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  • Faces and Places: Penang

    Continuing on the Malaysian theme, Penang is an amazing little island highly recognized for its street art, old building and...food! I loved walking around the vibrant streets and definitelty had a blast!

    Till next time!

  • Faces and Places: Malacca

    Had the pleasure to spend some time in Malacca, Malaysia. It is a beautiful place where History oozes from the architecture. There is a bit of a contrast between the old places and the cult of Hello Kitty that seems to be everywhere, as if it was the ultimate selling point for Tourists! Despite this, I really enjoyed my stay there allbeit quite brief.

    Till next time!

  • Faces and Places: Hong Kong

    If you have not done it yet, get your a** down to Hong Kong!! This place has so much character and every corner is a perfect place to shoot. Here are a few of the shots I took when I was there.

    TIll next time!

  • A pinch of salt  

    So here's the deal. When I show my portfolio to my friends, a fair amount of them react that way:

    Great work! These are retouched, right?

    Any answer I give is met with a disapproving look or tone. How could I have butchered all these pixels to alter the reality of what was captured through my lens? How dare I play god and decide what should be removed or changed from a person physical appearance? I ain't that handsome myself so why cant I accept other people's flaws?

    This is always a touchy topic because on the one hand my friends have a preconceived idea of what retouching means and on the other, well I love retouching and, truth be told, I would never think of publishing a shot I have not retouched. There are two reasons for that:

    - We don't eat raw meat!

     Even the most amazing piece of beef still needs to be cooked before it can be served to the public. It also needs to be seasoned, with a nice sauce and some sides. Otherwise it would not taste right, it would not feel complete. Now adding too much stuff or not cooking it properly and you'll ruin the taste. It is the exact same thing with photography when we shoot in...wait for it....RAW!!!

     Am I a bad photographer because I retouch the pictures I take? I don't think so. Do I still try to get the best shot in camera? Hell yeah! But does this mean I'm ready to feed the public with it? Of course not. I need to do a little cooking and add my special sauce!

     I already hear the counter argument: shooting JPEGS or film cameras don't need extra cooking! Of course they don't because they are precooked meals! Go to your local store, special deals on vivid sauce, monochromatic stew, spaghetti à la portra or red velvia cake mix!

     - What your camera captures is not what your eyes see anyway:

    It doesn't see well:

    It is a known fact that camera sensors don't see the same amount of details than the eye can. That's one of our beloved manufacturers' selling point, dynamic range! On top of top of that, you have to take into account lens distortion which causes parts of your subject to look bigger than in reality. I'd rather correct this misinterpretation of reality than having my clients think they look like the freaking hunchback of Notre Dame!

     It sees too well:

    Cameras can be really mean sometimes. They will point out stuff your eyes don't see or at lest do not necessarily pay attention to at first glance: small red veins, pimples, black spots...to sum up, temporary imperfections. Does your subject want to remember you as the photographer he worked with the day he had a massive pimple on his forehead? If he does you might want to look for a different type of clients...

    These are the reasons why I retouch my work. It is part of my creative process and it should not be photographers' dirty little secret anymore. It has been part of photography since nearly the beginning and serves the artist's vision and interpretation of reality, very much like how painters can interpret their vision of reality by deciding what colors to use and by drawing someone thinner than what reality suggests as it is well documented.

    Now, there is a lot of criticism on the extreme use of retouching and how it alters people's perceptions of what reality should be. Ultra slim models with perfect skin are perceived as an ideal a lot of women try to reach, sometimes at the cost of putting their health at risk. Add that it generates insecurity and lack of confidence and you shouldn't be surprised it is being criticized. Here's my  tie size thought on this:

    It is easier to blame the industry's tool than the industry's tools.

    Retouching is a strong tool and can radically alter the reality. But it is only a tool, it goes as far as its user wants to. Sure, its limitless possibilities may have increased the amount of alterations one could ask for but in the end, it is the industry that is to blame for the extreme retouching we can sometimes see in magazines or on billboards.

    By this logic, should we also ban make up? Evidently a make up artist is a retoucher and can do wonders in terms of reality alterations.

    What needs work on is developing an ethics as to the extent of retouching: fix temporary flaws as mentioned earlier but do not alter the models physical attributes. This is a tricky one if your client wants to push the transformation further than what your limits are. In this situation, I believe we should stick to our morals and politely try to convince him that he is going too far. If he refuses, well, walk away. This is the only way we can progressively revert back to a less extreme vision of reality. Good retouchers already have this ethic so finding a retoucher willing to go this far will result in a more mediocre work and eventually make him think over his position.

    I also believe that a way to solve this matter is to educate the public. After all, product photography is heavily retouched yet is not as criticized as photography involving people. This is because people know that these photos are not a reflection of reality. a range rover will not take you to the moon and opening a can of coke will not lead to a massive party in your backyard with Rihanna and Biebs. They only convey a feeling which is associated to the brand. The same state of mind should apply when viewing fashion or portrait photography. We should focus on the emotion coming out of the pictures and not how wonderfully flawless the model is....because she isn't and, you know what? That's fine!

    Til next time!

  • The Pain of Birth

                                                                                                    Birth of Adonis by Marcantonio Franceschini

    A couple of weeks ago, I finished an ambitious outdoor shoot involving 5 models, to designer and two make up artists. The shoot went well despite some limitations in gear used due to the lack of permit.

    I worked on the different shots I liked and was quite happy about my work. Everyone involved in the team was happy, all was good.

    Then I started looking back at the photos and noticing details that could help improve them, it was way better now! The first batch of editing looked so bland in comparison.

    And then it happened: post natal depression.

    The more I looked at the pictures, the more I hated them. It was not what I envisioned when I was working on this shoot. I totally rejected what I produced and started doubting myself.

    This is the curse of the artist.

    Photography/art is such a personal thing, forged in blood, sweat and tears. It comes from your guts. That's why every image I produce feels like childbirth (granted I am a man so my understanding might be slightly distorted) and I am sure most artists experience this, just ask them what picture they are the most proud of and there often are no spontaneous answers. There is however a solution to our struggle, one that cannot be applied to real post natal depression: taking some distance.

    We spend so much time focusing on our work and on the minor details that we don't see the bigger picture (no pun intended). In my case, people like the pictures and they got picked up for an editorial gig.

    WHAT WAS ALL THAT FUSS ABOUT THEN???

    So take some distance from your work, try to forget about it for awhile and go look back at it once you've done several other shoots. Then  you can correct what needs to be corrected, you might even think that you don't suck that badly, you might even like what you see.

    After all, births are usually joyous occasions...

    Til next time!

  • 6 lessons learnt in 6 months

    It's been a busy 6 months filled with highs and lows and I wanted to list a few lessons I learnt so far as a note to myself so that i don't make the same mistakes again. I'm sure some of you will be able to relate to them!

    1. Always check your settings before and during shooting. This seems to be quite the giveaway at first. Obviously I am not talking about shutter speed or aperture here, these don't matter when you shoot in auto mode anyway! (Insert laughs here). I am talking on more fixed settings which could affect the quality of the images you're producing. For instance, during an exterior shoot, my hand inadvertly fiddled with the buttons and made me shoot in JPEG instead of raw. Not a massive deal but I was mixing flash and ambient light at the time and was having a nightmare figuring out the white balance. It was very cold and for the sake of the model's health I thought I would push through it and correct it in post using the glorious details contained in my raw files. Little disclaimer, I always try to get the most in camera but sometimes, time constraints or a sh**ty weather does not allow you to have the time to do all the tweakings you would wish for.

     2. Book a back up model. As per my last post, you never know how would someone feel the day of the shoot. If you don't have a back up that can be ready to go, you basically wasted your time and your money for nothing. One could argue that photographers are used to wasting time and money on a regular basis but what sucks more is wasting your team's time and money which could also dissuade them from working with you agin.

    3. Be specific with your clients on what you will be delivering. Don't just agree on a day shoot and on the fee for it. You need to agree on the number of pictures you will be delivering, within what timeframe and under which format. That way, there is no room left for interpretation. Your client knows what he will get and (roughly) when. On your end, this will help you claim for payment upon completion of the work you provided. I had clients who kept asking me for a few more edited shots and who we're holding off payment until they were fully satisfied with the work. This is fair enough but never forget that your client can be dishonest and not pay you. Having a clear evidence of what was precisely agreed upon would only help you to prove you are not the defaulting party should you go to court to get paid for your job. What I do now is deliver my client what we precisely agreed upon along with an invoice. If they ask for more, I will ask them to pay the fee we agreed for the work I delivered first, specify that I would not mind going that extra mile so that they would be fully satisfied. But it is important to let them know that this is an extra service that I do not need to do as part of the job I was hired for. It also depends on the time I can allocate to this extra work.

    4. Educate your client. Depending on the industry you work with, clients may not be aware of the amount work going behind delivering pretty pictures. We need to explain to less experienced clients beforehand the work that goes through producing pictures and sometimes lower their expectations so that they can have realistic ones. I had a client who was expecting me to deliver 50 edited pictures and a fully edited video a week after the shoot! I tried to explain to him that this would not be possible and that the quality of the work would be greatly affected by it. He replied that I should not have taken the job if I knew I could not comply with his requests...I decided to keep this reply in mind every time I deal with a new client and make sure that we agree on its expectation before I agree on taking the job. I'd rather lose a job opportunity than wasting time in arguing with a client because I did not make myself clear enough on what he should expect out of my work.

    5. Don't be a lone wolf. I pretty much started photography on my own. I had no friends interested in this craft and did not know anyone that could help me in any way to produce pictures. For a long time, I struggled putting shoots together in order to concretize my ideas. Then through happy accidents and social media, I met people who were willing to collaborate with me on shoots and this has helped me improve so much. You bounce of each other's ideas and you also discover new techniques you may not know existed. Photography is a passion and surrounding yourself with People as passionate as you would only increase the fun and qualtiy of your work. The process you go through producing a photo is then at least as enjoyable as the end result, sometimes even more.

    6. Don't be a gear whore. You probably already know that but photography is expensive as hell....if you let it be! Be wise in what you buy and really consider what you need and not what you want. I was convinced that my photo would be way better if I had pro gear and dozens of lights. I did not realize that it was a lack of work and experience that prevented me from producing awesome images. I also forgot that I won a photo contest (and consequently my full frame dslr) with a street shot which did not cost me a penny to produce, well except for the cost of the camera. Not only that but I found out that not having a budget forces you to be creative and see that objects from everyday life can be a fitting substitute for a lot of photography gear (DIY all the way baby!). Finally, using you hard earned bucks on buying props or renting a location could be an amazingly better asset to your photos than that 85mm 1.2 could be (still an amazing lens though!)

     Till next time!

  • Matias Coelho Shoot


    I met Matias whilst having drinks with some friends and we decided to collaborate on a series of photos for a competition showcasing upcoming designers. He was the only finalist who decided to present a male collection and I thought it would be interesting to shoot male models.

    Matias was able to work on his collection at his former fashion school and told me we could use it for our weekend shoot and needless to say this was an amazing asset! We had a lot of space enabling us to set up different scenes at the same time and we had access to some cool props, all for free!

    We decided to shoot a look book on the first day and focus on editorial shoots the next day.



    We started off the first day setting everything up, from the make up spot to the wardrobe rack and the snacking corner which is quite vital to keep your team happy! That way, everything was ready before the models arrived enabling us to engage with them more deeply instead of running all over the place and being too busy to ignore them. I think it made the models more at ease once we started shooting.

    Everything was running smoothly and we started shooting with the first model. Midway through shooting the first look, our lovely makeup artist told us that she thought the second model's skin felt cold when she was going through the make up. We went to check if he was alright. He told us he had a headache but nothing too bad (it turned out that he caught a nasty flu and had high fever by the end of the day).

    We followed through while one of my assistants was on model watch.

    A few minutes later, our shoot was interrupted by our second model throwing up, ironically in the sinks we were going to use in one of our editorial shots!

    After this incident however, he really perked up and got dressed up for the second look. He became really outgoing and there was some banter between the models which really lifted up everyone's mood. We were finally rolling!

    Unfortunately, during the shoot, the model started crashing again but still wanted to continue. We decided that he would close his eyes and pull a few poses when he was feeling ready. I would just have to catch it quickly. It was very weird having to adapt to this situation but very interesting nonetheless. We took two close up shots before the model felt he could not go any more and magically enough, the last shot was stunning! It felt as if he gathered all of his remaining energy and gave it all for the final shot!


    Even removing the model's makeup was no easy task!

    This however meant that the rest of the shoot would have to be carried out with one model. We tried to get someone else but the timing was too short. Lesson learnt: always try to book a backup model.

    The next day started with breakfast bought for the team which was a team meeting in disguise to make sure everyone was on-schedule for the day in mind. This was also the moment where we talked about a metallic grid we saw in someone's garbage across the street and came up with the idea of dangling wooden shoe trees around the model. It also made me think of lighting the model over his head and using this grid as a light modifier which added a more dramatic look.

    Such experience showed me that having a very low budget was not an obstacle to shooting creatively and I think it actually boosted it.


    Fixing the shoe trees on our ghetto grid

    The rest of the shoot went really well and our unique model coped really well with having to change clothes and mood multiple times.

    We ended up cleaning up the place, enjoying a glass (or two...!) of wine all together and going our different ways still reminiscing about this crazy weekend.

    Till next time!

  • Taking Shots

     So what can we do to build a portfolio from scratch? I have been dealing with this for a few months now and what I have learned so far is that you never know what opportunities life throws at you whether in an obvious way or in a more subtle one.

     If it is in an obvious way (e.g. An ad) make sure you take it. Even if you are not sure about whether it is good for you, just go for it! You never know what would come out of it and being able to turn a not-as-great of an opportunity into a good one might help you getting good portfolio pictures out of a less interesting job in the future. This seems obvious but I have spoken to a couple of photographers who told me they turned down jobs because they thought they deserved better than that or because they didn't think it would fit their style. Bottom line, they struggle to get their portfolio going or even to get any job at all when they could just have accepted a less challenging job and tried to put their spin on it.

     If it is a more subtle opportunity, make sure you see it and don't let it go away! This is valid for personal projects as well as from a business aspect. Being able to get gigs can rely on how you can convince potential clients of their need for higher quality pictures. If you manage to do so, you will have created a profitable opportunity from scratch, how fulfilling would that be?

     A few weeks ago, I was having drinks with some friends. We ended up meeting with some of my friend's friends chatting away and drinking an unreasonable amount of wine. At one point, I noticed than one of them started mentioning some leather vest he was working on. I just asked if he ever needed a photographer to shoot his work by any chance. It turns out that this guy was an upcoming fashion designer and that he was desperately looking for a photographer to shoot his new collection which he was presenting in a young talents award competition where he was a finalist!

     Opportunity discovered and gladly taken!!

    Levels on which my photography improved: networking, experience, portfolio building.

     Sure, this was an amazing turn of event and I don't think we should all expect having drinks with fashion designers but had I not noticed and kept chatting away with my other friends, I would have never managed to create this opportunity.

     It turned out to be my most elaborate shoot as of today and a great experience which will definitely be the inspiration for a whole new blog post.

     Cheesy bottom line of it: take a shot in order to take shots!

     Til next time!

    Richard

     

  • Launch Pad

     Alright, here we go.

     Launching my website, hope people will like it. Along with it, I will also try to get a blog going. I don't really like to talk B.S. so I will try to only post interesting and useful content. No top tips, no inspirational posters, no cute cat pictures.

     Instead I will try to talk about what I'm experimenting as a photographer trying to grow. I wil try to talk about some of my shoots and bring you some behind the scenes.

     I will not post just about anything in a desperate attempt to feed this blog on a regular basis so bear with me on this and let's give a shot at "adding signal and not noise" to quote Zack Arias (Zack, if you ever stumble across this website, please give us a shout, I'm a bit of a groupie!).

     Til next time!

    Richard