From a Distance

Bun Lee

Quoting Daniel Rice, “There are places which exist in this world beyond the reach of imagination.” Bun Lee’s photography is the manifestation of his words. In a world overly cluttered with man and his intrusions, Lee leads us into the genesis of creation, silently... unobtrusively. Lee's compositions are concertos that celebrate the unaltered beauty of planet earth. Travel then, to this place of landscapes and nightscapes… beyond imagination.

I am a time lapse and landscape photographer. I developed my love for nightscape photography over the last few years. My background is video production and motion design which came long before my passion for landscape and nightscape photography. I am now in constant search of places where I can feel the vibrations that resonate with nature, especially in the dark."

Kujaja: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your history?
BL: I was born and raised in Hong Kong. I moved to Canada about 25 years ago and now live in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Kujaja: Do you have formal training?
BL: I have training in video production though none in the field of photography. But a lot of the concepts and basic rules still apply to both worlds, such as lighting, composition, rule of thirds and leading lines. Another important aspect that affect my skills in photography is my post-processing background. Having a background in teaching compositing really gives me a great advantage when learning new techniques related to photography.

Kujaja: Who photographers who have influenced your photography and career path?
BL: There are way too many photographers that have influenced me and I don't know if I should have a long list to answer your question. But with the digital age we are in, anyone who posts their work online could influence others.

Kujaja: You also teach, everything from camera basics to filmmaking programs at the Cannes Film Festival. When and how did you transition to education?
BL: To keep the long story short, I taught at a film school in Vancouver for about 6 years. Adobe had a student filmmaking program at the Cannes Film Festival and I became one of the mentors of the program. Later on, I became part of a non-profit organization called 'Real Ideas Studio'. This all happened before I got into the world of photography.

Kujaja: How did you get involved with the time lapse and landscape photography and which do you enjoy the most?
BL: I've been in love with time lapse long before I got into landscape photography, ever since I had my first point and shoot camera that had a built-in interval timer. Over years of shooting time lapse, my eyes have been trained to observe minor movements when I get to a location. So, I can identify what to capture faster. Between time lapse and landscape, it's really hard for me to pick one that I enjoy more. I guess who I'm shooting with at the time really changes the dynamics of that. If I'm doing a solo trip, I do like the freedom that shooting time lapse gives me to be able to enjoy the scenic moment I'm in. Some like to arrive at a location at the perfect time with the best lights available, take the few shots they want and leave. But I like to sit down, slowly taking in the environment, discovering everything that surrounds me. Why hurry when you are within and part of such magnificent views.

Kujaja: You identify yourself as a landscape photographer, but you also shoot cityscapes and nightscapes. What is your preference?
BL: I love shooting in nature way more than in the city. That's for sure. But between landscapes and nightscapes, let's put it this way, I'm the kind of person who would rather stay up all night for the sunrise rather than waking up at 2:30 in the morning and hiking in the dark for the sunrise spot. And my passion for nightscapes developed over the years. Maybe it's time to change to nightscape photographer instead. But I guess to a lot of people, nightscape still isn't a word yet.

Kujaja: You’ve shot around the world: Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the United States. Which is your favorite location and why?
BL: These are only a few places and far from being considered as around the world. I think I would pick my home country, Canada, because there are many places still waiting for me to explore. And it has a lot of places that nobody has even heard of.

Kujaja: Talk a bit about your first Milky Way experience.
BL: I've always liked watching the stars outdoors during the quiet night. But I never knew you could see or capture the Milky Way, until I saw photos of the Milky Way captured by other photographers. The first time that I captured the Milky Way was up at a mountain ski resort. It was a trip I took with my dad to the Canadian Rockies. It was halfway up to the Rockies and he let me spend time out shooting the night skies. The first time always comes with a lot of mistakes. Although I was picking a location high up on a mountain away from the city, the lights from the ski resort were actually more than enough to ruin my shot. I was very happy with what I got at the time because I had no idea how bad it was.

Kujaja: Tell us something about the making of your photo, ‘Night of the Eclipse’.
BL: On April 4th, 2015, after more than 4 hours of driving from Vancouver to Osoyoos, BC, my friend and I settled on a location he found on Google Earth and we spent the whole night there. I captured a few time lapse sequences that night and this is one of the images from the time lapse sequence. The moon sequence was shot on a different camera with a telephoto lens over the night and I ended up using 24 of the shots in the final composite. The main background, the peak of the eclipse, was taken around 5AM, which is why so many stars were exposed in this image. The moon in this original shot is hiding behind the 6th moon from the right! I also included a few frames of light trails on the highway to add a little something extra.

Kujaja: Regarding landscape photography, one common piece of advice is get to your location early and stay late. Is this good advice?
BL: Some also say ‘be at the right place at the right time’ which I think is the complete opposite. But I do believe they are both correct and very true. Arriving early and staying late is usually my preference. As I am also a time lapse photographer, getting to a location early is almost a must do and it often involves waiting for a long time and staying up late. Often people arrive at the best moment, take a few shots and leave. Sure they might be capturing the perfect moment of the main course, but they certainly have no idea what they’ve missed out on… the appetizer, the soup, and the dessert!

Kujaja: What is the most challenging part about being a landscape photographer?
BL: I suppose, trying to be different in the sea of many other photographers. Technology is advancing way too fast in this digital age and the price of equipment keeps dropping every day. So, everyone can own a camera and everyone can be a photographer. You are literally competing with professionals, amateurs, or even homegrown photographers who are only using their phone to shoot.

Kujaja: What type of landscape images do you view as overdone or too common?
BL: By definition, I think everyone knows what it means. But I view 'overdone' as just a bi-product of the learning process. It is something that all beginners will do.

Kujaja: Do you think gear really matters?
BL: You don't need the best camera to shoot good photos. Sure there are differences in quality when you have better gear because manufacturers actually set their price based on the materials used and quality of the gear. But knowing and getting the best use of your gear is the key. You can have the best gear in the world and still not know how it works or the best time to use it. In this case, the gear is not being used to its full potential.

Kujaja: Your cameras include: Canon EOS 6D, Canon EOS 7D, and Canon EOS Rebel T3i. Talk about shooting these cameras?
BL: It is like different hammers to a carpenter. The camera is just a tool to a photographer. Again, knowing which tool is the best for the job is what makes you a better carpenter. The same thing applies to the world of photography.

Kujaja: How do you use shutter speed to achieve the effect you want?
BL: I think the most important part is to identify the speed of what you are trying to capture, whether it is a moving bicycle, a vehicle, running water from a river, a waterfall, or even star trails in some cases. After knowing exactly how fast or slow the movement is and what shutter speed you need to capture it, you can then determine what aperture to use or if you'll need to use a ND filter to achieve the result you are looking for, depending on the time of day it is.

Kujaja: How do you compensate when using smaller apertures to maintain sharpness throughout an image?
BL: In general, the sharpest apertures are in between f/5.6 - f/8, but of course it also depends on the lens you are using, as each and every lens has its own characteristic. You might want to do some research online to find out what the sharpest aperture on your lens is. But in some situations, like shooting nightscapes, I have the aperture wide open, allowing it to let more light in. And in some cases, focus stacking might be required to maintain sharpness throughout the entire image.

Kujaja: How do you avoid foreground overexposure created by a slow shutter in your nightscapes?
BL: I usually take another shot with the foreground exposed properly. Then I blend them together in post.

Kujaja: What is your advice about neutral density filters and polarizing filters?
BL: They are great to have in your camera bag. You'll never know if you will need to use them on your next trip. They are also fun to play with but, in most cases, very expensive.

Kujaja: Do you use Live View?
BL: Yes. All the time! Unless I'm just shooting handheld.

Kujaja: What are the tradeoffs shooting wide angle lenses vs. telephoto in landscape photography?
BL: Almost 80% of the time I use wide angle lenses for landscape photography. Telephoto is usually handy when you are shooting on a higher location like up on the mountain, especially when there is a limited light source shining only on a specific area.

Kujaja: What is your best landscape photography tip?
BL: Don't rush. Give yourself extra time so you can take the time to enjoy the view. Slowly take in the environment around you and then try to find the frame you like. Composition normally comes or appears after you settle in and not when you rushing into a vista point. I guess it comes down to the quote, ‘get there early and stay late’.

Kujaja: How has photography changed you as a person?
BL: Photography is like Zen to me, it keeps me calm. It makes me realize how small we are and that nothing really matters at the end of the day.

Kujaja: What are your current projects?
BL: I am currently working on a time lapse fireworks video shot in Vancouver.

Kujaja: Thank you for this interview Bun.

Bun Lee at Kujaja (click)