Kah-Wai Lin: Fine Arts Landscape Images
by Arthur H. Bleich—
Five years ago, Dr. Kah-Wai-Lin, 38, changed the course of his life dramatically. After graduating from high school in Malaysia, he spent six years in the Ukraine getting his MD and another five in Sweden earning a PhD in medical science. When Princeton University offered him a position as a research scientist, he snapped it up; it would appear all the stars had finally aligned. Except that…
AB: In 2016 you had an epiphany.
KL: Well, first, some background. From the time I was 13, I was an avid astronomer and I wanted to record the beauty of the universe so I bought my first camera, a fully manual SLR. I photographed everything— astrophotography, landscape, nature and, when I studied in Sweden, many beautiful churches and historical buildings. When I moved to the US, I became fascinated by American landscapes which became my main source of inspiration.
AB: And so…
So, to answer your question, after four years of laboratory life at Princeton, I had fulfilled my dream as a scientist and wanted to pursue a different career…one that I could have a passion for and that involved traveling. I decided to quit my job and move on as a full-time landscape photographer, all the time aware that it had to be run as a successful business.
AB: That was quite a leap of faith.
KL: Not as much as one might think. I believe I have incorporated the “scientific mind and methods” from my medical research background into my creative process. I like to deal with problems using reason and arguments– logical thinking. I like to solve problems with a rational process using experimentation and come out with a conclusion or “theory”.
AB: An unusual approach. Can you take it further?
KL: For example, I like to figure out all the possible ways to photograph a scene with all the possible scenarios and conditions and analyze what more can be done next time–probably, most photographers do that. I also like to explore the theory and logic behind images and apply them to future shoots– perhaps only scientific photographers do that. I just like doing experiments!
AB: Your specialty is using neutral density filters to achieve long exposures and you execute those images exquisitely. Can you tell us more about that?
KL: Some people think that landscape photography is all about shooting mountains and rocks, things that are dead and static. Long exposures add extra dimensions, for example, the element of time and motion to an image. Long exposures capture scenes that are invisible to the human eye, thus confirming the statement that “Photography is the art of seeing the unseen!”
AB: What, generally, is the response of those who see your long exposure work for the first time?
KL: I think they are impressed by the composition of the images as I tend to create images with very strong visual impact. Like, for example, using very distinct foreground elements to exaggerate the composition. I also put emphasis on storytelling; each of my images tells a story just by looking at it.
AB: You conduct many workshop tours. What do you strive to achieve as a teacher?
KL: First, I want my attendees to return home in one piece. Safety always comes first; unfortunately, many landscape photography workshops ignore it and tragedies have resulted. Next, I want them to shoot great images. Regardless of whether they are beginners or advanced photographers, their goal is to capture pictures they’ll be proud of, and I must help them achieve that. Finally, I want them to return home with sweet memories. In my polar workshops, many get to see the Aurora for the first time, and this is an amazing and unforgettable moment for them, so emotional in fact, that it sometimes beings tears to their eyes.
AB: When you first began to take photography seriously, were there any photographers you thought were particularly inspiring?
KL: Ian Plant, American landscape photographer. Flawless compositional skill. His book “Visual Flow” inspired me. Hans Strand, Swedish landscape photographer. His aerial and intimate landscape photography is eye-opening and inspired me to explore the world. Guy Tal, American landscape photographer. His philosophy in creative landscape photography has been inspiring. His book on post-processing formed a solid foundation for my workflow.
AB: Speaking of post-processing, let’s get into that a bit.
KL: Gladly. It’s an integral part of my workflow. To me, post-processing is as important as shooting in the field. If you don’t use post-processing correctly, it’s like a chef who chooses ingredients but doesn’t know how to cook. I don’t go overboard manipulating images; I try to keep things as natural as possible and I do my post-processing very carefully, spending a lot of time on an image until I think it is perfect and impeccable.
AB: When the image is ready for output do you do print it yourself or send it out?
KL: I print everything myself up to 17”x 25” on an Epson SureColor P900. Larger prints are done by a lab. To me, the creative process of photography is a multistep process that translates your vision from real world to sensor, from sensor to monitor, and finally from monitor to paper. Printing is the final step–the culmination of the photographer’s vision, style and personality. That’s why I like to personally print my own work as much as possible.
AB: What’s your favorite paper?
KL: My portfolios are mostly colorful landscapes; s with different color tones, a wide luminosity range from pure white to pure black, and a lot of detail.
I have tried many different papers and my preference is Red River 60lb Polar Matte. It has excellent color reproduction for a matte paper and is able to show the graduation and structure of color tone very well.
The right paper is as important as your camera gear, because every type of paper has its unique character that expresses your vision in different ways.
AB: Do you also print on other Red River papers?
KL: Yes. I am particularly impressed with 60lb. River Linen 2.0. I seldom use textured papers because I think they’re very distracting especially when viewed up close, but this paper really caught my attention. The texture is much more subtle than canvas papers, so it’s not as distracting. Instead, it significantly enhances the structure, detail, color and depth in landscape photography, and adds a elegance and visual impact, especially when viewed from various distances and angles.
AB: Any words of wisdom for photographers who may want to follow in your footsteps?
KL: Being a full-time photographer is daunting and sometimes even scary. Yet it’s an exciting adventure. Perseverance and persistence are the keys to success. You won’t get famous or rich in one day or even in one year; it takes time to build up your skill, your networking and eventually your business. There are countless unavoidable challenges ahead and you just have to cope with them. You need to be creative, not just in photography, but in business. You must be different so that you can stand out from the crowd.
AB: And how about a closing statement about your philosophy of life?
KL: I would like to share a quote from Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines! Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover!” Life is short, follow your heart and chase your dream and, most importantly, enjoy what you are doing!
NOTE: All images © Kah-Wai Lin.
Visit Red River Pro Kah-Wai Lin’s website to see more of his work and find out about his unique photo workshop tours.
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