Samuel Li knows how to find Madison’s good side

Madison looks magical through Samuel Li’s lens.
Photo of the Wisconsin capitol
Photographer Sam Li shared some of his beautiful photos and information about his inspiration in the magazine. (March 2021)
Courtesy of Sam Li

Madison looks magical through Samuel Li’s lens. The cinematographer and photographer knows how to find the city’s best angles, whether from eye level or 300 feet in the air, showcasing some of the city’s prettiest sights.

A University of Wisconsin–Madison graduate originally from Appleton, Li bought his first camera in 2015 as a hobbyist. By the time he graduated college in 2018, he knew photography and cinematography were his true passions.

“I started to get this library of really cool photos of Madison, and I was like, ‘Why am I not selling these photos?’ ”

So he opened up an online print shop. “And I immediately sold no prints,” he says.

It wasn’t until December 2018 that his work started to get noticed on social media. Using a DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone, Li found a way to show off Madison like he saw other photographers do in big cities like Chicago, New York and San Francisco. “People use a drone to take photos of the city during dusk,” he says. “Right when the sun sets, you get, like, a magical moment of about 15 minutes where the lighting is perfect.”

full view of the isthmus in the fall

One of his favorite shots is this photo he took with his drone overlooking the isthmus. (Courtesy of Sam Li)

Li is certified to fly a drone commercially and requests Federal Aviation Administration drone authorization ahead of flights.

“They’ve become incredibly popular now, but not everybody had one just two years ago,” he says.

He’s captured photos and videos from some pretty jaw-dropping views, particularly involving the Wisconsin State Capitol building. Li’s photos show close-up shots of the gold-gilded Wisconsin statue, full moons, rainbows and snow surrounding the granite dome, as well as other iconic views of the isthmus.

rainbow extending from the top of the capitol

Courtesy of Sam Li

“I think it’s pretty obvious what my favorite subject is — it’s definitely the Capitol,” he says. “I’ve shot it so much over the past years since I picked up a camera, and I’ve been able to find so many cool and unique angles. And I’m still finding really cool angles to shoot that building. The possibilities are kind of endless.”

A job at Epic Systems Corp. lasted a year until Li felt comfortable leaving to pursue a freelance career full time in 2019. He’s sold over 1,000 prints, amassed more than 20,000 followers on Instagram (@samuelli) and 19,300 on TikTok (@thesamli), and his commercial work is growing. He’s booked gigs with Travel Wisconsin, a Milwaukee production company and a few other big Wisconsin clients. “Even with the pandemic, it’s been incredibly successful and I’m so thankful for everyone in Madison who has supported me,” he says.

Wisconsin cheerleader running a Wisconsin flag down the end zone

“It was a crazy game,” Li says. “The crowd was going wild. The atmosphere was crazy. I got, at that time, some of the best footage and photos I had ever taken in my life.” (Courtesy of Sam Li)

He’d like to start traveling again in 2021 and 2022 and create content all over the world. But he’ll never lose sight of why he fell in love with photography and cinematography in the first place, starting with the work he’s done in Madison.

“Whether it be a rainbow over the Capitol or the perfect sunset or the first snowfall of the year — there are so many magical moments that happen that I’m so excited to capture with my camera,” he says.

Sam Li in front of the State Capitol on State Street

Samuel Li has been showing Madison from many angles with his photography. (Courtesy of Sam Li)

Andrea Behling is the editor of Madison Magazine.Magazine footer that says "Like this article, get so much more by subscribing"