Category: Projects

Shoot & Share Contest – The Results and My Thoughts

The Shoot & Share Contest is known as “The Only Free and Fair Photo Contest”. When people vote during this contest, the photographer’s name is omitted. The only information viewed is the category. Four pictures in that category are displayed randomly at a time, and voters have to select one from those four pictures. Then, the cycle starts all over again with a new set of four random pictures to vote from. The category also changes during each cycle, but the voter can filter out which category to view.

Prior to submitting my images, I viewed past winners from previous years. I was hesitant to submit because my style did not fit in with the top images. I did not want to waste my time if no one voted for my images. However, because the contest was free, I was just curious to see what happens without any expectations.

Almost two months later after going “all in” and submitting 50 images, the results were finally calculated.  Eight of my pictures made it to at least the top 30%. Below is a gallery of the pictures that made it to the top 10%, 20%, and 30% respectively. These were screen grabs from my Shoot & Share profile page. If you view my profile page, you can see what pictures I’ve submitted that didn’t make it to the top 10%-30% and what categories my top images were entered into.

My Thoughts

I have mixed feelings about this contest.

I’m happy with the results, considering it was my first year entering this contest. I’ve seen photography friends and peers enter this contest in the past, and felt I’ve missed out, so I’m glad this is a yearly thing.

However, voting is not efficient at all. You only get to see four pictures at a time per category, vote one of the four, and then repeat the same cycle again. During this process, I’ve seen the same images over and over a few times, so I’m wondering if the selections were truly “random”. Also, people would need to spend hours on this site to vote because of how the systems works. With over 500,000 submissions, it would have been better to see at least ten images at a time and vote for more than one image out of the group.

As mentioned before, I was viewing the past winners and most of the styles seem the same to me. These images were shot with natural light, edited with the muted/moody/matted film look with de-saturated colors, crushed blacks, and skin colors that are not true to their actual tone. My style is actually the opposite of what’s currently trendy with photography styles. The images I’ve entered were a mixed of natural light and off-camera flash, but the colors are bright and vibrant (where they need to be).

Also, I see a lack of diversity with the subject matter in the photos. Most of the people in the top pictures are good-looking White people, which makes me wonder if these are actual people or models. Sure, there are some Black, Asian, and people of mixed race in the top spots, but there is clearly a lack of diversity.

One notable thing I’ve noticed in this contest was the lack of awareness of certain cultures. I submitted three quinceañera pictures under “Teens and Seniors” (because the subjects were 15 years of age), but they didn’t do so well. I guess people not familiar with quinceañeras were confused to see teenage girls dressed up in elaborate and frilly princess-like ball gowns.

At the time of writing, I’m still considering whether or not to share the photos that were placed in the top 10%-30% on my Facebook pages. To me, the contest wasn’t a huge deal. The only time a contest would have been a huge deal is if the accolades were given from the top photographers in the industry.

Who Would Have Thought?

Although I’ve been living in Vegas for over 12 years (as of time of writing), Walnut, California has always been home. My parents are still living in the same house, and have been for almost 32 years. I’m very lucky I can always come visit them whenever I want to get away from Vegas.

One of my favorite spots in Walnut was Snow Creek Park. I would always visit this park whenever I wanted to get away from the house and go to a place to relax. I remembered it being a pretty small park with a baseball field taking up the majority of the park.

For the past few months, I was planning a rustic editorial shoot with an awesome designer. Originally, I was going to do the shoot either at Cal Poly Pomona or Lemon Creek Park, since I’ve shot at both places before. However, I threw in Snow Creek as a third option because I was very concerned with the harsh mid-day lighting of our shoot.

On the way to my parents house, I was able to quickly scout Cal Poly. With the construction and the fact it wasn’t “rustic” enough (even though we were going to shoot at some old horse stables), I quickly took that option off the table.

It was between Lemon Creek Park and Snow Creek Park. Because I never shot at Snow Creek Park and haven’t been there in awhile, I met up with an friend whom I’ve known since elementary school and did a quick shoot with her and her family. The minute I arrived, there were about 4 other photo sessions going on and learned that Snow Creek was a hot spot for photography!

With the creek, the bridge, and the horse trail, combined with plenty of shade to hide underneath in harsh mid-day lighting, I decided to do my epic editorial shoot at Snow Creek.

The day after my editorial shoot, I visited Snow Creek once again to do a shoot with another friend from my hometown. Since we were doing the shoot on Veteran’s Day (observed), once again, the park had a few photo sessions going on.

The lighting at Snow Creek, whether in the morning, mid-day, or close to sunset during golden hour, was absolutely gorgeous. Who would have thought such a wonderful place for photography would be in my hometown? Who would have thought that non-Walnut residents from nearby cities would have chosen this pretty small and obscure park for their sessions?

 

 

Neon Lights – Alt Light Project Recap

The beauty of the Alt Light Project is that you can do some much with different light sources, especially neon. With Vegas being the city of lights, the possibilities are endless!

I kicked off my project by doing various shoots on Main Street, just south of Charleston in the Arts District of Vegas. Main Street has plenty of neon on their windows. Many of them were within eye level, which worked out for my project. Main Street also had larger strip lights that hung across the street, creating an even greater bokeh effect.

It was getting a little repetitive after doing 4 individual shoots on Main Street on different nights, so I somewhat “retired” that area and moved on. I found more neon lights at a location with a very fitting name on Fremont Street…Neonopolis. However, with the amount of people visiting, not to mention having to pay for parking, shooting on Main Street was much more desirable. Perhaps after a break, I may do a shoot on Main Street again.

My Alt Light Project portfolio is growing, so view the rest of the images here.

As I’m growing my gear in reference this gear list, I’m looking to try daytime shots with alternative light. Prisms, kaleidoscopes, decorative items with interesting patterns, and sun-catchers are next on my list!

It’s Good to Have a Muse

By definition, a muse is “a person or personified force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist.” However, in my case when it comes to photography, a muse is just a fancier work for “guinea pig”.

Whenever I want to try new things, I always seek out people who are not only comfortable in front of the camera, but patient with me when I want to experiment. A huge plus is someone who is readily available with very short notice, especially when I have that last-minute creative itch.

Hannah is a great muse. I first worked with her during  Dirt in the Skirt with other photographers back in February. Since then, she’s been willing to be my muse whenever I wanted to try something out.

My first project was the #michaelschallenge. Because Michaels Stores officially announced the challenge on their social media, they are probably the only store that gave legitimate permission to do such a project. (Hobby Lobby did not.) Hannah and I only spent over an hour at the store.

At the time of writing, I’m not sure why I only did the Michael’s Challenge once. Perhaps I just lost focus and wanted to try other projects. I may want to do it again, especially with fall and holiday merchandise currently in their stores.

I was in a creative rut and wanted to elevate my photography, so I started the “The Alternative Light (Alt Light) Project”. I originally called it the “B.W. Project” after photographer Brandon Woelfel, but as I was working on this project, I realized I didn’t want to completely imitate his work. Woelfel’s signature editing style usually has cyan blue and pink tones with crushed blacks, but I didn’t fully incorporate that into my project. I was mostly inspired by his whimsical way of using fairy lights and other light sources.

After receiving the Star Master projector night light and a couple of fairy lights in the mail, I was very eager to try them out, so Hannah came over to my house for a last minute shoot. I first had her try the fairy lights and then the night light. I also had these pink-to-purple ombré round sunglasses from Torrid that I rarely use (because I don’t wear sunglasses often) as well as a glass in the shape of a light bulb with a straw. My front porch uses a blue LED light, so we incorporated that into our shoot.

After seeing my shoot with Chauntel, Hannah wanted to do a shoot with the neon lights. With Hannah’s lighter skin tone, I discovered the lights didn’t project as strongly as with Chauntel, especially with the pink neon at Koolsville Tattoo. With Hannah’s sweater and glasses, along with the editing, the images reminds me of the “Stranger Things” advertisements mixed in with Scooby Doo (Hannah reminded me of Velma).

Chauntel and Neon Lights

I officially kicked off my Alt Light Project with a neon shoot with Chauntel. Prior to the shoot, Chauntel modeled in a hair show, in which her hair was dyed blue. She was supposed to be my first subject for another project I’ve had in mind, but haven’t started yet (“The Blue Project”). However, at the time of the shoot, she just finished modeling for another hair show that re-colored her hair into a teal-green color.

During this shoot, I left all my strobe equipment in my car. I was just using the ambient light, finding various light sources to illuminate Chauntel’s face. I was mostly using the neon lights from the store exteriors along Main Street.

Because I was working with low lighting, I used my Nikon D750, which is a dream in low-lighting, and 50mm f/1.8 lens.

I was playing around with the editing. Some shots had the blue and pink hues that Brandon Woelfel’s work is known for. Not wanting to completely copy his style, I took bits and pieces of his work and make them my own. For instance, I preferred not to have the heavy matte look on my photos. I wanted my blacks to be a bit more richer, and not used a crushed black style of editing. I also did not want the vintage film effect.

At the time of this shoot, I didn’t have any gear listed on Brandon’s website, especially the fairy lights. This explains why my shots didn’t have as much bokeh.

Credits :
Model – Chauntel (Instagram)

The Alternative Light (Alt Light) Project

I’m in a huge creative rut. I’m at a point where I can’t make up my mind of where I want to take my photography.

A few months ago, I’ve been wanting to go back into using natural light, only to find out I recently purchased a strobe.

Almost a year ago, I wanted to try to build my Vogue Shots Photography glamour and boudoir brand, but I’ve been shooting weddings either as a 2nd shooter or associate photographer.

With my brand-spanking new strobe, I wanted to create Annie Leibovitz or Vanity Fair-style shots, but I only tried it once. I was hoping to setup a small studio at my house, but that didn’t really happen just yet.

I was also supposed to start another project inspired by Lindsay Adler’s “Seeing Red” collection, but instead of red, I wanted to use blue (it’s my favorite color). Nope! I haven’t started at all!

Instead, I started a project called “The Alternative Light (Alt Light) Project”, inspired by Brandon Woelfel’s photography. I first heard about him a few months ago when someone was trying to imitate his work and editing style in a Facebook group. I Googled his name and loved his use of lighting props, heavy bokeh, and his neon lights images.

At first, I wasn’t really into his editing style, but it grew on me over time. I found a few YouTube videos on how to get a similar effect in Lightroom, and practiced them on a few nighttime shots I’ve done in the past.

I recently made quick trip to the Dollar Store to buy some items, so I can play with them for future shoots.

To kick off this project, here are a few before-and-after shots of my normal editing turned into Brandon Woelfel-inspired images.

Shooting on a Budget in Downtown Las Vegas

Susan walking the runway in 2015.
Dress by Wassa Wear.

I finally got to do a shoot with this gorgeous girl! I met Susan a few years ago through Facebook. I first saw her on the runway of a local Vegas fashion show where I was attending as a photographer. This show featured new designers. Susan stood out to me because she reminded me of model/actress Brigitte Nielsen in her prime, but a more demure version of her. Back then, she was a blond.

Thanks to the power of Facebook tagging by mutual friends, I was able to send Susan a link to download her pictures.

I’ve always wanted to work with her, but she moved to New York City for modeling and acting and lived there for a few years. We’ve been following each other’s work through social media throughout the years.

When Susan announced she was visting Vegas and was looking to collaborate, I jumped at the chance!

We did the shoot in Downtown Las Vegas at the Neonopolis. The area wasn’t very busy due to many businesses closing. We had free reign to shoot, especially this bridge area that overlooked Fremont Street.

I didn’t intend on doing this shoot for my “Shooting on a Budget” project, but the amount of gear used ended up matching my criteria. Also, I haven’t posted anything related to “Shooting on a Budget” in a long time.

Here was the gear list:

  • Nikon D300 with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens – $180
  • Yongnuo YN-568EX TTL speedlight – Free!
    (A fellow photographer graciously gave me this flash, but it normally sells for about $97 new)
  • ‘Yongnuo YN-622N-TX  and YN-622N receivers – Free!
    (A fellow photographer graciously gave me these receivers, but it normally sells for about $85 new)
  • White shoot-through umbrella – $8.50
  • Lightstand – $30
  • Flash bracket – $7.50

Total = $408 ($8 over budget) or $226 (since 2 items were given to me)

I was having problems firing the YN-568EX off-camera. I normally use it on-camera for wedding ceremonies. Some of the shots were done with natural light, while some were with the speedlight when it did fire.

Credits :
Model – Susan (Instagram)

At the end of the shoot, we did an obligatory selfie. In true model fashion, Susan would change her position for each shot from her cell phone. She’s a model through and through!

 

 

My Strobe Dilemma

Throughout my photography journey, I’ve had mixed feelings about owning a strobe. Was it necessary or not?

I have used off-camera flash (OCF) since 2013. Learning OCF did wonders for my photography and have brought my work to another level.

At first, I thought I would need to buy expensive Nikon speedlights at about over $400 per unit, and then buy a PocketWizard set for another $200 or over just to fire those speedlights.

Thank goodness for Yongnuo products. Over the years, I have accumulated about 8 Yongnuo speedlights. Each speedlight had a triggering system built-in. All I needed was something for the top of my camera to fire off all those speedlights. The cost of my whole entire Yongnuo setup was STILL cheaper than one Nikon speedlight and PocketWizard set. What was even more sweet was that my Yongnuo receiver allowed me to make adjustments from my camera, instead of going to each unit and making adjustments from there.

I didn’t have much space in my house to setup a studio. Multiple Yongnuo speedlights sufficed and did its job.

I was able to survive shooting in very harsh mid-day sun without shade and only 3 Yongnuo speedlights. If I wanted a more shallow depth of field, I would just put an ND filter on my 85mm lens.

I was happy with speedlights for years, but still wanted a strobe. Why? Well, these were my arguments for not getting one:

  • As mentioned above, I didn’t have much space in my house to setup a studio. I didn’t need all that power from a strobe.
  • If I were to use a strobe outdoors, I would have to buy a battery pack because the strobe had to be plugged in. What a pain in the ass to haul!
  • I would also have to buy a new wireless triggering system, but it wouldn’t have the same functionality as my Yongnuos.

So what drove me to get a strobe?

Back in late 2016, I was assisting a wedding photographer who just purchased the wonderful Profoto B1. Because there was no time to set up a light stand, I HAD to be the light stand. I held the B1 above my head with my arms stretched out, similar to John Cusack holding his boombox in the movie “Say Anything”.

I thought the B1 was a cool thing to have, but unfortunately, I didn’t have over $2000 to spend. However, I still wanted a strobe that was affordable AND have these features that the B1 has (in this order):

  1. High speed sync (HSS), so I can shoot faster than my camera’s flash sync speed (usually between 1/200-1/250 seconds) and be at a wider aperture (at least f/4 or wider). I wouldn’t need to use my 85mm lens with an ND filter on it.
  2. An onboard battery pack, so I don’t have to deal with wires or a stand-alone battery pack. This makes it more portable for outdoors shoots.
  3. Powerful enough to over-power the sun, especially with large modifiers. Using 3 speedlights was great and all, but because I wasn’t using any modifiers, lighting was a bit harsh.
  4. TTL (through-the-lens), so the strobe’s power can be adjusted automatically with objects that are constantly moving, especially ones that are moving forwards and backwards like children and dogs. Because I haven’t used TTL as much in the past, this feature wasn’t as high in priority than the others. It would have been nice to have, but it wasn’t really a deal-breaker.

I did a Google search and stumbled upon the Godox AD600 (or the Flashpoint XPLOR 600). Then, I also saw the Godox AD200 (or the Flashpoint eVOLV 200), which was more portable, but less powerful than the AD600. However, one AD200 unit had more power than my 3 Yongnuo speedlight setup.

When I finally had enough money to purchase a strobe, I was set on getting two AD200 units because they were way more affordable. However, during a photographer’s meetup at Floyd Lamb Park, I was introduced to the Orlit Rovelight RT 601 and was able to test it out. It was comparable to the AD600 and had all the features I wanted (except for TTL, which was fine with me).

The next day, I visited Adorama’s website and saw that the TTL version of the Orlit Rovelight with the receiver was much cheaper than getting two AD200’s, as well as half the price of getting the TTL version of the AD600. Needless to say, I ended up choosing the Orlit Rovelight 610!

Orlit RoveLight RT 610 with a 40-inch brolly box (umbrella softbox).

Below are the images from the Floyd Lamb meetup, using the Orlit Rovelight and a 48-inch octobox. I love the softness of the light!

So how does a strobe affect me moving forward? To be honest, not much. I just got cool new gear! And it gives me more and more opportunity to be versatile and practice more with studio lighting!

My Day of Versatility

On Saturday, April 28, 2018, it was nothing but back-to-back shooting. It was also the MOST versatile day of shooting for me.

I started the morning shooting two gorgeous models at a house with a backyard pool. The owner of the house specifically decorated the entire house for photographers. I was so overwhelmed with all the possibilities this house had to offer, that I was embarrassed I wasn’t very prepared. Throughout the shoot, I used my new Orlit Rovelight strobe with my Nikon D300 and 18-55 kit lens. It brought back memories to “Pump My Portfolio” back in 2013, in a sense where I was still making great shots with inexpensive gear and great lighting. The 18-55 lens sufficed. I didn’t need any fancy lenses.

The next shoot was a portrait session with Staysi, a talented dress designer whom I’ve mentioned before, and her family. Her and her husband were renewing their vows, and because the chapel didn’t allow outside photographers, they wanted to do a quick shoot before the ceremony. Staysi created pink matching dresses for her and her daughter, and came up with a retro pink flamingo theme. To use these pictures for a possible bridal magazine submission, it had to feel like a natural wedding. Therefore, I did this shoot in all natural light with my Nikon D750 and 24-120 f/4 lens.

The last and final shoot was a wedding reception at Skyview Banquet Hall. I was asked to work this reception at the last minute so the owner, who is also a photographer, can put on her “event planning hat” and spend the whole night making sure everything ran smoothly. My favorite part of the night was a little dance by the groom before the garter toss. It was funny to watch! I shot this event with my Nikon D750, 24-120 f/4 lens, and a Yongnuo TTL flash on camera. The venue already had great up-lighting and low ceilings, so I was able to bounce the light from my flash.

The Back Story

Back in the summer of 2013, during the early stages of my photography journey, I attended a studio photography workshop called “Pump My Portfolio”. It was a great day of portfolio-building and learning about studio photography. Most of the photographers who attended the event were also early into their photography journey, while some were seasoned wedding and portrait photographers.

Since I was a naive aspiring photographer at the time, I was intimidated by the seasoned photographers at first because of their experience and high-end full-frame cameras and lenses. I was feeling inadequate with my lowly entry-level Nikon D3000 and 18-55 kit lens. I thought my 50mm f/1.8 lens would bring me into the “Cool Kids Club” with the seasoned photographers, especially during the boudoir portion where it was all natural window light.

To my surprise, the seasoned photographers were just as clueless as I was about studio photography.

I was also producing pretty kick-ass shots with my “lowly” entry-level gear, especially with the strobes that were provided. They were pretty much ready to go straight-out-of-camera. Everyone had awesome shots that day. Based on the portfolio sharing, it was hard to tell who were the seasoned photographers and who were the newbies.

As the months went by, I’ve noticed something about the photographers whose work I’ve been following. They mostly shoot with natural light during golden hour. I hardly see their shots taken any other time of the day or even at night.

In that same year, I attended another photography meetup and received a quick crash-course on off-camera flash. I remember taking a couple of shots with my newly learned skills and was amazed at the results.

By the end of 2013, I realized that I needed to stand out as a photographer and step up my skills by learning off-camera flash and shooting in the harshest lighting possible.

Over the years, I had a mantra that a photographer should be able to work in any lighting conditions given to them, whether it’s during golden hour or high noon with the sun above everyone. I would practice in areas that had no shade with the harshest lighting, so I would be forced to shoot with whatever I’m working with. I had the mindset that clients only cared about “their hour” and not “golden hour”, and needed to prepare for any lighting situation.

As I was utilizing off-camera flash more and more, I felt it was the greatest thing since slice bread. It made workflow much quicker and I was able to take portraits with pretty skies straight out-of-the-camera. Since I wasn’t using natural light, I didn’t have to worry about using Photoshop to create a sky overlay. I was wondering why hardly anyone was on board with OCF.

Okay…enough throwing shade to the “natural-light photographers”. Let’s start throwing shade to the “strobists” and “OCF-ers”!

Throughout my journey, I noticed strobists had awesome work with their strobes and lights, but when it came to natural light, it wasn’t as strong. As an “OCF-er” that didn’t own strobes, I was falling into that group. I remember posting some natural light stuff on my Facebook and a friend told me that she didn’t believe it was my work because it wasn’t as “constrast-y” as my usual work. She wasn’t putting down my natural light stuff, but she did say it wasn’t as strong as my usual OCF work. That conversation made me want to go back to shooting with natural light and be better at it.

It is 2018 now, and although I’ve had a great photography journey these past 5 years, unfortunately, it has not translated into a successful business. Do I want it to make it a business? I’m not sure at this point. I’m very happy with my employment at UNLV and I know it’s better in the long run. Maybe a side business perhaps?

However, I can safely say that my photography has shown versatility over the years. I may be better at a few of the many skills I’ve acquired, but I can at least produce adequate results. There is always room to grow in order to make something “adequate” extraordinary.

It’s hard to express how important it for me to be versatile without adding my own personal back story, so now that’s over, let’s move onto the present!

Fashion Magazine Look on a Budget

One of my most favorite looks in photography is the bright and flashy look that you see in fashion magazines and editorials. Typically, the model is brightly lit and pops out from the background. I can thank watching America’s Next Top Model for that.

When I first got into fashion photography, I would watch re-runs of Top Model. The drama among the contestants and the challenges were ridiculous to watch, so I just skip to the photo shoots.  While watching a few episodes, I have always wondered why they would need a strobe in the daytime.

Throughout my photography journey, I’m glad to say I finally figured out why photographers would need a flash or a strobe in the daytime. It is used as a fill light, especially in harsh lighting with no shade.

I attended a photographer-model networking event at the Arts District. During this event, you basically grab a model or “human subject” and start shooting. Because the event was held earlier in the day, the lighting was harsh. There was plenty of shaded areas around, but I didn’t want to shoot the same thing as every one else, so I brought my models out in the sun.

It was one of those instances where I wish I brought more speedlights and a diffuser to spread and soften the light, but you work with what you have. So in both instances, I just used one bare speedlight at about 1/2 power. It didn’t spread the light as I hoped, but it did an alright job.

Credits:
Models – Landon (Instagram) | Reyna (Instagram)

Shooting with Natural Light on a Budget

I’m looking to shoot more natural light in 2018. As much as I love off-camera flash, it’s annoying to bring a light stand to every shoot. I can get away with shooting with the flash on camera if I don’t have a light stand, but sometimes the lighting can be a bit harsh and flat.

I pride myself in being able to shoot with both natural light and off-camera flash, but my goal is to make my natural light portfolio just as good as my off-camera flash work.

A small group of photographers and I spent the day in Mt. Charleston to shoot in the snow. One of the photographers brought her aspiring model friend to be our “subject”. Vegas people get very excited about snow, so Mt. Charleston was pretty packed. My car was parked far and I didn’t want to haul my light stands while walking up the hill, so I just left it in the trunk.

I felt a little out of my element for various reasons. First of all, I’ve been so used to off-camera flash, that I felt it’s been my “crutch”. I now had to read the light and move the model accordingly. Second of all, I was using my Dad’s Canon Rebel T1i, which I still have from my Philippines vacation. I’m still trying to get used to the dials and buttons, but they’re so much different than my higher-end Nikons. Back-button focusing (BBF) felt weird on the T1i, so I switched and re-learned shutter-button focusing. Finally, I only had the kit lenses, which are sometimes not ideal with shooting natural light portraits because of it’s not-so-wide apertures.

Many photography beginners think that shooting at an aperture of f/1.8 with the 50mm lens is the only way to get a blurry and “bokeh-riffic” background. However, depth of field is also determined by the distance between the subject and the background, as well as the subject and the photographer. To get the blurriness, there needs to be a good amount of distance between the subject and the background and the photographer. With that in mind, I used the 55-250mm kit lens only.

Yes…You Can Shoot a Wedding with Budget Gear

But I highly DO NOT RECOMMEND IT!

There is a saying that “it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer behind it.” That’s true for the most part, but when it comes to weddings, it’s a different story.

Wedding photography is expensive for a reason. It’s because you are paying for the photographer’s experience and their usage of high-end equipment, as well as the photographer’s time coordinating before the wedding and editing the pictures after. In 2017, I have booked 4 weddings on my own and have worked as either the main or second shooter for other people. For all these weddings, I have used my higher-end Nikon D750 (with my Nikon D300 as a backup) and quality lenses with fixed apertures. A few lenses alone were way over $400. Per my “Shooting on a Budget” project, all my equipment had to total at $400 or less!

During my cousin’s wedding, not only I used “downgraded” equipment, but I also used a system I was not very familiar with. I did not want to use my money-making equipment during my trip to the Philippines, so I used my Dad’s entry-level Canon Rebel T1i and 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 and 55-250mm f/4-5.6 kit lenses. To ensure I had decent shots, I had to quickly learn how to use the camera prior to my trip. I also had to adjust my way of focusing. I was using back-button focusing (BBF) on my Nikon, but it was a pain to do BBF on the T1i, so I had to re-learn how to use shutter button focusing.

It was extremely frustrating using my Dad’s camera. It was a pain setting the focus points, so I had a few out-of-focus shots. Because of the lenses’ changing apertures (if you’re shooting at its widest possible) as you zoom in and out, I had to constantly adjust the shutter speed to get a well-exposed shot. I missed the first kiss because of this. The closest thing I got was the bride and groom about to kiss, but the shot was pretty under-exposed. Thank goodness I shot in RAW!

Even though I was shooting this wedding with entry-level Canon gear, I would have just as much frustration shooting with comparable entry-level Nikon gear. Learning the Canon wasn’t that much of a huge learning curve for me.

In summary…yes, you can shoot a wedding with entry-level gear. However, it’s best to use that gear if you’re sitting in the audience as a guest, NOT as the main shooter.

I hope I didn’t lead you all to believe I was the main shooter of this wedding! Fortunately, I was just a guest and took pictures from my seat in the back rows. The wedding had 2 photographers and 3 videographers in a pretty small space, so I didn’t want to get in their way!

I know the main photographers did a much better job than I did, but here are a few shots I took during the ceremony.

Holiday Shoot at the Smith Center

I wanted to do one holiday shoot before the end of 2017, so when Kayla posted on a Facbook group that she was looking for a photographer for holiday shoot, I jumped at the chance.

I chose the Smith Center as the location because there was plenty of lighting at night and it’s one of the most photography-friendly spots in Vegas. Also, there was a 30-foot Christmas tree at Symphony Park. My goal was to get a couple “bokeh-rific” shots with Christmas lights.

I have not purchased any additional gear since I started the project. Unfortunately, I did not purchase the Nikon D50 yet because I’m still looking for one at the right price. However, I’m looking to forego the Nikon D50 because I really want to take a slimmer camera for my trip to the Philippines during the first 2 weeks of January. I’m looking at either a Sony A6000, a GoPro, or something with better video capabilities.

During this shoot, I used the same equipment as before.

  • Nikon D300 with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens – $180
  • Nikon 50m f/1.8G AF-S lens – $150
  • Yongnuo YN-560III speedlight – $60
  • Yongnuo YN-560-TX receiver – $45
  • White shoot-through umbrella – $8.50
  • Lightstand – $30
  • Flash bracket – $7.50

Total = $481 ($81 over budget)

I bought this camera somewhat on a whim because I really needed a second body for weddings. However, when I first used this camera, it just didn’t feel right to me and it was so beat up, I regret selling my first D300 in 2015. Because I didn’t really like the camera too much, I just kept it around just in case my Nikon D750 would malfunction.

Thanks to this project, I’m actually appreciating my D300 more. Using the Nikon D750 really has spoiled me prior to the project, especially when it comes to high ISO, but I think I will be okay. I’m not too bothered by pushing the ISO on the D300 to 1600.

Credits :
Model – Kayla (Instagram)

Trash the Dress at Dana Point

Dana Point Harbor, especially the Ocean Institute, is my favorite spot to visit whenever I’m in Cali. Even though it’s 50 miles away from my parent’s house in Walnut, it’s well worth the drive. It’s peaceful, calming, and the water is easy to access. It’s also a great place for photo shoots!

I did a casting call on Model Mayhem, looking for a model with specific measurements. I have a used wedding dress I purchased on eBay for only $50. I previously bought it for a wedding simulation workshop with my photography group. Because the dress is inexpensive and just sitting in my closet, I’ve always wanted to do a trash the dress session. It was very important for the dress to fit the model like a glove. Luckily it did!

I was able to get my hands on my Dad’s camera, which is a Canon Rebel t1i with the 55-250mm f/4.0-5.6 kit lens. He received the camera and lens brand new as a Christmas present back in 2009. I researched on eBay and the lowest price the camera now is selling for is $155 and about $70 for the lens, so everything totals about $225. The pricing is based on the “Buy It Now” price.

I studied the Canon’s button layout and menu a little bit prior to the shoot. Thanks to a Google search, I was able to setup back-button focusing. During the shoot, I had the model stand near the water, which was far away from me. With the waves crashing in, it was hard for her to hear my voice and the camera’s shutter. I felt a little bit out of place shooting with the Canon, especially with the focus points. The button functions were much different than what I’m used to. I had to stop periodically to make sure I had her in focus. I didn’t want to use my off-camera flash system because I needed to gain more familiarity with the Canon.

I switched back and forth between the Canon and my same Nikon setup, the D300 with the 50mm f/1.8 lens and Yongnuo YN-560III speedlight. Since I didn’t use the 18-55mm kit lens, even though it came with the D300, everything totals slightly over $400.

I also switched back and forth between using natural light and off-camera flash. In addition to my “Shooting on a Budget” project, I also wanted to scale back and just use natural light. Unfortunately, because the lighting was a little harsh (even on a partly cloudy day), I wasn’t enjoying the washed-out white skies and flat lighting that comes with shooting with natural light. Lighting was much more gorgeous when I shot away from the sun, with the model having to look at the sun.

Credits:
Model – Katie (Model Mayhem)
Dress and Veil – All purchased from eBay

Camera description is included in each pictures. The first 3 images are from the Canon camera and the last 3 images are from the Nikon camera.

 

 

Harley Quinn Balloon Shoot

My “Shooting on a Budget” project got off on a rocky start. First of all, I was supposed to do my first shoot for this project last Sunday, but my model cancelled at the very last minute. Second, I was not successful with getting the Nikon D50 within my budget. I made bids for two separate eBay auctions, but unfortunately they were not the winning bids.

I’m part of many local Facebook modeling/photography groups. If I need to do a shoot with a model, these groups are great resources to find models. Within an hour’s notice, a model posted that she was looking for a photographer to do a Harley Quinn-inspired shoot. While posting, she was wearing a dress made out of twisted balloons and was hair and makeup ready. All she needed was a photographer on a trade-for-print (TFP) basis.

Since I had my equipment ready from last week’s cancellation (just needed to throw in my 50mm), I was ready to drive to the Arts District near Downtown Las Vegas to meet with the model and the balloon dress designer. I brought the following equipment with me:

  • Nikon D300 with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens – $180
  • Nikon 50m f/1.8G AF-S lens – $150
  • Yongnuo YN-560III speedlight – $60
  • Yongnuo YN-560-TX receiver – $45
  • White shoot-through umbrella – $8.50
  • Lightstand – $30
  • Flash bracket – $7.50

Total = $481 ($81 over budget)

I did the majority of the shoot with my Nikon D300 and 18-55mm kit lens. Because it was already dark, the lens had some limitations. I struggled with exposing for the ambient light because I wasn’t able to lower my f-stop to f/2.8 or lower. I need to increase ISO, but I didn’t want to crank it up past ISO 1600 because I didn’t want so much grain in my shots. Because of the lens’ specifications, I would have to adjust the power of my speedlight if I were to zoom in at 55mm, as well as adjusting my camera to a slower shutter speed. The more I zoom in, the less light the lens allows. I was at f/5.6 zoomed in.

I was reluctant to use my 50mm lens, but in order to get the Stratosphere in the backdrop, I had use it because of its low-lighting capabilities.

Credits:
Model – Charlie (Instagram) | Balloon Dress Designer – Ronnie (Instagram)

Shooting on a Budget – Introduction

I’m not sure what prompted me to join yet another Facebook photography group, especially targeted towards beginners, but I joined this specific one because a friend is a member. (Unfortunately, she’s not very active, LOL!) I’ve been trying to find ways to re-gain my passion for photography and I joined the group in hopes to get some inspiration. I also wanted pay it forward and help people with their own photography journey.

The most common questions posted are, “What camera should I buy?”, “What camera should I upgrade to?”, and “What lens should I get?”. Many people in the group are convinced that upgrading to a new camera (especially to a full-frame) will help make their pictures better, and that the “Nifty Fifty” (50mm f/1.8 lens) is the magical lens that gives you a blurred background in your pictures (known as shallow depth of field).

There’s this admin in the group (bless his heart), that is constantly telling people the best camera is the one you have in your hand and that you can achieve a blurred background with kit lenses (the lenses that comes with your new camera). Whenever someone posts about upgrading, he asks “Why?” Some people perceive him as rude because he is truthful and direct with his responses, but for the most part, him and I agree on almost everything. Also, when I try to play the voice of reason in the group, he always likes my posts, so I guess I’m not off the mark!

Since I joined around Halloween, I’ve been very active in this group. As I got more and more involved in the group, trying to help people out and answering questions, it made me think of a local Vegas photographer who created a blog about shooting with budget gear (Shooting on a Budget). Thanks to both the group and the blog, it inspired me to do a personal project where I only shoot with minimal gear.

I’m putting away my $5,000 gear! (Except the 50mm)

Gear List

Here is my list and how much I’ve spent out-of-pocket on each item:

    • Nikon D300 and 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 “kit” lens – $180 from OfferUp
    • Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens – $150 from Craig’s List
    • Yongnuo YN-560III speedlight – $60 from Amazon
    • Yongnuo YN-560IV speedlight – $75 from Amazon
    • Yongnuo YN-560-TX receiver – $45 from YongnuoUSA.net
    • White shoot-through umbrella – $8.50 from eBay
    • Beauty dish with sock – $58 from eBay
    • Lightstand – $30 from Amazon
    • S-type Bowens mount – $17 from eBay
    • Flash bracket – $7.50 from eBay
    • Working on getting a Nikon D50 for under $100

Rules

  • The value of all equipment used must be $400 or lower COMBINED!
  • 3rd party equipment (external lighting and modifiers, light stands, tripods, etc.) are allowed just as long as it stays on budget.
  • Cannot pair Nikon D300 lens with 50mm f/1.8 lens unless it’s a low-lighting situation.
    (Even though I’ve spent only $180, the D300 is not considered an entry-level camera. Only the 18-55mm lens is entry-level. I feel using the Nikon D300 with the 50mm lens will not stay true to the project.)
  • 50mm lens can only be used on low-lighting shoots.

Varoma Flor by Mauricio Montebello

One of my major projects during 2017 was to photograph Mauricio Montebello’s entire “Varoma Flor” collection. This was his very first collection that he launched a couple years ago. I also did a few shoots with some one-off dresses that he made while he was in fashion school. I started this project in January and completed it a few months later. It was a huge accomplishment to have photographed all 21 of his dresses! Whew!

Staysi Lee Bridal Boutique – Designer Spotlight

Staysi Lee is a very talented designer, whose designs embrace vintage and pin-up flare. She started off designing and selling her ever-popular infinity convertible dress, where you can wrap and twist the dress to create many designs. Taking inspiration from her own personal style, especially from her wedding, she expanded into creating customized wedding dresses.

Her wedding dress designs takes elements of both couture and vintage, with a nod to old Hollywood glamour. Want a dash of color to spice up your wedding dress? It’s customized, so why not?

She took notes from clients that would only like certain aspects of a dress, but not the whole thing. To solve that problem, she designed 2-piece wedding dresses where you can mix and match the top and the bottom. The greatest thing is that you can use an overlay or sash to make it look like one dress.

Staysi is also a collector of vintage dresses, where she buys many of them from an “undisclosed” location, fixes them up, and sells them again. If you truly want a vintage wedding with styles from the 1940’s through 1990’s, Staysi is your girl!

Visit Staysi’s online shops:

Custom couture wedding gowns – https://www.etsy.com/shop/StaysiLeeCouture
Infinity convertible dresses – https://www.etsy.com/shop/StaysiLee
Vintage dresses – https://www.etsy.com/shop/localovespirate

The Dry Lake Bed Chronicles

I’m not sure if “chronicles” is a good word, but I wanted a more flashier title to highlight the locations I frequently go to for photo shoots.

There are many wonderful places for photo shoots in the Las Vegas area, but they are also limiting. Some areas, like Red Rock Canyon, are owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) which requires an exorbitant permit fee. The various hotels on The Strip, which are privately owned, absolutely prohibits professional photography onsite.

Because of this, I have six locations I frequently shoot at. In this blog post, I’m highlighting or “chronicling” a very versatile location – the dry lake beds.

There are two dry lake beds in town – one in Jean, NV and the other one just outside of Boulder City. Out of the two lake beds, I prefer the Boulder City lake bed for these various reasons: easy to access, not too far from Nelson, no hassles from the “permit police” (as far as I know), and to reiterate, EASY TO ACCESS! It’s right along US-95, which is the same highway you use to go to Searchlight and Laughlin.

I don’t go to the dry lake in Jean very often mainly because it’s land owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Because it’s BLM land, I’ve heard stories from other people that there are rangers who approach photographers and check for permits. However, of all the times I’ve visited, I have not seen anyone, but I always proceed with caution when planning to do a shoot. Just with like any Vegas location, I keep my equipment minimal and discreet as much as possible.

Here is the map of the Jean dry lake bed with directions coming from The M Resort. These directions are the easiest way to get down there. Drive about 11 miles south on Las Vegas Blvd. Although the map said to make a left on Ranch Rd. after 11 miles, it is not marked. I always remind myself that Ranch Rd. is the “second white sign that is less obvious”. If you make a left on the “first white sign”, you will find yourself driving away from the dry lake bed. After a few miles down Ranch Rd., make a left on the unpaved path into the dry lake bed. There is a pretty tall clearance between the paved road and the unpaved road as you enter, so I advise you all to drive with a high-clearance vehicle. If you have a lowered car, I suggest not taking your car there.

Here’s a collection of photos from the dry lake bed dated back from 2013 to present:

Helmut Newton-Style Film Project with Sarah

One of my favorite photographers is the iconic Helmut Newton. His amazing black and white photos, especially of the female form, was a staple for fashion magazines like Vogue.

Sarah is a local pin-up model. With her classic looks, she was perfect for this shoot. We both found doing a shoot with film challenging. Because we were limited to only 36 shots, the flow wasn’t as smooth as shooting in digital. I made her change every 5-10 shots.

This shoot was a true trade-for-print arrangement as in the sense that Sarah received physical prints from the shoot. This is very rare in the digital world. Below are a few scans from the printed pictures.