“The more pictures you see,” Robert Mapplethorpe said, “the better you are as a photographer.”
Steven Lu has seen a lot of pictures. He has studied photography, chaired photography clubs, shot alongside industry photographers and worked for two years at Broadway Camera.
Lu has always scrutinized his own work closely. In studying the work of Masters, he has come to realize that there is one emotion that comes through in the photos he appreciates most: joy. “We come across a lot of sad things. There is already enough of that in the news. The type of photos that I want to focus on give a sense of joy, a sense of happiness, a sense of calm.”
Steven sees this joy in the work of a local photographer he admires: Jun Ying, who is particularly known for his wedding photography. “I’ve learned a lot through him and his photos. He has such a positive outlook on life.”
It was after high school when Lu discovered how much happiness he derived from taking pictures. While he was a student at Langara College, Lu was invited by his brother to come out to a SFU photography club event. “At that point, I only had a really small camera – a Samsung point and shoot.”
For that first event, all of the attending photographers were to take pictures of a couple in the downtown library. Lu loved angling here and there, taking photos and learning from club members. Soon, he was serving as an executive in the SFU photo club and helping to organize local workshops, photoshoots and photo walks. “Gastown was a place a lot of us really liked. It is such an interesting layout – busy, full of people.”
Much to the intrigue of passers-by, this great swarm of photographers would duck and weave from one end of the block to the other, in search of the perfect shot. “I really got into street photography, where I’m taking a photo-journalistic approach to street life. I’m not forcing anything to happen. I’m not forcing people to pose. It’s all happening naturally. Everyone is in their space and in their moment.”
Lu also enjoys photographing Granville Island, downtown near the Art Gallery and our local beaches in summer. If he’s looking for a more calm setting, he might head to VanDusen Botanical Garden, Queen Elizabeth Park or Steveston.
It was when Lu enrolled in a photography course at Langara College that he got his first DSLR camera. “A lot of people say that you shouldn’t rely too much on the camera as a way of improving your photography, because it’s just another tool. My first DSLR was a tool with a lot more functionality compared to my point and shoot, allowing me to explore different types of photography and have more creative options.” The professor was happy with Lu’s final showcase and Lu was starting to think about photography as a possible career. “I saw how much I had improved. I was starting to realize that I’m capable of doing more.”
Soon, he was out shooting in the community and stepping into the job he loves so much at Broadway Camera. “Part of me wanted to help people find the same amount of joy from photography as I do. I like that we provide the essential tool for people to photograph things that are meaningful for them.”
In a typical day at work, Lu is talking photography with those who are buying their first cameras and with professionals who are looking to add to their equipment. There are regulars who like to chat and browse and tourists who are looking for cameras to document their time in Canada. “Sometimes people are here because cameras are much more expensive where they live.”
Lu will coach customers to embrace the buttons and dials and to move away from Auto button addiction. “A camera is a tool. To always put a camera in Auto, is like locking up all of the other functions of this tool in a box. We will show customers how much more this camera can do.” Lu is also happy to consult those in the community who seek him out for advice.
What are some key insights that Lu would offer to would-be photographers?
1. Go out and shoot. “You can read all the books that you want, watch all the videos that you want. The most important thing is that you go out, shoot and apply what you have learned.”
2. Wander far afield. “You should really focus on things that are new to you. If you are looking at something that doesn’t do anything for you, that doesn’t pique your curiosity, then move on. Find some other moment. Explore more. Get out of your own neighbourhood. As National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson says: ‘if you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.”
3. Layer. “Irving Penn says: ‘a good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it.’ The photos that have impacted us over time have so many elements to them. They are in an interesting time and place, there is a subject, they have a sense of feeling, be it sad or happy. Think of photos as another form of painting. There is so much to see.”
4. Give your photos your flavor. “Pour a little bit of yourself into what you are seeing.” Lu certainly sees this in the work of another Vancouver artist he admires, World & Humanitarian photographer, David Duchemin. “His photos say a lot.”
5. Share your work. “I personally like physical prints of photos. With digital – if you upload to facebook or instagram – we look at it so quickly. We don’t take the time to analyze the photos in the same way that we would at a meet-up or a gallery.” Photographers can gain insight and a sense of purpose, Lu notes, but seeing the reactions that others have to their work.
Speaking of galleries, Lu would love to see his work up in a gallery some day; maybe do a book down the road. “But, I don’t have quite the selection yet. I’m quite picky with my photos; I’m a very hard critic of my work.”
To get there, he will keep shooting with his Fuji X100s. “It has an old-school design, but it is all digital. I like the overall simplicity of it. I can’t zoom. I am stuck with one focal length; whatever I see, that’s all I get. I have to move with my feet. I have to think about my photos a lot more. A lot of people think it’s inconvenient, but it forces me to really change where I am in the moment.”
“I want to be able to share my photos with people,” says Lu. “I just hope that people gain something from them.”
Written by Elizabeth Newton
* Photos Courtesy of Steven Lu