Launching a Photography Business in South Korea – Insights from Dylan Goldby

Sporting a ponytail and several tattoos, Dylan Goldby does not seem a typical figure you’d expect to encounter in conservative Korean business circles. However, the Australian photographer is well-known within the community and is often the first point of all for premium networking events, VIP receptions and industry trade shows.

But how did Dylan end up in Korea? And what made him decide to make it his base for WelkinLight Photography? To hear more about his story, I sat down with Dylan in one of Seoul’s numerous cafes – meeting at 9 am to avoid the crowds.

A Passion for Language and Adventures Abroad

Growing up in a small 900-person town on the outskirts of Melbourne, Dylan had a fascination for foreign cultures and languages.

“My mum was always out an emphasis on us learning things outside our town. We hosted the Japanese exchange teacher at our house – which meant that we got to experience elements of Japanese culture first-hand, such as food and folk games”.

Dylan Goldby
Dylan’s Primary School / Supplied

Just as Dylan started school, the state made the switch from teaching German to Japanese. As a result, the curriculum included an optional three-week ‘culture tour’ of Japan, which only served to deepen Dylan’s curiosity about Japan. Returning from the three-week program and, determined to get a better understanding of Japan outside the tourist bus window, Dylan negotiated with his school to let him study in Japan for three months. The school permitted it, but only under the condition Dylan completed all his Australian exams and assessments while abroad – which led to him juggling Australian studies with various extra-curricular activities in Japan, such as kendo, calligraphy, stone stamp carving.

“Growing up in a little town was very insular, so I decided what I wanted to do with my life was experience other countries and cultures abroad”.

Dylan Goldby

This thirst for global adventure remained in Dylan’s mind as he applied to study at Monash University – ending up enrolling in a Bachelor of Arts with a Major in Foreign Languages and a minor in Linguistics. Since the degree required a second language, in addition to the obvious choice of continuing with Japanese, Dylan chose Korean on a whim and soon found himself picking up the new language with relative ease.

In a fascinating twist of fate, illustrating how interconnected the Australia-Korea space really is, Dylan met Scott Walker (who you can read about in this Asia Options interview) during the first year of his studies at Monash. Scott was working as a travel agent on campus, but his encounter with Dylan encouraged him to also enroll in the 2nd year of Monash Korean Language studies. However, after the second-year courses wrapped up, the two Korean-language enthusiasts were left without room to further pursue their language studies on campus. As a result, Dylan and Scott petitioned the faculty to open a one-off credited program with Korea University – which would allow them to continue studying Korean (in Seoul!) while gaining credits to complete their degrees.

Scott Walker, Dylan Goldby and Dylan’s wife, pictured enjoying life in pre-pandemic Seoul / Supplied

“Studying at Korea University was a fantastic experience. Unlike the program at Yonsei, which focuses more on grammar, Korea University put a strong emphasis on spoken Korean. For instance, during class, our teacher had a money jar that you had to put 100KRW (Korea actually used to be affordable…) into every time you used a language other than Korean in the classroom. This also meant that by the end of every week, there was enough money in the jar for everyone to go out to dinner and drinks on Friday evening, where similar penalties applied for not speaking Korean during the night.”

Dylan Goldby

From Teaching English in Korea to Starting a Photography Business

Still, the Korean language course at Korea University only lasted three months, so Dylan came back to Melbourne and quickly got “itchy itchy feet”. Since he had some months before he would officially graduate from his BA degree at Monash, and as he was waiting for a scholarship result to be announced for studying Law in Japan, Dylan decided to use his savings on investing in another semester of language study at Korea University. Although his scholarship for Japan fell through, Dylan had no desire to return to Australia just yet and decided to stay in Korea – securing a teaching English position in Anyang. Given the prominence of English teaching as a route to building a career in Asia, I asked Dylan to share his tips for other aspiring English teachers. His key emphasis was the importance of doing your research, both about the organisation and who is working there.

“If you’re going to go into teaching, meet your boss first and speak to the outgoing teachers. These are businesses  run by human beings and human beings vary a lot. Find a place you’re comfortable working at”.

Dylan Goldby

Dylan stayed in the teaching sector for some years – later getting a job in Seoul, which was quite difficult in the past as the capital city was dominated by American and Canadian teachers. However, while Dylan enjoyed teaching and had a passion for language, it was time for a change. As the title of the blog gives away, Dylan had a passion for photography that started out as a hobby – with a bunch of expats going for walks around Seoul, printing out photos and discussing them over beers at a local pub.

Dylan with another photographer, Roy Cruz / Supplied

“For the last 3-4 years as a teacher, I was working odd hours, which gave me an outlet to start doing photography jobs for foreign magazines, such as Groove Magazine and 10 Magazine. I got to meet a lot of people through these shoots, one of whom was Rod Rothwell, who introduced me to AustCham Korea.”

Dylan Goldby

The AustCham Korea event served as Dylan’s first foray into event photography (which you can find other examples of in his portfolio), but the key pillars of Dylan’s photography business would end up being corporate projects and family shoots, including adoption photography, which continues to be a particular passion-project for Dylan.

“In the photography world, training helps, but it’s not the key, beginning a business is all about bluffing your way in – so when someone asked me ‘Can you do profile shoots?’ I’d say yes first and then spend two weeks leading up to the shoot figuring it out.”

Adoption photography has become one of Dylan’s passions, and is a key pillar of Welkin Light Photography / Supplied

In addition to this entrepreneurial spirit and emphasis on figuring things out as you go, Dylan emphasized the importance of tapping into a community of photographers – including experts in the craft and rookie enthusiasts.

“The best way to learn is to go do photography with others who are better than you. Seoul has community groups for just about anything – tap into them.”

Dylan Goldby

Photography Clubs in Seoul to keep an eye on:

Yet while Dylan’s experience in photography provides valuable insights for those keen to enter the field, his story reflects something bigger – as it is a tale of how your adventures in a foreign land can help you discover your passion and build something amazing. Korea, undoubtedly along with other countries, is filled with eccentric, inspiring and brave entrepreneurial stories from all kinds of industries. You can read about some of them on Asia Options, such as the story of Julia Mellor, Founder of The Sool Company, or that of Desi Cochrane, Founder of Goshipages.

“Experiment until you find what you really love doing. It could be managing a bar in Itaewon or working for Samsung. Do what you love, and you will find a career. There is tremendous opportunity in Korea for those doing something different.”

Dylan Goldby
Dylan’s photography also frequently takes him outside of Seoul, working on different projects and discovering new sides of Korea / Supplied

Korea is an exciting and dynamic place. Wrapping up our coffee chat, Dylan noted that it was vital to stay attuned to these fluctuations: “Be open to change. Don’t think you can keep doing the same thing in Korea – it is a dynamic place that changes all the time.”

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Kate Kalinova

Kate Kalinova is a Project Manager at the Australian Chamber of Commerce (AustCham) in Korea. She writes for Asia Options and Korea.net.

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