We are happy to share with you an interview with a photographer Tyson Wheatley, who spent 11 years working for CNN, where he helped launched CNN iReport, CNN’s participatory journalism project also led CNN.com’s Asia/Pacific team based in Hong Kong. Tyson also worked as Communications Manager at Instagram!
How did you, as a professional journalist, decide to start photography?
I’ve always been drawn to good storytelling. As a kid I used to run around making neighborhood newsletters and I’m pretty sure I was only kid in class whose favorite TV show was 60 Minutes.
I dreamed of being a great newspaper reporter - but after journalism school I accepted a job at CNN - which ended being an incredible opportunity to hone my skills in the exciting world of cable news television. Breaking News!!!
I spent 12 years working my way up the ladder at CNN - and got to work on some amazing projects from writing and editing shows to producing community-sourced content for CNN.com. Eventually I got shipped off to Hong Kong to manage the editorial team in Asia.
Before Instagram I didn’t know I liked photography.
Then Instagram came out - and everything changed. Almost overnight, I became obsessed. It wasn’t so much the photography that hooked me - rather its storytelling potential and the vibrant, global community that was forming around the platform. I felt like I was part of something special and I spent most of my free time looking for ways to contribute to support this movement.
The truth is, before Instagram I didn’t know I liked photography. I didn’t even have a proper camera. I was just using my iPhone - but I seemed to have a creative knack for taking photos and my interest in it just grew until all I wanted to do was take photos and share them online.
What’s the funniest moment you had as a photographer in Hong Kong?
Not sure if this is funny - but definitely the most fun I’ve had in Hong Kong has been shooting with friends. The Instagram community in Hong Kong is very special - we are a tight bunch and love to hang out and create together. Especially in the early days - we used to come up with fun hashtags like #instagrammerdown and #residencity. It rains a lot in Hong Kong, so I came up with #puddlegram to satisfy my early obsession with photographing reflections in puddles.
Every weekend we would run around the city finding cool new locations to take photos. What’s CRAZY is that many of these spots we uncovered years ago have now become actual tourist destinations - specifically to get that same shot!
What are some of the hardest parts of your job?
Oh man, so many hard parts!
I don’t think I appreciated just how tough being a freelance photographer is. For one, you have to get used to dealing with a lot of rejection. I wish I could say it gets easier - but it’s still something I struggle with.
But I think the hardest part is just staying relevant.
Another hard part is time management. You’re busy and money is flowing and you’re on top of the world - and then suddenly you aren’t busy - budgets have dried up - and you start to wonder why and it takes everything you have not to become dejected. My agent likes to tell me that when I’m not working my job is to not go crazy!
But I think the hardest part is just staying relevant. There are so many talented photographers out there, and the level for entry has never been easier. The challenge, for me, is to continue to stay fresh - to make work that stands above the crowd and to do it in a unique and authentic way. Talk about hard!
If you could give one advice to new photographers what would that be?
It’s great to be inspired and motivated by other photographers - but spend the bulk of your energies and talents seeking your own unique voice.
Also, have fun. If you’re not having fun, it’s not worth it.
What’s your favorite piece of equipment?
I have a lot of tools in my camera bag so hard to pick one - but the Leica Q is without a doubt the camera that’s always with me. Its compact and sturdy and unassuming and takes really fantastic images. I love it.
What do you appreciate the most with photography?
I love the power of photography - the way a single image can tell a story, elicit wonder, evoke emotion. Some images can literally move you to tears. I’ll never grow tired of seeing those kinds of images.