Photographer KatSu Phuong Picks Eight Items Of Essential Kit

Introducing the fashion and streetstyle photographer KatSu Phuong. Here, in a break between shoots, he opens his bag for us to show us his essential photographer’s kit.

“I’m obsessed with Japanese culture, and the Japanese used to call the Vietnamese ‘Katsu’ so that’s how I got the name,” KatSu, or Tran Tien Phuong, explains. He studied graphic design at FPT Arena Multimedia. But, inspired by the American-born Copenhagen-based photographer Adam Katz Sinding, KatSu began to focus more on his own photography. And he’s developed his own style with other more established names as reference points, “like Mario Testino,” he interrupts, “who’s a real idol for the way he’s become such a household name while carving out his own aesthetic.” 

KatSu Phuong’s shot Harper Bazaar editorials, YSL events and fashion shows by designers like Adrian Anh Tuan. “But I really got my break during Vietnam Fashion Week four years ago – there I met so many of my heroes in the fashion world…as well as grabbing lots of nice shots,” KatSu remembers. 

So, we met the photographer at Rêvons studio right on the banks of the Saigon river in District 4. Inside the warehouse building which houses Rêvons studio are coffeeshops and artists studios. And it’s also one of KatSu Phuong’s home bases for shooting studio shots. There, we asked him to show us his favourite things for our ‘What’s in your bag?’ series. 

1. Wacom Intuos Tablet 

First, KatSu shows us his well-worn Wacom Intuos Tablet which he’s been using for four years. “It’s much easier to use for retouching than a mouse,” KatSu explains about his first piece of essential photographer’s kit. “It allows quick edits, and professional-level retouching.”

2. Stress reliever 

“Being a photographer means there’s lots of waiting around,” KatSu explains, “so I need something to keep me busy.” He picks up the squeezy stress-relieving toy that’s shaped like a dick that his friend gave him. “This comes in handy,’ he laughs.

The fashion and streetstyle photographer KatSu Phuong talks us through his essential photographer’s kit.

3. Nikon D750 with 24-120mm lens

The Nikon D750 was, Nikon say, ‘designed to liberate photographers.’  They aimed to do that through high ISO performance, strong auto-focus even in low light conditions, and a compact, light, slim body with a deep grip to allow varied shooting angles. 

“But I choose to work with Nikon because I like the colour and the sharpness” KatSu says, even though most of his colleagues use Canon or Sony now. Added to that, he explains, he uses Nikon for its greater dynamic range, although, he adds, “that’s just my preference for my shooting style – and I use the  24-120mm lens because I tend to change angles a lot when I shoot.”

But, the photographer admits, you can often find him in the Leica boutique in Saigon’s Deutsches Haus (31 Le Duan, District 1) browsing their equipment. Or at some other of his favourite camera stores like Le Bao Minh (184 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia) or Khanh Long among the camera shops on 43 Huynh Thuc Khang).

4. Halls XS Mentholyptus 

KatSu usually picks up some Halls XS Mentholyptus from CircleK on the way to a shoot. Because they’re sugar free, Halls XS don’t leave the sticky aftertaste in your mouth. “Plus, I have to focus really hard when I’m working,” KatSu adds, “and eating these makes me feel crazy…so refreshing.” 

5. Havit G1 Bluetooth Earbuds

KatSu picked up his earbuds at Unlike other in-ear headphones these bluetooth Havits are robust and hard to lose, and the bass is heavy which suits hip hop tracks. And at around VND 2million, they’re a serious but accessible entry-level headphone. KatSu also plays music during shoots to put the sitters at ease “and create a bit of a vibe.”  

“What’s on my shoot playlist? At the moment I’m listening to a lot of Machine Gun Kelly – I especially like his track ‘Home.’ It sets a good mood in the studio for the sitter and for me,” KatSu explains. 

6. Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’

“I read a lot too,” KatSu tell us showing us his well-worn copy of his favourite book, Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’. First published in Portuguese, the book has been translated into 67 different languages, including Vietnamese, making it the most translated book by any living author. In 2010, there was even a graphic novel version published. Surprisingly, despite all that success Coehlo wrote the uplifting novel in only two weeks, saying that it was already written on his soul.

“I learnt a lot from reading that,” KatSu says, “about life and work, and how to stay motivated and focused.”

“I learnt a lot from reading [The Alchemist] about life and work, and how to stay motivated and focused.”

7. A pocket-sized Givenchy Gentlemen Only Fragrance 

Givenchy’s Gentlemen Only was launched by the fashion house in 2013. It’s a ‘modern homage to the classic fragrance of the house – Givenchy Gentlemen from 1974’ according to Givenchy’s website. KatSu sprays a little of the warm woody fragrance in the air. “Shoots can take all day, and this is an intensely people-focused profession,” KatSu explains. Besides the Halls XS Mentholyptus, the Givenchy Gentlemen Only helps the photographer stay fresh-smelling all day.

“I think you absorb all these ideas and that’s the key to developing your own style,” KatSu says about the search for inspiration on Pinterest.

8. Macbook Pro 

As we’re leaving the studio KatSu returns to his Macbook Pro and starts browsing images on Pinterest. “I think you absorb all these ideas and that’s the key to developing your own style,” the photographer explains. For every shoot he starts by preparing a moodboard, but during the shoot he allows for some spontaneity, “just feeling the emotion for each set of photographs,” he smiles as we say goodbye. 

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