#007 – The neon glowing nights of Seoul

It would be a good idea to share my thoughts as a photographer regarding my work and hopefully some insight to how I create my photos and what has worked for me. I believe that every photographer has some story to tell and I would like to provide some insight for anyone who is willing to listen to what I have to say.

To begin with, I never intended to become a photographer. In fact, I loathed the idea of calling myself one until a few years back. The reason for this reluctance is that these days I feel as though the term is overused by anyone capable to using social media and upload a few images. I do not say this to deter anyone, but at the time I didn’t want to be thought of as that type of person. I began by making YouTube videos and didn’t buy a ‘real’ camera until I upgraded to the Canon 60D for the DSLR look. During my time off I would take photos of food and of the scenery.

I believe that every photographer has some story to tell…

 

I didn’t seriously begin photography until I decided that I wanted to work on my first project involving timelapses of the city. During this time I would share my landscape and cityscape images and although they weren’t bad, they never did gain a whole lot of traction. Perhaps because there are just so many photographers doing the same thing. I did get my fifteen minutes of fame once I finished my timelapse project after three years of hard work, it even put me on the National Geographic spotlight and a position with Getty Images. I couldn’t be happier, but at the end of those fifteen minutes, there was nothing.

For me, I found that working on long term projects motivated me. I have never been the kind of person that chased short term goals. Therefore I am constantly thinking of new projects I can work on and perhaps share with others. During this whole time, I was able to push my equipment to the limit. For landscapes I learned the importance of a tripod and using filters, but most importantly, I learned that time of the day influenced my images more than anything. I shortly became no stranger to waking up at 4am to hike a mountain for the light.

If anything though, I think my full potential wasn’t realised until I first started using software for editing, specifically Adobe Lightroom. Though looking back now, I suppose the editing software doesn’t actually matter so much as long as you can manipulate the basics like exposure, shadows, highlights, saturation, and contrast etc. What is best that you can get free software and edit on your phone if you cannot afford computer software. More often than not I find myself simply editing and shooting on my phone and sharing right away. Most people cannot tell the difference between my phone images and those I shot with a DSLR.

I’ve been shooting since 2012 and despite originally being a landscape photographer, these days I shoot primarily night photos. Those images also widely define me as a photographer now. I have managed to carve myself a small piece in the photography world. What is funny to me is that I originally started doing this for myself, for fun. I had always liked night photography, but I simply never shared any of my photos with anyone. What interested me the most was architecture and cityscapes at night, but with a more urban or street twist to them. So I would fantasise about walking around late at night with a tripod and taking night photos of buildings, alleys, and anything that caught my attention. I bought a Fuji x100 because it was small, and wanted something more discreet than a DSLR to take night pictures.

I would fantasise about walking around late at night with a tripod and taking night photos of buildings, alleys, and anything that caught my attention.

 

So I started taking the night photos. I wasn’t crazy about my pictures at the time, they didn’t seem particularly special, but I liked them. It was just pictures at night of alleys, houses, and dimly lit streets around Seoul, but something was missing. One day I came across the works of photographers in Japan that used the theme of cyberpunk for inspiration for their images. I was particularly amazed by the works of Liam Wong and Masashi Wakui. Then it dawned on me, THAT was the look I was looking for but could not describe. Naturally I tried to learn as much as I could about their techniques and editing, but there was no information regarding any of that. So I began experimenting.

First I started using filters in front of my lens, but whenever I edited, the white balance simply reset the image to how it would look without the filter. I tried using lights and gels, but it was too much of an inconvenience. I started using a flash system with slaves and masters with coloured gels, but it was always so much trouble to set up. It also scared people walking by and would have them avoid walking down the street I was photographing. It is not to say that I didn’t find any value in learning to use these things; on the contrary I learned a lot. Mostly about the kinds of images I could produce such as using a flash in the rain or snow to capture the atmosphere better, or lighting an environment with lights and flash gel combos.

In the end however, I found that I liked being able to move easily and shoot a lot, and all I needed for that was my camera and some creative editing. Moreover, what I learned the most from my own experiences as a photographer was that the equipment was not as important as the image itself. At least in the type of photography I do now, gear is not so important. People will be shocked to learn that most of my best images were actually shot on my smartphone or on my 4/3rds sensor Fuji x100.

My social media exploded once I started posting these images. What was simply a hobby for myself became something else. Despite years of hard work as a landscape photographer, one season of sharing personal images led to a giant boost in recognition. I’d like to believe that I can really call myself a photographer now. I do not hold the same beliefs as I once did before.

My feelings now are that gear is not as important as the scene itself. If the scene is well lit, then any modern smart phone or camera will be able to take a good image. It’s all in the lighting. Of course, gear can make a difference, and this is of huge importance for photographers who specialise in things such as weddings or commercial shoots. As for myself though, since I shoot for myself as no one else, I use whichever camera is lightest and most discreet. Most of the time that is my phone.

… gear is not as important as the scene itself.

 

So if there are any aspiring photographers out there, I would like them to focus less on the gear, or any magic settings they think exist, and focus more on what you are taking a picture of. Whilst photographers may care about vignetting, chromatic aberration, sharpness or noise in their images – the truth is that the public doesn’t notice or care about those things. They are the ones who buy your images and prints for WHAT you shoot. Show integrity, always.


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