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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Tahanang Walang Hagdanan Workshop

Last summer, I was invited by a friend of mine in the same photography organization we set up back in Manila called Litrato. He asked if we can hold a workshop with an organization called Tahanang Walang Hagdanan. I jumped on the opportunity because it would be a great time to test out a condensed version of a curriculum we have been designing for high schoolers. I went with fellow Litrato photographers, Felix Quiogue, Mike Alegado, and Christian Matic. 

Tahanang Walang Hagdanan, Inc. is a non-stock, non-profit and non-government organization that aims to uplift the lives of  Orthopedically handicapped persons. It is a rehabilitation and skills training center with sheltered workshops where the people with disabilities are trained to be productive and self-reliant member of the society. The center is located in Cainta Rizal which is about 15 kms. East Manila.

When we arrived at the location, I was amazed in how self sufficient these individuals in the organization are. In spite of their physical limitations, they had and operated their own steel and wood factories. They even started their own agricultural farm hoping to be more sustainable. They asked us to hold the workshop to improve their photography for the post cards they make at the end of the year to raise funds for the organization.

Our workshop was attended by 30 students whose ages ranged from 18-50 and had all kinds of cameras from cellphones to DSLR's. We knew this coming in, so we tailored the workshop to suit the scenario. Instead of teaching them how to use their cameras, we decided to focus on teaching them how to see instead. 

Photographed by Mike Alegado

Photographed by Mike Alegado

We started the workshop with the history of Filipino photography in the hopes of basing their own practice in a timeline, which I personally feel is lacking in most workshops. We then began to cover basic composition guidelines such as rule of thirds, leading lines, point of view, framing, pattern, and lighting. After each topic, we spent about 20-30 minutes of free shooting time in where the students will go around and try the topic out. We would then guide and talk to them to help them gain a better understand of the topic at hand. After that, we would show them our own work utilizing said topic.

Overall, the workshop was a big success based on how much their photographs improved from start to finish. I never thought I could be a teacher but when it came to sharing photography, it came naturally. There's nothing more rewarding for me than to be able to empower others to take up the craft. As I saw the photographs of my students, I learned so much about them and got a glimpse of their lives. If you learn how to read a photograph, you learn how to read into the lives of the ones who took it.

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. 


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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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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