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Tyron Shi

28 April 2021

With classic cinematic teal overtones, desaturation of all colours but reds, and moody subjects, our next guest Tyson Shi is a US-based photographer who captures Manhattan with a modern take on film noir.

What's your backstory?

I'm currently a third year student at Parsons School of Design, going onto my final year. Although I do a lot of photography, I'm majoring in Product Design with a Communications Design minor. My photography takes place where I was born, Manhattan, but I actually live around where I grew up, about an hour north, upstate.

How did you first start out in photography?

Taking photos has always been something I've done for as long as I can remember, but I didn't start taking them seriously and more frequently until around 2017. Around that time I just graduated high school and decided to take a gap year before I would go onto college, so I finally had some time to focus on things I always wanted to do; photography was one of these. It wasn't until the end of 2019 that I started focusing on the rainy city aesthetic. Even though I always liked taking photos at night, during rain storms, it took me a while to actually start focusing on it as a direction for my work since I didn't have the technical knowledge to be able to reliably take low light photos before that.

What are your sources of inspiration?

Most of my inspiration comes from various movies, paintings and other works of art; Blade Runner (1982 and 2017), The Matrix (1999), and Edward Hopper's Nighthawks are some good examples that come to mind.

How would you describe your style?

My photos are a more cinematic perspective of Manhattan's streets at night, capturing the more dystopian side of the city with photos of lone pedestrians in scenes of heavy rain, smoke, fog, and neon lights.

The worse the weather conditions are, the more I shoot, whether it's rain, snow, or fog. I don't know exactly why, but there's just something about it all that evokes a strong emotional response in me that makes me want to work with it and share it with others.

I'm always drawn to neon lights, rain reflections, steam, fog, or silhouettes, all at night. I think it's because all the movies that influence me have a strong nighttime aesthetic.

How do you know when you've got "the shot"?

It's hard to say, since I mostly pick photos by feeling, but I think as long as it contains reflections, silhouettes or both, I'll choose it. Sometimes I'll even come back to a photo after months or even years, and decide I like it better after a re-edit.

Are you an impulsive or planned shooter?

I used to be an impulsive shooter, going out to take photos anytime it rained, but since the start of the pandemic, I had to become a planned shooter. Originally, I had the convenience of being in Manhattan to go to school, but once everything switched to online learning, and when the lockdowns started, I couldn't go into the city as easily or often anymore. Now, there's a lot of planning, timing, and a bit of luck involved since the weather can change fast.

How do you achieve the look in your photos?

My settings are pretty standard, usually around ISO 800-1600 and f/4. I tend to shoot in aperture priority so I can focus on my composition, and I mostly like to set my exposure compensation to underexpose my images slightly to avoid any blown out highlights. I'll only occasionally shoot wide open if it's really dark out or if I need that background separation. I edit the RAW files in Lightroom and I just apply one of my two main presets and make adjustments from there. Since I like to get a lot of stuff done right in camera, my edits aren't really anything special, I just make sure not to overdo the edit and just stick to enhancing what's already there through technical corrections like exposure and framing.

Before and after editing
Before and after editing

How do you feel your style has changed/evolved over the years?

I'd say my style changes have been more technical than creative, especially since I'm always practicing and learning better editing methods all the time. Creative changes happen occasionally, but those are usually more subtle in terms of influencing the final outcome of an image.

Do you have one or two photos that are you particularly proud of?

These two images below are my all time favorite shots since they best capture what I actively look for during photoshoots in unique ways.

Image One

This captures that unique and timeless Manhattan mood with the dense steam and classic clothing on the subjects.

Image Two

This one has a similar feel, but it also reminds me that photography isn't always about being perfect. Even though the shot is shaky and blurry, the story and emotion in the photo still makes it strong.

What motivates you to shoot?

To me, photography is a form of expression; it's something you do to tell a story or share an emotion. What always motivates me to shoot is that strong emotional response I get from the photos I end up with, and that exciting feeling of being able to share that feeling with others.

Do you feel nervous about shooting strangers?

Maybe when I first started, but I don't really get nervous or uneasy, and I've never run into any problems photographing strangers either. I think what lets me get away with so much is just being confident and open with others, meaning I don't try to be discreet or anything like that. When I'm on the streets, I just do my thing. In fact, I've even run into some moments where the person either wants to, or likes to be, in the photo.

If you're just starting out, I'd recommend using a longer focal length like an 85mm since it'll let you stay further away while being able to get good framing. I started out like this and it eventually helped me move up to closer focal lengths like 35mm and 24mm.

Do you have any advice for people getting into photography?

Practice. Earlier I spoke about when I first got into photography, I mentioned that I didn't start with night time photos because I didn't have the knowledge to be able to pull it off. Without the hours and days of practice shooting and editing, I wouldn't have been able to do what I do now. Even years later, I still believe practice is the best way to learn and grow as an artist, and a person.

What are your thoughts on Instagram as a photography platform?

I honestly feel like all the talk about the algorithm is becoming counterproductive. Sure, it's there and can really mess things up, but it's always going to be there whether we like it or not. Best thing anyone can do is learn how to overcome it and adapt. Also, there's a lot more to Instagram than just sharing photos; there's a whole community of great people on there and I'm grateful to have the opportunity to meet new friends so easily!

What are some of your hobbies outside of photography?

Besides photography and design, I also like to write and produce music, and work out. I think it's important to have a wide range of hobbies since it helps keep your mindset fresh and sometimes a different topic can inspire you in a new way.

Thank you for taking the time to speak to us. Any final comments?

Thank you for this opportunity! It's been a pleasure!

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