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Photography is the art of preserving a fleeting moment. No moment lasts forever, unless someone has the eye to catch it. We’re drawn to cameras and photographs because we want to be remembered. We want people to look back at our memories and get an idea of what our moment was like. Herein lies the art of a photographer. The difference between a snapshot and a photograph is that a photograph is intentionally framed and exposed as a memento that represents the best moment in a given atmosphere or situation. The photographers we most connect to are the ones who know how to create a specific mise en scene.

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Ted Chin creates his mise en scene with whimsical edits that give his nature photography an otherworldly look. He uses the unreal to express the emotions he feels when capturing his shots. “I want to translate how I felt at the time and share with my audience,” he says. “It could be my desire, my emotion, my feelings or just my fantasy.” Chin’s photography and edits are an emotional experience. If the nature scenes he captures are a permanent canvas, the edits he makes on them represent his fleeting emotions. “I’m trying to push my images into the surreal.” One look at his photographs, and it’s easy to see that mission is accomplished.

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Despite a photograph’s inherent permanency, Ted Chin’s work still feels ephemeral and decidedly dreamy. His photographs are crisp and have strength in their structure, but his edits are reminiscent of 18th century watercolors, blurring the line between painting and photograph. His style comes off as no surprise once you learn that much of his inspiration comes from animated movies, traditional art and whatever catches his eye in a museum. Often using flowing fabrics and picturesque muses, his Instagram is filled with romanticism. It’s hard to tell what’s real in his shots, and that makes his work feel all the more wistful, alluring, mysterious and ethereal.

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Shooting with a Canon DSLR, wide lens and a tripod, Ted Chin began his formal education in photography during college, but it’s always been one of his passions. “I’ve always been trying to document and capture my life moments when I have a chance,” he says. “So when I was in college, I decided to give it a try and took my first photography class.” It clearly worked out for him. Based in San Francisco and currently boasting more than 15,000 Instagram followers, Chin has enraptured his audience with his images.

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His imagery serves as a predominant form of communication for the photographer, who is not a native English speaker. He acknowledges this immediately in his Instagram bio: “I can’t write well so I create images instead.” Even without words, Chin hides stories in his work that you’ll find if you just look long enough. “I want people to look at my work more than once and notice things in there that they didn’t see before,” he says. Like a renaissance painting, there’s more under the surface than what immediately meets your eye. Hoping that there are as many interpretations of his work as there are eyes that look at it, Chin believes that his photos are best enjoyed when you ask questions instead of being satisfied with, “Oh, that looks cool.”

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Chin’s uses many techniques to create atmosphere, often times adding images into landscapes. In some instances, he juxtaposes soft fabric on top of jagged rocks. Other times he subtly adds nooses to the power lines in an alley to help evoke a sense of dread. The blending of these different subjects together has the power to completely transform the vibe of each. When it comes to Chin’s work, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This intangible value is what elevates Chin’s work from hobby into true art – his work has synergy. Despite only being involved with photography for around five years, Chin’s style is distinctive. And that sort of style takes planning.

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Even though Chin is often motivated by what he feels in the moment of a shoot, his edits need to be deliberate to be successful. When inspiration strikes, Chin will sketch out an image he has in mind. He brainstorms locations and opportunities before heading out. Other times, he uses the images he’s already taken, searching through his library until he finds something that resonates with him in that moment. Not every shot he captures has an explicit purpose, but every one has potential. Never one to compromise on his vision, Chin is okay letting ideas sit if he doesn’t have what he needs. “Sometimes the project will be left behind there until I finally find the image I want, and then I will finish the piece.”

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Throughout all of his success, and with every breathtaking image he shares, Chin remains humble. At the end of the day, Chin is just another guy who possesses the unique ability to capture his surroundings and apply his emotions to them, and one lucky enough to have a rabid following. “I’m just happy that I can share my work with other people and they get to enjoy them.” Art is best enjoyed as a collaborative experience. Chin wants people to come together to discuss his work and its meaning by using Instagram to connect ideas and broader themes to his photos.

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At the end of the day, that’s really what makes Chin’s work so powerful and noticeable. He encourages interaction around his whimsical creations. He wants to use his art to create a dialogue. Unsatisfied with just being a source for inspiration, Chin wants the stories he tells to be discussed, and he’s open to interpretation. The next time you see one of Chin’s images, pause on it. Let yourself get lost. Listen to what you feel. Then try to put yourself in his shoes, and ask yourself about his intent as an artist. There are no wrong answers. Look closely and tell your own story.

Chin also co-manages Instagramers in San Francisco. Check out the Photo Kit we created with them.

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