Yu Tsai

Founder and Creative Director | 88 Phases Inc. and Photographer/TV Personality 

Photography and Entertainment 

Los Angeles

Yu Tsai: How This Fashion Photographer and Global TV Personality Has Kept Creativity and Commerce Alive during Quarantine

Yu Tsai defines multifaceted. A Taiwanese-born director and photographer, his first passions were biology and wildlife zoology before venturing forth to a journey in the arts. Early on he collaborated with countless directors and creative minds in the film industry on script development and treatments, which led to his present focus in fashion and commercial photography and directing. Owner of 88phases, creative agency, Yu Tsai has created iconic imagery and films for global brands such as Apple, Guess, Coca-Cola, Pantene, Movado, Victoria’s Secret, Uniqlo, Topman, HP, CBS, Sony Music, Clairol, Lexus, Armani, L’Oreal, Sports Illustrated, Coach, Subaru, Samsung, Interscope Records, and more. Developing relationships and trust, Yu Tsai has been integral to the launch of careers of supermodels including Kate Upton, Candice Swanepoel, Elsa Hosk, Jessica Hart, and Irina Shayk. His collaborations with the entertainment industry’s most visible and provocative talent includes actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicole Kidman, Angelina Jolie, Tarji P. Henson, Jessica Chastain, Bruce Willis, Jon Hamm, Anne Hathaway, Forest Whitaker, James Franco, Keira Nightly, Ewan McGregor, and musicians as diverse as John Legend, Ringo Starr, Janet Jackson, Alicia Keys, the Jonas Brothers, Katy Perry, and P Diddy. When he is not behind the camera, Yu Tsai also is the creator and executive producer for Street to Kitchen Asia, a Fox and Net Geo Asia network travel show exploring street food culture thought out Asia. Featured as a judge on American Beauty Star next to Ashley Graham and still playing an active role as a judge and mentor on Asia’s Next Top Model and guest photographer for Germany’s Next Top Model.

What are your biggest business concerns surrounding COVID-19? 

The normal we all are used to will never be normal again. COVID-19 has already shaped the way we will communicate and socialize. The global impact on the business really varies from sector to sector. Even with most of the businesses in shutdown mode, we know many essential business, markets and restaurants, are working even harder to provide for their community. Manufacturers that can produce PPE products to help first responders are in higher production mode than their old normal.

We are all reshaping who we are from business to our daily lives. Moms and dads working from home are also teachers now. Cooking and working out are the new trend. Live TV shows are conducted through Zoom video calls. Having dinner and sharing a glass of wine over Facetime are some of the creative ways we find joy to connect with our love ones. Not all these behavior impacts are negative. Many find this time to reflect and discover what matters to them the most, myself included.

Just a few of photographer Yu Tsai’s many fashion covers. From left: Kate Upton on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue; Esquire featuring Taylor Kitsch and Idris Elba; and Chrissy Teigen on the cover of Vogue.

As a photographer and TV personality, all my photoshoots, directing and TV productions are on hold until further notice. Magazines and publications are struggling to create new content. Many are revising and repurposing old content to fill in the pages. The new normal has created an abundance of questions on what the readers and customers want to see and how to market to them. It is a struggle especially for luxury fashion brands. Brands that rely on editorial photoshoots and celebrity placement on magazine covers no longer have that accessible to them. Although the digital marketing format is still available, lacking the ability to create new content is a big challenge, not to mention, the question of how to remain relevant, have a coherent marketing strategy, and voice that remains sensitive to the climate we are now in. These struggles create a trickle-down effect that is affecting everyone in the creative and artistic business sector, including makeup artists, hair stylist, fashion stylists and photographers, like myself.

What is your current business strategy for dealing with the situation? 

In the beginning of this pandemic, as a fashion celebrity photographer and TV personality, I too wondered, “what will my business be like after COVID-19 is over?” However, I eventually came to the realization that COVID-19 will never be over. Its tremendous impact is present, and I must adjust and adapt to this change.

I put my staff back to work. Creating graphic content, video editing, lighting, and scheduling. I personally got motivated to wake up every day and put on a clean pair of pants and get to work in my guest bedroom that now is the Let’s Talk studio.

A few weeks ago, when the social distancing mandate set in, my biggest concern was how to keep my family safe. After spending a week mentally and physically occupied prepping for them, was when reality set in personally: All of my photoshoots are on hold, or let’s be honest, cancelled. Both my reality shows, travel, and model competition shows in Asia are at a dead stop. All advertising, design, and marketing accounts vanished. Many clients are withholding their payment. Watching the stock market crash, it was overwhelming to know that I have a real reality to face now.

I then started to ask myself, how do I keep my staff busy? How do I keep myself motivated? How not to be depressed and unable to create?

I knew I was not alone. So many friends and creative partners are facing the same fear. I found myself on Facetime all day long talking to people in our business simply trying to figure out what do next. We are asking ourselves how will this pandemic affect all of our future? That is when I realized, we should not be asking what is next. Rather ask the question, “What can we do now?”

A still of Let’s Talk with Milla Jovovich.

Now, what we all need is human connections. What we need now is positivity in all of our communities. What we need now is to support each other. Most importantly for me is listen to each other. This is the spark that started Let’s Talk Live with Yu Tsai on IG LIVE.

I put my staff back to work. Creating graphic content, video editing, lighting, and scheduling. I personally got motivated to wake up every day and put on a clean pair of pants and get to work in my guest bedroom that now is the Let’s Talk studio.

We realized within a week, from the outreach and support of our colleagues and followers on IG, that Let’s Talk has to have a greater purpose, so we put an activation in place. In a gesture of appreciation, for being a guest on Let’s Talk Live with Yu Tsai, produced by 88 Phases, for every guest that comes on the show, we are donating 500 three-layer protective disposable procedure masks to the first responders in need. (Please visit our website for more details.) We will continue to keep this activation until we reach our 100k-mask goal.

To date, with the angel donors like Milla Jovovich, Let’s Talk guests and other generous donors, Let’s Talk has delivered over 30K masks and 33K more masks are in transit to first responders. Many thanks to MJ Day, Editor in Chief of SI Swimwsuit. She is personally delivering them to the east coast hospitals in need.

Supermodel Gigi Hadid shot by Yu Tsai.

How do you think things will look in your industry a year from now?

Our industry will never be the same again. Many of the retail and fashion brands may not make it through this time. Their success directly affects our financial stability. The rates and budgets for shoots will be adjusted to reflect the economy as it grows.

In our industry, the most important lesson we have to keep learning is the balance between art and commerce. We are super blessed to be in a creative field that allows us to create while making a living. As an artist, we never stop creating, but I can only hope that commerce will continue to value the art and work our industry provides.

Some huge impacts during this global shut down that we saw are how air pollution has decreased in major cities around the world and  wildlife and nature are blooming. I hope that our industry can learn from this period to be more aware our everyday impact on our environment and create more sustainable and environmentally friendly products.

What have you learned from other difficult times in the past?

From surviving the bust of the internet bubble and 9/11 to the crash of the stock market in 2018 and now in the midst of COVID-19, these pivotal moments in my career are my daily reminders to stay creative, resilient, and most importantly to be kind…Because I know, this too shall pass.

Safe–and entertained–at Home: What business leaders are doing with their downtime


Morning routine?
Each morning when I wake up, I give my French bulldog, Soy, a big hug and kiss and tell her how much I love her. I make myself hot tea and review the notes of the guest who will be on Let’s Talk that day. Then, I take a quiet moment to feed my koi fish and, though I’m not always successful, I try to put in a little workout.

Then the daily zoom call with my staff. The rest of my day is consumed by Let’s Talk Live show and guest booking for future shows.

Currently binging?
Like everyone else, I am obsessed with Tiger King. A few years ago, I pitched a show called Finding Home to the NBC and NatGeo networks. The show was actually inspired by the people in the Tiger King cast, and it is still my passion project. My hope was to create an animal rescue show to save wild animals illegally kept in captivity, but the show was not picked up. Perhaps now with Netflix putting a spotlight on this issue, Finding Home will find a network home.

Currently reading?
I am obsessed with food podcasts: Splendid Table and Good Eats on NPR. They run in the background all day long in my house. I can rewatch Top Chef, Ugly Delicious, and Chopped 24/7.

What are you doing to spend quality time with those you’re sheltering with?
I’m sheltering only with my dog Soy but am always on Facetime with friends and family when I am not Live on IG.

What are you doing to stay healthy mentally and physically?
Keeping myself busy and working keeps me healthy mentally. Producing Let’s Talk on a daily basis is very time consuming. Booking talent and researching about them take up majority of my time throughout the day.

To keep myself physically healthy, I made a rule for myself. If I ever turn on the TV to watch a show, I must be doing some kind of exercise throughout the entire episode. Not going to lie, some days, I just don’t turn the TV on, just so I don’t have to workout…haha.

Where are you dreaming of visiting once things are back to normal?
I would love to be able to cook for my friends and family again. As much as I love cooking on a TV show and on IG, the satisfaction of actually sharing the food with friends and family brings me the biggest joy.

Right before COVID-19, I was planning on filming season 2 of Street to Kitchen Asia in Vietnam. So, I hope that is my very first destination of travel.