Yony Lee Kim, the photographer behind YLK photography, is self-taught. She specializes in lifestyle and portrait photography. Yony
is mom to three adorable kids. And she has mono to thank for
her Etsy shop.
After doing portrait photography for a year, Yony got mono in the spring of 2010. “I obviously couldn’t do sessions with people
during that time, so I started to go stir crazy,” she said. “If there is
something about me that has been consistent since I was a child, it is that I
always need a creative outlet. So I started picking flowers from my yard and
just taking pictures.” She started a still life album on her Facebook page to
keep up with her marketing.
Friends loved the photos and encouraged her to sell them. “So
in keeping with who I am, I opened my Etsy shop on a whim and did my first
Jingle Bash later that year,” Yony said. “I was invited by Etsy Inc. to
participate in a Pop-Up shop at West Elm in Mockingbird Station. It was a great
event and I was so honored to have been asked. I had no idea something I
started doing while I was sick would turn into what it has. I still do it for
me, though. This will always be the area of photography that I do just for
Yony recently took part in a Q&A session with Liz Day.
Liz: You are self-taught. When did you gain an interest in
Yony: My dad was a photography hobbyist for many years. He had a darkroom next
to our garage when I was a kid and he was always sticking his camera in our
faces. He gave me a camera for my birthday when I was in middle school. It was
just a point-and-shoot, but I documented almost everything. In 2002, I became a
mom, and the obsession grew, or maybe I should say that it exploded. Within a
week of giving birth, our entire apartment was covered in photos of our
firstborn. After a short while, my closest friends and family encouraged me to
take my hobby and segue it into a business.
Liz: When did you know it was your calling? Was it slow and
steady or fast and furious?
Yony: My husband, in particular, has always been my biggest supporter. He did a
lot of the research on equipment for me and was just always very encouraging.
He thought that I had what it took before anyone else did. One summer night, I
sat at my computer and decided to do it. I created my logo, set up a blog, and a
Facebook page somewhere between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. My closest friends know that
when I make up my mind to do something, there is nothing slow and steady about
the process at all. Almost every decision I make is fast and furious.
Liz: How do you balance family and your business?
Yony: I made a conscious decision to be more
"present" at home. I consider the hours of their school day my
working hours, so I try to get as much done during the weekday as I can. Once
they are home from school, I don't do anything business-related until the night
hours (and then end up going to bed anywhere from midnight to 2 a.m. most
nights). I have whole weekends set aside when I will not book a session and
that's OK. My kids aren't going to be kids forever and I don't want to look
back and think that I should have spent less time shooting and more time just
"being" with them. … I always figured it out. Balance is the key.
Liz: How do you market yourself? Which social platform has been your most
Yony: I do not market my business in any traditional sense.
I don't typically pay for ads. As with most photographers (most everyone these
days, really), I use Facebook as my main marketing tool. … I try not to let
more than a couple of days go by between postings. The key is to keep people
interested, so letting weeks go by without posting something is a no-no. The
flip side to that is obviously not to post too much, either, because people get
annoyed. You just have to be smart about it. Anyway, there is nothing that
compares with "word of mouth" and in this day and age, Facebook gets
it around the fastest and easiest.
Liz: Have you always considered yourself an artist? Did you have another career before photography?
Yony: I was an English major in college and had various jobs
before becoming a mom, but nothing that I would say was my career. They paid
the bills. Once going professional with my photography business, it took me a
bit to accept the new title. It made me squirm to think that I was using the
words "professional photographer" to describe myself. Honestly, I
don't know when it happened, but along the way, I got comfortable with it. I
even got comfortable with the word "artist," because I do now believe
that what I create is art.
Liz: What is your favorite topic to photograph?
Yony: My favorite thing to photograph is still life/macro
photography. I love the solitude of capturing a beautiful object or scenario. Some
people say my still life work has a slight vintage feel to it. I have had a
love of all things antique and vintage since I was a child. My mom was an art
major in college and my childhood home was always decorated with Korean
antiques and art. On trips to Korea, I was taken to antiques shops and art
galleries. I remember loving anything with a patina (my dad's ashtray was my
favorite) and one of the coolest things we ever owned was an antique organ
(yes, I took organ lessons during my childhood, too). So, yes, if people sense
a vintage vibe from anything I do, it is definitely there, ingrained within me.
My next goal as a photographer is to go bigger with the commercial side of my
photography business, perhaps making a move to doing solely commercial work in
the future. There is nothing I enjoy more than the creative process of coming
up with a concept, styling a shoot, and then working with young models who
"get" it. I hope to do more of this type of photography going forward,
but we'll have to wait and see.