Hong Zuo

Extraordinary experiences: Photography as a practice of self-growth

Hong Zuo is a Chinese-American landscape photographer living between Boston and Beijing. After a chance encounter with photography on a hiking trip, Hong fell in love with what is now her favorite medium for self-expression, as well as a practice that helps her keep a healthy mind and body.

I don’t consider myself a professional photographer, although I am a passionate one. In fact, I have a career in accounting. Still, photography is not just a hobby for me, it’s a way of life – my way of evolving as a person. And I take it quite seriously as well. So far, I’ve published a best-selling Landscape Photography Album, I’ve exhibited my work in many cities, either in solo exhibitions or as part of international photo exhibitions, and I’ve been lucky to sign with the best photo agencies in China. In 2017, I was also honoured to receive the “Excellent Photographer Award” in the Pingyao International Photography Festival, the largest photo exhibition in China.

Back in 2002, I had some serious health issues that led me to strive for a more wholesome lifestyle. As part of that, I travelled to The Great Wall to climb with a couple of my friends who were into landscape photography, and I got hooked. That’s when I realized that you don’t need to be a professional to enjoy photography, you can use it simply as a form of self-expression. Soon after that trip I bought my first digital camera and never stopped since. That’s why this image and the location are so special to me, and I’m happy I got to go back and capture it again, this time with the new XT Camera System.

The challenges of photographing landscapes

People think that landscape photography is a relaxing activity, that it’s basically sightseeing. But when you’re really passionate and serious about it, photography takes you to places that are off the beaten track and hard to reach – that’s when it gets tough. Especially for female photographers, shooting in the wild is a physical challenge. The weight of the equipment and other essentials sometimes gets unbearable. I remember a 6-day camping trip in Yukon, Canada, during which I had to carry a 20kg backpack and walk 10km between camps. Because of all the physical load, my face got very puffy and my feet got covered with blisters. But even if my body was going through hell, my mind was elated. It was the unique feeling of discovering the unknown that landscape photography brings about.

Photography is, beyond a form of self-expression, a way to keep a healthy body and enrich my mind. The magic of landscape photography lies in the process itself.

Particularly for me, some expeditions are also extremely challenging because of my acrophobia. I can still remember this one trip in the Italian Dolomites, in June, when I had to walk on a snow-covered mountain road that hugged the edge of a cliff – that was a huge challenge to me.

Once-in-a-lifetime shots

When I travel to a location I want to shoot, I expect it to be my only chance to capture it. Naturally, I want to have the best equipment with me, so image quality is paramount. That’s a priority when choosing my equipment, and that’s why I believe Phase One camera systems are simply incomparable.

First impressions on the XT Camera System

As soon as I tried the XT I realized it is an excellent camera system for a landscape photographer like me. It’s light and minimalistic, highlighting only those functions that are essential for a landscape photographer, such as frame averaging and image stitching. I also like that everything is controlled in one place – the IQ4 – and that there’s such good automation and integration between the medium format digital back, the camera body and the outstanding Rodenstock lenses.

I am a rather emotional photographer. When I shoot, I want the technical considerations to be reduced to a minimum, so I can focus on my feeling and artistic expression.