Rising light: East meets West | Profoto (SE)

Rising light: East meets West

20 December, 2016

Written by: Harley Anderson

Rising Light is an article series highlighting promising photography students from all over the world. This month we introduce Jonas Yuan at Academy of Arts University.

Some photographers are technicians, meaning they have the technique down pat but lack in the creative arena. Conversely, there are also a number of photographers who are creative but lack the technical skills required to take their imagery to higher levels.

Jonas Yuan is currently enrolled at the Academy of Arts University (AAU) in San Francisco, California. In a relatively short period of time Jonas Yuan has been able to fuse his skill sets as a technician with a keen sense of esthetics to create photographs that are well beyond the abilities of your average photo major. Then again, your average photo student didn’t sign up for classes because they needed to recharge their creative juices after shooting a sling of Blue Chip photography assignments in China.


Yuan didn’t start out as a photographer, if fact he first became aware of photography about eight years ago while studying chemical engineering. It was love at first sight and before the end of his second year he packed up and moved back to Beijing to become a photo assistant for a well known professional photographer. Studying the work and techniques of a number of photographers working in a variety of photographic disciplines, Yuan slowly began working and making a name for himself.


Before returning to the USA he had working relationships with Alibaba Pictures, Volkswagen China, Lenovo, and other flagship corporations and businesses. So why go back to school?

Despite his success overseas Jonas felt he had hit the ceiling of his creative abilities. Technically he felt on track but creatively and conceptually he found himself afloat. He needed to be surrounded by other voices and other visions. Jonas returned to the States, did a bit of window-shopping, and enrolled at The Academy of Arts University in San Francisco.


“I chose AAU because the faculty is made up of some of the best in their respective fields” including James Wood, the Executive Director of the School of Photography, who has mentored Jonas during his tenure at the school.


“Unlike many of his classmates, Yuan fully understood the importance of lighting and thanks to his tenure in China; he already owned an extensive Profoto lighting system. After learning the ropes using a Profoto Acute2 lighting system, he has since incorporated Profoto B1 and Profoto B2 into his workflow. “I find the B1 and the B2 enable me to shoot more dynamically. I depend on my lights, and I use lots of lights, so I always pack a pair of B1s when I’m on assignment.”


To shape the light Yuan is partial to the Profoto RFi 5’ Octa and more recently Profoto Softbox RFi 1×4’, which he finds particularly effective for selectively shaping the light falling on his subjects.

Camera wise Jonas Yuan currently shoots with a Nikon D800E with a Tamron SP 24 – 70mm/f2.8 VC, a Sigma 50/1.4 art, Nikon AF-S 105mm 2.8 Marco and Nikon AF-S 20/1.8G ED.


Jonas Yuan draws inspiration from a number of sources including his classmates, his instructors, and many of the standard bearers of good photography and filmmaking including Joe McNally, Mark Seliger, Joey L, and of course – Annie Liebovitz.


In Jonas’s world, light is everything. “Light is the language of my shooting style”. Shadows are a friend. They create drama and define the shape and texture of your subject. Light triggers chemical reactions in your brain, which influences the emotions of the viewer.” In Yuan’s hands, light is a powerful tool.

One of Yuan’s favorite images is a wonderful image of a ballerina and a hip hop artist captured at the precise moment their complimentary body forms created, what can only be described as an incredibly dynamic photograph.


Three B1 Off-Camera Flashes were used – the main light floating overhead with an RFi Softbox 5’ and another B1 on the other side with an RFi Softbox 1×4’. Thanks to the fast sync speed made possible by his Profoto lighting system Yuan was able to get the shot within the first dozen tries. The image has since won a number of awards (and industry attention) in China.


Looking forward Jonas Yuan’s idea of a successful career would be having at least one project a month that puts a smile on his face, and that project can be a major advertising project that helps a business, or a volunteer assignment that creates positive social impact – it’s not just about money.

When asked about his idea of the ‘ideal assignment’ Yuan replied it would have to be an assignment “with intellectual challenges, a lot of creative freedom and with inspirational collaborators. The results can create impact and help others, business and individual alike. That would be the icing on cake for me.”


Photographer: Jonas Yuans

School: Academy of Arts University, San Francisco

Visit his website: http://www.jonasyuan.com/


Written by: Harley Anderson