The Urban Jungle: Tyson Wheatley

Tyson Wheatley is an American photographer, involved in media, journalism and advertising. As a journalist, he worked with CNN for 11 years while based in Hong Kong. He has also worked in advertising with clients like Ford, Cathay Pacific, Bloomingdales, amongst several others. He has even worked as a director at the Instagram office in San Francisco! His work often explores the relationship between the urban and natural landscape. When photographing people, he truly displays his ability to portray his subjects in their own environment- honestly and without fear. Often their faces are hidden from the viewer but they always emphasize their emotions through their posture, clothing, movement. 

What do you think about the changing landscape of advertising and its effect on the role of photography in advertising? Is photography moving towards more commercial, more consumer, both, etc.?

Tyson Wheatley: The clients I represent tend to value high quality, creativity and good storytelling – but above all they value authenticity. Consumers know when something feels forced and brands do too. The push to more authentic experiences is something we will continue to see in native advertising on mobile platforms such as Instagram.     

What are your favorite types of scenes, cities, subjects to photograph?

T.W.: I’m a city boy who loves nature – so I suppose my favorite scenes are ones where natural and human-made environments collide. That’s probably why I love photographing Hong Kong so much. Unless you’ve been there you might not realize how much green space surrounds the city. 

I’m probably most drawn to architecture and design and dramatic landscapes – which is why cities like Hong Kong have a special place in my heart. I love to explore and capture places and cultures I’m visiting for the first time.   

Do you think that Hong Kong (or other countries you’ve visited such as Vietnam) have a different type of “Instagram culture” or perception overall of photography? (Is it serving different niches, or represented in media differently, than it would in, say, America?)

T.W.: Instagram culture in Europe is a little different than in the US. European Instagrammers seem a little older and more forgiving to product advertising. I think brands in Asia are just now starting to understand the power of Instagram – but suspect they will catch on quickly.

An authentic passion to create something new and interesting – no matter the format.


Do you have any advice for Instagrammers who want to raise the bar on the quality and skill of their shots?

T.W.: The key is in the edit – including self-editing. Take as many photos as you can but only share the very best. Consistency in style, tone and quality go a long way. As for image editing – there are apps that can help – VSCO, Priime, Snapseed, Afterlight all have good filters and tools – but keep it simple.    

Do you have any advice for anyone thinking about going into media services/working with advertising agencies?

T.W.: The people I know having real success in this field have a common trait – an authentic passion to create something new and interesting – no matter the format. There are well-know formulas to making a popular Instagram – I think the key is making content that stands out from the rest.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset PHOTO CREDIT: TYSON WHEATLEY



Can you give me a couple recommendations in terms of top vacationing/touring spots amidst all the countries you’ve been to?

T.W.: I just got back from the Faroe Islands and that was an incredible place to discover. It’s a remarkably untouched landscape but relatively easy to explore with a rental car and some good hiking boots.    

What would you say to people who’ve spent their whole lives living in one town and have never considered traveling outside their state or country?

T.W.: Do whatever you can to make traveling a priority. It’s one of the most rewarding and worthwhile experiences you can have and will enrich your life and hopefully the lives of the people you meet.

Do you have any interesting stories about adjusting to your new life, alone in a foreign country? (Language barrier, culture barrier, inspiring architecture, etc.)

T.W.: Living in foreign countries is part of my DNA I think. My dad was an officer in the US Air Force and was stationed at military bases throughout Europe for most of my childhood. We’d move to a new base every two or three years. I went to schools in Germany, Italy and England.

My parents really embraced the nomadic lifestyle. With each move they made an effort to learn the language and customs and explored life beyond the military base. It was hard saying goodbye to friends but my parents made moving to a new country feel like an adventure.   

When I moved to Hong Kong I tried to embody that same spirit. The pace of life there is quicker, the streets are more crowded. The housing is literally on top of itself. But I found Hong Kong to be a remarkably livable city. It’s incredibly safe and easy to get around. Most people speak English so language was rarely a barrier. Every modern convenience, great healthcare. It’s probably one of the easier introductions to Asia a Westerner can have.

What surprised me about Hong Kong was how visually unique it is – a stunning cityscape of towers tightly perched along mountainous jungle terrain and surrounded by sea. I was immediately inspired to start sharing images of my new life and city.

Do you find travel a large component of your current career path?

T.W.: This past year or so has been pretty nuts. I’ve been to 11 countries and three continents and I seem to never sit still for too long. I get great personal satisfaction from travel and exploring new places and meeting people so I feel incredibly fortunate to have opportunities to travel while working.

For a full mindmap behind this article with articles, videos, and documents see #photography

In your TedTalk you explained how you founded the first Hong Kong InstaMeets when you started connecting with others over Instagram and realized that there was a niche culture that existed across the app of meeting up in real life for photoshoots.

What was it like starting one from scratch? What would a newcomer find difficult/look forward to during an Instameet?

T.W.: Organizing InstaMeets in Hong Kong is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had – and challenged me to get out of my comfort zone and explore parts of the city I might not otherwise have visited on my own.

InstaMeets are fairly easy to put together – just pick a spot and time and tell people about it. The key is having a clear plan, keeping the vibes friendly, and having an open mind to new experiences. Also, name tags. Don’t forget name tags. 


What does an ideal day for you look like?

T.W.:The perfect day for me goes something like this: wake before sunrise and meet a friend to go shooting together, followed by a hearty breakfast. I tend not to do much during the middle of the day so a nap would be amazing If I can squeeze one in. An hour or two of emails or editing photos with a cup a coffee followed by an afternoon trail run. Grab the camera and hit golden hour then have dinner or catch a movie with friends or family. Chill AF.

What surprised me about Hong Kong was how visually unique it is – a stunning cityscape of towers tightly perched along mountainous jungle terrain and surrounded by sea. 

Processed with VSCOcam with a8 preset PHOTO CREDIT: TYSON WHEATLEY 



Inputs by Ameera Khorakiwala

About the Author /

I'm a New York University senior currently studying philosophy and politics with a minor in Business Studies. I'm passionate about how marketing and entrepreneurship merge to influence everyday society and sustainable development, so I spent the last year working among multinational startups at a marketing firm in Shanghai during my year studying abroad. Having spent 15 years of dedicated training as a Classical Pianist, I've learn to integrate discipline and concentration into my daily routine. Whether it's learning to code HTML and Processing by hand, experimenting with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, or just learning Oil-Painting, I constantly strive to improve my creative abilities and story-telling skills. I looks forward to helping organizations capitalize on social-media-enabled campaigns to make a positive, sustainable impact on the world.


  • Claude Forthomme

    April 19, 2016

    “Hit the golden hour”: obviously this very talented man’s motto, but, if you think of it, it could work for anyone…Thanks for an excellent interview and a selection of great photographs!

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