Finding the Extraordinary

Finding the Extraordinary

About Me

My name is Emily Chen. I live and work in Sydney, Australia.
I document Sydney through my commute & here is my story.

My Story

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a camera of some sort. My first attempt at street photography was the year Instagram was launched… I started to document my journey to work, sharing photos on Instagram, connecting with other street togs; and later, on various other platforms.

When I first started to document my commute, it was all about the commuters on the bus or the train. Close up shots with an aim to capture their emotions. Candid photography is so fascinating to me, even today. I’ve rarely been “seen” shooting during my commute. The commuters are in their own zones. More often than not, completely oblivious of what’s around them.


Thoughtful lady – black and white

Later on, I ventured onto the streets to find interesting light & shadows…and explore the streets I walk through everyday during my commute. And noticed the light spots, shapes of office buildings and reflecting of light off the glass windows. I started to learn the minor details by visiting the same grounds, and wait for the subjects to walk across my frame.

Piano Steps – Black and white

Commuting is my favourite part of the day. And to me, the morning and late afternoon light are so glorious. I chase light, as I chase my bus & train: not because my alarm clock didn’t go off, but because I too often stop to capture the everyday sublime & time slips by!

One Third Rule – Colour

It’s a rich source of inspiration and a precious time. Finding moments in the morning and evening lights that tell stories, images with shadow play, to look for the extraordinary in the ordinary.

All directions

Visiting the same places, quite often the same faces, the light at the same time each morning and in the evening – finding that special moment to tell the stories of the Sydney commuters.

People of Tomorrow’s Sydney


Circles of life – Black and white

Rainy Morning – Black and White

Night walk

A learning journey

Chasing light, stretching the under exposure and leveraging the familiarity of the surrounding. Light is the most important element. I study the light and memorize how and where it falls, just about every morning and evening during my commute. I experiment with both colour as well as black & white and am learning that both are as challenging as each other. I cannot imagine ever getting bored of this and will continue to shoot and look for those details to document my city.


You can see more of Emily’s work on InstagramEyeEm, and Flickr.

Emily Chen: Mobile Street Photographer & EyeEm Ambassador

Emily Chen: Mobile Street Photographer & EyeEm Ambassador by BP

Tell us about youself:
My name is Emily Chen. I am a specialist in wealth management technology, currently I am managing a mobile app project for financial advisers. I am passionate about beautiful software, and I am also passionate about documenting the streets of Sydney.

My phone is always on stand by, I often joke about the best way to find me, is through my photo stream, I take photos of everything but what generally fills my camera roll are candid street photography. I shoot and edit with my iPhone 4S, more recently I’ve purchased a Samsung Galaxy Note 2, and have started to explore the photo apps in Google Play.

Where are you from:
I am originally from Taichung Taiwan.

During my Year 6 summer break, instead of sending me to the Scout camp down the road, my folks put me on a flight to a small coastal town in Queensland. I lived with an Australian family, played cricket and attended English classes. A summer holiday turned into something much more. I’ve been living in Australia ever since & currently I am in the beautiful city of Sydney.

How does your answer above influence your work:
Taiwan is a fair distance away from Australia, so I don’t get to see my family much! I use mobile photography as a way to stay connected with them – I shoot things I see, places I’ve been, and I share the photos real time.

What really inspires me are the work of fellow mobile street photographers.

One photographer in particularly I would like to mention is Olly Lang, fellow Sydney street photographer. I first came across Olly’s work back in mid 2011, he was walking the streets that I walked everyday, yet he saw them so differently. Everyone of his posts had me in awe. How did he do that? I find myself asking.

Late 2011 I met Olly in person at one of the photo walk meet ups and he was so open to share his techniques & experiences as a street photographer. He encouraged me to chase that beautiful Australian light, and to continue to develop my own styles.

When did you start shooting:
I’ve always been interested in photography but it was when I got my iPhone 3GS in 2011 that’s when I started to shoot street photography.

I commute during the week to the Sydney CBD. I started taking photos of commuters during my train journey, the way light would fall onto their faces, the way they are immersed in reading the news or applying makeup, or simply fallen asleep.

And then I find myself getting off the train one or two stops before my destination so I can walk to the office by foot. And popping out of the office at ‘golden hour’ so I can squeeze in some shooting. I started to document the streets and getting to know the sunlight. I find myself shooting the same spots, over and over again & not get tired of it because the light was always different and the people, people are just so interesting.

What brought you into the world of street photography? What words of wisdom can you share with others who are wanting to learn more and get involved in shooting street?
iPhone 4S and the wonderful street photographer community on Instagram were the key catalysts that brought me into street photography. To me, the user community is what differentiate mobile photography to the other forms. The way we interact with each other, provide constructive feedback and the sharing process, are what makes mobile photography special. And the realisation when I upgraded to iPhone 4S (from iPhone 3GS) that I have a real, substantial camera in my hand, all the time, made me try all forms of photography. Street photography really clicked and in the last 12 months, it’s been a consistent body of street photo work that I’ve pursued.

My two cents worth for the photographers interested to shoot street:

Shoot and shoot more! You can’t improve by simply imagining your shots. Yes, picture your compo in your head, walk the streets, keep shooting, shoot lots! Try different angles, try to shoot single figure, try to shoot urbanscape. Find your feet and find your style.Always have your mobile phone on standby. Always be ready.

Be selective with what you post. Post images that represent you, post regularly and interact with the community to seek feedback. But never spam.

Tell us a bit more about the light and its importance to mobile and street photography.  Walk us through what you do to prepare to go and shoot street. Tell us more about the beautiful light of Sydney.
For me, light is the most important element in street photography. Most models of mobile phones are not great in low light situation, which makes the natural sunlight even more important to mobile street photographers.

Light in Sydney is full of characters, light is golden and warm in the morning and afternoon; strong and harsh at midday but that’s where reflections from the tall buildings & windows are most interesting.

I am a light chaser. I walk a lot, I study the light and remember how and where they fall & reflect.

My workflow is fairly simple really. Pre-set my exposure, phone is on standby and I walk and look for interesting figures and light spots. I keep walking. I don’t stop to check my shots, I complete my walk, continue with my day to day activities. And I review the shots later in the day, preferably through my iPad.

As a woman street photographer, have you found any barriers in getting your work noticed? respected? Recently there was discussion of how many women street photographers are out in the world but bigger names have mostly been by men.  Can you talk about your thoughts on this?
Honestly, I don’t think there is a relevance in male or female photographer numbers on the street. I dont think gender matters. Perhaps the style of male and female photographers differ? I certainly wouldn’t shoot alone 2am in the morning, but that’s a personal choice. I don’t see or feel the barriers. The body of work is the most important thing here. Shoot, and shoot well, shoot with style are what matters.

As lame as it sounds, you know, it’s hard to tell whether one is a male or female tog through the mobile photography platforms with those little avatar photos and usernames!

I am just going to leave it at that!

Street photography requires having the eye, chasing the light, and being patient.  With these photos in particular can you describe for us these 3 factors?

Commuters, Martin Place Station

Martin Place Station
This is a recent shot, taken at about 6pm in the early autumn light.
I am learning about layers and have become quite fascinated with depth and distance.
Here I was about to walk down the set of stairs, I can see my silhouette down the bottom of the stairs as I always do around this time of the day, and I saw the man hesitated about which direction he was going to turn. And when he did, I was ready to shoot.

Light is so important, as it will define and shape your image.
Being ready, and on a look out, compose the image in your mind to make a shot interesting.
Patience, ah, yes, patience in waiting for the right moment. And don’t beat yourself up when you miss the shot, there is always tomorrow.

Prayers, Martin Place Stage

Martin Place Stage- chasing the light.
This was also an afternoon shot. This lady was soaking up the sun, I got brave and walked up to get this shot. She had her eyes closed the whole time. I got lucky 🙂

Lanterns, Angel Place

Angel Place – patience & composition
Midday. The harsh midday sun created such a intriguing shadow around this little laneway.
I waited, not long, for the right composition. Lunch, was well deserved after this.

Pirate, George Street

George Street – light, and lots of luck!
Midday. One of the few shots from a photo walk. This one I recall quite vividly, I was with Olly Lang. We were lurking around this spot, sharing notes on how the light reflects off adjacent buildings. Discussing interesting subjects in Sydney. And this man slowly walked up the street. It was a quick capture but a fun one.

Commuters, Wynyard Station

Wynyard Station – light
This is an earlier work. I was learning about light, but to this date, one of my favourite shots.
I saw the light pouring into the train station. I stood and waited. I was there quite sometime, just observing how light fell on people’s faces as they exit the station. This was a moment worth waiting for.

I shoot mostly during my commute, I love morning and afternoon sunlight with elongated shadows and the way light falls on my subject’s faces. Some of my work are currently been shown in the Daily Commutes project at the Format Festival.

What apps do you use? What do you shoot with? What do you postprocess in?
I shoot mostly with an iPhone 4S.
My go to shooting app is ProCamera for colour street; and lately, the Thirty Six app for b&w street.
Majority of my colour street work are unedited, I want to show the image the way I saw it through my iPhone.
If and when I need to touch them up, I use Snapseed and VSCOcam apps. And more recently, Misho’s Perspective Correct to fix any crooked buildings. I highly recommend all the above apps, they are all great for mobile photography in general.

I have just purchased a Samsung Galaxy Note 2, will be exploring the Android apps for shooting and editing.

In closing, any last thoughts regarding mobile photography in general.  Street photography in specific. and then plans for where you are going with your work.
Mobile photography is no longer a questionable form of photography. It is a legit form of photography. It is less conspicuous because of the camera size, which brings a new dimension to street photography in particular. The movement of street and documentary style of photography is being influenced by mobile, it is bringing new chllanges, and in a good way.

I plan to keep shooting. There is more to learn and there are always, always more to shoot. My style is street candid, I love and will keep improving on that. Maybe other forms of street, perhaps portraiture, when I am brave enough to talk to strangers, a bit of work to do.

And as an EyeEm ambassador, I would like to continue to help and reach out to the community here in Sydney and more, interact with other togs and people interested in photography, and do my part in pushing mobile photography further.

Emily Chen
EyeEm / Instagram / Twitter

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