Photo credit Yu Yang

Photo credit Yu Yang


We can't miss the steady stream of Instagram posts, bloggers, and Pinterest boards of street style fed to us on a daily basis. But what is it like to spend your life on the street, as a nomadic documenter of style? 

We take a look behind the lens of street style Photographer Yu Yang.

Yu Yang didn't plan on being a fashion photographer; she was on a path to becoming a software engineer. Quite a jump from the staid world of coding to the frenetic world of fashion. Both industries have one thing in common; they are both fast-paced with I.T. ever-changing like the trends. And although coding has elements of creativity it is perhaps not in the form that excites Yu. Originally from Shanghai, she began to realise that the world of coding was not the correct fit. With a desire to follow her creative inclinations and a passion for photography, she took a position as a photographer in a menswear boutique in Shanghai, where her interest in fashion developed. From there, she was licensed to work for Pitti Uomo, one of the most important platforms for menswear collections and accessories. Held bi-annually in Florence it advocates new project launches and has been quoted as bringing Dandyism to modern day audiences.

At Petit Uomo Yu discovered her street style craft, but she realised it would be a steep learning curve.  Aware that she was entering a profession that was fast becoming saturated, she questioned how far she would get. Yu follows global fashion weeks, rushing between venues, documenting the 'in-between'. She brings us fragments in time, magic moments backstage at the shows and the looks adorned by the fashion connoisseurs. A sneak peak of the trends to come. Unlike her contemporaries she captures her subjects looking natural or animated with elements of humour.

Photo credit Yu Yang

Photo credit Yu Yang

During fashion week I still enjoy the exciting moments when I get a great street shot
— Yu Yang

Q: When did you first discover your love for photography, was there a defining moment or person that inspired you?

"I have always liked graphic, and interior design and have always related to creative things. It's one of my primary interests. The first time I found out that I wanted to be a photographer was years ago. There is one person who inspired me a lot and also one of the factors for me to make the decision to be a photographer. Alice Gao, an NYC based photographer, her blog ( inspired me a lot during that time and until now I still really like her work. She is also a photographer who started photographing because of interest and passion, rather than studying 3-4 years at university as a photography major." 

Q: Which photographers influence you and why?

"I like Steve McCurry and Peter Lindbergh, they're both brilliant photographers in different areas, but they have something in common I think. Their images can tell a story, the people in their photos are the characters, more of a documentary style of photography that I like."


Q: What were the main hurdles when you started street photography?

"In the beginning, it was hard to know the rules. I didn't know how to stand in the correct position and ruin another photographer's photo, and I didn't know how to work as a team. It's taken me time to learn. Because there are so many photographers on the street, and most of the time, every photographer wants to take photos of the same people. So after years I know the rules pretty well and can work together with other photographers."


Q: How do you find the nomadic life for fashion weeks ?

"For now, I am used to life during fashion week; I have places I like to live in every city, also photographer friends to travel together with, so it's not too lonely." 

After establishing herself as a credible street photographer, Yu began to explore alternative methods, setting up a studio in Milan and creating an editorial and commercial portfolio. Her shots have an edginess reflecting her love of contemporary trends.

Photo credit Yu Yang

Photo credit Yu Yang

Q: Do you prefer editorial work or will your heart always belong to street style?

"I do like editorial work as well if I'm not working at fashion week I prefer to do more editorials. It's entirely different to street style. But during fashion week I still enjoy the exciting moments when I get a great shot."


Q: How do you find the transition from Street to editorial and what are the differences as far as photography techniques?

"For editorials, I can try so many different things and styles, makeup,  locations and be more creative in my work than with street. Also with a different lens and different angles. There are more possibilities in editorial shoots, compared to street style I think."

Yu's website and Instagram pages 'Beforeeesunrise' showcase her incredible talent. With over twelve thousand followers currently tuning in for the next trends, it's apparent that her appeal is broad. 

I like Steve McCurry and Peter Lindbergh, Their images can tell a story
— Yu Yang


Q: Where does the name before Sunrise originate?

"Before Sunrise" is the name of one of my favourite movies, it's directed by Richard Linklater and acted by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. The first time I saw this movie I knew It would be one of my most favourite movies, like top 3."


Q: You've been in Milan for four years now, what do you miss most about Shanghai? 

"What I miss most about Shanghai are my friends and the local food, also 24 hours convenience stores everywhere in the city. :)"

Photo credit Yu Yang

Photo credit Yu Yang

Q: Does Milan feel like home now?

"Yes, Milan feels like home, every time after fashion week, when I get back from Paris, I feel like I'm home and I can sleep well in my own bed!"


Q: There has been much discussion surrounding street style photographers and paparazzi likening the two. What are your thoughts on this?

"Street Style Photographers are nothing like paparazzi; it's entirely different. I don't understand why people produce these articles, those who write them are so irresponsible. They should know the difference between professional street style photographers and the hobby street style photographers and paparazzi. Have you ever seen any professional street style photographers with a huge flash or any of them standing at the celebrity entrance waiting only for celebrities to arrive and push over the other photographers to get their own photos?  They're paparazzi. Professional street style photographers never do that kind of thing. We don't focus only on celebrities like the paparazzi; we concentrate on stylish people and style. We are respectful. Even if you're not famous, but you have excellent style, we will take photos."

There is no doubt that Yu and her fellow photographers work tirelessly to bring their street style audience a regular feed of striking imagery. But in recent months they have campaigned for their rights, to be treated as artists and to be paid accordingly. For years fashion industry insiders have used their works without payment, but they decided that enough was enough.

We protected our rights; people hear our voice. More value to our work and more respect for us!
— Yu Yang

Q: Can you tell us more about the #nofreephotos campaign? 

"The main point about the no free photos campaign is against the abuse of street style photographers with their photos being used by brands/bloggers for commercial use without payment. Some of the bloggers use photos taken by street photographers during fashion week to finish their duties to a brand (brands pay them to do collaborations or promotions), but the bloggers don't hire a photographer to compliment the duty. Instead, they use street style photographer's work. Also, the brands use social media to get the photos they want on the internet, and some brands / PR companies have even said they would never pay the street style photographers as they can get the photos they want free on social media channels."


Q: What has the reception been to the campaign?

"We protected our rights; people hear our voice. More value to our work and more respect for us!"

One career change and two cities later, it looks like Yu has found her calling. "I have met many good friends during my work, photographers, fashion people, also good clients. That's also the good part I think. I guess I won't change my career path anymore I will be a photographer as long as possible." No matter where she lays her hat it sounds like Yu is where she is meant to be; on the path to success if not there already.  

Twelve thousand followers can't be wrong.