Feature: Karen Yeung @iamkareno & Leo Thom @shotbyleo
"When I grow up I want to be a singer."
Today kids say "I want to be a Youtuber!"
If you don't know already being a serious Influencer/Youtuber is a full-time job. We’ll like to call it the modern entrepreneurs that require: creativity, business skills, planning time, an understanding of marketing in the digital world, and a strong heart! With more people watching Youtube than TV, running a Youtube channel is almost like running a TV channel but with less manpower.
Karen and Leo run their social media comparable to a production house and split the following roles between the two of them:
➡️ Creative Director
➡️ Hair & Makeup Artist
➡️ Audio & Lighting technician
➡️ Model & Talent
And the list goes on...and on...and on...
This photoshoot is a reflection of who they are: a powerful couple, partners in crime, great creative tandem, and just dope modern parents. Playful and colourful aesthetics of 90-s chosen for the shooting fit perfectly - no matter how many duties and responsibilities parenthood brought to them, Karen and Leo always stay fun-loving, bubbly, and adventurous. Festival parties inspired looks had some Asian elements as a reference to their cultural background.
Interestingly, it was Leo’s first time modeling (very successful!) - usually, he’s behind the camera, doing the technical part, while Karen takes care of the creative side and presentation. They are truly each other's backbone. Many years ago Leo supported Karen's social media dream and, Karen helped him to realise his ambitions in photography.
Their mutual support and synergy are so admirable!
Here we have Leo to give us an insight into how they run their social media business together!
Let's kick start with an introduction, who is Leo Thom, the man behind the camera?
From Linkedin to Social Media Guru.
I am a commercial and editorial photographer focused on high-end beauty and fashion. I used to work as a web developer at Linkedin. However, when Karen's influencer career took off she had to move to LA and I decided to move with her. I think most people know me as Karen’s partner - an IG husband!
What was your path to photography?
I first started taking landscape and cityscape photography around late 2014. It was an escape from my corporate 9-5 job that had me in the office all week.
Around the same time, my wife began her influencer career-making styling videos on YouTube. I began helping her out with videos and photos, and haven’t stopped since. I slowly began taking portraits of my wife and her other influencer friends over the years.
I became serious about studio photography in 2019. I relied heavily on natural light for my portraits up until then and was always intimidated by the studio environment. All the beeping of the flashes, wires, stands everywhere...I was truly scared because I didn’t know what any of it did. But I made it my 2019 resolution to face that fear head-on and just learn as much as I could about studio photography. In relatively short order, the fear transformed into inspiration. I view the studio now as an arena where I get to play with creative ideas.
Do you prefer to be in front or behind the camera?
Behind, definitely. I like to think of myself as a technical person. Not trying to say modeling isn’t technical, but rather I feel modeling could be led with emotion. You can’t take a picture on emotion alone -- you need to balance a myriad of factors for a successful shot. The fun for me is applying what I know in a tactical way to affect the image.
What's this invisible technical part of content creation you're in charge of?
I’m in charge of lighting, camera operating, sound for videos, and file management. I know a lot of other influencer partners do the same level of work. It’s fun, but people don’t realize we’re often doing the work of 2-3 people on set.
Has your life changed when you started to appear in Karen's videos more?
More people “know” who I am before they actually meet me, which can be good or bad. I’ve come to realize we do trade a little bit of our privacy to produce entertainment for others, and in that exchange, I lose a little bit of agency around “who I am”. I used to struggle with this because I don’t think I’m particularly good at crafting my own online persona for others to be led by haha so oftentimes, people make long-sweeping opinions about little actions they’ve seen on the screen. I’ve come to grow more comfortable with others forming opinions about me before they actually meet me, and know that those who really care would actually take the time and consideration to get to know the “real” me.
Is blogging a kind of art for you?
Yes, I’d definitely consider it an art. I look up tremendously to creators like Casey Neistat. Video for me has been a beast that I respect from afar. I don’t think I have the capacity to blog for myself. I’d become too intertwined in the planning that the execution would suffer haha but I do respect those who do it regularly.
Have you ever struggled with creativity block?
Absolutely. I know the image of a pure artist is someone that is constantly churning out amazing works, but it’s perfectly natural to need to take a break. Whenever I face creative block, I like to go into what I call “learning mode”. The world isn’t as binary as this next example, but I do like to think of creative mental states in either “creation mode” or “learning mode”. If your “creation mode” is slowing down, you can always enter into a book, a video tutorial, or a private lesson to keep honing your craft until inspiration strikes again.
Where do you find inspiration?
Print magazines, Instagram, and the urban environment. We recently moved to Hong Kong from the suburbs of Orange County, California. Those two places are like polar opposites.
Any creative experiments in the near future?
I want to focus on my photography and continually explore new genres. I feel I’ve reached a level where I know all the rules -- lighting, composition, camera operating. Now it’s time to break the rules.
Now let's talk about working together!
Is it a curse or blessing to work together with your spouse?
It’s a blessing! I get to see my beautiful wife every day for work hahaha
How do you distribute the workload? Do you have any permanent duties?
I am on the production team, Karen is on the creative team. So I handle things like camera work, audio, and communicating with our management team on the creative deliverables. Karen is the main talent, make-up artist, creative director, editor, and marketer.
Living together, taking care of a child together but also working together can be quite crazy sometimes! What has been one of the silliest arguments you have had on set?
99% of the time we have an argument on set, it's because...we're hungry! And so, we're just hangry, it can be something as little as like, "Oh! The light doesn't look good from this side, you should set it up on this side", "No, I know better, I do the lightings!", "No, but it's my video!".It kind of spirals into something that was totally so small from the beginning and we'll always just say, "Hey are you hungry", we'll realize we're hungry and agree to get some food, stop and pace ourselves.
Many audiences don't realize that it requires a lot of time and effort to produce quality content, especially the role of an "IG Husband", anything you would like to say to ALL the IG Husbands out there?
We have such amazing partners and a lot of the time the audience doesn't know how much work goes into it and so, just keep your head up, keep going along with all the work you're doing because it's great. Your partner appreciates it, I'm sure you appreciate it as well. And many people that watch your partner that also appreciates your work. Just know that you're doing something really great. It's amazing! Maybe you didn't choose to do this, maybe you kind of fell into this, like I did. But it's an amazing opportunity. So just be proud of yourself!
Dove is so proud of her parents!
Leo's photography website: https://www.shotbyleo.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/shotbyleo/ https://www.instagram.com/iamkareno/ Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/iamkareno
Family assistant: @joshyyeung
Creative team @the.stylatude
CD Styling / MUA: @itscarolinefung
Hair Stylist: @katstyleone
Styling Assistant: @jamiejardin