We had the good fortune of connecting with Aaron Han and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Aaron, putting aside the decision to work for yourself, what other decisions were critical to your success?
“If you dare to do the most difficult thing you can conceptualize your life will work out better than it will if you do anything.” “Can you imagine yourself in 10 years if instead of avoiding the things you know you should do, you actually did them every single day – that’s powerful.” – Jordan Peterson Hearing this quote by Jordan Peterson and afterwards making the conscious decision to live life doing the difficult things has contributed the most to my success. It was never a singular difficult decision with a particular client or equipment investment but rather a general decision to change my mindset. I chose to start doing the difficult things, even if it’s what makes me uncomfortable, in order to make progress in my career. There’s been so many times where I’ve been stuck with a problem, looking for an easy way out, over- analyzing the situation and my options, even when I knew what the solutions were. I would ignore them because I thought it was too difficult or I was too lazy to make change. When you do this for too long, you start to realize that you’re paralyzed in thought and have created a habit of poor judgement and decision making. So making this conscious choice to turn things around and do the difficult things, made me more disciplined, goal oriented, productive, and most importantly, less anxious to tackle difficult problems and face them head on.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
HOW DID YOU GET TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY PROFESSIONALLY? Like most photographers, there is a particular trajectory and road map that we follow naturally as we explore our passion; From the kinds of photos we take early on, to our development and feelings of uncertainty as we progress through our creative careers. In high school, my friend inspired me to start photography after a trip to Big Sur. At the time, the idea that I could freeze a moment and save it with me forever was just mind blowing and I had to get my hands on a camera. Shortly after that trip, I save enough money to buy my first one. I photographed what was immediate and closest to me; friends, landscapes, vacation trips, etc. and was excited to just create something with this new tool. This was essentially the first phase of my experience with photography and I simply shot as much as I could all with that camera dial in auto- mode. Soon after that short burst of creative excitement, I looked to other photographers and went down the youtube rabbit hole. I was inspired by youtubers, staying up late watching unboxing videos of newly released cameras and tutorials on how to shoot manually and how to edit. It was fun and the outlet that I needed from school. I pondered the idea of doing it for a living but I had so many doubts after comparing my work to the best on youtube and instagram. In college, it was nice to be able to test the waters by working as an event photographer for my university’s entrepreneurship competitions but I didn’t do my best. I missed shots and was tough on myself. After graduation, the self doubt continued even with more experience. I was a perfectionist always trying to analyze what I could do better and if you didn’t give me a deadline, good luck getting the work back anytime soon. My freelance work left me anxious waiting for reviews to come in and I learned that I was my toughest critic. It got to the point where I even turned down work because I didn’t think my work was good enough and I didn’t want to disappoint. This phase was a low part of my career and without the support of family, friends, and kind words from clients, I wouldn’t have found my confidence. Fast forward to 2020, the pandemic and lock downs provided me with much needed time to reflect on how I wanted to improve my craft, change for the better, and make those uncomfortable yet necessary adjustments to grow personally and professionally. I am currently working with Off Their Plate (a national non- profit org. focused on sharing the stories of restaurant workers from the inside as they’re affected by covid) and Studio City South Magazine (a local magazine where I photograph families for the cover page and lead story), while also working full time at my parent’s business, Han’s Beauty Store! I dedicate my days off from Han’s Beauty to photoshoots and work at night after my shifts researching, planning, and editing. It can be long days and nights but I’m truly doing what I love and I could spend hours at the computer making mood boards and editing. It’s fun to me and I’m glad I have a network of fellow creatives to share it with on a weekly basis. Overall, in the next few years I hope to continue growing my clientele, create an online photography community sharing and solving issues with beginners, form closer bonds with my existing network, and create new relationships beyond LA. Most importantly for me, I’d like to create more lifestyle and commercial work by working with more brands! WAS IT EASY? IF NOT, HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THE CHALLENGES? It’s been difficult but I’m so thankful for those who have given me endless support and guidance. It’s amazing how much of an impact a person can have on others even in just a short amount of time. Some difficulties I’ve had so far include mental setbacks like I’ve mentioned before, but also impulsive spending, and not having enough clients. Mental Setbacks: These are inevitable and difficult to overcome but it’s part of the journey and should be taken as a lesson to be learned about yourself. It showed me that if you care that much about something, you’re in the right place. I was able to look past this by surrounding myself with the right people. People who lift me up, see eye to eye, constructive, and just fun to go outside and photograph with. Given the pandemic, I think we need that more than ever now. Impulsive Spending: When I started seeing success with my freelance work, I wanted to reinvest everything I made into better equipment. I love my equipment and the quality of work I’m able to produce with it is worth the cost, but the way I went about buying it was not smart. It was impulsive, I didn’t always review my options, and sometimes I just bought it to have it instead of buying it to solve a particular problem/need for my clients. This was easily solved though because I just got to the point where I couldn’t afford to buy all this expensive camera equipment! Not having enough clients: Early on when I didn’t have enough clients and my outreach was small, my solution to this was #1 making sure that I had a good portfolio by shooting constantly and I mean literally as much as possible. #2 building a website to share my portfolio in a professional way, and #3 making sure that every single person in my network knew that I was a photographer and reminding them of it. That way if anyone in my circle ever needed one, hopefully I’d be the first they thought of. This was part of the reason how I was able to work with Studio City South Magazine and Off Their Plate!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
The surprising thing is that there’s so much to do even with covid restrictions in LA! It’s a melting pot of different cultures and there’s a lot to experience so my general plan would be to just try a little bit of everything. If the trip were entirely up to me we’d definitely stop by Elysian Park to sight see. If you know the hidden trails and spots, you can get an amazing view of Dodger Stadium during sunset or sunrise that you won’t forget. Same with Griffith Observatory, it’s an awesome location to get an overview of the city. One of my favorite places to get food at when I’m in LA is at Phillipes. It’s a must have french dip sandwich and afterwards we’ll follow up with some Afters ice cream. If there’s anything I love it’s ice cream and we’re going to Afters, Wanderlust Creamery, and McConnells. Some other places we’d stop by are Santa Monica Beach where we can walk over to 3rd St. promenade with shopping, drinks, and other good food spots. Now these are all kind of obvious places to go but one not so obvious place that makes for a good time is Break Room LA. Recently, I went there and I have to share about it because it’s exactly what it sounds like. You go into a room and simply break anything from glass plates and cups to tvs and car windshields. It’s so much fun but don’t forget to stretch. Something about breaking stuff with a baseball bat and crowbar that gets you sore the next day! All in all it really depends on who’s coming to town because there’s something for everybody here!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Absolutely! In general, family and friends have always been there to support no matter what my endeavors have been. Whether it’s sharing my work, giving me advice from an outside perspective, or following me on instagram, they have always been there to give me words of encouragement but also give it to me straight and not put things politely but honestly. A majority of my family including my parents are entrepreneurs and business owners. Being surrounded by that kind of culture and watching the way they work from a young age has been a crucial part of my success and I’m so grateful. Without my girlfriend Rachel, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to start following my passions in the first place. She’s the first person I go to when I’m struggling with anything personal or photography related. We’ve had so many difficult conversations with me feeling stuck in my career and she’s always helped me walk away with my head held high. Besides my immediate family, she’s the only one who has seen me at my highest and lowest. Between getting her masters and working two jobs, she hardly has any time for herself yet she always finds time for me. Another person that I need to give a shoutout to is Chris Kim. IG: instagram.com/ckimphotography_ website: KhyunPhotos.com Chris has been an amazing friend, fellow photographer, and supporter. His work ethic is relentless and he’s simply one of those people that you do not question IF he will “make it” but WHEN. He has that sort of charisma that rubs onto others almost to the point where it’s annoying but you can’t help wanting to continue working with him. His personality is contagious and I’m happy to say that without him I would not be where I am as an individual or photographer! From helping me on photoshoots, reviewing my work, giving me editing tips and tricks, or location scouting, he’s helped me grow at twice the rate. People like him are part of the reason why I think it is so important to have a partner in everything that you do. Someone that you trust to hold you accountable and tell you what you need to hear vs. what you want.
Image of Made the Collective, photographed by myself, and edited by Chris Kim @ckimphotography_