There’s a reason that Jennifer Bin has amassed tens and thousands of followers on 500px. People are simply naturally drawn to this Shanghai-based photographer, whose effortlessly cool aesthetic breathes and lives in her own photography. Odds are, you’ve already seen her work on the Popular and Editors’ Choice pages week after week—striking vertical compositions shot from high, geometric angles, bathed in cool tones and unexpected patterns. Her cityscapes and street scenes are bursting with the vibe, drama, and excitement that most photographers can only hope to achieve in their images. Unlike most of the gimmicky rooftopping or street shots we’ve seen before, her pictures don’t just give you an instant rush or make you weak in the knees…they also make you see the world—her world—differently.
It’s not just her photos that speak to us; it’s also her bold, fearless personality which fuels her own passion for photography, architecture, and art. Intrigued? Scroll down to get the full stories behind some of her epic photos. Then, read on for an exclusive Q&A with the photographer herself so you can get to know her better.
“This photo feels a little bit like looking down into an abyss. I almost fell over the railing trying to this shot.”
“When we got to this roof, I was struck by how bright the antennas of the neighboring building was. The light was brightly reflected on the glossy floor, which made for a great contrast background for my friend, who is the subject of this shot.”
“I love reflections and single point perspective, so this is a double whammy in my books.”
“A bunch of my friends and I woke up extra extra early to get to this bridge for sunrise. This is one of my favorite sunrises of 2016.”
“This is probably the most challenging photo I’ve taken. I tried getting this shot on three different occasions. The first time I climbed this antenna, it was way too dark to get a crisp shot. The second time I climbed, it was way too windy and my hands were shaking, so most of the shots came out blurry. The third and last time, I was on the roof by myself. I climbed halfway when it got really windy all of a sudden, and I was pretty terrified. I told myself to keep going since I’ve already spent so long trying to get this shot. And I did get the shot in the end.”
“Zaha Hadid is one of my favorite architects, and the Jockey Innovation Tower is one of her iconic works. The curved lines of the interiors lent well to my 16mm fisheye.”
“This is inside of an old medical facility. We found actual baby corpses preserved in formaldehyde in this building. I’m glad I got the shots that I wanted, because I am never going back there.”
“This one is actually shot on my iPhone 6 with the Cortex Cam app. I waited almost 20 minutes for this security to step into frame.”
“It started raining while I was on this roof, so much so that there were rain droplets on almost all my shots. I quite like the way the droplets looked in the photo, so I kept them in there.”
“I really like the way these three figures are contrasted against the three iconic buildings of Shanghai in this shot.”
Q&A with Jennifer Bin
How did you get started with photography?
I’ve always been a casual photographer, usually taking photos on my phone, and whenever I travel. As a designer, I gravitate towards strong visual imagery, so photography has always interested me when it comes to composition and colors. The moment when I really started taking photography more seriously is when I moved to Shanghai. I didn’t know a lot of people when I just moved here, so I went to one of the Shanghai Instameets. I ended up meeting a lot of my friends there. Since then, my photography as really grown through hanging out with a bunch of great people and also our common interest in exploring the city.
What it’s like being a street photographer in Shanghai?
What I really enjoy about shooting in Shanghai is the variety of different subjects to shoot. Shanghai is often referred to by many as a very futuristic city. A lot of the time people think that photos of Shanghai have a Blade Runner vibe. Shanghai definitely has a good amount of avant-garde architecture, vertigo-inducing rooftops, and a very iconic skyline. However, one of the things I love most about Shanghai is how it managed to retain a lot of culture and history within the city. I like to get up early in the mornings and shoot my Shanghainese neighbors in the historic longtangs going about their day. I would say one of the few negatives about Shanghai is how far apart the photogenic spots are from each other. Most of the new architecture is way out in the suburbs, where it would take over 2 hours to get to.
When it comes to cityscapes, we noticed you mostly shoot at night. Are there any differences for you shooting in the day compared to shooting at night?
I prefer the way the city looks at night, especially on a clear day. I want the imagery I make to look futuristic and a little out of this world. I find that evening cityscapes really help give this vibe. My daytime photos tend to be more flat and more grey-toned, which gives a dystopian feeling. My nighttime photos tend to be more colorful and vibrant. They’re more optimistic and heterotopian.
What are some of your favorite places to shoot?
Chongqing has been my favorite place this year. Lots of bridges. Lots of buildings. I really enjoy the layered cityscapes with the mountains. The people are also very welcoming, and the food is very delicious.
What gear is always in your camera bag?
I’m currently using two cameras—a Sony A7 and a Ricoh GR 2. For my A7, I have a 35mm, a 50mm, and a 16mm fisheye in addition to a 12-24mm. I would say I shoot almost exclusively on the GR2. The compact size and portability means that it’s always on me. In terms of post-processing, I’m obsessed with the A9 filter in VSCOCam. I’ll do the tonal adjustments first in Lightroom. But for the right color, I’ll always throw on the A9 filter in the VSCO app.
Are there any challenges to being a girl in the rooftopping or street photography scene?
I think the challenges I encountered in both the rooftop and street photography scene don’t stem from my gender, but rather my own limitations as a creative person. I never thought of rooftopping as a male sport, so I’ve never approached it with the mentality of being a “girl in rooftopping”. I think the things that scare people about rooftopping have nothing to do with what gender you are or identify with. Fear of heights, fear of having to trespass, fear of getting caught—these are universal fears that a lot of people have, no matter what gender they are.
How then did you overcome these creative limitations you faced?
One of the biggest challenges I had to overcome is finding my own aesthetic. I think it’s very easy to give in to photography trends, particularly in rooftop photography where you see a lot of feet dangling shots. It’s tempting to take these types of photos because these photos tend to do very well on social media, and I’ve caved probably one too many times myself. However, since so many people hit the same spots and get the same vantages, I think it’s way more fun to try to get something different. In my photos, I try to look for strong geometry and patterns. I really play up the architectural nature of these rooftops.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten about your photography?
Surround yourself with the right people, and always shoot with intention.
To see more of her mesmerizing work, follow her on 500px. Or visit her personal website, Instagram, or Tumblr. Got a question for Jennifer about her process, her work, and her story? Leave a comment for her below!