Lighting Monkeys

Finally, a chance (and inspired again) to post something.

A while back, I thought it would be fun to help some friends learn to use their camera better.  That never came to fruition for several reasons, but here’s to a renewed attempt at sharing photos and ideas on how to improve our photography.

Light is the most important factor in creating an evocative photo.  It seems like an obvious statement, but let’s admit it, all of us interested in photography has been caught up with other details at some point.  Usually associated with justifying new stuff 🙂  Nevertheless, how light affects your photo should always be the first thing you pay attention to before even lifting the camera to your eye.

Sometimes people ask me why I prefer black and white photos over color.  Without using any cheesy catchphrases, I think b&w photos highlight (ha!) how light was used in the photo without the distractions of color.  For example, here is a photo I love that could have been taken by almost any camera + lens setup.

The key here is the light, falling gently on my baby’s face, and a graceful transition to the dark background.  The low contrast and soft light parallel the quiet, peaceful comfort on the baby’s face.  The color version wouldn’t nearly have been as effective because of the colors from Mom’s shirt and baby’s bib.

It’s a shame this scene doesn’t come around too often 🙂

Time flies…

One day old:

Two weeks old:

Three weeks old:

One month:

Two months:

Two months, one week:

Two months, three weeks:

Three months, one week:

Three months, three weeks:

Four months:

Four months, one week:

(by the way, I’m convinced Brazilians are the best people in the world 🙂 )

Four months, two weeks:

Certain situations have been tough the past week, but I’m so thankful God has blessed me with two wonderful people remind me what’s closest to my heart.  All my worries leave me when I step through the door to come home.

To my wife, thank you

My wife endured nine difficult months of pregnancy that culminated in the birth of our first child and son on April 20th, 2010.  As much of a joyous occasion it can be, it is preceded by long, painful, and usually uneventful hours upon hours of waiting.  My intention is to show the full range of emotions of our long day, not just the Hollywood happy ending.  I hope this series of photos and captions will connect you to our experience.

My wife woke up at 2am from contraction pains.  At 5am, she woke me up and told me we may need to go to the hospital.  We arrived there at 6am, full of questions and concerns.  We had some small doubts that this unpredictable day finally arrived.  The nurses here were incredibly helpful and provided physical and emotional support through the day.

A lot of sophisticated machinery.  We had no idea what they did, but we know we’re in the care of top-notch professionals.

And then the waiting game began.  We tried to entertain ourselves, but the long, boring hours made it difficult to endure.

Of course, exponentially worse than the boredom of waiting was the pain and discomfort my wife had to experience.  It was easy for the rest of us to entertain ourselves or sleep, but my wife couldn’t ignore her body’s signals that the baby needs to come today.

Thank God for modern medicine.  A quick insert into her spine finally allowed her peace and rest.  She will need as much rest as possible for the upcoming hours and days.  The nurses remain ever vigilant of any changes and signs from the monitors.

As the day passes on, it’s becoming increasingly more apparent that the baby is having trouble coming on his own.  Finally the evening arrives, and her physician is concerned that the labor has gone on too long.  Any longer, and there is a high chance of infections for both mom and baby.  To my wife’s disappointment, the obstetrician highly recommends a Caesarean section.  We followed her obstetrician’s advice and went ahead with the C-sec.  Our son finally arrives into our world, almost unwilling to leave the comfort of his home for the last nine months.

Such a long, exhausting day for my wife.  But in the end, it was all worth it.

Hello son.  Hello Mommy.  I love you son.  I love you too Mommy.  Thank you, dear wife.


What I like about photography is the story associated with each photo.  Catching a special moment that makes you ask, who are these people, what are they doing, and why are they doing that.  Honestly, I think that’s the reason why I set up this blog to begin with, and I sort of lost track of it over the last few months.  I’m really not the peppy, upbeat portrait photographer who blogs about how every new client is “the loveliest/most energetic person I’ve ever met.”  Don’t get the wrong, I LOVE to take nice photos and provide them for my friends (and will continue to do so as long as my friends let me!).  I also love the challenges associated with different types of portrait photography, and I always hope that I am able to hand over a CD of images that my friends will cherish.

But, this particular blog was originally intended to describe my life through pictures.  These guys express what I hope to achieve, but since my friends and church are so invaluable to me as well, they are also included just as readily in the blog.  My goal is to capture interesting and evocative moments that reveal a little more of our lives, but it may not necessarily contain the most aesthetically pleasing portrait.  Photojournalism, you might call it.

Most of these photos have been taken with a film rangefinder, although a few still with my DSLR.  Sometimes I hate dealing with film.  There are so many different kinds out there, it takes so much effort to figure out which ones’ qualities match what I like.  Then find a good developer – I only know of one place in this city that develops (true) black and white film.  Of course, those guys are open only during the hours I’m supposed to be at work.  If developing C-41 (most color films and desaturated black and white films), then I need to rely on the local drugstores, who have been scratching up my film.  Or some places closed down the developer completely, I suppose due to lack of business.  Then I bring it home to scan.  Scanning is a time consuming process too.  Then I still do some post-processing with Photoshop or NX2.  Sigh, I’m a lazy person.

But I have to admit, with all that hassle, there’s an intangible element about film that naturally reminds you photography is about art and light, not lens sharpness and test charts or brick wall shooting or other kinds of  nonsense people argue over the internet about.  I see a semi-blurred photo with film – it’s okay, it’s art, it’s pleasing.  I see the same thing in digital – dang it, no excuses!  Needs perfect sharpness!  So, here has been my life over the course of many months, actually.  Not in any particular order (at least consciously).

Home and family

Church and friends (or their kids 🙂 )

Stay tuned…

Babies Change Lives

With our baby’s due date starting to creep up, my wife and I constantly receive great advice from experienced parents about how much babies will change your life.  Your work schedule, personal life, social life, relationships with other relatives, other priorities you have in your life – everything is changed.  The last few weeks, I had the chance to take photos of friends’ babies who were born only within the last few months.  I think the most touching thing is being able to see firsthand the love and care the parents have for baby.  Warmth just exudes through every moment and interaction, but it’s so remarkable to see the different ways each parent expresses it to their child.  I wanted to do my best to capture those moments in these photos.  I only had about an hour for each of these sessions, so hopefully their parents will let me come back for some more in the future (cough cough hint hint).

First shots are of Joey (parents P and J), only one month old when these photos were taken.  He’s so tiny and cute, but my goodness, I think he has more hair than me already!  Only caught a few shots I was happy with during the short time frame, but hopefully they will speak for themselves.  Technical mumbo jumbo for those interested:  Nikon D700, 50mm, SB-600 ~30-45 degrees camera right using 36″ shoot-through umbrella, black cloth background.

Next set are of Clara (parents R and C), adooooorable little girl about 3.5 months.  Poor Clara, I think she was a little scared of me.   I don’t blame her though, this was the only the second time I met her, and who’s this guy lugging around all this big old stuff crowding around?!?!  Speaking of changed lives, I could hardly contain my laughter when I saw daddy Mr. Serious RQ jumping and chirping around like a monkey (no, LITERALLY like a monkey!!) trying to amuse his daughter.  Anyone who knows daddy will probably have their jaw drop like I did…=D  Technical mumbo jumbo: indoor stuff – D700, 50mm, SB-800 through 22″ softbox camera right, SB-600 camera left with 36″ shoot-through umbrella angled just to slightly light up background, photos taken on a bed.  Outdoor – D700, 200mm, no strobes.

Last, but not least, I also had the chance to take a nice photo for yet another family in the past week.  Since I think they might use it for their Christmas photo, my wife said I probably shouldn’t post it up because people will see the picture before actually getting the card from the family.  So, I thought I would put up a very politically correct drawing of what the photo looks like if people are interested in the technical setup of taking this type of photo.  Technical mumbo jumbo: D700, 200mm, SB-800 in 22″ softbox on right, SB-600 in 22″ softbox on left for even lighting.

Dan Baker, maybe you can help me with my artwork.

Supermom Family Portraits

Over a year ago, I made a friend by selling her a camera lens.  No, I’m not kidding.  Funny how these things happen, huh?  This girl is super-mom – working a full time consulting job (hard loooooong hours) to help support her husband through med school, and then coming home to take care of two babies!  I was really excited at the chance to help take photos for her when she contact me two weeks ago for taking pictures over the holidays.  I always look forward to more picture opportunities, especially portraits.  This time though, it was double the excitement because I get to use another new toy I bought recently =D  Unfortunately we were constrained on time, so I couldn’t set up any super cool strobing.  But, hopefully the family will still enjoy the pictures.  Anyway, onto the photos because I’m no good at this writing stuff 🙂

Controlling Depth of Field

In response to a recent and common question, how to create photos with only a very small plane of focus…

The term for the plane of focus is called depth of field.  Depth of field (DOF) is the range in which the objects in the photo appear in focus.  When you have a small DOF, then sometimes the out-of-focus background will start blurring together, which is called bokeh.  Bokeh is usually very appealing because 1) selective focus gives the viewer a sense of what the key subject in the photo is and 2) it can look darn cool 🙂

So, jumping directly to the question, how do you create a photo with thin DOF?  There are four factors that affects DOF – (if I’m missing one, please feel free to add in the comments, thanks!) aperture, focal length, focusing distance, sensor size.  In the examples below, assume everything else is equal except for the factors specified.

1. Aperture size: aperture is the size of the opening in the lens, represented by f-number (or sometimes called f-stop).  The lower the f-number, the larger the opening, the smaller the depth of field.  An example, compare f/2 to f/8.  f/2 is a lower number, has a larger opening, and smaller depth of field compared to f/8.  For the curious, the f-number is calculated by the focal length divided by the diameter of the opening.  So, the f-number is always a proportional relationship no matter which lens you are using.

2. Focal length: this one most of us know.  Wide angle, telephoto lens, zoom out, zoom in – it’s the number on our lens that says 18-55mm, or 100mm fixed focal length, etc.  How does focal length affect DOF?  The wider the angle (lower number), the larger the depth of field.  An example, if you take a photo using a 100mm lens at f/2.8 vs 35mm at f/2.8, the 100mm lens will give a smaller depth of field.

3. Focusing distance: literally, how far away you are from what you’re focused on.  The relationship is: the closer you are, the smaller your depth of field.  So if you take a photo focused on a subject 3 feet away, and then used the exact same specifications focused on a subject 10 feet away, the first photo (3 feet) will have a smaller DOF compared to the second photo (10 feet).  Or being incredibly extreme, f/16 focused on something 50 yards away will give you a DOF of 20 miles, but f/16 in macro distances (inches) will give a DOF smaller than the little folds that hold cash in your wallet after buying all this camera gear.  Yea, THAT small!!  Just exaggerating of course, but you get the idea.

4. Sensor/film size: this is the factor that most people don’t realize.    The size of your capture medium (electronic sensor or film) makes a difference in your DOF.  I can’t explain why, but it has something to do with optics, vector path of light bending into the sensor…yea, it’s physics, that’s why I don’t get it o_O.  The larger the capture medium, the smaller the depth of field, when you correct for focal length.  The order of sensor sizes from small to big with more common cameras are: point and shoot > crop factor DSLR (which are most of them) > 35mm film = full frame DSLR > medium format film > large format film.  So, this relationship is inverse: the smaller the sensor, the larger the depth of field, and vice versa.  So for example, let’s say you take a photo with a crop sensor DSLR, 35mm lens, f/2, subject is 2 feet away.  Now use a full frame DSLR, 50mm lens (correcting for focal length discrepancy between crop sensor) all the same other factors, then your DOF is smaller.

This is why, for example, point and shoot cameras have a very difficult time creating photos with small DOF and any bokeh at all, much less nice bokeh.  You have almost all the factors against you: smallest sensor, most built in lenses usually have wider angles, and relatively smaller apertures.

And back to the original question of how to create small DOF – well, it really depends.  It depends on what lens you use, how far or close you are to your subject, which camera you use, and what aperture you set it at.  In a FB reply earlier, one person said using f/2.8 or larger will give nice selective focus and creamy bokeh.  With the factors mentioned above, that’s true only part of the time, but not all of the time.  If you use a 20mm lens at f/2.8 on a crop sensor DSLR focused on something 15 feet away, you won’t be able to achieve the small DOF and creamy bokeh (sorry dude, not picking on you!).  But if you use a 200mm lens in that setting, you will.  Actually, that was a bit tricky because you pretty much will never get creamy bokeh with wide angle lenses.  You might be able to have selective focus and bokeh if you’re clever, but wide angle lenses are notoriously bad for creating nice creamy bokeh.

Play around on this website, try it out:

Hope this answers some of your questions!  Feel free to reply if something doesn’t make sense, and I’ll try to explain it better.


It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, but it’s been a long month.  I’ve also been shooting a lot of film that I haven’t been able to scan yet, but we’ll see if I ever end up talking about those anyway…o_O  My new favorite toy is shooting with polaroids…I love the instant gratification with film!  But the downside is that I usually end up giving the photos to the person in the photo, so I don’t end up with a copy for myself…oops!!

Recently, my favorite subject to shoot are babies and toddlers =D  Fantastic for me because I have quite a few friends who have young kids.  I know my wife secretly sighs and rolls her eyes when I casually bring up, “hey, do you think So-and-So will like it if I take pictures of their son/daughter?”  She just amuses me by smiling and saying, “Yes, I’m sure they will love it.”    So, I just wanted to share recent favorites from two adorable toddlers!

First one is Wyatt, who just recently had his 2 year old birthday party.  His parents bought him this TOTALLY AWESOME toy train set that every kid wants and every adult dreamed they had when they were 2 years old…or maybe even now.  So, I thought it would be fun to take a few photos of him playing with his super cool toy.   These were tricky because I wanted to shoot in his comfort spot (home), be able to interact with his toys, but still not give a “home-snapshot” look.  Converted to black and white so there won’t be any distracting colors, or otherwise it will look more obvious that these were shot in a living room.

The next adorably cute baby is Lydia, who just melts my heart every time I see her.  We shot these in Discovery Green park in downtown Houston.  It was rather fun to see quite a number of photographers there taking photos of the park itself…I always keep peering to see what kind of equipment they use.  I guess it’s the gadget guy party of me.   Anyway, Lydia was irresistibly cute as always, but SO difficult to (manually) focus on because of her incredible energy!  I don’t know how her daddy and mommy keep up with her…whew.  Lighting was difficult because it was a very bright, sunny day out, and she had the attention span of a squirrel, so I couldn’t get her to stand still to try some strobing.   So, we kept trying to duck into the shaded areas for even lighting.   Here are some my favorites:

Like I said earlier, I love shooting babies…too cute!  Best part is that they don’t mind having their picture taken at all unlike adults who shy away from the camera…or maybe the babies aren’t mobile enough to run away yet!  Either way, I can’t wait til I become a “papa”razzi…oh yes, that’s right!! =D

San Diego

Two years with my wonderful wife.  We went to San Diego (where I went to college) for a little celebration.  One of the huge benefits of getting married on a three day weekend is being able to take short weekend vacations on your anniversaries =D  My wife humored me over this vacation though, she didn’t complain when I packed more camera equipment than clothes for our little trip.

San Diego was a huge artistic challenge to shoot.  Why would I say that, since it’s such a beautiful place?  Well, that’s the precise reason – how do I photograph a a beautiful place in a unique way that presents a different perspective from just anyone with a camera?  I really don’t know, and I don’t think I succeeded, but I tried my best.  Here are a few from the different spots we visited over the weekend…San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, Coronado beach.  All were taken with the D700, used either 21mm, 28mm, 58mm, or 100mm.  Wish I was able to bring my medium format equipment with me, but I think that would have pushed my wife over the edge…heh O:-)

I linked some of the better photos here, but there are still some others on my Flickr site if you like to see more.

And most importantly, of course, the wonderful girl who I shared all these great memories with…=D

Happy anniversary, sweetie.  Love you 🙂