You wouldn’t be able to tell, but this quiet physiotherapy student has a popular Instagram profile that features a stunning mix of modern architecture, moving street scenes and intimate portraiture. We speak to him on his creative process when away from his studies.
Hao Xu is often drawn to architectural symmetry and lines in his photography.
Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
I’m 23-year-old Physiotherapy student. Photography is my hobby, and a way to relax my mind. When I have time off from work and school, I love to travel and shoot.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F1.2 | 1/30s | ISO 800
How did you get into photography and what was your first camera?
I got into photography largely because of my mother’s influence. She studied photography and film development as part of her interest in her younger days, so she would bring me out to shoot occasionally and teach me a little of the basics. Over time, I grew more interested in photography. I started with a Canon EOS 450D which was passed down from my mum when she bought the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. About 4 years ago, she upgraded to a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and I bought over her Canon EOS 5D Mark II. That was also when I started to shoot more and tried discovering my own style.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F2.8 | 1/60s | ISO 3200
What were some of the subjects you took when you started and how has that changed?
I’ve always been interested in nature macro photography as I enjoy watching the National Geographic and Discovery channels. One of the first few pictures I took were close-ups of flowers and any random objects that I think had an exquisite design, and that I would love to see up-close.
Since the launch of Instagram, I slowly explored things like ruins, landscapes, portraits and cityscapes as they were common and some are really inspiring. I started to shoot everything I could, and over time, I slowly focused on symmetry, architecture, cityscapes, landscapes (sunrise, sunset and scenery) and the occasional portraits.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F10 | 1/640s | ISO 200
Your photography includes snippets of your life along with more polished shots of architecture, portraits and light play. Is there a certain way you curate your Instagram profile?
Initially, my Instagram was created for me to share snippets of my life with my friends. As such, I have slowly moved towards showcasing different shots that I have took over the year, such as different perspectives of Singapore and other parts of the world, and share them so that they may inspire others with the same interest.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F2.8 | 1/160s | ISO 2000
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F13 | 30s | ISO 200
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F16 | 30s | ISO 160
Which photography genre appeals to you the most and why?
Architecture (including cityscape) appeals to me the most because I can be more creative with my shots and framing, and work with different lighting throughout the day and in any weather.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F10 | 1/320s | ISO 250
Tell us more about how you pick your locations.
Most of the locations I feature in my feed were either because I chanced upon them, or were picked by my shooting buddies. I will also choose one that I think I can show a different perspective of.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F4 | 1/320s | ISO 320
What are some of your favourite locations, and why?
Some of my favourite locations are Marina One, Chinatown, Chinese Gardens, Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay and just around the Orchard and Somerset area.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F13 | 30s | ISO 160
Lines are a big part of your feed. Why do you think it’s such a popular feature in photography?
It is human nature to be drawn into a picture with lines as our vision tends to follow them. It is proven by researchers that lines and curves seem to give universal visual pleasure. The lines also help to create depth and dimensionality which draws the viewer into the image.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F3.2 | 1/100s | ISO 2500
Other than the lines, are there any other factors that influence your decision when setting up a shot?
If it’s a shot that showcases the sky, I will take into account the presence of clouds – as clouds would appear blurry if taken in long exposures. Next, the time when I shoot may also affect the shot. For example, the sun may either create unwanted shadows or be in your favour for shadowplay. Taking photos at mid-day or at sunset will also give a totally different mood to your photos.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | f8 | 1/1000s | ISO 320
You work with a lot of light, both natural and artificial in your shots. Which do you prefer and why?
Honestly, I do not have any preference for either as long as I can make the shot look good. For natural light, it showcases the beauty of nature; and for artificial lights, it just adds on to the mood.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F8 | 1/250s | ISO 500
What kind of photography genre do you find the most challenging?
I feel that in certain low light conditions, the shot you want to create may pose a challenge as you need to consider whether the photo may become too grainy after bumping up the ISO. Other than that, there are building designed in various ways that require me to be a bit more creative in order to capture them, sometimes I do so by changing the perspective of the photo.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F4 | 1/100s | ISO 2500
How do you overcome them?
I overcome them by trying multiple times and picking the best shot. Also, getting my buddies’ opinions and learning from each other. I feel that it is important to always try new things and be willing to learn and adapt. If you do not get it this time, do not be discouraged; there is always another time for you to try again until you finally get the result you want.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F6.3 | 30s | ISO 125
If there’s a particular Canon product you like, can you tell us why and how it will help with your genre of photography?
I’m interested to upgrade to a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. With its specifications, it will allow me to capture sharper photos that work well in low light, with a better weather resistance that allows me to shoot in certain weather conditions, creating a completely different mood. In addition, I am interested in Canon’s EF11-24mm f/4L USM Ultra Zoom Lens as I love taking wide-angle photos, especially for architecture, cityscape and nature photography, where you want to capture as many leading lines as possible to create a greater depth.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F8 | 1/500s | ISO 250
As a physiotherapy student, is there anything about your studies that gives you a unique way of looking at things, if any?
I suppose as a Physiotherapy student, I have to improve my observation skills to diagnose my patients accurately and this may be an advantage for me in photography.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II | F8 | 1/640s | ISO 500
Do you see yourself incorporating your study topic into your feed into the future?
Tending to patients is quite different as compared to photography, and I would not be able to shoot my patients due to confidentiality reasons. I will continue to explore more cityscapes and architecture and will most definitely want to share more nature shots when I get to travel more in the future!
Witness Hao Xu’s dynamic photography and watch his evolution on his Instagram.