Shooting Shanghai: From The Streets to the Clouds

Photo Diary Shooting Shanghai: From The Streets to the Clouds

Portrait and event photographer Skinny, aka Karston Tannis, is always on the go. Whether he’s shooting street style in New York City or documenting an escape to a remote island in the Maldives for W Hotels, this artist comes to a new city with eyes open, ready to capture the secrets of a city. But for Tannis, visiting Shanghai was a whole new type of adventure. With neon views, a captivating fashion culture, and a constant pull between the old and new world, this city tells a story at every turn.

Take an exclusive tour around the new W Shanghai with a photographer that’s looking at the Chinese city from a new angle, experiencing the epicness of Shanghai from the streets to the clouds.

Skinny basking in the breathtaking view from W Shanghai.

You travel around the world photographing for W Hotels. What immediately struck you about Shanghai that is different from other cities?


I love that each property incorporates local characteristics and history into its design. Upon arrival, you are immediately immersed in the culture of Shanghai. From the neon lights in the laneways to the Shanganese Hot Flasks in the decor. Can we also talk about the view? One word, SPECTACULAR! Every night is a light show.


What are three things you must have when traveling to a new city to photograph?


When traveling to a new city, I always bring my camera, drone, and laptop. These items allow me to create endlessly with the ability to be mobile.


What are 3 words to describe your personal photography style?


Three words that describe my personal photography style… Environmental, portraiture, journalistic. I like to capture people on location. Using each element to tell a story with a sense of place.

Captured Nana taking in the sights, while floating around The Bund on a neon boat.

What is the first thing you like to do when you get to a new city?


When I arrive in a new city, the first thing I do after I drop my luggage off is roam the streets. I’ll walk until fatigue or hunger sets in. Just observing and absorbing the scene.


What was a typical day to night while you were visiting Shanghai?


Wow, I’m not sure anything we did in Shanghai was typical. During the day there were various activities to partake in from visiting local design and music inspiration to rooftop yoga and spin class. At night we spent the evening sipping amazing cocktails near the pool, and floated around the bund aboard a neon party boat. The opening party was also an insane experience.  Such a good time!

The lights on the staircase are activated by motion. They're angels lighting the way for every step.
Karen Kho mesmerized by the neon laneways.

How did the design of the new W Shanghai inspire the images you took?


The design of W Shanghai inspired and challenged me to incorporate the elements into my photographs from unique perspectives. When shooting I start by capturing the normal points of view. From there I will actively seek angles that play with composition and light.


What is your favorite design element in the hotel and how did it connect with the city?


My favorite design element at W Shanghai is the neon clothing and signs hanging in the Laneways. These elements replicate the narrow alleys of Shanghai and are viewable from different areas around the hotel.


You got the opportunity to photograph some of the epic styles of Xu Zhi on the roof. How did these images capture the personality of Shanghai?


The styles of Xu Zhi are amazing. The fabrics have rich textures, fine materials, and patterns which are inspired by the Shanghainese culture.

I love the decor of each restaurant. Comfortable with views of the town.
Take a second to unwind at the soothing spa at W Shanghai.
Stumbled upon a secret garden where adventure awaits.

What’s one thing you kept as a souvenir from your trip?


One souvenir kept was an led light projector emblazoned with “electrify the night”. I use it religiously.


What is your favorite memory of Shanghai that you will take home with you?


My favorite memory of Shanghai was getting access to one of the tallest building rooftops I’ve ever been on. It was quite peaceful up there, very calming, views for miles.

Embracing the rooftop views that go beyond what the eyes can see.