December 2011

It's 2012. Smile, please.


It's 2012. Smile, please.

Fireworks Shuttleworth

Photo by SWSmith Photography

Just two days until we bid farewell to the year that was 2011 and welcome in the Year of Our Lord 2012, most likely with wonderfully excessive displays of pyrotechnomania. And while I don’t recommend strapping Roman candles to your boobs and setting them alight (a la Katy Perry), I do encourage everyone to crank up their cameras for some firework photography. While luck factors a lot in shooting pyrotechnics, there are some techniques to put into play to improve your shots. To help those who may not have a clue how to go about capturing a massive chrysanthemum bloom in the sky or a Catherine wheel in furious spin, here are ten of the best tips I’ve learned.

2008 first Fireworks

Photo by Daita

1. Go full manual
Forget aperture priority or shutter speed priority or full-on auto. If you want to take even decent firework shots, you’ve got to get a camera that lets you adjust your controls (speed, aperture, focus) manually. If you rely on your camera’s on-board metering system, chances are, their readings will be out of whack.

2. Set your shutter speed to B(ulb)
A slow shutter speed is key to capturing a nighttime mid-air explosion in all its glory. It takes time for a pyrotechnic starburst to achieve its maximum diameter, and you’ll want your shutter to be open all that time. With the Bulb setting, you have control over how long your shutter will stay open, long or short. I typically play around from 5 to 10 seconds. Also, you never really know when the next rocket will go off, so keeping your shutter open longer increases your chances of catching a few choice explosions.


Photo by Probably Okay!


Have a ball this Christmas!

With just under 24 hours before we hit Christmas – in this slice of the world, at least – this might be a tad late. But, if you live around these parts, chances are great that you won’t be taking down your Christmas lights until well into the new year. There’s still time to do this!

By “this,” I mean using creative aperture techniques to add shape to background lights and highlights. See the above photo? Look at the stars. See how they shine for you. No, that is not a Photoshop trick. I’ve transformed the pinpricks of light coming from a string of Christmas lights into five-point stars by modifying the shape of my camera lens’ aperture. In this case, I am using my favorite lens for this type of shot: the Lensbaby 2.0. If you don’t know what a Lensbaby is, just follow this link.

Lensbaby lenses don’t have adjustable iris apertures the way most lenses do. To adjust the opening, either to open it wide or stop it down, you have to insert aperture disks manually onto the front of the lens. Normally, those aperture disks just have circular holes punched into them, corresponding to a particular aperture size, say f/8 or f/2. What’s neat is you can also have aperture disks with different shaped holes. In this case, a star-shaped hole. (more…)

Not Quite Open, Not Quite Closed

After a herculean yet ultimately futile effort to get to Seoul’s Chungmuro district, where all the vintage camera stores are, before closing time, I made a mad dash to Hongik University, where Seoul’s Lomography store was located. The cabbie dropped me off in front of the school, which sits in the middle of a hip and happening area, full of restaurants, bars, galleries and boutique stores. I asked some students to direct me to the Lomography store and after some gesticulating and stabbing at my iPad, we all came to an understanding. They’d walk in the general direction and I’d follow them. Thanks, guys!

I reached the store almost half an hour after closing time but was lucky enough to find them still open (not closed, would be more accurate). They let me in and I was able to see and touch, for the very first time, Lomography’s Lomokino and metal La Sardina cameras. Tasty.

Bought a few packs of T64 (see previous post) but had to bug out quickly as the night was getting long in the tooth and the clerks looked like they needed to get on home. Farewells and smiles all around.

Lomokino, Lomokinis

Tin Can Cameras

Lomography's Color x Tungsten 64

So a couple of weeks ago, I was able to pick up several rolls of Lomography’s Tungsten 64 slide film at the Lomography store in Seoul. While I’d shot slide before, this would be my first time to shoot using film that wasn’t daylight balanced. As the name suggests, Tungsten 64 is film with chemistry that compensates for the yellowish cast of tungsten light. If you’ve played around with a digital camera’s white balance settings, you probably know what this means.

I didn’t really have specific test shots in mind to showcase the quirks of the film under daylight of fluorescent light. I was on vacation, after all, so I just took my normal holiday shots, using a Fujifilm Silvi f/2.8 point-and-shoot.

Flash forward a week. I was back in Manila, waiting for my roll to come back from the lab. The technician hands me the envelope. I open it excitedly and see that the negatives have a green hue to them. Cool. Then I look at the index print: it’s all green, too! I’m thinking, there must be something wrong (but wonderfully wrong) because I expected the shots to come out with a pink hue. Turns out this was the first time the lab had ever come across tungsten film (in a few years at least), and the technicians didn’t know what to make of it. They scanned the negatives as a positive, giving the shots that cool radioactive green glow.

It wasn’t a problem at all. A simple color invert using Photoshop and I’d have the shots as they should have come out, all pinky and rose. That green glow kept nagging my senses, though, and I couldn’t let it go. I just had to use those original scans.

The solution was, to create diptychs that displayed both negative and positive, side by side, to show contrast and to make some clever statements. I know this might be anathema to many film buffs who disdain Photoshop, but I’ve always been a Machiavellian the-end-justifies-the-means kinda guy. If you can do all sorts of old school tricks in a traditional wet darkroom, then you should also be allowed some manipulation using a digital workspace. Just don’t go crazy HDR overboard, ya know what I’m saying?

So, here are the results. Let me know what you think.

Between Two Buses, Between Two Worlds

Crossing Over Dimensions

North Korea, South Korea

This Corner of the Universe

Travelomo omolevarT

Galaxy Express Bus

Travelers of the Multiverse

Bumping into Yourself


KOLA Color Filters

I’ve been seeing these or something similar online for the last year or so, and being a Colorsplash fan, I figured I’d get around to buying them soon enough. Soon enough came today as I was doing some Christmas shopping at Fully Booked. I had meant to pick up another Colorsplash flash for a project I’m working on, but they were out of stock.  What they had instead, a new arrival, were these KOLA color filters.

Inside the cute box is a set of eight plastic filters, each one measuring 4cm by 6cm. Unlike the acetate-thin filters you get for the Colorsplash, these KOLAs are thick and sturdy. You string them up with the provided chain, like a set of paint swatches, and they make a comforting clack-clack sound when they hit against each other. KOLAs are designed and manufactured in Thailand.

There are two ways to use them. First, place one (or more) against your camera’s lens, so that the light that enters your lens is tinted with your selected color.Everything in the shot gets the color treatment. Alternatively, you could place the filter over your camera’s flash, for that Colorsplash effect. Only the areas within range of the flash will get painted with a splash of color; everything beyond remains as-is.

You can use KOLAs with most imaging devices, whether they be digital or film, iPhone or Holga. They may be a bit small for some lenses, but I’ve tried them with a 52mm diameter lens and they work just fine.

By the way, KOLA stands for Kolors Of Life Accessories. They don’t seem to have other products, for now at least. But they seem intent to make their own splash in the Colorsplash pond. Check out their website at and their Facebook page.

With just a few test shots, I do believe they’ll do a good job, and are thus going into my camera bag. I’ll probably just pick my favorite colors and keep the rest in my camera closet, to keep creative decisions simple, ya know? The price is not bad either; I got my set for about US$14. If you can stand the Christmas traffic, you can get a set from Fully Booked at Bonifacio High Street or online from Kara of Lomo Loco. She delivers.

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