You know a shoot is going to go well when the subject breaks out two bottles of Heineken 5 minutes after you arrive. 😀 I was recently on assignment for Korea Magazine to shoot portraits of award-winning novelist Kim Un Su. Kim’s novels have been translated into several languages and his work has been compared to the likes of Gabriel García Márquez and Haruki Murakami (the latter of which I am a fan). My assignment was to shoot portraits of Kim in his writing environment, which turned out to be his home in Jinhae, Gyeongsangnamdo. Mr. Kim was just a very cool guy and it was a laid-back shoot overall. I will go into more detail about the actual shoot in a bit, but first here is the tear sheet:

Korea Editorial Photographer Roy Cruz Korea Magazine Tear Sheet


And now some of my favorite outtakes:


Photographer’s corner:

Here are some of the things that went through my mind before and during the shoot. Let’s call this list…

Today’s Top 5 Editorial Portrait Tips:

1. Know the publication’s look and style. If it’s your first time shooting for the magazine, check out previous issues to get to know what kind of images they like. Of course, you will always have your personal style, but knowing the general visual feel of the magazine will help. I made sure to check out several previous issues of the magazine while planning for the shoot.

2. Know your subject. I believe this is important for any kind of portrait work. Portrait photography is a very personal thing and knowing about your subject will help build rapport, keep the conversation flowing and ultimately get more genuine expressions from your subject. In my case, the article was already written so I got my information from there. With other clients, it could be a phone call, a bit of conversation during meetings, etc. You don’t have to know everything about them beforehand. Just know enough to get conversations going. Be genuinely interested in your subject, and they will reciprocate during the shoot.

3. Avoid “dead air”. I’m borrowing this term from my college radio days. Dead air is simply silence. If the photographer goes silent during the shoot then the subject will become uncomfortable and start to wonder what is going on. Just keep the communication flowing whether it’s directing the subject, explaining what you are doing with your settings, gear, etc, or just chatting (this is where your pre-shoot research from tip number 2 will come in handy). Mr. Kim and I constantly chatted through the whole shoot, making the working environment comfortable while keeping everyone on the same page.

4. Know your location. If you can’t scout the location beforehand, ask for a few minutes to do so when you arrive. I had no idea what the space would look like, so I took a few minutes to walk around. Look for photographer friendly things such as big windows, interesting backgrounds, important/relevant objects that can be included in the shot, clean backgrounds, etc. I also asked Mr. Kim about his favorite reading and writing spots around the house.

5. Start simple and build it up. This refers to gear. Don’t bring out all of your lights and modifiers during your first setup. Start with the simplest lighting and build upon it as you go along. Instead of tweaking too many settings and variables, ease into the shoot and focus on building rapport and getting everyone warmed up. In this case, I started with simple window light, then brought out the reflector, then the soft box later.

Well, that’s pretty much it. For settings and other technical details, check out the photo captions and EXIF data. I hope you guys find this helpful. Again, when shooting portraits, keep the environment comfortable, the communication flowing and be genuinely interested in your subjects. After all, it’s all about them.

Special thanks to and Korea Magazine. Check out the entire Korea Magazine September 2013 issue here and other great content at

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Roy Cruz

Roy Cruz

Photographer at Roy Cruz Photo
Roy Cruz is a freelance photographer based in Tongyeong, South Korea specializing in travel and documentary photography. He started shooting professionally in 2007 and has worked all over the Philippines and South Korea. He is also a dedicated husband, bass player, and father.