PHOTOGRAPHER: Ja Soon Kim
BASED IN: New Mexico, USA
KNOWN FOR: Flatlay images of flowers
SHOOTS WITH: FUJIFILM X100T Camera, X-T2 Camera, FUJINON XF35mmF1.4 R Lens, XF16mmF1.4 R WR Lens, XF18mmF2 R Lens, XF60mmF2.4 R Macro Lens
Ja Soon Kim is renowned for her simple and beautiful flatlay images of wild flowers. Although she is now known for her photography, she considers herself a relative newcomer to the field. Born and raised in Seoul, South Korea, Ja Soon moved to the United States to study painting at college. After graduating she worked as an artist, designer and award-winning art director. She has lived in locations as diverse as New York, London, Honolulu and Paris. She now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico where she teaches and practices yoga. We asked her some questions about her unexpected renaissance as a flatlay flower photographer.
You used to work as a graphic designer, how did you get into photography?
I was a graphic designer and an art director in advertising for many years and I hold a BFA in fine art. I considered photography more of a passion.
I used to shoot with a smartphone camera until I saw the color quality in the images shot with FUJIFILM cameras. I knew I had to switch in order to achieve the subtle tones, colors, textures and depth that would do justice to my subjects.
I started with a borrowed X100T and now I shoot with an X-T2. These are the perfect cameras for me; just the right size and surface texture, not too heavy, with a great, retro look, and they fit perfectly in my hands.
It didn’t take me long to learn the basics, but there are endless possibilities with these cameras. They have given me exactly what I was looking for and they are fun to use, too.
Your photography seems to incorporate some of the skills you used in your past life as an art director. What attracted you to flatlay photography?
Flatlay, or tabletop, photography is different from landscapes or portraits in that you are creating your own subject to shoot rather than shooting what is already there. It is a totally different experience. You have creative control over the arrangement as well as the camera settings, and that is reflected in the final image.
There are parallels with art direction. However, as an art director I used to work with a crew. This process, on the other hand, is something I do alone, which makes it deeply meditative for me.
Flatlay photography gives you total control over the subject and allows you to be creative in your own unique way. You can use any material you find interesting. I work mostly with found or foraged props from nature that we all see every day and that are readily available all around us. In this way, my work is a reflection of my environment. I don’t purchase props for shooting.
How do you light your shots?
Light is everything in photography. I don’t use artificial lighting. I’ve tried it, but it doesn’t have the depth and subtle variations that natural light offers. I love the shadows that appear with natural light. They give depth and dimension to images.
I almost always set up my shots near a big window in my house. My typical background is a piece of plywood painted black on one side and white on the other. I also have some foam core boards in black and white. I use a tripod whenever necessary. It is a very simple setup.
When I travel, I shoot on whatever is readily available, such as a sandy beach or a beautiful rock.
Which lenses do you use?
Most of my pictures are shot with the XF35mmF1.4 R lens – a great everyday lens. I shoot with other lenses but I love the honesty and zero distortion of this one.
I love shooting with wide-angle lenses such as the XF16mmF1.4 R WR or the XF18mmF2 R when I am out shooting landscapes. I also shoot with the XF60mmF2.4 R Macro when I want to play with close-up images or create different effects.
Do you have any other tips for ‘budding’ flower photographers?
I would suggest that they start creating their images long before they pick up their cameras. The process of collecting objects and imagining how they might look together is part of my creative process. Ultimately, every object you find and include needs to be selected and arranged in your own creative way to make the image beautiful and compelling.
When foraging, I often take reusable plastic containers to keep wild flowers fresh until I get home. However, I also save and reuse flowers as they dry, mixing them with fresher finds and other items to make new and interesting combinations. Nothing is wasted and ultimately it all goes into the compost.
Some flowers are even more beautiful when they are dry, so be playful and experiment.
Ja Soon Kim is a FUJIFILM-compensated professional photographer.
To see more of Ja Soon’s work, visit her website.
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