16 Questions about One Photo with Ting Ting Chen: “The Duke”

The Duke

1. Please introduce yourself. Who are you? What do you do? How long have you been into photography?
Hello! I am Ting Ting Chen. I’m…from China, and now I am doing my Ph.D. in folklore at the Memorial University of Newfoundland.

I knew nothing about photography until 2015. I bought my first camera that year. It was a very basic camera, not even a DSLR. But by shooting with it occasionally, I began to learn the basic concepts in photography such as aperture, focal length, ISO, etc.

I bought my first DSLR in 2018, and I have been using it since then. It is a Nikon D850. But I didn’t begin to shoot more seriously until the spring of 2019 when I updated my laptop, which enabled me to process RAW files.

2. In one sentence, please describe what you captured in this shot.
This is a portrait of my best friend Robert Joseph Tilley in the fur coat he made 40 some years ago.

3. Why did you select this photo to share?
I feel this is a powerful portrait of Robert, reflecting his characters so well. I think the emotions embedded in this portrait will also touch the audience. That is why I chose this photo out of my many other works to share.

4. What style of photography would you describe this as and do you typically take photographs in this style?
I would like to call this work a fine art portrait in the Old Masters’ style. Though I am not a painter, I do like classic European paintings a lot, and I think these works completed centuries ago still provide so much inspiration to the artists nowadays. As a photographer, I would love to pay tribute to the Old Masters by my works. This portrait is one of my initial attempts [in this] style. I will take more photographs in this style in the near future.

5. When and where was this photo taken?
I took this photo on October 31, 2021, one day before Robert’s 73rd birthday. I took it at my residence in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.

6. Was anyone with you when you took this photo?
There were just Robert and me. No one else around. I prefer [this] because I need to concentrate when I am working.

7. What equipment (hardware and software) did you use?
I used Nikon D850 for taking this portrait, and Photoshop for retouching.

8. What drew you to take this photo?
I was thinking about taking a portrait in the Old Masters’ style at that time, and I realized Robert in his fur coat would be an excellent model for this portrait. His charisma perfectly fits into the portrait that I want to shoot. My knowledge of folklore [also] to some degree helped me to get this portrait. As a folklorist, I am keen to explore what story a photo can tell. When I took this portrait, I intended to reveal the connections behind the photo.

9. How many attempts did it take to get this shot? How long did it take you to get one that you were satisfied with?
The shoot went on for around one hour until I got my satisfied photo, just before Robert got too tired to sit still and pose. I made around 40 attempts.

10. Did you edit (or do any post-processing/production on) this photo?
Yes, I did the retouching on this photo with Photoshop.

11. What encouraged you to share this photo online and with others?
I came to Canada in 2018 as an international student. Robert is the first friend I made here, and he has become my best friend now. There are deep connections between us. I named this portrait “The Duke,” paying tribute to Robert’s grandfather William Marmaduke Tilley, who was born in 1882 and lived a legendary life. Robert spent a lot of time with his grandfather when he was a child and had deep connections with him. The coat he wore was made by himself 40 years ago when he was working in Northern Canada. This portrait is full of emotions and stories. I wanted my audience to feel these connections and emotions in this portrait, so I decided to share it with others and submit it to Your Best Shot 2021.

12. Did you learn anything in the process of taking, editing, or sharing this photo?
Yes. I learned that a good portrait doesn’t necessarily need fancy costumes and makeup. Robert didn’t have any makeup on when I took his picture. What makes a portrait powerful is the emotions inside it. This does not only apply to portrait photography but also landscape photography and other types of photography. To have a good photo that can touch others, a photographer needs to build emotional bonds with the subject you are shooting.

13. Do you remember what you had for breakfast the day you took this photo?
I almost always have oatmeal and milk and Greek yogurt for breakfast, so I must have had the same breakfast on the day I took this photo.

14. What would you like people to take away from this photo?
I would like people who see this portrait to remember not only how good this image looks, but also the stories behind it: my friendship with Robert, Robert’s adventure in Northern Canada, Robert’s grandfather’s legendary life, and Robert’s connections with him.

15. Is there any feedback that you’d like to get on this shot?
Anyone who feels like saying something about this shot can leave a comment on Flickr under my image. I would love to see the audience feedback.

Bonus: We also asked about Robert’s reaction to this photo:
Robert likes this portrait a lot and he is very happy to know that this portrait won [in] Your Best Shot 2021. He watched the livestream of the announcement of the winners and he proudly shared this portrait on his Facebook and also with his family members.

16. How can anyone reading this support your work?
I am just starting my career as a photographer, and I would like more people to know me and my works. If anyone reading this can follow my Instagram account [and Flickr account] or visit my website to know more about my works, I would be sincerely grateful.

About the photographer: Ting Ting Chen

Ting Ting Chen (she/her) is a Newfoundland-based fine art photographer. She moved to Newfoundland from China, where she has found her muse and home. Her photography showcasing the beauty of Newfoundland has won multiple international photography awards. Her photo, “The Duke,” was a winner in the People category of Flickr’s Your Best Shot 2021 contest.