This past weekend, Sojung and I had the opportunity to travel to Wichita, Kansas to photograph Korean War veterans who fought for our mother country during 1950-1954. Neither the two of us nor our parents would have been born without their service. I am grateful to these men and women who sacrificed everything for a country halfway around the world. These were some of the most warm-hearted people I’ve ever met.
Every veteran had an interesting story to tell us. One man told me that his finger was cut off. Later, it was found still hanging from his hand. They sent him to a hospital in Japan to get his finger sewed back on; then it was back to the war. They all told these stories with smiles, even though they saw and experienced hard things that are unimaginable to those of us who have never been to war. Their joy for life made our hearts melt.
I wanted to capture their personality and what made each of them unique. I was only about 6 feet away from the subjects, so each portrait was up-close and personal.. Many people, no matter their age, are uncomfortable in front of the camera and even more so when I’m so close to them. I only had at the most 10 minutes with each person, so I took the first 2-3 minutes to help them relax by asking them questions and beginning a conversation. My trick is to keep the camera on a tripod while chatting with my subjects. I try to make sure that my face isn’t hidden behind the camera so they can always see me and not focus so much on being photographed. Building a rapport with my portrait subjects is important to me because I want them to know that I care more about them as person than as a photographer who is just taking their portrait.
I seriously love all of these photos. And yes, sometimes I am frustrated with myself and think, “I could’ve shot this better if….” However, the experience of meeting each person and hearing their stories has been unforgettable. All of them thanked me over and over. In my head, I kept thinking, “Who am I to deserve your thankful heart?” I was even more grateful for their hearts and their service. Projects like this really make being a photographer worth it.
For those who are curious about my setup, I made a tiny makeshift studio at the church.
For this shoot, we drove up to Kansas with our car packed full of gear. I used a very large reflector for a backdrop, a trick I learned from Zack Arias. I wanted to keep each photograph close and personal. One regret I have is that I wish I had photographed them even closer. I had very limited time with each of them, so I ended up making a tighter crop.
Camera: Fujifilm X-T1
Lens: Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2
Lights: Einstein E640 x 2
Modifier: Paul C. Buff Large Octa & Umbrella Reflector for Background Lights
Commander: Paul C. Buff Cyber Commander
Background: Impact 5-in-1 Oval Reflector (42x72”)
F/2.2 - 2.8 (depending on lights)
Main Light: 6.2ws
Background Light: 5.7ws