Kent Hwang photographs people being people on location: editorial, commercial, lifestyle, portrait, environmental, conceptual. And he does all of it EXTREMELY well. Here he talks about how he got started and some of the basics that have helped make his work a huge success.
Love and Water- How did you get started as a photographer?
Kent Hwang- I was at the University of of Hawaii studying biology, around ’94. The web was just starting, and people were making websites. That was a big part of our education at school, so a friend of mine and I started a web design company. The clients always needed photography, and digital was just starting. I was still playing with film, not to sell but as a hobby. We ended up working on a site for a local photographer, and after working on that for about two months solid I realized that I could do what he was doing with my own work. So I put a book together and showed it around Honolulu. The first photo I had published was a food shot I did, and it picked up from there. I decided to leave the island to see if I could get more work. Between the computer and the web and using photoshop, I began to really work with compositing.
L&W- What exactly is a composite shot?
KH- It’s when you layer a number of shots together to create a new composition. I’m playing a lot with high fashion right now because I’ve been working with models lately. So I’ve been able to try some really cool things in that area. It’s challenging but fun. There’s so much competition, and so I want to be different than the next person. I’m really enjoying it.
L&W- How would you describe your style?
KH- I guess I could say “bold light,” because I work so much with light in bold ways.
L&W- What is some advice you would give to photographers just starting?
KH- I wish people learned about film, and didn’t worry about digital in the beginning. Because there’s a mystery when you take a picture- you have no idea what’s going to come out. You can guess, but the more you do, the better it gets. Secondly, I would say learn about light and shadow. It’s so important, and I would learn as much as possible in whatever way you can from the beginning. And then I would say learn about business. Maybe even get an MBA. But light and learning to run a solid business are the best skills to have as a photographer, in my opinion.
L&W- What is a good way to learn about lighting?
KH- I say try to find someone established and assist. Watch how they deal with light, how they set up and what the end result is. I was a paramedic for a period of time on film sets, and had my photography business on the side. When I was on sets I could watch everyone setting up the lights and how they did it, and I soaked up all the tricks and techniques that I could. Then I’d watch the movies later and it all made sense. So I think if you can tag along with someone who knows what they’re doing, you can learn so much about where to begin and then develop your own style.
L&W- What is the most moving experience you’ve had so far?
KH- I think daily, when people appreciate my work, that’s moving to me. There was one shot in Hawaii that I was setting up for during the day and I was trying all sorts of things and all of a sudden this big dark cloud came in and changed everything. And I snapped the picture. I couldn’t do it any other time because the light was changing so fast. But that moment was so gratifying. It’s the shot of the guy in the water with the fishing pole on my site.