Zay Yar Lin traverses the globe with his camera and captures world-class images, but photography is not (yet) his full-time job. Lin’s actual day job as a sea boat captain, however, has provided a unique backdrop for his photographic journey. If you glance through a gallery of Lin’s photos, you’ll find that the theme of daily occupations appears regularly in the portraits he captures while traveling by sea. A self-taught photographer, Lin has developed a keen understanding of lighting and composition, which is evident in his work. In fact, Lin’s images have earned him global recognition, as well as a number of awards. They’ve even been published in National Geographic. In the following interview, Zay Yar Lin shares the story behind some of his favorite images and offers insight into his photographic process.

Are there images that you are particularly fond of or have stories you’d like to share?

Fishing nets photojournalistic portrait
“Sun’s Up, Nets Out”

When I was at Inle Lake in December 2014, I tried to photograph conventional Intha fishermen images at Inle Lake in the morning. The Lake was covered with thick mist and vapors rising up from the lake. The atmosphere was very nice and awesome indeed. When the sun rose, the light broke through the mist and vapors which turned golden atmosphere in the lake. I was so happy and excited while capturing the fishermen images. During shooting, I tried to find a new perspective, different from conventional staged shots. Finally, I got a new perspective with the right light and the right moment. That’s definitely what a good photographer must do to call it your own image with your own style.

light rays in photojournalistic portrait
“Lend A Helping Hand”

“When I was shooting ‘Lend A Helping Hand,’ I tried to capture from new angle, new perspective and new composition. First, I tried to communicate with people working there and built a relationship to make them comfortable in shooting. I love that image because of beautiful light in the background, the leading earthen pots and lovely moment of a daughter helping her father in the photograph, which tells the story of the image itself.

portrait of person mending nets
“Mending Fishing Nets”

“There are a lot of fishing net images by many photographers around the world. But, my ‘Mending Fishing Nets’ image is included in my favorite list. I love how the light falls upon the fishing nets and the fisherman’s wife, who is mending nets. The nets are lit with big window light and they look like green ocean waves. The mending equipment and small fishing gear in the scene make the photograph unique and stand out as a good storytelling photograph.”

What do you look for when you prepare to photograph a scene or location?

landscape photography golden hour livestock
“Dusty Bagan”

“I first google the location or gather information from locals before I go there. I choose the right time to shoot there to get the right lighting such as back light or side light in my photos. The most important thing in travel photography is getting close with the subjects or locals you want to photograph. You must build a relationship with them and learn their story or culture so that you can create storytelling images instead of nonsense images that are just aimed and clicked.”

How does your gear play a role in the images you capture? Is there a lens you prefer for any particular reason or genre of photography?

“I’m not actually addicted to gear. A camera is just a tool, like a brush for painting. If you don’t know how to draw or paint, you can not create a good painting, regardless of the brush you use. I mostly use a wide angle lens (16-35mm), which gives me a view wider than the human eye can see, and its 35mm focal length mimics more of what the human eye sees. I love to use a 16-35mm lens for documentary and travel photography.”

What is your favorite location to photograph at this time? Why?

“I’ll be leading a photo tour of Outer Mongolia for shooting eagle hunters in coming October. Outer Mongolia is a wonderful place to experience a thousand years old culture and famous hospitality of local people. Mongolian Kazakh Eagle Hunting, also known as berkutchi – a form of ancient falconry, is the practice of hunting with the aid of birds of prey. This has been in existence across the Central Asian steppe for 6,000 years. The eagle hunting culture is now fading and there are only about 250 eagle hunters carrying this tradition in the region of Bayan Olgii province. I’d love to meet and capture those Mongolian Kazakh Eagle Hunters before the culture disappears.”

Finally, you find inspiration in the work of photographers across multiple genres. How does their work all come together and inspire your creativity? What specifically do you take away from the work of those you look up to?

“I love all kinds of photography. My favorite is travel photography because I love traveling and getting to know new people and culture and share their stories. I’ve been inspired by many great photographers through online photography communities. I study their photographs with detail points such as how they create this photograph (the light, composition and moment they captured), how the photograph tells the story and why it stands out. These ideas inspire and help me to imagine an picture before creating my own photographs. Creativity is the most important element in creating images. To my knowledge, creative images always stand out from others. To be creative, you must have ideas, which come from knowledge. I got most of my knowledge from inspirational photographs through online photography communities, which made me think of new ideas to create wonderful images.”

You can find more of Say War Lin’s work via the links below.

Zay Yar Lin: Website | Instagram

All images used with the artist’s permission.