Nikon

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.

website | facebook | flickr | behance instagram

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.

website | facebook | flickr | behance instagram

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.

website | facebook | flickr | behance instagram

Night Club Photography

Night clubs are always a great place to take pictures in, because of all the energy. In return, you can really capture some great candid memories. Some also do it because it’s a great way to expose your work to a larger audience, especially now with social media. I do it just as favors for friends because I don’t like risking my camera. But when I do take my camera out to a club, it’s always worth it.

Nikon D800, 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6, Aperture: f/3.5, Shutter Speed: 1/125

Nikon D800, 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6, Aperture: f/3.5, Shutter Speed: 1/125

Here are a couple of pointers when you plan to take your camera to the club.

1. Define your point of view.

A lot of photographers are hired to go to the night club specifically to take photos. It means that there is a certain barrier between them and the subject because they will most likely be posed. There is nothing wrong with that but you lose a lot of energy in those photos and they are very generic. However, most clubs don’t allow DSLR’s and so being hired does give you an advantage.

In my personal opinion, it is still better to find ways to bring your DSLR in a club without being hired. You have a fresh perspective and can focus on capturing unposed portraits. It’s all about capturing memories and you can focus on your friends. If you aren’t a hired photographer, I would avoid wandering outside your group of friends because you might be thought of as a creep.

Nikon D800, 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6, Aperture: f/3.5, Shutter Speed: 1/60

Nikon D800, 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6, Aperture: f/3.5, Shutter Speed: 1/60

2. Flash

I would suggest investing in a flash that can rotate its head vertically and horizontally. This enables you to bounce your flash so that it doesn’t create a harsh lighting on your subjects.

Bouncing your flash basically means directing your flash towards the ceiling or a wall. In return, your flash’s light travels more distance, making it softer and more spread out. Your light will be more diffused and thus, less hotspots. Hotspots are harsh light on a subject (usually on a person’s nose). You also don’t get that annoying red eye that you usually have to edit out.

3. Flash Sync

Flash sync speed is the fastest shutter speed you can use with a flash. Most off camera flashes will have a maximum flash sync of 1/250th of a second. If you want to capture the motion of the lights and the atmosphere, then you would have to use a shutter speed slower than 1/250th. If you want to completely freeze all of the action, then use 1/250. I often use a slower shutter speed so that I can get those nice laser lights that add a lot of mood to the photos.

Nikon D90,18-200mm f/3.5-5.6, Aperture: f/4, Shutter Speed: 1/30

Nikon D90,18-200mm f/3.5-5.6, Aperture: f/4, Shutter Speed: 1/30

4. Lens

You usually just bring one lens to a night club because you don’t want to be bringing a bag with you. Therefore in my opinion, the best lens for a night club would be a lens that can do it all. I usually carry around either my DX 18-200mm lens or FX 28-300mm. These super zooms/wide angle will make sure that you don’t miss a thing.

Do not worry about depth of field and aperture as much because your flash/light will be responsible for separating your subject from the crowd. Your flash has a certain reach due to its power and therefore will only illuminate a certain part of the picture. You can control this to add focus to your subject. However that being said, my personal choice for aperture is as wide as your lens can go (low f number).

Nikon D800, 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6, Aperture: f/5, Shutter Speed: 1/80

Nikon D800, 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6, Aperture: f/5, Shutter Speed: 1/80

5. Friendly reminders

Don’t drink and shoot: You know how they say don’t drink and drive? The same rules apply when taking photos in a club. You don’t want to mix drinks and taking photos. The last thing you would want is to damage your camera or lose it while being drunk. If you do plan to drink, have a sober friend help keep an eye out for your camera (just like a designated driver).

Bring a Handkerchief: Getting drinks spilled on you is always a risk at a party. It’s even more of a risk when you have your camera with you. Most DSLR’s are weather-proof and can afford to get a little wet. However, you would want to dry up that alcohol as soon as possible and that is where a handkerchief comes in handy. If anything though, keep your distance from people that are too drunk.

Nikon D800, 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6, Aperture: f/3.5, Shutter Speed: 1/125

Nikon D800, 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6, Aperture: f/3.5, Shutter Speed: 1/125

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

Shersy Clothing Photoshoot

This was probably the most challenging shoot I had over the summer. I was asked by a friend if I could do some fashion photography for her Shersy Clothing upcoming launch. Since it was for a friend, it was a little casual. However, I still wanted to make my photographs as professional and as impressive as possible. Unfortunately, I really didn’t have any experience in fashion photography. To make things worse, I was working with two models. If you’ve been in my situation before then you would know that it’s not ideal. If you haven’t then I have some tips for you.

Do Your Research:

We are bombarded with images everyday and the key is to look out for photographs that stand out. Then use those photographs as an inspiration for your shoot. You can find a lot of great images over the internet or fashion magazines. It is also a good idea to communicate with your client. Ask them how they want their photographs done. However, don’t completely depend on their response because the final image is still up to you and your style. They asked you to photograph for them for a reason.

Get Pegs:

A lot of professionals will create their pegs to show the photographer. However, if that is not the case, then you will have to make your own. This is the best way to make sure that you get the shots that you want.

Be Prepared:

Make sure that you have everything you need for the shoot, and I mean everything. If you think you might need a certain equipment, just bring it. Prepare all of your equipment ahead of time and make sure that everything works fine. For more tips, check out my previous post on setting up your own shoot. 

Shersy Clothing Photoshoot:

The models for the shoot were Winnie Wong and Mara Javier. They were both great models to work with. Plus, both of them were my friends so they were easier to work with. For this shoot, I was using my Nikon D800 with either a 24-300mm f/3.5-5.6 and a 50mm f/1.4. I also used both of my Elinchrom D-Lite4’s with softboxes attached. Other than that, I had a circular reflector, which is essential when doing portraiture.

Nikon D800, Shutter Speed 1/320, Aperture f/3.5

Nikon D800, Shutter Speed 1/320, Aperture f/3.5

I found it very difficult to direct the models at first because of my lack in experience. According to most professional photographers, this is one of the most difficult skills to learn in photography. It takes a lot of practice and observation. I agree completely. Practicing this skill of directing models will be most beneficial if you are planning to be a photographer. One tip I have is to create little stories for each shot, so that your model can understand what you are trying to achieve.

Nikon D800, Shutter Speed 1/250, Aperture f/4.5

Nikon D800, Shutter Speed 1/250, Aperture f/4.5

Nikon D800, Shutter Speed 1/250, Aperture f/5.6

Nikon D800, Shutter Speed 1/250, Aperture f/5.6

Nikon D800, Shutter Speed 1/500, Aperture f/4.5

Nikon D800, Shutter Speed 1/500, Aperture f/4.5

Nikon D800, Shutter Speed 1/320, Aperture f/4

Nikon D800, Shutter Speed 1/320, Aperture f/4

Make sure that you portray both the clothes and the model in a good light because at the end, you are trying to sell. Your priority is to sell and I am sorry to say this but if your style conflicts with that, you have no choice but to find a compromise. For this shoot, I was asked to keep the colors of the clothes as natural as possible. That limited my creative control over my pictures. A tip I can give you is to edit and create two separate sets of photos, one for your client and one for your portfolio.

Nikon D800, Shutter Speed 1/200, Aperture f/4.2

Nikon D800, Shutter Speed 1/200, Aperture f/4.2

When doing locational shoots (outside the studio) there are a lot more factors involved that you have to take account. You have to be able to quickly adapt to a changing environment. That is why I always carry my strobe units (flashes) and my reflector, as it gives me more control of the environment.

I edited these photos mainly using Adobe 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.

If you liked any of the clothes featured in this post, then check out Shersy Clothing’s facebook page.

website | facebook | flickr | behance instagram