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Dianne Mao: Her Vision of the World through Photography

by Yvette Depaepe
Published the 22nd of August 2022


Dianne Mao  spends most of her spare time practising photography.  It pushes her to improve her skills.  To her, it is also a therapy that cures when  feeling down. Dianne likes to keep her landscape images 'organic' to present the unmanipulated beauty to the viewers. Her goal is to find and make visual presentations of a unique and attractive combination of natural elements, enhanced by viewing angle, composition and light. Let us discover more about this talented lady through this interview.
Enjoy ...


'Salkantay Sky Dome in Night'


Dear Dianne, tell us … When and how did you start your photographic journey?
I started to shoot photos in 2010 when I took a photography class at a local weekend school.


For many of us, photography is either a hobby or a way of life. How would you define your relationship with photography?
Initially, it was a casual hobby. It gradually grew into a way of my life. Nowadays, I spend a lot of my spare time thinking about and practising photography of different sorts. It is a conversation topic when I meet with people. It is a force that pushes me to learn more arts in general and to practice skills in outdoor activities. It is a therapy that cures me when I am down physically or mentally. It is also an achievement that satisfies me when I capture an exciting moment of life on Earth or in the sky.


'A Feeling of Ancient Time'


What would be the most important experience so far that has influenced your steps in photography?
Sharing experiences with my peer photographers is the most important thing that influenced my photographic journey. From the period of 2017-2019, with the help and collaboration of local libraries in the East Bay, I organized a series of monthly seminars and exhibitions. Not only did I learn so much about photography from guest speakers, but I also witnessed how much change photography could bring to a person’s life and to their vision of the world.

During those two years, so many senior photographers from different parts of the States came to the seminars. I admire their work and appreciate all of them sharing their experience with photography enthusiasts in the Bay Area.
Yan Zhang (yanzhang) was so kind to accept my invitation to be the first speaker. 
April Xie (aprilxie) became the "photographer of the week on 1X" right before she gave her presentation in my series.
Other prominent speakers included Huibo Hou (huibohou), Sapna Reddy and QT Luong.


Why are you so drawn by landscape photography?
I grew up in a geographer family. Both of my parents are geographers and have participated in nationwide natural resource investigations in China. The remote areas they went to were so different from the urban landscape which attracted me so much. I followed their steps and chose geography as my major in college. Although my job is geography-related, technology has changed the way people conduct geography business. Most of the time, my job requires me to stay in the office and face computers. My dream of exploring the world via my career was broken. However, when travelling around the wilderness to shoot landscape photos, I felt my dream come back to me and I have reasons to step into the wilderness and travel around the world.


'A Reflection in Autumn Yosemite'



'Crystal Flower in Death Valley'


What is more important to you, the mood,/story behind your images or the technical perfection?

I think that contents are more important than techniques. For landscape photos, I look for the mood and story behind them. Every location on the Earth has a different mood at different times of the year, season, or day. Although it seems near impossible, I still like to find the moodiest moment to click the shutter.
I also try to include a story in a photo. A landscape photo represents a natural phenomenon that is a result of a natural process. Majoring in geography helped me greatly to spot unique landscapes and discover nature’s stories behind the scenes. So life does go around.  


'Mt Fitz Roy at Golden Hour'



'Echo Between Cloud and Water'


What generally is your relationship to your subject matter beyond being an observer?
Before going out to take photos, I usually start by googling the history, the context, and the physical environment of my subject. After the photo trip, I would google it more for the things I saw in nature. For example, on a heavy foggy morning, I was driving on Point Reyes national shoreline. Suddenly, a herd of deer-sized animals ran across the road in front of my car. The fog blocked the view and I couldn't tell what they were. When I got home, I went online and found out that the place was the Tule Elk Reservation Area which was the home of over 400 elk. I wanted to know those elk more and went back there many times to see them and to take photos of their life. Having a mental relationship with my subject enriched my own life greatly.


Do you carefully prepare the locations where you are intending to photograph?
It depends. If my targeted image includes the moon and Milky Way, I normally use the PlanIt App to check the position and orientation of my subject in the Galaxy.  I would also check the weather and sometimes the tidal condition because they are a major part of my landscape photos. Take this photo as an example.


'Mistry Windmill Hills'


It was what I imagined and planned to capture. The location is not too far from my home. When I spotted this site the first time, I had an image in my mind: a thin layer of fog spreading out on the hill slope; a thicker layer of cloud hanging low; the morning sunshine highlighting windmills; golden sunlight delineating the skyline of hilltops. After checking the weather conditions for months, it finally met my criteria. When I went out and saw the very scene, I was so excited and satisfied. It was just like what I imagined.


Describe your overall photographic vision.

Post-processing software can produce amazing pictures that you would not be able to find in the real world. However, I’d like to keep photos “organic” and to present to people the beautiful and amazing scenery in different corners of the World. So I spent a lot of time searching for scenes in nature.
Landscape elements all have reasons to be there.  The scenes are the result of long-term, short-term, or momentary natural processes. My goal is to find and make visual presentations of a unique and attractive combination of natural elements, enhanced by viewing angle, composition, and light. My job is to capture the moment when all of these are present at a specific time or place.


'Sunrise at Chikot Lake'


I believe that good landscape photographs are taken at the place where she/he visited, observed, and studied beforehand. The area that I live in is a rural area with hills and low mountains. I would never think it to be pictorial if I were not a photographer. It becomes a mystery and amazing in my pictures. I am emotionally attached to it now.


'When Sun Shine Above Fog'



'On Lines of Light'



'A Ranch in Spring'


What are the main features of a successful landscape photographer in your opinion?
In addition to artistic vision and style, a successful landscape photographer requires many skills and a strong mindset. They should have a passion to love nature, maintain a curiosity about nature, be able to discover nature independently, and have knowledge, skills, and experience living in the wild.


'A Little Pearl Pond'



'Yosemite Winterland'


Can you please tell us something more about your workflow from the idea to the final product?
My job requires me to work with computers full time. I, therefore, prefer not to be buried in computers in my spare time. My photography workflow is like this: plan for what to shoot; get to know my subject; travel to the scene and choose a spot for shooting; select an exposure in a way that minimizes post-processing. When I get back home, I use Lightroom to process the image file. I may or may not use Photoshop to make the final touches on the photo.


Where do you look to find inspiration and what inspires you the most?
My inspiration comes from my keenness to explore the world. I like adventures and challenges and always look for surprises. If a place has not been photographically exposed, I’d like to be the first one to photograph it.


'A Purity World'



'Sunrise through Cypress Frost'



'Afternoon Light'



'Living on Green Hills'


Many are of the opinion that the gear is not very important when the passion for photography is strong. However, can you please share with us what gear you use (camera, lenses, lighting, tripod, etc.)?
There is no doubt that cutting-edge technology helps improve the quality of photographs. Fast shutter increases the chance of capturing interesting actions of birds. A high dynamic exposure range is very useful in landscape photography etc.

I am pretty lazy on updating my gear. I use Canon R5, 16-35 mm, 24-70mm, 100-400 mm lenses.


What would be your favourite photo? Please tell us the story behind it.



Echium Fastuosum Candicans widely grow in the San Francisco Golden Gate area.  This particular cluster grew on deep slopes. Its location is perfectly aligned with a circle of traffic toward the Golden Gate Bridge. When I first found them, the plants were still tiny. I had to visit them 10 times until they grew up and were also circular. To reach this area, I had to drive one hour and hike another hour. Because I needed to be on the spot before the blue hour in the morning, I had to leave home two and half hours before sunrise. The time spent and hard work paid off. I got the composition I wanted. If I shoot one more photo of this spot, I will wait for and capture fog or dreamy clouds to enhance the mood.


'Skydome Under Milky Way'


This picture was taken when I hiked to Machupicchu in Peru. The first night of our trek, we stayed in a Salkantay Sky Dome, some 3850 meters above sea level. All my team members were falling asleep with altitude sickness. I was the only one enjoying the night. When the moon was up, the surrounding snow mountain became brighter and brighter. It was so beautiful. But it would be too simple if I just captured images of mountains. The Milky Way was on the opposite side of the mountain. I walked around and tried to find a compromise composition. When I walked close to my dome, I saw the reflection of the snow mountain on the glass of the dome. It’s like a miracle. In front of me, the dome, the mountain, and the Milky Way were all in the picture frame. I felt lucky and excited. I adjusted the camera location, chose the clearest mountain reflection angle, and also made sure that the Milky Way was in a good position/angle in the picture. The line of the mountain and the line of the Milky Way formed a 60-degree angle, which was a golden composition to me. I was very happy with the result.


Who are your favourite photographers or mentors whose works have influenced you and your photography?
I studied with Jianzhong Cai when I first picked up a camera. Mr. Cai is a photographer specializing in black and white film photography. He taught me how to observe light changes on hills. I wouldn’t be able to notice those changes otherwise.
Over the years, I had opportunities to take photo trips with a few 1x members, including Yan Zhang, Micheal Zheng, Mei Xu, Hua Zhu , Huibo Hou, James Bian, Aidong Ning. They are all accomplished landscape photographers. I learned so much from observing their workflow in the field and seeing their final products online. By comparing my work with theirs, I could tell the difference and learn from it.


Now, since we have almost reached the end of this interview, I would kindly ask you to share with us your plans or photographic projects you would like to be involved in.
To me, a single picture is not enough to tell a whole story. So I started to work on projects for a photo series. A few ongoing projects are: Napa Valley,  Valley of Fog & Hill of Light, Yosemite in Four Seasons, etc. I am working on photo selections and their placement in projects to enrich stories and artistic aspects. My next project is to photograph the California countryside.


'What Will You See From a Hot Air Balloon'


In addition to landscapes, I’d like to work on other topics as well, such as wildlife and portraits.





'Spanish Walk'

I always admired other landscape photographers, especially women photographers. From my personal experience, I know how hard a landscape photographer’s work could be. Carrying heavy gear, backpacking, off-road driving,  exposure to heat or chilly weather conditions, staying up overnight, etc. What they experienced is something that non-photographers can’t imagine. I want to document their stories in photos or videos.


Is there anything else you wish to add? What do you think about 1X as a home base for your work?
I joined 1x as a paid member in 2015, but just started to actively send my photos to curators last year. 1x is now the place for me to manage and publish my photos. Finally, I’d like to thank 1x for giving me this opportunity to express myself.


'Dating with Sun'


Very impressed! Congratulations, Dianne!
Fantastic !!!
Breath taking tour in the wonders of nature in its various forms, wonderful gallery dear Dianne. my compliments and thanks to Yvette for sharing it.
Wlonderful work! Congratulations!
Very impressed, by both your images and stories.
Great view angle and great mood!
Thanks a lot for the interview!!! After carefully reading the interview, I know I have a long way to go with your inspiring words. Appreciate the images very well. I will re-read it again! Thanks for all the work done. Great and inspiring images, too!
Una fotografia dopo l'altra sono un tributo alla natura, ma per gli occhi di chi guarda sono una commovente emozione. Ti ringrazio molto per la spiegazione e lo sforzo che c è in ogni tua immagine. Complimenti 👏👏👏. Grazie cara Yvonne per la presentazione di un altro bravissimo fotografo
Congralutions.. a tribute to nature.
Thanks, Jean.
Just fantastic, great pictures!
Thanks, Mars.
Dear Dianne, i am moved by your amazing landscapes. These are so pure and heart melting. I work in tourism sector and i lost in administrative works. How can i get the fund to explore the world and continue my photography? Love to hear from you.
Dear friend, I have no experience regarding to get fund to travel. But you can always find interesting subject to shoot around you.
Thanks, Jorge.
I just say Woowwww BEAUTIFUL work!
Thanks, Youngll.
Wonderful work. Congratulations! Thanks Yvette mam for sharing.
Thanks, Shaibal.
Thanks for sharing your outstanding work and the stories behind them. You are such a talented landscape photographer with great vision and skills to materialize your vision. Congratulations!
Thanks, Jiong. We may find time to shoot together.
Dianne, were you able to transition from your day job to a full time nature photographer, living on proceeds from your print sales?
Strelok, I don't think it works that way. I have to keep my job to support my hobby.
Wonderful work. Very good use of light to achieve the "organic" feel you strive for. I most like the mood you generate and the image definition.
Thanks, Francisco.
So beautiful!
Thanks Wenjin.
A great artist! Good job with the photos
Thanks, Vio.
Beautiful pictures, congratulations Dianne!
Thanks, Leah, love your pictures too.
Outstanding work, congratulations Dianne!
Thanks, Yanyan.
Excellent profile, beautiful images. Congratulations Dianne!!!
Thanks, Molly.
Wonderful vison and extraordinary relationship to light. Congratulations.
Thanks, Parteek.
Extraordinary work capturing the magic of nature, Dianne! I am fascinated... Thank you so much, Yvette for the chance to admire this outstanding gallery!
It always gives me so much satisfaction to discover artists to interview. Thank you dear Ludmila!
Thanks, Ludmila, love your magic portraits. I felt fortunate to be interviewed by Yvette too.
Beautiful work and fine interview, Dianne. Congratulations ...
Thanks, Yvette for choose me. It is indeed an opportunity to express my thought about landscape photography. Looking for more excellent photographers discover and introduce by you.
Absolutely stunning images, congratulations Dianne , thanks Yvette for publishing this article
All my pleasure, Anita!
Thanks Anita.