Stunning shots of Hong Kong and Asia by photographer Brian Yen

Photographer Brian Yen’s stunning shots of Hong Kong and Asia

Brian Yen talks to Gloria Chan about the photo that won a global National Geographic contest and why he prefers to stay firmly behind the camera lens

Vertigo,taken from Hysan Place, in Causeway Bay. “Looking down on a Hong Kong street can make your legs a bit weak,” says Yen.

Brian Yen got his big break on a day out with his daughter at Ocean Park. On the Hong Kong amusement park’s Ocean Express, a five-minute train ride during which the lights dim and the overhead monitor displays underwater animals, he saw a woman staring at her glowing phone in the middle of the packed carriage.

“I noticed her standing there, so I raised my arms and took a couple of shots in that direction,” he says. “It took a few tries to get it right.”

The stay-at-home dad entered A Node Glows in the Dark in the National Geographic Photo Contest 2014.
A Node Glows In The Dark, taken at Ocean Park, won the 2014 National Geographic Photo Contest’s Grand Prize. “Mobile data, smartphones and social networks have forever changed our existence,” says Brian Yen. “Although this woman is standing in the centre of a jam-packed train, the warm glow from her phone tells the strangers around her that she’s not really there. She’s a node flickering on the social web, roaming the Earth, free as a butterfly. Our existence is no longer stuck to the physical here, we’re free to run away, and run we will.”

Price of Modernity shows the Lamma Island power station. “Since there are so few accessible beaches in Hong Kong, on a nice spring weekend, people still hang out at this beach even if the water quality and scenery is less than perfect,” says Yen.

“One morning I got an email telling me I’d won [the grand prize],” Yen says. “Growing up, being a National Geographic photographer was a romantic ideal for me, so I was super happy. It’s unbelievable, and I’m sure there was a lot of luck involved.”

Taiwan-born Yen won US$10,000 and a four-day trip to the National Geographic headquarters, in Washington, in the United States. He toured the magazine’s archive room, which contains more than a million images, and met world renowned photographers Steve McCurry (best known for his portrait of “Afghan girl”) and David Doubilet.

A former investor in tech start-ups in Silicon Valley, Yen rediscovered his passion for photography after moving to Hong Kong 10 years ago. His work has since been published in The Washington Post, National Geographic and on the blog My Modern Met.
The Krubera Pumpkin Cave “Standing at the entrance to the famous Krubera Pumpkin Cave, the deadliest pumpkin cave known to man, I took my last shot before entering. The legendary cave has claimed countless explorers, including several from National Geographic. No one has ever gotten out alive. OK, OK … it’s just two little figurines inside a mouldy pumpkin, but hey, I live in Hong Kong, I don’t have many caves to explore,” jokes Yen.

An Old Man in an Old Shop was taken on Taipei’s Tao Yuan Street, which is famous for its beef noodles. “The shoemaker told me he’s owned the shop for 60 years,” says Yen. “The place was so cluttered, he blends in perfectly.”

Nevertheless, Yen insists that, for him, photography is an art, not a vocation. He openly shares his photographs on his public Flickr stream, and keeps a relatively low profile – he politely declines to have his photograph taken for this article.

“I want people to recognise my photography, not my name or my face,” he says.

Yen began taking pictures in the 1970s, as a teenager, shooting on an old rangefinder camera. Today, he mainly shoots with either a Canon 1Ds Mark III or a Sony RX100 Mark III, but also uses the camera on his iPhone.

Superfly, taken in Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel, Taipei. “Found this fly stuck to my hotel window, some 40 floors up on an awful, dreary day,” says Yen. “For some reason it made me smile.”

Our Roots was taken in Kennedy Town. “When we’re young, we never know where to find our roots, because we’re always running in the wrong direction,” says Yen

“I think that camera equipment doesn’t matter very much,” he says. “If you are a good photographer, all you need is a pinhole.”

Once a year, Yen travels to the Philippines as a volunteer for the International Care Ministries, to photograph a poor family. He donates one shot from the trip for auction and the money it raises is used to help the family in the picture.

“I try to present poverty with a lot of hope, not sadness,” he says. “I want to focus on how people can improve.”

Pok Fu Lam Village “A cluster of old houses nestled between the hills along Pok Fu Lam Road is one of the few remaining enclaves in Hong Kong that hasn’t been razed to make way for high-rises.”


A Bottled Existence “Life in the densest city on Earth makes you feel like you’re drowning in a tiny bottle,” says Yen. A small, magnetically operated rig was used to position a tiny figurine inside a bottle, into which water was then poured. The image of the Hong Kong skyline, taken one foggy morning, was displayed on an iPhone placed behind the bottle.

To see more of Yen’s work, go to


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Robert Chaen

Global CEO-Founder of ChangeU and Movsha Movers & Shakers, Hero-CEO Whisperer, Writer, The #1 Alpha Change Expert, Father of Asian FireWalking Robert Chaen is an International Keynote Speaker, writer, researcher, and corp games designer. He is famously known to be the “Hero-CEO Whisperer”, 1-on1 coaching with many CEOs and Celebrities for corporate strategies, staff & office political issues, personal branding, and even public figure OSHA safety drilling called Drager Defense. He has transformed CEOs and managers in Coca-Cola China, TVB Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airport Services, VADS, TM, Public Bank, Auditor General's Office Maldives, etc. He is the prolific creator and online Author of innovative management tools such as DragonCEO, Diamond Leader, Papillon Personal Effectiveness, OSHA Drager Defense, KPI Bank, etc. He is also the Founder of Movsha, an international networking with monthly mingles with MOVers & SHAkers, Angels, Entrepreneurs, CEOs, Celebrities, HR-PR-CSR, HODs, and the Most Influential IDEA people. ​Chaen is widely considered as one of the top International Platform Keynote Speakers for Resorts World Genting Senior Management Conference (Manila), 7-Eleven HK, Samsung, Coca-Cola China Mini-MBA @Tsing Hua University, Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Jockey Club, The Story Conference where he interviewed Datuk Kamarudin (Chairman of AirAsia) and Siti Nurhaliza. He has been widely featured in TVB, AWSJ, CNBC, SCMP, The Star, and Sin Chew. As “The Father of Asian FireWalking”, he coached TVB celebrities (Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin) to walk on 650°C fire; and raised HK$68M in the world’s 1st and only live TV Charity FireWalk (TVB Tung Wah Charity Show), before Tony Robbins even came to Asia. If Robert can get you to walk on 650⁰C fire, he can inspire you to be THE BEST. He champions CN-HK-EU-US Tycoons to be philanthropic, and to be angel investors to support the next generation of Jack Mas, Steve Jobs, Richard Bransons, Steven Spielbergs, or Barrack Obamas. With some slick motivational speakers with fake doctorates out there, graduates often describe Robert to be "the most credible, empowering, truthful Coach" who believe in his graduates to believe in themselves. ​However, clients have described Robert as "The #1 Cool Badass Alpha Change Expert". He has the coolest first class stature, rapport and trust from clients. He will not hesitate to tell the badass truth ever so gently because clients are paying him big bucks to reveal the truth, find solutions, persuade the hostile HODs, and align cross-teams within the organization. Originally based in Hong Kong for 20+ years, he had worked with top Branding/Ad agencies at J Walter Thompson and Leo Burnett, and was a certified FranklinCovey (7 Habits) in USA, and NLP MasterCoach (USA). His warmth is known to soften the most hardened, resistant sceptics. He will inspire your team to Go for Top 1, or to be a Dragon CEO. With boundless energies, Robert owns 15+ successful business Joint-Ventures, and created unique products under his global VC network called Chaen's Angels VC. He is deeply passionate about ChangeUTH Youth CSR, Science-Based Medicine (vs. quackery), short films and Reality TV. Touched by a personal tragedy through the loss of his HK-born Portuguese wife, co-coach and business partner, Brenda José of 18 years, Robert explores the many ways in which the spirit world is communicating with the living with real scientific studies and evidence. He gives inspiring conferences on The Secret Afterlife.

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