LIFE / CULTURE
Young Chinese astrophotographer risks life and limb to capture the beauty of the galaxy
Reach for the stars
Published: May 19, 2022 06:43 PM
Astrophotographs taken by Ye Ziyi (above)
Photos: Courtesy of Ye Ziyi

Astrophotographs taken by Ye Ziyi (above) Photo: Courtesy of Ye Ziyi

Astrophotographs taken by Ye Ziyi (above)
Photos: Courtesy of Ye Ziyi

Astrophotographs taken by Ye Ziyi (above) Photo: Courtesy of Ye Ziyi

Astrophotographs taken by Ye Ziyi (above)
Photos: Courtesy of Ye Ziyi

Astrophotographs taken by Ye Ziyi (above) Photo: Courtesy of Ye Ziyi

A photographer of the night sky and the first Chinese winner of the world's top astrophotography competition, her work has been collected by NASA… She is Ye Ziyi, a young 32-year-old Beijinger who has traveled to more than 40 countries to capture the beauty of the starry sky with her camera. 

Ye told the Global Times that turning a hobby into a career has not been easy, but she has never regreted pursing her dream, and she hopes more people will be able to appreciate the power of nature and pay more attention to the issue of light pollution due to her works.

Turbulent road 

Before becoming an astrophotographer, Ye had an enviable well-paying job in Singapore as a consultant for a 4A advertising agency.

However, her passion for astronomy, especially after she witnessed a spectacular solar eclipse at the Arctic Circle, made her decide to become a full-time photographer. 

"It was not an impulsive decision. I had prepared for this new career for a long time," Ye said, noting that even when she worked as a consultant, she basically spent most of her spare time "chasing the stars."

Making a career out of her hobby was not easy, especially since the job is physically demanding. 

"A strong body is a priority for a qualified photographer. My physical limit is to stay awake for two days and going a whole day without eating anything," said Ye.

The purest views of the galaxy is always hidden in the corners of the world and star chasers need to overcome a lot of challenges, including suffering unpredictable weather, climbing high mountains and lofty hills and knowing how to avoid being attacked by wild animals.

Ye has had many brushes with death while hunting for the perfect shot of the sky. 

To get a good shot of the Milky Way, she once went to Nam Co Lake in Southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region alone at 2 am while the temperature was minus 5 C. While taking her photos, however, Mother Nature suddenly grew fickle and the clear night sky suddenly clouded over and brought two hailstorms. 

The next day, she was diagnosed with severe high-altitude emphysema. But when she looked at the beautiful Milky Way photos she took, she felt it was all worth it. 

"I may be a bit thick-headed when it comes to life-threatening situations," she joked. "The road to chasing the aurora and the stars is never easy. The human will is fragile, but the magnificence of nature is there. This is the reason why I continue to summon more courage and set off again and again."

Endless exploration

Over her seven-year career, Ye has earned a lot of awards from top international photography competitions. In 2017, her work Aurora Shot from Plane won the Astronomy Photographer of the Year organized by the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. That same year, her work Luminous Salar de Uyuni was featured as "the Astronomy Picture of the Day" on NASA's official website.

However, she still does not see herself as a "successful woman." 

"The joy of getting these honors was very short-lived. The belief that I am doing something worthwhile and impacting others through my own efforts and works makes me feel more valuable," she noted, adding that she wants to continue to explore her potential.

Ye said her favorite photographer is the Japanese-born nature photographer Michio Hoshino. A sentence from one of his books, "A person's life is always on a long journey in pursuit of the light in life," especially resonated with her.

"When it comes to the so-called 'lying flat generation' among some young people, I think their goals are so ambitious that they are not able to achieve them within a short time." 

Ye said that she does not have big dreams, and all her goals are set according to an annual plan. She firmly believes that "as long as you work hard, it will pay off."

Not everyone can successfully make their hobby as a career. Ye said she has been able to make a living as a photographer thanks to China's well-developed social media industry and that this is also one of the reasons that the industry in China can be ranked among the top in the world.

Since 2020, Ye has launched a series of videos to teach astronomy lovers how to go star watching in cities. Her work has earned her quite a following as her Sina Weibo account currently has over 437 million followers.

Meanwhile, she started to shoot some topics about Chinese poetry that combine the beauty of Mother Nature in China with the beautiful starry sky.

"China has a rich astronomical history. I hope my work can help more people put down their mobile phones, look up at the sky above their heads, find the natural beauty near them, and care more about light pollution," she said.

Ye hopes that her future works will not simply record astronomical phenomena, but add some humanistic thinking. 

"If viewers can gain some spiritual insight when enjoying my works, I think everything would be worthwhile."