Instagrammer: @syntax_error

Every week I talk to a new photographer on Instagram.  They share their favorite locations, camera gear, and the best practices to have on Instagram.  This week is David Hsia, a photographer originally from San Diego CA, and is currently living in San Francisco.

Describe yourself in three words.

An absolute perfectionist.

What got you inspired to start photography? Favorite photographers?

For me it all started about 10 months ago, while I was lucky enough to work in Europe for 3 months. At the time, I had no intention of taking any serious photos but given where I was and realizing how lucky I was to be there, I started to snap some photos with my iPhone 5 on the weekends when I had free time. I quickly began to realize that there was a lot about the process of taking photos that appealed to me: the compositional aspect, nuances like lighting and shadows, and also the technical know how it takes to really make your photos sing…then reality hit as I could see that I had much to learn.

While I was there, I started using Instagram as a way to connect with others and also found it to be a phenomenal way to expose myself to other photographic styles and subject matter. Eventually, I realized that I had a great appreciation for nature and landscape photography, though I was, and still am, interested in architecture and street photography. My favorite two photographers right now are Alexandre Deschaumes and K.R. Whitley. Really amazing stuff if your into landscapes like I am.

 Photo taken by Alexandre Deschaumes

Photo taken by Alexandre Deschaumes

 "Shadow of an Angel"- K.R. Whitley

"Shadow of an Angel"- K.R. Whitley

You seem to travel a good amount, what is your favorite spot to travel to?  

To be honest, my travels this past year have been a by-product of me trying to make up for lost time. For years, I never took advantage of the world around me. Now, photography has inspired me to get out and explore - areas close to home, or distant. There isn’t a place on the planet I wouldn’t like to shoot. Every photo, while captured digitally, has even more clarity in the recesses of my mind. Often times I remember the struggles and the successes involved in capturing a particular shot - the circumstances make it memorable, and those individual experiences are seared into my memory. 

Locally, I love to shoot along the California Coast. Whether it’s Santa Cruz, Big Sur, or San Diego, the coastline is always front and center, the topography is varied, and the views are always interesting. I’d like to travel abroad more frequently if my wallet can manage. I’d like to visit as many National Parks as possible, and I have my first trip to Iceland setup for May of this year. I’ll also take some time to visit some friends and hopefully shoot a bit in Copenhagen after that.

What is your favorite camera gear to use?  

I shoot about 90% of the time with my Fuji XE-2, and the rest on my iPhone 6. With the Fuji, I rely mostly on my 10-24mm wide angle. I have some other lenses, but they’re purely situational. Quite often, I’ll I use a Cokin Z-Pro Filter Kit with the usuals…ND grads, etc. Right now I’m trying out a Variable ND filter made by Tiffen, but I’m not liking it much.

What is your most favorite picture you have ever taken? 

Wow - this is an impossible question to answer but I’ll give it a go. I think my favorite photo is one I took about 6 months ago. It was a shot of a ride at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, called Sea Swings. It’e memorable for me not only because I’m happy with how it turned out, but because of the preparation and execution involved in getting the shot I wanted. Essentially, this ride rotated about 25 passengers around a pillar that rose 10 times roughly every 3 or 4 minutes. Centrifugal force spread them all out, so position was key. I had to get as close to the center of the pillar as possible, which could only be achieved by standing on the sand under the boardwalk, not  on it. Shutter speed also had to be fast enough to freeze the motion, and lastly, the rising and falling of the riders around the pillar meant that only 6 times every “ride” would the pillar be at it’s apex, not tilted and off-angle, so the window to capture a proper shot where everything is aligned required a lot of luck and patience. Throw in there the fact that sometimes the ride wouldn’t have enough riders to fill all the seats (which didn’t look as good), I found myself waiting along time to get the shot I wanted. Another close one would be a recent night shot I took in Yosemite. The crispness of the sky, the cold night temperature, and a visiting bobcat, made the experience one I won’t easily forget. (Pictures below)

What advice can you give to the starting photographer?

Take all kinds of shots, try and experiment with different subject matter. Expose yourself to different things. Interact with other photographers - be a sponge for knowledge. Photography is infinitely deep - you couldn’t master it in a lifetime - there’s always something to learn or improve at. Ultimately, I think you’ll find what appeals to you most - primarily through trial and error, and following your instincts. More than anything though, don’t just aimlessly click the shutter….try and make sense of what you did and why you did it. If you can critique your own work and continue to learn from others, you’ll absolutely progress as a photographer. Oh and shoot….a lot. 

This is the question I always ask, what advice would you give to that photographer trying to expose their work on Instagram? 

Use appropriate hashtags, and follow people or hubs that showcase the type of photography you’re interested in. I wouldn’t advise getting too caught up in the numbers game…likes and a high follower count is nice, but at the end of the day the Instagram machine will always continue to roll on, with or without you. You need to enjoy the art of taking photos, and like the fruits of your labor…it’s more important than anyone else’s opinion. That said, I think it’s extremely valuable to interact with other photographers and do your best to get to know them beyond their IG persona as  best you can. Instagram is such a great platform for connecting people…take advantage of it. I’ve met so many people, made new friends, even shot with many of them in real life - some local, and some not - it can be a really enjoyable experience. 

To see more of David's work go here