Category Archives: photo shoot

Underwater Maternity photos


Remember the other week when this post was going around the internet about photographer Adam Opris and his work with underwater maternity photos?  I wonder if there was an explosion of water-based mothers shortly after  – because if so, I’m proud to say I was in fact very inspired by the article and I had the opportunity to do a little underwater photography on my own.  I woke up one morning with this article sitting in my inbox sent to me by one of my currently pregnant friends (I’m at the stage in my life where I have 5 friends concurrently pregnant) and within a short period of time of me saying “Gee, I wish I could try this!” I had two mothers-to-be willing to jump in the pool with me.

The only reason(s)  I don’t do more underwater photography are because of the cost and logistics.  It’s still expensive just to rent the equipment, and I don’t normally have access to a pool.  Luckily this time, we were able to hop into a friend’s community pool.  And even more luckily, it was deserted – which perhaps is not TOO surprising considering the pool is no longer heated in November and the water is somewhere just north of glacial in temperature.  I really have to give props to my models for braving the cold!  Unlike the last time we shot, none of us could remain in the pool for very long due to the cold, and it’s hard to maintain a calm and happy expression in such conditions.  Nevertheless, we came out with some just gorgeous photos of the day – and I’m so thankful to everyone (husbands and friends) who came along to help with the shoot!








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Underwater Photography, Part One – shoot concept and test shots


just keep swimming, just keep swimming. no really. don’t drown.

I have always had a love affair with water and mermaids.  I never understood why Ariel wanted to become human in the “The Little Mermaid” because I would have traded places with her in a heartbeat.  Underwater photography is something I have always wanted to try but it’s a bit difficult when you don’t have a pool and also can’t afford to buy fancy equipment.   In college I was able to do a few underwater shoots using anything from a Kodak disposable camera to borrowing an acquaintance’s scuba camera gear. For a hobby photographer on a modest salary, even renting equipment seemed prohibitively expensive, especially when factoring the cost of renting a pool.  A thousand dollars for a day shoot?  Not that likely, even with my models chipping in to help out with the cost of all this.  So when I fortuitously got a hookup to a private pool through the friend of a friend who was house sitting at an amazingly posh house, I jumped at the chance.

I’ll take a moment here to highly recommend  – I have used them several times now and it’s just the best, simplest way to rent equipment for a shoot that you couldn’t otherwise afford.  I’ve rented lenses, cameras, and now casings.  Totally easy, fuss-free, and pretty affordable all considered.  I rented the Aquatech case for the Canon 7D.  It was amazing!

The main inspiration of our photo shoot was the Chinese fairy tale “Madame White Snake”, also referenced as “White Snake, Green Snake” or “Lady White Snake.”  It’s the subject of movies, Chinese opera, and a number of TVB series, featuring two sisterly snake demons who take on human form.  My friend AJ has always adored the playful character of Green Snake (check out her other cosplay and a dance homage to this character), and she wanted to do an underwater shoot to get the neat CG effect of this series of artworkWei-Ling has been AJ’s White Snake partner and as a fellow waterbaby, I really wanted to shoot her in the pool as well.

We were really all going to get our money’s worth out of this equipment, so we scheduled a shoot to also include the lovely Laura whom I had previously shot at Preston Castle.  Wayne planned to shoot her in several different outfits – and I thought,  I might as well make myself a sea nymph costume as well to fulfill my mermaid dreams.

bubbles!  my bubbles.

bubbles! my bubbles.

We scheduled the day of the shoot as far in advance as possible and the two costumers got to work designing and sewing their costumes.  One week before our scheduled shoot, we had the good luck to be able to do a test shoot at the location.  I was very concerned at how difficult it might be for our models to safely swim in their heavy outfits.  Swimming is one thing; trying to model underwater is entirely different.  We’re all good swimmers but I have read horror stories of poor brides getting pulled underwater during their “trash the dress” shoots and drowning – safety first!  Plus doing a run through of our shoot allowed everyone to practice posing, see how our fabrics reacted underwater, and a chance for me to check out the lighting conditions.  I don’t mind admitting my greatest fear was that our models would be disappointed in their shots because of my inexperience in this setting.




go go GoPro camera

go go GoPro camera

For the test day, I rented a GoPro camera but I ended up not really using that and going with my iPhone camera inside a scuba suit.  The GoPro was fantastic and easy to use in terms of making it take pictures, but hard for framing as there is no preview.  Luckily the very wide angle let me see everything that was going on in the scene anywhere I had the camera pointed, so I was able to get a fairly good idea of the lighting conditions and how the images would appear on the day of the shoot.

I’m super pleased with our test results from just using the iPhone, though!  I have an iPhone Scuba Suit that I had bought for a Cabo trip and it worked really well. I believe it only fihts the 4/4S, but there are other waterproof cases for the Iphone5.  This actually suited my needs really well for the test shoot day and I was very encouraged by our shots that day – my anxiety level went down and we all felt much more prepared.

Plus, after our test shots, we had time to goof off.

underwater pyow!!!

underwater pyow!!!

Lessons learned from that day:
1) underwater modeling is far harder than swimming.  After a two hour session, I was completely exhausted.
2) stick with light, bright colors.
3) less is more for makeup – stick with just eyeliner and maybe some cream-based shadow.  MAC gel eyeliner works great (magical stuff!), and this Aqua Seal from Sephora really did the trick for the rest of our eye makeup.  Test makeup stayed on for two hours in the pool!  We skipped lipsticks, but figured a stain would work better.


Stay tuned next time to see some of the shots from our day!

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Taking the Waters


More composites this week!  This was my most composite intensive piece so far despite the simple composition.  This one was inspired by a recent visit to the spa – I love water and hot soaks.  It goes well with one of my mottos in life – “When in doubt, take a bath.”

I had been flipping through my Pinterest board of photo inspiration and saw some beautiful examples of underwater photography.  A few months ago this image was making waves through my social media and I absolutely adore everything about it.  If anyone knows who is the artist or what the provenance of this image is, please let me know!  I have no information about it.  Anyway, for any pursuit whether it be photography, cooking, travel, snowboarding – anything that can be a hobby passionately pursued, there comes the moment when you start thinking “If only I had a boatload of money.  Then I could buy this-and-such thing that would totally take me to the next level.”  I was having this sort of thought moment in wish I might have endless amounts of money to buy or rent equipment and props and settings and feeling rather down about what I didn’t have.  The old adage about being thankful rather instead for what one does have applies in this case – having less is a good motivator for creativity.

To do underwater photography two things really come in handy.  One is a black walled pool, and second would be all that underwater gear which is pretty darned expensive.  I have neither of those things.  I was playing around with shooting through a container of water to get some bubbles and distortion, but that was going nowhere.  To me myself feel a bit better, I thought that I could at the very least get the LOOK of shooting underwater.  And then I couldn’t resist adding an implausible element, like a splash of water.

There are a LOT of advantages to having your own place.  No one complains when you start transforming your bathroom into a photography set at 9 pm at night.  This is a stitched panorama of what my setup looked like:


Occasionally I also think about how I might not be the smartest person out there.  Strobe equipment, camera, and water?  I might not be trying something like this again really soon, and I’m glad I didn’t end up destroying my equipment or electrocuting myself!  Ignoring the strange angles of the panorama, I had my camera there on the right side on a tripod, facing the wall and tub.  I taped up black fabric for my backdrop and I was perched on the chair.  For some of the photos I was balanced on that black box you see under the trailing cord of the strobe to get enough height, but as it’s not waterproof I switched to just the chair when the water was around.

It turns out to be very hard to maintain good control of one’s body (all the while trying to use a remote control) while crouching in such a situation.  I took a ton of shots while flinging around a skirt and a length of teal chiffon I had wrapped around me, and ended up using two of them to create the bottom portion of my body.


It turns out to be INCREDIBLY hard to maintain any kind of calm facial expression when you are repeatedly dumping bowls of water over your head.  At this point I put the remote control away because I didn’t want to get wet, and I had the camera on a 10 second timer, so the routine went something like:

1. get a bowl of warmish water
2. gather up soggy skirts in one hand
3. turn off light
4. start 10 second self timer on the camera
5. clamber gingerly while trying not to slip on a wet bathroom floor to the chair in the tub
6. pose and then pour water over my head and try  not look too shocked each time the water hit my head
7. dry hands with towel laid by the tub
8. lather, rinse, repeat

It was the worst the first bowl because I forgot to make the water at least kind of warm.

Anyhow, from there, I added in my upper body and left arm (separate shot, that’s the arm I was using to pour said bowls of water), and layered in additional splash around my body, and then the pour of water from the top.

I am definitely thinking an assistant would be called for next time.  That would make this whole thing much easier!

In the end I had more layers that I’d ever had before, especially with the many curves/lighting adjustments I was making along the way.  You can see a bit of what that looked like when I was getting close to the final image.

After that was a few more lighting adjustments to make everything match.

I seem to be halfway to creating a series involving waving long lengths of fabric in a particular color.  Red, blue, and I had a white one in there somewhere.  (Yes.  The fabric store was having a sale and I had stocked up on potential prop pieces.  I find long lengths of chiffon incredibly useful.)  Anyone have any suggestions on what color to tackle next? :)


Until next time!


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This is my photographic equivalent of the actual desire to get things off my chest, but there’s certainly times when it is appropriate to unload and times when I feel like I’m in danger of returning to angsty teen days of posting up a leading “Oh sigh…life is so awful” status message up on some social networking site.  Hooray for art to succinctly summarize emotions! The idea for this piece was floating around in my head for the last few weeks.  Originally I had wanted something quite a bit more gruesome in appearance with a more bloody, exploded look, but after some experimentation and feedback, that idea seemed a bit overkill. (Though…I may return to the idea in a future piece.)

I feel like I’m back in school too!  This piece was a combination of double exposure, and using flash to stop motion.

Here is my original jumping shot.  You guys can have a great view of what my room looks like; in lieu of a studio large enough to hang full infinity backdrops you’ll see where I had to digitally extend my background.  One day, it would be fabulous to not have to do that extra work outside of the camera, but until then I’ll freely admit it’s cheaper for me to just keep on doing this in my bedroom. F 9, 2 second exposure with a strobe pop – I’ve been working a lot lately with these longer exposures mixed with the strobe.  I find that having a faint continuous light source adds a good glow to the background over that exposure, but there isn’t enough light to get me on camera except during the actual strobe flash.  I originally had tried a black background, but my hair blended in too well with that.

I layered a shot of tossed rose petals over this, check out my unglamorous assistant of myself in the background.  Same thing, F 9, 2 second exposure with strobe pop.   This is the only petal toss shot I had – I had to leave my home studio setup and was expecting to get back to do a few more tries later.  However, on importing the photos I found this shot had what I wanted.

So – I took shot one, digitally smoothed out and extended the background.


I rotated and layered a selection of the rose petals three times to create the volume I needed.  This is on a transparent layer.   Thumbs up for layer masking in Photoshop.


Then I just layered the two and added a few lighting adjustments for the final image.  Overall I believe I was only shooting for 20 minutes because I had been mulling this idea over for quite awhile, and I honestly expected this session to be only a testing session and that I would need to come back and try this all again a second time.  I was pleasantly surprised when evaluating those test images to have some that really worked.  Maybe I’m getting better at that whole pre-visualization thing where I get that whole piece figured out ahead of time? :)


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A Quiet Night for Tea

While I was making that cheongsam the other week I watched “In the Mood for Love”, a movie I had heard about for a long time but never got around to actually seeing.  It seemed fitting, as the supernaturally beautiful Maggie Cheung walks seductively around in a series of simply amazing cheongsams and backgrounds.  I absolutely loved the cinematography of this movie and it inspired me to do a little photoshoot with the dress I had just made.  I wasn’t intending to mimic an exact scene of the movie, but just a bit of the same feeling. 

Putting the shot together:

I did a lighting test with a single desk lamp instead to study how the light might fall in the photo.  You can see it ended up being similar but not too much like the lighting I used in the end photograph.  Single light source, but it’s reflected fairly well off the light table surface and I’m sitting pretty close to it.  I liked the  feel of that light, but knew I would end up with a different table lamp that fit the scene a bit better.  I liked how the light simply trailed off around the edges of the photo due to the single light source and wanted to replicate that – with two light sources visible in the end photo.

 Here’s what my final setup looked like.  Kind of ghetto when you take a step back and see that this is just the far side of my bedroom (which by the way, is quite large so there’s room for this kind of thing).  Cost breakdown, and set contents.

1) background – a curtain panel with fun texture from Goodwill – $5
2) Hanging lamp shade from Daiso: $1.50
    2a) already had hanging cord lamp, but did see them for sale for about $15.
3) tiger poster  from Daiso, $1.50
4) desk lamp – the bulb light is filtered though a piece of white paper I put inside the glass shade. already owned
5) teapot, tea cup, table, chair, already owned
6) fake wall trim – found some crown moulding pieces in my garage, so free.  I think you could get some cheap pieces for hm, $10 at home depot?
7) Background stand: $40 off ebay.  This isn’t something I think anyone who really wants to claim they are being uber cheap would get, but I was ready to buy and own one.  It’s a lightweight one, probably not for holding up heavy backdrops.
8) duct tape – $6. Wow this stuff is amazing.

So there it is!  I shot the thing in low light, and slow shutter speed so I was holding myself pretty still.  As you can tell, I’m quite a fan of the way light wraps itself softly around objects when you have a nice long exposure.  This was a very fun little shoot, I will definitely be doing more in the future.

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Photographer, photograph thyself

natural pose

The funny thing about taking pictures for a hobby is that I always feel so awkward about posing for photos.  Despite the fact that I often do pose for my own photos (a teacher in college was very surprised to hear me say I am camera shy, since I used myself as a model for most projects), there’s a huge difference in doing something with a self timer, and posing while someone is actively looking at you through the lens.  And, most of the things I take for myself aren’t the typical “fashion” look.  While I’m of course vain enough to want to look good in the photo, you’ll notice my own self portraits I’m often not looking at the camera or really just not STANDING there trying to look like a model.

After the wedding, WL and I went around our fabulously appointed hotel to take some more glamor oriented photos with the dresses we had made.  We’re making it an ongoing goal to feel more confident about how to compose ourselves for this kind of photo.  Hand in hand with that, I’d like to learn how to take better photos, how to direct people to pose.  What kind of lenses, what angles to put myself at?  Photography is such a strange thing where angles that look strange in real life 3D are flattened in a way that really works on camera.   Maybe I should start watching Top Model to get some more clues?  It’s definitely a skill!  Models aren’t just pretty people, it’s work to get yourself to look good in a photo.

the “glam” pose

We took many photos but here’s the two I ended up liking.  Ha!  Favorite is where I don’t have to look at the camera.  The only one I liked where you can see my face is the most “natural” one, which, I guess is all right.  Having photos of myself looking vacant eyed and artificial wouldn’t really look like me at all. :)

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Inque Photoshoot

the real Inque probably never looks this calm or pensive.

Inque Photoshoot
Model and Stylist: AJ Wu
Photographer: Doris Cheung

Last month I had the chance to do a photo shoot with AJ, who had just completed a new costume.  Both of us are big fans of Batman Beyond, and she had cosplayed the character Inque for a “Spies and Mercenaries” themed party.  She wanted a few pics of her costume, although she told me it was not one she had spent serious time on.  (Um. Really?! You can’t tell it’s a “throwaway” costume.)

I’ve been wanting to test out shooting on a reflective surface for awhile and figured this would be the perfect time for a little experimentation.  At the moment I didn’t have the resources to rent out a studio, strobe lights, and a floor made of black plexiglass (gives a GREAT reflection), so we had to settle for ghetto-macgyvering something together in my bedroom.  We ended up using natural light with some borrowed Canon EX-500 flash, sheets for the background, and a 4’x4′ piece of mylar.  It worked worked out pretty well to capture some of what makes Inque so cool as a villain – the ability to melt herself into a black inky killer/thief.

What do you think? Personally, I think AJ is maybe a little TOO good at costuming because I was getting seriously freaked out editing her photos.  Doesn’t she look scary?!

Of course even villains have their mellow moments.  They can’t be in a murderous rage all the time, you know.

Favorite photos from the shoot here.  We ended up having to do many poses lying down and curled up to get the best effect out of the mylar.  Since it is so soft, it doesn’t give a perfect reflection, and I only had a small piece to work with.  If I’d had a full studio lighting set and done maybe 12′ x 12′ on the ground we could have done more dynamic action and full body poses.  However, for a shoot that was on the very ghetto side in terms of materials, I’m very happy with the results.  A little goes a long way!

Next up: A little bit about how I set up the shoot.

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Human Figure class

I had the chance to attend a workshop on photographing the human nude about a week ago, and I’m so glad I was able to go.  I may have studied photography in school but since I didn’t go the route of professional photographer I need to remember to constantly make the effort to improve my skills. 
 I haven’t done much of human figure/nude photography before, it’s quite intimidating to have a naked person stand in front of you, waiting for you to give direction.  Luckily most of the models at the workshop had the experience I didn’t; one was a dancer, one looked like she had done plenty of modeling before, and one who just was having so much fun with the whole process it made my job easier.  In the end, I thought the dancer was almost too easy to shoot because all of her poses were beautiful, and reduced the challenge.

I have to say, a room full of nude female models sure brought out the dirty old man in many participants of the workshop.  There was at least one rather rude gentleman (I use the term loosely) who bossed the rest of us and kind of ordered the models around.  The rudest of all was the equipment salesman at the workshop (from the sponsoring company.)  He had brought lenses for people to try, and was so kind as to “help” me with the equipment (in that “Let me help you there, little lady” way), insulted my camera as an antique, and let me know the perfect lens to use in case I wanted to you know, zoom in on a nipple.  The cherry on top was when he  proceeded to make a few remarks when the model was on the ground reclining, and I also lay on the ground to shoot her from a low angle – about how we were both now rolling around on the ground.  Uh-huh…and you’re a professional salesman?

Using studio lights is always a treat for me these days, as I don’t have access (or pay for access) to a regular studio.  After this weekend though, I’m thinking quite seriously about investing in a kit of my own, because it’s just so much fun to use!  And I have a garage now, so some limited room to actually just use them at home.  On the whole I had a great time at the workshop – I learned a bit and came away with lots of inspiration, which is exactly what I wanted!

For the full portfolio, click the photo above, or follow this link – and remember, this was NUDE human figure so don’t click if you’re not ok with it!

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Jen and Paul’s Engagement Photos

 I had the great honor of shooting Jen and Paul’s engagement photos a few weeks back.  I’ve known them for about eight years now; though not so well in the beginning as we started bumping into each other through mutual friends.  I have to say, I totally thought Paul was a thug and kind of scary when I first met him due to buzz cut bleached hair (turns out that hair was “gold” to go with the blue and gold colors of Cal).  Later on Jen, Wei-Ling and I were roommates in one of the most fun apartment I’ve ever been in, 3 gals together – 4 if you count Charcoal!

The photos were taken around Berkeley in the Rose Garden, a few in downtown, and down by the Marina.  We totally crashed someone else’s wedding down in the Rose Garden (don’t worry! They were just setting up.)  I hadn’t done a formal shoot or a location shoot in awhile, but the light was perfect and I was reminded just how much fun it is!  I imagine it was more fun for me than them, because I didn’t have to face up to giant camera lens staring at me; and I started getting a bit gleeful in telling them to kiss again…and again…and again.
Mwahaha THE POWER, er, all in the name of getting a good shot!

Doing a photo shoot is a great way to test that wedding makeup and hair before the big day  Jen had gotten her trial run done right before; and I think we all quickly figured out that the updo was pretty, but it made Jen look like not-Jen.   And on your wedding day, it probably helps to still look like you, especially for the pictures!

Special guest appearance by Charcoal in these photos; I can’t really imagine Paul and Jen without her there too.  I had a blast…I can’t wait for their actual wedding day!   

For the full gallery, take a look HERE.

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