By Sophia Hadef
Some people have an eye, a talent or a gift to capture a scene, a landscape or a seascape, and Chaosheng Zhang is one of them. We all follow the social accounts of This is Galway, Visit Galway etc. and Chaosheng’s pictures are often shared there. Galway has something utterly magic and breathtaking through his lenses. Dr Zhang is originally from south-west China where he studied physical geography at Peking University in Beijing. He moved to Galway in 2000, and he is now a senior lecturer and director of the International Network for Environment and Health at the School of Geography, Archaeology, and Irish Studies in NUI Galway. Chaosheng is an emblematic figure of Galway, and he is the chair of the Joint Conference of ISEH 2022 & ICEPH 2022 on Environment, Health, GIS and Agriculture in the Big Data Era organised by NUI Galway. Below you will find a little Q&A from the professor.
Interviewer: “Hi Chaosheng, thank you so much for accepting this interview. First, you must make people who are not living in Galway so impatient to visit our lovely city. What is the essence that you love the most in this city?”
Chaosheng: “Galway is famous for its beautiful scenery! Before I came to Galway, a friend told me “Do you know how beautiful it is?!” Indeed, Galway a bright gem on the Atlantic coast! I have to admit that I only began to take landscape photos starting from 2017. Before that, I mainly took landscape photos using a mobile phone. I am delighted that many people like my photos when I post them on social media, making me feel quite rewarding!
Perhaps you have found that most of my photos are taken during sunset or sunrise, with some of them taken during the so-called blue hours before sunrise or after sunset. Galway is really beautiful when the sky is in bright colours, but the best colours normally last only a few minutes. If the beautiful moments are not recorded, they just disappear! I am delighted that I have managed to have some of the beautiful scenes permanently recorded and shared.”
Interviewer: “How did the lockdown and Covid-situation impact your work?”
Chaosheng: “The unexpected outbreak of Covid-19 has seriously impacted my work. I have to re-organize all my teaching materials to match the requirements of both online teaching and on-campus computer practical.
“I have been teaching Geographical Information Systems (GIS) at NUI Galway for 20 years. Normally I revise my teaching materials every year, based on the current development as well as my own new understanding of the contents. However, this time, the ‘revision’ is like rewriting. I am offering both pre-recorded materials and live online teaching to my students. I find that live teaching is so important to our students, which makes our students feel more connected to the University and indeed less lonely while studying at home.
“Meanwhile, I have to offer the option of on-campus computer lab sessions. I had nearly 100 students attending the Introduction to GIS course. About 20% of them have difficulties using computers at home, either because their computer is not good enough to run the GIS software, or the computers are not compatible with the software.”
Interviewer: “Ireland is lucky to be captured by you. With the five kilometre restrictions, have you been able to discover little secret gems places in Galway and what is your favourite spot?”
Chaosheng: “Thank you! I am lucky to live here in Galway. In fact, at the early stage of the lockdown, there was a two kilometre restriction. Luckily, the campus of NUI Galway is within two kilometres of my home. I found a very nice viewing point of River Corrib, just outside the new Alice Perry Engineering Building. In the early morning, you can see the sun as it rises in the mist over the river with trees on the other side of the riverbank. Sometimes you can see ducks and swans moving slowly on water. More interesting, birds are always singing, providing nature music for you to enjoy the beauty of nature. There was also a beautiful tree nearby.
Another secret gem is the nest of swans in the canal beside the Cathedral. I am always lucky when I go there. When the babies were hatched, they were always active, providing me opportunities to take photos.
Of course, our campus is one of my most favourite locations for photography. The quadrangle is no doubt the most photographed building. I am providing a photo of the Quad taken using a wide-angle lens on a sunny day.”
Interviewer: “What details do you believe make the best photographs?”
Chaosheng: “The straightforward point is to keep your photo tidy and clean. Do not try to tell many stories in one photo. Keep it simple: One photo with one story. This is very much like writing a scientific paper. You need to tell one and only one good story in one paper.
Of course, you need to master the basic skills of a camera, at least you should know how to set the three most important parameters of ISO, aperture and speed. The basic rules of photography need to be followed, such as the 1/3 composition and symmetry. You can gradually forget about the ‘rules’ once you have established your own style of photography.”
Interviewer: “What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?”
Chaosheng: “Perhaps many amateur photographers like using the automatic settings of a camera. It is easy to use the AUTO or AUTO+ mode, and you can always take ‘nice’ photos. However, I regret that I did not learn to operate the camera settings earlier! If you want to be serious about photography, I would urge you to move towards manual settings as soon as you can. When the light is strong with bright sunshine, the automatic settings do end up in fairly good photos. However, under challenging conditions, for example, when you take sunset or sunrise photos, you had better control the three major parameters of ISO, speed and aperture yourself. If you cannot get satisfactory photos, you may then think about using a tripod!”
Interviewer: “What professional photographers have influenced your work, and how do you incorporate their techniques into your photographs?”
Chaosheng: “When I first saw beautiful photos of Ireland taken by professional photographers on social media, I was so impressed, and I was wondering how they could take such beautiful photos of Ireland! I was asking myself: “When can I take such a beautiful photo, even one photo, just one?” Such a curiosity attracts me to read articles on photography and understanding the basic rules of photography.
One useful technique for professional photography I want to mention is a long exposure. Many beautiful photos were taken using the long exposure technique. This is required when the light is weak while you want to take photos that are clear enough. If you do not use a long exposure, you have to set ISO very high to maintain the speed. There will be many noisy dots on photos with a high ISO value. On the other hand, even when the light is bright, if you want to get special effects of moving clouds or moving water, long exposure is also a useful technique. While some people may dislike the ‘artificial’ effects of long exposure, we need to treat photography as art!”
Interviewer: “Your beautiful pictures were exhibited in Eyre Square last year, and you must be so proud; what are your projects for 2021?”
Chaosheng: “Yes, I am really honoured that I got the chance to have a photo exhibition in Eyre Square Shopping Centre last October. The feedback was extremely positive. I am really grateful to Galway City Council for this valuable opportunity! In 2021, I want to travel outside Galway City, at least to explore the Connemara area in County Galway. There are so many beautiful places in Ireland, especially in the coastal areas.”
Interviewer: “You’re involved in the environment and health sector. Tell us more about ISEH 2020 as there is an increasing demand for international experts to work collectively on this topic of general interest.”
Chaosheng: “The conference was planned for summer 2020. However, I had to postpone it until Summer 2022. I organised three international conferences in Galway SEGH 2010, SESEH 2022, ISEH 2016, which attracted 200-300 delegates to Galway in each event. I am honoured to have received the ‘National Conference Ambassador Award’ from Fáilte Ireland back in 2018. It is estimated that the Joint Conference of ISEH & ICEPH 2022 will attract 600 delegates to Galway, with 550 from abroad.
One ‘complaint’ I received from my previous conferences was that the shelves with luxury products, such as bags, cosmetics and shoes were empty during the week of the conference, as they were bought by the conference participants. I hope shops in Galway are better prepared next time during the week of August 15-21, 2022.”
You can follow Chaosheng Zhang on Twitter at @ZhangChaosheng and @chaoshengzhang on Instagram. You can visit the ISEH 2022 link at http://www.nuigalway.ie/iseh2020/