Music Photographer Interview: Yising Kao

Photos by Yising Kao

Awsten Knight of Waterparks

What inspired you to start doing photography and videography?

Growing up, my dad always took photos of me and my family. He gave me a small point-and-shoot camera that I would take to concerts, and I eventually practiced using his professional camera and shooting small local shows. I grew up listening to artists who were on Disney Channel like Jesse McCartney, Miley Cyrus, Hilary Duff, Allstar Weekend, and more, so that’s how my passion for music bloomed. I took my CD player with me everywhere. Justin Bieber was also one of my favorite artists (and he still is), so I always watched all of his music videos directed by Alfredo Flores, and they inspired me. When I was about 12, I knew I wanted to become a music photographer and videographer. I loved the idea of telling stories through art and capturing special moments. Throughout my childhood, I was drawn to the arts because I did all types of art, like taking art classes, learning guitar and the ukulele, and writing poetry and lyrics. I would download free trials for video editing programs, and taught myself how to shoot and edit, making little videos by myself or with friends. I went to so many small shows and red-carpet events hosted by the same company, so I asked them if I could shoot some shows for my portfolio, and they let me. I posted the photos on my social media and made a Tumblr for my photography, in addition to making recap videos, and people began to take notice. From then on, I worked my way up and started an online magazine, just so I could have a platform to express myself and write about music I loved, along with sharing my photos; this eventually became Galaxy Magazine! Over the years, I got to shoot bigger artists, gain more experience, and network with music industry professionals. I stepped out of my comfort zone and started doing interviews with artists. If 9-year-old me knew that I would be shooting photos of Jesse McCartney and Taylor Swift, she would not have believed me. Additionally, I shot photos and produced videos of skits for my swim team, and joined my high school’s video team, practicing and gaining as much experience as much as I could. When I started college in 2015, I joined a music club and the newspaper team, shooting photos and videos of events. You have to put yourself out there and create opportunities! Eventually, people asked if they could join Galaxy, and since I ran my old magazine by myself, I never thought that people would actually want to be a part of this, so that made me really excited to share the platform with others to express our passions. In addition to shooting concerts, I shoot portraits and landscapes, and I love planning creative photoshoots and collaborating with others. When I go to the beach or travel, I take my GoPro, which is super fun to use underwater, and I make travel recap videos of my adventures.

How would you describe your style?

I’ve always been obsessed with lights and stars; they’re just beautiful and captivating. I’d describe my style as ethereal and magical. I love incorporating lights and effects into my photos, such as editing in light bubbles or light leaks. I mainly edit with cool colors like teal and purple, but I also like to experiment with other styles, because it’s fun to challenge yourself and try new things. For concert photos, I edit them based on how the artist’s music makes me feel. When I listen to a song, these visuals of stories, colors, and emotions play through my mind, so I express them through my work. Like, if a song makes me feel infinite, then I’ll edit stars into the artist’s photo and create a certain concept from my mind.

What to you hope to convey through your work?

I hope that when people look at my photos, they feel like they’re living in that moment. I want to invoke emotions through my photos and videos, and tell stories, whether they’re my own or others’. In my concert recap videos, I love interviewing fans and hearing about how music and artists have influenced their lives. Music is so powerful; it can bring people together and help them through rough times. I think it’s the closest thing we have to magic. I hope to inspire people through my work and capture those happy memories that will be remembered for a long time. My favorite part about shooting is capturing those moments where I can just see and feel the artist’s passion, like candid moments when they’re smiling at the crowd, or hitting that certain note in a song. Additionally, I want to portray how strong the relationship is between artists and their fans. It’s truly special and when I capture photos of the crowd, it warms my heart because people are in this other world where they can escape reality, forget about their worries, and live in the moment of pure happiness. I also see a reflection of myself in those shots, since it’s my favorite feeling just being at a concert.

Who are your photographer inspirations?

Jordan Wright (@taylorcutfilms)-We share a similar style and his photos and videos are PHENOMENAL! For every photo, he creates a magical world and I’m just fascinated by them. He writes such inspiring thoughts to go along with his photos that I’ve either thought about before, or that express a completely new perspective and way of thinking about a certain topic. I love poetry, so I love reading what he has to say and every one of his posts inspires me a lot. Jordan’s videos inspire me as well and take me into another world. They make me think about life and encourage me to constantly improve and believe in myself. I feel like Jordan’s work is a pretty good representation of my mind, full of dreams and fantasy.

Briar Burns (@briarburns)-I discovered Briar’s work on Twitter a few months ago, and they instantly became one of my favorite photographers. They edit their photos with lights and strong contrast, and every photo is breathtaking. Briar is incredibly creative, and their photos have this quality of being super loud and bright, and they capture such good moments. They also edit some photos in black and white and create them so uniquely. I’ve never seen photos like Briar’s and I believe that they’re going to achieve all of their goals as a photographer!

Rory Kramer (@rorykramer)-He inspires me not only as a photographer and videographer, but also as a “professional life liver,” as he calls himself. This dude works for what he wants and does it! His videos make me feel as if I’m the one living through them, and each video tells a creative story. I love how beautiful and clean his shots and transitions are. I really admire how Rory not only shoots, but shoots with a purpose. He portrays powerful messages through his work and has opened up about his struggles, which is really inspiring because it’s important to be real in the entertainment industry. Sometimes people forget that everyone goes through obstacles, and we aren’t just who we present ourselves as on social media.

What advice do you want to give to aspiring music photographers and videographers?

You have to be passionate about what you do, or you won’t succeed. Do it because it makes you genuinely happy and because it’s what you want to do every day. Also, it’s tough, but try not to compare yourself to others. If you just focus on yourself, it’ll be easier to find your style because you’re putting a piece of yourself into your work. Everyone has their own unique visions, and no one has YOUR eye. You gotta believe in yourself, or no one else will! Start by shooting small artists/bands. Reach out to them, people you may know in the industry, and your local venues. You have to be willing to shoot for free at first to build your portfolio and work your way up. Nothing comes easy - it takes a lot of patience but if you’re serious about it, you’ll get to where you want to get to! Talk to people at shows and build your network, and just get your name out there. Post your work on social media and your friends will support your work and help promote it. Don’t stop practicing; Go out and seek those opportunities, or create them for yourself! :)

Josh Dun of Twenty One Pilots