Equipment/Gear List

I get asked fairly frequently about what equipment I use. So here's a definitive list that will help you and I both, for reference and to save time. :D

Included are equipment used in my home studio, as well as short explanations on how I use something or why I like them. 

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Top 10 Fashion Photography Lighting Tools

This is the fifth article in my Profoto Blog series

In my previous article on how to break into fashion photography, I mentioned a few lighting modifiers frequently used in the industry. In this piece, I would like to provide some examples of those modifiers used in my work and also share with you my thoughts on a range of other equipment that I favor in the studio. I hope you will find this article helpful!

Lights

Monolight

 

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8 Tips for Underwater Model Photography

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to shoot underwater in L.A. recently. It was a very wonderful learning experience and so I wanted to share what I learnt! Keep in mind that these tips may only apply to first-timers like I was, but I hope it makes a good read either way. :D

I love water, if you follow my work you know I love putting models near and into water all the time rather frequently. Imagine how excited I was to finally get to shoot underwater for real~ 

Redemption

Porcelain

Motherland Chronicles #7 - Self Portrait in Water

Having sort-of worked with water in some ways before, I went in to the shoot with some ideas of the type of pictures I wanted to make and planned my shoot based on those. 

If you're not sure about what you want to do, the first thing to do naturally is look up lots of underwater photos and check out the possibilities. Try to pin down a shot or two that you'd like to attempt, then plan your shoot from there.

I'll break the tips down by some of the things I did, difficulties I faced while underwater as well as the stuff Brenda (my wonderful guide/teacher/assistant) advised me on. A list of the equipment I used can be found at the end of this post. 

Tips for Underwater Model Photography

1.  Research & Plan

Before going in to the details, I want emphasize how important research and planning is. It should be a given, but maybe you're like me and sometimes enjoy just winging a shoot, but in this case, keep in mind that when the environment is completely different, it's not quite like simply testing a new light setup.

There will be discomforts, logistics complications, and unexpected difficulties just because it's not everyday that most of us spend a few hours underwater. So make sure to read up as much as you can. It will help you prepare both mentally and logistically, and make your underwater shooting experience a smooth-sailing and fun one.

2.  Rehearse

This is similar to when I do movement shots -- take a few tests and rehearse the movements with the model in the beginning. This will save time and energy as you're looking at the general picture and feel of the pose and framing. The model won't have to school her expressions or make sure her hair and clothes are perfectly in place, those things take 10 times longer to adjust in water than on land, and it gets cold and uncomfortable in water very quickly. You want to conserve her energy as much as possible.

3. Communication

After every couple of dives, give feedback and show the model pictures of what you like and don't. Point out what are great and what can be improved, so she will know to make note on how to better the pose for you. 

4. On Sinking & Floating

Most of the time you'll want to sink for flexibility in angles, but it's difficult and often you'll end up floating more.

Let go of all your breath before you hold it so there's less air in your lungs. Tying some weights to your waist will help staying down easier. And depending on the model's pose, sometimes a weight for her helps as well.

I had weights behind my back initially, but found that moving them to the front helps my dive so I shifted them later.

5. Staying Still/Moving for Shots Will Be Tricky

Some photographers like shooting with a tripod, I like moving around to change my angles and framing organically. This unfortunately doesn't translate well underwater.

It's both difficult to stay still and move in water because, well, it's hard to be still when you're floating, and hard to move/paddle when your hands are occupied with the camera.

The best way I've found for myself is to simply decide a course of movement, go for it, then press the shutter many many times. :D

6. Camera Focusing Issues and Loss of Colors on Model's Skin

This usually happens due to loss of light underwater and being far from the model. Brenda overcomes this by using a 10-17mm on a crop sensor camera so I could move in closer (very close!). 

The problem that arises from this is that every little movement distorts and changes the composition drastically. I use the 70-200mm 95% of the time for my work, so it definitely took some getting used to to shoot with a lens so much wider for a complete shoot. I still want to explore using a long lens underwater in the future, hope it's possible. :(

7. Have Extra Hands

Logistics of shooting underwater is painful. Every little adjustment takes a lot longer than it would on the ground. Depending on your light setup, just for clothes/fabrics alone I think you'll need at least 2 assistants underwater.

I only had Brenda so we had one side of the model covered. I ended up using my feet to adjust the fabrics while trying to stay in place for shots sometimes, it's definitely not ideal and more assistants would've helped the shoot move faster. 

I also attempted directing+paddling with my left hand, but all I managed was hurt my right pinkie finger for trying to balance the entire weight of the camera and a strobe on it. :( 

From our behind-the-scenes video.

8. Shoot Fast or Get Cold

It isn't too bad if the weather is warm and there's lots of sun. But if it's overcast or your pool's in the shade, the water's going to feel pretty cold for your model for long-session shooting.

Get some large towels and bathrobes and keep them by the pool. If you're going to take some time reviewing photos, let your model get out of the water to warm up a little. It's easier for the photographer here because we can keep some body heat in with a wet suit. But don't push yourself if you start getting cold too! Remember to take a break as well.

Most importantly remember to have fun! Shooting underwater can be a little frustrating at times, but it's definitely quite magical, not to mention addictive.

Last but not least, a mini-guide made with thanks to the awesome people on Facebook! -  
- Find water.
- Do not breathe the water. 
- Do not put camera into water unless it's waterproof or has a housing.
- Learn how to swim.

And that's it! I hope this gives a bit of insight to the shoot along with my behind-the-scenes. If you think of any other points or questions please feel free to ask! :D

Once again, special thanks to Jessica, Brenda and Brian for making this shoot happen. ♥

Equipment List:
Housing: Sea and Sea MDX300
Camera: Nikon D300
Lights: Sea and Sea YS-250 Underwater Strobe Flashes
Lens: Tokina 10-17mm
Cables: Custom made by Reef Photo in Florida

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Want to learn more? Check out my online course Artistic Portrait Photography.

More: photography articlesgear list

Some of the product links in this post will bring you to Amazon, where I'll get a small referral fee should you choose make a purchase. This helps with the time spent on articles and the running of this blog, so please consider supporting the website. Thank you!

Equipment and Where The Money Comes From

People discover my work everyday, and often times I hear assumptions about how my images must be accomplished a large boatload of money. It would be very nice if it were true, so for those who struggle and wonder, I hope to share a little of my background and story with you.

I bought my first camera when I was 18. It was a Canon 350D with kit lens that cost roughly 1000USD. I paid for it myself.

Growing up, my family wasn't very well off. My parents argued about money, and often. I remembered once when I was 4 or 5, I was so scared and angry in the next room when they were fighting, I swore to myself that day, that I'd become financially independent as soon as possible and then forever, so I'd never be a burden or need to rely on anyone again. Ever.

When I was 8, I started doing little arts and crafts things to sell to classmates at school—hand-carved eraser stamps, drawings, embroidered birthday cards. When I was 15, I made Singapore's national air rifle team. This allowed me to win prize money through winning international championships and games. I saved what I received from the Sports Council's yearly reviews, happy that I could pay for my own food now. And sometimes, I'd spend some on artbooks which I think were fundamental to my artistic development.

The savings grew and stayed mostly untouched. It was enough to know that I lightened the burdens my mother carried in bringing up my little sister and me on her own, even if just for a little bit.

And then when I turned 18—not that I buy into birthday significances too heavily or anything—I thought, hey, I've been saving for a while now and I'm kind of interested in trying out photography, and just maybe, it's ok to get something for myself this one time. So I bought the 350D as a gift for my birthday.

Fast forward a few years, these days, a second hand entry-level DSLR goes for less than US$500. Sets of older, but very usable models are even more affordable. For someone new to photography, the latest models of cameras aren't a necessity in my opinion, so I think this sum is rather manageable. (For example, if I saved the 50 cents of allowance I had each day from primary school, it would only take me about 3 years. And since it's not something pertinent to my survival, I think that's pretty okay.)

As for students, with the popularity of photography, I want to believe that most parents would be happy to purchase a new camera for their child in return for good grades and/or behavior. If they won't, a few weeks of part-time through summer break should do it too. Just don't splurge on parties, clothes, coffee, alcohol and all the stuff that suck cash away. At the end of the day, it really boils down to how much we want something and if we're willing to work for it.   

I also find it pretty cool to think about how I could work to get something I want for myself. The process of it is like a dedication and you'll treasure it so much more when you've bought it with your hard-earned money.

Here are some shots taken using the 350D + kit lens with natural/ambient light:

Shot at my school's garbage dump for easy clean-up post-shoot. Nothing to do with Twilight whatsoever.

Self Portrait - The moment after

Days of Our Lives

Headphones are Stylish.

The Kit Lens

I had some questions in the beginning, just like everyone else—whether an expensive lens would make my photos better, whether getting strobes would help, whether working in a studio would make a photo more awesome, whether any or all of the above were really absolutely necessary in taking good pictures.

Sure, all of these things definitely make a difference, but as a beginner with barely trained eyes, there was a lot to learn with just the kit lens. 18-55mm is a pretty good range, so after a friend's advice, it was what I stuck with for a long time.

My First Light

Something else that was interesting to explore was working with a single light source. I got myself a second hand 1kw Arri hotlight from a friend for US$500, and experimented with it plenty and learnt lighting that way. You'd be surprised at how much you can do with just one light alone. (When I had jobs, I rented Profotos, Bowens, and Elinchroms.)

Here are some shots done in my family's living room with one light. I always had to clear our sofa away, but it made just enough room for all of these:

Redemption

This Side Up.

Newspapers are Good for You

M.

 

Other Lights & Lenses

A cheap studio kit costs less than US$200 now. If you're not going for studio looks, a 50mm f/1.4 (US$350) could be a great investment for ambient/location shooting too. (I use an f/1.8

which is $120). There's a lovely depth of field when the aperture is wide open, and you'll get these really beautiful blurred out backgrounds and bokehs. (No examples with the 350D here, I didn't get a prime lens till much later.)

All in all, in the first year, I'd say it's mostly about learning framing and how to work with what light you have than anything else.

Wardrobe

The technical aspect aside, wardrobe was pretty much just stuff from my closet. It helped that I was doing fashion design and had a bunch of things from sewing classes that were perfect for layering for photography. But if you don't sew, stores like H&M, Uniqlo and Zara offer a wide range of basics you can buy to work with.

I talked about it a little in my fashion photography tips post, feel free to check it out. :D If all fails, (like my super super early pictures) just do self portraits, use the model's own clothes, use no clothes. If you know how to make it work with basic things, imagine the wonders you can do with resources down the road!

Post-processing

Starting from the most basic, there's the usual photo-processing software that comes with the camera you purchase. I knew a professional photographer who used Canon's Digital Photo Professional to process his pictures, so don't scoff at the free stuff. But if you want to move on to Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture One, or other programs, you are definitely encouraged to try them out.

For me, I use Lightroom for cataloguing and colours because it's super user-friendly for organization and you can use it for processing easily. The student edition costs only US$79. (Lightroom 6 has also just been announced!)

And that's it! US$900 is pretty much all you need to start, and enough to last a while. It's not free, but it's nothing so astronomical that you can't work and save for if you want to make an effort. Like the saying goes, "If there is a will, there is a way."

I hope this post helps and clears up some of the mysteries! You are also totally allowed to judge my bad PS skills on these very ancient pictures. 18 feels like a lifetime ago now.

I'll do a part two if anyone's interested to see the rest of my equipment upgrade journey? Now back to packing~~

Update: 

What Do I Use Now?

Seeing as how I haven't written a part two after four years, here's the quick breakdown on my upgrade journey (see my full gear list below):

After the 350D, I upgraded twice:

1. 5D one year after I got my 350D.
2. 1Ds Mark III one year after the 5D.

I still use the 1Ds Mark III today, 7 years later. 

Update 2: 

Want to learn more? Check out my online course Artistic Portrait Photography, or subscribe to my Patreon, where I create exclusive new content on a monthly basis.

More: my photography articles, and gear list

Some of the product links in this post will bring you to Amazon, where I'll get a small referral fee should you choose make a purchase. This helps with the time spent on articles and the running of this blog, so please consider supporting the website. Thank you!

Intuos 4 Wireless

It's an Intuos, it's wireless.

'nuff said. I want.

Edit:

Okay, just to explain my hype.

This is why.

Yup, that's an ancient Intuos 1, my workplace is cluttered and generally very very messy. I don't know about neat-freaks and people who don't have to move around with the tablet, but I bring mine on shoots and overseas more than I go to the movies, and some days it feels like we're at war, trying not to get a 2.4kw light to fall on somebody, trying not to get tripped or trip someone over, trying our best not to kill people on set and to minimize accidents.

So lesser wires and more maneuverability = desirable. Thank you very much.

Backlog photos and stuff

Man. Lugging 2 lights+stands+17"MBP+1Ds MIII around in this weather, alone, is no freaking joke.

So tired my whole body aches so bad.

Thus, instead of heading down to Harajuku on a seemingly gorgeous Saturday, I'm gonna stay at home and emo, so I can rest up enough and repeat the above routine for tomorrow's shoot.

Cuz I'd been updating more on twitter than blogging, here's a random a mix of things from the past few months I'd been meaning to blog about. The pile is ever-growing but here's a start nonetheless.

Wacom Intuos4. Brand new from this trip.

This thing's so freaking gorgeous I wanna put it on display. Like, serously.

The one I'd been using for the past years had been a 9x12 which is just waaaaay too huge to carry around for travel. This new one's medium-sized and is so much easier to bring around. Now I can bring it on shoots to do quick demos on the spot for clients and my team. Yayness. Thou I'd still prefer the 9x12 for long-period usage since it's better for my wrist.

Post-shoot snap with Kokusyoku Sumire in their beautifully decorated cafe, stolen from their blog here.

I super love the figurines in the background. They're made by another Japanese artist who doesn't sell them anymore. /emo

This shoot was for Gothic Lolita Bible Aug issue (I think)

Okay, moving on to end Apr/early May photos:

With my lovely assistant Abby in Kyoto

With Kagetsuki at the Ghibli Museum.

Also, if I may, plug her new awesome fashion blog with Dawn - Monoxious.

More from the Ghibli Museum and cafe~

My X Japan concert guest pass. Shiny stuff *_*

Goban used in The Go Master movie filming. The go-kes here weren't inside, they're just in collection of the person I visited, designed personally by Honinbo Shuei.

Shuei

Ninja Jingna making okonomiyaki in awesome Junya coat. Chris looking very very skinny...

And Gullimer's (sp?) Village for Young People, with nary a soul in sight. With Rick, Chris, and Abby who's cropped off because my self-portrait skills aren't awesome enough. ;_;

Birthday dinner

Paris:

From my meetup~ That huge white book is my portfolio. XD

Gorgeous new Givenchy jacket

Awesome old mag store on rue de Temple

Not forgetting the inevitable stuff that break our banks...

There're a lot of other epicness, recorded in my iPhone, and all lost along with it during the Paris trip. T_T Oh well~ at least I have this:

Awesome food on Singapore Airlines. Hahahha.

Last but not least, a polaroid with Ivory Flame after the Lilith shoot. She's really really super stunning to photograph~

Sorry for the seemingly outdated/bland stuff. I'm working on trying to finding something interesting to blog about but being so busy everything seems like they'd just be too boring for a read. I'm so sorry!! T_T

Heading to Jakarta on Monday!!