Photo Vogue, Photofocus, and SLR Lounge Features

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hello, here are some recent press stuff! :D

One of my images from "Flowers in December" selected for Photo Vogue's frontpage Picture of the Day:

Flowers in December VI
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Motherland Chronicles featured on SLR Lounge:

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And lastly, featured as Photographer of the Week on Photofocus!



In other news, I did another underwater photoshoot!
       

Motherland Chronicles #36 - Germaine

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Motherland Chronicles #36 - Germaine

Photography: Zhang Jingna
Hair: Junya Nakashima 
Makeup: Tatyana Kharkova
Model: Germaine Persinger
Assistants: Tiffany Liu, Melissa Castor, Evenlyn Liu

Dress: Leonid Gurevich
Necklaces: Harlequin Romantique
My smoke binge continues. :D
       

Motherland Chronicles #35 - Kalli

Monday, October 28, 2013


Motherland Chronicles #35 - Kalli

Photography: Zhang Jingna
Hair: Kelsey Petersen
Makeup: Lindsey Rivera
Model: Kalli Keith
Photo Assistants: Andre Wijono, Tobias Kwan, Michelle Herbert
Dress: Michelle Hebert



My mini obsession with braids and smoke go on. Also branches, Toby uses them a lot in his pieces so I figured I should try to add some hints of that as well. Coyote skull from his collection.

Shot this on the same day I did "In a Secret Garden". A rarity because I don't usually do more than one concept for Motherland Chronicles photoshoots because each one takes so much time to finesse and execute. 

But because I stay in Irvine and didn't want everyone travelling from LA to only do one picture, I tried squeezing 2 that day. Super ambitious of me >_<. But I'm glad we managed to make this work as well. Thank you team! ❤
       

Savage Seamless Paper and Muslin Backdrops

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Those of you who follow me probably know that I got sponsored by Savage Universal a while ago. I've been using their backdrops for a few years now, and I figure now is a good time as any to give a little review/recap on the on this commonly overlooked element in studio photography. 

Fair warning though, not being too much of a technical person, this is going to be more of a how I use the backdrops than how smooth the paper gradients are in response to my light and stuff. :D



1. The Basics

The first backdrops I bought after moving to New York were black, white and gray. 

Regardless of brand, I think those are the best shades to have for a start as they are so versatile -- you can easily do the whole range of commercial, fashion, and moody. Adjusting the toning and lighting in post is also a lot easier with neutral shades than something that has color. 

Some examples with black and grays: 

Factice Magazine #19 cover, on Savage Fashion Gray Seamless Paper
ELLE Vietnam editorial, on Savage Black Seamless Paper
Sarah Dobson, on Savage Thunder Gray Seamless Paper

2. Monsoon Savage Collapsible Backdrop

The first great addition from to my inventory was the Savage Collapsible Backdrops.

I adore shooting portraits and beauty, and with the collapsible backdrops, I can easily accomplish the background set-ups by myself since they fold and unfold like a giant reflector. 

Savage Collapsibles, canvas backdrops, seamless and paper clips
Considering how often I do self portraits, small shoots and travel, this has made my life significantly easier. The backdrops are all sized at 5x6' and can be easily clipped onto their accompanying 8' stands.

My most frequently used are the Black/White, Light/Dark Gray, and Monsoon

The Black/White and Dark/Light Gray are great for portraits and castings, and as for Monsoon, I've been using it for Motherland Chronicles quite frequently. The shade and design on it is incredibly beautiful to photograph, and adds a painterly touch to a simple image:


MLC #21 - Her Resting Place
MLC #25 - The Raven Girl
MLC #12 - Winterland Fairytales II


3. Black/White Savage Collapsible Backdrop


I probably use the Black/White Collapsible way too much, but I love shooting on black so much and this makes my life so easy. 

The black is especially handy for when I want a completely dark background that has no light reflection.

Here's a direct comparison between the collapsible backdrop and regular seamless paper:

Black seamless paper vs fabric backdrop.
You can see the collapsible is almost completely black as it absorbs light from the strobe, whereas the seamless paper behind it catches and reflects a bit of light. Of course, with distance the light reflection won't be an issue (and you can even use gray or white to drop it to black) but for my little home studio this helps immensely.
 

MLC #31 - Book of Roses


4. Savage Paper Clip

The Savage Paper Clip is probably my favorite thing ever. It's a storage item that keeps your seamless rolls organized against your wall. 

For a while when I first started buying more backdrops I had difficulties storing everything behind my couch, but thanks to this, I can now keep everything in the little recess right next to my door, making it easy to access while saving space at the same time. 

Plus, I feel so neat every time I walk pass this wall in my room. :D

Seamless rolls clipped onto Savage Paper Clip


Each paper clip comes with an adhesive strip for you to stick the clip to the wall, and has slots for 6 rolls. I cut off one on the side to fit it into my a little corner so there's only 5 rolls here. 

But seriously, my favorite thing in my studio inventory.


5. Verona Hand-painted Muslin Backdrop

I also finally ventured into textured backdrops!


Muslin Backdrops: Verona and Dark Gray
After my experience with the Monsoon collapsible I'd been dying to get my hands on some full-length textured backdrops to shoot. Savage was very kind to send me the Verona and Dark Gray muslins.

Here's the Savage Verona Hand-painted Muslin used in "Ea":

MLC #33 - Ea
This is the first time I've worked with a colored backdrop in a long time too. Check out behind the scenes for the shoot here where I talk about my thought process from inspiration to final.


6. Savage Dark Gray Muslin Backdrop

Once started, it's really hard to not want textures in my backdrops for some reason. They so instantly make my pictures poetic :D 

Phuong My Fall/Winter 2013



This was shot with the Savage Dark Gray Washed Muslin Backdrop. Very subtle and adds a different type of dimension from my usual full-black backgrounds. 

I always find it incredible how a little texture goes a long way in images, whether on clothes, backdrops, image as a whole (done in post), etc... So I'm incredibly happy that I finally got to experiment with these. Thank you Savage for giving me to chance to test these out! ❤

And that's it for now, I hope this post has been helpful to who were wondering about the basics I started shooting with, as well as what I use and how these days. Pleas share if you've enjoyed it! Thank you for reading. :D


Check out more of my photography articles here, and my gear list here.

Some of the product links in this post will bring you to Amazon or my favorite camera retailer Adorama, where I'll receive a small referral fee should you decide to make a purchase. This helps with the time spent on articles and the running of this blog, so please consider supporting the website. Thank you!
       

Motherland Chronicles #34 - In the Secret Garden

Monday, October 21, 2013


Motherland Chronicles #34 - In the Secret Garden

Photography: Zhang Jingna
Hair: Kelsey Petersen
Makeup: Lindsey Rivera
Model: Kalli Keith
Photo Assistants: Andre Wijono, Tobias Kwan, Michelle Herbert
Dress: Michelle Hebert



We revamped motherlandchronicles.com! Do check it out! :D 


Shot this when I was in LA a while ago. I think the process was rather interesting, so once again I'll be sharing about the process from inspiration to final image! :D 


The start of making this shoot was rather stressful. I was in LA doing recording for the Motherland Chronicles' Kickstarter video, and Toby and I had been busy with finalizing our script the whole week, so I only got around to thinking about the shoot the day before it was happening.

At first I thought about shooting on location since I do a lot of studio work when I'm in NY. I'd looked around for potential places online and settled on one to scout, but when we got there, I found that I wasn't feeling inspired for it. So I scrapped the ideas I had in mind for the venue and began thinking about alternatives. The answer turned up with LA Flower Market. When I saw those marigolds, I was so elated I bought them all. :D

The rest of the day was spent planning out details about the concept like hair, makeup, etc. I'd already confirmed Kalli as my model and Michelle to provide her dress, so it was mostly a matter of how to style and fit the elements together. 


Hair:

My love for braids kind of exploded after I got my own hair done at Pennsic War a while ago:



So I kind of built upon that along with what we did for Ea, and came up with the hair in this shoot:



Temple Jewelry:

Also something that came from my time at Pennsic. Because Motherland Chronicles is inspired by the idea of Russia, I took a class at Pennsic about Russian fashion from the 10-13th century which was very interesting. One of the things that I really liked was the temple jewelry/kolts.

From Ancient jewelry headwear of Russian women on viola.bz
It's usually worn with or as part of a headdress, but with how detailed the hair was already, I didn't want to over-clutter or cover up the braids, so I pinned them individually into Kalli's hair instead.


Makeup:

Rather straightforward, the few times Lindsey has worked with me in LA has her set for exactly how I liked that painterly, rosy-cheeked, pre-raphaelite-looking girl. We referenced back to what she did for Porcelain: 



This remains one of my favorite pictures. ❤


The set:
 
I finalized the idea and built it in the morning of the shoot with Toby's help and Michelle and the rest assisting. When the it was completed, it felt as magical on set as it does in the photograph. It was beautiful. 


The smoke was the final touch needed to complete the image -- the element that made the scene magical. I worried for some time about how to properly execute the effect without a fog machine on hand, but thanks to Andre and some dry ice, we managed to make it happen. 

I'm somewhat inspired to do a series with this if time permits, but finding the perfect looks that would match from flowers to dress will be more difficult. We'll see how that goes. :D 

Overall it was a really fun shoot and the whole team worked very hard, so thank you everyone who helped out that day. ❤ 


To end it off, here's Toby's accompanying illustration from the same week: 


Motherland Chronicles #34 - Flowers by Tobias Kwan

Beautiful isn't it? I hope you enjoyed the post and thank you for reading. :D
       

8 Tips for Underwater Model Photography

Monday, October 7, 2013

Motherland Chronicles #23 - Dive

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to shoot underwater in L.A. recently. It was a very wonderful learning experience and so I wanted to share what I learnt! Keep in mind that these tips may only apply to first-timers like I was, but I hope it makes a good read either way. :D


I love water, if you follow my work you know I love putting models near and into water all the time rather frequently. Imagine how excited I was to finally get to shoot underwater for real~ 

Redemption
Porcelain
Motherland Chronicles #7 - Self Portrait in Water
Having sort-of worked with water in some ways before, I went in to the shoot with some ideas of the type of pictures I wanted to make and planned my shoot based on those. 

If you're not sure about what you want to do, the first thing to do naturally is look up lots of underwater photos and check out the possibilities. Try to pin down a shot or two that you'd like to attempt, then plan your shoot from there.


I'll break the tips down by some of the things I did, difficulties I faced while underwater as well as the stuff Brenda (my wonderful guide/teacher/assistant) advised me on. A list of the equipment I used can be found at the end of this post. 

Tips for Underwater Model Photography



1.  Research & Plan

Before going in to the details, I want emphasize how important research and planning is. It should be a given, but maybe you're like me and sometimes enjoy just winging a shoot, but in this case, keep in mind that when the environment is completely different, it's not quite like simply testing a new light setup.

There will be discomforts, logistics complications, and unexpected difficulties just because it's not everyday that most of us spend a few hours underwater. So make sure to read up as much as you can. It will help you prepare both mentally and logistically, and make your underwater shooting experience a smooth-sailing and fun one.

Motherland Chronicles #33 - Ascend

2.  Rehearse

This is similar to when I do movement shots -- take a few tests and rehearse the movements with the model in the beginning. This will save time and energy as you're looking at the general picture and feel of the pose and framing. The model won't have to school her expressions or make sure her hair and clothes are perfectly in place, those things take 10 times longer to adjust in water than on land, and it gets cold and uncomfortable in water very quickly. You want to conserve her energy as much as possible.

3. Communication

After every couple of dives, give feedback and show the model pictures of what you like and don't. Point out what are great and what can be improved, so she will know to make note on how to better the pose for you. 

4. On Sinking & Floating

Most of the time you'll want to sink for flexibility in angles, but it's difficult and often you'll end up floating more.

Let go of all your breath before you hold it so there's less air in your lungs. Tying some weights to your waist will help staying down easier. And depending on the model's pose, sometimes a weight for her helps as well.

I had weights behind my back initially, but found that moving them to the front helps my dive so I shifted them later.

5. Staying Still/Moving for Shots Will Be Tricky

Some photographers like shooting with a tripod, I like moving around to change my angles and framing organically. This unfortunately doesn't translate well underwater.

It's both difficult to stay still and move in water because, well, it's hard to be still when you're floating, and hard to move/paddle when your hands are occupied with the camera.

The best way I've found for myself is to simply decide a course of movement, go for it, then press the shutter many many times. :D

6. Camera Focusing Issues and Loss of Colors on Model's Skin

This usually happens due to loss of light underwater and being far from the model. Brenda overcomes this by using a 10-17mm on a crop sensor camera so I could move in closer (very close!). 

The problem that arises from this is that every little movement distorts and changes the composition drastically. I use the 70-200mm 95% of the time for my work, so it definitely took some getting used to to shoot with a lens so much wider for a complete shoot. I still want to explore using a long lens underwater in the future, hope it's possible. :(

7. Have Extra Hands

Logistics of shooting underwater is painful. Every little adjustment takes a lot longer than it would on the ground. Depending on your light setup, just for clothes/fabrics alone I think you'll need at least 2 assistants underwater.

I only had Brenda so we had one side of the model covered. I ended up using my feet to adjust the fabrics while trying to stay in place for shots sometimes, it's definitely not ideal and more assistants would've helped the shoot move faster. 

I also attempted directing+paddling with my left hand, but all I managed was hurt my right pinkie finger for trying to balance the entire weight of the camera and a strobe on it. :( 

From our behind-the-scenes video.

8. Shoot Fast or Get Cold

It isn't too bad if the weather is warm and there's lots of sun. But if it's overcast or your pool's in the shade, the water's going to feel pretty cold for your model for long-session shooting.

Get some large towels and bathrobes and keep them by the pool. If you're going to take some time reviewing photos, let your model get out of the water to warm up a little. It's easier for the photographer here because we can keep some body heat in with a wet suit. But don't push yourself if you start getting cold too! Remember to take a break as well.

Most importantly remember to have fun! Shooting underwater can be a little frustrating at times, but it's definitely quite magical, not to mention addictive.


Last but not least, a mini-guide made with thanks to the awesome people on Facebook! - 
- Find water.
- Do not breathe the water.
- Do not put camera into water unless it's waterproof or has a housing.
- Learn how to swim.

And that's it! I hope this gives a bit of insight to the shoot along with my behind-the-scenes. If you think of any other points or questions please feel free to ask! :D

Once again, special thanks to Jessica, Brenda and Brian for making this shoot happen.

Equipment List:
Housing: Sea and Sea MDX300
Camera: Nikon D300
Lights: Sea and Sea YS-250 Underwater Strobe Flashes
Lens: Tokina 10-17mm
Cables: Custom made by Reef Photo in Florida

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Want to learn more? Check out my online course Artistic Portrait Photography.

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