Posts in Category: Photography

Canon 5D Mark III Review

My recent purchase of a Canon 5D Mark III required some initial testing to see what improvements the camera has over the Mark II, and also how it compares to my Canon 1D Mark IV. I thought it would be best to pair up my newest body with my best lens, the Canon 85mm 1.2L Mark II. I brought my gear to a weekend getaway and shot in a real world environment, a hotel room with plenty of natural light just like any bride would be getting ready in. I shot at the widest at f/1.2 and had no problems focusing on fast moving bodies tossing and turning on the bed with the new 61 point AF points while making beautiful bokeh behind them. I never worried about missing the wrestling action with the faster 6 frames per second, every tug and pull, slap or grab was caught on camera. I was also impressed by the quieter shutter sound which was drowned out by the screaming, laughing and moaning, making it much less unobtrusive while being in photo journalistic mode. The subjects forgot that I was even there. While the layout of the Mark III has changed significantly from previous Canon bodies, getting started shooting didn’t take long at all. The body is bulkier than the previous version which helps my large hands get a fuller grip without getting tired. Now I can have a full frame body that matches the more professional features of the 1D series. If you are still reading this, I applaud you and I hope to have more opportunities to review equipment in the future. Enjoy the test shots!


Pro or Amateur?

I get asked often whether or not my models are professionals or if I like to work with amateurs versus experienced models. There are obvious advantages and disadvantages to both, but if I would have to pick one, I am usually more excited to work with someone with little to no experience in modeling given that she has visible potential. Before I list my reasons why I would choose either one, it would be best to explain my type of work. I prefer my style of photography to be intimate and feel more personal, almost a boyfriend perspective rather than a studio session. I want the audience to feel as if they are actually there playing with a real woman. I want the chemistry and interaction to be palpable. I don’t want the model to feel distant as if she were above and beyond the reach of the audience. Simply put, I want the girl-next-door feel.

When working with an experienced model, it depends what field of modeling she fits into. My least favorite type are fashion models, they have memorized ten fashion poses that are usually unnatural, sometimes uncomfortable looking, or simply just trying too hard to look different. A fashion model’s job is to make clothing look good, not their own body. Granted, if a model has the ideal height, face, and body structure, she can make any pose look good, however it still won’t convey a sense of intimacy in the photos that I am looking for. No matter how hard I try to direct an experienced fashion model to be more natural and playful, the poses are so ingrained into their muscle memory that they fall back into them and I just shake my head! On the other hand, if the experienced model usually does glamour or any other sexy genres, then I’ll shut my mouth and let her take control of the session and I become a trigger-happy-puppy. She will know how to flirt with the camera, how to tease with her outfit, and enjoy being suggestive with her poses. An experienced model in the same genre as the photographer’s interest make the session go by incredibly fast and efficient with guaranteed results.

When working with beginners, it’s always a gamble whether or not this model will truly have potential in front of the camera. The true test is when the shutter starts clicking and the model is required to start moving fluidly and interacting with the photographer. All beginners need some warm up time, some women require only thirty minutes while some might need additional future sessions. My evaluation for every model on her potential varies greatly on what I think of their looks, attitude, and personality. I might give some women more chances than others. It does seem like a lot of investment is required in terms of time and energy to work with a new model, time spent coaching and directing her. Notice I used the term investment. Being a model’s first photographer leaves a huge impression on her and usually gives me priority for future work if I make her feel beautiful, sexy, and comfortable. This is true throughout the photography world. I’ve ran into models that will not shoot intimate portraits with anyone else other than their “personal photographer”, just as I have models that are exclusively mine. An experienced model might work with me only if I can trade her final edits or if payment is involved. A beginner who is looking to build her portfolio will be my muse for the time being and I can pursue my creative path without the pressure of delivering a final product. We are all possessive in some ways. To summarize, the best things about a new model is the exclusivity of their time and image, and being able to mold them to how I work as a photographer.

I believe both experienced models and inexperienced models both have something to put on the table, and both are a gamble sometimes, so I don’t restrict myself to one group. I really just want to find the next model that I can share amazing chemistry with and really blow the audience away with spectacularly intimate photos that other photographers haven’t captured of them. I’ve had plenty of bad experiences, but each one is a learning process to better filter out future potentials, and the amount of amazing women I’ve created incredible work with far surpasses the forgettable ones.

Cassie is a true testimony to my philosophy. Treat the women you work with respectfully and generously, and you will build a special relationship that will be rewarding in your career and personal life. I was Cassie’s first photographer many years ago, and even though she doesn’t look a day older or an ounce less stunning, she was a timid and shy model during the first session. She eventually jumped into the glamour modeling world and has built a great amount of experience with many photographers while sharing an occasional shoot with me during that time. Since then, she has been concentrating more on her career and less focused on modeling. I am the one she’ll call up whenever she’s in the mood, and I can proudly say I will always be her photographer and she will always enjoy the freedom of being in a state of undress and feeling beautiful in front of my lens. Every second I’ve invested in her from the first day to the end of the last session hasn’t made her more of a professional or less of an amateur, it has made us into the ideal artist and muse pair.


What Happens in Vegas

Here are some leaked images of what happens at a Vegas bachelorette party! Maybe that’s not what really happens when there are a bunch of girls in a hotel room, except when you add me into the mix, I will make it happen. So don’t let your next Vegas memories be a bunch of boring sorority-sister-hands-on-hip poses with a drink. Let’s do something you’d get in trouble if your boss finds out.


More Hair!

The direction of Internet modeling photography is a hipster, vintage, Polaroid, spontaneous flash-caught-in-the-moment mood that conveys a unique style of sexy. With the introduction of quick and crushed image filters on mobile devices, the labor intensive skills of airbrushing and lighting correction are only preserved by print media which your parents once had to physically flip pages. Nowadays, just find a skinny white girl, put her in a bodysuit, sneakers, fake glasses, messy hair, and harsh lighting conditions, and you’ve got yourself the recipe for an Instagram or Tumblr hit.

Photographers usually start out trying to produce work that follows the rules and conforms to the societal definition of beautiful and aesthetically pleasing imagery. After the photographer learns the basics, they can pursue a personal style of their own. My portrait style photography quickly evolved to evoke a personal experience of emotion. Nothing is perfect, everything in the moment, all sentimental. Real life isn’t perfect, so I wanted the images to feel as if it could happen right in front of your eyes. I wanted the image to be a moment I experienced, happening as I took the photo, not a static pose, always in motion. The lighting is never perfect too, not following the correct ratio of key light versus rim light, but a mess of over and under exposed lights that set a mood. I’ve always described myself as a sentimental photographer. Beyond the objective physical attractiveness of a subject, the sentimental value can greatly add beauty in the eye of the photographer. This is her hair, her lips, her eyes, her legs, and her breasts, so I cherish it and I will photograph it as beautiful works of art. I believe when an artist sees beauty in his or her subject, the art will tell the story.

All these factors considered, I want the audience to feel what I felt, engage with the subject, pretend that the viewer is the one in the photo. One of my most used phrases during a photo shoot is “more hair!” and any model can attest to that. Most women on a daily basis wear their hair back, or tucked behind the ears for a formal and clean look while in school or work, since it’s inappropriate to leave the house with your morning bed hair. I don’t want photos of a well prepared model posing for a headshot. I want to capture that moment after she’s all flush from a wild night or morning, with no regard to her hair or manners. I want to capture her look of absolute comfort being herself in front of a significant other. I want to capture her guard down and her world opened to my camera. That is when I fall in love. That is when I capture my beauty. This is the reason why I have always loved telling women to throw their hair in their face, nobody is watching her, take the first step into being free from formality.

Now I see the rest of the world catching up.

Amy Fay Behind the Scenes

I’ve been a fan of Amy Fay for a while, a very sexy model out in the west coast. I was pleasantly surprised to be contacted by a client that wanted me to photograph Amy here in New York, so I took this opportunity to book my own session with her at my favorite spot, Hotel on Rivington. I was excited to learn after reaching out to her that she was already a fan of my work too! My first impression of her when we met was how upbeat and spunky she is, which compliments my deadpan personality. While I pick the Rivington because of all the natural light, it was thunderstorms the day of the shoot so the light was limited and soon became dark. I was forced to use high ISO at slow shutter speeds, but I just shifted my style from bright and soft to dark and moody. Once the light was gone, I setup my AlienBees for the rest of the shoot. The total session was about four hours. I have to admit, I was giddy from the first minute of shooting all the way till the end. I felt like I had to pinch myself to make sure this was real life and Amy was actually there with me.

I had a GoPro running in the background, so here is a rare look at my behind the scene process from photo shoot to post production. The editing is not on the same day. This is not an in-depth tutorial, rather just a glimpse of my workflow. I scan through thumbnails to see what catches my eyes, drop them into Photoshop, edit to perfection, and repeat. You can see I rarely go into the menu, it’s all about the shortcuts! That’s all there is to it, do I make it look easy? Photos coming soon!

Boudoir Workshop

Have you always wanted to learn how to shoot intimate photos of women, and make them look beautiful? Here’s your chance to experience one of my boudoir photo sessions with a gorgeous model. You will learn how to interact with your model, how to pose them, and how to make the best of natural light, and modeling lights too. Take beautiful photos straight from the camera without relying on editing later! I am only limiting the class to 10 students, so sign up soon! The workshop will be featuring the beautiful Phiorella.

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Correct Print Sizes

Dear clients, please read your contracts and packages carefully, especially when you’ve paid a few thousand dollars for the professional to deliver products to you. So far, my most common complaint (even if only 3 times so far), is the apparent incorrect sized prints I provide the clients. Apparent, because the clients seem to read 8×10 inch prints, when it is written 8×12 inch on my package. I have clients demanding that I send them new images in the correct size. While I understand it seems to be a common consumer print size and most picture frames sold are 8×10, it is not the correct print size directly out of professional cameras. So here is a brief lesson on proper image ratios and why 8×12 is better for you.

I offer two print sizes in one package, 8×12 and 4×6. You can do the math, it’s the same ratio of 2:3. That means when you get the prints in either size, nothing is cropped and nothing is missing. You are getting everything you see. If you decide to get 8×10 photo, you have to crop 2 inches off, that’s 16.66% of the image you are losing, and it becomes a 4:5 ratio.

I will apologize in advance for all photographers who do not mentally think about a 4:5 ratio in their viewfinder while busy shooting a hectic wedding day. In the worst case scenario where you happen to buy an expensive custom frame that is in the incorrect ratio, I can always do some Photoshop magic and shrink the photo to fit a 4:5 ratio and reconstruct the missing edges with the clone tool. That is if you don’t start the message with an angry and demanding tone of voice telling me I owe you a completely new set of photos.

Summer!

What do you do when it’s scorching hot outside with unforgiving sun? Jump into the pool of course! Considering I don’t like the water nor do I know how to swim, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to practice some outdoor flash techniques. Nothing advanced here except for two remote Canon Speedlites on each side, and one on-camera Speedlite, although more powerful studio strobes would have been easier. It’s great to have subjects who are so willing to endlessly jump into a pool of water on your command. Hope you enjoy the photos!


See No Evil, Speak No Evil

Meet Emily Wong, she is an amazing artist I had the pleasure of sharing a few college graphic design classes with. She is obsessed with drawing intricate hair, delicate lace, and lovely ladies. Her work below was featured on Nucleus, and I thought it would be an awesome tribute to imitate her art since I also love photographing intricate hair, delicate lace, and lovely ladies. Model: Kyla.

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Update on new Aputure Trigmaster Plus II 2.4G

For the past few years I’ve been using the Aputure Trigmaster Plus 2.4G wireless flash remote systems. They’ve been working very well with no radio interference or distance issues compared to my PocketWizard Plus II’s. If you read my review, the only issue I had with the TM’s was the channels changing whenever you moved the lightstand, compressing the transciever body, thus inadvertantly changing the channel. While this wasn’t an issue with modeling shoots, it was annoying for weddings. The wonderful guys at Aputure sent their newest transcievers for testing and so far they are definitely an improvement. Here are some shots of the new Trigmaster Plus II 2.4G.

Consumerism Destroying Art

Before the days where everyone could afford a professional DSLR and have access to cookie cutter portfolio websites, finding a wedding photographer was a local search, usually through word of mouth. It’s easy to see how saturated the internet is with aspiring wedding photographers, anyone with spare change can start up their own business and practice at friends’ weddings. The competition is fierce, the selection is overwhelming. We are in the age of smart digital shopping, the days of Fat Wallet turned to Groupons, getting the best value for your money, seeking discounts while expecting highest quality. This is good practice for mass produced products where it drives costs of products down due to demand, however, this is killing the art of photography, specifically wedding photography.

Back in the days when digital was only slowly taking over film, and internet portfolios were rare, wedding clients did not complain about not getting their money’s worth. Considering you get married once with one set of photos, how could you really know if someone could have done a better job, or even shot it differently? You accepted what you got. This is not to say you should accept low quality work even if you have nothing to compare it with, but also not to expect the entire wall found on your Pinterest to be in your album.

There was Google, and now there are massive wedding forums and Pinterest that showcase the world’s most beautiful wedding photos all in one convenient collection. As brides continue their research and soak in all these images contributed from thousands of photographers, they get more excited at the fantasy of what their wedding can and will look like if they just hire that “perfect” wedding photographer for the lowest possible cost. Brides will even go as far as sending a photographer images shot by someone else they would like said photographer to emulate. Offensive? Probably just a little.

In the bride’s defense, most of my clients are not like this. They have followed my work for years or have a personal connection with me just by looking at my work. They have not been saturated with fantasies. They accept reality and respect an artist’s personal vision. I am talking about the brides that try to be a smart shopper and think too logically. They want the photographers to be robots and artists at the same time. They want high quality portraits, artistic vision, unlimited group photos, a documentation of every face, and a customer-is-always-right mentality. You should see the typical photo-list that clients used to show me, it’s a joke how long it is. I personally don’t believe you can have it all.

If you want an artistic vision, an artist needs space and room to breathe, relaxed, and not feel the pressure to also include cookie cutter portraits. If you want full documentation of every guest, then hire a studio with 5 photographers and you’ll get 250 great passport photos. Do not expect a photographer to have the ability to switch on and off the artistic side to match your hectic wedding schedule. Your entire day will set the tone for a specific mood, and a photographer will inherently feed off of that mood. These brides do not treat photographers as artists, they have no feelings for people they paid to serve them on the most important day of the entire world. They are never “satisfied customers.” There is always something to complain about, and when they do, it’s a poopstorm. As a smart consumer, there is no excuse for a photographer who tried his or her best. Disregard the fact that this person was willing to spend 10 hours documenting your silly little day, and that he or she took some amazing photos, but maybe had difficulty with certain situations. Mind you, weddings are not an assembly line of the same product, it is a day of unlimited combinations of lighting, environmental, and personal factors that change how a photographer works. For a bride to nitpick what she sees as faults in her wedding photos and have the audacity to say her memories of the entire day is forever lost or ruined because one or two photos cannot be cropped to her liking, really says something about her character and how she treats her friends and others.

Finally to my point, brides, be realistic about the unique circumstances every wedding photographer has to approach on a weekly basis, and are trying their best to produce something they would be proud of. You cannot expect a 100% success rate on all of the images, and you have to accept each artist for their strengths and weaknesses. This is the human element. If you research a photographer, really get to know his or her work instead of congesting your mind with the “best images” from the internet. Art requires you to have an emotional attachment or a personal connection with the artist, not a checklist of requirements. In the end, you are only doing yourself a disservice to yourself if you love to find the faults in everything. If you appreciate the positive things in life, then you will cherish the moments captured by even the simple photographs.

Evacuated City

Two years in a row New York is being hit by a major storm caused by a hurricane, and this year’s Sandy will be a lot more devastating than Irene. The night before the storm, New York City forces public transportation shut downs and evacuations. While the weather is still relatively calm, the city is mostly dead with only a few souls roaming around. This was my perfect opportunity to capture empty streets of a city that “never sleeps”. I drove to some of the more well known spots, from Times Square, Columbus Circle, Apple Store, to Herald Square, Union Square and Meatpacking District.

Fern Lee

Meet Fern Lee, a talented professional wedding photographer from San Francisco I’ve had the pleasure of working with a few times. My clients always tell me how happy she is, and I couldn’t agree more. Her smile can make anybody’s day light up. A word of caution – she will most likely end up dancing at your wedding once the music starts, but just watch her and you will smile.

Generation Hipstergram

From my observation of what the new photo generation craps out their behind, it’s all about a happy-good-feeling-everyone-can-be-pretty look screaming, “look I’m from Brooklyn!” Some obligatory elements include fake large framed glasses, skinny jeans, back lighting, glare galore, massive bokeh, crushed dynamic range, cross processing, and drunken/tipsy postures. I agree the look is flattering for all, but kids born after the VCR digging vintage cameras and the film style boggles my mind. Perhaps I only like to look to the future, perhaps the kids want to relive the fading photos they’ve seen of their parents. Here is my tribute to you, oh eager hipster kids, may you continue to move back in time. Thank you Koo for being a great sport. Don’t forget to click the read more link.


Aputure Trigmaster Plus 2.4G Review

Here is my long over due review of a wireless flash trigger system I have been using for the past year. I was lucky to get in touch with Jesse from Aputure (yes, Chinese brand), and I was given samples of the Aputure Trigmaster Plus 2.4G transceivers for my Canon system to review. They work exactly like my previous Pocketwizard Plus II system, each device can perform either as a transmitter or receiver. The purpose of a wireless trigger system is to use off-camera flash for either a more flattering, natural, or even dramatic lighting – basically anything but on-board camera flash! The system allows for 1 or more flash, in my case I use up to 3 flashes.

South Africa: Favorite Photos

South Africa is definitely a beautiful country with all seasons to experience, from hot summers to cold winters. I was able to feel it all in one trip, the hot sun beating down on us in the village, to the cold winter frost on top of the mountains in Drakensberg. The most unforgettable sight was the stars and Milky Way galaxy at night. The night sky was so bright it felt unreal.

The prints are up for sale and all profits will go to Zimele.


South Africa: Saint Lucia

One of the must-do’s in South Africa is to see the wild life. Our first stop was the town of Saint Lucia to see crocodiles and hippos. Surprisingly hippos are probably the most dangerous animals in the area, but I assume it’s due to the fact that these large beasts are allowed to roam the city streets day and night. Nothing was cuter than seeing the baby hippo take a nap next to mom and stretch his little paws. If you come to South Africa, you can expect to eat very well, just look at the photos! After lunch we visited a beach that meets the Indian Ocean where the sand is littered with titanium deposits.

Our next stop was the cheetah farm where we saw wild cats and cheetahs feed and pet them after they weren’t so hungry. Don’t be fooled by the cute cats on the fence, they look and sound ferocious in person. The only actually cute cats were the cheetahs. A few simple rules, never approach from behind, and don’t play with their paws. They were so fun to pet and rub, I wanted to hug it like Hobbes.

Our last day out was to the safari in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi. We started off early in the morning, and drove around for 8 hours trying to spot animals. The most abundant were the impalas and zebras, and it was always a joy to see some giraffes. The lions were quite a distance away and they usually just lay in the sun, so not much action there. We were all hoping to see some elephants all day long, but it wasn’t until the final hour on our way back did a male elephant stopped us on our path. Our driver informed us it was angry and it started walking toward us as the driver slowly backed up the truck so we could maintain a very uncomfortable yet close up viewing distance. Seeing a giant up close and personal with unknown angry intentions really puts the fear in you. Imagine wanting to let your mouth release your fear but knowing you have to be silent so you don’t agitate the elephant even more. We were all done with seeing elephants ever again after this experience! When we finally got passed the elephant, our last spotting gave us a chuckle – the ever so tame and harmless donkey!

Fore more info on the safari trips, check out Heritage Tours & Safaris

All photos taken with Canon 5D Mark II and processed through Lightroom 4


South Africa: Making Bricks

One of my favorite experiences in Swayimane was brick building for a new rondavel. The bricks are made from the dirt and water straight from the land. We dug up the dirt into a pile, then added water as we used gumboots to stomp and mix the mud. It was a great workout for our legs. The next step was to fill a brick mold with the mud, tap out the air pockets, smooth the top, then score. Liz and I decided to make a design on top of each brick. It was one of the few chances we were really able to get down and dirty, but also experience the labor that the local women do all on their own.

Photos taken by Scott Kwak


South Africa: Drakensburg

During the weekend when we had time off from the village, we took a trip up to the Ukahlamba Drakensberg mountains to stay overnight. While biking along the trail, I found a beautiful lake with a mountain view, so I made my group wake up early the next morning at 6AM to catch the sunrise. It was freezing weather in the morning, the windshield was completely frosted over, and we brought extra blankets to stay warm. It was worth the effort, as the sunrise was awe inspiring. I was so excited by the landscape, I was literally running around the field getting all different angles as the sunrise time was limited.

All photos taken with Canon 5D Mark II and processed through Lightroom 4


South Africa: Swayimane

The heart of the trip was to visit the village of Swayimani in the province of KwaZulu Natal and teach the Zulu women trade skills to establish better living conditions and sustain their own economy. We came as the Zimele team. Each team member would teach finance, another fashion, baking, medical, daycare, and I taught photography and computers. The skills they learn would help improve their quality of life, and even help them grow or start their own business. Zimele does not give hand outs, instead, they encourage each adult to find a way to generate and save money as a community.

I was assigned to teach two classes a day for three days. Each class had just over a dozen women, eager to learn. While their native language was Zulu, some spoke broken English and we had a translator in each class. The women were donated a handful of new digital compact cameras, yet they’ve never held one before. It was amusing to watch them fiddle with the devices, and humbling to watch their eyes light up when they were able to take their own photos for the very first time. One of the youngest students had the greatest potential, as she immediately grasped the concept of composition and light/shadow. Once I assigned homework for them, the women spent the rest of the day taking photos of everything. This was by far the most rewarding lesson I have ever given anybody.

We brought as many extra luggage per person possible with donated items such as medical supplies, sewing tools, bake ware, calculators and toothpaste. We would ride in the back of a “bucky” every day back and forth from our B&B to the village. It was quite uncomfortable flying through the rough dirt terrain, and even worse after a full day of sweat and dirt, however we made the best of it. Being dirty and uncomfortable in a group made the experience a lot more tolerable, sometimes funny, and always a bonding moment. The number one thing that kept the group intact was our sense of humor.

The kids were one of the greatest joys of being with the Zulu people. While we didn’t know their language well enough to communicate verbally, it was not necessary for us to bond. The act of being there, playing soccer with them, taking photos of them, was more precious than words. They lit up when they saw us, as did we.

There were two nights we stayed at the village in their rondavels to experience a small taste of their living conditions. It was close to comparable to camping, no electricity, no plumbing. We just roughed it out for 2 days and 2 nights with sleeping bags and air mattresses. Being guests at their village, the hostess Thanda would prepare amazing meals for us with a full table setup. We were very honored how much effort they put in to make us feel comfortable.

While the community lives in poverty, none of them acted like it. They were always cheerful and were always grateful of what they had. Their lands were beautiful, the people even more so. We felt so welcomed, as time passed we were feeling like this was our second home.

All photos taken with Canon 5D Mark II and processed through Lightroom 4