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HJ Yang - Giving a voice to nature through photography

by Yvette Depaepe
Published the 2nd of November 2023


This year, more than 80,000 photographers participated in The Nature Conservancy's 2023 Global Photo Contest”, helping to give voice to nature by showing us what mattered most to them. Its distinguished judges included Frans Lanting, one of the great nature photographers of our time, probably the most celebrated nature photographer living today.  Here is the link to the final results of the 2023 contest winners.


We are extremely proud to announce to you that our member Dr. HJ Yang is a winner of this contest for his image “Morning attack”.
Fortunately, I caught up with Dr. Yang right before departure for his fourth journey to Antarctica.


‘Morning attack- A pregnant orca attacks two sea lion pups on the beach in the early morning’


HJ, congratulation to your great accomplishment!

Please tell us about your photograph in detail. How did you create the photograph?

Thanks, Yvette. Every day hours before sunrise, we rode in the 4x4 Jeep, then walked to the shore overlook at the beach, waiting. It was cold and windy. After four almost fruitless days, on the fifth morning, when we got off the jeep, we heard the sound of the orcas attack. We quickly went to our positions, waiting for light to come out. When the sun just came out, I saw a pregnant orca attacking the two sea lion pups on the beach and took the shot.


What equipment did you use?

I used my Nikon D5 with a 180-400mm Nikon lens at 400mm, f/8, 1/1250, ISO 5600.


What made the situation special?

One of the most striking sophisticated hunting techniques for orcas to catch sea lion and seal pups off the beach is called "intentional stranding" by researchers. This technique was first observed 1976, is now transferred from generation to generation and is mastered by only up to 13-15 resident individual orcas today in the world.


What does it mean to you to be a winner The Nature Conservancy’s Global Photo Contest?
Why do you feel photography is important in protecting our planet?

It will give me one more chance to promote nature conservation and the importance of wildlife. As a trained research scientist in climate science, I fully understand the importance of climate change and its impact on nature and wildlife. The photography gives me a more direct and visual tool for the general public to fully appreciate the importance of climate change and nature. It is everyone’s responsibility to protect this beautiful, unique, but also fragile planet.


Tell us about yourself.


My name is Huijun (HJ) Yang, born and brought up in China and I now lives in Florida, USA
. I left China from the Peking University graduate program to the US for the Ph.D. program in geophysical fluid dynamics at the Florida State University in 1985.  After getting my Ph.D. I worked as a research scientist in areas from atmospheric science to climate and physical oceanography as well as applied mathematics at the University of Chicago for first three years and then at the University of South Florida for another seven years. I published one monograph for graduate students and researchers while still in the Ph.D. program and 35 referred research papers.  After left the academic world in 2001, I started my own business of the real estate development and investment from first office buildings and then multifamily to hotels over last more than twenty years. Around 2006 I started the early-stage startup investments as an angel investor, and later in several venture funds and served on their investment committee.  I enjoy playing tennis and pickle ball regularly.


How did you become interested in photography and how has photography influenced, affected and impact you personally?

I started photography when my wife and I realized that our family loves traveling, but neither of us knew how to operate a camera. She went to take the photo class and I started reading books. We both joined local camera clubs. Photography has brought me to the places I never knew their existence before. Through photography I learned stories I did not know before and met very interesting people from all walk of life around the world. Through photography, I learn what to love, and how to be patient and be contentment with my life. Through photography, I realized how little I know and how much I have to learn from nature. Despite rapid new advanced technology, all human inventions have not been and will never be more beautiful, more simple, more direct than does Nature.



Can you give us a little insight about your life as a photographer?

I love to travel. My wife and I travel together for almost all photo trips around world. My photography is focused on the wilderness exploration side and I much more enjoy exploring the wild places few have gone. I served as president of the Suncoast Camera Club of Clearwater, founded in 1961, and Florida Director of the Photographic Society of America (PSA) and volunteered as a judge at local camera clubs. I have donated my images to national nonprofit organization for their causes.



'Golden Glacier'



'Magic view through iceberg'


How did other photographers influence your work?

Two photographers greatly influenced my photography. The first is Frans Lanting whom I met during my first trip to Antarctica. His work and devotion really impressed and motivated me. The second is Marc Adamus whose landscape photos, editing principles, wilderness experience, and life philosophy help me shape my experience and photographic philosophy. Of course, my friends at Suncoast Camera Club of Clearwater, Tampa Bay Camera Club, Florida Center for CreativePhotography, and PSA Central Florida Chapter as well as those I have met during my trips all influence and help me grow from someone who did not know how to operate a camera only years ago to a winner of this contest today. So this award belong to them.



'Greenland before sunset'



'Arctic Icebergs'


What are your future plans or photographic projects you would like to be involved in?

I would like to continue my philanthropic photography work, donating my images for good cause as I have done with National foundation for Cancer Research and expand it into other local, national or international nonprofit organizations. I also would like to volunteer at local art museums for their education program.


Is there anything else you wish to add and what do you think about 1X as a home base for your work?
1X is the best in its class for the photographer community. My very first image was published on 1X with help of Phillip Chang, now a curator. My work has been published almost exclusively on 1X.  I have met many friends here, including long time curator John Fan and am glad to be part of this great community.
I would like to thank all team member at 1X for their contribution to our photographer community.
This award also belongs to all of you.

Thank you for sharing your wonderful images with us, dear HJ Yang.
Respect for your philanthropic photowork.
I wish you a gorgeous fourth jouney to Antarctica and are looking forward to more of your fantastic photographs.


'A star is born. A-colony of emperor penguins near Snowhill Island'


'Eyes right'

'Orca attack on the beach'

'Big tail in Antarctica'

'Mom with two cubs'

'Just have fun'

'Tail in Greenland'

'Evening in Patagonia Fjord – two dolphins jump toward the threesisters'

'Night in Torres del Paine

'Happy family-Mom with two bear cubs'

‘Leopard catching a big bird in air'

‘Follow Mom-Three cubs follow mom bear in evening'


Wonderful exhibition, beautiful images, congratulations on your work and philosophy of life.
Great works, congrats!
Amazing work. Congrats!
Excellent interview and breathtaking photos!
Congratulations, HJ! This is a great achievement. Your Phtography of natural wonders is truly amazing! Thank you for being a partner of the National Foundation for Cancer Research and donating some of your fantastic photos to support our mission.
Thanks, Sujuan. Looking forward to continuing working together.
Congratulations! What a portfolio of amazing art work!
Thanks, Xiaolin.
Great works, congratulations!
Thanks, Yuan.
Thanks, Eduardo..
More than excellent nature photography, each of your image tells a story and we can feel the passion behind taking each shot. Heartfelt congratulation for your work and dedication. Thanks Yvette for another great interview
Thank you, Mariuca for your encouragement.
Very impressed! Great works!
Thanks, Dennis.
Great works! Congratulationa!
Thanks, Jun.
Great work and fantastic image. congratulations!
Thanks, Phillip.
Congratulations Dr Yang on a well deserved award and a fabulous collection of photographs and thanks Yvette for bringing them to us.
Thanks, Jane for your kind words.
Splendid images, a real dream. Thank very much Yang for this magnificent work, congratulations. Thank so much Yvette for your work always great !!!
Thanks, Thierry.
Congratulations, HJ, great work, well deserved!
Thanks, John.
So beautiful, so striking and so stunning! Excellent work! Fantastic interview. I love and try to learn from "Through photography, I realized how little I know and how much I have to learn from nature. Despite rapid new advanced technology, all human inventions have not been and will never be more beautiful, more simple, more direct than does Nature."
Thank, Wanghan for your kind words.
Congrats Dr. Yang! Very inspiring, make photography not just a hobby but a means to benefit the society. Thanks for sharing Dr. Yang and Yvette!
Linda, thank you.
Thanks for sharing a bit more of your personal and photographic life here in this interview. Your work and story are truly inspiring. Best regards, Patrick
Thanks, Patrick.
Very impressed by both Dr. yang's work and Yvette's interviewed. Congratulations
Thanks, Bing.