“…I deleted most of my posts on Instagram during the pandemic because I didn’t know if I would keep doing photography and wanted to focus on my mental health,” relates photographer David Choe to us in an interview. “Most of the jobs I had booked were canceled or rescheduled indefinitely, and I had no idea when I would be able to get back to doing creative portraits again…” Fortunately, David is in a much better spot now. That’s also great for us, because his creative portraits are a delicacy worth savoring.
When I look at David Choe’s photos, I immediately think of chrome prints that I’ve seen over the years. Steve McCurry often tries to have only three colors in a portrait, and that’s what I mostly see in David’s work. Combine that with him being a Fujifilm shooter, and it all mixes together into a treat worth waiting for.
The Essential Photography Gear of David Cho
- Fujifilm XT4
- Fujifilm X Pro 3
- Fujifilm XT3
- Samyang 12mm f2
- Fujifilm 16mm f1.4
- Fujifilm 18mm f2
- Fujifilm 23mm f1.4
- Fujifilm 35mm f1.4
- Fujifilm 56mm f1.2
- Fujifilm 60mm f2.4
- Fujifilm 90mm f2
- Fujifilm 50-140mm f2.8
- Flashpoint XPLOR 600
- Flashpoint eVOLV 200
- Flashpoint Zoom R2
- Nikon FE
I currently use a Fujifilm XT-4, XT-3, and X-Pro3 with the Samyang 12mm f2, Fujifilm 16mm f/1.4, 18mm f/2, 23mm f/1.4, 35mm f/1.4, 56mm f/1.2, 60mm f/2.4, 90mm f/2, and 50-140mm f/2.8. I mostly use the 35mm, 56mm and 90mm for portraits, but I have used all my lenses for portraits depending on the scene. For lighting I use the Flashpoint XPLOR 600, eVOLV 200, and Zoom R2 speedlight with various modifiers and gels. I like to carry around my X-Pro1 and X100 when I’m not working because I like the look of the straight out of camera jpeg files out of those particular sensors. I still have a Nikon D3 and D700 that I use as a backup for weddings and a Nikon FE for when I want to shoot 35mm.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.
David Choe: I got into photography in high school mostly taking pictures of my family and friends with disposable cameras and a Sony Cybershot point-and-shoot that my parents bought me for my birthday. When I started college I bought a Nikon D40 with a 50mm f/1.8 because I wanted a camera that was higher quality than my point and shoot and was curious to experiment with a DSLR which was new at the time. I loved how I could change exposure settings and see how each value affected the images. I would bring it with me everywhere I went and it taught me how to utilize light in all different environments and situations.
Phoblographer: What made you interested in portraiture?
David Choe: I shot a good bit of landscapes and nature when I first got my hands on a DSLR but I always felt like my photos were missing something compositionally. Adding a human element in my photos made it more interesting to me because it breathed more life in the frame. Eventually I started to focus on people’s faces and was fascinated by how different types of light can completely change how they look in camera. I would ask friends to model for me so I could test lights and loved the process of getting creative with portraits.
Phoblographer: When going through your portrait work, we found a strong emphasis on color. How big of a role does color play in your composition process? Do you create scenes based on it?
David Choe: Colors strike people in a different way, but red is such a bold and evocative color that I am drawn to it any time I see a shade of it. When I first started taking photos I didn’t put much thought into the use of color compositionally, but as I shot more I wanted to utilize colors in a more meaningful way to draw attention to certain parts of a frame. I try to use complementary colors if I can, and it is a crucial part of how I frame my shots now. Sometimes I’ll get lucky with scenes that have a complementary color or a similar color to a person’s piece of clothing and I try to take advantage of that. Other times I plan it out in advance and hope that it turns out the way I imagined it.
Phoblographer: your images seem to be inspired by painting, movies, and classic Kodakchrome prints. Where do you typically get your ideas from?
David Choe: I take a lot of inspiration from my favorite movies and portraits I see on Instagram. I’m a big fan of Kodak Portra and Ektachrome as well as Fujifilm Classic Chrome and Classic Negative film simulations. Most of the time I will emulate certain looks that I find interesting and put my own spin on it.
Phoblographer: Are flowers a favorite prop of yours? Can you tell us more about them, please?
David Choe: As a wedding photographer I’ve seen many bouquets and love the variety of flowers that go into making them. I wanted to see what those flowers would look like separated from the bouquet and have models use them in a different way than what a bride would in a wedding. Flowers are a favorite prop of mine because they add that pop of color that would be otherwise missing in the frame.
Phoblographer: Light or ideas: what is more important to you and why?
David Choe: I believe ideas are more important because you can have a well-lit scene and subject that isn’t necessarily interesting. Molding the light to fit an idea is easier than molding an idea to fit the lighting in a scene.
Phoblographer: How did the pandemic affect you creatively?
David Choe: Honestly, I deleted most of my posts on Instagram during the pandemic because I didn’t know if I would keep doing photography and wanted to focus on my mental health. Most of the jobs I had booked were canceled or rescheduled indefinitely, and I had no idea when I would be able to get back to doing creative portraits again. Thankfully we are in a better place now, so I am working my way to do more creative work and sharing it with everyone.
All images by David Choe. Used with permission. Be sure to check out more from David and his website, his Facebook page, his Instagram, and his business Instagram. Want to be featured? Find out how and apply.