Last year when I taught my street photography workshop in Hong Kong, I finally had the chance to meet Gary Tyson in person (and teach alongside him). Gary is a very thoughtful and down-to-earth guy who shows great compassion for the subjects that he shoots. He had a beginning in military photography, and now founded his own company F8 Photography in which he shoots assignments, teaches workshops, and also does video work.
In his free time he loves to travel all across Asia, and his true passion is street photography. If you want to find out more about Gary and his work, read on!
1. Gary, great to have you on the blog. For starters, tell us more about your beginnings with photography.
Joined the Army at aged 16 in United Kingdom. Everywhere I deployed in my early career I took a camera and was the battalion photographer when deployed in the Balkans in 1993. Shooting in Sarajevo during the war was when I realized how much I enjoyed capturing the reality of these places on film. Later in my military career I was offered a chance to become a full time professional photographer and cameraman for the British Army in the very small trade of Military Photographers.
This was a great honour for me, and gave me a lot of technical skillsets that were missing from my knowledge earlier as they trained us for 6 months 8 hours a day in photography before re-trading officially as a ‘professional’ photographer in the Army. I was fortunate enough to be able to photograph and shoot video in many places of conflict including Sierra Leonne, Northern Ireland, Iraq, Kosovo and many others.
We also covered military training around the world from the jungles of Africa to the tropical waters of Antigua, so it wasn’t all conflict work, we had our fair share of ‘jollies’ also, it was a brilliant foundation for when I left the Army, which was in 2007. I couldn’t have asked for a better ‘schooling’ than 17 years in the Army before being released into the big wide world.
2. You were a military photographer for several years in the British Armed Forces. Tell us more about how this changed you as a person and how it has influenced your street photography.
Being a military photographer has for sure shaped the way that I approach my work. I shoot commercially both stills and video work in Hong Kong and wider Asia, and shoot a lot of street and travel photography as well as the workshops we run asia wide. I think the workflow as a military photographer was all about being able to think on your feet, react fast to changing conditions and still get the results.
This ethos works well for photography as well as many other aspects of life, and helps me adapt quickly to changing situations. I think this is a critical skillset whilst shooting on the street also, being able to ‘observe and react’ quickly before the moment passes. Being ‘streetwise’ I think is almost as important as being able to see a good image, they go hand in hand when shooting the streets, whether you choose to blend in and shoot silently and discreetly as is the preferred method of many, or whether you choose the ‘Bruce Gilden’ approach of flashing your subjects in the face.
Of course there is a lot of debate about this method….I personally find that I shoot whichever mode suits my mood…..I worry about the image first, then the consequences, some may not favour that approach, my view is that if you worry too much about any possible confrontation (usually a self imposed fear), then you will never get the intense, close up images you desire), overcome your fears, and you shall succeed, people don’t bite…well at least not always ☺
3. After working as a military photographer, you moved to Hong Kong and currently live there. Tell us what brought you to Hong Kong and what you love most about the city.
I left the Army in 2007 at short notice after I met someone in Hong Kong during some R&R time and I spent a few weeks exploring South East Asia…I just discovered a world I didn’t know existed and realized having been in the army since the day I left school that although I had travelled with the military quite extensively, I was missing out on so much more…..It was just the right time for me to make a change, and seek out my dreams of running my own photography business on the other side of the world, so I left the Army, packed the biggest bag I could carry, got on a plane, and never went back!
What I love about Hong Kong is the diversity, the contrast, the food, the energy, it’s an amazing city to live, it has a very vibrant culture and energy too it, the only thing I dislike about Hong Kong is the rent costs!
4. What are some of the challenges you find shooting street photography in Hong Kong? As a foreigner, are people open to being photographed or are quite against it?
Shooting in Hong Kong is generally quite easy I find. For me its all about projection…If you project yourself in a positive, friendly manner, you won’t get much problem, if you over react to somebody who doesn’t want to be photographed, things will quickly deteriorate, this applies anywhere in the world as far as I’m concerned.
Some Hong Kongers aren’t keen on being photographed, particularly the elderely can be grumpy sometimes, there are some traditions I’ve heard of beliefs that their soul is being stolen if photographed by a ‘Gweilo’ (westerner), but I’m not sure how true these myths are, as others have told me there is no such thing. I guess you just need to try and respect peoples wishes, or shoot from the hip so they don’t know or need to care what you are doing.
5. You shot with several cameras over your photography career. Can you describe your evolution and what gear you currently shoot with in street photography?
When I was in the military, I used Nikon DSLRs, for my commercial work here I use only Canon 5D Mk II. Its brilliant for stills and video, probably the best all round camera I have ever used. For my street photography I started off with the DSLRs, but found them too big and noisy, so then I moved to Leica, M8 first, then shortly afterwards M9, I got sucked in to the whole Leica fanclub thing and spent a small fortune on Leica lenses and camera straps that cost hundreds of dollars.
This year though I first tried the Fuji XPro1. It was good image quality but too slow, so I went back to the M9–always conscious of how much money I was ‘spending’ on the gear.
Then just before I went on a big trip I bought an Olympus OMD camera–after 2 weeks with the OMD, I sold all my Leica gear and now use the OMD exclusively for my street photography (for digital).
I also use Ricoh GR1V, Contax G2 and Mamiya 7ii for film cameras. I cannot emphasise enough how good the Olympus OMD is, for me its simply the perfect street camera.
6. When you are shooting on the streets, tell us a bit of your technical settings and what do you look for?
My technical settings are quite simple, high enough ISO to freeze action (generally), so not too much motion blur, aperture small enough to give the depth of field I require or desire.
With Leica I used to shoot using ‘zone focusing’ a lot for speed, I find with the OMD its just got even easier, the AF is so fast, I can get away with using that, or just using the touchscreen on the back to shoot perfectly sharp pictures every time from the hip–the OMD touchscreen is a genius bit of kit.
7. You travel quite a bit around southeast asia and recently went on an epic trip in Cambodia. Tell us more about the trip and your experiences there.
I go to Cambodia several times a year, as I love the place for photography. The people are some of the friendliest I’ve ever met, the colours of the country are amazing, it’s a place that all photographers should have on their checklist to visit at least once in their life. I also run photography workshops there now on a regular basis, it’s the kind of place that shooting there for a week is a life changing experience, its that good!
8. What is one of the most favorite street photographs you have shot, and tell us the story behind the photograph.
Its very difficult for me to single out any 1 image to be honest. Every time I go away I find new favourites. A few months ago in Cambodia I shot some kids who live in a disused railway, and I particularly like one image of a small boy in the blue shirt…..I don’t know why I like this image so much…..i guess I associate the memories of the day there and its not a street photo, its more an environmental portrait, so others may not find it so interesting…
9. Who are some photographers (classic and contemporary) who have influenced your photography.
I must admit I’m not the kind of photographer who dives into books and studies other photographers work. I see images every day from people who I’ve never heard of that blow me away on places like 500px, etc. I am not from the school of having to emulate the classics or anyones styles. If I see an image I love, I may try to emulate it in some form and apply my own twist on it, but honestly I have too many visions going around in my own head to try and memorise everyone elses.
I don’t study photography in the classic form, I have some friends who are the complete opposite to me, I personally don’t think it matters where or how you learned your craft, when I look at a photo, I don’t ask if the photographer has a degree, went to a certain school, or has read the life and times of HCB–its completely irrelevant to me. I want the image to talk to me–thats more interesting.
10. What are some projects you are currently working? Also what does 2013 hold for Gary Tyson?
I’m shooting a fair amount in the Phillipines recently, and am putting together some books from my Cambodia trips which I will hopefully be selling on behalf of some charities I want to work with more. I plan to do the same thing for the Phillipines as well as having some more exhibitions in the coming year or two. With regards street photography, I will continue some workshops, and exploring the streets, its as much a form of meditation for me to get out and walk with my camera, much like a game of golf would be to others I guess… I hate golf.
11. Who is one street photographer (contemporary) you currently admire and recommend people to check out?
A photographer I like in Hong Kong is another expat called Jonathan Van Smit, I really like his work, its quite dark and uncovers another unseen layer of Hong Kong, I believe good images are usually in some way a ‘reflection’ of the photographer or of their life experience. I like to think of my own work like that in some ways, sometimes cheeky, sometimes dark and moody–it always depends. You can definitely see a reflection of a photographer sometimes in their images.
12. Any last words or shout-outs you would like to give?
My advice to any photographer is ‘have fun’, don’t be afraid, and use common sense. Don’t get hung up on gear, use what you have available to you, its not about the camera, its about your vision. And if you’re ever in Hong Kong, look us up, we are out and about shooting all the time, we have a Facebook Street Photography group also, feel free to join in here.
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Do you have any more questions for Gary or would like to give him a shout-out? If so, leave a comment below!