Trust Your Feelings, Photograph What You Like

Get to know the talented Trope photographers through in-depth interviews, each offering unique insight into their craft. 

Stella Yan (st_ella) is a self-taught photographer and urban explorer based in Shanghai, China. Within the scope of her work she discovers new and exciting places, meets interesting people and feels photography gives her a way to express herself better than with words. Always on the move to capture the urban and futuristic, Stella now focuses on trying to capture the magic of a city, a colourful and modern vision of the world through dynamic and vibrant composition. Optimistic and curious about life, Stella describes herself as “a storyteller who tells stories with images”. Her photographs are featured in the Trope Tokyo City Edition.

It’s been almost six years since I started shooting. Once my friends took me to a rooftop, and I liked the feeling of it so much. It was the first time I went up on a roof. After that, I started to shoot rooftop photography. Photography isn’t my full-time job though; I graduated with a master’s degree in advertising and I’m currently a planner for a 4A advertising company where I do strategy work for brands and products.

I mainly use my camera and drone to shoot. Using a drone gives a different perspective which normally people don’t see from the ground. To edit the images, I create my own presets in Lightroom - I think the capturing of the image is what I see and the editing of the image is what I feel. I don’t use other people’s filters to edit my photos because that doesn’t make it personal to me. 

I think my style of photography is constantly evolving. When I did a lot of city roof-topping, my photography showed an urban and futuristic feeling. I did rooftop photography for almost four years. Then it became more and more difficult to go up on a roof. Nowadays I shoot different subjects, like street photography, urban portraits and more travel stuff. I hope my photography can bring a more cinematic feeling, like you’re the person in the scene when you look at a photo.

I love how dense Tokyo looks, no matter when you walk the street or see the city from an observation deck. You can always get a good view of this city. I also love the culture of the city. We have a lot of festivals too. By chance, I went to one called the ‘Tori-No-Ichi festival’ (pray for good luck). It was completely new to me. What’s more, I really love Japanese food!

I shot a photo of my friend Kanna standing in the middle of an unknown Tokyo street. It’s still one of my favorite shots I have taken in the city. We didn’t plan where to go. We just walked around. I thought the background of this unknown street was quite beautiful, so I asked Kanna to stand in the middle. After I edited it, I really loved the shot. Now, each time I look at this photo, it takes me back to that day and the scene so vividly. It still amazes me that unplanned shooting can bring about such good results. 

I am a very optimistic person. I’m always curious, so I have lots of hobbies. I have been fond of singing since my childhood. I studied vocal music and I have even been a singing teacher for seven years. I also enjoy sports like swimming, running and snowboarding. I think maybe that’s why I don’t fear heights and did rooftop photography at first, because roof-topping is like a sport.

I love exploring in cities. You can always find interesting things like buildings and architecture, people, street scenes, etc. My finger is constantly on the shutter button, so I don’t regret not capturing the moment afterwards. 

I think the best thing about social media, especially Instagram, is that I have the chance to meet friends from so many different countries. I get to know more about them, not just by watching their photography work. 

Personally, I find that words can’t express my feelings very well. Photography provides me that way to express myself. I have been influenced by lots of talented photographers and videographers on Instagram, people like @visualmemories_ and @samkolder. I also love watching movies like Ghost in the Shell, the Chinese movie Chungking Express, and the Japanese animated movie Weathering With You – they all bring me different kinds of inspiration. I hope I can inspire someone with my work like these people have inspired me.

Trust your feelings and photograph what you like. I still remember there was a period when my engagements were not going very well, and I began to doubt myself. One of my friends told me not to be manipulated by Instagram, to just shoot and post what you like. Even now, his words still have a profound meaning for me. Keep exploring and keep shooting. You will find your style during the shooting process. I found that photography has taught me to be true to myself and to express myself. My photography is like a part of me and each of my photos has its own story.