Category Archives: pretensions to art

Painting the Stars (and other things)


Stars!  I’m still on a Les Miserables high, although I was thinking about a stars themed images since before I saw the movie.  But it seeems like I can’t see any twinkly little star without thinking of the lyrics “Stars, in your multitudes/Scarce to be counted/filling the darkness/with order and light”.  This images was done with a pop of flash to get the jumping figure, and then over the rest of a long exposure as a light painting for the blue nebulas and me flashing a small LED flashlight straight at the camera for the actual stars.

The last few weeks I’ve been experimenting with a cool painting with light technique to create a spectral glowing fire or smoke effect.  In a case for looking at the “related links” or “You might also be interested in” ads on the sidebar, I found this fabulous tutorial on Youtube by French photographer Wen-Jie Yang.  He’s helpfully added English subtitles for those of us who don’t speak French! Right after I saw this I had to go straight to Amazon and order the electroluminescent wire that he’s talking about.  Hooray for Amazon Prime!

Of course in his videos, it looks really easy to just get the shot he wants, but with these long exposures I’m finding it takes a LOT of tries to get everything just so.  For the things I’ve been working on over the last few weeks I’ve been finding that getting the lighting right is extremely tricky – I’m using a small flash, LED lights, LED rope lights, and the wire for various things and the resulting long long exposures (and possibly jumping) take about a million tries.  Probably it’s time for me to start getting models or assistants or SOMETHING, if I only didn’t always start playing around with my camera at 9 pm on a random Wednesday, which is how it usually goes.  Still, I’m very happy with some of these:

“Shine Bright”

This was done entirely with a single LED flashlight.  I was really inspired by Rihanna’s recent radio hit, but more so about the idea that everyone has hope and beauty inside of themselves.  It’s just a matter of letting the world see, and letting that inner light touch the lives of others in some way to make it better. This was right after the Sandy school shooting and that was really a moment when it was so clear how the bravery and sacrifice of those who chose to give their lives for their students was in such stark opposition to anyone who could choose to take the lives of others.  Not saying everyone ought to run out and be a hero like that, but we can all help others in some small way, all the time.



“Playing with Fire”

Did you know I always wanted to be a sorceress?  This was incredibly hard to get right, I used an LED flashlight to light myself (which was sufficient to to light the background) and drew in the rest with the El wire.





” Summoning”

In addition to wanting to be a sorceress, I suppose I also secretly want to be a demoness that you’d summon up from some hell dimension? The lighting on this one was too complicated to really make me like the end result – LED rope, flash, AND the El wire.  Still learning how to get the effect I want, which gets infinitely harder the more you try to have in the scene, as you can see.  Still, I get a kick out of this because when I look at it I think about Arnold in the Terminator in a similar pose, and his line “Your clothes.  Give them to me” in his heavy accent.



After all this I’ll probably take a little break for this technique because I have other ideas that need exploring.  But it’s a nifty and fun trick – definitely a great one to have in the bag.  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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Seminar: Storytelling and Compositing


Last week I had the opportunity to attend a seminar taught by Brooke Shaden.  I always love going to these seminars to pick up on tips and tricks, especially from successful artists (as Brooke Shaden is successfully making a living off of her art – that’s a lot of street cred she has with me.)  I wasn’t aware of her work much before the seminar was brought to my attention, but her imagery really strikes a chord with me; and I think my work might develop along similar lines.

The topic was storytelling and compositing – the art of taking multiple photos and blending them together to create a new whole.  Personally I’m still deciding what level of Photoshop I feel OK with before I don’t want to call the end work a “photograph” verses a “digital painting”.  Still, can’t argue that when one hasn’t got a budget of thousands to get sets and props, a judicious use of Photoshop to get the image you want has its place.  And I really love the term “self portrait artist”, because I often end up using myself as a model in my photos – so, I’m going to have to start using that term for my photography!

This is the image I walked away with at the end of the day.  We had done another group shot with a model with a levitation shot, but due to the size of the class I wasn’t really able to get a good angle and shots to work with.  This one actually IS a composite of 3 different images, although if I had more setup time I know I could have gotten it in 1 or 2.  There’s nothing about it (such as including thing in motion, supports that really needed to be erased, etc) that couldn’t have been done with one shot…well, maybe some support.  But we had 30 free minutes to ourselves and a bunch of props in this gorgeous old library room and I was inspired to do a mysterious wrapped figure, like a library gargoyle!  A patron gargoyle of learning, as it were.

One of the most important techniques of the day was taking a blank setup shot, or plate, of the setting without any of the models or action.  This works to your advantage down the line, particularly in a levitation shot where you will be masking out a visible means of support, but it is good practice to do for any shot you know you will composite. And of course, this works best when all your shots will be take from the same angle/height/lighting conditions, so for this kind of work a tripod is necessary and a remote control trigger very handy.

I have 3 basic layers of the shot – I do love layer masks as just about the best thing ever in Photoshop.

Here’s the 3 shots I started with.  One is the background, and I admit I didn’t do this in the best way – in the end I liked a slightly different framing of the background, so you see all the subsequent images of the figure had to be scaled down to fit in the new frame.  Not a big deal, but if I’d gotten it right I would have saved myself some post processing work.  The second was chosen for the upper body.  The shelf I sat on was actually quite narrow, so I was in danger of tipping completely forward and falling off.  I wouldn’t have been able to lean forward without Wayne’ support.  The third shot was of the lower body with no support – I had Wayne draw back for just a few seconds while the shot was snapped.

thanks for the support, wayne!

I liked this shot quite a bit for something I only had a short amount of time to work on.  In retrospect, the image would have been more evocative with more story (perhaps another figure to interact with the gargoyle?)  But I do love red, and drapery.

And here’s a quick shot of the demo of how to do a levitation shot.  It was pretty neat – I’ve started messing around with them a little bit, so stay tuned for more. :)

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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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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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Public places, lonely spaces

Last weekend I took a crack-of-dawn flight up to Canada to visit some family. In a favor that trumps all favors, my lovely roommate dropped me off at the airport about 4:45 am (meaning we got up at 3:30 after staying up really late watching Bring It On – probably a foolish idea). 4:45 am is an interesting time to see an airport.

I’ve always had a fascination with being at a place normally bustling with people during the deserted off hours. I think it started with school playgrounds during the middle of summer, my parents’ ice cream store after closing, even your own home in the wee hours of the night. It’s like seeing someone you know only from work on the weekends in a T shirt and shorts playing football in the park with their kids (or your teacher at the grocery store – what, you have a LIFE outside of how I know you? What is this third dimension you have?)

The airport is particularly interesting to me since it for the sole purpose of moving people from one place to another. When I think of an airport I think about excitement, joy – because I’m always trave
ling on vacation or really happy to be home. When it’s empty you realize that all the feelings you have associated with a place were brought there only by you to fill that space. What does it do when no one is around?

For me it’s somewhere between beautiful, sad, and eerie – seeing a secret face. When you’re the only other person there it’s rather intimate.

There’s another Doris Cheung out there from Vancouver who already did a whole series of photographers about places like airports with know people so I’ll refrain from making a dramatic, symbolic statement with an art exhibit and just leave you with these. I think 3 am would be an even better time, and if I only had a tripod…

This one is my favorite…taken when rushing to my proper terminal! It seems awfully symbolic to me but I will leave it to you all to find whatever meaning you like. :) I think the lighting could go moodier, but that’s just me – although there’s something about the slow shutter speed-drenched with light look that draws me too since I know it’s pitch black outside!

For a full album view of the pictures I took, the link is here.

And in a case of life imitating art, I found out that the West End of Vancouver (Stanley Park, I think?) looks just like that famous Seurat painting that is always getting parodied, Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte:

I just need a few people with umbrellas and that’s it!

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