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Rob Li: Featured 1X Photographer

by Yvette Depaepe  
Published the 6th of July 2020

Rob Li' s body of work covers several photographic categories such as sports, nature and wildlife.
He quotes: 'Initially, photography was how I was able to keep the precious moments in my life. Gradually, photography evolved into a way for me to connect with people and nature. It became a huge part of my life as it made me creative, attentional, and active.'  After viewing and studying the great artworks presented on 1X, he gradually shifted his photographic vision to a more artistic direction and personal creative input.


'Dance in the fall wind'

Dear Rob, can you briefly tell us about yourself, your hobbies and other jobs.
My name is Rob Li (Yuehu Li in Chinese) and I am currently 52 years old. In 1995, I first moved from my home town Chengdu, China to Wichita, Kansas, then to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1999, where I have been living since. I am a medicinal chemist by training, working full-time in the area of novel drug discovery. I am a big sports fan. Besides watching a lot of sports, I also play table tennis, badminton, and volleyball.
In addition, I love nature and wildlife.

How has your history and life experiences affected your photography?
Looking back, I actually started taking photos during my high school in 1980s. Back then, owning a camera was a luxury. I would always borrow my friend’s camera to capture some of the moments in my life. I still have those old albums with me even after several big moves in my life. In 1996, I bought my first SLR film camera, FUJICA AX-3, from a pawnshop in Kansas. In 2005, I bought my first DSLR camera, a Nikon D50. However, I did not seriously get into photography until my daughter started gymnastics in 2006, when I realized that I could not get a good photo of her performing gymnastics with the an AUTO setting on my D50. Therefore, I started to learn and practice photographing gymnastics. My photography skill grew with my daughter’s gymnastics levels. By the time my daughter stopped doing gymnastics, I had become a semi-professional sports and performance photographer. 

Interestingly, the initial reason for me to start wildlife photography was to practice fast focus skills so that I can improve my focus ability in order to take better gymnastics photos. As time went by, I fell in love with wildlife photography.








'Flow of dance'

Which are your most important experiences that has influenced your art?
I want to thank 1X for being an excellent influence on my art. Prior to joining 1X, my main focus weighed more in the technique area, i.e. getting high quality sharp sport and events photos (recording). After viewing and studying the great photographs presented on 1X, I gradually shifted my photographic vision to a more artistic direction, so that I could put more personal creative inputs into my work.


'Solo during quarantine'


What first attracted you to photography?
I was attracted to photography because my daughter was a gymnast. For almost 8 years, driving her to different gymnastic meets was our typical weekend life. Capturing a good and clear photo of her performance was my only goal for a long time. By the time I finally figured it out and became good at gymnastics photography, she switched her interest to tennis. Still, I managed to become a semi-professional gymnastic photographer. Every year, I get invitations to photograph more than 10 USAG (USA Gymnastics Association) sanctioned meets across the country, including Junior Olympic Championship.


'Touching Angel'


Describe your overall photographic vision.
Initially, photography was how I was able to keep the precious moments in my life. Gradually, photography evolved into a way for me to connect with people and nature. It becomes a huge part of my life as it makes me creative, attentional, and active.


'The Singer and dancers'



'Something Just Happened'

You have your very own style but your work is very diversified.  Can you explain why this is?
Thanks for noticing the diversity of my portfolio. To me, photography is an important way for me to communicate with people and nature. I am very proud that I can use my photos to express my appreciation for the beauty of one moment, one expression, and one pose of the people and nature. In doing so, I don’t think I should force myself to limit my photography passion and creativity into one or two categories. My vision is to photograph anything I feel interesting and relay those photos with my passion to the audience.

I still remember the feeling when I first came across 1X. It was like a kid entering a candy shop. I was stunned to see so many great artwork in so many different categories. They were all astonishing and impactful. After I became a member of 1X, I gave myself a personal goal to have my work published in EVERY category of 1X. After six years, my work was recognized and published in 13 categories. I still have long way to go, but I believe I am still young enough to achieve it.




What is more important to you, the mood,/story behind your images or the technical perfection?
I believe both technical aspect and mood/story are important to my work. They weighs differently, depending on the subjects and situation. For sports and natural photography, technique perfection weighs more. For performance, mood, and studio work, I look more for mood/story behind the scene. Especially for performance photography, you have to know what contributes more in order to create a beautiful performance photo. I always ask myself the questions: how much do my eyes, emotion, input, and technique weigh in the photo? In many cases, a beautiful performance photos was the result of dancers’ skills and stage lights, rather than the input from the photographer. For every performance I photographed, I always make sure to communicate with the dancers, trying to understand the essence of the performance, which is the homework I have to carry out every time. This helps me to balance the inputs from dancers and me, so that I can create mood/ story telling photos.



What generally is your relationship to your subject matter beyond being an observer?
In general, I must see something inspiring from the subject before I plan for my shoot. Most of the time, there is a mutual appreciation between the subject and me, which helps build the trust and allows us to bring out the best from both sides.



Do you prepare carefully the locations where you are intending to photograph?
Absolutely! When photographing sports and performance, I would get to the venue at least half day early, if not earlier. I would inspect the lighting, possible angles, estimate the potential DOF, and decide lens I should use. Before bringing artists to my studio, I would plan the lighting and background setup several days ahead. When I do wildlife photography, I would check the weather and animal activities using help from internet, such as,, or ask fellow photographers and plan ahead of time.


'Catch you if you can'



'Big Relief'

What gear do you use (camera, lenses, bag)?
I mostly use Nikon gears. The bodies I have are Nikon D5, D850, D4s, D800e and D500. As for the lens, Nikon 70-200mm F2.8 is my go-to lens for performance and indoor sports. I use Nikon 600mm F4, Nikon 300mm F2.8, and Nikon 200-500 F5.6 for wildlife. I also use Nikon 50 mm F1.4, 85mm F1.4, 105mm F1.4, and 135 mm F2.0 for portrait.


'Little Dragonfly Mating'


What software do you use to process your images?
Photoshop CC, Lightroom, and Nik collection.


'Chirping hummingbird'

Can you tell us something more about your workflow?
I always shoot both jpg and raw. Typically after each session, I would use jpg to go through the photos and pick my favourites. I then import the raw file using Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and do some basic editing in ACR. After that, I bring the photo into PS and refine the image there.


'Spoonbill in flight'

What is your most important advice to a beginner in Photography and how do you get started?
The most important factor for photographer is the mind (head) behind the camera. In addition to practising your skills, you need to spend time on viewing others’ work and learning from them.



Who are your favourite photographers and more importantly, how has your appreciation of their work affected how you approach your own photography?

My favourite photographers are John Fan and Jeffrey Wu.  Both of them are photographers I look up to. John Fan happens to be an alumni from Nanjing University in China, where I also graduated. I read many of his photography papers and get a lot of advice and encouragement form him. Jeff Wu led me into the field of wildlife photography.


'Flying in the fogging morning'

Is there any specific photo taken by another photographer that has inspired you a lot and why?
I really like the creative work of Milan Malovrh.  His work is very creative and artistic. I adopted his double camera technique into performance photography and got many satisfying results.





'in the element' by milan malovrh


Are there any specific directions that you would like to take your photography in the future or any specific goals that you wish to achieve?
I will keep my focus on sports and performance photograph due to my experience and unique opportunities. My goal is to continue developing myself into a good all-around photographer. As my daughter goes into college, I will have more time to travel to do more wildlife photography.


'Sunset at the Natural Bridge-2'




Describe your favourite photograph taken by you and why it is special to you?



This photo was taken in the 2016 Women’s Table Tennis World Cup. It was the first time that this event was held in North America. As the official photographer for the event, I had the privilege to follow the whole event closely. Table tennis is the Chinese national sport. I grew up as a big table tennis fan and also play table tennis fas my main exercise. It was a dream come true to be an official photographer for one of the table tennis’ top events. In addition to providing spectacular images to the media I also used my experience and photography instinct to create this triple exposure image on site.

To me, this photo not only captured the moment, but also reflected my passion for table tennis and my ability and intuition as a sports photographer.
This SOOC image scored 3rd place in 1x Double Exposure contest


'Spring Dance'

This photo is also one of my favourites, which was taken recently on March 28, 2020. It meant a lot to me because it was taken from our kitchen during COVID-19 quarantine lock down. Normally I would not photograph the squirrels in our backyard. However, because of the quarantine, I had time to observe the little animal closely. After discovering their move patterns in the rain, I staged the flower in the backyard and waited patiently to capture this photo.

There were two points I wanted to make in this photo:
1.      despite the lock down, we can still have humour and embrace the spring;
2.      the quarantine can keep us photographers at home but cannot keep us from being creative.  

Is there anything else you wish to add and what do you think about 1X as a home base for your work?
To me, 1X is the most sacred platform for the perfection of photography. Despite being a member for six years and having close to 100 photos published, I still feel the overwhelming joy of achievement when a new photo is approved for publication. In the meantime. As a photography teacher in our area, I am an avid 1X promoter. I always introduce 1X to my students in the very first class. I use my experience and my learning on 1X to encourage my students to get to know 1X and guide them on how to improve their photography instinct and sense. A few of them have already had their work published on 1X.


Magnificent interview, stunning work Rob, great images. Thank very much Yvette. Congrats Rob !!!
Thank you, Thierry!
Congratulations to my friend Rob Li. Well done!
Thank you, my idol and MF!
Congrats my friend Rob and thanks dear Yvette for the interview.
Thank you, My teacher and MF
Mei Xu PRO
Amazing and unique works. Congrats!
Thank you, Mei!
Thanks for your fine collaboration and great insight in your beautiful work, Rob ! Congratulations with this well deserved feature. Cheers, Yvette
Thank you very much, Yvette!
Beautiful set of wonderful images Rob, Very fine words Yvette congratulations both of you so well done..
Thank you, dear Daniel!
Thank you Daniel!