We love talking to global photographers in the local areas they call home. So, we were thrilled at the opportunity to sit down with photographer SeongJoon Cho. SeongJoon is an award-winning photographer who specializes in aerial photography in South Korea.
He is also an incredibly valued member of Shutterstock Custom, where he uses his photography skills to create custom content for clients around the world. This accomplished photographer has published multiple books on his work. People can also find his work in reputable publications including The New York Times and Time Magazine.
We caught up with SeongJoon to share a few words about how he earns money in photography in South Korea, his experience with Shutterstock Custom, and how he approaches his work. Here are a few words with South Korean photographer SeongJoon Cho.
Featured Photographer: SeongJoon Cho
Location: Seoul, South Korea
Thanks for sitting down to speak with us, SeongJoon! Tell us. How did you get started in photography?
I started my photography career as a college magazine’s photographer nearly 20 years ago in 1999. My first film camera was a Nikon FM2, and I completely fell in love working in the darkroom on it. I chose photography as my major because I believe that photographs can truly change the world. I got started in photography in South Korea because of that idea.
That’s amazing. And you’re based in South Korea. Is there a strong photography community there?
Absolutely. There are a ton of amateur or beginning photographers, as well as seasoned professional photographers. Really, photographers of all strengths and levels using new and old gear. South Korean people love association, and being a part of a community. There are so many different kinds of photography associations. They include associations built for amateur photographers looking to get started shooting for clients and themselves.
That’s really special. We love our community of photographers here at Shutterstock Custom. And you shoot a lot of Editorial work, which is quite unique for our network. What made you get started in that field?
I became a photographer because of a desire to do work as a photojournalist. My major in school was photojournalism, and as I mentioned I started my career as a college magazine’s photographer. That opportunity allowed me to really get started and grow in the field.
Do you have different methods of shooting when you are photographing for editorial vs. when you’re photographing commercial work?
I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily method, but it’s approach. When shooting editorial work, I can’t set up photos. It all happens organically, and I document what I see. However, having the skill to set up a shoot is a key skill for commercial photographers. That’s why my approach is completely different between editorial and commercial work.
We completely understand. Do you have a favorite type of photograph to shoot?
I really enjoy general documentary style candid photographs on the street. My job allows me to travel to a lot of countries around the world. With that opportunity, I get a chance to document different lives around the globe which is really special to me.
Traveling for your job and photography really is a gift. We have contributors around the globe, so we get what that’s like. Do you have a favorite place to photograph?
Well, I have a favorite place to photograph and a favorite activity to photograph! I love shooting people doing exercise really early in the morning when I travel around cities. Morning rituals with beautiful first morning light. Yangon, which is the capital of Myanmar, was by far the most exciting city to capture daily morning life in the park.
Myanmar sounds amazing. Photography can be competitive, I imagine it is in photography in South Korea as well! How do you stand out amongst other photographers there and beyond?
The fact that I shoot drone makes my work different than typical photography in South Korea. I first started my drone photography career in 2014. And the first time I had a drone photography exhibition was in South Korea. My drone photography book was published for the first time in South Korea. I would say I was the pioneer of Korea’s drone photography industry at the time, and it’s been incredible to see the industry grow.
Must have been really interesting to see that growth! What photographers are you inspired by?
Absolutely. Legendary photographers such as Sebastião Salgado, James Nachtwey, and Steve Mccurry were early heroes of mine when I was quite young. My perspective has changed slightly since then. I respect and admire any photographer creating great images that inspire people.
We couldn’t agree more. When it comes to gear, what do you tend to use?
As mentioned, I started my career in photography in South Korea with a Nikon FM2 film camera in 1999. Since 2000, however, I’ve shifted to using Canon gear. I’m currently using two Canon cameras depending on what I’m shooting. Either the Mark II 1DX or the 5D Mark IV, with many different variations of lenses. As I also shoot drone, I use DJI Drone gear. This includes the Inspire 2 and Phantom 4 Pro.
That’s some great gear and great drone gear! You have so much drone work in your portfolio. What inspired you to get started in drone photography?
I became inspired by the legendary French aerial photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand in 2004. That really spearheaded my passion. In order to take great aerial photographs, I needed to have access to a helicopter. Even though I work as a photojournalist, I don’t always have a lot of access to take photographs from a helicopter. When drones hit the market, I started seeing beautiful drone aerial photographs. That’s why in 2014, I immediately bought a drone without hesitation and never looked back.
That’s really amazing. We know there’s a lot of restrictions with using drones. Are they strict in regards to drone photography in South Korea on where you can fly them?
Definitely. The law is quite strict here in South Korea for using drones. There are a lot of no-fly zones, mostly near airports and borders. We can’t fly a drone in those areas without special permission. For any kind of aerial photograph, photographers in South Korea need to seek permission from our Defense Ministry. The good thing is that we can apply online nowadays, which makes it easier.
For more tips on drone restrictions, check out this blog post.
Wow, that’s dedication! And your book Drone-World from Above is very beautiful. Tell us why you published it.
Thank you! There are a lot of different photography books in South Korea, however, there wasn’t any specializing in drone photography solely. I saw an opportunity and built a book around that topic. A publishing company enjoyed my drone photographs, therefore my book was published!
That’s amazing. How did you get started at Shutterstock Custom?
A photo editor contacted me and suggested that I should work for Shutterstock Custom, and I’ve now been on the platform shooting for about six months.
Have you had a favorite project that you’ve worked on at Shutterstock Custom?
I worked on a few assignments shooting lifestyle images for an insurance company, which was definitely my favorite project I’ve worked on at Shutterstock Custom.
We loved your work from that campaign, as did the client. How did you build your client list? Any tips for up and coming photographers?
It’s actually really a simple concept. Make the best images you can every time, and clients will want to work with you again.
We couldn’t agree more. Are you working on any projects that you excited about at the moment?
I am always shooting a variety of subjects using my drone. My main goal is to capture a variety of different, authentic patterns in natural environments with my photography eye.
Last question before we head out. What advice would you give to aspiring photographers?
The photography industry can be extremely competitive. Being a well-known photographer doesn’t always necessarily last. Always develop yourself and your work so that you can survive and flourish in this competitive industry.
All photographs by SeongJoon Cho.