Photoshop

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.


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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Live in a Dream

The idea and concept for this shoot came to me when I had a conversation with a friend and she told me that she would rather live in her dreams than in reality. Her story struck me because it made me question reality and what it would feel like to live in an eternal dream.

I have always wondered what boundaries exist between dream and reality. What would it take to live in an eternal dream in where you can have complete control of the world? With the series, I question our reality and how its connected to dreams. Our dreams are an entry way to another kind of reality. I believe that if we have full control of our dreams, it could be a fully realized reality just as much as the one we live in now.

The model for this shoot is Olivia Medina and she is doing a lot of great work. She is a professional model and was recently the cover model for Rogue magazine.

This was the first time I worked with a professional model that wasn’t initially one of my friends and it was very intimidating. However, working with professional models is very rewarding because they know their angles very well. She saw my work on facebook and thus we ended up collaborating for this shoot. This is why it is important to share your work to the public even when you’re just getting started. The best way to spread you work out is through websites like Flickr or Facebook. Don’t be scared of criticism but rather accept it. You miss out on a lot of opportunities if you don’t.

I used three different locations for this shoot. The first location we shot at was on a yacht provided by a friend of mine. The next is actually the house next to mine back in Manila. They had torn their house down to build a new one and I just couldn’t resist. I didn’t know the owner of the lot so we had to sneak in, totally worth it. Always keep your eyes opened for locations that would be great for a shoot. The last location was a furniture showroom that again was provided by a friend.

For the concept to fully realize itself, I had to make sure that I had the correct lighting. I timed my shoot in each location so that I could use the sun to my advantage. This is very important when planning a photo shoot. Always keep the sun and its light in your mind.

According to a lot of great photographers out there, the best investment you can make aside from your camera would be lighting equipment. Ambient light will always be the best kind of light but it is also very hard to control.

It was about 3pm when we finished setting up for our first shoot. It was a great day out but there wasn’t a lot of clouds in the sky so the sun light wasn’t diffused and created really harsh shadows. There are a couple ways to lighten up these shadows, one is a reflector and another is a secondary light source. Light sources can range from a flash light, a speed light to studio strobes.

Reflectors are an essential to a portrait photographer and I highly advice you getting one. They are not so expensive and they can easily improve your portrait photographs. I found one in Amazon that works perfectly, Neewer 110CM 43″ 5-in-1 Collapsible Multi-Disc Light Reflector. You can easily change this reflector to different things to suit your needs. I used it as a diffuser for this shot.

I used a combination of the diffuser and a secondary light to decrease the harsh contrast on the model.

Here is the whole series: “Live In A Dream”

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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Super

In Rhode Island School of Design, there are two semesters. However, there is one additional time period in-between called Wintersession, where you can take classes of your choosing either for fun or for learning. I never took any formal photography classes before so for my freshman year, I took a class called Photo Intensive. This course really inspired me to take my photography to the next level.

I had a lot of time to experiment for this class and the result was a series I entitled “Super”. The idea for this series explores the power of photography. I wanted to create photos of surreal moments that portray me more than just human. I wanted to compel people to look twice and feel a sense of fear or confusion.

This series was mainly created using composites, combining two different images into one image. This was also my first attempt into this kind of photography. I made a lot of mistakes and took me a lot longer than it should have. I want to share my process so that you will have an easier time when you create your own composites.

I’ve given tips on composites on my previous post but I still have more to share. When making composites, it’s important that your subject fits the background seamlessly. This includes their sharpness and focus. Make sure that the subject fits the sharp parts of the photo. To make this easier, use a high aperture of about f/8 to make sure everything is in focus.

This image below is one of the photos in the series “Super” and it is entitled “Run”.

“Run”

“Run”

Here are the RAW images that I used to create this composite:

Nikon D90, Shutter Speed 1/640, Aperture f/7.1

Nikon D90, Shutter Speed 1/640, Aperture f/7.1

Nikon D90, Shutter Speed 1/3200, Aperture f/6.3

Nikon D90, Shutter Speed 1/3200, Aperture f/6.3

As I did not have any models around, I had to use myself. I used the timer shooting mode on my camera, enabling me to place myself in the photo. You have to be very patient when using the timer because it is hard to get the right shot right off the bat. I used the bench for what I call "placement prop". This is to ensure that the subject will be aligned with the inserted background.

Another very useful tip on making composites in to watch out for shadows. The shadows are always what gives it away for most composites. For this image above, it was very simple to incorporate an accurate shadow using photoshop. First you have to be aware of your light source and where the shadows are. To do this, look at other objects in the scene that cast a shadow and follow its direction.

I usually follow certain steps when creating shadows. First is to use the magic wand tool to select the space around the subject (when it is in a separate layer all by itself). Then inverse select and you can do this by right clicking and selecting inverse select. After that, create another layer then fill that selection with black. Then to make it more realistic, use the gaussian blur filter then decrease opacity, depending on the situation.

Like I mentioned in a previous blog post, always composite in RAW files. The secrete i to add the color correction and filters after you have finished the composite. This unifies the image and creates a more realistic composite.

Here is another composite piece in the series entitled "Unstoppable".

"Unstoppable"

"Unstoppable"

I found the background in one of my previous folders and I thought it would make an amazing background.

Therefore, another tip I can give you when working with composites and photo manipulation is to keep all of your files. Store them in a safe external hard drive because you will never know when you will need it again for a future project. Also, always shoot in RAW because you always need that much information when working with composites.

Just make sure when you're putting images together that they have a similar light source. To make this image more realistic, I added dodging to the edges of the subject. This adds a rim light effect, which occurs when the light subject is between the light source and the camera.

Here's the last photo of the series:

"Take Flight"

"Take Flight"

I edited these photographs mainly using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. 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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