Since taking the class, Elizabeth has won prestigious National and International Awards including Audubon and Siena International Photo Awards, been featured by Audubon Instagram Page for one week, and have used her art and photography to help conservation. Below was an interview I did with Elizabeth within a few months after she took my class.
Want results like these? Check out my one-hour free training on how I took award-winning bird and wildlife photos!
Ever felt like you have a true calling inside you that's beyond what you are doing 9-5?
Don't want to waste 10 years to master your craft in photography so that you can take the most impactful wildlife photos to move people and make a change?
Elizabeth got her MBA degree in prestigious school, and had a successful career in corporate finance, yet her passion is saving animals since childhood.
She eventually quit her job, while facing a lot of obstacles to be understood by her parent.
But she didn't give up. Instead, she found the perfect balance.
She applied her expertise in market research to search for the best teacher to help transform her photography, and now she was finally able to realize her dream.
Recently, I sat down to chat with Elizabeth when her work was featured by "Our Narratives", with numerous photographs published there. If you want to learn from how Elizabeth turned from a successful investor to a great photographer, check out the interview above.
Hello, everyone. This is Tin Man Lee from Sharp Winning Photos today.
One of our very successful clients, Elizabeth Shen, is joining us to talk about how she creates great photos and got interviewed recently.
She also talks about how she’s able to spread her message on conservation.
So hope you enjoy this interview. Yeah! Very good to finally meet you.
Yes, it's the first time.
Well with that said, why don't you just tell me more about your photography. I read your interview,
but I want kind of a refresh.
So how how did you begin and how many years? Just just let me know more about that.
Okay, actually, you know,
even though I have a Fuji camera since 2012,
it's a mirrorless camera, but I have no clue about the camera or photography.
The only reason I bought that camera was for my rabbits because I want to capture good image of rabbits, to record all all the moments I'm with them.
But until like 2018, so it's basically two years ago. At that time, actually I already quit my Cisco system job.
I used to work for high-tech.
I'm a finance controller.
So I'm number person.
I've been managing worldwide bookings like 40 billion annual business doing forecast
and also financial analysis for basically current CEO.
So it was a fun job.
But one day I just feel like… one thing is because of my health condition.
The other is I've been thinking about what else I can do for the animals.
So after… I think it's the end of 2013 suddenly three of my rabbits just passed away in 10 days
for different reasons,
and I have been fighting to save their lives for the entire year.
So I feel like after they all passed away I just don’t want to fight anymore.
So during the entire 2014 my heart condition deteriorated very fast.
So by the end of 2014,
I just made a decision to to take a break from work.
So I took a break basically the entire 2015.
But during 2015 I start to do research,
you know, all the animal issues.
That's when I started to discover all the issues
and then realized that ( ) animal is just one of the issues that I have had been focusing on. So by 2016.
I made a big decision to just quit Cisco and I told my boss at that time.
I wanted to go save animals. But at the time, I didn't really know so I finished my MBA.
I had my MBA at UC Berkeley.
So I finished school at 2002 and then I went to work for Taiwanese Telecom company Chunghua Telecom.
So after that I just joined my boss at that time to start a startup.
But the funding actually dried up just one month after I joined the company
so I had to find another job.
It's a lot of fun, you know, in Silicon Valley,
but it's also very high pace and I enjoyed a lot.
That's why I have a lot of faith, in probably fantasy, for technology.
So after I left Cisco,
I was actually thinking about looking
for some engineers who share the same passion
as me who may care about the environment
and also the animals and we can create… I was thinking about creating a tool, it could be,
you know, an app or it could be a chatbot,
but the purpose is to motivate, encourage people to take tangible actions instead of just doing education
because I feel like there are so many, conservation or nonprofits out there and I've been reading so much,
you know, like articles, posts whatever, there are so many information out there,
but I feel like understanding is one thing, taking tangible actions is another
so I really want people to start taking actions and I want to make taking action easy,
but my biggest challenges when there are so many opportunities in Silicon Valley,
I couldn't really find someone who shared the same passion. I actually tried three different engineers,
but none of them you know, ended up with anything or a good result.
So in 2018, it's about the time that I started
looking for my third partner, but at the same time I'm also trying to you know,
feel like I want to… you know, start to get into photography for no reason.
I just suddenly feel as something I probably want to do and then what really changed me was my trip to Yosemite that's why I have a very special feeling for Yosemite.
It's just suddenly in May 2018 I decided to take a trip to Yosemite and it's a very short trip.
It's just one night, you know, two-day trip.
And when I got there, I certainly remembered one promise I made to
myself and also Yosemite probably more than 10 years ago,
“I will be back” but I never went back and and I feel, you know,
the first day I arrived Yosemite,
suddenly I felt my my mind just got blank and I didn't know what I was thinking.
I just, you know, try to…
refresh my memory. And in the second morning,
you know, just right before I had to go, I started to feel like I can have a conversation with myself
and also with Yosemite. It's like soul searching. At that moment before I left,
I made another promise to myself
and to Yosemite, and I said, “I will be back.,
and I will be back soon” and the first assignment I I gave myself even before I know anything about
photography is I am going to photograph the four seasons of Yosemite.
That's how I started. So since then, I started to go back to Yosemite
every few weeks to photograph its spring, its summer,
of course, including the wildfire
there and then autumn and Fire Fall is my last winter project. So back to
2018 on my trip to Yosemite, so probably about the same time or a few months later,
I discovered your work on Facebook because you know,
even though I started with landscape photography,
what really motivated me to take pictures is to help animals.
So when I saw your pictures, it's really,
you know, touch me, you know, deeply
and so when I realized that you're going to, you know, have the class I was like,
oh, yeah, that's It's what I need because I've been thinking, you know,
what can I do to take a picture of animal that can touch people's heart?
Because I want to, you know, trigger that emotion to motivate people to do something
because as I told you I want people to act instead of just talk,
you know, because knowing is one thing if you just know something
without doing anything the world is not going to change.
So who is going to know, how can I motivate people to do that?
That's always a big question. Yeah,
and yeah, and I respect a lot,
you know, a lot of those nonprofit who try to educate people
but I'm just wondering what else we can do to motivate, motivate people to do even more.
I am a little bit curious as you know, in Facebook, in Instagram, online,
there are so many photographers, wildlife photographers, many that I admired,
how do you choose me over the others. Did you find
it difficult to find other programs
or tutorials or how did they come along? I was always curious.
Because, as I told you, I want to be able to take pictures that evoke emotion,
you know, it's the maximize emotion impact.
That's what attracted
me because if you cannot touch people's heart then you won't be
able to motivate them to do anything
and I see not just from your pictures but also I want to learn from your class,
but not all the, you know, all the other photographers offered this kind of class.
You know, I feel you are probably the only one. Actually the first wildlife photography class
I took, it was Creative Live and taught by Tom Mangelsen.
I love Tom a lot. However,
I don't feel I learned a tremendous photography
from Tom. It's more about his love for wildlife and for conservation,
which I already know. I need to learn the tool and
I don't know. You know, I try to… I always
feel like I have pretty good research skill
and I searched online a lot
but somehow I just don't see any other wildlife photography class and when I saw yours…
But firstly, it's your picture not because of your class.
It's your picture which touched my heart
which I don't feel from other photographers
and I just don't know why.
So, you know, I'm attracted to your work first.
So when I realized you are going to teach me how to take those pictures, I said,
okay, that's for me. Your approach is more like close-ups. focus on, you know,
the animals, make them just like human where you take your portrait pictures,
so different people have different style.
So animals in your pictures are the center of,
it's basically the center of everything, they are the most important,
and they are the superstar. At the moment
when you took that shot, you made them shine, and you can
make people see the soul. And that's important.
Because I feel like in today's world, people treat animals just like animals,
but I treat animals like my kids.
So I have different reaction to it.
You know, whenever people are going to kill animals,
I'm going “How dare they kill my kid!” It made me mad.
You know and even if you cannot treat animals
as your kids, you can still treat them as your friends, or your neighbors.
When you give them that kind of respect, then you have different kind of behavior.
That's how I feel from your photography.
You try to capture not just the animals
but also their soul,
their emotion, what they do,
whether they are happy or they are aggressive for something,
they are fighting for life, you know, all different kinds of things, the sweet moment,
or the interesting exciting moments ,all different kind of moments.
And that's what I want to do instead of just, you know,
I would not say boring images but there are a lot of images and I see so many so far already,
but I haven't seen anything that really touched my heart as much as yours,
and I think your style of, you know,
like selfless share almost everything, you hold no secret anymore.
That that's something I really really really appreciate
and you know,
for example on Instagram because a lot of photographers try
to promote their work on Instagram,
but there are so many images on Instagram.
How would you make your followers
or viewers stop, to look at your picture and even read your
caption? That's what I want to do
because if you can’t make people just to stop to take an extra second to look at your image,
then you just lose that opportunity, that opportunity to capture them.
You know. Yeah, I feel like yeah,
it's important to you know, to make people like,
wow, even if just one extra second to make them go to your profile
or read about the stories behind,
you know, the shot, that's definitely important.
So I think a lot of famous photographers,
sometimes they have all these permission (permit),
so when they get good photos, is very difficult to translate to us (mere mortals).
If you are trying to photograph, like for example,
your rabbit or some animals in the local, how do you tell a story?
And that is almost like a completely new idea about that is…
you have to go back in the oil painting.
You have to go back into like the human psychology to trigger them.
And I find those fascinating
and that's why I really started that. That's the reason I created something like
that so that someone who had the same frustration as me 10 years ago could use that to to do that.
I'm so glad that we were able to connect.
Yeah, it's, you know, it's super super helpful
because what you taught me exactly
what I wanted and needed to learn
and I feel like it saved me so much time to “trial and error”. Without your class,
I think it probably will take me 10 years to figure out,
you know, each single detail. For example how to compose the image,
what are the important things. And the eyes are important and unique,
and also the color etc.
and also clean background and probably some creative,
you know, blurry foreground. I would have no clue
and how to take pictures at different kind of lighting,
you know, and I better to align myself with …
the light behind me and how about backlit, etc,
you know, I would have no clue about all thesetechniques,
and so thank you so much for for sharing all these, without, you know, any hide,
hiding any secret because I've never seen anybody else teach this.
Basically you are the one who taught me everything that I need to get started
and I definitely didn't expect that
I will get the interview (by Our Narratives) this year. I have no clue people
would even pay attention to my page.
So what is your the difference in your approach now compared to before you took the class, before
when you went to a place did you just
go and shoot? Whenever, you know, before I took the class
when I see animal I just take pictures
but I have no clue about the right settings or I definitely don't pay attention.
I didn't pay attention to the background
or foreground and I probably intuitively just know the composition
but I didn't know what would be a… something I should capture.
So often times I captured tons of pictures but none of them really make me feel like, wow! Often times
I just feel like umm, yea, it's a bighorn,
yea, it's an elk…
Yea, it's an animal and that's it.
You know, you have not much to tell people or people or make people feel like, wow.
Yeah. Let me just pull out this one.
For example, see if I can share this one.
So tell us more about this photo
This is the first animal I saw that day during my regular morning hike.,
Because I saw heron, you know, big blue heron quite often,
so I didn't even you know think much about whether I should take pictures or not.
It's just that the background, the light
and also I was so close to the heron,
because herons sometimes could be in those tall grass
or the light could be just
so distracting, so if you want to have animal at the right place with a right light,
it's just you know, it's just hard and that day,
I also want to just try something because the heron was actually in a relatively
you know, shady place so that it's a little bit dark
and you have the orange and contrast with the you know,
the heron in the blue. So I just feel like after I did this I was like,
I like it. But that's something I didn't see,
you know, so I learned that after the post-processing
so I think from now on once I see it in the wild I would know that
could make a good a good picture.
Yeah, but Tin Man you know what, this is also what you taught.? This is the lighting condition you’d talked. Do you remember.
Yeah. So you have your subject in the shadow
and have those golden light in a background that would make an amazing image.
I didn't realize that at that moment.
I just know the heron is so close to me,
but now you just mentioned and I just recalled what I learned from you.
So let me see.
This one. It’s really sharp. The eyes are amazing.
Yes, because you know this guy just blocked my way and he has no fear of me.
It was also during my regular morning hike and it's on the top of the hill.
I never saw a hawk,
standing on the road. Usually they are perching somewhere or flying in the sky,
but this guy was just standing right in the middle of the trail.
So I stopped and I was wondering
what he was doing and then I just tried to get closer
and closer and closer and he was still there
and then I saw a small vole
or rat running and then hiding
so I know he was hunting but he was just standing there for quite a long time,
probably just had his head turning
left and right, and left and right so I was able to
get close enough. I didn't even crop,
he filled almost the entire frame.
I was super super happy. After you quit your job in Cisco,
do you just use your savings from back in the days (for photography)?
I'm a finance professional so I spent actually half of my day doing trading, investment.
I'm not a day trader
but I manage my investment myself so I can pretty much just you know live on my investment revenue.
I read your excellent interview on the photography (at Our Narratives) that you sent me the link.
So how did you feel for that interview?
And I mean, how did it happen? And and what did you feel afterwards?
It was a surprise because
when “Our Narratives” reached out to me and asked
me whether they could do an interview with me, I was surprised and I was like, why me?
They said that they were actually being referred by one of my Instagram
followers who happened to also be a photographer
but in Florida who I never met,
but I know the person is a photographer. After the interviewer
saw my portfolio or my work on Instagram,
she just decided to interview me.
So I said I'm not even professional
and it's just my personal story and she said she just wanted to know about, you know,
she liked my work and liked to know how I get into photography, just to
know all the background stories behind all those shots.
So after that interview,
I think I still didn't really pay much attention on how that's going to impact my photography.
I just still continue to do
what I've been focusing to do
but what biggest impact or biggest change is how my father sees
what I'm doing. Because a few years ago when I quit Cisco,
I know he was not too happy.
He was never supportive on what I'm doing.
And so the past few years he has continued to tell his friends that I was still working
but I already quit. Until he saw that interview and found out, he said he was deeply moved.
He didn't know I love animals
and also nature that much.
And I finally feel being recognized by my father and I think that is the biggest thing for me.
Wow. Wow. That is… I am so moved.
I'm the kind of person who never really enjoy any spotlight.
So I always like to be hidden. I don’t want to be seen.
But I do want people to know that there are
so many beautiful things around us that deserve our attention and also deserve to be protected.
So for that that's the only reason I take pictures
and only reason I share my pictures
because I want people, more people to, you know, to love but we still have, you know,
we already lost like 75% of our wildlife just during the past 50 years.
So finally I just want to kind of let you think about like…
so now that you have taken my class,
right? Like what would you say to the people, like if you see
someone who is thinking about photography?
Background, you know, whenever you take pictures of animals, definitely look for background.
First thing is, you know, go to the place with the good light.
Of course, you need to choose the right light,
right? So align the light with you first
and don't just stay at one location, browse around to see
what would be the best background
for that animal. And you can also be creative to find
something to blur a little bit of the foreground.
Yeah, and what else… Would you recommend them to take my class and why? Of course.
Okay, so I think Tin Man, I think especially for beginners,
if you want to save your time, save 10 years
on wildlife photography because these classes are going to save you,
you know, 10 years, and take probably like 50 percent of
good pictures of Tin Man’s. Otherwise,
you know, you won't be able to you know, otherwise, it would take you a long time to figure out
what to take…
What you need to do to take good pictures.
So if you want, yeah, so if you want to save time to take professional
and also images that evoke emotions, take Tin Man’s class
because I think taking pictures is one thing but editing it to make it really pops,
it's really another but I can only say
for beginners because I'm not a professional
and to tell you, I feel like my picture is probably better than a lot of
other photographer who already take pictures
for many years.
Sorry. That's my feeling and it's because I took your class.