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Vivien Liu on Her Love of Urban Photography

Bamboo Scenes Photography Artist Vivien Liu, Hong Kong
Bamboo Scenes Photography Artist Vivien Liu, Hong Kong

After training at renowned design schools, practicing architecture across the world, and winning prestigious design prizes,
Vivien Liu decided to channel her love of architecture into a passion for photography.

A Hong Kong native with plenty of international experience, Vivien has a particular affinity for capturing urban scenes in the world’s most inspiring cities—including Hong Kong and New York. Now based in Hong Kong, Vivien has a dedicated Instagram following who delight in her unique perspectives of this dynamic, dichotomous city—though she also offers interesting takes on portraits, natural environments, and product photography.

Here, we speak to Vivien about finding her way in photography, what inspires her, and what advice she would give to novices.

"Purple Matter" (2016) by Vivien Liu - Central, Hong Kong
"Purple Matter" (2016) by Vivien Liu - Central, Hong Kong

What was your first camera? Which camera would you suggest for photographers that are just starting out?

As far as I can remember, my first camera was a Sony Cybershot digital camera that had around 4 megapixels. For photographers who are starting out, I suggest one of two extremes.

The first extreme is to use a full analog film camera like the Nikon FM2 or Canon AE-1 and master the fundamentals of the camera and photography. Train your eyes to deal with different levels of light and learn how to use camera functions—like the aperture, shutter speed, focus, and ISO—manually. Once you’re familiar with all that, it’ll be easy for you to adapt to most digital cameras with automatic functions.

The second extreme would be to use a smartphone. With the portability and a lot of automatic functions, you can focus on perfecting your framing and composition, or just learn to quickly catch a fleeting moment.

"That Soft Pink Matter" (2017) by Vivien Liu - Portland Street, Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong
"That Soft Pink Matter" (2017) by Vivien Liu - Portland Street, Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong

What editing software do you like to use? Do you have any quick tips for editing photographs?

I use Lightroom for color grading and Photoshop for retouching. My tip for editing photographs is to edit less, or just do the bare minimum possible. You can achieve this by getting good shots in-camera. Then, when you edit, it won’t take much effort to make the photos even better. Although this is a skill that may take a long time to master—because it involves perfecting and controlling lighting and exposure, framing and composition—I feel it's a great goal to aim for and a useful habit to develop from the beginning.

What do you find the most challenging aspect of taking unique, interesting photos when traveling?

I think we all tend to go down well-traveled roads and hit the same tourist spots and take the same photos for Instagram. That’s why we all end up taking similar photos with similar subjects. The challenge is to spend a little time researching destinations with interesting characters or landscapes, and visit these as well as the must-sees. I’d also suggest allocating a bit more time to exploring particular areas or cities that are a bit off the beaten path.

"Cotton Candy, Majin Buu" (2017) by Vivien Liu - Kowloon, Hong Kong
"Cotton Candy, Majin Buu" (2017) by Vivien Liu - Kowloon, Hong Kong

What inspires your photography?

The places I go, the people I meet, and the particular emotions I feel about a specific space or subject, at a particular time. Also, other artists and fellow photographers.

What photographers have influenced your style the most? What do you like about them?

In the early stages, artists like Andreas Gursky and Edward Burtynski had an influence on the repetition, geometry, and symmetry in my work. Photographers like Greg Girard led me to appreciate the old Hong Kong and journalistic photography with film, and inspire the mood of my more recent work. In fashion and portraits, I admire Wing Shya and Chen Man and their creative work with well-known celebrities.

How is your personality reflected in your work?

This might be a question to ask my audience as it’s difficult for me to see. I just create based on my emotions and if that shows through, then I consider the work a success.

"Pink Matter" (2016) by Vivien Liu - Victoria Peak, Hong Kong
"Pink Matter" (2016) by Vivien Liu - Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

What does Hong Kong mean to you and your photography?

Hong Kong is the place I grew up in, and while I marvel at the fast pace of changes in the city, I also have a deep nostalgia for the sights and sounds of my childhood, or even the times before it. Often, I try to express this nostalgia in my photographs.

What advice would you give to today's young aspiring photographers?

Get out there, shoot, and network. We live in a very connected world and it will be hard to succeed by being insular. Social media and online channels are key to getting your work seen, so upload your work as often as you shoot. Also, look into upcoming trends like Web3 applications and NFTs and try to be an early adopter.

What are your photography goals for 2022?

My goal for 2022 is to look for new means to get creative and show my work to a wider audience, in different ways. I’ve been looking a lot into the metaverse and its potential to break visual and sensorial boundaries when we experience art.

"Dreaming Of Pink" (2015) by Vivien Liu - Portland Street, Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong
"Dreaming Of Pink" (2015) by Vivien Liu - Portland Street, Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong

Why did you choose Bamboo Scenes to showcase your artwork?

They have a great storytelling aspect which goes beyond just showing and displaying an artist’s work.

What is your favorite photography from your collection at Bamboo Scenes?

It would be “Dreaming of Pink” because it has a level of ambiguity and blurriness which leaves room for the imagination. It’s significant also because most of the neon signs in the shot no longer exist, so we can only experience them in photos like this one.

You have a background in architecture. How does this inform your photography?

In my photos, especially earlier ones, you can see a lot of repetition and symmetry, which is heavily inspired by my background in architecture. Even today, these principles still drive a lot of my compositions.

"What If The Sky Is For Show & The Aliens Are Watching" (2015) by Vivien Liu - Causeway Bay, Hong Kong

You primarily focus on urban photography. Why?

Because I grew up and work in Hong Kong, which is one of the densest urban areas in the world—which means it's never short of fascinating city life moments to photograph.

Apart from Hong Kong, which are your favorite cities to shoot in and why?

New York City, because, like Hong Kong, it has so much life and character on its streets. Its architecture and urban planning also plays a large role in making the city so photogenic.

Interested in seeing more of Vivien's photography work? Here's where you can see the rest of her Bamboo Scenes collection!


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