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Rising Stars: Meet Thanh Vu

Today we’d like to introduce you to Thanh Vu.

Hi Thanh, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
It started about six years ago when I was studying in University of California, Irvine (UCI). After school, I also joined a hip hop dance team that was part of Vietnamese Student Association group (VSA). At that time, I had the Canon T1i that my brother gave me from many years ago. I used that to capture my team’s photoshoot, dance performance, etc. I truly didn’t think about much of photography at that time but I was surprised of how many positive feedbacks I received from my teammates and other board members of VSA. Although I was really into photography in UCI, it wasn’t until after my first full-time job as a field engineer that I decided to buy a new camera Canon 70D to pursue it more. That is when my photography journey truly begins. Even at that time, I knew I didn’t have a lot of photography knowledge as well as understand light movement. I tried to reach out to a lot of my friends to practice under different light settings, different times of the day as well as watching YouTube tutorials. I was very fortunate to receive a lot of support from my dance team and other people in UCI, especially during graduation season. At this point in my photography journey, I am still in love with photography. However, I really want to use photography as a bridge to connect with more artists. And I started to reach out to other artists in different cities and states whenever I traveled for work as a full-time engineer. I would finish my project with clients and spend one extra day to connect/collaborate with other local artists. It was such a great experience since every cities offers you a different scenery. This challenges me to think carefully about composition and utilizes the natural light efficiently. And every artist that I met become my friends. They support my work even though we only met once. That’s when I understand how powerful photography is rather than just amazing photos.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
It hasn’t been a smooth road. However, I think I would borrow my favorite quote from a favorite book/movie “Way of Peaceful Warrior” by Dan Millman – “The journey is what bring us happiness not destination”. There were a lot of obstacles to pursue photography in the first place. 1. I didn’t have enough money to fully invest in equipment like different lenses or a good camera body. In my first year of taking graduation pictures, I use the money that I made from one shoot to rent out different lenses to take pictures for other sessions. I didn’t make that much that year – maybe $50,100 dollars. However, I was very happy because I was able to test out 6-8 different lenses (70-200mm F2.8, 85mm F.18, 35mm F1.4, 28-70mm F2, etc.) that I couldn’t afford to buy and gain so much photography knowledge. 2. My mom has a financial burden of paying for some real-estate debts in Vietnam. Thus, 30% of my monthly paychecks have to go to paying this debt. This combines with housing rent put some pressure on me to keep generating stable income monthly with my full-time engineer job while finding time to pursue and grow my photography. 3. With the tight budget, I lean toward collaboration to build and grow my portfolio more than some experience models. 4. Building Social Media pages and growing photography websites – social media has been taken the internet quickly. and I need to make adjustments to keep up with the change or else I would never be able to catch up.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
In 2018, I started taking a lot of full body portraits picture of friends and family members. And I always love to utilize the outdoor background to help adding more stories to the pictures. I believe this set me apart from many photographers because I always take advantage of what the background offers. Since I switched from 3 different lenses (35mm, 85mm and a fisheye rokinon 14mm), I could be able to incorporate the background in new different perspective that other photography might not be accustomed to. A lot of people compliments on my pictures since they look natural without too much editing involved. I intentionally try to edit the photos so that there are minor flaws that can be seen. And over the time, they become somewhat my signature edit. I am most proud of my creative vision when it comes to a new outdoor environment. At the stage of my photography, I slow everything down and do a good preparation thinking ahead of time prior to take a picture. I always carefully observe and analyze the sunlight – intensity of light at that hour, position of the sun, and does it get filtered by tree, diffused by clouds, etc. Once I know what kind of the sunlight I am dealing with, I focus on the subject.

I also envision the picture in my head. And I always compared that vision with the actual picture that I took to see whether that actually matches at least 80% or more. This way, I haven’t relied on trial and error lately to capture exactly what I need. Another story that always makes me proud was when I started taking graduation pictures in UCI in 2017, 2018. I came to the new business school that was built. After walking around the area, I decided to take my client up the 3rd stair. I took a few shots. They were great shots that shows depth, all the beautiful lighting on the back. I didn’t know these shots become so popular that I can see other people were trying to mimic and even all of my other clients were asking to get exactly the same shot when I posted these online. A lot of photographers also compliment on my versatility. I am sincerely interested in all aspects of photography – studio, high-speed sync, off-camera flash, outdoor portrait, portrait landscape and landscape photography even though I mainly take 80% outdoor portrait. I constantly learn and follow different photographers in the community to always equip myself with more knowledge. Being humble and curious in the world of photography always help me capture beauty with an open mind.

Can you share something surprising about yourself?
I am very artistic and actually involved with art in many different ways. I play piano, guitar, write songs and take classes in mixing music. I also have danced hiphop for three years in college. In addition, I also coached basketball and soccer in high school classes. Lot of people who know about me usually don’t think that I am capable of doing so many things. I sincerely enjoy all these different aspects of art and usually find the right dots to connect them all together somehow. And I believe that how my passion for photography still stays strong till today.


  • $80 per 1 hour individual portrait
  • $150 per 2 hour family/engagement
  • $100 per 1 hour graduation session
  • $30 per hour editing one-on-one

Contact Info:

Image Credits:

Credit to models: Xee Leang, Malia Sherred, Hue Anh Truong, Hannah and Vincent couple, Stacy Nguyen

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