Meet the Jury: Elaine Li on Street Photography

By Jenna Black - 4 min read

The art director shares what she’s looking for in your EyeEm Awards submissions – as well as her own approach to photography.

Elaine Li is an advertising art director and freelance photographer from Hong Kong. We selected her as part of this year’s EyeEm Awards jury because of her wide range of photography expertise, experience in art direction, and beautiful Instagram feed. I caught up with Elaine about her background, street photography tips, and found out what she’s looking for in EyeEm Awards submissions.

Elaine Li

How did you get into photography?
Photography has been part of my life since my teenage years – I would always bring my camera wherever I went. Five years ago, my friend introduced me to Instagram and I have been sharing photos on the platform ever since.

What are some of your favorite things to shoot?
Street photography for sure. I really enjoy walking around the city, exploring neighborhoods I’ve never been to, and capturing things I see.

Rain or shine

Bed time adventures

Who inspires you?
Diane Arbus was my favorite photographer when I first got started. Nowadays, there are so many more platforms for inspiration, it’s hard to pick just one photographer. I do really like the following quotes by Robert Capa and Imogen Cunningham: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” and “Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”

You’ve been able to grow quite a large Instagram following and have been featured on a few top Instagrammers in Hong Kong lists – how did you manage to cultivate such an interest in your work?
There were a lot less people using Instagram when I first got started, so being an early adopter of the platform made it easier to build a following. I don’t really have any secrets to cultivating a following, to be honest. Just keep shooting, share good work, and interact with the community.

You’ve also worked as a social influencer for brands like Nike, Huawei and American Express. Have any of these projects included street photography?
Unfortunately they haven’t been related to street photography. The only project I can think of was for Huawei: I took photos of Hong Kong’s streets and cityscape with their P9 smartphone. I wouldn’t call that street photography, though.

A shot taken for Huawei

What do you enjoy about street photography? What’s challenging about it?
I do a lot of different types of photography, from cityscapes to urban exploration, from drone to street photography. My favorite and most rewarding type, however, is street photography. I find it to be the most challenging and fun to shoot. I always encounter some unexpected moments, and the challenge to capture them with good composition and storytelling. Being a good observer and anticipating moments before they happen is important. For example, I came across a group of kids and their moms in a fancy toy car on the streets of Hanoi. That immediately struck my eye, and so I hung around until a special moment happened. Once I snapped the photo, it reminded me of the Fast & Furious movie series.

Fast & Furious: Hanoi edition

I see a lot of your subjects in street photography are people – is there a reason for that?
Yes indeed, I’m fascinated by the stories of other people’s lives and I love using city elements as a backdrop. Sometimes, I engage with these people and start conversations before clicking the shutter. Then they tend to be more relaxed and comfortable with the camera as well.

Since you’re a judge for the EyeEm Awards this year, what tips do you have for those entering our category: “The Street Photographer”?
Submit photos that tell a good story with strong subjects and context.

Game time

Phubbing 24/7

Night crawler

Feeling inspired? Check out EyeEm Awards Mission “The Street Photographer” and submit your own masterpieces from the streets.

All photos by Elaine Li.