Being the good friend he is, Rocky asked me many questions. One question that really struck me was, “How do you want to photograph?” Almost in tears, I said, “I just want to take a simple portrait with one light.” One of my greatest passions in photography is to take compelling portraits. With a single light shining on them, I want to tell their story. What had been stopping me was my insecurities about how I would be able monetize it and keep our business alive. He challenged me to do it and I realized anything is completely possible when your heart is in the right place.
The timing of this first assignment was perfect for where I am at with myself, my heart, and my photography now.
I get asked a lot about how I got to shoot for the magazine. This post is my answer.
The point of this post is not to show off or to tell you about my talent but to share what I have learned. I learned a lot getting to this point in my career because there were a lot of things I tried that failed. Also, I am not an expert nor do I think of myself as one.
Photography was just a hobby. I loved it then. Since there was no money involved, it was fun and it was just something I just loved to do. When it became my job, photography also became work. It wasn’t for fun anymore and that attitude really affected my work. My photos were nothing more than an executed technique I had learned from someone else - it was not artistic nor was it my own - and I only did what worked for the business. In the end, people noticed and the business started to suffer.
Several months ago, I watched this video by Zack Arias, a photographer I really admire as a person and an artist. His talk really made me think about the way I approached my work. I realized I complicated it way too much with gear, techniques, and trends. My work had been defined by how much people “liked” my work and the attention I received from it. Sometimes, I did what everyone else was doing to stay “safe.”
I knew had to simplify my photography. I literally sold a ton of my gear and kept only the bare minimum. I cut out all of the noise and photographed the way I wanted to - simple and uniquely mine. It didn’t matter what others were doing or what the trends were. I used my passion to drive my work, not the other way around. The beauty of the subject itself was what to spoke me and that was what I wanted to capture. I realized it was never just about my gear or the photograph I took but about who or what was in front of my camera.
Show your passion.
Some of you may be really shocked to hear this, but I used to be a really a private person and I still have to work really hard at being more open. I personally didn’t like sharing about myself, especially what I do for living. Since I am an accountant-turned-photographer, it was easy for me to feel like a phony. I had never taken a photography class before buying my first DSLR 5 years ago and I am self-taught. Because of my insecurities, I held back when it came to sharing my work.
That all had to change when I became a full-time freelancer. I started reluctantly sharing my work to get jobs, but no one really cared. But once I started taking photographs that were meaningful to me and passionately sharing the photos that I loved, people started to notice and really listened. People love seeing the passion behind your work.
No one is perfect.
Sojung and I are both perfectionists. SOHOSTORY.com is the perfect example of this. We both want perfection for our website, which is why the look of it has changed so many times, and we hold ourselves to a high standard when it comes to our work. I think a lot of creatives struggle with holding themselves to this standard of “perfect.” It’s easy for us to tell others, “don’t be so hard on yourself,” but it’s so hard to give yourself grace.
I had to overcome the fear of not reaching my perfect standard and just get my work and myself out there. During this shoot for D Magazine, I only had about 15 mins to setup, shoot, and leave. It was my first official assignment so anything less than perfection would not do for me. After the photo shoot, I was scared thinking that D Magazine wouldn’t like my photos because it hadn’t been perfect and it had gone by so fast.