Category: Projects

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
    • 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


  • 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 –
Infinity convertible dresses –
Vintage dresses –

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.

Fun With Film

Since catching the photography bug in 2012, I tried to start a collection of fully-functional vintage or unique cameras. The Nikon N65 was the first camera I bought for my collection. I bought it on eBay rarely used for only $18!

The nice thing about the Nikon N65 is that all my full-frame lenses work on this camera. This camera came out in 2001, just as digital cameras were still fairly new and expensive to obtain.

I bought film for the camera (Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800) shortly after I bought my N65, but the battery died pretty quickly before I took all 24 shots. For some reason (maybe because of things going on in my life), I didn’t bother buying new batteries, so the camera was sitting in my pantry for about 4 years.

In March 2016, I joined a local film photography group from When I attended the first meeting, it opened my eyes to new possibilities of photography. After the meeting, I bought replacement batteries and continued shooting to finish the roll, but because I opened the back of the camera prior to shooting, it exposed the undeveloped film. The camera only allowed me to shoot 15 out of 24 exposures.

Here are a few pictures from a body painting event. I was a bit bummed I couldn’t shoot more when I heard the film rewinding, but the rain started kicking in, so it wasn’t too bad.

My next film photography project was doing shoots with models. I had to face the challenge of not seeing your shots on the screen until the film is developed. I did a shoot in black and white film because in the past before digital, photography students would start off with this medium. I made sure the model was wearing outfits with contrast in colors, as it’s seen better in black and white.

My ultimate goal with film is to shoot in medium format. I would love to shoot in digital medium format, but the camera alone costs about the same as a lower-level Mercedes Benz.