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Capturing the Beauty of the Earth

The Great Wall of China under moonlight, just before dawn.

Photos from the top: Henry Ng's self-portrait, taken four years ago in China's Guangxi province; Rice patties near the town of Yuan Yang in China's Yunnan province, 100 miles north of the border with Vietnam. Ng says the area is so remote and mountainous that China didn't know it was inhabited until the government built a road to the area in the 1980s; Rowing in the morning mist on a lake 300 miles noth of Vancouver, Canada. Ng and his friends knocked on doors the day before to find a resident willing to get up early in the morning and take his boat out on the water for this photo.
Henry Ng was just a senior in college when he earned his first award in an international photography competition. Ng’s first-place shot captured a fellow CUA undergraduate walking through the snow beside the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Since then, he has gone on to do what others can only dream about: create art of the highest quality despite holding down a demanding non-artistic career and attending to his family.

Though photography is his hobby rather than his career, that doesn’t mean his pictures aren’t world-class: In 2005 he was named the world’s No. 1 photographer in the category of color slides, a ranking tallied by the Photographic Society of America and based on the number of Ng’s images accepted into International Exhibition of Photography competitions held in several dozen countries. He was also ranked No. 1 in the world in the category of travel photography in 2005 and 2006. Individual photos of his have been voted the best single entry in 50 international photography exhibitions since 2003.

Ng entered the freshman class at Catholic University just one year after he and his parents immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong. Earning his Bachelor of Electrical Engineering degree in 1973, he went on to work for the federal government for 32 years. The last 10 of those years he was head of the Distributive Information Systems section of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, retiring last year. He and his wife, Tracy, are also the parents of four children, ages 16 to 22.

Ng has taken photographs in many countries, but specializes in China. Part of his motivation is the desire to capture and conserve images of that country’s unspoiled landscapes. “In America we understand the need to preserve areas of natural beauty,” he explains. “In China, it’s different. Their culture is growing so fast and so many things are new to them that they haven’t understood the need for preservation. Two years ago, I took photos of a beautiful mountain forest in China and I recently went back and it’s not there anymore. It’s now an amusement park. The world is so beautiful, but when these things are gone, they’re gone.

“I don’t want to just take a picture,” Ng says, “but to convey what I see. I want to let people see some passion and emotion in the picture.”

He is willing to go to great lengths to convey these things, and not just the lengths of trying many different camera angles and exposure levels.

Ng tells a story of taking photos of a small Chinese village at sunrise a few years ago: “It was very picturesque, but there was one thing that was missing: There was no smoke coming from the chimneys of the houses. We discovered that the villagers only started cooking around 9 in the morning, but by then the light was no longer good for photography.”

He asked the villagers if they could cook earlier, at 7:30 in the morning, so he and his photographer friends could get better pictures. To his surprise, they said yes.

“They were so gracious and wouldn’t accept any money for complying with our request,” he remembers.

Early the next morning Ng and his fellow photographers climbed the hill above the village and used cell phones to call the villagers, telling them to start cooking.

“The smoke curling out of the chimney was beautiful, just the right touch for the picture I had envisioned when I first saw the scene,” Ng recalls. — R.W.

At left: A pool in historic Hong Cun village, where the 2003 movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" as filmed, 200 miles west of Shanghai. Ng got this panoramic effect by taking seven or eight photos of this scene and stitching them together using photographic software; A shot of the same circular pool and houses in Hong Cun village, this time capturing a peaceful evening mood.

The desert of China's Xinjiang province, near the border with Mongolia and Russia. The second largest "moving" or sand desert in the world, it is 1,000 kilometers wide and 600 kilometers high.

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Revised: August 2008

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