Lightroom

Mount Pinatubo 2015

I always spend my spring break in the Philippines but I rarely spend it outside Manila. This year, I decided that I really want to explore the many natural assets that Philippines has to offer. A few friends and I decided that Mt. Pinatubo would be a good introduction to the wonders of the Philippines. For this blogpost, I will share how I tried to capture it's beauty and some preventive measures to protect your equipment.

My kit for the trip included my D800 with its battery pack, Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 VRII, and the 50mm f/1.4. For occasions like this, I tend to pack only the essentials to keep it as light as possible. I opted for the battery pack because I didn't want to worry about having to change the battery.  I was also able to use the new bag I received for Christmas from my relatives: the Thule Perspektiv Messenger Bag. I have had a lot of messenger bags in the past but I have to say that this one really makes carrying about 10 pounds of equipment a pleasure. 

Mt. Pinatubo was about a 3 hour drive from Manila. We left at around 3 in the morning and made it to the area at around 7 AM after picking people up and getting a little lost along the way. When we arrived to the location, they took us all on 4x4's for about an hour a half to where you start your trek.

The 4x4 was extremely bumpy so it was very difficult to take photographs while on it. It was very hard to look through the eye piece and the camera shake was very high. To accommodate for the shake, I opted for a high shutter speed and used Auto-ISO. I rarely use Auto-ISO because I don't usually use anything beyond 200 ISO but because of the constant lighting changes and the inability to constantly change the shutter speed, I found it necessary.

The view was overwhelmingly beautiful, especially when we finally arrived to the crater.

We spent half of our time commuting from Manila and back but it was worth it. I encourage everyone to make this trip at least once in their lives. It gives you a deep appreciation of nature and time.

Lastly, make sure to completely clean your camera after a trip like this because of all the dust that might have gotten in. 

The complete set of photographs from the trip:

I edited these photos mainly using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom 4. I also used Portrait Professional Studio for retouching. If you have more questions on how I produced these images, feel free to comment here or post on my wall on facebook.

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Wide Awake

Photography for me was never about capturing moments but making them. I was instantly drawn to directorial photography because I can control every aspect of the photograph. Yet, I am equally attracted to things that I have no control over, like dreams. Dreams are a curious thing. They are ephemeral and seem to be without rules, where laws of physics don’t exist. However, I have noticed one constant: time. Dreams are still bound by time, which connects both realities. We have a finite amount of time no matter the reality. My series “Wide Awake”, explores the idea of dreams and its relation to time. 

For the image that won PPOTY Student of the Year 2013, I used compositing with different photographs I took over the years, which emphasizes the nature of dreams. Compositing is a technique in which you place different images into one image. For me, the most important mindset when making composites is realism. The image has to seem as if it was a moment captured by the camera. 

01 Collecting the Images

Most of the images used for the final image were photographed by me but not all with the intent of being used for this photograph. It is important to be organized and keep a stock of all the photographs you take at its highest quality so you have them when you need to make composites. 

Untitled-1.jpg

02 Masking the Figures

To isolate the figures, I used the masking tool and created a layer mask for every figure. I always zoom in and out to make sure that I define the masks as precisely as I could. To speed up the process, I use a pen tablet. 

03 Assembling the Elements

I usually start with the background and work forward, as it makes it easier for me to place elements easier. When placing elements together, make sure that the light source is coming from the same location and consistent. Make sure that the colors of the elements are also similar and you can manipulate those with the curves tool. When placing elements together, I also employ the same rules of composition as I do when I take a photograph. For this image, I placed the main subject on the center to give it emphasis and impact. 

04 Placing a Light Source

One of my secrets to make composite images realistic is by adding a light source in photoshop. This unites the elements making it more convincing that it is a captured moment. I use the gradient tool set on radial and then play with the opacity until it looks believable. 

05 Adding Reflection

When you use reflective surfaces on composites such as glass and water, make sure that you add reflections as well. Reflections are an easy tool to make audiences “believe” in your image. I often add reflection by duplicating the image then transforming it with the “flip” tool. I then change the opacity and use gaussian blur depending on the situation. 

06 Dodge and Burn

To emphasize the shadows and highlights, I use dodge and burn. I create separate layers increasing and decreasing exposure using the curves tool and then use the mask tool to paint either shadow or highlight. 

07 Adding Blur

I then add blur using the gaussian blur tool to give the image a shallow depth of field. I wanted to further emphasize the main subject by isolation but also make the image more believable. Our eyes do not perceive the world in complete sharpness as they have a specific depth of field. I wanted to recreate that. 

08 Final Touches in Lightroom 

My last step for any image is usually transferring the new image into Lightroom and apply small adjustments. This may be a strange process for most photographers but I feel that applying filters and adjustments on Lightroom really unifies the composite. 

Here is the whole story for "Wide Awake"

I edited these photos mainly using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom 4. I also used Portrait Professional Studio for retouching. If you have more questions on how I produced these images, feel free to comment here or post on my wall on facebook.

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Exercise in Futility

This conceptual photoshoot is loosely based on the Greek myth of Sisyphus. He was a king who was punished for chronic deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, then to repeat this action forever.

I often find myself highly empathetic to Sisyphus and his burden because of societal structures that are forced upon me. May it be school, nutrition, or information, I feel as if I go through daily motions in spite of knowing the outcome, just to see it repeat itself. 

"Exercise in Futility" is my expression of this continuous struggle. I wanted to explore the human experience of resilience in hopes of finding respite.

To express this, I created a character who is not satisfied with the world she's in and is then compelled to fly. She then builds wings of her own using the landscape around her. Creating the wings on photoshop was one of the most challenging tasks I have undertaken so far and so I really wanted to share how I did it.

Final Image

Final Image

RAW Image

RAW Image

As always, my first step is to isolate the subject by selecting it (with either the pen, wand, or brush tool) and isolating it using a mask. I then placed the subject higher above the ground to make it more believable that she is flying. Photographing the model in the location that I want to use for the image keeps the lighting consistent and therefore believable.

For the wings, I used several images of branches and leaves from my own collection and stock images from the internet. 

Composite of branches

Composite of branches

To create more realism that the wings are responsible for lifting the character, there has to be motion. I referred to birds and looked how they flapped their wings when they are taking off. To create that motion, I used the warp tool on Photoshop.

Using the Warp tool in Photoshop

Using the Warp tool in Photoshop

When placing all of the elements together, make sure that the lighting and shadows are consistent. Make sure you are aware of all the light sources in the image. Also keep in mind how your added composite images affect the overall photograph.

Final composite image

Final composite image

The last step for this image was taking it into Lightroom. As I have previously mentioned in my older posts, I always refer to Lightroom for the final stages of making a photograph. When I have finished placing all of the elements and creating the composite, Lightroom enables me to add filters and effects that affect the whole image which adds unity and therefore adds realism.

Final touches in Lightroom

Final touches in Lightroom

  Here is the whole story of Exercise in Futility:

I edited these photos mainly using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom 4. I also used Portrait Professional Studio for retouching. If you have more questions on how I produced these images, feel free to comment here or post on my wall on facebook.

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Final Belonging

This conceptual photograph series explores the universal concept of death. Especially in this generation where the belief of isolation is increasing, I am even more interested in seeing what connects all of us together. No matter what we lose or what happens to us, we will always have one last belonging.

To fully express this concept, I wanted the character to go through suffering and leave them with one final belonging. Using fire, a bag, and the moon as metaphors, I was able to investigate the idea of death and how to accept it. 

The most challenging image from the series is when the character is enveloped with flames. Flames are always hard to work with because they are hard to make realistic. This is my first attempt and I still have quite a lot of learning but I wish to share what I did in hopes that you can learn something out of it as well.

Final image

Final image

Here is a behind the scenes photograph of my lighting setup for this shot. I had a strobe placed right behind her to get the rim effect I wanted to make the fire more realistic. 

BTS photographed by Julian van Heeswijck

BTS photographed by Julian van Heeswijck

RAW image

RAW image

RAW image

RAW image

Taking a photograph of both the background with and without the model enables me to have more control when composting and editing the photograph. I can easily isolate the background first and edit the environment, then place the model afterwards for realism. The first step for this composite was to place several stock images of fire.

When adding elements such as lights and fire, make sure that it affects the existing image as naturally as possible. For this instance, the fire adds areas of highlight and shadows. I used two layers using curves with one brighter and the other darker, then used the masking tool and the brush to create bright and dark areas.

Just like before, you want to make sure that the fire adds areas of realistic highlights and shadows. Fire creates a warm glow and I did this by using different colored brushes (different reds and oranges from the fire) with 0 hardness and a low opacity. Using low opacity, build up the layer slowly to give it more depth. 

The next step was to place the model. As you can see with the image below, the color tone of the model doesn't suit the background. Several adjustments have to be made to make it more realistic.

Just like previously, I added highlights with the color of the fire at the outline of the character to create a rim lighting effect. This decreases the created space between the model and the fire and adds realism.

The next step is simply dodging and burning the model to get more accurate lighting. For this, I create two separate layers of curves, one brighter and the other darker. I then simply use the brush in the mask to make areas brighter or darker without damaging the photograph. This gives me the flexibility to go back and do minor changes if I wish to do so.

The last step for this image was taking it into Lightroom. As I have previously mentioned in my older posts, I always refer to Lightroom for the final stages of making a photograph. When I have finished placing all of the elements and creating the composite, Lightroom enables me to add filters and effects that affect the whole image which adds unity and therefore adds realism.

Final adjustments on Lightroom

Final adjustments on Lightroom

Here is the whole story of Final Belonging:

I edited these photos mainly using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom 4. I also used Portrait Professional Studio for retouching. If you have more questions on how I produced these images, feel free to comment here or post on my wall on facebook.


Photowalk in Binondo 3/28/13

After weeks of architorture, I finally had the chance to fly back home for spring break. I’ve really been meaning to take my camera out because I felt I’ve been neglecting it for way too long. I went on a photowalk with Kay Yang in Binondo and it was an amazing experience altogether. Binondo is Manila’s very own version of Chinatown. I did not know this but it is also the oldest Chinatown in the world established in 1594.

For all the photographers out there, Binondo should be on your list of photowalks. The place is packed with everything that defines interesting including the culture and the people. The people there are also the nicest group of people I have ever photographed. Only in the Philippines do you get people that not only approach you to be photographed but also thank you afterwards.

I edited these photos mainly using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom 4. I also used Portrait Professional Studio for retouching. If you have more questions on how I produced these images, feel free to comment here or post on my wall on facebook.

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Fifth Code: The Good Life

I was asked by the owner of Fifth Code, Lorenz Namalta to shoot for their second anniversary. Fifth Code is a clothing company that specializes on made to order blazers. The concept for this shoot was basically to portray a group of bros having a great time in their secret club. Lorenz and his friends provided the props, makeup and the clothing. This shoot was a little different that what I was used to because everything was basically prepared for me. I usually set everything up myself when it comes to creative shoots. It was a nice change of pace and I felt I could really just focus on the shoot.

Models: Patrick Soriano, George Schulze, Carlos Roberts, Erick Merioles, Mark Dimalanta

Styling & Art Direction: Lorenz Namalta

Styling Assistants: Esme Palaganas & Alexandra Reyes

Hair and Make-up: Isabelle Dee

It was quite challenging to pose the models as legitimate “bros” because they were not acquainted with each other in the beginning. I didn’t want to force interaction between them because it will end up looking forced and fake. Therefore, we spent some time prior to the shoot to let them gel and vibe off from each other. If you are having a group shoot that involved them interacting with each other, make time prior to the shoot for them to get to know each other first.

There are lots of steps to be a great fashion or editorial photographer. From this shoot, I realized that one of the hardest steps to overcome is learning how to pose models effectively and creatively. It is a very difficult skill to learn and you can only do it by practice and experience. Group photos are especially difficult to pose. You need to know if you are focusing on one model or all of the models. This will help you with lighting and your composition.

The lighting set up for the group shots was basic because I wanted the lighting to work for more than just one group shot. It had to be broad and versatile but still very dynamic and engaging. Our location had afternoon light pouring through with the window making our models back lit. As most of you know, it is very tough working with your light source behind the subject. Therefore, I faced a couple of studio lights against the light. This achieved a very dynamic look but you have to be careful in how you balance the power of your lighting because it may look flat and fake.

I used the stripbox to evenly spread light that will work against the sunlight. However, I thought that the pictures it produced was too flat and the models lacked volume. I then used a beauty dish with an umbrella on the side to diffuse the light and add that volume. I wanted as much ambient light to add more realism. To allow the ambient light and window light to be visible, I used a low shutter speed.

Here is the whole set of Fifth Code: The Good Life

I edited these photos mainly using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom 4. I also used Portrait Professional Studio for retouching. If you have more questions on how I produced these images, feel free to comment here or post on my wall on facebook.

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Dancing with a Shadow

Both photographs and dance have an innate capability to tell and convey stories and ideas, as with any kind of art form. I have always wanted to portray a story through dance and photographs. Being able to fuse both art forms have always intrigued me because of the many factors involved. How does one art portray another in tandem and with accuracy? I want to explore these ideas. Therefore I asked my dancer friends Marissa Mes and Rafa Siguion-Reyna to model for me. Marissa was part of the final competitors in So You Think You Can Dance in Holland.

The concept for this series was the idea of “letting go”. Letting go of a loved one is always a difficult ordeal. However, it doesn’t mean that you have to let go of everything. One thing you can keep are the great memories that you have of them.

For the shadows of the models in the background, I used a similar technique from one of my older composites. I first took a photo of the models doing the lift together and then a separate one with them reenacting the lift by themselves. I then created a silhouette of the dancers together and used that as the shadow behind the solo dancer. 

For this post, I wanted to focus on how I was able to completely simulate a backlit and ethereal effect using photoshop. This is the original photo taken without any post-processing. I originally wanted a lot of backlight for this series but lacked the amount of natural sunlight due to the cloudy weather.

In Photoshop, I simply created a new layer and used white colored large soft round brushes (0% hardness) with 40% opacity and built it up. I used the color white because I would have more control of its color in Lightroom which would be the last step.

I also added shadows to give it a more realistic look. For this, I added another layer and used the lasso tool to create a rough shape of the shadow then used the radial gradient tool and used the soles of the feet as the center. I finished it up with the Gaussian Blur tool and decreased its opacity.

I then used the masking tool as you can see on the screen shot, to start removing the white on the subjects. I used the round brush with 100% hardness in the inner side of the models then changed it to around 40% hardness around the edges. This simulates a rim light effect to make it look more natural.

Finally, the last step is editing the colors and the contrast using Lightroom. I gave it a warm color to further simulate the light effect. I also increased the clarity of the subjects using the adjustment brush, isolating the effect from the background. Here is the final image:

I edited these photos mainly using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom 4. I also used Portrait Professional Studio for retouching. If you have more questions on how I produced these images, feel free to comment here or post on my wall on facebook.

website | facebook | flickr | behance instagram