and that I’d support my through richer or poorer. Probably poorer.

Influences starting out… Definitely Annie Leibovitz and Mark Seliger. Dan Winters and Matt Mahurin as well. I loved the concepts and lighting and it was my dream to shoot for Rolling Stone and Esquire and Vanity Fair. Back then there wasn’t Youtube and how-to websites, and I didn’t assist, so I counted on, like, page 8 of Vanity Fair. There was always a behind-the-scenes shot of Leibovitz shooting and I would make note of where the lights were, where the assistants stood, how they used the fan, etc, etc. I got one great lesson in lighting each month.

If you could go back ten years, what advice would you give yourself?

Don’t worry, moving to New York was not a mistake. (I moved to New York City from Austin exactly ten years ago and went from shooting often in Texas to watching a lot of TV, eating a lot of Ben and Jerry’s, and waiting for the phone to ring.)

Lighting is important, but it’s not the only thing. I would spend all my time thinking about lighting at the cost of creating and capturing moments and expressions. The technical aspects of photography came easy to me, and the human interaction part of it came later.

You don’t need one camera that does everything. I switched from Canon to Leaf to Phase to Nikon..etc. Use the right tool for the job.

Enjoy the moment.

Any words of wisdom for the up and comers?

I’d say for up and comers trying find his or her niche, focus on what you want to shoot and not what you think others want to see. People always say this, but it really is true. When I see young photographers’ portfolios, I can always see the difference between the two. The work I feel most inspired by is the work they were most inspired to make. Start there and go full speed!


Peter is based in New York. See more of his work, here.

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