The Shadow Photographers #4: Joel Han


If I had to describe Joel in one word it would be “comic.” He knows the very artistry of comedy and instills that characteristic into his photos and projects. His travels and video work always inspire me, and as a hybrid photo-video photographer. His work is inspired by his background in jazz music, with spontaneity and improvisation being a key part of his work. Let me introduce you to Joel.

Q. What got you into photography?

I travel quite often; and photography is one of those skills you naturally acquire as you travel. Going to an exotic place and being in the moment is one thing; photos, however, are eternal. They are the only solid evidence to peers that you, as a living conscience, existed at that moment at a specific location and time. I wanted to make a visual timeline of my unique life and share it with others. That being said, what really got me into photography was a classic case of father and son relationship.  It’s weird now that I think about it; I used to loathe and question my father’s hobbies and taste. Jazz and photography were some of the things he really enjoyed. Now what do you know, I became exactly what I used to hate as a child. One of my favorite ways to kill time is to appreciate good photography and whiskey while listening to Jazz. You can’t fool your own blood I guess.

Q. How would you classify your style?

Before I describe my style, I would like to point out that I categorize myself more as a digital artist than a photographer.  Photographers are way more sophisticated and deserve much more respect than the likes of me. And because of that, my style tends to shift towards to more in an artistic approach rather than technical. It’s really hard to classify one’s style; but my works always tend to include hints of sentimental emotion and nostalgia. Few words I would use to describe my style would be: pensive, colorful, cultured, reminiscent, innocent, and sometimes even humorous.

Joel, left.

Q. What do you think when you shoot?

I actually don’t think a lot when I shoot. I am more of a ‘trust-in-instincts’ kind of guy. In fact, while a lot of photographers know their technical stuff, I have no idea, per say, how shutter speed or aperture works. In fact, most of the time I shoot on auto. I look through the viewfinder, and if it looks good, I shoot away. I tend to get better results like that. That being said, listening to music or thinking about a particular emotion helps me capture the mood I want in my works.

Q. What was your motivation for going to Cambodia? What did you see there through your lens?

As said before, traveling is one of my hobbies. After traveling to all the marvelous places throughout Asia and Europe, I wanted something different. I decided to go to Cambodia last summer for many different reasons. One, unlike majority of other places I’ve been to, Cambodia was a 3rd world country. Not only I wanted to travel to a place, I wanted to ‘explore’ the place as if I’m having an adventure. Second, I wanted to go to a place where I can learn more about myself and the surroundings by going alone. Whenever I traveled, I was usually accompanied by friends or family members. I wanted a trip that was exclusive only to me. And boy, am I glad I went. I saw so many inspiring things through my lens. For the first time, I saw people who weren’t camouflaged by social class or apparels. I was able to decipher the goodness of the people just by observing their smiles and hand gestures. They were showing me the essence of being a pure human; which is something rarely seen in a complicated 1st world environment where we are clouded by so many distractions and unnecessary obligations.

Q. Any interesting episodes from that trip?

There were many interesting episodes I had in Cambodia. There was one that really got to me though. One day I was visiting Ta Prohm, which is one of the better known temples in the Angkor, Siem Reap region. It was raining really hard on that day. In fact, I have never seen such vicious and cold rainstorm in my entire life. It was in middle of summer yet people who were wet were shivering because they were freezing. While that was happening, a young girl was following me around the whole time. She wanted to sell me bead bracelets that she made. She was trying to sell me 4-5 of them only for one US dollar. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world and with one US dollar, they could live for days. I would’ve given her 10 dollars in a heartbeat. Here was the problem though: it’s a dilemma between making her happy for few days and making her happy in the long run. Little boys and girls who sell bead bracelets on the tourist areas never end up going up on education because they can make a living out of it. Next thing you know, the young boy/girl concept wouldn’t work as they age and they will be jobless and starving. If you support them by buying their products, they will be fed and happy for a few weeks to come, but in the end you might be hurting their future. I have done several questionable deeds in the past and I don’t dare even call myself good enough to be a Christian; but I have been practicing being ‘good’ my entire life and it is one of the few things I am proud of myself. I used to categorize everything as ‘good or bad’ and ‘black and white’, till this incident happened. She was shivering from being wet in front of me; yet she was smiling and trying her best to sell her beads. I questioned what the good thing was to do at the moment. Should I buy her beads so she wouldn’t become sick for the next few days? Or ignore her so she would go back to school to have a future? What I did, I’ll leave it to your imagination and good intention.

Q. I see you do a lot of experimentation with long exposure shots (see above); what motivated you to do them? They’re hilarious!

It’s funny because the work you are talking about is technically not my work. It belongs to Annie Yoo, who’s a very dear and close friend of mine who now works as a graphic designer in NYC. But to answer your question, I do poke around with different techniques and long exposure is one of them. I love the surreal and abstract you can get out of long exposures. Over the years, I became to believe that the best photos are the ones that are least touched by an editing software. Nowadays almost anything is possible with a photo when it goes through Photoshop and an expert. I am a huge fan of photoshop and lightroom but I try to minimize the work by doing everything at the field. You have to take a step further if you want your photos to look unreal and abstract but you don’t want to retouch it as much on a computer.

Q. I see you sometimes do studio work as well.

Yes. I try to get involved in it whenever I get a chance. Most of the studio works I have in my collection are from projects I did back in college, since access to studios and models were abundant. I am no model but I really enjoy being the subject material for other photographer’s works. So whenever I participate in their work they return the favor by being my models as well. It’s a fun fact: most of my models are actually fellow photographers. I am interested in portraiture but it’s hard to make occasion to photograph models these days. Let me know if you know anyone who is willing. (so I can be a model for them too)

Q. Share with us your recent work in motion (like that one with the projector flashing images while you stand in different degrees; or the one with the umbrella). What are the messages behind those projects?

-> links to view please!

I’ll share two:

Joel Video 1

I wanted to question the concept of love in this video. Originally, the story was about a man who lost his memory after an accident and became a new man living a new life. His ex-girlfriend (who was forced to be one) and the main character longs for each other even though the memory of each other is now technically gone. I wanted the audience to question themselves whether love is a mere memory or something beyond. I was always intrigued by this idea. I see so many couples who say they were in love, and break up in matter of months. Then I see people attracted by people who don’t even fit in their so-called ‘ideal image’. Do people even know what love is anymore? I feel like it’s such a misused term these days. I wanted people to know that if love was as simple and easy as defining it with few words, it wouldn’t be so underrated/overrated in the first place.

Joel Video 2

This is a short time-lapse of one of my favorite places in the world; Bundang. I am very interested in time lapse photography; I wanted to capture sceneries in Korea since I knew it would get harder to go back. There wasn’t much thought process included in it; I just wanted to capture Bundang.

Q. What gear do you use?

My main weapon of choice is Nikon D5000 with just one lens (believe it or not): Tamron AF 17-50mm. I also have a Nikon D90 back home and am currently saving up to invest in a D800. I also used Nikon D7000 and D300 when I had access to them back in school.

Q. What advice would you give budding photographers?

Do. Think later. I have a philosophy in photography that also applies to life in general: I believe that there are two regrets in life. First regret is the one you get when you do something and it goes wrong, the other is the regret you get when you wanted to do something, but ended up not doing it and you regret the possibilities of what would’ve and could’ve happened. Personally, I believe the latter hurts more. I believe being a good photographer means you have to put yourself out there whether you are comfortable with it or not. Look at street photographers for instance. They have risks of being sued, mocked, and embarrassed by the peers but they pursue their objective fearlessly. Just put yourself out there and do what feels right to you, not anyone else; just like how I went to Cambodia and started taking pictures of children out of the blue. Being hesitant for even a few seconds could mean you missed out on a photograph that could’ve defined you for the rest of your life.

You can view my online portfolio at . You can also find me at Vimeo. You can contact me by sending me an email to (casual) or . Last but not least, friend me on facebook; I love and embrace random encounters.

What do you think of his work? Comment below for Joel to see!


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