Chances are you may, at some point or another, have seen New York-based photographer Zhang Jingna‘s work in your daily lives. Her work has appeared in Photo Vogue, Elle, and Harper’s Bazaar print media, and her commercial clients include popular that include: Wacom, TRESemmé, Mercedes-Benz, and even Canon.
Jingna was born in the People’s Republic of China in 1988, and before she found herself shooting cameras professionally, she was shooting air rifles for the Singapore national team. Years later, she’s going strong and making remarkable imagery.
Given her in-demand work, we wanted to learn more about the technique that makes it happen. Thankfully, we recently had the opportunity to ask Jingna, also known as “zemotion,” some questions.
PetaPixel: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your history?
Zhang Jingna: I was born in Beijing. I moved to Singapore with my mother when I was 8 and spent most of my teenage years there. I studied fashion design and was a national team air rifle shooter for Singapore for 6 years before I went full-time with photography.
PP: How did you get involved with the type of photography you’re doing now?
ZJ: I started with shooting people in the beginning, and I guess because I studied fashion, I was led naturally into fashion and beauty for magazines and commercial work.
Right now I’m focused full-time on my personal project “Motherland Chronicles.”
It’s an exploration of sort. An attempt at putting together elements and themes I’ve loved since I was a child. It has a bit of a don’t-want-to-forget-my-childhood-dreams sort of thing going on; since I’ve been working for almost 7 years now, I don’t want to lose track of who I am, but it’s easy to as you grow and do too much commercial stuff, you know? So it goes back a lot more to my creative roots, more illustrative and painterly, like artworks that inspired me to create. Loosely linked together with hints of dark fantasy.
PP: Can you tell us what your go-to gear would be on a shoot?
ZJ: I use a Canon 1Ds Mark III with 70-200 2.8L most of the time. I’ve taken to explore using the 50mm more recently only just this year, but for the last few years 70-200’s been the lens I’ve used on almost all my work.
PP: What do you deem to be lighting requirements for your work?
ZJ: I started off with just one hotlight in my apartment when I was 18, so I’m used to working with just one light at any time for a picture. I have the Profoto D1 500 Air now which is what I use mostly these days, sometimes paired with an Elinchrom 53″ Rotalux Octa. When I need more complicated setups for editorials and commercial shoots I use a range of things from beauty dish to soft boxes to striplights, etc.
PP: How do you get yourself inspired for a photo shoot?
ZJ: I gather inspiration as I go along, whether I’m surfing the net, travelling or reading a book. And when I need to find inspiration I would start with sitting down and examining what I feel like doing, kind of like deciding what to cook for dinner and look at what I have around me that I can use as an anchor for the image, which is usually enough to set off as a catalyst for me to put together the rest of the elements such as hair, makeup, and styling directions.
PP: What’s your useable-to-unusable ratio when you review images from a shoot?
ZJ: It depends a lot on what I’m shooting. For fashion editorials I can get 1 out of every 25-30 images, beauty editorials maybe 40-50 or so because small adjustments become a lot more specific in this case. Portraits and personal work go anywhere between 60-100 for 1-2 shots, because unlike editorials where you move on to the next look when you get a shot, I try to get a few variations I like and only pick the best in the end that best tells the story in one image.
PP: Can you describe what your post-process workflow is like?
ZJ: I do my selection and preliminary color processing in Lightroom, then let it sit a day or two…or a few, if the deadline allows. When I revisit it after the break I refine the colors. The rest of the retouching is done in Photoshop. After everything is cleaned up and done I go over the colors again for final adjustments and consistency.
PP: On the topic of gear: do you think it matters when trying to make that great picture?
ZJ: I think it matters to a certain extent, but at the end of the day I think the image creator should be able to work with whatever limitations there are — we don’t always get to work with everything that our hearts desire.
PP: What advice do you have for the folks who want to get into photography but maybe can’t afford equipment?
ZJ: I actually wrote a blog post about it a few years ago — I know situations may be different now but I think what’s said there is very applicable, and also to follow-up with the last question, I think there’s a lot that can be done with very basic kits and equipment.
PP: What advice do you have for photography enthusiasts looking to go professional?
ZJ: Be realistic and honest with yourself, understand what and how much you’re willing to sacrifice, be it school, career, social life, or income. Think about what you would be willing to do if things don’t pan out, be it part-time schooling or part-time work while you keep trying. It’s never easy to succeed and sustain going pro and freelance in the beginning, I know people take anywhere between half a year to even a few, it will take dedication and luck, but hard work and perseverance is key.
Image credits: Photographs by Zhang Jingna and used with permission.