Art of Noah by Kuang Hong

Had the honor of writing the foreword to Noah Kuang Hong's new artbook that's just been published in China. 2 volumes collecting over 15 years of his digital paintings, it's really something to behold.

We've known each other well over a decade now, some of my earliest experiences in learning about art, Photoshop, and defining my own colors and aesthetics as a photographer came from working together ...


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Motherland Chronicles #39 - Underwater

Motherland Chronicles #39 - Underwater

Photography: Zhang Jingna
Makeup: Lindsey Rivera
Model: Jessica Dru Johnson
Photo Assistants: Tobias Kwan, Alex Stoddard, Diana Chao, Sophia Chang
Dress: Michelle Hebert
Choker: Harlequin Romantique
Housing and strobe rental: AB Sea Photo, LA

My second underwater attempt! I had to deal with equipment all on my own this time and holy cow it was so freaking stressful. ._.

I use a 1Ds Mark III which may be old now, but cost me an arm and a leg when I bought it in 2008, so I was epically nervous each time I had to open up the housing then go back down into the water again. Thank god it didn't flood.  >_<

Camera in the housing!

I had to practice opening/closing the housing and changing the ports/domes for like 2 hours at home to make sure I'd remember everything haha.

Someone also randomly asked me on Instagram how much this weighed so I did a quick google and added the weights together, it totals up to roughly 5.3kg/12lbs! A lot lighter once underwater of course, but still pretty hefty!

Anyway I really liked this picture. ^^ I haven't been doing as much person-in-motion photos compared to my early work, so I thought it's a nice change and addition to the series. 

Also definitely a little influenced by Toby's work since we bounce ideas and sketches back and forth a lot in the project. Check out his triptych that pairs up with mine for this week - 

Motherland Chronicles #39 - Triptych II: Waterwalker by Tobias Kwan

On the technical side -- I think I'll have to update my underwater tips post now -- I've definitely learned a couple new things doing everything on my own this time. 

Here are some things I've done differently from the first shoot:


The first time I shot underwater I used a Tokina 10-17mm on a Nikon D300. But even with the sensor's crop factor, it's equivalent to about 15-25mm on a full frame, still a really wide focal length considering my usual lens is 70-200mm. This time, as I rented my own housing, I got to use my own camera so I tried shooting with the 16-35mm and 50mm. Both worked out great, but the 16-35 probably worked the best for full body. I can definitely see 50mm being perfect for something like beauty though. 


I felt that one assistant wasn't enough the last time, so this time round I got four! :D It may sound a little excessive (it totally did to me) but it turned out just right. I had 2 assistants help with everything that needed adjustment underwater: fabrics, dress, strobe cords, etc. And the other 2 for the strobes (one in water and one above). 

Staying in Position/Sinking

Remember how I mentioned it was difficult to sink on my own? Having weights last time was cool but it still required quite a bit of swimming as I tried to chase my angles. Apparently I found out this time, that it's actually pretty nice to have an assistant press me down into the water so I didn't have to think about pedaling while trying to work against floating at the same time. It allowed me to get ready better in the first couple seconds instead of having to make sure I was just focused on sinking properly, and when I found a spot I liked, it was a lot easier to stay in the same place for a short while with the help. 

So overall cool experience once again and it was a lot of fun! Thank you my awesome team for the hard work! And a super mega kudos to my model Jessica who was still on crutches and wearing ankle brace after breaking her foot, you're such a trooper woman! ♥

Motherland Chronicles #32 - Ea

Motherland Chronicles #32 - Ea

Ea means fire. Inspired by Suemi Jun's paintings. ♥  

Photography: Zhang Jingna
Hair: Junya Nakashima
Makeup: Viktorija Bowers
Model: Germaine Persinger
Photo Assistants: Ngoc Vu, Ernie Chang, Tiffany Liu

Headpiece: Harlequin Romantique

Backdrop: Savage Verona Hand Painted Muslin

Not often do I get to pinpoint specific inspirations for a piece of work. But I think this one is a little more deliberate than usual and is a rather good example. In this post I'll go over my process from inspiration to final image.

A little while ago, as I was musing about the lack of high fantasy anime/manga works in recent years, I started looking through Suemi Jun's works again.

Being one of my favorite Japanese artists besides Yoshitaka Amano, I thought, since I'm doing all these Amano-inspired pieces, why not explore something from other artists I love too? (Or in which I couldn't get Suemi Jun's works out of my mind for a couple of weeks.)

I first saw Suemi Jun's artbooks Gen and Haku at Kinokuniya in Singapore some 10-11 years ago. I fell in love with these covers:

They're so beautiful aren't they? ;_;

And thanks to the wonders of internet, I found this amazing collection of scans from Gen, making me wish I had brought the books with me to NY instead of leaving them back in Singapore.

So works re-discovered, I started thinking about how to put a shoot together.

I spent a few days looking at his paintings and then stopped completely, to think up the concept based on impressions his work left in my mind. Based around that, I gave directions to my hair and makeup team on the look to create. 

Then came the clothing and accessories. Fortunately, I'd already had them loaned to me so I didn't have to go searching. All that was left was just getting smoke and a backdrop for the mood I wanted for the picture.

For smoke I rented a fog machine. With it, I could achieve what Jun sometimes does in his paintings, where the edges of his characters' clothes and hair faded off to the background in loose strokes, as if there was fog or fire.

To compliment and complete that effect, I used the Savage Verona muslin backdrop to recreate the rich browns and reds Jun often uses in his backgrounds.

Featuring the Savage Verona Muslin backdrop

At this, I know some of you probably think the smoke and backdrops are unnecessary details. I get that. I know there's a lot that can be done in Photoshop, but I really like being able to direct each element in a shoot. It makes me feel as if I'm creating fantasy in real life. That authenticity and experience is something I don't quite want to lose to digital manipulations, and is an aspect of photography that I deeply enjoy.

But because of that we ended up spending the whole afternoon on just the one shot in order for me to get the smoke, wind and hair placements just right. T_T;;

And even though I shot it warmly, I couldn't resist going with my usual greenish tones during processing at first. I did go back to reds and browns for tones eventually though. 

Work-in-process thumbnails:

This is probably my new personal high for the number of states a photo has gone through before reaching the end result. Just look at how many times I fooled myself into thinking that it was the 'final' (starting at end of first row), so sad. T_T;;;

But still, I know all the minute changes were necessary and paid off, just hope that it won't be like this every week because sleep is sometimes really good to have too. .___.

Motherland Chronicles #13 - Girl with Flower

Motherland Chronicles #13 - Girl with Flower

Probably not what one expected when Toby and I finally collaborate. Eerie is eerie. And I already tried to make her less creepy. 

Anyway, Vietnam trip has been great~ Shot album cover and artwork for a singer, lookbook for Phuong My, and a cover story for Elle Vietnam. Off to Singapore the day after tomorrow, can't believe I'd been away for 4 months! Feels like it's been so much longer. Excited to be home for my birthday.

Inspirational Reads 2012

When I'm interviewed and asked what inspires me, I usually simply say "travelling", or "art". It's hard to name specific works by someone that's not mainstream for it to mean anything to anyone, so I usually don't.

But if you'd ever been curious, here's a closer look -- a list of books comprising mainly of mangas, and then some novels, artbooks and photobooks that have been inspirational for me in 2012.

Omae ga Sekai o Kowashitai nara by Fujiwara Kaoru

I'm starting off with this manga because the last shoot I did in 2012 was inspired by the art in this series. 

Vampires! I like vampire stories. But I would love this story even if there weren't any vampires at all.

When I first read this many years ago, despite how I loved it, I was left confused by the ending. After a long series of readings, from Hagio Moto's The Heart of Thomas, to her interview mentioning Hermann Hesse's works, to reading Hesse's Demian, and then to finally end up somewhere with the demiurge, I finally realized that the child who created Kanna and Ren's imperfect destinies in this was actually an echo of the Demiurge creating an imperfect world. And suddenly everything clicked into place, it was like a mini epiphany of sort and left me in wonder. That echo, whether intentional or not, to have my readings come a full circle to explain an earlier unknown made it feel so... fateful. And for that reason alone this story is special to me. 

But well, I also love angsty, helpless, predestined sad stories.

My favourite thing though, is Fujiwara Kaoru's artwork, I love her style so so very intensely. I've yet to finish processing the shoot inspired by her work, but I'm really excited about them so keep an eye out for when I get around to posting the photos, I hope you guys will like it. :D

She also has an artbook titled "Tomei na iro shita Shojo no Tame ni" but I can't seem to find a link of it online.

Blade of the Immortal by Hiroaki Samura

Blade of the Immortal by Hiroaki Samura

One of my all time favourite artists. Intense fight scenes, kickass characters of both sexes, totally badass weapons, and... clear depiction of people losing their body parts.

I get such conflicting feelings reading his work because it's so gory and messed up and... wrong... but beautiful at the same time.

If you've no time for manga, there's this: The Art of Blade of the Immortal.

I really want to do a BotI shoot, something I'll perhaps attempt in 2013 if I can find the cosplayers. 

Warnings: Violence/gore/nudity

Warnings #2: If you decide to check out more of Samura's work, just a fair warning, he has some really really really messed up stuff (adult/torture/gore I can't even adequately express in words). Keep out of reach of children.

Genshin - Toshiaki Kato

Toshiaki Kato is so obscure I couldn't find a proper cover pic of Genshin on Amazon Japan. -_-

His work is kinda like an art nouveau version of Ayami Kojima's, I'm also often reminded of Suemi Jun (for the angels), Yoshitaka Amano and Gustav Klimt (I mean, gold, hello).

But it could just be because I like seeing artists I like in every other artist's work that I also like? Wish I could get my hands on more of his books, but alas there aren't many.

Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat

Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat

Kind of a really intense, fast-paced, focused, and homosexual version of Game of Thrones. (I might just be biased because GoT doesn't seem to know where it's going.)

A lot of plotting and tension and stunning characterizations which I'm super in love with. Reading Captive Prince makes me wish I could write.

Can't wait for the final book vol3 to be out soon.

Warnings: Violence/adult situations, read at your own peril for there be some boy on boy loving.

The Seventh Swan by Jaida Jones

No photo preview! So make do with my mug cover placeholder.  

It's a fairytale inspired by a bunch of fairytales. Starts off a little slow methinks, but builds up quickly, the rest reads like a dream.

Summary in author's words:

Based on a whole lot of fairy tales (including The Tinder Box and The Twelve Dancing Princesses, as well as the tale from which the title is taken). A tale of two brothers trying to fix a curse.

The Fairytales of Hermann Hesse

The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse

I saw this at one of Yale's bookstores when I was just getting into Hesse's works. At that time I had just read Demian and Siddhartha, and was attempting The Glass Bead Game.

This collection is a pleasant surprise for me, for that was a time when I have not read any fairytales in a while, and it made me curious what sort of stories someone like Hesse would spin. The stories gave me a lot of visuals and once in a while I find myself re-reading the book for inspirations.

Hikaru no Go

Hikaru No Go by Hotta Yumi / Obata Takeshi

Inspirational no matter how many times I re-read it, always!

Maybe because the path to becoming the best is something we can all relate to as we work hard in whatever we choose to do, love and are passionate about.

Alongside with Omae ga Sekai o Kowashitai nara, Hikaru no Go is one of those mangas I find myself re-reading every year. You can also watch the anime for free on Hulu if you're in the US.

Claymore by Yagi Norihiro

I saw the anime a few years ago, liked it, but put off attempting the manga because I really hate series that take forever to update. For some reason I finally caved in 2012 and checked it out, love it is all I can say really I guess.

Pretty lady monsters everywhere fought by badass pretty ladies, can't complain.

Warnings: Violence/gore/nudity

Liar Game by Kaitani Shinobu

Psychological, kinda like Death Note in some ways except Akiyama is always winning, but that's ok cuz he's hot badass.

Noblesse by Son Jae Ho / Lee Gwang Su

Vampires! Action! Pretty art!

I'm only bothered by how I keep thinking Rai is the main character but more often than not it feels like the focus is on Frankenstein. Not that I'm complaining because Franken's awesome anyway. Just feels like Rai should play a more active role. 

But regardless! Pretty boys, fantasy, action and sci-fi, all my favourite things rolled into one, I approve.

Also Tao reminds me of tobiee.

The Breaker series (Part I, Part II) by Jeon Geuk-jin / Park Jin-hwan

Action! Again! I don't know why but I just really like action stories in all sorts of mediums. I swear I'm not a violent person. ._.

This story is a bit interesting (almost amusing?) to me cuz it totally adopts Chinese wuxia stuff from Jin Yong into the modern world and it works.

Warning: Violence

Vinland Saga

Vinland Saga by Yukimura Makoto

Vikings! A little Berserk-ish but the story kinda spiraled out weirdly. I'm not sure how I feel about it yet cuz it hasn't been that many volumes, but, warriors! Fighting! I also really like the chapter cover arts, quite a number have gone into my inspirations folder. 

Warning: Violence

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

It's McQueen. Everyone buy a copy, go.

Miles Aldridge: Acid Candy

One of the things I don't do much is talk about my favourite photographers or films. Because try as I may, paintings and drawings just inspire me much more than photographs and movies can and I really don't know why.

But the colours and fantasy in Miles Aldrige's works is something I have always loved, this is one of my favourite photobooks in my collection.  Warning: Nudity

Not much photobooks at all I'm afraid. I do buy them, but impact on me in 2012 wise... not so much. Maybe there'll be more in 2013? Stay tuned for that post next year. :D

PS: For the curious, I certainly did re-read Gundam Wing's mangas lol.  

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Inspirations #2

My favourite people from CGHUB! <3

The Little Mermaid by jeffsimpsonkh (Jeff Simpson)
veil by tobiee (Tobias Kwan)
Lookout by flaptraps (Richard Anderson)
Vampyr by EmmanuelMalin (Emmanuel Malin)
Ten of Swords by davepalumbo (David Palumbo)
Stem by noah-kh (Kuang Hong)
so close by matayosi
Chaperon by Alexandre Day
Sunny November by NikYeliseyev
Epilogue by TomScholes (Thomas Scholes)

Aren't these amazing? I love everyone sooooo much. If you browse through their galleries you can definitely see where the vibrancy of my work has been coming in from as of late.

(I'll also shamelessly admit that I'd received birthday drawings from jeffsimpsonkh, noah-kh and tobiee. A copy of The Art of Guild Wars 2 from Rich Anderson with a personalized sketch, and a print from David Palumbo during Comic Con. I know, I'm so incredibly lucky to be spoiled by my favourite artists. ;_;)

Booked my ticket for Toronto. Will be there from the 16th of this month till Jan 21st.

To be honest I'm a little bit excited and a little bit scared. I'll get to meet up with my best friend, possibly visit Montreal, I pretty much love all the Canadians I know so I love Canada already, but I'm so afraid that I'll just freeze to death on the streets one day. It's getting too chilly for me even in L.A. these days, I really wish I had better tolerance for cold. ;_;