Beautify subject and bring the best out of her
I love portraiture photoshoot because I love making people look good and happy, which in turn will increase their confidence.
Everyone has his or her own flaws and I have the desire to hide them. With the help of a professional hair and makeup artist (HMUA), the good features of the model can be highlighted. Together with proper props, poses and expression, everyone can be beautified.
I may not have the best equipment and the privilege of having assistant(s) for every shoot due to budget, I always make do with whatever I have. On the other hand, I have learned to keep things simple.
Since I'm being guided by a commercial makeup artist, I have the edge over most other photographers in terms of appreciating models and spotting flaws in photos. My vision is about tasteful art.
My shooting style is towards lifestyle. I don't like to overpose models, as I prefer to keep my work natural. I love exploiting the creativity of my teams, including models, to combine with my own idea to create unique work together. Due to my personality, my models trust me, get comfortable and eventually able to produce nice photos together.
Most of my models (clients and friends) are not professional models. Portraiture shoot is not about getting the most beautiful model to work together but how the photographer can bring the best out of the model; it is about the transformation even though most people could and would only look at the final product. Photography is also about capturing the moment to implant the desired impression and improving the visual pleasure of the viewers.
Without doubt, working with an appealing model has an edge over working with an average one. However, I do like to challenge myself, as long as the model is willing to cooperate fully.
"What shines through most is the model's personality while her looks complement it beautifully."
What's special about my work?
NATURAL, TASTEFUL, BEAUTY
Every photographer has different styles due to his unique vision and equipment. My photography style is to keep the photographs natural and tasteful, such that even my sensual albums are artistically done. I focus a lot on beauty, such that the model would look good eventually.
I personally think my work are still far from perfect but I'm glad that I have produced the quality of work so far with the challenges. Most importantly, most of my models are inexperienced with photoshoot.
I care a lot about the hairstyle, makeup, wardrobe, poses, expression, setting (background), composition and lighting. I oversee the entire production process, from the planning of the theme to the outfits (including inner wears), props, location and timing of shoot, to ensure the highest quality of product as seen on my portfolio.
It takes a lot of time and effort to plan and execute in order to produce good photographs. The cooperativeness of the model can determine the outcome, especially for outdoor shoot. There are always unforeseeable situations but we can reduce the impact by doing proper planning and not simply counting on luck.
There are some highlights of the usual trails of my work that you should observe:
Model is visible
I emphasize on my model's look. You can see the face of my model due to the size (the big ratio of model to the entire frame) and exposure. One interesting thing is that my model will be properly lighted while the background, including the sky, will be dimmer than usual, so that viewers' eyes will be drawn to the model and not being distracted by the background.
Model looks good
I make sure my model looks good with the help of professional HMUAs, styling and my soft lighting.
Artistic and tasteful
Regardless of the genre (be it glamour or boudoir), I keep it tasteful and stylish as art work. The model's expression, poses, angle and lighting speak for my work.
Natural, clean and smooth
The choices of styling (outfit, hair and makeup), background, amount of whitespace, soft lighting and other decisions make the photograph looks pleasing to your eyes. The method of editing, together with my effort, keep my work natural.
I don't imitate anyone's style - I shoot and edit as according to what I think is best for every individual situation. The way I play with the settings of my camera and strobes, their angles/positioning, framing and the colour tone make my work unique. Whenever possible, I would go for creative ideas, depending on how comfortable my model is. I also incorporate ideas from the entire team (eg. Model and HMUA).
What do I do to achieve my art work?
These are the steps I take in order to differentiate myself from other photographers:
I communicate and manage the model's expectation
Discussions usually take up lots of time and effort, and spread over days. To begin with, some models may not know what they exactly want. In order to understand more about their preferences, I will spend a lot of time to have casual chats with them. I always try to find out more and advise them against any plan that may reduce the quality of the photographs or if they exceed the limitation.
I play with ideas
Most professional photographers have the knowledge and equipment to produce good photographs, although everyone's work will be different due to the different combination of equipment used at different circumstances.
The ideas from a photographer can make him stand out from the rest.
I'm someone who doesn't like to be mainstream. It bores me too much that I have to find something unique to create, or otherwise, I'd rather not do it. This is why I have been doing portrait of different genres and themes instead of simply focusing on one.
If the model is not a professional model, she is likely going to feel awkward. Depending on the theme, I may suggest using props to help the model feel more comfortable during the shoot.
Interesting fact: According to my five elements in Feng Shui, I'm someone who does uncommon things.
Some hobbyist photographers can try to copy my style and ideas but as I continue to create more interesting work, I'll still be taking the lead.
I take care of styling
When it comes to styling, I work with professional HMUAs and I personally select the outfit(s) for the shoot.
The HMUA not only will highlight the feature of the model and hide her flaws, she also creates the look for the model to fit the theme. Hairstyle and makeup are decisive factors to the success of the shoot on the model's part. Without proper hair and makeup done, the result will be undermined no matter how good the photographer is. I always give feedback on the model's self grooming and try to involve a hair and makeup artist (HMUA) in the shoot.
I work with private clients usually and there's no sponsorship for the outfits. Hence, I have to select among the models' wardrobe to choose the most suitable outfit for the theme and even the location. I'm detailed even to the innerwear that the model would be wearing underneath.
Wardrobe can make a big difference and they should not only fit the models' looks but also the theme and background, in terms of both design and colour. For example, I will not want my model to wear the shirt that has similar colour as the background unless the theme requires her to camouflage. During discussion, I get my models to take photographs of themselves in the outfits to ensure the outfits are suitable and usable.
I go for natural and tasteful work
I keep the postures and expression natural.
I'm not a fan of the supermodel kind of poses since I'm dealing with non professional models most of the time. My work leans toward lifestyle and casual, which gives a more natural feel; most importantly, almost every inexperienced model will feel comfortable.
My vision is about tasteful work and thus even my glamour and boudoir shoots will turn out to be stylish and not sleazy.
My portfolio and copywriting showcase my professionalism and sincerity. Therefore, most models feel safe with me. They know I treat them with respect, including not touching them. Therefore, they are relax during the shoot and eventually, the photographs turn out to be more natural.
I use professional lighting
I play with artificial light to produce soft and flattering light on the models' faces to make them look more beautiful with smoother looking skin.
While most professional photographers are able to produce good quality light in studios, I'm able to do it anywhere, including at the model's house and especially at outdoor locations.
The lighting equipment are expensive, heavy and bulky and require great amount of time to set up and dismantle. My load for each portrait shoot can weigh from 16kg to 27kg or more, depending on individual situations. Once being set up, they aren't portable. However, I always do the extreme by bringing along the best, unfortunately the biggest, equipment possible in order to create better light. I usually outshine other photographers who I meet during my outdoor shoots since they are using simply a DSLR or at most with a speedlite.
Lighting is important not only to enhance the models' complexion but also to create a specific mood. I'm able to change the direction of my lighting to create different mood that the theme requires.
As brightness is one of the main aspects that will draw human's eyes to the portion of a photograph, I always try to keep my subjects' faces properly lighted, unless I want to create a specific kind of feel (eg. moody).
Do read differences between professional and casual portrait photoshoots to see samples and have a clearer understanding of why professional lighting is important.
Most of the portrait work I do focuses on the models, such that they would occupy a large portion of the frame. However, as compared to photographers who would include a greater portion of background, my production (editing) job would be tougher.
My knowledge in designing does give me an edge over others in framing my subject. I would include whitespace. Cropping of the photograph is important as well for it also helps to lead eyes to the main subject.
During post-production, you have to know (1) what to edit, (2) what not to edit and (3) how to edit. My goal is to keep the photographs look natural and "unedited". This certainly requires more effort and time.
I started off being grilled by a commercial HMUA who used to be heavily involved in the post-production process with very experienced commercial photographers. Therefore, I have a huge advantage over most other photographers.
For photographs that require advanced editing (depending on individual client) during post-production, I work towards commercial standard, being very detailed, such that the photographs will look good even in big print (high resolution).
I'm a detailed person. I'm also stubborn. My goal is to keep the photographs look natural and "unedited". This certainly requires more effort and time.
Photo-editing isn't only about blurring off the models' faces in order to hide the flaws, such that the faces become flat and plastic (fake).
I know well how to prioritize on the shoot, whether the most important element for the shoot is the model, scenery or simply to create a "feel".
For most portrait shoots, the models are the main subjects. People approach me to shoot them to make them look good and viewers should be able to recognise them inside the photograph.
Background is important but should remain as a secondary subject. A portraiture photograph is pointless if the friends and family of the model cannot identify the model due to him or her appearing too tiny inside. Capturing good expression is so much more important than drawing the viewers' eyes to the scenery. Of course, if the scenery is fantastic, I will play by ears as accordingly.
A disadvantage of getting the model too close to the lens is that any flaw would be more obvious. Eventually, great amount of patience and Photoshop skill had to be used to edit them.
Most of the time, I would let my model occupy a good portion of the entire frame because I can - with the help of (1) proper styling, (2) soft lighting and (3) Photoshop skill. In other words, I don't have to find ways and excuses to hide the model's face by making it tiny inside the photograph or hiding it with shadows (darkness) in the name of creating mood.
Depending on the day and time, there may be more photobombs around in certain locations. The model may also feel awkward when there are too many spectators.
Different kinds of places give different feels.
Given the opportunity, I like to try out different locations. I also do exploring. Before any shoot, I also spend the time going online to search for more details.
Every location has its golden time for shooting due to the sun's direction and strength. There are also general golden hours for outdoor shoot and I always stick to them to ensure the best photograph quality possible; I do not pack my shoots such that I need to shoot at bad timing.
Challenges I've encountered
Some models are more suspicious of others, especially male photographers, and thus there may be problems with communication. Without finding out more about the model's expectation and preferences, the photographer will definitely feel lost. Besides, some models may have unusual expectations that do not follow the trade's rules.
Some models do not have a five-minute time to snap a picture of the wardrobe for me (the photographer) and makeup artist to visualize the looks before the shoot. As a result, the design of the wardrobe does not match with the actual theme or the colour is different. There are also times when the model cannot find the wardrobe right before the shoot or she realises the wardrobe is no longer fitting for her. Sometimes, the model also has very limited varieties of clothes or she thinks she has any clothe that the photographer can name.
Hair and makeup
Some models are on a tight budget while some are over-confident of their own skill and thus do not see the need to engage a hair and makeup artist. However, without the help of a good hair and makeup artist (HMUA), there will not be a big transformation in looks.
Although some models are able to do their own styling, the results will never be as good as those done by professional hair and makeup artists - otherwise, there will not be demands for these talents. Makeup is not only about hiding flaws, it is also the ability to enhance features.
To add on, photographers are not makeup artists and there are also limitations to editing work in Photoshop even if the model is willing to pay for the additional time.
Some props are expensive. Not all models has high creativity to make full use of the props. Besides, it is difficult to not repeat using of props.
Singapore is over-populated and thus there are photobombs in most outdoor places. The development is also very fast that some places are under construction.
Some models have too packed schedule for an outdoor shoot that the time of the shoot is least flattering or they can only shoot during weekends when most places are more packed. I have even encountered a model who says she's been doing shoots nearer to noontime and it's not polite to tell her I haven't seen any good photographs of hers before.
For shoots that involve more members in the team, it's difficult to find a common available date and time for shoot.
There are also times that the hair and makeup will overrun and thus the shoots will start late.
The weather forecast is never 100% accurate. There are also times that the sky is cloudless and thus even scheduling an early morning shoot is challenging.
Although some effects can be done in Photoshop, professional photographers will always try to get everything correct during the shoot. The reasons are: (1) editing may take longer time, (2) there will be repeat of editing work if a scene has more than one selected photographs, (3) there are chances that the photographers would make mistakes and allow viewers to spot the "photoshopped work" and (4) some kinds of editing cannot be done.
As any step the model takes will change the exposure on her quite significantly - nearer to light source means brighter and further away from the light source means darker - and thus movements will be more limited. If the photographer wants to try shooting from different angles (to be more creative), some of the lighting equipment may appear inside the photograph and thus have to be shifted/changed and the power has to be adjusted accordingly, which will require testing of light again.
After the equipment is being set up, they become bulky on top of the (heavy) weight. Since it takes time to set up and dismantle them, it will be problematic to shift the location unless there are assistants around to help carry them. Given that the second location is a long distance away or requires using vehicle, the equipment has to be dismantled and kept, which will require additional time.
Of course, it depends on individual situation (e.g. location, number of locations, amount of ambient light, direction of ambient light and the mood that the photographer wants to create) for the number and type of artificial light to be set up. Unfortunately, in most situations, the budgets don't include the much needed assistants and time to do with more professional equipment that are essential to produce better lighting.