TikTok’s pose king David Suh on how to take better photos

A TikTok user recently posted a short video asking for support. “My name is August. I am a transgender man with a disability,” he began. “I love taking pictures, but I don’t know what to do with my body or my hands! Please send help”.

August’s video refers to one person in particular: the fake guru David Suh. Suh, who boasts 4 million followers on TikTok, is a photographer and evangelist of the idea that there is no such thing as non-photogenic. He asserts that anyone can take a good photo if they just need to learn to adjust their angle correctly.

Suh’s styling tips are simple, accessible, and viral; Other users regularly duet his videos to show how his advice has changed the way they present themselves. TikTok is primarily a visual medium, providing Suh and his fans plenty of space for proof-of-concept. And indeed, just a few days later, August is already curious via Suh’s post and feedback his photo look confident and poised in the poses Suh suggested.

The whole process of Suh begins with getting into your body so you can feel the pose from the inside out. On a Tuesday morning in April, the Los Angeles-based photographer was working with a client named Vy Ngo, an educator from Santa Ana, in his Virgil Village studio. She’s petite and casual in a dark tank top and wide leg pants, barefoot but her face is carefully painted by the make-up artist who often assists Suh in his photo shoots. Suh guides Ngo through a series of mirror exercises before taking a single photo, so that when he tells her to stick out her chin, relax her mouth, or lift her hips to create an S-curve of her body, she’s will know. exactly what he means and how to take his advice.

This level of involvement is not unusual for him. Although he will work with models for something like a series Styling tips for plus size women, he is almost always in the frame next to his client and subject, breaking down the barrier between artist and muse. And his personality both online and offline is goofy and self-deprecating, a frequent friendly reminder that you can look a little silly as long as you’re having fun.

Suh is a self-taught dancer; He was interested in anatomy and movement long before he picked up a camera. And when he does, it’s because he dances. Having grown up watching groups like Jabbawockeez post videos on YouTube, he wanted to do the same. So he prepared a PowerPoint presentation for his father when he was a kid, explaining why the family needed a Sony NEX-7 digital camera and it worked. “It ended up becoming my camera because I used it a lot,” says Suh now. “And then I just became a kid with a camera running around the school: yearbook photography, pep rally, sports photography or even just taking pictures with my friends.”

David Suh leaning against the wall showing his client how to pose.

(Angella Choe / For The Times)

But while the techniques he learned from YouTube helped him learn to think about lighting and composition, he found that when he was photographing his colleagues, they weren’t always happy. pleased with the results – especially his female friends. “I was very invested in taking the best photos, and then when I uploaded my album [to Facebook], I’ll get private messages saying, “Hey, can you not tag me?” “I was confused. Because I said, ‘Hey, this is a masterpiece’,” Suh ​​recalls.

Eventually, he realized that “at that point, I just saw the relationship between me and the camera. I’m just in the back here,” he said, gesturing to the way the camera stood between the photographer’s face and everything else. “That world outside doesn’t exist anymore. I don’t care what they feel – it’s not that I don’t care. I didn’t know about it. ”

When he asked them what was causing their discomfort, friends said they often felt awkward trying to figure out what to do with their bodies in a photo. So Suh took what he’d learned from dancing and tried to help them figure out how to keep themselves comfortable – and look good in the final image, too. Today, Suh’s tips often involve elongating your figure by straightening a bent leg or arm; he advocates tilting the hips to emphasize curves if you already have them – although he also offers poses coded as “masculine” and “feminine” that can work for people of all ages. any gender.

Learning how to pose helped Suh understand how complicated and strenuous photography can be for many people. Now he thinks of the process as a matrix of relationships that he has to manage. “There is my relationship with the person I photograph,” he says. “Their relationship with the camera. I have to be mindful of their previous relationship with their own photographs. And then there is their self-relationship.”

TiKTok photographer David Suh poses in a leather chair.

(Angella Choe / For The Times)

Suh moved from Seoul to the United States to attend UC Davis in 2013. There, he majored in design but didn’t do well – he even failed a photography class. He says that the most important things he learned were not art or aesthetics but psychology and business instead. A class on nonverbal communication particularly resonated: “Pose, if we think about it on a profound level, can be very shallow,” says Suh. “We were just posing for a cute Instagram. But the part that really appeals to me is how we present ourselves. It’s body language. How are we communicating? Photos can be a way to express your creativity. And then through that, it becomes a source of strength and confidence and a sense of self. ”

That idea of ​​taking portraits as a collaborative effort essentially came to life when he worked with Ngo. Rather than expecting a mute muse, the way Suh works with her models gives them the freedom to express themselves, to transform from subjects of action into active participants in the creative process. The photo is something they made together, not something he took from or of them. During their time together, Ngo became bolder, more relaxed, ready to suggest a set-up or try a new pose without hesitation. It looks scary, but making art together fun.

After graduating, Suh moved to Sacramento and started a portrait studio where he honed his career, working with non-model clients and trying to take pictures that made them feel good. – but also to be interested and seen. “I always want to have a truly luxurious experience for my clients. I wanted the opposite of what a Macy’s walking date would,” says Suh of her characterization. “How can I serve you? How can I help you celebrate you in the most profound way possible? ”

Photographer David Suh stood on a bench while photographing a client leaning against a window.

(Angella Choe / For The Times)

He sees what he does as part of a larger project to encourage people (especially, though not exclusive to women) to be kind and self-centered. And he learned as much from this job as his clients. He notes that, like many men, he was not raised to think much about looking or feeling good. Most guys, he says, only have “accomplishment photos” of themselves — “Me and an award,” he says, “or, like a fish.” So they don’t understand what other people in their lives are looking for when they ask for a photo – they see it as something by heart, part of a checklist or a pre-show. public, as opposed to seeking for deeper validation and self-appreciation. “For me, I learned why it feels so great,” says Suh. “And so I connect.”

He began to connect more widely when he joined TikTok in late 2019. It wasn’t a marketing move, he said, but instead because he wanted to “share the joy of what I am.” do”. However, it was a fortuitous moment when COVID-19 was about to shut down live portrait photography for a long time. TikTok became the most downloaded app during the early days of the pandemic, and Suh’s cheerful words of encouragement about caring and appreciating yourself are a calm and successful one. Pandemic or not, his customer waiting list quickly became a yearlong affair.

Suh moved into her current space, a dreamy studio in Virgil Village, about six months ago; he realized that he wanted to be in a city where he could follow his big dreams, like his fantasy of doing a makeover show for a man “The Eye of Man”. see”. But his client list is still focused on everyday people, and he sees social media as a hobby, not his end goal. His connection to his clients and the feeling they bring home – that is his work as well as his passion.

However, a “flattering” pose often represents the modern Western style for long and thin bodies, so only certain curves are acceptable, while others must be hidden or hidden. Go. That aesthetic concern isn’t necessarily balanced with the confidence and deeper self-love that Suh talks about. So how does he define beauty, for his clients and for himself?

Suh is a good talker: attentive and funny, with a level of enthusiasm that clearly makes the listener feel, even for a short time, passionate about his subject. His answer to this question reveals a lifetime of work and reflection – especially impressive when you consider that Suh is only 27 years old.

“Beauty is like…” he began, and then stopped. “I like analogies, and maybe here it’s like the taste in food. When we think about what tastes good to me, it has a lot to do with my background. What I am being fed, what my mother cooks for me, what other children are eating is considered cool. You begin to build up your taste; you mature and you start to explore. You go through all that personal growth to create your taste and palate.

“Now I have to think about all of that to beautify my clients. Not that I have to understand their whole lives, [but] I know that their perception of beauty can be very different from mine. I have to treat it with sensitivity, a lot of listening and understanding.”

Photographer David Suh poses as he sits at his desk in front of a neon sign with his name on it.

(Angella Choe / For The Times)

His voice lifted; Now he’s really in it, talking about the focus of the work and why it’s important to him. “We had moments where we felt cool, confident and sexy. Sad, angry, angry. The only thing is, we didn’t watched We feel it ourselves. Everyone else who saw us felt it. When we are angry, we don’t look in the mirror afterwards: Let me see I’m angry. Or maybe if we’re being intimate with a partner, we just don’t see it.

“We have never seen that. Everyone else has seen it, but we might not even believe it if they tell us. That’s how stubborn our self-perception is. Through portraits, I can show you that person. For the first time, you are meeting you. ”

https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/story/2022-05-10/how-to-pose-for-photos-tiktok-david-suh TikTok’s pose king David Suh on how to take better photos

Russell Falcon

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