How Derek Tang Switched from Engineering to Instagram-famous Photography
April 12, 2023
Hong Kong-based photographer and content creator Derek Tang gave up a stable 9-6 job as a civil engineer and civil servant after questioning what he was striving for.
Realizing he was unhappy following instructions and regulations, and after travelling to Central and South America, the Hong Konger discovered his passion for photography and travelling.
Since the creator burst onto the YouTube scene and propelled himself into Instagram fame with his creative Reels, Derek has gained around 800,000 followers across his social media channels. His creativity has even led him to work with iconic brands such as the Hong Kong Tourism Board, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Sony, and more.
The Beat Asia tapped Derek for a conversation to explore his inspiring story of how he found his passion for creating video magic.
What prompted your career change from civil engineering to photography and content creation in 2019?
Civil engineering is all about following rules and regulations. When I was studying in university, it was fun because you create designs and make calculations. Working for many years, however, you realise it’s all laws, and no creativity is needed. That’s what depressed me the most about it.
I escaped engineering in 2019, but I was in a dilemma, because now I have to worry about money, unlike before. After the stress of three years training to be an engineer, I wanted to rest – that brought me to my travels for 88 days in Central and South America.
What drove your passions in travel and photography to begin your YouTube channel?
After you travel somewhere, it's very hard for you to take out all the photos and recall your memories. I began recording all my adventures in Central and South America with video, because it’s not an easy place to travel to for Hong Kongers. I uploaded my travel diaries on YouTube in vlogs, without thinking about creating a career out of this.
I met many people during that trip. Some had their own businesses, some are influencers, some ran travel blogs. They told me that there is not only one way to live your life. It's not the thing your parents told you; it’s not the stereotype that Hong Kongers have.
I quit my job and began creating on YouTube to sustain my life!
What are the differences between your YouTube channel and Instagram page?
On Instagram, I teach people how to shoot with creative angles and techniques with reels. During COVID, I was able to learn and use the techniques of these amazing travel influencers I followed to put them to use in my Reels.
My YouTube channel captures the reality of travelling, but takes inspiration from cinematic travellers such as Peter McKinnon. This allows me to grow my photography business too.
Judging from your creative Instagram reel tutorials, what would you see is your unique characteristic of your photography brand as Derek Tang?
I specialize in creating short form and engaging content, to teach people how to take better photos and videos with their phones
With your career and international online presence, do you view your travels and photography interlinked with each other?
Before, I still needed to travel to be a photographer and create content for my travels on YouTube vlogs. At this moment and this year, I'm not travelling a lot because I want to create more content for Hong Kong and start creating things that are not related to travel, like cars, hotels, watches, and the likes.
What side of Hong Kong do you want to capture in 2023?
Still, I am not sure, but I want to apply the creative techniques in Hong Kong, so I'm still searching for places [laughs]! However, creating a photo book to capture the moments in Hong Kong has always been on my list.
Where is your favourite place in Hong Kong to capture?
The Star Ferry! Hong Kong is a very fast-paced city, but when you travel across Victoria Harbour on the ferry, you are doing nothing and hear nothing. It’s a special time when life slows down and you can reflect on your day and work. It’s only four minutes, but it’s luxurious time.
Do you prefer slow travel?
Of course! Because you immerse yourself in the culture and actual society. I wanted to stay in Japan for a month in spring, experience the full blossom of the whole Sakura season. Unfortunately, I cannot time it, so hopefully next year!
And finally, what are you most excited about this year?
I never want to stop creating!
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