Huibo Hou: Landscape Photographer Embracing Natural Rhythms
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by Editor Yan Zhang (Australia)
From the very beginning, Huibo has focused her main interest on black and white landscape photography.
In this in-depth and exclusive interview, we will have an opportunity to learn more about Huibo Hou as a photographer, her stunning images, and her philosophy and stories. All these I believe will be a great inspiration for many of us.
I can’t agree with this quote enough. Skill of observation and the subsequent previsualization, are true photographic skills and will never lose their power no matter how technology advances. It is a key to photographers to produce unique and creative images. This applies to all genres of photography, landscape photography certainly included.
The biggest satisfaction I get from photography is to “discover” beauty from seemingly ordinary scenes or even the most unexpected places. Familiar places or sometimes even mundane scenery around us, can be transformed into something exquisite by creative composition and isolation, clever lighting, or under other extraordinary discovered conditions. Such images are more satisfying and fulfilling to me, as it makes me feel I exercised a photographer’s creativity, instead of just being there in the right place at the right moment to capture (or rather, record).
"A Foggy Sunrise", Qinghai, China
Huibo: Just like music, each of us resonates with different genre of music naturally. Same applies to photography. Over the years I discovered that I’m naturally drawn to black and white images. Black and white (B&W) photography, by its nature, gives me more freedom to depart from the seemingly reality, enables me focus more on composition, contrast, textures, tonal range, etc, for better visual effect. More importantly, I found it usually more effective to express deep emotion and strength. A striking black and white image makes my heart leap.
When I take photographs in the field, I visualize the post-production results and I'd remember that visualization. I would also remember the emotion the scene made me feel at the moment. These two elements combined would guide me through the post-process steps when I sit in front of the computer, whether it is dramatic and contrast, or soft and airy; whether dark and depressing, or light and whimsical.
For my B&W post-processing flow, although in general I follow a similar post-processing philosophy across all images, with about 50% of my workflow repeatable, the other 50% is the fun and creative part for each image. Every image is unique in their own way hence requires specific analysis and techniques to bring out what I really want to convey. In recent years I use Nik Silver Efex Pro as the first step for B&W conversion. It is a powerful tool but I always need to continue the fine-tunings far beyond it until I achieve what I have in mind.
“Anticipation”, San Diego, California, USA
“Sand Dune by the Lake”, Qinghai, China
Huibo: My first landscape photography "how to" book was written by John Shaw when I started learning it years ago; later I discovered Galen Rowell, who continues to inspire me today (hand-shakes! :-). Interestingly, the first photography workshop I’ve attended many years ago was in Galen’s Mountain Light Gallery in Bishop, California, and it was taught by John Shaw! This event (along with the very helpful Mountain Light Gallery staff) inspired me a lot and pushed me to a different level. My countless black and white darkroom hours in USCD photo labs years ago (when I still used my film camera), provided me a deep appreciation for the power of post-production and helped me embracing digital photography wholeheartedly when it came along.
Over the years, there are so many incredibly talented photographers whom I constantly learn and draw inspirations from (including many, many from 1X community). Among those, my biggest source of inspiration in recent years has been Guy Tal, a true artist and a deep thinker, who never chases the limelight and has produced so many unique and creative images in landscape photography. His photography style and post-processing philosophy have greatly influenced me. His website is http://www.guytal.com
Having a source of inspiration doesn’t mean to imitate his/her work. On the contrary, I want to learn the essence and apply it to my own unique work.
“Seaside Creek after Sun Down”, Lompoc, California, USA
“The Best Seat”, Qinghai, China
The above “The Best Seat” image was taken a few years ago in a remote village in Qinghai, China, using an old Samsung cell phone (B&W conversion was done in photoshop). I timed the motorcycle when I saw it coming with the boy sitting in the back, but since it was so fast it was impossible for me to pull out the big camera. This image constantly reminds me that content is much more important than having perfect technicality and aesthetics. I’m very glad that I captured the moment. The best camera is always the one that I have with me.
“Solitude”, Yellowstone National Park, USA
“Fog and Cliff”, Utah, USA
“Morning Crowd at Jokhang”, Lhasa, Tibet, China
“A Wise Man”, New Mexico, USA
(Canon 5D II; EF16-35mm f/2.8L II at 16mm; f/22; ISO 100; 140s)
This “A Wise Man” image was taken in Bisti, New Mexico, USA. It was in broad daylight with harsh afternoon lighting. After some searching, I decided to photograph from this “indirect” angle as I think the framing would make the composition much more interesting. I used 10x ND filter to create clouds movement (and enhanced it further in the post-production). The sky is darkened in the post-processing as I intentionally planned to mimic an infrared look. I like how the clouds and angle of the wise man created the mood that I want to convey: we, as human, only get to witness a glimpse of thousands of (or millions of) years that this weathered “wise man” has witnessed. This image constantly reminds me that any light could be good light, do not limit yourself only photograph during magic hours.
Yan: I know photography is your passion but not your full-time occupation. I am in the same position as you. Personally, I enjoy the lifestyle combining both science and art – scientific research makes me happy as much as photography does.
Huibo: Finding balance between work, family and a serious hobby is hard. As a busy IT professional in a high-tech company, I had to completely give up photography for about 6 years to give priority to work and family. Thanks to my husband's support and inspired by my local photography friends, I picked it up again about 3 years ago. Very recently I have become a full-time mom to focus more on family. Although photography is a passion, family always comes first. I am very involved in my son’s day-to-day activities, so I don’t travel much without them. Every year I may be able to get one to two weeks’ time to travel away from family to focus on landscape photography, so I have to learn how to make the best out of the family travel. Quite a few of my images published on 1X were taken while travelling with family (such as these two images below). I don’t think this pattern will change for a while but I’m okay with it.
For the near future, I would like to improve my visual language and story telling by working on small personal projects to create more multi-image portfolios with common themes, rather than individual “best hits”. Landscape would still be my favourite subject, while I’m also open to others.
“Morning Glory Pool in Winter”, Yellowstone National Park, USA
“Twilight at Cui Guang Pavilion”, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China
Huibo: My current main camera body is Canon 5D Mark IV. My workhorse lenses are Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II, 70-200mm f/2.8L II, 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L II. This can mostly cover my favourite subjects, ranging from scenes with grandeur to intimate nature portrait or abstract. As for filters, I often use CPL and ND filters. I own a few ND filters from different brands. They are my staples as I love doing long-exposure. A solid tripod is also imperative to landscape photography.
“A Young Bison Cub Enduring Winter Storm”, Yellowstone National Park, USA
“Silence”, Yellowstone National Park, USA
Huibo: Learn from others but build your own vision, follow your heart, create unique images, and be patient.
“Autumn”, Utah, USA
“Heart”, San Diego, California, USA
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