James Leung19 min read

James Leung

Hello James! Could you introduce yourself? 

Hi! My name is James Leung; I’m a civil engineer by trade and a landscape photography enthusiast from England, originally from Hong Kong. I’m also an avid hiker and adventurer enthusiast. I love finding new locations and experiencing the great outdoors.

I am currently shooting with the Canon 750D and have been since 2016. I’m also trying to focus on drone photography and videography because It gives a different perspective on the usual photo locations. 

Tell us about your first introduction to photography, what’s your backstory?

Since I was young, my dad and grandad would always take photos on holiday of nearly anything and everything! If I were lucky enough, my dad would even let me borrow his camera! 

My family also loved a good walk in the countryside, and once I was a little bit older equipped with a smartphone, I would start taking photos for myself. During my university days, I started posting on Instagram but mainly of random university moments. It was only when my mum bought me a little Canon 750D, that I started to take photography more seriously.

It was almost simultaneous with the time I had bought my first car. Therefore, from then on, equipped with my DSLR and car, I started going on more adventures with my friends, exploring places I had never visited before. Uploading the landscape shots on social media, I had more and more people asking where I was visiting. I realized I had the opportunity to show people the beautiful places around the world to visit. I’m naturally a shy person, and I liked the photography enabled me to quietly say a lot.

I remember the first shot I had taken on my Canon 750D was of the bridge in prior park in Bath whilst I was doing my master’s degree. I had met up with a friend who also had a DSLR. She showed me the basic manual settings (I was still using auto settings!), and I’ve been shooting manual ever since! One of the basic tips she gave was to take the shot and then review that to see what worked and what didn’t. 

Since starting, how did you develop your style? 

When I first started shooting with my DSLR, I didn’t really have a style. I was shooting anything and everything, just making sure photos were sharp and in the correct exposure. However, when I first started, I did learn a couple of fundamental things to create a unique photograph

  • The first was, if possible, to keep the ISO (how sensitive your camera is to light) low as possible to minimize image noise, especially as I was shooting handheld. 
  • When I started taking more photos of landscapes, I started to use a narrow aperture, so there was a deeper depth of field, meaning the whole landscape was in focus. 
  • The third was shutter speed, the length of time that light enters your camera. Usually, for my landscape shots, I would shoot faster than 1/60 as most of my shots are handheld. 

The hardest obstacle at the beginning was to balance these three elements to make sure the photos were exposed correctly. From then until now, it’s taken a lot of trial and error.

Before I go shooting, I do quite a bit of research on the locations I will visit. For example, looking at location tags on Instagram and seeing which photos I like the look of. Also, if the location is relatively unknown, I would scope the place out on google maps. This sometimes reveals where I can take aerial shots from my drone. 

I find the weather, especially in the UK, is forever changing, so I try not to raise my hopes for good conditions. Whatever the weather, I try to make the scene work as I always think that there will be another opportunity at some point to return to locations in the future. Saying that, I’ve come to realize there isn’t really the ‘perfect’ conditions as I always thought photography is like art; it’s subjective to the eye of the beholder.

When I first started on Instagram, I would upload photos in a landscape format. However, when doing some quick research, I found that travel pages tend to share photos in portrait format. I think this is because portrait photos fill a phone’s screen when a person is scrolling on one’s feed. When shooting, I kept this in mind. Initially, I found this difficult as within landscapes; there are many subjects you can focus on. I would take multiple shots at each location in vertical (portrait format) at first to see which ones worked well, then focus on those. After uploading more photos (in portrait format), I found that I started to gain engagement and more pages started to share my work.

With editing photos, I think I have always struggled to get a consistent look in my photos. I tend to use Photoshop, Lightroom, or even Snapseed to edit photos. I have recently found that using an Instagram feed previewer has helped me get a consistent feed. I am trying to follow the seasonal colors, such as whites for winter and red/brown colors for autumn. By doing this, I can transition into different colors for the different seasons. 

Since starting, what has worked to attract fans and followers?

I don’t think I have this worked out yet, haha. However, there are a couple of things I have found that has attracted some fans and followers. 

  1. Engage with your followers and similar photographers. By using hashtags and location tags, I’ve engaged with artist’s photos I’ve particularly liked. This might sound dodgy, but even send them a direct message (nothing weird), more often or not, they’ll reply to you. I’ve met some incredible people by doing this!
  2. Target your photos to be featured on other pages by hashtagging and tagging relevant pages. It helps introduce your photos to like-minded audiences that wouldn’t normally see your photos! 
  3. Similarly to being at university, talk to people during your adventures. You find everyone has an interesting story to tell!

More recently, I’m not going to lie; social media algorithms has been all over the place, especially on Instagram! During the first lockdown, I found that audience engagement had increased a lot as I’m guessing a lot of people were at home and looking at the phones more often! Since then, engagement has dropped drastically. I would say by having followers that comment, highlight, and share your photos will help. Again, this goes back to my first tip by engaging with your followers in time they will do the same to you. 

Through starting as a photographer, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

As cliché as it sounds, I have definitely learned from my mistakes. 

When taking pictures with my DLSR, I have taken shots thinking they were in focus, but when I’ve gotten home, they were the complete opposite. I definitely recommend looking back at your shots on location to see if you can change anything to improve your photo. I would also take multiple shots of the same spot, but with different settings, so you have the option to pick and choose the shot you like the most.

When shooting, I like to have a focus point, ideally in the middle of the frame. That can be, for example, a road leading to the horizon, the top of a mountain, or a person. This helps lead the viewer’s eye to a focal point.

One time I was in Germany flying my drone above a frozen lake during sunset. It was such a beautiful scene. I was flying it backwards to get a panning video of the lake; however, I was only looking at the footage on-screen. Suddenly the footage blacked out. I didn’t know what happened and where it was. I spent nearly an hour walking around the lake in near pitch-black looking for it. Luckily or unluckily depends on how you see it; I found it submerged in water on the lakeside. Apparently, It had been flown backward into a tree and dropped into the water. I got back to the Airbnb and placed it into rice to see if it would work. My worst fear became a reality; the drone wouldn’t start back up. So, when I got back home, I sent it to DJI to get it repaired. A costly mistake, and ever since, I’ve made sure I knew exactly where my drone is and any obstacles nearby! Be aware of your surroundings!

What’s your biggest achievement so far?

It’s hard to choose just one favorite photo, but the one photo I am proud of is the sunrise above Mount Kinabalu – the highest mountain in Southeast Asia! 

A group of friends and I had gone to a wedding in Brunei where I had been the best man and had to do the best man speech. It was my worst nightmare as a shy person, but I had managed to get it done without fainting. Once the wedding was over, the group and I flew over to Kota Kinabalu to hike up the infamous Mount Kinabalu. Hiking up for two days to an altitude of 4000m and seeing the sun peeping just above the horizon with my group of friends will be forever in my memory.

So far, my biggest achievement is winning a competition on Instagram, which I had not even entered: A company had told me I had won a voucher for the photo competition. I was over the moon! Before that, I had never felt like my photos were worth recognition, but that gave me the confidence to share my photography work. 

How are you doing today, and what does the future look like?

As I’m in another lockdown, I haven’t had the opportunity to go out and shoot as much. So currently, I am just focusing on editing photos from previous trips. In between lockdown, I’ve managed to shoot locations mainly in the lake district and peak district. It has given me an appreciation of these beautiful national parks and how lucky to have them so close to home.

Looking to the future, I hope to be able to collaborate with some of the wonderful people on Instagram. I also hope to add more content to my website with more photos and blogs about my travels. My main focus is, however, is to learn more about drone videography and photography. 

After COVID, I plan to travel to Iceland and Japan to experience these magical places, and I’m sure it’ll give me the inspiration to carry my content forward. 

What’s in your camera bag these days? 

I have been shooting with my Canon 750D for the past 4 years; it’s been with me everywhere from Borneo to Canada. I am lucky to have gotten this as a gift from my mum for my 21st birthday. I’ve been shooting on the manual settings since almost I got the canon 750D as there is a lot more freedom to experiment! 

For the Canon 750D, I have the basic canon EF-S 18-55mm lens and the Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6. I mainly use the 10-18mm lens for landscape photography. However, as it is a fisheye lens, you get a blurriness in the edges, which I overcome by cropping the imaging.

For my aerial shots, I use the DJI Mavic Pro. I was a bit hesitant to buy this about 3 years ago as it was quite pricey. However, watching drone footage on YouTube and seeing the amazing shots people were getting from the air, I felt the urge to buy one. There was no hesitation in which drone to buy; the Mavic Pro felt very stable with 4K video capability. 

When filming, I use my phone as the screen and the DJI remote to fly. I usually shoot videos in 4k; I would only turn down the resolution when it says I’m running out of memory! 

so, everything listed:

  1. Canon 750D body
  2. Canon EF-S 18-55mm lens
  3. Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 lens
  4. DJI Mavic Pro drone

What software and platforms do you use for your photography?

As I shoot mainly with my Canon 750D, I tend to use the canon app to transfer my photos from my camera to my phone wirelessly. I mainly use Lightroom on my Samsung S9 phone when I don’t have much time to edit. 

Editing can take from 5 minutes up to an hour. If the photo requires more editing, then I will use Adobe Photoshop on my dell XPS 15. The photos that require more editing are usually photos taken at night or in bad weather conditions. 

I put most of my photos on the Instagram platform, and the photos I particularly like are added to my website. For videography, I tend to use Adobe premiere pro to edit my footage. I export it through there and copy it over to my phone to upload to Instagram. 

I like the interface on adobe premier pro, lightroom, and photoshop as it’s easy to use, and if you find there is a problem, there are many tutorials that can answer one’s question. 

For my website, I’m currently using Squarespace; it’s easy to set-up with a step-by-step process with a huge library of templates to choose from. 

What is the most rewarding part of being a photographer for you?

By going on my adventures around the UK and the globe, I get to document my journeys, the big and little moments with my friends and family. 

When I’m at my parent’s house, we sometimes get the photo album out and look back at the photos my dad and grandad took back in the day. It gets me all nostalgic. I want that feeling for when I’m older and looking at my pictures I take now.

I alluded to this previously, but you will never get the same conditions at a location; every day, the unexpected could happen at any time, and being there to capture that is the best part! 

What is your favorite location to shoot? 

I’ve found that the favorite locations have more to do with who I’m with when I shoot. One place I have a lot of great memory is the lake district, England. Only a 2-hour drive away, I can be in the beautiful surrounding fells and lakes. 

My favorite memory is on a hot summer’s day of 2018, having just watched England get into the semi-final of the world cup me and my friend decided to drive to Wast water to catch the sunset. When we arrived, it was so peaceful, surrounded by Wasdale valley, we decided to swim in the deepest lake in England. It was quite the experience! I only managed to shoot a couple of aerial shots – however, sometimes you have to step back from the camera and experience the moment.

One of my favorite places abroad would have to be the Dolomites in Italy. I was lucky enough to do a 2-week road trip with a couple of friends starting from Milan all the way to Innsbruck in Austria. Driving on the mountain passes, I was in complete awe of the jagged peaks, frozen lakes, and quaint towns. Everywhere I turned, I was surrounded by natural beauty. 

What is your best memory as a photographer? 

One of my fondest memory as a photographer was my last proper holiday before the first Covid lockdown. It was my first time properly in the Scottish Highlands. Being in January, the Monroe was topped with white snow-capped peaks. As we didn’t have much annual leave left, a couple of friends and I decided to join the Macpacker tour. Usually, I’m not so keen on those quick stop coach tours. However, this was quite the experience.

The first step was Cairngorm national park; we stopped at the highest beach in the UK, Loch Morlich. The place was so tranquil, and we had the whole place to ourselves. We carried the journey to one of my favorite places in the world, the Isle of Skye. I still remember when we first arrived at this magical place, the song “old pine” by Ben Howard was playing in the background. It’ll be forever in my memory. It is a photographer’s dream place, the rolling mountains with the ocean close by. It felt like I was stepping into the world of Lord of the rings.

What makes the difference between a good image and an iconic image?

The photos I find the most appealing and vivid are the images with a simple focal point, be it a sunset, a reflection, or a road that leads the viewer’s eyes. We can achieve this by using leading lines that can transport the viewer deep into the scene. I personally like capturing sunsets as the main focus is the sun, with the leading lines being the sunshine rays.

Previously I would take landscape shots of the whole location without thinking of a unique perspective. As a photographer, we need to find a unique frame of the location, by finding a different perspective from everyone else making you stand out. When you get to a location, walk around first, and explore. You never know what perspective you find. 

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

My sense of adventure has to be from my parents; ever since I was younger, they’ve always looked to travel and discover new places. Be it hiking in the nearby peak district or exploring the boat markets in Thailand. Seeing these new places has attracted me to the idea of capturing these beautiful places and moments.

I feel movies have been the most influential; by visually seeing these magical places on the big screen has inspired me to capture my own moments. One of the most influential films I watched when I was younger was “the secret life of Walter Mitty.” When I watched it, I had a feeling of warmth and discovery. The film tells a story of a guy doing the same thing day in day out, facing realistic modern-day issues, but he takes a leap of faith one day, making the difference in his life. It taught me it is ok sometimes to take that metaphoric leap of faith and take a chance. 

Advice for other photographers who want to get started or are just starting?

Firstly, finding your own style, editing is a big part of photography. By having your own style, people can easily recognize your photos. It is something that, even now, I am striving for. It takes time to find this, but eventually, you’ll find that style you like with trial and error.

Secondly, even though Instagram is the biggest platform I use to publish my photos on, there are more platforms than Instagram. I would recommend publishing on multiple platforms, for example, Facebook, Twitter, or 500px. As the more exposure and a bigger community you engage with, the better.  

Finally, and most importantly, enjoy taking photos, the scenery, and the moment you are in. Sometimes we photographers often forget to take a step back from the camera and just experience that moment. 

Where can we go to learn more?

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