Behind The Scenes Part 1

Me, trying to figure out the angles of an underwater shot

Trying to figure out the angles

Models: Cris Dumlao, Lei Solas, Justine Joya and Toney Sevilla

Assistants: Cris Dumlao, Lei Solas, Justine Joya, Toney Sevilla and Mary Rose Flores

Location: New World Hotel, Makati

Equipment: Nikon D80, Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3, Olympus Underwater Digicam

The Concept

When Rebie, Cris (Papavik) and I began talking about holding a friends-only exhibit, we thought about the various transitions that we had undergone in 2010. It took me a while to come up with a concept, with much prodding from Cris. Since she noticed that I am very much attuned to the 4 elements (like the Last Air Bender, hehe), she suggested that maybe I can do transitions using these for my theme. We talked about fractal art, but as I began to compose my thoughts, I realized that I wanted something a lot more personal. My semiotics would be a marriage of my left and my right brain.

In planning my shoot, I carefully selected my models. They were supposed to embody their elements based on their zodiac signs. Cris is Libra (air), Lei is Leo (fire), Justine is Taurus (earth), and Toney is Pisces (water). The funny thing about all this is that I kind of took for granted Toney’s Piscean nature and though I already told him beforehand what I wanted him to do, it was only during the shoot that I found out…

He didn’t know how to swim.

Toney's awkward progress from non swimmer to underwater model

Toney’s awkward progress from non swimmer to underwater model

I was actually quite shocked when he tried to submerge and he ended up either swallowing water or snorting it. I thought he was going to drown. It took us hours to get him to find the pose he’d be most comfortable with. In fact, at some point, Lei started teaching him how to control his buoyancy by exhaling through his nose (bubbles). It was fun, though.

The team, waiting for Toney to regain his composure

The team, waiting for Toney to regain his composure. This is actually a test shot for Nikon’s color quality.

The only problem with the underwater shoot taking too long is the fact that I was chasing after the sun. Besides the three cameras, I had no other equipment with me and I had to rely a lot on whatever light was available. The sun was the most ideal source, which was why I chose to have an outdoor shoot.

Since I was very unfamiliar with Nikon D80, being a Canon dSLR user, I did test shots using my Lumix ZS3 then mimicked the settings on Nikon. Unfortunately, it seems that Lumix captures the sunlight more vividly than other cameras so Nikon’s exposure settings still had to be adjusted.

Test shot for Justine's angles

Test shot for Justine’s angles

Of course, I did Justine’s first before I went through the riskier underwater shoot. Earth, for me, was the easiest photo to work with, since you can control both the lighting and the background mood via the white balance settings. The only difficulty I had with Justine was that his hair was getting in the way of his powerful eyebrows, which were vital to the shot. I wanted him to exude an earthy vibe while maintaining a look of innocence that the rest of his features provided.

Losing the Sun

Daylight was fading when we finished with Toney and Justine so we decided to go up into my hotel room to check for other available light. I was playing around with the Nikon D80 while the sun was setting. The shot that I used for Notes on Form & Function wasn’t exactly planned, since I was just goofing off. I simply decided to use the photo when I was looking through all of the pictures stored in my hard drive. I can’t post the raw here. Cris will kill me.

My idea for Notes on Metaphysical’s Primacy was for Toney to stay underneath running water. I had to be quick, though, because Toney was starting to shiver from all the water exposure.

Toney still dealing with water

It was also from this series that I got the image for the invitation. Poor Toney! First I thought he would drown. Then I thought he would suffer from pneumonia. I was actually amazed at the level of professionalism that Toney displayed throughout this production. He never complained, although his discomfort was palpable. In the end, he seemed to be enjoying himself.

Going back to losing the sunlight, I resorted to utilizing all the lamps in the room. I wanted Lei’s haughty silhouette for Notes on Human Spirit and the only way I could get that was if the lights were adjustable. I had someone sitting behind Lei’s chair — Toney volunteered — so that he or she could gently tilt the lamp at my desired angle.

We’re still laughing over this.

Dealing with available artificial light. Yet another test shot.

Next. For Notes on Organic Unity, I needed Justine’s muscle and bone definition but he needed a boost of confidence. I laid down with my stomach on the carpet while holding up the Nikon and waiting for Justine to be a little bit more comfy in his skin. Later, I ended up demonstrating the rather provocative look I was aiming for. Toney probably took pity on me — since I was alternating between posing and then going back down on the carpet with the dSLR and then back to posing — that he demonstrated the pose himself. It took but a single try, since Toney is pretty much used to the camera. Justine, on the other hand, is rather shy.

After a few tries, Justine found the courage to project the earthy-yet-innocent look and executed the form perfectly.

Test shots of Justine crawling, with Toney demonstrating the pose I wanted

The final pieces

After that photo shoot, it took me a few days to face my sketch pad and copy, by hand, my own papers in Comparative Literature. Then I began drafting the academic flowcharts that had been running through my head for ages. (They were figuratively screaming for release. This was how I released them.) I used colored pencils and sign pens to get the texture I wanted. After coming up with several drafts, I grabbed my Lumix and took pictures of both the texts and the flowcharts. My intention was to put them together and let them work with the images of my models.

My handwriting on top, my flowcharts at the bottom

All these are merely part of the first process. Many non-artists have been asking me about my methods of execution, which was still largely traditional even if not many people know about it. Art students from other schools have also asked me about how I assembled everything together, so the next post will be about how acrylic transfer is done.

If you want to see the end results, you can visit our Transitions Exhibit Opening Night post.