Feeling the wind rush through her hair as she jumps out of a plane that is 13,000 ft above ground is the type of thrill Xue Zhang craves. Zhang has gone sky diving 3 times now, once in California, then Hawaii and recently Dubai.
“Mindlessness, is the sensation that keeps me coming back for more,” said Zhang. “When you are falling through the air, you have nothing to fear, nothing to worry, nothing to care or even think about.”
Diving is a reoccurring theme in Zhang’s life. Her most recent experience was when she dove into a lake in the southern part of China and took under water photographs for National Geographic.
Zhang said, “It was difficult because we had to get approval from a number of experts before diving in the lake. We were talking to experts in biology and archaeology. When we were finally certified to dive in the lake, it was all worth it.”
The “we” Zhang is referring to is herself and her instructor, Qiang Li Ghang. Ghang is a professional photographer and chose Zhang as his unofficial assistant for a year. Ghang was so impressed with Zhang’s work; he hooked her up with the gig of a lifetime, working for National Geographic.
Ghang said, “Xue has a natural eye for photography. She is patient and very observant. These are two attributes that are critical in a successful photographer. I have seen her capture beautiful moments and her skills are only getting stronger.”
Zhang was also hooked up with the National Geographic scholarship because she was the honors student in her district for her high school in Beijing. Zhang’s school flew her out to Russia for free, and paid for her travel and boarding fees. A pretty good deal, considering National Geographic was also paying her 700$ dollars per image.
Zhang said, “I wasn’t nervous for the scholarship that summer. Sure I was leaving my family for the first time, but I had the opportunity to go see another world and then come back and share the experience with them. I would have so much regret if I did not go.”
Working for National Geographic is an experience that Zhang feels will benefit her in the long run. One of Zhang’s biggest life goals is to own her own photography studio.
Zhang said, “I am a finance major in Questrom. I enjoy learning that material, but math has always been a means to an end for me. In the future, I see myself working for a couple years in finance, but only to get the money to go to graduate school and start up my own photography studio.”
Jumping out of a plane is a walk in the park for Zhang. The transition between school and work is what really jumps her bones.
“It’s scary,” said Zhang. “Entry level jobs do not pay very well and I will be independently supporting myself straight out of college.”
Zhang is practical about her future, she knows the transition between school and work will be difficult, so she has already started saving money for after college. For this reason, playing the stocks is part of Zhang’s daily routine.
“Go to class, hit the gym, meet up with friends and then go home to deal with stocks,” Zhang said is her typical day-to-day schedule. “My dad taught me how to deal with stocks in high school. I have a pretty big portfolio now. I manage about 52 stocks and I’ve made a decent profit.”
Stocks are a source of revenue that Zhang will continue to grow throughout the duration of her life. Zhang is realistic about her photography career. She said, “photography isn’t a practical career anymore. Today, anyone can take a photo on their phone, so people are less likely to hire professional photographers unless they are having a special event like a wedding. The last thing I want to do is be a wedding photographer.”
Weddings are an element Zhang does not see at all in her future. When asked if she sees marriage and kids in her life, Zhang replied “no, at least not for now.”
Settling down is not on Zhang’s priority list. In fact, she wants to maximize the amount of freedom she has. For this reason, Zhang works very hard in school and takes advantage of every opportunity given to her.
Photography is a practice that has brought Zhang an abundance of freedom in her life. Zhang received her first camera from her father in high school. Zhang’s father purchased this camera when Zhang was born and used it to photograph her earliest years as a child.
“It was such a blessing when my father gave me my first camera,” said Zhang. “I ran around my village in Beijing taking photograph’s of scenery and people. I was a beginner of course so most of the photos are garbage.” Zhang laughed at herself.
Now, Zhang has had a ton of practice taking photographs and she has gotten pretty good to say the least. When asked what the key to taking a good photograph is, Zhang said, “Whether you are photographing people or scenery, it’s all about capturing the right moment.”
Zhang said, “It requires a lot of patience. If you are photographing people, you want to capture a moment of eye contact or true emotion. If you are photographing nature, you need to be alert, because a moment of beauty can pass in an instant.” Zhang’s patience was put to the test when she was working for National Geographic and had an assignment to photograph lightening in southern China.
Zhang said, “I had been waiting for an hour for lightening to strike. Not to mention it was raining. There were a couple of little strikes, but what makes an amazing photograph is capturing the biggest and brightest strike.”
Patience is one of the many important virtues that Xue learned from her grandfather, when she lived with him over a summer break in high school. This was an experience that Zhang treasures to this day.
Zhang said, “I lived with my grandfather because I had to take summer classes and he was closer to my school. Initially I was dreading the experience, but I am happy I went because I learned how to get along with someone two or three times my age. Despite our age difference, we found we have a lot of things in common.”
Zhang and her grandfather discovered their mutual love for Chinese opera. That summer, the two of them went to a performance almost every day. “I think that going to see those performances actually contributed to my photography skills. I gained a better appreciation for culture and I learned how to spot the really special moments in life” said Zhang.
When Zhang and her grandfather were not attending the opera, they were training Lulu their pet bird to talk. Lulu got so good, that he actually became a flirt and would hit on the girls that came into the house. That is, if the girls were up to his standards.
“It depends on a person’s appearance and tone of voice,” said Zhang. “If someone is wearing bright colors and has a high pitched voice, Lulu will say ‘hey girl, you look good today’.”
Lulu likely got his charm from Zhang, because Zhang is kind and welcoming to everyone she meets. Zhang said, “As an only child, I take making new friends very seriously. I try to be friendly to everyone because you never know where you will meet someone.”
Zhang can speak English, Mandarin, Cantonese and French, so she can meet friends fairly internationally. Zhang has made many friends around the world as she has traveled and she does not plan on stopping anytime soon.