Liang Dong: I'm Just An Art Worker
Posted on August 13 2021
Art worker : This is Liang Dong's self-ridicule. In Chinese, LiangDong describes himself as an 艺术打工人, the direct translation of this word is art worker. It refers to the part of people who are engaged in art and make money from their skills, but they think they are not good enough so can't be called an artist.
Liang Dong is a photographer in China. He studied fine arts and calligraphy from an early age and graduated from Beijing Normal University-Hong Kong Baptist University United International College and Stony Brook University. In terms of photography techniques, he attaches great importance to re-composition and light to pursue a sense of mood, cinematography and diversified styles. After becoming a photographer, he has travelled to more than 20 countries and regions in the world in four years, and is familiar with the United States, Iceland, Japan, Britain, Switzerland, France, Greece, Turkey, Bolivia and other places. He likes shooting mainly portrait, and involves landscape, celebrities, culture, space, wedding photography, products photography alongside other fields. He has built up a rich body of experience and is a long term user of Hasselblad, DJI, Nikon, Sony and other camera brands.
We were honoured to talk to him about his career story and some of his future plans.
This article was originally written for our Chinese social media but we think that it makes an interesting read for those all over the world.
Liang Dong in New York with his Billingham 207.
Could you tell me something about yourself? What made you choose to become a photographer?
Becoming a photographer was an accident, a lucky accident, I come from Yantai, Shandong Province. I majored in International Journalism during my undergraduate study. At that time, I thought one of the most boring subjects I was studying was photojournalism, and I got C and C- as a matter of course. In order to cope with the final year project when I graduated from university, I bought Sony NEX-VG10 to shoot news documentaries, and interviewed and edited them in my spare time. This is when I got used to working with a mirror-less camera. But I never thought of it as a career or even an interest at this point. Playing in a band was my greatest interest at that time. After working in the school and Wenchuang Company for a period of time, I went to New York to study a Master of Science. I found switching from an arts to a science degree very boring. Besides, I don't like the usual entertainment activities, and I didn’t have a band to play in at the time, so I spend most of my spare time studying and taking photos. From photographing scenery to photographing portraits, I gradually came to like photography. Since I had been studying art since childhood, I had a good base knowledge in aesthetics. Although I started late in photography, I made obvious progress. I became more confident and earned some pocket money by taking pictures. Six months after graduation, I tried to work in a domestic trading company. I found that I could not sit in the office at ease, and my income from part-time photography was more than that of my own job, so it was logical that I became a photographer.
Generally speaking, the opportunity to become a photographer is : 1. Love; 2. When your income from part-time photography exceeds your income from your company job.
Times Square street angel, New York. Photo by Liang Dong.
Did you study photography or have formal training, or was it something that developed over time?
I am self-taught. When I encounter problems that I don’t understand, I look for answers on Baidu and Google, and there are a lot of great tutorials on YouTube and Bilibili*. I’m still always learning.
A street painter and homeless man in Santa Monica, Los Angeles. Photo by Liang Dong.
Do you have an ‘idol’ in the photography industry? Please tell us who and why?
Annie Leibovitz. Because of the diversified photography style. She can capture the emotions of the characters very well and she has strong control over the details of the whole thing. I think there’s a story in her photographs and I think her photography work has a strong sense of mood. I like and adhere to the concept of blending characters and situations together.
Couples on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Photo by Liang Dong.
You have been traveling around the world since you became a photographer. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey? What city would you want to visit a second time? Why is that?
I may be different to what people expect. I am a person who likes staying at home. If it is not necessary to go anywhere, I can easily stay at home for a month. But I recognise that photography needs me to explore the world and broaden one's horizon. When my love of photography overtook my laziness to go out, it resulted in me traveling the world. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to receive work from all over the world. The way it usually works is basically one day to shoot the clients and three days to shoot the rhythm of the local people and scenery. Everything I do is to show a richer world. So far I haven’t experienced any particularly special stories.
If I had to choose, I particularly like Iceland (for its rich landscape) and Japan (for my love of Japanese movie scenes). I will stay longer in these two places when I visit. Also, I was based in New York for my graduate school career and for several years of traveling around the world. I’ve been a New Yorker on and off for about 5 years. There is the collision and tolerance of multi-cultures, and there I have friends who have always helped me. I really like this city, one which has changed the path of my life.
Photo taken at a glacial lake in Iceland. Photo by Liang Dong.
I've been to most of the cities I've photographed more than twice, and I'm not the kind of person who goes to have a glance.
For now, China is the best place for me to be.
Tibetan Shepherd. Photo by Liang Dong.
There are many different types of photography that you have dabbled in. Among the styles of your works, which one do you like best? What new style do you want to try in the future?
In fact, when I am shooting in the early stages I think about how to take a good photo at the right angle, then how to improve it at a later stage. I don’t think about the problem of style. Personally, I think photographers only need to consider how to take the photo, and the style is defined by others.
Chinese Style Creation. Photo by Liang Dong.
You have photographed a lot of artists and models. How did you get your first shot?
It was introduced to me by my friend when I was studying in New York during the New York Fashion Week in September 2016 and I have worked with him many times since then. To be honest, I wasn’t very nervous. After all, filming and photography is my domain. The only time I was nervous was when I was shooting Jay. He was one of my idols, and he was so close to me when we would use the camera to look at images on the display. My hands were shaking!
Jay Chou's movie poster for all powerful. Photo by Liang Dong.
You worked as a still-artist on the movie "Crash". Was there any difference between still-shooting and your previous work?
I’m usually only on set for a few days at the start and a few days at the end of the filming, as it can be very tiring if you have to follow the whole thing. Shooting stills requires attention to avoid the cameras on set, to be careful not to be caught by the cameras filming, and to shoot with a silent shutter. Therefore the degree of freedom is relatively low. Most of my photos were taken during the intermission of filming with the cooperation of the artist, and these images are often used as a still for posters. So all in all, I didn’t do a lot during the actual filming. But in the previous Huang Zitao TV series "The Shiniest Star in the Night Sky", I was the still photographer for the whole shoot. I don’t think shooting movie stills is for me. I have experienced it now, and that is enough.
Lin Li. Photo by Liang Dong.
Koki. Photo by Liang Dong.
Is there any difference in the feeling of photographing actors and ordinary people? Do you need to do anything extra to prepare?
I don't need to talk much when I shoot the actors. Most of the artists have a good sense of the camera and know what angle and posture they are comfortable with. I just need to tell them what kind of mood I want the photo to have, and what general direction they should be looking in. If I shoot non actors, I need to guide them a lot more with their posture, expression, movement and so on. Whether I am shooting actors or ordinary people, it’s all about capturing them. When I shoot actors I’m mainly looking for the right angle and posture to bring out the actors unique charm. When I shoot non actors I’m mainly looking to portray the best side of them. In general, the difference is not that great. The big difference lies in the post processing and editing process. For actors I usually make subtle adjustments that people don’t notice, while for non-actors I make a lot of adjusting while making sure they still look like themselves. I will strictly follow the human body structure to do post-production.
Eclipse of the moon. Photo by Liang Dong.
I like to use a lot of brands. I like Hasselblad, Sony, Nikon, Leica, Phase One (I haven't used Canon yet). I prefer cameras that have a nice appearance, that are light in weight and look professional (i.e., mirrorless and medium format cameras). I always switch cameras when I'm at work for fun. At present, all professional cameras are reliable tools for me if I don't have special shooting needs (such as shooting motion or shooting with a short window). Each brand has its advantages, such as the colour of Hasselblad and Phase One. Hasselblad’s and Phase One cameras have shutters that match the flash well. Their medium format cameras take fine pictures and the wide Angle distortion is small. Sony can focus quickly and accurately and has a comprehensive and lightweight lens combination (such as my favourite 24GM, 20G, 35GM, 135GM). Nikon lenses are high quality (Z50 1.2s and Z14-24 2.8s in particular are good). The Nikon also has an easy touch screen and buttons. The Leica is fun. You can experiment with different shots, the colour of the lens and the shape of the camera is great too. I also used a different lens every time I shot to prevent boredom, but 14mm to 135mm are what I more commonly used.
Billingham 207 Camera Bag. Photo by Liang Dong.
Billingham Navy Blue Hadley One. Photo by Liang Dong
We know that you are a big user of Billingham. How did you get to know the brand Billingham? What is the first Billingham camera bag you bought at the beginning? Why did you choose it?
My favourite products are Hadley Pro and 207. I bought them mainly because they looked good and I could get the camera equipment out quickly. The first Billingham bag I bought was 207 because it was compact and could hold a lot of equipment.
Billingham Hadley Pro Camera Bag - Imperial Blue Canvas / Tan Leather. Photo by Liang Dong.
What kind of equipment do you usually have in your Billingham?
I usually carry a camera with two lenses and a flash. Sometimes I also use the Billingham as a commuter bag with just a camera and other general items.
Wang Yueyi Photo by Liang Dong.
What advice would you give to a new photographer who wants to take up photography in the future?
Before you embark on any career, you should consider whether you can make enough money to live on. This year is my fifth year as a photographer (I spent most of the first three years on the road and experiencing life), and I am still in the process of exploring, so I don’t feel that I am qualified to give advice.
Actress Wang Liyu. Photo by Liang Dong.
You will launch your own website and set up your own studio this year. What kind of content will the website share with us? Do you plan to hold an exhibition in the future?
In fact, for me, my website is an online portfolio that's easy to update. Portfolios in PDF format on WeChat are also easy to automatically clean up. There are no plans for an exhibition at the moment until I have something I like.
In Beijing 2021 - Photo by Liang Dong (Features Billingham Hadley One Camera Bag in Navy Blue Canvas).
Liang with his Billingham Hadley Pro Camera Bag.
Where can we reach you?
When my studio is stable, I will try to manage my own Bilibili* account, a WeChat account, and a Little Red Book* account.
*Bilibili is one of the popular video websites in China.
*Little Red Book account - Little Red Book is a popular sharing platform in China.
The bags featured in this article