Define your style
Hello Hansae! We have followed your work for a few years now, so it’s a great pleasure to have you today for this interview. Could you start by introducing yourself to our readers? How did you get into photography?
Hello! My name is Hansae Lee, and I’m a photographer from Seoul, Korea. I started shooting photos around six years ago – at the time, I was living in Singapore and became fascinated with minimalist design, especially in modern architecture. I’d wander for hours around the city snapping pictures with my iPhone, and that’s how I fell in love with photography.
I cherish those early years: I felt a rush from teaching myself the most basic things like how to use lighting or composition. My style has evolved since then, but the passion has never left me. After just using my phone for a while, I bought my first digital camera in 2016 and was lucky enough to spend the next few years documenting my travels around Asia.
However, I started to hit a creative block towards the end of my high school years. I was too busy to travel and grew bored of the cliché photo spots in Singapore I’d shot so many times. It wasn’t until I graduated last year that I finally had enough time to rethink my approach to photography. I found new inspirations and started experimenting – I was particularly drawn to the idea of making compelling images out of mundane everyday scenes.
That meant my creativity was not limited by being stuck in one place, so I challenged myself to stay away from Singapore’s tourist spots and explore the hidden parts of the city. The pandemic was a blessing in disguise for halting my college plans and granting me an extra few months to reconnect with photography.
Later that year, my visa expired, and I was thrown back to Seoul. I was back home, but I felt like a stranger, having grown up in Singapore. I’m so thankful for how that played out because it felt like the perfect change of scenery for me to keep progressing.
Photography became a medium for me to both explore my hometown and continue developing as an artist. What followed was a period of constant trial and error until I felt like I’d found a distinct visual style to call my own.
After a few months exploring Korea, I moved to Providence, RI, where I’m currently studying economics and philosophy at university.
We understand that you shoot mostly street photography. How did your passion for this genre develop? Are there any other genres you’re interested in?
The reason I gravitated towards photography over other kinds of art was that I found something attractive about the spontaneity of photography. Part of it is just how much faster photography is than other artforms – I don’t think I’d have the patience for sketching or painting.
But what really fascinates me is how great photographers can produce worthy images with such limited control over their subjects. The way those scenes present themselves, the so-called “decisive moment”, creates this sense of anticipation – I think that’s what I find so exciting. That feeling is heightened in street photography which is why it has to be my favourite genre to both shoot and appreciate.
Although, partly why I shoot in urban environments is simply because I’ve always lived in the city, so I try to avoid labeling myself with a specific genre. If anything, I think living in the city has made me appreciate nature more, especially astrophotography.
The very few nights I’ve photographed the stars have been some of the most memorable experiences of my life. It’s thrilling, but for completely different reasons from street photography. There is no sense of anticipation or focus. It’s more like a pure feeling of awe and wonder.
We remember that you used to shoot with an Olympus, and just more recently, you started using Fuji. Did the fact that you frequently shoot at night weighed on the decision to change to a camera system with better low light performance, or were there other reasons to choose Fuji?
Absolutely. I’ve always loved low light photography, so the larger sensor size helps control noise when I push the ISO at night. That’s the main reason I moved away from Olympus, but there are other reasons I picked Fuji over all the other brands offering APS-C and full-frame.
Fuji’s design language is something special: the aperture ring and dials resemble those beloved classic 35mm film cameras. There are also practical benefits like being able to adjust exposure without having to turn the camera on. That becomes extremely useful at night when the amount of available light is constantly changing.
What’s your current camera and lens setup? Is there any piece of gear that you are considering buying in the near future?
I’m currently using an X-T4 with the XF23mm F2 prime and the XF18-55mm F2.8-4 kit lens. I usually stick with the prime because it’s so light. It also just feels much simpler, like shooting with an iPhone. I only really use the kit lens for when I get to travel and shoot landscapes.
I’m content with my gear right now, although I’ve been wanting to try a rangefinder for a while. If I were to get one, the X100V seems like an easy choice since it has the same focal length as my favourite prime. I’m also hoping to pick up my first film camera sometime.
What software do you use to process your photos, and what were the reasons for your choice?
Most of my post-processing is done in Adobe Lightroom, both the desktop and mobile versions. I’m aware of more advanced programs like CaptureOne, but Lightroom seems more than sufficient for my needs. I rarely use presets, although I try to apply some basic color theory to keep my visual style consistent. I’ve also used Photoshop to stitch panoramas or stack exposures for landscapes.
What is your favourite photograph you took?
So many photographs are special to me, all for different reasons. It’s hard to pick one, but a recent photo I’m proud of is one I shot in Seoul earlier this year. I was never around snow growing up in Singapore, so when I moved to Korea I couldn’t wait to experience winter in the city. One night in January, a massive snowstorm hit Seoul, and I was out for hours.
Seoul came alive: all the workers rushed indoors for cover while kids rushed out to play. I shot well over a thousand images, and this one stood out to me; every time I look back, it reminds me of the energy from that night. Those are my favourite kinds of photographs: the ones that take me back and remind me of an emotion, whether that be exhaustion from climbing a mountain or bliss from running around in a snowstorm.
What tips do you have for beginners?
It goes without saying: nothing beats just going out and getting practice. There’s definitely some luck involved in photography, so what better way to take great photos than taking a lot of them? That said, one immediate tip I’d offer is to spend some time learning color theory. Color can make or break a photograph, and even some basic knowledge of color theory can be a helpful guide to visualizing photos beforehand or achieving a certain look when editing.
Another practice that’s helped me is constantly seeing other people’s work. Make it a habit, flood your social media feed with the works of all those incredible inspirations out there and scroll through when you’re feeling stuck. It seems especially productive for developing the so-called “photographer’s eye”, as in the ability to see potential for a strong photo in a scene.
There are just so many talented photographers out there, and exposure to their work means at least some of their images will stick in your mind. It comes to the point where you start to involuntarily recall and imitate those images when you’re out shooting. Over time you start mixing and matching ideas from different images and artists; that is how you develop your own style.
Street and landscape photographer from Seoul, South Korea. Growing up in Singapore, Hansae’s early fascination with modern architecture and minimalism sparked his love of photography. Over the years, he has developed a passion for exploring both urban and natural environments. Stylized by rich colors and cinematic compositions, Hansae aims to convey a sense of mystery through his images. His deliberate choice of color has become a focal point in his work. Hansae’s approach to photography isn’t so much a documentary process but a creative one. Hansae is currently based in Rhode Island, USA, pursuing a degree in Economics and Philosophy alongside his commitment to photography.