Creators on the Rise: David Suh wants everyone to see themselves the way he does

By 07/19/2023
Creators on the Rise: David Suh wants everyone to see themselves the way he does

Welcome to Creators on the Rise, where each week, we find and profile breakout creators who are in the midst of extraordinary growth.

David Suh takes gorgeous photos.

So, when he was first getting started as a photographer and showed his high school friends the shots he’d taken of them, the last thing he expected was disappointment.


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“I realized it’s really tough to get photos of other people that they like of themselves,” he says. “I created something for someone and they’re like, ‘Oh, David, my calves look too big.’ I’m like, ‘Whoa, what do you mean? This looks like such a cool photo with the latest technique I learned off of YouTube.’ They’re like, ‘No, I don’t care about that. I just don’t like this photo.'”

The problem wasn’t Suh’s techniques–or his skills. To him, the people he was photographing (“everypeople,” he calls them, referring to your average person and not the high-glam models seem on catwalks and in Vogue) were beautiful. He started to look deeper into why they didn’t like seeing themselves, and wound up untangling a whole bunch of toxicity around beauty standards, gender roles, and more.

Fast-forward to 2020 and Suh was running his own photography studio, helping his clients untangle those same issues. But when COVID kicked in, he had to stop doing sessions.

I couldn’t serve my clients anymore,” he says. “I said, ‘Wow, how do I pay my rent and everything? $6,000?’ I just stayed optimistic through it. I said, ‘You know what, let me share the joys of what I do on TikTok.'”

Now, three years later, Suh has nearly 5 million followers on TikTok, was able to open his dream studio in Los Angeles (DASU Studios, which just became a part-time tea house as well as a photographer collective), and is still using his videos to teach the internet that everyone deserves to see themselves the way he does.

Check out our chat with him below.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tubefilter: I’m very familiar with you and your work, but for anybody who’s reading this and maybe doesn’t know who you are, can you give me a little bit of background about you, where you’re from, and how you got into photography?

David Suh: I’m a portrait photographer out here in Silver Lake, Los Angeles. I photograph the everypeople, and when I say the everypeople, it’s people who typically aren’t in the spotlight too much and therefore simply wants to see a beautiful photo of them, connect with someone that they identify as, and therefore feel seen and heard and feel empowerment through that. I also create content that takes that to a lighter level. I think most people know me as the posing guy or the king of poses, and I teach people how to pose, but really under the goal of helping people navigate and explore their identity through portraits and express in a creative way. I’m from Korea. I grew up nine years in Korea, nine years in Hong Kong, and it’s my 10th year here in America.

Tubefilter: How did you first get into photography?

David Suh: Photography, it started with dance. In middle school, I got hooked on Michael Jackson and the Jabbawockeez.

Tubefilter: No wonder you’re the king of poses, then. It’s a direct line.

David Suh: Is it? You figured it out. But yes, America’s Best Dance Crew season one, the Jabbawockeez. I was really hooked and I remember I was like, my older sister, she’s four years older, she was taking hip-hop classes when I’m in middle school, she’s high school, she’s like locking herself in the room so no one else watches in the family. I would almost mock her and swing my arms to Michael Jackson’s song.

She actually laughed and said, “You know what, that actually looks pretty good.” She ran to get Dad. Dad also giggled because he never saw his son just wiggle his body around. He was like, “Hey, that actually looks good.” I guess that gave me enough of a confidence boost to just keep learning on YouTube. Then soon enough that led to me wanting to video my dance, requested we get a family camera upgrade. Thankfully that was done. We got a new camera, which instantly became mine and that became the kid running around school just like photographing, videoing everything, and that really just led to a snowball effect.

Tubefilter: Your approach to portrait photography is very unique. When did you become fascinated with portraiture in particular?

David Suh: I think for me starting out it was like taking street photos, street photography, and realizing it was a lot more challenging to photograph friends, right. Just like pep rally school photos, all these yearbook photos, all these things. Then friends and like outings and stuff like that. I realized it’s really tough to get photos of other people that they like of themselves.

On the opposite end of that, there was a lot of fulfillment when this is like heavy Facebook era, where a friend would make one of the pictures I took for them a profile picture, and I would like, Wow. It would feel so good. It would be like the two ends. It’s like, okay, there’s this fulfillment when I create something for someone that they like it felt really good. Then if I created something for someone and they’re like, “Oh, David, my calves look too big.” I’m like, “Whoa, what do you mean? This looks like such a cool photo with the latest technique I learned off of YouTube.” They’re like, “No, I don’t care about that. I just don’t like this photo.”

The primitive high school boy who grew up very traditionally wouldn’t understand why a girl friend of mine would not like stronger legs, stronger-looking legs on them, and I’d be like, “What? I don’t understand that.” It’d be just learning about just beauty standards, learning about just what are gender roles in society? It goes way, way deeper than just like the portraits I’m realizing I’m learning a lot of those things and that was the part that I was like really fulfilling and being able to step into someone else’s shoe and empathize as much as I can and really listen and create a purpose for them.

Tubefilter: Out of high school, did you go into photography full-time?

David Suh: No, I went to college. Oh, that’d be different universe, huh?

Tubefilter: What were you in college for?

David Suh: That’s when I came to design, that’s when I flew over from Seoul to Davis to go to UC Davis for design. I spent a lot of time skipping classes to learn photography online instead.

Tubefilter: [laughs] Was it still worth it to go to college, though?

David Suh: I don’t know. I feel like things happen for a reason. I tried really hard to prove to my dad that I could make this happen because I had a really real talk with dad. I was like, “Dad, why do you want me to go to college?” He said, “Because I want you to live a better life, a more secure life than I did.” I said, “All right, and you also want me to be happy.” “Yes, I want you to be happy.” I’m like, “Okay, what if I could do all of that without college?” He’s like, “No.” [laughs]

It was just like, “Honestly, it makes sense. I would please you. I’ll make you feel like calm and everything knowing that your son is doing well.” He’s like, “Yes, but still finish college.” I tried. I tried a lot. I try not to have any regrets of it. I think there were some aspects to it that even though I’m going to keep dismissing the impact of college, I’m sure there’s stuff that added to where I am today.

Tubefilter: Then what did you do after college?

David Suh: After college, I just went fully into operating my portrait photography studio. Let’s see. Second year of college was when I started doing like grad photoshoots on campus. That exists everywhere in America, you do it for like $50, $100. I was the first one to charge a little bit more, like $300. Then that’s when I found my mentor online. She said, “David Suh, you have to charge way more than that into like 10 exits.”

Sophomore year was when I really started taking really seriously. Junior year I was running clients’ photoshoots out of my college apartment that I shared with my ex. My clients are spending $2,000 to $4,000 with me for a two-hour session. There’s a lot of pressure for me to make my college apartment look great, like in the professional studio. It was a big dream of mine to be like, oh, one day I’m just going to have an official studio, professional studio. Then I think a year after graduating, I signed my first commercial lease in Sacramento, which was just about 15 minutes away from my college town. These commercial leases are minimum three years of a lease so that was very scary.

Tubefilter: Yes, that’s terrifying.

David Suh: Yes, because commercial leases and studios typically aren’t prepped for people to move in and start using like residentials are, because apartments are really clean and everything, but commercial they just strip it down from however the previous business used it and they tell you, “Oh, build it however you want to.” They’re giving you an empty studio, that’s it.

Typically if you’re going to invest in decorating the place and walls and colors and everything, you want at least three years. It was a very scary investment, but a year after college, right after graduating, I was really focusing on getting more clients and then fortunate enough to have enough clients to get my first three-year lease of a commercial studio. We’re just going ham at that–while going through a breakup.

Tubefilter: Nooo, that’s the worst. But I’m glad the studio worked out. How much was the rent on it, if you don’t mind me asking?

David Suh: I think it was just shy of $4,000 a month.

Tubefilter: That’s a huge commitment for three years.

David Suh: Yes. Then of course I have my separate apartment–a studio apartment, which is nice because it was only a couple blocks away. I’d always just walk to work, and that was just shy of $2,000 as well. It was a lot.

Tubefilter: Is that the same studio where you’re currently at or do you have another studio now?

David Suh: No, I moved to L.A. and I have my dream studio now.

Tubefilter: What makes it your dream studio?

David Suh: It’s really stunning. It’s really beautiful. It’s a lot of space. It’s something David Suh would’ve never imagined would be possible. It’s more than I need. It’s in L.A., not that moving to L.A. was a dream, but to be able to afford something like this and run a business that provides for not just me but for a staff of five, and pays the rent, is definitely a dream that I’m very grateful for.

Tubefilter: Yes, that’s wild. Bringing in staff is a whole other level of responsibility and level of commitment. How did TikTok/Instagram/digital content come into things?

David Suh: Well, if we go back to middle school David, just dancing and stuff, he was uploading YouTube videos, so I was technically creating content since middle school days. Not that it popped off or I would ever consider myself a content creator back then. I was creating content on Instagram as well, but very much as a photographer, just posting portfolio pieces and treating Instagram like a portfolio but soon enough understanding that, oh, social media in general isn’t about just posting my latest work.

I think the analogy–and this will all tie in–the analogy I bring up is, let’s say I went to a coffee shop, went up to a random person and I just had a book and without any context I just started showing them images after images after images. That’s what I felt like on Instagram, just posting portfolio pieces after portfolio pieces. I was like, this doesn’t seem social at all. Definitely thinking about business, I was like, I’m not creating, I’m not serving my community. I’m not serving my clients. So that’s when I started thinking differently about content in general and thinking about, okay, who am I communicating to? Who do I want to communicate to? How do I communicate to them? Is there something of a pain point in their lives that I can either emphasize about or bring some alleviation to?

Then quarantine hit and then that’s when TikTok came around. I couldn’t serve my clients anymore. I said, “Wow, how do I pay my rent and everything? $6,000?” I just stayed optimistic through it. I said, “You know what, let me share the joys of what I do on TikTok.” I think the first thing that really popped off was me reenacting a typical day at the studio serving a client, which is a shy client coming in, and then them turning into an absolute baddie by the end of it all, except I played both characters, me being the photographer and then me being the client in the dress with a flower crown.

Ever since then people were always asking, “David, how do you look so graceful? How do you pose like that?” I was like, “I never knew posing was so hard.”

Tubefilter: It’s the Michael Jackson.

David Suh: Yes, you heard it here, credit goes to James. Yes, I never knew posing was something that people wanted to learn about outside of me just learning it to help my clients. TikTok was a huge, huge change in my life.

Tubefilter: I just watched one of your videos this morning where you were talking about how to put yourself in a setting. You were sitting on a couch with a magazine, in your studio, and you were talking about putting yourself in a setting where you’re comfortable so you don’t stiffen up or feel unnatural while being photographed. I think advice like that can totally change the way people look at things.

David Suh: Right. That’s why I really like to dive into, it’s like a state of being almost, which is the part that becomes really empowering. It becomes way deeper than just taking a cute photo. Which is necessary, but so much deeper than that too.

Tubefilter: This may be a tricky question, but what is the average day like for you in terms of balancing running your studio and having your staff and then making videos? What are you up to on the average day?

David Suh: Let’s see. Definitely just managing different meetings, especially nowadays. I’m going through a big season of transition right now because my photography studio is going through an evolution, it’s currently called David Suh Photography. It’s very reflective of my service, which is “David Suh photographs clients,” but we’re going to be called DASU Studios now because we’re going to be a collective of photographers. We’re also going to be a part-time tea house.

Tubefilter: Oh, very cool.

David Suh: Yes, because we really believe in safe space and bringing people together to grow and express and love and all the good stuff about wellness and mental health. That’s just a really big project where we’re going through, working with an interior designer to go through renovation, all these things. There’s just a bunch of meetings, of course, providing for my staff as well, whatever they need, however much time I can give them and whatever support they need from me. Creating content, keeping up with that as much as I can. I brought on an editor who’s really amazing who’s been helping out.

It’s just me going from meetings, literally last week the funniest thing was me being in a dress filming a tutorial and then there’s a video clip of me taking a Zoom interview because I’m hiring again, with the dress peeking out on the bottom because I just put on a little button-up on top. My lilac purple dress on the bottom and my wig on the side because I just had to run and get to my interview. It’s just back and forth a lot on a lot of things. I wish I could bunch the tasks, similar tasks a bit more, but right now it’s just hectic going from filming in a dress to interviews to photoshoots. Yes.

Tubefilter: Yes. There’s nothing wrong with doing interviews in a dress. If you rock the dress, you rock the dress! You might as well just go for it. Also, that silver wig that you wear is also very rocking.

David Suh: [laughs] Thank you. I feel so good in it.

Tubefilter: It looks good! Do you have a projected timeline for the tea house being opened?

David Suh: July 1. [Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted in June 2023.]

Tubefilter: Oh, really soon! Is it connected to the studio?

David Suh: It is. Right now I’m fortunate enough to have three, so it’s a row of three commercial studios. There’s about eight but then three of them are connected through these beautiful archways and it was sold to me with that idea and ever since I’ve been occupying three, so now one of the spaces is going to turn into that tea house/an office space for my team.

During the daytime it’s going to be a workspace for my team and in the evening it’s going to be a tea house/for events/workshops. I think that’s something really needed in L.A., where people want to go out, dress up, look cute, take photos, dance, listen to music but they don’t want to get wasted. So like, come have tea but still enjoy live jazz music, have mocktails and elixirs and feel good about it.

Tubefilter: Yeah, that’s amazing. It’s hard to find alcohol-free places like that. My sort of wrap-up question is usually, “Do you have any plans or projects?” but I feel like we just ran through it. Do you have any sort of personal goals or anything else that you’re hoping to do for the next year or so?

David Suh: Personal goals… My birthday is coming up in July as well. Every year I do, like, on my birthday, I do a birthday suit photoshoot, so really minimal goal. A minuscule goal I’m working on is, can David see abs this year? [laughs] I don’t know. That’s like a personal goal. I do put a lot of hours into, but also looking to buy my first home in L.A. too, which is a much bigger goal. Just working on my mental health a lot. I’m really fortunate in a place where I can work on my wellness and really just like, as much capacity as I want, so really taking care of my body in all ways possible. Then soon enough taking care of my family too.

Tubefilter: Very cool. I’m so glad you’re having so many awesome things happen and your place is growing, your studio is growing. 

David Suh: Thank you, James.

Tubefilter: Of course. Last question, you were named this year’s Visionary Voices list on TikTok. Congratulations, first of all, and what was that experience like for you?

David Suh: Thank you. So grateful, so blessed. There’s so many amazing creators out there, and to be recognized among so many is very inspiring. It makes me want to keep doing more. There’s many times it’s like the ebb and flow and like you said, the down and ups, right? There’s many times where I do end up slipping back into the mindset of scarcity, where I’m like, “Oh, man, is this worth it?”

Like with DASU Studios as well. There’s so much financial investment going into it. A lot of labor going into it. It’s like, man, are people going to trust other photographers that I represent? Are people going to want to come to this tea house? There’s no parking around. Are they going to make their way? It’s so easy to slip into that. Anything, little things like my team or moments like this, or being a part of the Visionary Voices list, it truly helps me come back to like, “Wow, we really are building something big. If I just follow my heart, good things will happen.” That’s really all I’ve been doing the last 10 years and it’s brought me to here so it’s really awesome to see.

Tubefilter: Perfect. Is there anything else you want to talk about? Anything you feel readers should know about you? 

David Suh: I love to give and I always provide to the community. I really hope whoever is in L.A., or traveling to L.A., they know that there’s going to be a beautiful, inspiring, safe space for people to come and have tea, have snacks, and dance the night away in a place where we operate off curiosity and not judgment.

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