Tag Archives: photos

high key portrait beauty a beautiful overexposed photo

See How Easily Your Photos Can Create Impact

A peculiar vocabulary exists that photographers use to describe photos. “Moody,” “bright and happy,” “cheerful,” and once, I even saw “brooding.”

That the vocabulary exists means that there’s a certain feeling we get from an image. Looking at some of the words we use to talk about imagery we look at suggests that maybe there is something we can do while we’re making images that creates the emotional effect in our audience. If we can do this, we achieve what we always want every time we click that shutter: to create a memorable, impactful image.

Creating an impact with your image begins with the concept you’re after. Rules aside, what do you want your image to make us feel? Often, the conceptualization is where you can distinguish your images from someone else’s.

I’ve written before about creating impact with decisions about color, or by design and composition, or using shadows and light. I’ve also mentioned what I call subjective exposure—an exposure that is made because that’s how I feel rather than following a technical process for getting a correct exposure.

Subjective exposures can be creative, and they involve the heart rather than the head.

If I want to give you a sense of winter in a shot, I’ll use Auto white balance since it produces images that are less warm than say, Cloudy white balance. Then, I might overexpose a lot using exposure compensation in Aperture mode. This is a simple way of creating a high key image, an image that is overexposed but artfully so.

high key portrait beauty a beautiful overexposed photo

Overexposure can work in a photo. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Some people will say this is bad because you lose a lot of detail in the shot. But what if that was the effect you wanted? What if you wanted beauty to float in a cloud of nothingness?

Similarly, you could underexpose the heck out of an image for effect.

The Balinese make offerings to spirits daily. For those of us who are not Balinese nor scholars of their culture, seeing the intimate act of communing with spirits that live amongst the trees and flowers of Bali feels like a sort of intrusion. But the Balinese make their offerings because they believe it is part of the balance of life. They really don’t mind the photographer with the telephoto lens, especially if you are far away.

undexposed photo of woman in Bali making offering

Mood is created with exposure in this image. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

I underexposed the photo to give it the mystery I felt while documenting the offering this woman was making to the spirits. The underexposure cut out the distracting background, and it also accentuated the light that fell on her face as she prayed.

Sometimes, when you let go of the rules that tell you what a good exposure is, you discover something about making images that create impact. You might make photos that don’t look like everyone else’s.

Now, wouldn’t that be something.

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

Mandalay Burma temple silhouettes against a frame.

Five Variations on a Theme: Shooting Silhouettes

One of the favorite themes of shooters is the silhouette. Silhouettes are the result of exposing for bright light behind a subject. The camera underexposes anything that is in front of the bright light, resulting in a photo that features a darkened shape—the silhouette.

Silhouettes are one of the creative ways to interpret a scene. With some basic techniques, you can create stunning silhouettes.

1. Look for familiar shapes against a brilliant sky.


U Bein Bridge Burma Myanmar sunset

1/350s @ f/6.3 17mm, ISO 125. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

This photo is of one of the most recognizable bridges in Burma, the U Bein Bridge. It is a long bridge made of teak wood, and in the evenings, you can see locals cross it, walking their bikes. The sunset was brilliant on this day, so I decided to include a lot of the amazing sky by using a very wide lens. It’s important to wait until the people in your frame are separate shapes, not ‘stuck together’ because they are passing each other, like in the right side of the image where there is a crowd of people watching the sun set. If they are parts of the same shadow, you will get some unrecognizable lumps in your image which are, needless to say, confusing for the audience.

2. Shoot silhouettes in naturally occurring frames.


Mandalay Burma temple silhouettes against a frame.

1/1600s @ f/2.8 55mm ISO 400. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

If you are indoors, you can use doorways and windows to provide back light for your silhouettes, adding a geometric frame to your image. This image in Burma was taken at a temple, and the man and woman who were passing one another looked dynamic framed within the graceful arches of the temple entrance.

3. Stack elements in the image.


Inle Lake Burma lightray and temple sillhouette at sunset

1/2000s @ f/11, 200mm ISO 400. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

If you are faced with a landscape of hills overlapping with some structures in front, like in this sunset photo of a temple on Inle Lake in Burma, you can create an image that has scale. I also waited for some light rays to show up when clouds obscured part of the streams of strong light coming from the setting sun, giving the image added drama. Stacking elements in the image works only if there is a gradation in the silhouetted shapes, or that some shapes are lighter than others, and some are darker. With the different intensities of shadows in the silhouette, the image becomes more dramatic because the gradation adds depth to the photo.

4. Partial silhouettes work, too.


Bhutanese archer against a brilliant sky

1/1600s @ f/ 8, 55mm ISO 400. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

This partial silhouette of an archer against a brilliant sunset sky in Bhutan is dramatic because even though his identity is obscured by shadow, we see the color of the ribbons of winning archery shots he’s made that day, and the ends of his arrows.

Also notice that I had a low viewpoint. I actually noticed the sky, and then immediately crouched with my camera almost resting on the ground, tilting it at an angle so it would catch the archer and the beautiful sky behind him. Getting a shot from a low angle gives you more brilliant light behind your subject, and makes it easier to create a silhouette.

5. Same principle, opposite effect. Or, breaking the rule.

Most silhouettes are dark shapes against bright light. What if we reversed the exposure and underexposed on the background? The result is that the exposure on the sliver of light on a person can outline them against a very dark background—sort of a reverse silhouette. This is called ‘rim light’ because it traces the rim of a subject.


Balinese man smoking black and white rim light

1/5000s @2.8f 170mm, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

In this photo, I decided to create a ‘reverse silhouette’ because the rim light and smoke made for an interesting graphic composition. It’s a ridiculously underexposed image, but I like it.

So there you are, four basic techniques for making silhouettes, and one rule breaker. If you’re looking for an outdoor project that you can do for a couple hours after work but will get your creative juices flowing, why not try a silhouette or two this week?

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:
10 Things a Photog Can Learn from Golfers
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
Cut the CRAP–Just Take Pictures
Let the Shadows Speak
Going to Burma

Balinese women balancing eggs. Bali Indonesia

Shoot Themes When You Travel

Spice up your travel photography tip # 5: Use themes to shoot your travel stories!

Travel photography is about telling stories about places through your photos. Usually, a photographer travels somewhere and tells the story of the place they are visiting using some common themes, like landscapes, portraits, documentary, night, and wildlife. The variety of images that you can shoot to show what a place is like is as wide as the range of human activity in any country. But how can you avoid shooting the same scene, over and over, only in a different place?

The answer to this question may rest not in the exotic and most far away place you can afford and access. It may not rest in the type of equipment you own and can lug around when you travel. Maybe the answer rests in how you approach the image making.

The way you think about what you are shooting could be the most important set of decisions you could make to spice up your travel photos.

Going out on different days intending to shoot different themes is a way I’ve spiced up my travel photography. While I am open to opportunity and do not let the day’s theme limit what I capture, I try to keep the theme in mind as I walk about, and attempt to tell the story through the theme, throughout the day.

In Vietnam recently, I spent a day photographing how Vietnamese transport things from one place to another.

Vietnam, Hoi An, travel photographer

Vietnam theme: ways to transport things. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Vietnam Hoi An motorbike travel photographer

Vietnam theme: ways to transport things. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

In Burma, I looked at how the Burmese work.

Burma worker statues Mandalay

Burma theme: work. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Burma temple cleaning worker Myanmar

Burma theme: work. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Burma worker river boat old car

Burma theme: work. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

And in Bali, it was a natural choice to look for the Balinese sense of balance.

Balinese women balancing eggs. Bali Indonesia

Bali theme: a perfect sense of balance. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Panning technique for travel images, travel photographer, Bali, motion

Bali theme: a perfect sense of balance. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Looking for images that follow a theme can be a creative way to look at cultures from a novel perspective. With a bit of forethought, you can spice up your travel photography and maybe even understand a little more about the place and people you’re visiting.

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:
Eat Lots of Colors!
Keep Your Camera in Motion
Playing with Monochrome Picture Mode
Don’t Put Away Your Camera Away After Sunset
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
Let the Light Inspire You

A few lines and a simple color palette are sometimes enough. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Develop a Creative Vision

This is the second in a series of posts about how changing the ways we see as photographers can change the stories in our photos.

Reading this article on the journey from snapshot to expressive imagery got me thinking about how to make creative vision concrete for people learning photography. I want to share some insights here and hopefully make this abstract and wonderful idea into something you can practice after reading this post.

One of the most challenging parts of being creative is to look at things from a different perspective. We may find that subjects we shoot don’t vary in a topical way. We can shoot faces for the rest of our lives, or land and water. Others of us just hunt for light, and make images from that. But a viewfinder is a viewfinder is a viewfinder. To really make a new image, we have to practice seeing in ways that make our efforts more expressive, and less of snapshots.

The best way to learn something complex such as creative vision is to break it up into discrete, bite-size skills. That way, someone can practice a skill and hone it until it becomes a part of the natural repertoire before moving on to the next.

The reflections of colors on the water, rather than the content, make this photo more interesting. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

See the colors

Spotting pleasing or unique colors to create an image is a great skill to have. Although it seems that luck has a big part to play in finding pleasing color palettes in our found images, it is also a matter of being a skillful observer. Ask questions like, is an explosion of color a great background for someone in silhouette? Will walking to another vantage point give the shot a better background? We don’t have control of what colors present themselves to us from day to day, but we do have control of where we stand and what we include in the frame. Training ourselves to think about color will produce images that use the color in expressive ways.

The values in this image made it a good choice for monochrome. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

See the values

The world is in Technicolor and we can’t see in monochrome. But imagining the values—the intensity of black, white and shades of gray in between— rendered by the light reflected by the color spectrum, gives us a creative way of seeing. Seeing a scene from darkest values to brightest is like putting a gray filter over your eyes. Seeing in values helps us to compose using them, instead of using shapes or positions of things. Seeing this way can help us break out of basic composition into the next level.

A few lines and a simple color palette are sometimes enough. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Seeing simplicity

Every beginning photog has heard the phrase “fill the frame.” This is great advice; when we compose, we don’t want nor need clutter. What we want is to use the shapes, color and content in a photo to speak to the person looking at it. Learning how to notice and photograph detail can help us zoom in on a story, and make our images more expressive.


Change the Way You See

This will be the first in a series of posts about how changing the ways we see as photographers can change the stories in our photos.

The approach on each photo assignment is different. Even travel photo assignments differ even though they are on the same general topic. Shooting dance on four separate occasions, I learned about how I had to change the way I looked at the subject, so I could tell the story of each performance from a different perspective.

The eyes of a tourist


I love the way the dancer kicks the bottom of the dress to create movement. Burma, 2010. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

When I shot this set in Burma, the assignment was to show Burmese dance as a traveler would see it: in a staged performance, from a distance. I had little background in the dance forms and the stories behind each one. That limited knowledge produced shots from a spectator’s point of view. Luckily I had brought along a long lens, suitable for isolating the dancers and capturing uncluttered portraits showing off the costume and motion against a simple background.

The eyes of a storyteller

Dance acrobatics are important parts of a dance story. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2010.

I love Hanuman, the character in the Ramayana epic. When I shot this assignment at the Chalermkrung National Theatre in Bangkok, it was a behind the scenes story of the dancers who made Hanuman come alive every night at a national theatre in Thailand. I had to shoot the story as I saw it unfold, embracing its unpredictability, paying attention to detail. So I did a little abstraction and a little action. Framing the story with images of detail helped to give the necessary background for the actual dance shots, and the action shots gave me the necessary storyline. Hanuman is a singularly amazing character, but he’s actually several guys in a specially made papier mache mask, whose acrobatics on stage are remarkably demanding.

Symbol in dance can make for some great surprises. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2010.

The eyes of surprise

No one knew that rain was going to come from the umbrella. The dancer at Patravadi Theatre in Bangkok in a free-form modern dance gave us a few surprises. First, he wore an expressionless mask which contrasted with the bright costume and the even brighter umbrella. His movements were quick and energetic. And when he sprung the confetti on us, streaming from the umbrella, it was the biggest surprise of all. Less than a minute of white confetti catching the dim light in the dinner theatre, plus not being able to move because there was simply no time, gave me a limited window for a shot. I put the camera on burst mode and tried to anticipate the next twirl.

The challenges for photo assignments make for fantastic learning. Whether your goal is to get a travel story or capture how an event makes you feel, it helps to look at each assignment with different eyes. Changing the way you see can change the story.

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

This one was in the magazine's four-page spread as well. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2010.

Beneath the Glossy

Yesterday I came across this post by Fashion Photography Blog’s Melissa Rodwell, where she talks about being screwed by Flaunt Magazine. In her post, she talks about how she started her blog to make people aware of the real world behind the glossiness of fashion photography. She unveiled how editorial decisions—or neglect—can ruin what began as a well-prepared, well-executed creative session.

The ad that came out in the same issue with model Angie Stoneking. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2010.

Being relatively new to the freelance photographer world, I rely on seasoned professionals like Melissa to learn how this business works. For a couple years I’ve been steadily shooting a few commissions a month, on weekends and evenings (because I have a whole other full time job), and so far it’s been a steep learning curve.

Recently, I learned that sometimes, no matter how professionally you execute a job, you don’t get the credit you deserve. Literally.

I was commissioned a shoot with one of my favorite designers of Indian couture. This was the third editorial I worked on with the client, so she pretty much entrusted the creative legwork to me—scout for a location and then book it, find the models, brief the creative team, and lead the shoot.

We had a great team that weekend: my friend Hilde Marie Johansen was the makeup and hair stylist. The models were Angie Stoneking and Vaughn Newman, two of my favorites and with whom I have collaborated many times.

Vaughn Newman in the dress that was sold the day after we shot this photo. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2010.

We all worked hard for two days, to get the editorial shots the designer needed for a couple purposes. One was to run print ads, and the other was for an article the magazine was doing on couture for the popular wedding issue.

I understand why ads don’t publish the names of the photographer nor the models and creative team.

What is disheartening is that the magazine neglected to credit any of the team that produced the photos for the article. Not one of us is credited. The photos float on those pages and yeah, that’s my work, but you don’t know that.

And like Melissa wrote in her blog, the team looks to the photographer when things like this happen. They ask, what happened? Why? And it leaves some negativity that should not be in that relationship in the first place, a sliver of doubt that has small but sharp edges.


This one was in the magazine's four-page spread as well. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2010.

I don’t understand, really, why the editors at the magazine neglected to do their editorial responsibility. I’ve worked with both CNNGo and the publishers at Reader’s Digest and Seventeen magazine back when I was 19 years old. And one of the first things the editor goes over is how credit will be given in the publication. They ask you how you spell your name, so they can put it beside your creative work.

So, you know, I don’t understand.

The next time I work for them, I might slip this infographic on how to credit, in the contract.

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
How to Stay Creative

"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

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.

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:
The Girl in the Pink Dress
Shooting the Most Beautiful Woman in the Universe
The Man at the Window
How to Stay Creative

One of the photos from the shoot on a "movie poster."

Shooting a Graphic Novel

When Bangkok based Actor Chris Wegoda sent me the script for “The Kill,” I got really excited. The story itself is simple: betrayal, friendship, conflict, murder, regret, mystery. What really got me excited was the chance to shoot with a still camera a series of emotive scenes that would normally require video to work. So my creative problem was, how do I light and direct a photoshoot so it looks like a movie?

We shot the scenes after three weeks of planning and preparation. The shoot itself was at just two locations, one a room with a shower, and another a parking lot with a grungy wall. The rest was portable flashes and the excellent work of three actors–Chris Wegoda, Stephen Thomas, and Faye Nightingale.

The whole shoot took about seven hours, from 5 pm indoor scenes to midnight for the dark scenes.

One of the photos from the shoot on a "movie poster."

Shooting this graphic novel taught me a lot about lighting. I used four SB-900s bare, to visually create the harsh feeling of the story. I used a lot of rim light when possible to outline the characters against the dark backgrounds, like a comic book would. In postproduction, I processed the RAW color file before converting to monochrome and adding a yellow filter to give it that motion picture film look.

And since it’s Christmas, go ahead and DOWNLOAD the graphic novel for FREE from this link.

The Kill A Graphic Novel

"Somewhere You've Never Been" by Aloha Lavina.

How to Stay Creative

“How do you stay creative?” my friend Lance says to me in the middle of a shoot. We are setting up the lights for a set called “Frost,” a makeup and light intensive set portraying the concept of ice and cold.

When makeup artist, designer and stylist Hilde Marie Johansen and I meet to discuss the concepts for this shoot, she and I brainstorm everything, from the clothes to accessories to the lighting and the materials to use for each set. We sketch and write notes. As our ideas takes shape in that meeting, our enthusiasm and excitement for another creative day grows.

Hilde has created an illusion of frozen lips on the model using sugar granules. Her dress is white and light blue fabric. My goal for the shot is to set the

"Frost" by Aloha Lavina.

camera so that the photo comes out cold, with some blue tinge, and have the light just pop out of the softbox white and even, making shadows light and not overpowering. The photo comes out the way I had dreamed it would, and showing it to Lance, who is assisting me, he asks me the question.

Staying creative is a challenge every photographer sets him or herself. Whether photographing families or fashion, it helps to exercise creativity to stay fresh, design dramatic work, and maintain enthusiasm and excitement for each and every job.

How do you stay fresh as a photographer? Here are some tips on how to stay creative.

1. Find your passion.

Discovering what makes you excited as you create an image is key to staying creative. Many people with cameras learn technique by trying a lot of things. It’s great to take risks and give yourself plenty of opportunities to discover your favorites. Whether you are creating still life shots or macro, portraits or panorama landscapes, notice the elements of the shots you consider your favorites. Is it content—what you take photos of? Is it the quality of light? Is it genre? Finding out what you enjoy photographing is key to enjoying a long and happy relationship with your craft.

2. Shoot a lot.

When you’re first starting out, you want to find your niche, that particular brand of photography that helps define you. To help yourself find this corner of your creative happiness, take a lot of photos. Anything that interests you: capture it. When I first started carrying my DSLR every day, I took walks in the evenings. What I found was that I loved capturing vignettes, little stories told by things and light around me. Digital images are cheap – you don’t need to spend money developing them in a shop, and you can set up a “negative” contact sheet electronically in your computer, easily weeding out what doesn’t work and what you liked. The growing portfolio you develop as you shoot will help you to define your creative drive.

3. Surround yourself with people who are passionate and learn from them.

Not just photographers, but musicians, painters, and others have to find their wellspring of inspiration in order to stay creative. Hanging out with creative people gives you a support system for your creativity, and it also helps you tap into the enthusiasm and love that creative people have for their art. This support system is not essential but it helps you keep fresh. I once wrote a poem after hearing a musician play an Indonesian drumming song, giving the

Pamela. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

poem the cadence and tone of the drum (“Bangkok Street Stall”, published in The Chariton Review). Another time, I shot a sequence of images based on someone’s interpretation of anomie. Both times I was inspired by something that was different from the medium I used to express ideas, and the source of inspiration added resonance to what I created. Hanging out with artists not only is fun, but being in a creative atmosphere can spark imagination.

4. Pay attention to moments, and stay in the present.

When I first started with portraiture, I would be so future oriented that I messed up my shots. What happened was, I would be thinking of the next shot I wanted to do while shooting the current shot. The photos often came out blurry from my impatience expressing itself in quick movements. Reflecting on my impatience later, I found out that I have to stay in the present to make each image count.

Besides being patient, paying attention to moments ensures that you are ready to press the shutter release when an expressive moment happens. Taking a series of shots, hoping to get a good one, is wasteful and unnecessary. Waiting patiently for all the elements to fall into place is a creative trait. Yes, art can happen by accident, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if art happens as you act deliberately, making you an active and engaged creator?

5. Don’t be afraid to fail, and stay persistent.

Like in other things we do in life, fear of failure paralyzes us. The part of the brain that deals with stress takes over, and the part of the brain that controls our creative, associative skills freezes. We over-analyze. What results is stilted performance because we have frozen our minds and shut it from flow.

Flow is “optimum performance” given a challenge and some skills (Cszikszentmihalyi). We express flow as effortlessness, when we allow it to happen. Because we already have a

"Somewhere You've Never Been" by Aloha Lavina.

set of skills, given a challenge, we are able to engage in meeting the challenge using all our skills and perhaps be pushed into learning new ones in the process. The key word here is engage. Fear disallows engagement because it creates inside us a stress response (run away or fight). Openness, on the other hand, allows engagement—it is an attitude that helps us to use our perceptions, concentration and skills to perform the necessary actions to meet a challenge.

There is nothing more joyful in photography (and other learning) than the aha moment. Yesterday I assisted my student Soofia in her first conceptual shoot. At one of the sets, lighting was very difficult, but I pushed her to persist in trying different settings or lighting positions.  It took almost half an hour before the lighting worked, but that moment we found the perfect setting and lighting was a moment delicious, full of accomplishment.

This moment should be our goal as creative people. When you stay fearless and persistent, the aha moments you meet along the way will fuel your creativity and enthusiasm, and inspire you to shoot again.


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Schwedagon Paya glitters in evening light despite storm clouds. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

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A Closeup of Life in Yangon

Schwedagon Paya glitters in evening light despite storm clouds. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

Her hair has gotten so dry. She ties it in a ponytail most days with a plain rubber band, out of the way, for the times when she is at work taking tourists to Schwedagon Pagoda. The sunset at Schwedagon Pagoda, called a paya in Burmese, never fails to awe her. Around 6.35 pm the golden spires of the paya catch the light and hold it, and the gold blinks and blinks.

Today she takes a girl and her father to Sule Paya, then the Yangon Harbor, before they go to the Strand Hotel, the old posh place from British days. Getting off at the Sule Paya from the hired car, they cross the street. “Yangon used to be the cleanest city in Southeast Asia,” she pronounces. She has said this line hundreds of times. She clutches the plastic folder to herself and watches for the buses that careen around the corner past the mosque.

In the cool entrance to Sule Paya she pays the entrance fees and waits while the tourists take off their shoes and socks. In a couple of days, when they go to Bagan, she knows they will forego wearing shoes and will begin to wear sandals, anticipating another pagoda, another temple, another barefoot experience.

The cool floor of the paya is gritty with dust. She watches the tourists walk gingerly on the tiles, pausing to take photographs. She explains the nats, spirits that have been incorporated into the Theravada Buddhism of Myanmar in the 12th Century, to convert the animist citizens who believed in these spirits.

Storm clouds gather over Yangon's Schwedagon Pagoda. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

In her hometown of Samkar every one placed nat shrines where there were large trees. The locals offered flowers and candles to the spirits who lived in those trees. For a good harvest. For a marriage. For favorable weather. Always supplicating for something desired.

This constant craving translated well into Buddhism. After she moved to Yangon and began her job at the travel agency, she saw the same behavior at the payas of the city: coconuts and bananas offered to the nats, offerings to the Buddha. For exam scores. For a marriage. For a son. She thinks of the thousands of wishes floating through the air in Yangon, like dust motes unseen until light hits.

The day heats up; her hair sticks to her neck. Absent-mindedly she fans herself with the plastic folder she carries with the vouchers, the itinerary, documents. Soon the heat of the paya floor will be prohibitive, the tourists now hurry between awnings, walking on the sides of their feet in a strange lopsided tiptoe.

She walked in Samkar, as a young girl, on riverbed stones. Jumping from the long-tail boats onto the riverbank to attend the Mwabe Market on Tuesdays with her mother. They only ever bought fish or meat, shampoo, salt. The rest of what they needed, they grew at home.

She misses the cool water swirling around her ankles, the breeze cooling her face underneath the bright orange scarf of her Pa O tribe. Days at the market by the riverside were cool, passing swiftly before the long trek back to their home by the fields of Samkar dust.

The dust in Yangon is always sticky, clouds of it now swirling in the Taw Mye Township where she sits in a teashop waiting for the tourists to finish photographing the market. Also swirling are the yells of bus conductors as they announce their destinations. She tries to smile through the dust and the noise, touches her hair. Her hair has gotten so dry.

She has tried all the shampoos–the local brands when she was first starting out with her job, then later when she could afford it, the Thai imports from across the border.

Still her hair is dry, and she has finally given up from letting it hang loose down her back but has resorted to tying it with the rubber band to hold it in place. But at night when she combs away the tangles in the dim light of the room she shares with another girl, she longs for the softness and strength her hair used to have when she was younger in Samkar.

It’s the water, she thinks. The water in the city is harsh, rough like city life. Back home the water was silky. She remembers the late afternoon baths by the river. With her mother, in her longyi, the tubular cloth both men and women wear, she and her mother would take turns pouring water over each other’s hair. The day was cooling when they bathed, but the water was still warm.

The floor at Schwedagon Paya is already warm when she takes the tourists there. She points out the people pouring water over the nats. “They pour water to purify their minds and gain peace,” she explains. She is not sure they are listening; they are busy looking through their cameras. Sometimes, she thinks, the people in the city are like these tourists, only seeing the world through a narrow opening, oblivious to the stories of other lives around them. She has become like this somewhat. Sometimes she panics a little, wondering if she should have stayed home in Samkar and let the cycles of planting and rainfall, heat and harvest, rule her life. But for a girl who excelled at her studies and languages, she had a choice—go to the city and work for some kind of future. Not for her the cracked feet of her mother and sisters but the glitter of a life spent speaking English and washing her hair with imported shampoo from Thailand.

Although now her hair had gotten so dry.

She turns to her tourists as they cross the path to the Western side of Schwedagon Paya. “Excuse me,” she says to her tourists, “I would like to pour water on the statues.”