One Day One Artist Interview: Alex Qian—creator, photographer, artist.

Silhouetted reflection of a photographer in a puddle, framed against a blue sky and skyscrapers.

The newest edition of One Day One Artist follows content creator Alex Qian as he returns to his old stomping grounds — Chicago, the Windy City — in search of favorite spots and unexpected shots. Watch the film and read on to learn more about Alex and his tips for incredible photography.

Photo courtesy of Alex Qian. Used with permission.

Alex Qian is a bit of a mashup: part photographer, part content creator, part educator, part business owner. Depending on the day, you might catch him on a commercial shoot, or running a photography workshop, or crafting content for his dedicated social media following — or, if you’re as lucky as we were, just wandering the city looking for the perfect shot.

In our latest One Day One Artist film, the Chicago-born and LA-based creative takes us on a tour of his old stomping grounds. Watch the film below, and keep reading for a few of his tips on mastering the multifaceted hustle that is professional photography.

Tip #1: Learn to collaborate, and draw inspiration from everywhere.

I like to describe my work as a mashup of creativity through exploring and learning pieces of each of the different fields of expression that I have touched. Though my artwork is primarily land/cityscape and adventure lifestyle focused, I continue to strive to stay open-minded in this crazy and fast-progressing world to look for ways to improve my work in both photography and video. I am a Millennial growing up in the internet-age, so I learned a lot of what I know now through social media, Google, Youtube, and lots of trial and error.

That said, as I progressed I learned that in order to really grow as a creative I had to let go of control and learn how to collaborate with other creatives that are incredible at the things I’m unable to do. When I figured that out, it became easier to focus on execution, especially in an age where we have incredible cameras and rapidly progressing technology to convey our visions through. I truly believe that we live in an age that provides the most opportunity and has removed many of the barriers that may have previously stopped people from pursuing creative arts.

Photo courtesy of Alex Qian. Used with permission.

Tip #2: Never be afraid to change direction.

My personal journey took me from a passionless, non-creative individual to someone that decided one day that I was going to live a life I wanted to be able to look back on without regret. That journey and the incredible feeling of finally finding something that I was 110% passionate about gave me immense purpose in helping others try to uncover their version of that success for themselves. What most didn’t see was the intense ups and downs of that journey, and I always try to work in a sense of those feelings in my current work. I just feel like a lot of people go through life doing what they’re supposed to do, and if I can inspire even one person to attempt to look outside those boundaries, I’ve succeeded.

My first career was in Financial Services, where I went straight to work out of Undergraduate studies. As a first-generation Asian American to immigrant parents, I was encouraged to do things that no 12 year old should have to care about…like Calculus and Mandarin Chinese. (laughs) I was never really great in school compared to all of my peers, but I somehow managed to stumble out of school and into a couple well-respected corporate companies that gained my family and friends’ approval but basically required sacrificing my happiness for. It was through that time that I learned my greatest skill was actually thinking outside the box and getting creative with my processes at work (much to my boss’ dismay). Through a gradual journey of discovering more of my innate passions, I picked up photography, started traveling and learning more about the world and myself, and that was that.

Photo courtesy of Alex Qian. Used with permission.

Tip #3: Find your community—online, in person, wherever you can.

Community is really important to me because I went through life feeling disenchanted and excluded because I was so different from everyone that seemed to have no problem navigating through life all the way through young-adulthood. Now that I know myself, have found my creative identity, and am confident in what value I can contribute to the world, I want to try to encourage anyone that was in that mindset that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Basically be that guiding hand I could have used when I was still stumbling through those times. The amazing thing is that the community has given so much back to me in the form of opportunity, support, and a living which I am super-grateful for.

Part of the benefit to community building is that you also get to spend a lot of time networking with other people from all walks of life. A lot of my first big commercial gigs with Microsoft Xbox, Adobe, and Panasonic Lumix to name a few came about because I met the right people that liked my work enough to collaborate together. The other big piece was curating and getting my portfolio to a place that made it easy to show that I could be trusted with more responsibility on big projects. The beautiful thing is that the cycle continues to feed itself as my projects continue to increase in scope over time! Nowadays I try to work in this new age of social media broadcasting in tandem with my quality of work (and even my friend’s work) which my clients seem to love.

Networking, getting my work seen by way more eyes that I could traditionally (and for free), staying on top of creative trends, inspiring my community, and finding talent to collaborate and grow with are the main reasons why I enjoy using social media so much. It has worked out for me as I am a very social person and really enjoy sharing what I’m up to as well as my peer’s work, so I believe that with the right mindset it is an incredible tool for creatives to utilize!

Photo courtesy of Alex Qian. Used with permission.

Tip #4: Explore.

I get a lot of inspiration from social media and web-based platforms like Flickr. I know that platforms can be overwhelming sometimes but I always make time to scroll and try to find new inspiration from artists I look up to in all sorts of genres. As long as you remain objective about what you are consuming, I’ve found that it is a literal treasure trove of inspiration! I also spend a lot of time exploring my surroundings wherever I am, so that has served me well if I am tasked with finding a location to fit a vision. Exploring especially comes in handy if I am unfamiliar with the spot, since I tend to look at it differently than someone that is super familiar would. When all that fails, I’ll lean on friends that I know have hundreds of location pins in their maps!

Photo courtesy of Alex Qian. Used with permission.

Tip #5: …but try to have a backup plan.

I would say [my biggest advice is] to build a financial safety net so that you can make mistakes comfortably. You are starting a business and that can be a huge learning curve on top of trying to stay creative, so it helps if you can lean on friends, family, or savings if things don’t work out right away (and they never do). In hindsight, I was lucky I had a career beforehand that allowed me to build a foundation to launch from.

Photo courtesy of Alex Qian. Used with permission.

Tip #6: Know yourself.

Learn what opinions you should be actually taking as objective advice if you’re sharing your work on the internet. There will be tons of voices and you’re going to need to build confidence in yourself and your work in order to stand apart and progress as a creative. You know what’s best for yourself and the story you have to tell will stand out if you have found that balance in your work. Lastly, take things at your own pace and try not to compare yourself to others. Everyone shares their highlight reels and it can be easy to feel like you aren’t good enough. Rushing your own process can be one of the worst things you can do, so take your time.


Find Alex Qian online:
Website: https://www.wayfaringprofessional.com/
Social media: Instagram | YouTube | Flickr | Twitter

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