National Geographic Photographer Tells AURAK About His Work

February 3, 2020,

National Geographic contributor Kiliii Yuyan gave a presentation about his photography titled ‘True Grit in Photography (and Life)’ at the American University of Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK).

The presentation was organized in conjunction with the US Consulate General in Dubai and the Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation.

Mr. Yuyan specializes in photographing the Polar Regions, the wilderness and indigenous life and his photos have won awards and featured in National Geographic magazine.

He began by explaining the hard work that often goes into the photos – all the effort before the photographer releases the shutter – using the example of the famous shot of a man blocking tanks in Tiananmen Square during protests in Beijing in 1989.

“When you look and think how the amazing images that we see in our world today – so many of them took a lot of effort to get,” he said. “They’re really difficult to get. We’ve no idea.”

“The best photographs are not made the moment you press the shutter. It’s the moment, it’s all the time spent before the shutter clicks. That is what matters. All of the research, all of the time that you spent getting to know the people you’ve been there with, all the time you’ve spent learning the language, all the time you spend understanding the place, learning how to survive in this place, all of the time it took you get you to that physical location to take that picture – that is what makes that photograph.”

Mr. Yuyan said there were three things that a photographer needs to get great pictures: the right approach, practice and perseverance.

Regarding approach, he said “The people who do great things in the world just have one thing in common: they all really just want to know a little bit more. We want to get bigger than we are. We want to grow a little bit and learn as much as we possibly can.”

He also stressed the importance of practice. “With all skills, practice is an important thing. With something like photography or the arts, practice is very, very important. Even in the very straight physical skill of it – actually clicking the shutter, making sure the camera isn’t shaking, understanding how you do all the settings and all that kinds of stuff. But that’s the very beginning. That’s the start of it all. If you want to get good as a photographer … you have to get good at all the other stuff that happens before you take the photograph.” Mr. Yuyan added that it was worth learning extra skills such as using a drone or diving or rock climbing to expand the range of shots he could take.

Perseverance was also key, he said, adding that if you are going to do a project everything else can’t matter more than that project. He told an anecdote about photo editors forcing him to reshoot photos that took two weeks to get, in pursuit of better images.

Ending the presentation, he said “Ultimately, the best way to make a good project, to make a good story, to make good art, is to find a project that you care about, that you care about so much that nothing will stop you from doing it. No excuse will stop you from doing it.”