Monday, December 17

My Life as a Photographer

Many people have asked me about my photography projects and how it all started. So, I've decided to blog about it,

To many who know me, I've always been a photographer. In fact, before I was a photographer before I became an editor. When I was in college eons ago, one of my roommates had this old camera he was about to throw away. It was a 1950's film camera, all manual without any need for batteries. According to my roommate, it was broken. Curious, I asked for it so I could play with it.

I remember spending the entire night taking the camera apart and fixing it, polishing it, and cleaning out the dust and the mirror inside. When all was done, I noticed that the camera, though old, was not out of order; it was in perfect condition. The only problem was no one knew how to use it. So, I decided to learn.

Fast forward to a week later, I was snapping pictures of people, friends, and family. I did not have a flash component, so I used a lot of ISO, aperture, and speed compensation. Using a film camera required loads of skills, because there was no way of previewing my images before I snapped them. I had to really understand how photography worked, knowing exactly how my images would look before I even took them. I had to be in control. Before long, I was taking model portfolios for model friends and exploring the world of fashion/editorial photography. At one point, I sought the mentorship of Stan Malinowski, a renowned fashion photographer in the '80s. With his help and advice, I perfected my photography skills and started taking wedding and engagement pictures as side projects. Photography was how I supported my family while pursuing my graduate degree.

Today, as executive editor for a publishing house, I spend most of my time reading manuscripts and doing editorial work. But I always find the time to work on side photography projects. Once in a while, I'll get a call for a shoot I can't resist. Nothing excites me more than to be on set with a camera in hand, framing some of the most beautiful faces in the world.

So, without much ado, I'm going to take you through some of my latest projects:

The two B/W portraits above were part of a senior picture shoot I did of a friend. We did the shoot in my garage studio with a FujiFilm point-and-shoot camera and a single continuous light. Since I was using a point-and-shoot camera, continuous light was the best way to go to give the camera sensor the longest light exposure. Using an ISO 800 and an aperture of f/4.5, I was able to achieve a Banana Republic look for my subject. 

This fashion shoot above was one of my favorites. This time, I was using a DSLR camera. The sun was setting behind, giving the subject a natural warm ambient light. With the sun as backlight, I had to make sure the aperture and exposure was correct. I used a fill flash and an aperture of f/4.5, speed of 1/125, and ISO 100 to take this shot.

Shooting in the open is not always the easiest. You have to deal with whatever you have. In the case above, I positioned the model in a shaded area and had one of my assistants block additional light from above with a reflector to prevent unwanted shadows on the face. Bear in mind, this is a fashion shoot, and the face and clothing must be perfect. Prior to the shoot, we applied a simple makeup on the model's face with bronzer on the jawline and nose bridge to accentuate his face. We also applied a bronze shimmer cream on his eyelids as well. For men, the lip color should always be magenta-ish. No reds, no pinks. I used a reflector to light his face and a fill flash to give him some highlights and catchlight in his eyes. The result is quite impressive, I must say.

The shot above was taken in one of the ugliest places in Smithfield, Utah. It was cold and the color was drab. In such conditions, the model's skin will be covered with goosebumps. So, we had the model smother herself with vaseline and lotion. Luckily, the sky was a little on the dramatic side, and I was able to use it as a background, creating a dramatic scene for the shot. For this shot, I did not use any flash, just a reflector to capture minimum highlights on the model's skin. I wanted the model to look like an African warrior queen, but on the fashion side of things. 

Again, this shot was taken at a not-so-interesting location. But by juxtaposing the dramatic skies with the dry weeds, I was able to get a very earthy feel for this shot and make it work. Using only a reflector, I made sure I had enough light to give her dress a sheen, but not enough to give her the punch. I refrained from using a fill flash on this shot because that will take away the natural feel of the frame. 

So there. Those are just a few of my latest projects. I'll have more to showcase in the next few weeks. Please feel free to comment below and tell me what you think of my images. I usually only reserve no more than two photography projects in a month, so if you are interested in booking me, let me know early. 

Thanks for stopping by. Until next time, smile big. You never know who's holding the camera :)

Thursday, December 6

The Christmas Tree

So, I'm starting to blog again after a few weeks of hiatus, more like a few months. I have my reasons. As executive editor in a young—and thriving—house, my responsibilities are high and nigh. Everything seems to be piling up and needing immediate attention. Not like I've never been through this before—and not like I am complaining either—but it's been crazy. Awesome crazy. But hey, I love, love, love my job, and I couldn't wish for anything more.

That said, let's move on to the topic at hand: how do we survive the holidays when we can't afford much else? I was thinking about this quite a bit lately after hearing about my acquaintances and friends who weren't doing so well this holiday season. Between being laid off and struggling with limited finance, life can be hard. So, I decide to take you back to the days when I started out as a newly married man with less than fifty bucks in my bank and a part-time job, trying to raise my young family—my wife was pregnant—and brave Christmas at the same time. And hopefully I make sense at all.

This was, oh, many years back, but I can still remember those days. It was poverty at its best. My wife and I rented a small basement of an old mortuary, paid a small rent, and lived our days believing that life could get better; we had each other, and for the most part, life was simple and good. We shopped at thrift stores, baked pies to raise funds for our utility bills, and dreamed big. Although we did not have much, we were happy. (Only recently did I actually tell my wife that the basement we lived in used to be the exact place where bodies were embalmed and prepped for viewing. As expected, she was glad I did not mention it to her then.)

One particular night, about a week before Christmas, I remember sitting in our low-ceiling living room, wondering how Christmas was going to be. We had no gifts, no lights, no Christmas tree. We did not even dare to mention Christmas to anyone lest we were asked to attend a Christmas party for which we could not afford any white elephant gifts. We invited no one to our little basement apartment, and decided to spend the holidays watching TV and putting together a one-thousand-piece-jigsaw puzzle we received as a gift the year before; that should keep us busy. And with the baby coming in a few months, we were determined to save some extra cash for baby clothes and diapers. Since our parents were not available at that time, we had to plan how to do everything when the baby arrived—from our schedules to finances to milk powder, and such. Yes, life turned a little hectic and complex suddenly, especially in my head.

But no one should feel that gloomy when there was so much to hope for. I thought of my unborn son and all the fun things we were going to do together. I thought of baking him birthday cakes and going out on picnics together. Suddenly, everything felt okay. Things would turn out well. I'd graduate, get a job, and work toward something big for my family. And that was when I ran out to my car and drove straight to Walmart with twenty dollars in my wallet.

When my wife returned from her part-time job, our apartment was dark—I had switched off all the lights in the house . . . except for the one source of light I had anticipated for her to see. Right at the end of the living room on a small table in a corner was a miniature Christmas tree only ten inches tall; it stood there humbly covered with about twenty small lights and a star on its top. My wife's face lit up, and she cried. It was a beautiful surprise, indeed. Right at that moment, she felt a soft kick in her womb, and we both knew life, with all of its challenges, was worth everything we went through. It was not the Christmas tree that taught us that, but the fact that we had each other to share it with.

Today, that miniature tree had grown into a ten-foot high tree with ornaments we've accumulated through the years; every one of them reminded us of every year we celebrated Christmas together, each year better than the one before.

To everyone out there who is going through difficult times, you're not alone. And to those of you who are able, reach out your hand and give. It's not the money we ask; oftentimes, it's a smile and the kind and honest words of a friend that will take us through the darker moments of our lives.

So, how do we survive the holidays when we can't afford much else? By being that miniature Christmas tree. By being that light.