Photo Today: New Years Resolution

For my New Years Resolution, I want to allow myself the opportunity to exercise myself creatively more than I have in the past year. So whether it be an old photo post-processed, a new photo I’ve taken throughout the day, or even drawing things to share on my blog–I want to do it.

Photo Advice: Metaphors

After posting my recent article on diptychs, I received this curious e-mail from a reader. Graham writes: 


Diptychs are hard because of how multifaceted your ideas need to be in order to avoid literal messages of your juxtaposed pieces. I personally struggled with the brainstorming phase of what I wanted to do and ended up working through my metaphor throughout the drawing process–something I imagine artists do routinely. This style of doing things on-the-fly suits my particular style and provides me the perfect amount of direction and liberation to build upon ideas.

The inspiration ended up being founded upon my dad and how his migration to the United States, work ethic, and sacrifices have all influenced my resiliency as an individual. Additionally, around that time of year I was looking forward graduating and closing another academic chapter of my life. Regardless, my creative muse wanted me to work on something involving socio-economic predisposition, the work ethic between the two extremes, and the differences in societal perception.

The left panel’s allotment of space can be interpreted in a number of ways as I personally don’t have a set perspective of what I’ve done. Focus words I thought about for the left panel included: community, world view, struggle, wear, diversity, and culture. I drew strong, worn hands, and hands of varied gestures in reverence to the great attributes and values shared among immigrants and immigrant history in the United States. To avoid any particular focal points in this panel, I deliberately placed the hands abstractly in space to further inspire the viewer to consider symbolism in the shapes the hands and forearms produce. Again, I made it a point to avoid creating something that would be interpreted literally. In doing so, I was able to organically construct the entire left panel by thinking about hands, the particular characteristics of hands, and how expressive hands can be.

Though this doesn’t speak to every person of affluence, I created the right panel thinking about how narrow-minded the wealthy can be. The silver-spoon in the empty bowl can be interpreted in a number of ways, and I like to start with the perspective of the viewer in relationship to the spoon in space. I groom the viewer to place themselves in the position of a Westerner sitting in front of something as common as food and having the luxury of an intricately designed tool to facilitate in consuming the food. While the darkness can be interpreted as loneliness, I further attribute this idea to the fast-paced, wealth driven executive who works odd hours and lacks the ability to commune with others. Moreover, I invite my viewers to independently consider contrasts in light, the designs or phallic shape of the spoon, and even the skewed proportions of the bowl into what this panel has to do with the rich.

In regards to the photographic diptych, I wanted to invoke a sense of situational awareness to the ephemeral “majesticism” found in our ordinary experiences. Throughout my freelance work I’ve always placed more value into my event and music experience because I felt that there was huge intrigue in a celebrity photographer who wasn’t paparazzi. Because of that pessimism I discounted a lot of the miscellaneous photos I’ve taken throughout my life and have since been inspired to tell stories through them. The shot from under the Coronado bridge was taken during a particularly sunny excursion in the San Diego harbor. I was drawn to this particular frame for the hourglass shape seen in the foreground –my only interpretive hint.

Sometime throughout the cruise I noticed this boy blissfully hiding away from the crowd in his nook who took delight in someone noticing such a funny predicament. While I intentionally desaturated the areas around the child, I maintained the original lighting around him. This illumination reminded me about garden graffiti I had seen on the internet with a quote suggesting that the ethereal moments in life were always ephemeral (I wish I had saved it). Perhaps we do not pay enough attention to our subconscious cognitive abilities and are missing out on a lot of these brilliant a-ha moments.

Either way, thanks for writing Graham.

Under The Bridge: Coronado Diptych

coronado diptych

It was in high school that I decided pursuing a career in art wasn’t for me. Throughout my life I always loved drawing: sketching out portraits and coming up with comics. While I excelled in art classes throughout middle school and even at my grade level classes in high school, for some reason I never thought I’d be good enough to succeed into an artistic career. I stopped taking art classes and didn’t even consider applying to universities as an art major. Most days in the year I convince myself that this was the right decision.

In my last year at the University of California, San Diego I took up art once more thinking it would be an easy-A summer session class. However on the first day our professor, Rex Yuasa, monotonously laid out his syllabus and came off as a heavy handed, firm, fine-art sadist. However after days and weeks into the class and I immediately got his sarcasm and work ethic expectations and he won me over as my most favorite professor at UCSD –the only professor throughout my baccalaureate studies that I built a relationship with.  Though it was certainly a struggle to keep up with the projects due to my work, his lessons and criticisms took my technical and metaphoric skills to another level. For that I will always be grateful to him.


If I remember correctly, I certainly earned an A in his class and my final project was the best thing I ever created by hand. Though I still nit-pick at the execution of some of the contrasting and shading work, I was elated to have produced such a piece after having shelved my drawing skill for years.

Till this day I contemplate about whether or not it’s too late to break into art, or at minimum, what my strengths are in photography and how to build upon them. Some of the ideas I’ve enjoyed playing with the most since taking Rex’s class are in metaphorical storytelling, something I’m severely lacking in my portfolio.

Diptychs became my favorite metaphorical device because of Rex. Diptychs can be two or three images juxtaposed together to tell stories, most commonly about polar opposite ideas. Rex always pushed us to go beyond cliché, beyond ideas of good and evil, love and hate, peace and war.

My final project in his class was a commentary on the trials and tribulations of the socio-economically less fortunate and how overcoming hardships communally brings forth wisdom in addition to accomplishment.

Though I love music and event photography, I want to take my photojournalistic storytelling to the next level. I want to photograph and sew together an idea that is abstract enough to meet Rex’s expectations but concrete enough for people to relate and form an interpretation from.

For this reason, it is my wish that new photographers remember to slow down and examine their shots in their entirety, even going as far as avoiding taking hundreds of photographs of the same thing “just incase”. It is easy to produce a cool photo, but it’s not always easy to produce a photo that’s interesting to a large audience.

Instagram: To Filter or Not To Filter

I’m guilty for being a serial filterer on nearly all my Instagram photos. But I’m of the school of thought that believes filtering can enhance the intrinsic value of your shot. When used purposefully, it can be a great tool for story telling, setting mood, framing context, all of the above. However, there are a ton of people who hate filters and just harbor a ton of “hatorade” with the Instagram community. A lot of the whining I hear comes from the elitists that are annoyed that “the commoners” think they’re photographers because they snap shots, spruce them up with a filter, and upload them to their accounts. Who cares? Who cares if it’s food or unflattering selfies. Stop following them! Just don’t blame the tools created by the geniuses before us who did use them artistically.

My personal favorite filtered shot comes from a San Diego Zoo outing with my cousin. While we were around the lion exhibit, a lioness decided to hang out right up against the glass and people jumped at the opportunity to check it out up close. I’m not the kind of person that carries my camera 24/7 for the sake of practice because I can’t stand the idea of uploading shots, selecting favorites, and making edits. But I do know a good shot when I see it, and thank camera phones for that convenience. The way I filtered and edited the above shot should tell you immediately what was running through my mind.

It’s not every day that you see cool moments like the above unfold before you. The typical portfolio might have your share of newborn stuff, kids playing with bubbles in the park, kids laughing or running around. But you hardly see innocent, Narnia-inspired stuff like this. And I thank filters and Photoshop for providing me the ability to share with you this fantasy-inspired photo.


Photo Advice: Networking

Today I received an inquiry from someone who stumbled upon my portfolio and e-mailed me seeking advice on how to make a breakthrough into event photography. Here’s what he writes:

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 5.12.57 PM

To be honest, I’ve never really received inquiries like this but I felt like publicizing this post for other photographers pursuing a similar line of work without direction on how to start. Despite how saturated this industry is with new and old photographers at all skill levels, the single most important variable correlating to success has always been how well these people were networked. In one of my articles, I vaguely recall writing something about networking and how weak self-marketing skills has contributed to stunting the growth of most photographers. I write you all today to reinforce the importance of social skills, whether you want to turn photography into a business or simply elicit a connection with a model you’re testing out. Even if you consider yourself an introvert or wall flowers–heed my advice and attempt to incorporate even a fraction of this.

1) If you’ve got friends, ask them. From the time I was in high school, I always valued the saying that “95% of the reason people get those jobs they have, are through the people they know”. It’s all about the 6 Degrees of Separation, the theory that you could reach anyone in the world in six or fewer steps, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world. Nearly all my photography endeavors have been afforded to me by friends or friends-of-friends connected somehow to the event or talent. So if you’re like how I used to be, the anti-social type, stop it if you want to start opening up all these opportunities for yourself. No matter if you’re into photography or are trying to get into the pharmaceutical industry, life is all about connections, how you maintain those connections, and how you become a resource to your connections.


When I moved to San Diego, it was at my first Comic Con that I befriended the guy responsible for Adult Swim’s marketing. I made that introduction through a good friend of my girlfriend and I. That friend was hired on by the marketing team to work some of the promotional aspects that Adult Swim had set up at the convention center in addition to stuff going on outside the venue. However, this friend knew I was big on photography and I posited the question as to whether they may need one. She had no clue, but was able to introduce me to the marketing coordinator, who saw my pictures, and then told me to come back for the entire weekend. The rest was history.

2) If you don’t have friends, make some. My earliest pursuit in photography dabbled in fashion. I was inspired by my girlfriend and the collaborations she appeared in with other photographers. From that moment, I started reaching out to models, stylists, and make-up artists on, propositioning trade work for our portfolios. Through this network I made my earliest friends in the industry. If you never heard of Model Mayhem, the site is legit, and I know that really successful people in the industry still utilize the network for work or scouting purposes. Not only did these people school me on the particulars of “good work”, but those same connections gave me the necessary introductions to higher quality models, stylists, make-up artists, photographers, etc.

Even though I ultimately broke away from fashion photography and dealing with models, people knew who I was. Those friends viewed and critiqued my work, passed my name along to people, and kept me in mind when they heard about gigs that needed a photographer. On the same token however, your friends don’t need to come from a specialized demographic. You just have to be aware of what your friends are doing or at least keep your friends updated on what you’re up to. Up till this point, I had experienced photographing for several cotillions and weddings but my bearings in event photography took root through a huge dance competition at UC San Diego called “Fusion”. Under the pseudonym of “The Final Statement” my work found its largest audience in the Multi Asian Student Association and the 220 Two Twenty Second To None dance team who really appreciated my documentation of the entire day’s festivities.

You also can’t rely on friends to throw opportunities at you like free candy. Sometimes it takes initiative and situational awareness to seize the moment and introduce yourself to people who look important. I did this at the La Jolla Fashion Film Festival in 2010 and was able to meet Robert Dahey, a prominent fashion photographer in San Diego, who I’ve since named a personal mentor of mine. Through Robert I’ve learned many tricks of the trade, polished my skills, met very influential LA-based photographers, and accumulated credited work experience in big campaigns. Needless to say, you don’t make these opportunities possible without even trying. It’s just like when people tell you that the possibility of winning the lottery starts with you purchasing a ticket.

3) Take rejection with grace as long as you worked an angle. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my fair share of rejections. More specifically, I wanted to ride the wave of success I gained from Fusion and tried to pursue becoming a photographic figurehead in the hip hop dance scene. The biggest show in the Southern California circuit, Body Rock, shut me out. Despite knowing the event organizers, they had already had their roster full of photographers and videographers, and wasn’t able to accommodate me–even for free.


Rejection only proves you were on the right line of thinking. Though I could have continued pushing for involvement within the community, I still went on to photograph for a few more years of Fusion shows. On the same token, my affiliation with UC San Diego’s AS Events started with an e-mail reaching out to their directors. While a small part of it was a verbal heads-up as to who I was, I still thought it would be wise to shoot over a formal e-mail to the event organizers expressing interest in photographing for the Sun God event that Drake was headlining. These “risks” in rejection were hardly risks at all, especially when you have nothing to lose over a simple introductory e-mail. Moreover, my Sun God experience ended up earning my portfolio a few of my favorite photos to share with people.

4) Put aside your ego and help others succeed. What really infuriates me are the attitudes I’ve come across among fellow photographers. As a photographer meeting another photographer, it typically plays out like a scene out of Mean Girls where the popular girl looks sizes up the protagonist with that air of confidence in her superiority. Photographers can be greedy, not only do they like to brag about what they’ve done, but they will hardly share with you about how they got there–out of fear that someone else would creep up on their territory. And I get it. But when you start alienating potential allies, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

If you happen to come across a gig that would be phenomenal to have on your portfolio but you are unable to make the event, don’t hide it! Share it with your friends! As much as it may be a shame that you won’t get credit for photographing that kick-ass celebrity at that kick-ass venue, you may come to regret it when that promotions company finds another photographer with no affiliation to you. Not only did you miss out on that opportunity, but you may have jeopardized any future opportunities with that venue.  So be strategic and be generous. Make friends that you can trust that share a similar enthusiasm for seeing a friend succeed and take care of one another. Tonight it might be your friend photographing Jay Z, but tomorrow that friend might pass you the job to photograph Justin Timberlake.

Apply this practice in your everyday life, photographer or not, and see how many doors open to you because of how many people in your network want to pay you back for helping them succeed.

5) Additionally, nobody cares about your Photography Major or your high-end camera gear. This is another personal pet peeve of mine that’ll get you in trouble and further alienate you from potential networks. Don’t be a braggart about your work, stop trying to correct people if they don’t photograph in a particular mode or technique you’re enamored with, and stop showing off your new Canon camera that you dropped three grand on. Photography is art, and not one piece of art exists out in the world that hasn’t caught some sort of condemnation from an elitist snob of an offending school of taste. 

My event set-up before I sold it all. 🙁

This is the kind of egotistical flak that I meet with most often. Critique is healthy and I always welcome the opinions of others, as should anyone else. But when critiques are made snidely, personally attacking aspects of your craft that you deem most valuable, that’s when I know that photographer hasn’t really made any strides with his or her work.

So be humble about what you’ve done, your technique, your gear, and your being. There are people out there that love the look, feel, and involved processing of 35mm film. Others love Polaroids. People like me love our DSLRs. And as individuals, we all have our methods, our approaches, and unique vision for the same thing you are observing. Whether or not you like someone else’s’ work is irrelevant because there may be hundreds of others out there who may connect emotionally with that same shot. In the end, neither of us are famous for our work. So keep working hard, develop your network, be humble, and the universe’s karma will come pouring in.

Thanks for the writing inspiration, Ed!

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