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.

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

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.

website | facebook | flickr | behance instagram


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”.



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".



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.

website | facebook | flickr | behance instagram

System Loophole

This summer, I had the opportunity to work with aspiring singer and model Zoe O’sullivan, not only once but twice. Our first photo shoot together is entitled “System Loophole”. The theme and concept for the shoot is reality. Reality is relative. Therefore, there will always be a loophole.

For this series, I mainly used presets and textures to edit the photos and create the mood. Therefore in this post, I will focus on giving tips when using presets and textures.

This photo best explains what presets and textures can do as I used both of them to create this image. Here is the RAW file just to show you the difference.

Presets are used in the image editing software, Lightroom. They are the best way to edit photos as they are quick and versatile. Presets can help automate your workflow and bring creativity to your photos. You can use them to apply a specific style to one ore more images. They are just like the filters that you use in Instagram. I’ve always found this use of presets, the more “professional” Instagram. You can find many free presets online. They are very easy to install. After downloading, just simply double click and Lightroom will automatically add the preset.

One tip I can give you when using presets is to try combinations and use two or more presets together. This gives your image a unique look, making it an original. Also, try using the same presets when working in a series to pull the images together and to give it cohesiveness.

Textures on the other hand are a great way to add a lot of mood and drama. Unlike presets, textures are applied using Photoshop. However, just like presets, you can find many free textures online. To apply them to a photo, simply create a new layer in photoshop above the photo, then insert the texture. After that, simply choose the blending mode that suits your photo the best.

Here is the complete set of “System Loophole”

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

Rough Landing

This summer, I decided to use my time as efficiently as possible and start my career as a photographer. However, I wanted to approach it differently than others. Most photographers find small jobs to build up their portfolio until they gained enough exposure and experience to get bigger jobs. I wanted to continue my own path of photography by doing personal shoots that portray my own stories rather than others. In my personal opinion, you grow so much more because you are forced to think of concepts. You don’t have a stylist, a fashion director and a make up artist. Everything comes down to your own imagination.

This summer, I had my first ever serious photo shoot entitled “Rough Landing” with model Rhea Schmid. Rhea is an old friend of mine who thankfully gave me the chance to work with her. When you are starting off and trying to build a portfolio, it is best to ask any of your friends if they could model for you. It’s great to start with friends because it is more casual and you can do a lot more experimentation.

The concept for this shoot is “What happens when we think we are lost in the world, but in reality the world is the one that’s lose.”

It is based on my experience, having to study abroad in America. I went through a culture shock. I thought that I knew what living in America would be like through television and the internet. However, I could not have been more lost. That was the feeling that I wanted to portray. Watching a culture from afar and actually living in it are two completely different things.

This is the first shot of the series:

First photo from the series of “Rough Landing”

First photo from the series of “Rough Landing”

As you can see, this is a “composite” photograph. A composite photograph consists of several other photographs taken at different times and placed together in one photo through the means of photoshop or other tools. This process is called “photo manipulation”. There are many ways to create a composite photograph. You can either take the photos yourself or use stock images from websites. Personally however, the best way is to take your own photos.

Most of the time, the purpose of making a composite is to make it look as realistic as possible. The most important tip I can give you when creating realistic composites is to shoot the photos you are going to composite in the same location. This is to ensure that the lighting is consistent throughout the photo. Also, make sure that you shoot the photos in the same point of view.

For this photo, I used three different photos and composite it together. The first photo is the background.

Nikon D800, Shutter Speed 1/400, Aperture f/5.6

Nikon D800, Shutter Speed 1/400, Aperture f/5.6

The second photo are the clouds. I created this image of clouds by looking for “cloud” Photoshop brushes. When creating composites, brushes are one of the most useful tools that Photoshop offers. They are mostly free and easy to find online. When picking out brushes, make sure you get the high resolution one (at least 1500pxl).

Then the last photo is the model. I photographed the model at the same location as where I took the background. This was to make sure that I had consistent lighting. We shot on top of a condominium to get a birds eye view. As you can see, the model is laying on top of a reflector. This is to emulate the reflective quality of clouds (as they are colored white). The most important tip I can give you when working with composites is to plan ahead. Make sure that all the details of the photo match your intent.

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

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

All of the photos used in the composite are all in raw. No color correction was applied to them beforehand. This is important in creating unity and realism in the piece. The secret is to apply all filters and color corrections after you composite the photo to unify the piece.

I used this same composite technique for the rest of the other photos in the series. Here are the rest of the photos in the series:

If you have any questions as to how I did the other photos, just leave a comment. You can also write on my wall on facebook.

website | facebook | flickr | behance instagram

Organizing Your Own Shoot

The best way to build up a portfolio is to set up your own shoots, may it be with a model or yourself. This can get very troublesome and tricky. I went through a lot of problems and complications when planning my own shoot. I wish to share my experiences so that you can avoid the same mistakes I made.

In this segment, I will go through the whole process I usually undergo to prepare for a photo shoot.

Outtake from “Rough Landing”

Outtake from “Rough Landing”

Brainstorm and Take Notes:

For all my shoots, I plan and conceptualize way ahead of time. I write down all my ideas on a moleskin notepad. Practice your mind to think conceptually. I try to base all my ideas from my own experiences to make my own work very personal. After a few sentences of my concept, I add some thumbnails just to help me visualize my compositions and how I want it to look.

Always have a concept in mind before a shoot. Do not just take random photos and add a concept later on. If you are new in photography, you will soon learn that just taking pretty photos will not get you anywhere. You need concepts.

Deciding on a Model:

After finalizing my concept, I choose a model that will suit the role of the character I have envisioned for the shoot. I usually ask friends because they are generally easier to work with. They are also much more comfortable with experimental shoots. Perfect for learning and adding pieces to your portfolio.

You should also be ready with backup models that you can ask at a short notice. But, if all else fails and none of your models show up to your shoot, try shooting some self portraits.

Finding a Location:

I find this one of the most difficult aspects of photography. Finding a location is very troublesome as there are so many restrictions involved. There are many places, especially in the Philippines in where using a DSLR is prohibited. I never understood the logic behind these rules. However, it is still best to check before hand. One tip would be to avoid private areas and stick to public locations.

Then there is also the problem of finding a location that would suit your idea. Again, this is where having friends comes in handy. When you ask around for a specific location within your friends or your parents, you’re bound to find one that can work.

However, The biggest tip I can give you regarding location is to scout your location beforehand.

Prepare your Gear:

The day before the shoot you need to make sure all your equipment is operational. Charge all your batteries. Clean your lenses. If you are using off camera flashes, make sure that they are in working order. If you are using a tripod, make sure that you have the dove plate. Pack all of the equipment you think you will need or might need. The more equipment you have, the more versatile you can be. However, that also means the more things you need to carry around

You are more prone to lose your equipment if you have a lot of bags. So try to fit all your equipment in one or two bags.

Make a Checklist:

Create a checklist of all the equipment that you think you will need. This checklist will come in handy during the day of the shoot to make sure you have everything but also to make sure you don’t forget anything from the shoot.

Think Logistics:

You need to consider transportation for you and your model. Set a meeting place and time (set it earlier than your imagined call time to make sure everyone gets there in time). Make sure that you set the time according to the amount of light you want from the sun (if shooting outdoors).

Bring an extra amount of money just for emergency. It’s not an essential for a photo shoot but it can come in handy.

You also need to figure out if you need help from other people, especially if your camera gear is quite heavy to keep carrying around by yourself.

Outtake from “We Are Masterpieces”

Outtake from “We Are Masterpieces”

Shoots are hard to plan as there are a lot of complications and factors involved in the process. However, planned shoots yield the best results and will make your work stand out.


website | facebook | flickr | behance instagram