Vogue made easy: Belgian teacher reveals secrets of pro photography

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Vogue made easy: Belgian teacher reveals secrets of pro photography

The photographer stood before his students and a wall of lights and equipment ― flashes and filters and black power boxes ― that he explained one by one. Dragging cables across the white studio floor, he set up a flash lamp on a tripod before pulling a large rectangular cone of cloth over it, a “soft box” meant to diffuse the light. A back light with a filter, along with some large pieces of styrofoam used as reflectors, completed the setup. But just as the students were getting used to using the new lighting, the photographer took it all apart and made the students rebuild it.
“If I do it all, it’s too easy!” he said with a grin.
The photographer was Vincent Sung, a Belgian-Korean freelancer who has worked in Seoul since 1995. This month, he started offering classes for expatriate amateur and semi-professional photographers looking to improve their skills.
Last Saturday’s class was a lighting workshop for two of Mr. Sung’s advanced students.
He keeps asking, “Do you like this light? What would you do?” He emphasizes the individual creativity of the medium, leaving much to the students’ imaginations.
But even so, Mr. Sung is full of practical tips, such as “classical light, light on the right,” referring to lighting that uses the human eye’s tendency to travel from left to right.
“Every shooting is a challenge, so you have to know how to solve the problem,” he said. That means knowing your light. For instance, a static shoot is better off with mounted lights, but for a shoot where the model will be moving, it might be better to use a flash on the camera.
In one exercise, Mr. Sung has his students bring in a photograph they admire and try to duplicate it in the studio. Much of the afternoon was spent trying to coax the lights (and the models) into just the right positions.
The advanced workshop classes take place every Saturday at a fully-equipped basement photo studio inApgujeong. But Sung also teaches more basic classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays near Ewha Womans University, with morning and evening sessions to fit different schedules. These are aimed at advanced beginners looking for knowledge of the technical side of photography.
The regular classes are “not basic, but they’re more theoretical.”
“We don’t practice a lot,” Sung says, though he said he is planning to take these students on a location shoot soon.
In the future, Mr. Sung plans to run workshops on fashion photography and other specific styles, and to display the best of the students’ work at an expat photo exhibit. Mr. Sung only plans to allow four students maximum into the special workshops, while the regular classes currently have a roster of about five or six each.
Much fashion photography deliberatly seems unreal and out of reach of anyone but a seasoned professional. But Mr. Sung, dressed in a white chemise, black cargo pants and flip-flops, his long black hair pushed straight back as if swept by the wind, is an unpretentious and relaxed instructor, and shows just how accessible these images can be with the right equipment.
“Vincent’s teaching style is very relaxed and the practical experience was so useful,” Gina Smith, a student, wrote after the session.
“[These classes are] not like teacher-to-student. I just want to pass on my knowledge,” Mr. Sung says.
All the same, when one student referred to the photos as “just practice,” Mr. Sung said, “You must not think that. Your photos must be good. You might use these someday.”
Mr. Sung has been working in Korea as a photographer since 1995. Raised in Belgium, he speaks French, Flemish, English and “a little Korean.” His work has appeared in magazines, newspapers, advertisements and more. He’s also the owner of Seom, a wine bar in Sinchon, central Seoul, though he does not currently work there. He has also been known to DJ in Itaewon from time to time. Why split his time between so many different things? “Otherwise life would be boring,” he said.
Asked about his photographs, Mr. Sung said, “[I] use what is available to make a story.”
“Not too pretty, but aesthetic in its own way,” is how Mr. Sung describes his personal style. “Looks normal and clean, but there is something wrong in the photo.” He gave as an example a scene of a woman nearly kissing an older man while holding a knife.
By the time the five-hour workshop ended, the two students had learned how to set up a power pack, and how to use soft boxes, white and black reflectors, a honeycomb filter and an umbrella. Mr. Sung had allowed them to use only two lights, insisting that they were to keep things “simple.”
“I didn’t know any of this when I got here,” Ms. Smith said. And at the revelation that the next workshop would add one or two more lights to the mix, she predicted, “Next week’s going to be hell.”
At least the students can look forward to an experienced model: Next week, Mr. Sung says, the workshop will host a former Ms. Korea.

by Ben Applegate

Mr. Sung’s regular classes are Tuesdays and Thursdays, with a morning session from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and an evening session from 7 to 9 p.m. The workshop classes take place Saturday afternoons. For information, call (010) 3144-0312 or e-mail seoulproject@yahoo.com.
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