DPP Home Profiles Yu Tsai: Fearless

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Yu Tsai: Fearless

From Taiwan to Indiana to California to shooting a campaign for GUESS, Yu Tsai’s clarity of vision and dynamic style put him on top of the fashion and beauty world

This Article Features Photo Zoom

An image for GUESS from a spring and summer campaign in 2007
DPP: Do you ever think to yourself, I can’t believe I’m telling this megastar what to do?

Tsai: I don’t get starstruck, but I was really moved when I photographed Janet Jackson. She’s an extremely shy person and she trusted me. A photo session is a dance. We can have a horrible dance and step on each other’s toes or we can have a great tango together. There can be sharp edges, but as a whole I want it to have been a beautiful dance. It’s nice to lead and be led through the process.

DPP: What equipment are you working with for your pas de deux?

Tsai: Mostly a Hasselblad with a Phase One back. I also love my Nikon D3X. Their old 105mm defocusing lens is incredibly sharp and beautiful. I also love shooting with the Nikon wide-angles, like the 28mm. I always have both cameras on the set. If I’m on the beach and my model is running around, I’ll ask for the Nikon. If I’m shooting a beauty portrait, I’ll use the Hasselblad.
After I graduated from Art Center, Microsoft became my first client as a visual consultant. I also started directing commercials. I love to do branding. All this became the foundation for my career in photography.
DPP: What about your lighting?

Tsai: I love natural light. I don’t like the look of photography shot outside with strobe. I get it that you have to strobe against the light if somebody can’t open their eyes. But why would you go against that one light that’s made for us? Know your light. Know when that beauty light is going to hit just right and shoot then.
DPP: But when you have an all-day shoot, you don’t always have a choice.

Tsai: But you do. And I manipulate my light using reflectors and such. For instance, for my swimsuit shoot for Sports Illustrated, I didn’t use any strobes. Of course, when I’m shooting at night or doing studio portraits, I’m strobing it. But I still go by less is more. I’m not very complicated with my lighting setups. The only thing I care about is what I need to use to capture the beauty of that picture.

DPP: Your life and career demonstrate how to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. Would it be fair to say you have no fear of the unknown?

Tsai: I take every opportunity seriously and never for granted. I encourage derailing. I don’t know what’s next. I hope it’s feature film directing. I have a writing partner. I love storytelling the most. Right now I’m telling it one frame at a time.

You can see more of Yu Tsai’s photography at his website, www.yutsai.com.


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