Tag Archives: photographer

portrait black and white Indian girl copyright Aloha Lavina

10 Clichés a Photographer Can Believe

Obsession is a wonderful thing. Being obsessed with something, you will notice how it becomes the context with which you view your world. Things that people say in conversations jump out at you, as if everyone is talking about your obsession. That’s why I think these clichés could possibly be talking about you and your obsession with photography.

1. A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

When you get a shot that is perfect in every way, it sticks to your mind even after you’ve taken many others after it. How many times has this happened, and you can’t take that image off your mind? It’s the one you can’t stop talking about, the one you immediately upload to the website where you share shots with others.

2. Try and try again until you succeed.

Popular with newbies, this is a saying that reverberates when you’re frustrated with a photo shoot. Persistence is a great tool to have in your camera bag, and it’s something you can’t buy or upgrade. As you progress in photography, there are challenges that you have to take simply because they push you toward growth.

3. The sun also rises.

For those of us who have other jobs, photography is something we do on weekends and after work. Because we don’t have a lot of time to make images, we’re often anticipating that special day when we can just take a walk or go to a photoshoot without worrying about anything else on a to-do list. Then when we get there, it could be too terribly overcast to make a good landscape shot, or it could be raining too hard for an outdoor portraiture shoot. This is the saying that will bring hope that another day will hold special light and images.

4. Love will find a way.

Challenges keep us coming back to our craft. Learning to light, for example, was a test for me. I was so used to making natural light portraits for years, and then suddenly when I was asked to produce light in a dark room, I had to climb a steep learning curve without falling off. If you love your craft, you will spend time and effort to nurture it.

strobist Nikon editorial fashion photography copyright Aloha Lavina

Ride a steep learning curve in your craft. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

5. Lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place.

You can’t go back to a place and have the same lighting conditions, the same moment replayed. There is no guarantee that you will have the chance to take the same image you see now in front of you. Seize the opportunity and take the picture, because it will only come in front of your lens once.

6. All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.

You have to make time for personal projects. Work is great because it puts money in your pocket, but personal projects put the zing in your soul. Making time for personal photo projects gives you a creative outlet, and you learn new things that you could integrate into your workflow.

7. Always look on the bright side.

I like this cliché because it reminds me to expose for the highlights when I’m making portraits. But it also reminds me that images that fail also hold lessons. Especially the failure itself. Being afraid to fail is detrimental to growth as a photographer. It means putting aside chances to learn something new because you never try anything new. The bright side of failure is that you tried, and that because you just got rid of a fear, you now have endless other chances to try again and succeed.

water high speed photography portrait one light strobist copyright Aloha Lavina

Try new things to stay fresh. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

8. A picture’s worth a thousand words.

No caption, no artist’s statement, or long winded speech can replace a good image. One of my mentors once told me that I had to be able to narrate as well with one photo as I could with a series, and that the one photo had to do better than a series with an explanation. Iconic images, if you want to make them, do not need to be explained. The story is all there, in that one frame.

portrait black and white Indian girl copyright Aloha Lavina

Give each frame everything you know. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

9. See the glass as half full.

It’s easy to be negative—to see faults and flaws. It is much harder, but more useful, to see the positive. Remembering the positive drives motivation and increases confidence. The more positive things you hold in your head, the better you feel about yourself as a photographer, and the more artistic risks you might potentially take. This translates into even more chances of producing creative, fresh work that is compelling to your audience.

10. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

If you keep yourself open to possibilities, take artistic risks and banish fear of failure, you may one day develop a style. In the beginning of a photography obsession, the focus is on knowledge or craftsmanship (craftspersonship?)—how to control how the camera takes pictures. You’re drawn to tutorials, how to make this or that exposure, and appreciate those funny little numbers that are supposed to tell you how to go about making a good photo: f/ this and ISO that and 1/something seconds.

Later on, as those technical decisions become part of your automatic skill set, you may begin to explore vision. Vision is the root cause of your obsession, not technique. Anyone can learn technical knowledge, and there are superbly exposed photos floating around that really are technically perfect but visually do not compel.

But the photos that inspire us and push us in our own craft are the photos with a vision that stun and reverberate with us long after we see them.

With an obsession like photography, you can find inspiration in almost anything. And when you believe that ‘the universe is speaking to you,’ might you not find time to listen?

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
Making Expressive Portraits
Five Variations on a Theme: Shooting Silhouettes
10 Things a Photog Can Learn from Golfers
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
Cut the CRAP–Just Take Pictures

Talking to my friend Leah gave me this, one of my faves from 2007. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

It’s Fun to be an Amateur

The other day I heard someone say about a friend, “Oh, he’s an amateur,” with a little pout accompanying the statement. The term sounded belittling.

But the origins of the word amateur suggest that the term means someone else entirely. From the French for “lover of,” and the Italian “lover,” the original denotation of amateur gives us the picture of someone who so loves the idea of something that he or she pursues it, enamored, obsessed, breathlessly in love.

Sometimes, it’s more fun to be an amateur. In photography, it’s the distinction between making money for taking photographs or doing it for free. For some reason, this is the most commonly understood distinction. But whether or not you are paid to take photographs, there are some qualities of an amateur that it would be to our advantage never to abandon.

Amateurs are in love with their craft.

You know that old saying that when something finally becomes a “job,” it becomes  tedious? An amateur never feels bored. He will shoot every day if he could. I remember back in the day when I assisted for a well-known photographer, when he and I were both working at the same place. We would clock in every day at work and whenever we got the chance to get out of the workplace, we would just shoot. Weekends were special because they were times when there was nothing else except photoshoots to do. Long holidays were even better; they meant days and days of getting up early, shooting all day until the sun went down, and then lingering over dinner talking about images, about camera settings, workflow, anything and everything to do with photography.

Amateurs hold their photography like something precious and turn it this way and that way, admiring the wonderful qualities of it, and making themselves happy as a result.

Yearning for a shoot session sometimes gets to be too much. Like missing a lover, the amateur misses their craft.

Just playing with model Shu for her portfolio. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Obsession develops a love affair in the initial stages. There is always a honeymoon stage, when the lover cannot get enough of their beloved. Because there is so much to learn in photography, it’s like what someone said about falling in love with the world: “If we listened to a work of Mozart every day, we would be happy for a hundred years!” An amateur pays attention to details. No detail is small enough to notice. This sort of attentiveness fuels more energy: when you pay attention, you learn more and get better. So the improved results will inspire the amateur to get better and better.

Amateurs are not motivated financially. Being a freelancer and having income coming in from writing, teaching in addition to photography makes it easy for me to have the attitude of an amateur. The best part is not having to take jobs that I don’t like, for instance, weddings, unless it’s in Goa, India or Kathmandu, Nepal, or Langkawi, Malaysia and I can combine it with some travel. I can still do personal projects, ones that do not have any remuneration but are interesting and that stretch me creatively or technically. I think it’s really important to have time for these projects because these are where you truly experiment and learn new things.

I learned a lot about shutter speed doing this shoot with Jack for his portfolio. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Learning new things is exciting to an amateur. With all the workshops that so many people are offering now, it’s hard not to come across one that might teach you something new, that could take your photography into a whole other level. It’s very important not to think that you know it all and that no one else can teach you something new. I constantly learn from everyone I meet–whether on Twitter or someone’s blog, or reading a book, magazine, or watching a Youtube video. One of the best qualities of the amateur in my opinion is the lack of formal training. Sure, it might take you longer to reach technical proficiency on your own. But you also have an enjoyable lifelong challenge of learning so much, and if you paced yourself right, it could become one of the more pleasurable things about your status as an amateur.

Talking to my friend Leah gave me this, one of my faves from 2007. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

One of the best things about amateurs is that you are not in a box, the box of your formal training. Instead of this being a disadvantage (you don’t have a paper that says you are a “certified photographer”), it could be a great advantage. You’re open-minded to what is out there, and you will experiment. Experimentation fuels creativity and inspiration, and in the best-case scenario, you might discover something that makes your work even more dynamic.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
Let the Shadows Speak
All You Need is a Window
Let the Light Inspire You
The Beginner’s Guide to Photography’s Holy Trinity
11 Ways to Build a Better Photo

Different face structures require different lighting setups. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

How to Make the Most of Your Photographer

Some of photoshoots require more time invested, yet they remain the most memorable and successful.

Investing time, thought and effort into a project pays dividends for the client. You not only get your money’s worth from all the people you’ve hired, but you also build strong relationships that can only enhance your brand. Giving time, thought and energy into a collaborative effort can create win-win situations that serve as fertile ground for growth, be it for the client or the creative team.

Here are some tips from a photographer’s point of view.

1. Communicate ideas as much as possible.


Communication is key to collaborative creativity. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Time spent in planning a photoshoot is time wisely invested. For a photographer, information about the concepts the client has in mind, the colors and shapes and textures of the products she is shooting will help in the creative decisions. For example, light reflecting off a smooth surface behaves differently from light reflecting off a rough surface. If your photographer knows what materials you used to make your product, he or she can decide what sort of lighting suits that product. Similarly, a concept cannot be translated into an image unless the photographer has all the information necessary to ‘form a picture’ of what the client has in mind. Guessing or leaving this thinking process to the last minute can greatly impair the photoshoot’s effectiveness from lack of time to think through the concept and the added pressure of  reconciling a lot of novel elements in the process.

2. Give the photographer a lot of chances to make good decisions.

A lot of considerations go into a photo session. One of the most important ones is lighting, especially when there are models involved in the shoot. Different facial structures require different lighting set ups to either hide or show certain features. Introducing your photographer to your models before the shoot can help the photographer to think of the lighting decisions for each model’s facial structure and build. Allowing for this to happen by investing time in a meeting between the models and photographer can benefit your brand because the photographer is given more chances to succeed in making images that are interesting and propel the ideas behind your brand.

Different face structures require different lighting setups. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

3. Organize the materials for the shoot.

Photographers pack with great care. A lot of photogs clean their equipment, follow long packing lists, and prepare a lot of small items that can make a difference between a good shot and a great shot. A good photog knows that preparation saves a lot of time; knowing where to reach in the bag when needing something is efficient and good practice.

In the same way, organizing the clothing or accessories can help a photoshoot move along smoothly. For example, organizing the clothes into sets and labeling them clearly with models’ names in the order of the shoot can really speed up the work. Because some shoots require a lot of moving and changing of lighting equipment, being ready with the clothing and accessories gives the creative people in your team more time to take so they can create their magic for you.

4. Trust the creativity of your team

You hired the makeup artist whom you thought would interpret the concept well and has great skills to execute it in makeup or hair. You hired the photographer whose vision and images match your brand’s beauty.

You must trust their creativity, skill and vision, right? You hired them, not someone else.

In a moment of creativity, the creative person is drawn into flow, a state of seemingly effortless innovation. Trusting this process, for many, have produced great leaps in executing a vision. Interrupting it will stilt the creativity and ‘burst the bubble’ of concentration, and it is a difficult thing to re-enter at will. If you had planning sessions and every one in the team is conscious of the time you have to make the magic happen, trust that what the creators do, in their own separate domains of skill, are geared toward making beauty for your brand.

5. Respect talent and skill.

If everyone could do what any one else could do, all images would look the same. We would not have any moments when we look at a photo and our breath catches because it is just so what we wanted to say.

Respect a unique vision and the passion that creates it. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

The creative world is wonderful because each photographer, each makeup artist, pushes him or her self to do better, to learn something else. If you took this energy and passion and channeled it into your brand, you would have power indeed—power to distinguish your product from the others of the same kind, and power to make people look at your ad twice, catching their breath.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
Develop a Creative Vision
Change the Way You See
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer

Not pure enough? Not Photoshopped enough? Not your problem. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Cut the CRAP – just take pictures

A friend of mine was down the other day—he’s a great photographer who takes photos that tell stories, but he’s facing a lot of negativity lately, and his online presence seems to have reached a plateau, according to what he told me.

We all have days when it seems we should just chuck the camera out the window, flush down dreams of publishing or selling prints, and just move to Tahiti and lose ourselves in the depths of mango daquiris.

Like all arts, photography has loads of aspirants, and like all arts, it breaks the heart when no one seems to appreciate what we produce.

We all want appreciation, if not accolades.

But there’s some things we can keep in mind to help us keep going and not give up. First, we have to remember that what gets us down is CRAP. CRAP stands for the four things that slam us down and try to keep us there.


Many people are afraid to put their photos online for fear of criticism. I remember one of my favorite images being dismissed in an online forum as a “Mills and Boon” cover—a reference to a series of short romance novels that entertained millions of mostly female readers in the 1970s but which had shallow, predictable plots. When this happened, instead of reacting negatively and dumping my romance with the camera, I began to think of it as an inspiration. What if I could tell stories with my photos? What if the stories were not cliché and predictable, but surprised or elicited discussion? Rather than let the criticism get me down, I struggled and broke through with personal projects that explored the idea of narrative photography.

The image that began my passion for storytelling was criticized. Copyright Aloha Lavina.


One of the best ways to get better is to enter competitions or to submit photos for critique. It’s not easy to do this, because there is always the fear that the work is not good enough, and there could be unflattering things said about the photos submitted. But let’s face it—we are all learning, at this craft. What matters is the feedback.

Recently, I submitted a photo for a critique, on the theme “Solitude.” Not a landscape photographer, but one who is trying to learn this genre, I submitted a photo that I admit only approximates the landscape genre. It was a photo I took because of the values (black and white and shades of gray in between) and not for the composition or content. So of course when I submitted it, one of the editors told me that it was a good attempt, but it was not a very good match for the theme.


Rejection can bind us, but it can also strengthen us. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

This is by no means the hardest rejection I’ve had to face. I’ve submitted a series of photos to an editor I’ve worked with before, and she’s told me in very polite sentences to “submit excellent photos next time.” Rather than cry over it, I went back and tried to see my submissions with an editor’s eye. What I learned in that reflection is probably something that will help me do better at future assignments.


Yes, there are assholes in our world. For some reason that is esoteric or egoistic, there will always be someone for whom your work is not ‘pure’ enough, or not Photoshopped enough.

That’s not your problem.

Not pure enough? Not Photoshopped enough? Not your problem. Copyright Aloha Lavina.


Finally, the P in CRAP is for pressure. Pressure can come to us through an assignment, a deadline, a contest, a critique, a creative problem. It could even be the limits of our equipment.

One thing that’s comforting to know about pressure is that with certain amounts of it, creativity can flourish.


The secret is to just take pictures. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

We’re all equipped with skills, more or less, and when the bar is raised to produce from these skills, we can use that added pressure to add to those skills. A bit of pressure gives us new challenges that will bring new learning, so it’s good to embrace this pressure and allow ourselves to relax. Relaxing can lead to openness, and openness increases the chances of getting into flow.

If we just cut the CRAP, we’d be able to do what we really want to do, any way: just take pictures.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
Let the Shadows Speak
All You Need is a Window
Let the Light Inspire You
The Beginner’s Guide to Photography’s Holy Trinity
11 Ways to Build a Better Photo

"Trapped" Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

Be a Photographer, not a Lens Changer

Years ago, I had a conversation with my brother about what equipment to bring to a photoshoot. I was all into gear, and I proudly named the lenses I would lug to the location. Prime this and zoom that. I listed 4 lenses, but before I could add a macro lens into that list, he asked me, “Do you really need all that?”

I thought I did. What if I wanted a closeup of an eyelash?

Then he asked, “Do you want to be a photographer, or a lens changer?”

That question changed my outlook on gear.

Lately I’ve been wishing for a really wide lens to use with the 7D, for those tight shots in crowded markets and temples. But often when I go to a photoshoot these days, I find myself bringing just one lens. Yes, that’s right. One lens.

My bag is lighter, my shoulder and back love me more.

One lens forces me to move, to ˜zoom with my feet” and think about my compositions. Ultimately, I know I will learn something about photography if I don’t think too much about changing lenses. Here’s what I learned recently.

Change vantage point

“Trapped” Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

I saw this tree that had fallen during a wild storm. The branches were clutching the ground. It was a perfect setting for an image of being trapped. I asked the model to sit in the middle of the branches and stood up, opening the lens to 18mm to include the branches in the foreground. What I got was an unusual interpretation of the portrait using the environment, an illusion of the branches closing in on the model.

Frame the shot with what you have

“Winter butterflies” Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

The 17-55mm lens at a location where you can’t really move around a lot, forces you to frame your shot a certain way. At this location, I had a lake behind me. One step back and I’d have been wet. So I decided to frame the shot like how I felt—that any time, I could fall. The root on which the model stood helped me create the illusion that we were high up. In reality we were beside the lake, on its banks. I just crouched really low, and leaned back as far as my poor back would go, hoping I wouldn’t fall, and pulled off an illusion.

Normal focal length with tilt is cool

“Storm” Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

On this shot, I had about 4 feet of space around me, the model, and a softbox plus a couple more lights on lightstands. I really didn’t have a lot of moving space. So to add a bit of drama, I used the 35mm focal length and then tilted the camera. This way, I could add just a bit of distortion to the image and give the illusion of movement, almost like the model was bearing down on me as she ran from a storm.

On these shoots, I didn’t have the option of changing my lens. And I was able to learn some new things about how to work the lens to get the shots I wanted.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
Let the Shadows Speak
All You Need is a Window
Let the Light Inspire You
The Beginner’s Guide to Photography’s Holy Trinity
11 Ways to Build a Better Photo
How to Stay Creative

A floor to ceiling window camera left created this creamy lighting on model Chloe.

All You Need is a Window

As well as an inspiration on photo walks, light is easy to find at home. All you really need is a window. At any time of day when there is light coming through a window, you can use it to create a beautiful side-lit portrait. To make a portrait with side light, position the subject parallel to the window, like in the diagram below.

A lot of painters use window light.

Beautiful side light creates classic lighting for a portrait. The shadows created on the side away from the window make for dynamic lighting because the shadows actually show the contours of the subject—essential for a three-dimensional effect.

A floor to ceiling window camera left created this creamy lighting on model Chloe.

My friend DJ posed beside a window and his long hair made a 'rim light' effect with shadow, too.

If you’re looking for inspiration this week, try some photography at home! All you really need is a window.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
Let the Light Inspire You
Photography Doesn’t Fix Everything
The Beginner’s Guide to Photography’s Holy Trinity
The Man at the Window
11 Ways to Build a Better Photo
10 Online Resources for Photography Enthusiasts
How to Stay Creative

A few hours before the first snowfall, Paro, Bhutan.

Photography Doesn’t Fix Everything

for Jodi

I reread this post, about long term travel not being able to fix everything, over at Legalnomads, and thought, that sounds familiar. Last summer I took two months to travel to Burma and then Bali, thinking I needed to get away for some quiet time. Travel for me is a way to get inside my head and de-clutter; I wrote to Jodi the other day, I travel “to get away from my nine to five when it becomes too loud with worry that I can’t hear myself.”

I go away to listen, to remove the white noise that is other people’s needs, and find the voice that’s mine. I need very little really, to be happy, just a lot of silence and space, time to make photographs and write. But sometimes, I get caught up in work that is separate from my passion; more and more of this dislodges me from myself, and I float, an untethered balloon full of nothingness.

That’s when I want to get away. Being away brings a new reality. It reminds me of very early memories when every thing I learned seemed momentous, bright and shiny things I could gather and hold close to examine.

I’m not a sophisticated traveler. I don’t have the brave body of someone who climbs volcanoes or rides on rooftops of buses. Yes, I’ve been stuck in Europe because of an ashcloud, but hey, I was in Paris. Being stuck in Paris did not make me suffer. True, I was caught in a flashflood in the Philippines, but I was ten or eleven years old; it was an adventure full of floating refrigerators, bamboo rafts afloat above city streets, and ignorance about water born diseases. And yes, I live in Bangkok, the center of several coups d’etat and colorful politics. But last May, the closest I got to the burning of Bangkok was through Twitter apart from the days when the redshirts were still partying at Rachadamnoen. No, I’m not the Indiana Jones type of traveler.

What I do have, though, is a camera. I lug sixteen kilograms of equipment across all sorts of terrain, and I build my travel day around making photos. When I’m with my camera, composing images that tell stories of places, nothing can touch me. Words cease. You could speak a whole dissertation to me and think I am the rudest companion; the act of making an image fills me, engages me beyond any other experience.

This is flow, a state when a person is so engaged in something that time and space seem to disappear.

The problem is, you can’t stay in flow indefinitely. When I return to reality, I realize a few things.

Cold and dusty in Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan.

1.     Not everything is beautiful.

With the camera in front of my face, everything is a matter of design. The chaos of lines can be organized into a composition using other things, like point of view, values of light and dark, framing. As a photographer, I can move and things get a little bit more harmonious in the frame. Not so in life. Moving around a problem, I can’t recompose a better image, I only postpone dealing with a mess. I can’t freeze moments that are beautiful and take them out when things get ugly.

2.     Light doesn’t change the way things are, just the way they look.

If the light is bad one day, I can always pack up and go somewhere else, then go back to the landscape when the light is ‘right.’ But in life, things don’t always look better in the morning light, or at sundown. Sometimes things look the same for days, weeks.

A few hours before the first snowfall, Paro, Bhutan.

3.     You can’t Photoshop it out.

In Photoshop there’s a Clone Tool, and it helps the photographer get rid of distracting spots and other things in the image. You just sample one area of the photo, then click over the area you want gone.  If only it were that easy for the little things that distract us in our lives. Countless times I’ve wished for a clone tool to stamp out the little demands that keep me away from my photography.

The closest I’ve come to complete irresponsibility is traveling, especially alone. I love to wake up earlier than the sun, feel the nip of dawn air as I hurry out to Kusumba to catch the sun rising over the fishing village. There is no schedule, there are only images to make, people to study, expressions to savor through a viewfinder.

4.     You can’t just crop.

Similarly, I can’t just crop. Things in my life crowd into my focal point and want to be in the line of sight. No matter how messy, how utterly unphotogenic something is, life doesn’t have selective framing. Unwanted elements seem to find their way into the experience, and I just have to deal with them.

Holding down the roof with stones, Punakha, Bhutan.

5.     Your batteries run out at some point.

Nothing frustrates a photographer more than being unprepared with extra batteries, and there’re lots of pictures left to make. On very good days, I shoot thousands of photos and have to change the camera battery once or twice (especially with the early digital Nikons, whose batteries lasted less than a thousand shutter clicks when I used a Vibration Reduction lens on them).

I work a lot, seven days a week, sometimes 18 hours a day. I have to; if I don’t I can’t do this photography thing and the other things I have to do. So I plod along, and most of the time, I get enough sleep and have time to watch a movie or read a book from cover to cover, for pleasure.

Other times, I feel like I’m standing on a barbed wire fence, looking out over a vague landscape, and although my hands hurt from clinging to the barbed wire, I can’t let go or I’ll fall off.

Hanging on a barbed wire fence, near Thimphu, Bhutan.

It’s not that I’m into self-inflicted pain though others would argue; I just have obligations to fulfill, and I also have a passion that feeds my soul. I cannot run out of batteries, because I must always find strength for one or the other.

When I wrote to Jodi the other day, I said, “the Balinese are so talented at balance, and that was something you needed, and something I craved. So here you are again, ready for more surprises. I hope the basket stays on the head, even when you’re dancing.”

Maybe I was also talking to myself.




The girl in the polka dots is actually Nook Wiwanno, a Swedish-Thai model based in Bangkok.

The Girl with the Polka Dots

Light it! Shoot it! Process it! Welcome to our second installation of the 3inOne Workshop© series.

I had always wanted to do a shoot with a car, but not just any car. A car with a classic beauty. So when the owner of a 1959 Mercedes Benz agreed to let us use his car in a photoshoot, I designed a shoot called “Classic Beauty” and headed out to the man’s apartment building parking lot to make some images.

I wanted to shoot classics, so we used polka dots, strings of pearls, long gloves. The model was the perfect beauty for this shoot. Nook, a Swedish-Thai model, is statuesque and models H to T or “head to toe” in Tyra Banks‘ lingo. She can lower her eyelids just a tad and give you the most arrogant, sexy look one moment, and then soften her whole face the next.

On photoshoots, I always bring portable flash guns. In this case the shoot started at around 11 am after makeup. It was cloudy; this shot was taken in the rainy season in Bangkok when the clouds are thick and gray. I decided then to use only natural light with a couple of reflectors to enhance it and control where it was most intense.

The girl in the polka dots is actually Nook Wiwanno, a Swedish-Thai model based in Bangkok.

This particular shot was taken inside the driver’s side of the Merc with the door open. I had one assistant hold a large six-feet by four-feet reflector with the silver side toward the model. This reflector was position outside the windshield, angled at 45 degrees. This created the side lighting that gives us a three-dimensional effect in the image. The subtle highlights on the model’s arm is from the same source as the more pronounced highlight on the steering wheel.

This shot used two reflectors, much like a main light and a fill light.

I also placed a smaller 60-inch reflector with the silver side up, below camera, on the model’s lap. This light was to fill in the shadows on her face, and to give emphasis to her lips, the subject of the photo.

I used a very shallow depth of field, f/2.8, to give the shot a dreamy quality. I also shot it from slightly above, so that the subject of the shot (those lips!) would be framed by the model’s hands and the polka dot hat she wore.

Lastly, the light on the hat is from above, and that’s the sun diffused by the clouds on this rainy day.

So there you have it, an image shot with natural light.

Stay head on over our next 3inOne © post, which is a detailed, illustrated tutorial on how to process a fashion portrait using Adobe Photoshop.

I’ll be happy to answer questions you post in the comments.

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The Girl in the Pink Dress
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A limited color palette can work well in a photo.

Making Eyecandy

Like everything in photography, shooting in color is a decision. That sounds weird, right? After all, the world is in Technicolor and we can’t really turn all the color “off.”

Color has emotional content. We use it a lot in the ways we express our feelings. “Red as a beet” for both embarrassment and anger. “Blue” when we’re sad. “Green with envy.” Our perceptions of color reach far beyond just what color something is. We can add impact to a photo when we use color effectively.

Green is a soothing color.

Farmer and beautiful ricefield, Vietnam.

Some colors are cool—the blue-green part of the color spectrum. These colors are usually soothing. Photos that are mostly blue or green, such as this photo of lush forest around a beach in Krabi, Thailand, exude a sense of calm. The second photo, of a farmer walking across a rice field in Vietnam, is mostly green, and the blue shirt of the farmer gives the color palette in the photo unity. The yellow, although it should intrude on the cool color palette, instead serves to punctuate the blue and green and it also helps give the photo a three dimensional feeling, acting as a gradient running from foreground to background.

A limited color palette can work well in a photo.

The other end of the spectrum—the red-yellow part, are the warm colors. Reds, yellows, oranges are fiery, aggressive colors and we associate them with like feelings. This photo of a swami in Rajasthan, India, is full of red and yellow. The walls, the clothing of the swami, even the ground have reds in them. I think this image works because all the elements in it contain similar hues. This harmony then allows the content of the image to pop out—the humor in the pose of the swami, and the self-deprecating smile on his face, playing with the photographer and the situation.

Morning light at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.

A sense of harmony in this shot from Siem Reap comes from the narrow color palette. The browns and yellows give the photo unity, and since everything is golden from the early morning light, even the green leaves in the photo are tinged with yellow.

But we can’t always photograph still objects, such as Angkor Wat and fallen leaves. A lot of travel photography is of people. One of the most used “tricks” of shooting travel portraits is to find a great background, wait until someone interesting walks past it, and shoot. Usually this strategy produces some gems. But after finding this wonderfully colorful wall in Saigon, Vietnam, I waited and sure enough, a girl in the traditional ao dai dress walks by. Click. Now I look at this photo and think, would it work better as a black and white photo? The clash between the purple tinge on the girl’s dress and the red, yellow and green of the wall might be distracting and does not add to the photo.

Girl in traditional dress in Saigon, Vietnam.

Another photo I think might work better in black and white is this one of a boy surrounded by his family at a market in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and they are all wearing striped shirts. The stripes on their shirts frames him, and I originally shot this in color but again wonder if the color does not really add to the photo at all.

A photo that might work better in black and white.

Sometimes, when the most compelling elements in a photo are lines or shapes, it works better as a black and white image.

Making a color image is a matter of decisions the photographer makes. Since the goal of capturing an image is to create order out of chaos, to somehow arrange the elements of a scene into a harmonious design, we can’t ignore the fact that there are ways to use color in achieving an image.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
Shooting the Most Beautiful Woman in the Universe
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How to Stay Creative

Hmong girls look longingly at balloons for sale in Sapa, Vietnam. Photo by Aloha Lavina.


Being published may not be everybody’s dream, but I’ve read somewhere in David DuChemin’s excellent book “Visionmongers: Making a Life and Living in Photography” that almost everyone who picks up a camera for the first time and enjoys using it invariably, perhaps fleetingly, see their name as a byline for a published photograph. Whether you are a beginner who is venturing into the steep learning curve for a photography newbie or someone who’s been shooting for a while, there is a way for you to explore your love for photography in greater depth, and to share your images  with an audience other than your family and friends.

At some point in your journey into image making, you might arrive at the proverbial “crossroad” where you have to pause and think of where you want to head next. Should you attend that next workshop? Is going pro right for you? Should you quit your high-power job and become a pet photographer like Grace Chon? Or do you prefer to perfect your technique and creative skills so you can take gorgeous images of your travels for friends and family to ooh and ahh over?

Many DSLR owners do not think beyond using their cameras to record their special days, but if you have that buzz of excitement every time you go out with your camera, you probably will experience your re-vision: a moment of rediscovery that will bring insight into the kind of photographer you want to be.

In my own journey I’ve been through a few revisions of my goals. In the 1980s my only goal was mastering exposure with a manual film camera. Then in the 1990s it was getting used to digital format, with the freedom of changing ISO in the middle of the same shooting session. In the mid-2000s, I found myself doing a 180-degree turn from people-less architecture and lonely landscapes into full-blown portraiture mania. And now, just six years after my first digital camera, I am working some 35-40 hours a week as a freelance commercial and fashion photographer.

As the decade comes to a close, here I am again, reinventing myself by registering at the amazing MatadorU travel photographer’s course, and my first assignment is: what type of travel photographer do you want to be? It’s certainly a loaded question, and less than a 100 words makes this new vision a challenge.

Hmong girls look longingly at balloons for sale in Sapa, Vietnam. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

Then this morning, I woke up at 1.55 am on the western coast of Koh Chang in the South of Thailand. No one was awake at that hour; the beach was asleep. A stubborn wind rustled the palm leaves, and an almost full moon glowed, its faint light tracing a beautiful line across the water.

The answer to the question came to me. I am excited by light, and the way it behaves and makes every thing beautiful. Light is what excites me and pushes me to become a better photographer, whether in my commercial or editorial fashion work, my personal projects, or travel. So the kind of travel photographer I want to be is “someone who tells stories using light to take the audience to the three-dimensional moment captured in an image.”

What about you? What kind of photographer do you want to be? Tell us in your comments!

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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Shooting Winter Coats in a Tropical Country. Outdoors.

The Man at the Window
How to Stay Creative

My two Worlds collide: I photograph some students for a magazine. (c)2010

How to enjoy work

Seth Godin asked a really good question in this post. Listing all the reasons to work, he asked why we always focus on the money and use money as the main feature of a job advertisement or promotion, when the other reasons to work include: • To be challenged • For the pleasure/calling of doing the work • For the impact it makes on the world • For the reputation you build in the community • To solve interesting problems • To be part of a group and to experience the mission • To be appreciated.

Lately I’ve had people come up to me and ask me why I “work too much.” I work 40 hours a week as an educator, and spend from 30-40 hours in addition working on my freelance photography business. I work seven days a week, mostly from 7.00 am to 9.00 pm, longer on days when I don’t have to get up at 5.30 to get ready to clock in as a teacher.

Granted, I did recently tried asking my boss if I could work half time, get paid half of what I earn now, and use the other 20 hours as a freelancer so that I didn’t have to work all weekend, every weekend. But he said no, the school needs me. And my contract that says I am working full time for another year was signed a year ago, and I am legally bound to it, so I have another three semesters of working full time, 75-80 hours a week. As my mother always says whenever we would go out for dinner, “You order it; you eat it.”

My two Worlds collide: I photograph some students for a magazine. (c)2010

Some people think it’s dizzyingly crazy, but I intend to work as much as I do now for the next 18 months to fulfill my contract, and I intend to enjoy it. Chances are, it’s not going to be the money that gives me the most pleasure at work, although it is always nice to have compensation for what one does. But it’s those other reasons that Seth Godin listed down that matter more, especially the parts that have to do with an internal reward.

The challenge in my day job is asking myself how I will teach: a literary theme, a rhetorical device, a concept, an application, and an attitude all in one lesson—because in teaching that is what I do every single day. And the design, the fitting of all the pieces into a synthesis, that’s a source of pleasure. There is no quantifiable measure for the satisfaction of a good learning experience; I mean, would you say that this moment when your students learned is worth x percent of the total amount n you earned this month?

And what about the photography? Should I spend four hours at a pre-production meeting when we could ‘talk’ about the concept through email? My answer was yes, do other things more efficiently and make those hours available. And it paid off. The client and I went through some sketches and animated illustrations of what we needed to achieve. The result from that long meeting was new inspiration, and a couple of very strong, very exciting ideas.

So how would I reconcile those four hours with the to-do list? I look for ways to be more efficient; to automate tasks that do not need individual creative input, and to work only on assignments that give me creative challenge, push my problem solving skills, and allow me to learn as I work. The result is I enjoy working.

Sunrise through temple window, Ayutthaya Thailand. (c) Aloha Lavina.

Small Streets


May 19, 2010.

My hands move to chuck a pile of old newspapers into the recycle bin when a headline catches my eye: Bangkok Burning. I draw my hands back and grip that one particular paper, allowing the others to fall into the bin. I cradle it and take it back to my desk by the window. Soon, the sun will rise over the Bangkok skyline. It’s quiet at five a.m., even last week when the city was in chaos.

Curfew. Arson. The business district engulfed in a siege. The past nine weeks plunged Bangkok into a living hell where people died. On Twitter, the stories streamed in fast. Journalists shot. Schools and offices evacuated. Train services halted. My friends trapped in their houses, one unable to leave because her street was the setting for crossfire. Get out, girl, I tweeted to @legalnomads. See the map? My apt is RIGHT THERE and I can’t get out, she tweeted back, referring to @RichardBarrow’s Bangkok Dangerous Google Map.

I glance once more at the Thai roadmap on my desk. Quickly, I scan through a mental map of Bangkok, not the Dangerous one, just the one that I’ve had in my head these 18 years, to decide the route I will take to Ayuddhya. Motorway Number 9, the ring road, then highway 32, would take me around the city and drop me off on Rojana Road, Muang Ayuddhya, where small, inconsequential streets lead to rice fields, or riverside villages, or temples.

All Thai Buddhist temples look alike, with intricate spires and brightly colored tiles. If you’ve seen one, you can imagine the temple where Mark McKinnon tweeted from last week, Wat Pathum, the temple to which more than 1500 people flocked after the Thai army, egged on by redshirt arsonists, began an offensive assault on the red’s main rally camp. McKinnon tweeted, “A woman asked me if I could get out, take her with me.” Later on, he posted that people in the temple were asking if the UN was coming to rescue them. McKinnon’s tweetstream talked about a wounded journalist, the elderly huddled on the temple ground, the bodies of medics who were killed. No one could come in or out of the temple; the roads were impassable.

The ring road takes me to the Ayuddhya interchange, and in a few minutes after exiting Highway 32, I am on Rojana Road. I pass Chedi Wat Samplum and turn left onto a smaller avenue without streetlights. The street narrows and curves until it spills into the Dutch Settlement, where there is a field of old boathouses. Parking across the settlement, I walk on a dirt road toward the river. A dog with a bad eye glances at me, his forehead wrinkled, then lopes off to a broken building a few yards away. I pass him and stop at the boathouses. The wooden boats are empty, propped up on cement stilts, some on wooden platforms, worn from rain and heat.

A man comes out of a building flanking the field of boats. “Good morning,” I call out to him. He smiles at me through the smoke of his morning cigarette. I am a crazy tourist in a t-shirt, shorts and Crocs with a camera around my neck. But he tests my Thai anyway. “Ma tham alai krap,” he asks. What have you come to do.

“Ma thai roop kha,” I answer, smiling. I’m here to take photos. When he nods and turns away, a thought comes loose in my head. The photos are just an excuse. Really, I am running away. I am hiding behind the lens, pointing my camera at things that might reveal beauty, because the city I have loved for so many seasons is becoming something I cannot face.

I walk away, turn into another, smaller street and follow the dirt path to a different field. A large chedi sharply juts out into the sky; its bricks are crumbling, but it looks strong. My Crocs are muddy now; I try not to slip on the ground soaked from last night’s rains. An elephant appears  into the frame; his mahout riding bareback guides the elephant to breakfast: a pile of hay. The elephant grabs a bunch and waves it over his head, before his trunk slides the dry grass into his mouth. I watch him eat for a long while, until I can feel the heat of the day burning my neck.

I leave the elephant and get back in the car. I drive on, through more small streets that never seem to change.