How Tripod Photography Led to an Incredible Local Experience in Taipei

It was 5pm and I had spent most of the day exploring Taipei, Taiwan, and photographing every building I came across. My feet were tired and I had decided to postpone viewing the sunset over the skyline in favor of returning to my hostel.

Taipei 101 towers above the Taipei skyline; as seen from the window of my train ride home
Taipei 101 towers above the Taipei skyline; as seen from the window of my train ride home

. . .

I’m Not Home Yet!

But then, two subway stops from home, I made the split-second decision to get off and take a quick look at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

“Haha. Fooled you, body. You thought we were done for the day,” I joked to myself.

For the next hour, I roamed the area, took a few breaks to stretch, relaxed and watched the world go by. At one point, I even sat on the ground in front of the National Theater and National Concert Hall waiting for a tourist-free photograph of the beautiful Asian archway  between them.

The National Theater in Taipei, Taiwan
The National Theater in Taipei, Taiwan

. . .

How I Met Professor Yang

Finally, after getting the shot, I walked through the arch and headed back to the subway. That’s when I saw a man with a tripod and decided to see what he was pointing his camera at.

After setting up next to him and taking a few photos, he began to ask me questions. “Where are you from? How do you like Taiwan?”

In broken English, we began to discuss life, Taiwan, the arch in front of us and our mutual love of the blue hour. Finally, he mentioned that he was a photography teacher and I immediately blurted out, “me too!”

Although I have only taught a few classes over the years and it’s in no way my profession, I’m so glad that I said that. The man’s face lit up as he asked if I wanted to come see his school.

Setting up my tripod to take this photo is what led me to meet Professor Yang - You can see the Chiang-Kai Shek Memorial Hall lit up through the center arch
Setting up my tripod to take this photo is what led me to meet Professor Yang – You can see the Chiang-Kai Shek Memorial Hall lit up through the center arch

. . .

My Philosophy This Trip: Always Say Yes!

I weighed my options and exhaustion level while thinking of the alternative night’s plan: sitting in the empty hostel and staring at my computer. So I said yes and we hopped into a cab.

With Professor Yang at his photography class in Taipei, Taiwan
With Professor Yang at his photography class in Taipei, Taiwan

Fortunately, our cab driver spoke very good English and was able to translate some key facts for both of us; but, when I got out, I still was not completely sure where this adventure was headed.

After the cab ride, we stopped at a Family Mart convenience store where my new friend purchased a coffee drink, Red Bull and chewing gum. He tried to buy me a caffinated drink as well, but I politely declined saying that it would keep me up all night.

Next, we entered what appeared to be an apartment lobby and got in the elevator. He popped in the chewing gum and offered me some and, at this point, I began to wonder just what I had gotten myself into.

Was this all a lie? Were we going to his apartment? What was with all the gum? Maybe I should just leave.

All of my questions were quickly answered when the door opened and revealed a classroom full of students ready to learn from Professor Yang: their famous photography teacher.

Professor Yang Teaching the Class
Professor Yang Teaching the Class

 . . .

The Taiwan Photo School in Taipei

Professor Yang introduced me to his class, gave me a free copy of the textbook (which he had written) and handed me a giant cup of Starbucks coffee and pastry that one of his students had brought him.

For the next two hours, I sat in the back row and watched as he taught his students about ISO, f-stops, long exposures and other universal photography techniques. It didn’t matter that the entire class was taught in Mandarin: I still understood a decent amount.

After the class, he and another student named RuRu took me out to a Japanese noodle dinner before dropping me off at the MRT subway to head home. They also invited me to join a class field trip that weekend at the Chiang Kai-Shek Shilin Residence gardens.

Early morning at the Chiang Kai-Shek Shilin Residence
Early morning at the Chiang Kai-Shek Shilin Residence

. . .

Fast Forward Four Days…

It was 7am on Saturday morning when I met Professor Yang and RuRu in front of the Taiwan Photography School. After a quick Chinese breakfast, we hopped in his car and headed out to the Chiang Kai-Shek Shilin Residence gardens. The day’s assignment: two hours of photographing roses. I made it about 20 minutes.

Along with RuRu and Karbo, another participant in the field trip, I spent the next few hours wandering around the CKS Residence while chatting and photographing things other than roses. We have all kept in touch since; but alas, a last-minute flight to Istanbul ensured that our next meeting will have to wait until I return to Taiwan.

All this because I set up a tripod next to a stranger.

A group shot during the field trip. RuRu and Karbo are the two women located directly to the right of Professor Yang's hand
A group shot during the field trip. RuRu and Karbo are the two women located directly to the right of Professor Yang’s hand