Update 1: 07.12.16
Update 2: 24.12.16
Update 3: 04.01.17
Update4: 10.01.17

The Oriental Portraiture

Pre-Production
In year two, I explored the use of vibrant colours in portraitures in my ‘visual coherent” assignment. I became interested in the oriental portraitures. I sketched out my concepts and planned my shoot accordingly. It was not easy for me then. After I managed to get hold of the oriental dresses, I did a couple of experimental shots until I was satisfied where I was going with that direction. Although I submitted my best image at the time, I felt there might have more room to explore the other dress, but I could not think of the best way to approach it.

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(To view more about my previous works, click here .)

As I continued the same research into Year three, I explored further by revisiting the ideas from my original sketches. This idea stemmed out because I did not want to focus solely on commercial landscapes alone; I wanted to be equally versatile in other genres using my same photographic style. Thus, using the same concept of a female Asian model, I wanted to build upon the portraiture. Rather than re-shooting, this time, I was more interested in incorporating landscape elements for my next portraiture shoot; particularly with autumn leaves.

Initial References
I started to find visual references from fashion to wedding images, with subjects lying on the ground and with similar mood as what I had in mind. Finding the right references proved to be challenging as I had hardly found any references of Asian models in traditional dresses. Some considerations on finding references include expression, body poses, light source, camera focus, prop details, makeup, etc.

. by Evgeni Kolesnik on 500px.com

Evgeni Kolesnik

Roots Birth by Julien Orre on 500px.com

Roots By Birth, Julien Orre

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Raymond Pang Photography

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I also found some references on the general direction I wanted the makeup to be. The challenge was to find a makeup artist who could do such makeup. Hence £40 was spent on the available makeup artist on my shoot day. To plan out the time schedule of the shoot for everyone involved in the shoot within a short timeframe was quite a stressful for me.

Pan by Nong Risky on 500px.com

Pan – Nong Risky

Photographer - Jaroslav Monchak by Jaroslav Monchak on 500px.com

Jaroslav Monchak

Autumn woman portrait with elegant hairstyle.  Perfect makeup by Oleg Gekman on 500px.com

Oleg Gekman

More References
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Lavazza Calendar 2008, Finlay Mackay

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Lavazza Calendar 2007,  Eugenio Recuenco

To view my analysis of these Lavazza ad campaigns, click here.

For more references, go to my pinboard page

Model

Finding the right model in a short notice has been a daunting task for me. I put up a casting call on facebook to get things going. My target was to approach the Chinese student community at the University of East Anglia (UEA) via societies such as “Chinese Christian Fellowship” (CCF) and “Chinese Student and Scholars Association” (CSSA). I visited UEA on two occasions and emailed them my intentions but all approaches to no avail. I eventually found a friend in NUA who would be available for the shoot.
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Technicalities

My initial thoughts about this shoot (other than finding the right model) were that I need to scout for ideal locations for an outdoor shoot. But time constraint meant I could not afford another reshoot and weather conditions may not permit. Hence, instead of going for outdoor shoots, why not bring autumn leaves into the studio.

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The first challenge was to figure out a way to conduct the shoot in the studio. I went out on different occasions to collect as many fresh autumn leaves as I can. I have considered the condition of the leaves as an important factor and picked leaves many days apart so they would last longer after drying them in the studio. I had collected about four black trash bags worth of leaves. For storage, coursemate Niki was living nearby the Uni so it would be easier to transport through and fro. Unfortunately, the bright red leaves I picked did not last long enough and I had to discard them away.

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The next thing to do was to find a groundsheet. I managed to get hold of a large blue groundsheet, which could double up as a blue screen. Next was to figure out how to get the whole camera and lighting setup. I envisioned my final shot to be a top down, wide angle shot. With the advice of Mike the technician, a lot of preparations has to be done prior to the actual shoot day. I planned it into three progressive shoot sessions. with careful planning, all of these sessions were conducted during the reading week, where I would have a longer time to setup and without anyone else using the studio.

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The first shoot session was a test run setup, where I timed myself preparing the entire set. Due to safety concerns in the studio, there is a certain height limit students can go above. Instead, I used a boom mike to hold my camera high up and tethered to the computer screen. Instead of the familiar Elinchrom lights, I used one Bowens light without any diffuser. To produce the soften light effect, the idea was to bounce the light off the white ceiling. My choice of lens would be 16-35mm wide angle lens.

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I tested the setup by putting myself in the shoes of the model; playing with light direction, as well as tried with a non-Asian model just to see how things might turn out differently. This also gave me a better understanding of how my model might have felt during the shoot and ample time to improvise the setup if necessary.

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Second shoot session was with a Chinese friend who would be my model and a female assistant. This session was to let them have a studio shoot experience. We discussed what to prepare for the actual shoot and things we could do to improve to help the model feel more comfortable during the shoot. At this point, I was not very confident how this might go as there were still a lot of uncertainties in preparation for the shoot. The worst-case-scenario would be another reshoot which I knew I could not afford it. I was under immense pressure in pulling the shoot off.

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Further research led me to finally found more photographer whose works I felt mine was closest to. That was one night before the shoot and I was studying intensely the kind of setup, the lighting, and the model poses and expressions in the shot. Well, she is an art director and I’m not; I don’t have the kind of budget or manpower to achieve her level.

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Ninagawa Mika – Japanese Art Director and Photographer

Check out my analysis of Ninagawa Mika’s works click here.

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Also, recent photographer Benjamin Von Wong has also done up a similar shoot and with environmental concern. check out my analysis of his works here

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Setup time: 2.5 hr |  Makeup time: 1 hr | Actual shoot: 1.5 hr |  Packing up: 2.5 hr
Total time: 7.5 hr

While I settled all of the technical aspects of the shoot, I had a female assistant to help me out with the model. With her help, she was able to make physical contact with the model as I gave instructions. She was instrumental in arranging her dress and hair, got food for the model, as well as helping out with lighting equipment and capturing snippets of behind the scenes when I’m not instructing.

Final Image

On the day of the actual shoot, the session had poise a new set of challenges. There were more than three lighting setups I wanted to explore, but I could not carry them out properly due to the time constraint. While figuring out the expression, the styling, the clothes; there were many other details that I did not look into while under pressure.

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Of all the images I have taken during the shoot, I thought this has the strongest visual. It looked great overall, as the main objective has been achieved: to incorporate landscape elements into portraiture shoots. Some of my best decision was to pick up more fresh green leaves on the actual day of the shoot, during the setup session. It was instrumental in creating a more visual impact on my final shoot.

But even so, I felt that the shoot still kind of failed. I have had a lot of bad shots while attempting to make her feminine as much as possible. I could have tried other body positions, similar to that of photographer Mika Ninagawa. I had not thought of her hand postures, or a curled up body posture, etc. Hence, I felt like I had not performed well under the pressure.

Behind the scenes video

Most of the shots were captured with additional cameras and edited by me.

Special Thanks to

Model: Tay Yuxin
Makeup Artist: Mandy Jean Jordan 
Assistant:  Sherlyn Goh
Special Mention: Anastajia Vakina, Niki Antell, Mike & Ferguson

Post Process

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On my post process, I pushed the exposure and overall contrast, as well as certain colour saturation in Camera Raw. I began by fixing the background first. Ensure that there are no visible patches of the blue canvas. Rather than cloning over the patches, I used channel masking to patch up underneath, as with blue screen.

For the subject, I used frequency separation technique to smoothen the skin, as well as to fix the creases on the dress. Using the same technique, I was also able to sharpen the main focus area, such as the eyes and hands. I added a gradient curve to highlight the focus. I noticed the green leaves and subject’s eyes needed more saturation, and also colour balanced the subject’s hair to bluish tone, closer to black.

Next, I burned the shadow areas on my subjects to create more contrast. I also adjusted the vignetting for more punch. Last but not least, I readjusted the overall colour balance to a slightly cooler tone.

Conclusion

The narrative aspect of this shoot might have come out better if there was a particular theme for an item brand or for a specific cause. Remembering what Lecturer Matthew has advised me last year (on a separate assignment),  which he believes it is better to move on to the next project assignment and not dwell too much on re-working the same subject. Hence considerating the best way forward is perhaps to move on to my next project. Landscape photography would be closer to what I am doing than into fashion shoot. I may revisit the same theme, but produce a different shoot but definitely not reshoot.

As I was thinking of ways I could approach my next portraiture shoot on hindsight, the trip to Nottingham Contemporary Gallery with International students gave me an idea. There was this art installation which I did not understand what it was all about, but the white pebbles had struck me as a possible alternative to autumn leaves. The question is, how do I get hold of such large quantities of white pebbles?

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