The Growing Studio: Part 1

When I first started out on my photographic path, it was pretty much always outdoors. The period in my life that really ignited the spark was my time at Université Canadienne en France. I’ll save you the long version of the story, but if you’re interested you can find the nuts and bolts of it in the feature I was lucky enough to have in PIK MAGAZINE (January 2014).

99% of my photographic journey in Korea before I moved to Yangju, north of Seoul, has been landscapes. After I moved here, I tried to moving to more of a documentary urban feel. I needed to get more people into my shots. Photographing people was always a big challenge for me. I was starting to get more comfortable in getting architecture into my landscapes.

But This…

If you had told me even 6 months, no, 3 months ago that I would be doing product photography in my office in my apartment I may have spit out or choked on my coffee in disbelief and laughter.

I Never Expected This

I had just ended my contract at my school, and I was looking to finally jump into photography feet first. I set up accounts at freelancing sites Fiverr and UpWork. I quickly found that between these 2 sites, that the majority of the services and income in photography seemed to be based on editing (see: Photoshop skills) and product photography. Two things that were quite aways out of my comfort zone, with a 3rd in tow …


The thing I feared more than photographing people was lighting. To be more specific, artificial lighting, flashes, strobes, you name it, if the light was powered by some form of electricity I avoided it as much as I could. But I figured if I was going to make a career out of this, I’d better learn how to use artificial lighting.

Staying at home, and not having to go to a 9 to 5 job, afforded me the time to actually sit down and try to learn and figure this thing out. I remembered one video in particular that I watched many years ago in amazement as Joe McNally showed the set up he had for this one particular shoot and the results from it. The way he was able to manipulate the light, (OUTSIDE! nonetheless) blew me away, and pining for the ability to be able to do something like that.

Fast forward to about a month ago, I was trying to find that video again. I was unsuccessful, but not for the reasons one might think. I couldn’t find it because for whatever reason in my head I had gotten McNally confused with Scott Kelby. I was searching and searching all over Kelby’s materials online and I couldn’t find it. So I gave up.

What it did though, was lead me to a video from 2 years ago by a man I had never seen before… Martin Botvidsson. His YouTube style is almost as far away from the Peter McKinnons, Chris Haus, and Casey Neistats of the world as you can get. And that’s a good thing.

It did take a little while for me to get accustomed to his style. It didn’t have the feel of what I had become used to from watching Peter and Chris. When I first started watching his videos, it felt like he really had not much of a direction, just a turn on the video camera and see what comes out. With that being said, I really did enjoy his sense of humour.

After a watching a few videos, I realized that it wasn’t that he didn’t have a specific shot in mind when he starts a video, it was that he is taking you through his artistic mindset and evolution of the photoshoot. His videos are both refreshing and educational, not to mention confidence building. The step by step process and the trial and error that he shows is a tremendous help for those of us just starting out.

I have learnt so much from his videos that I encourage anyone who is interested in small studio, product photography to give his channel a watch. Not everyone is going to have the amount of equipment that he has invested, but he also knows this and gears his tutorials to everyone with any camera and at least 1 off camera flash. He even has one video where he uses only his phone and an LED light panel.

Now he does have over 22,000 subscribers, so I suppose he is hardly a secret in the product photo world, but I felt I needed to introduce him to those of you, who like myself, are new to the area and view him as being a huge contributor to where I’m headed with my in apartment studio…

To be continued…

Homemade Studio Lighting V2.0

2 weeks ago, I made a post about the do-it-yourself (diy) studio lighting that I did to keep me busy, but also to help me learn more about how to use artificial lighting in a home studio setting.

I posted some results from those shots on the subsequent post as well as on Instagram and Facebook. For the better part of those 2 weeks, the fact that the straws were multi-coloured seemed to have very little if any effect to the final versions of the shots…

Until …

I did one shot perpendicular with a glass that I had big expectations for. It looked fairly good on the camera. It was the one shot I was expecting the most from and was going to be the centrepiece to that day’s shoot. Until I saw it on the computer screen. The colours of the straws were reflecting off of the glass and were – with my editing skillset – an impossibility to eliminate with my photo editing software.

Back to the Drawing Board

I had thought at first, “Well, let’s not do that type of shot again.” As a person trying to improve to the point of landing product photography clients, this type of thinking will not cut it. Having to sacrifice quality because I didn’t want to make a new one is a horrible idea.

Out to the stores. Store after store, coloured straws, coloured straws. No one even sold all white straws. But as luck would have it, a last ditch “Hey let’s take a look here, it can’t hurt to try,” unveiled a jackpot. Not only did they have packages of straws that were of one colour, that colour was black!

It also provided the chance to select different sized bowls for the reflection dishes.

Knowledge is Power

My wife was more than generous in helping with not only the cutting of the straws, which took the most amount of time the first go of it. She also strung them on the tape to make the honeycombs for the bowls.

I had bought many more packages of straws this time because I also wanted to make one for my makeshift strip box. Knowing what I could do with the strip box and the parchment paper as a diffuser, I wanted even more control over that light.

My wife had finished the one for the bowl. I had thought that if I was to attach another bowl and cut a small circle at the bottom and join them top to top, I could make a type of snoot. So she made a smaller honeycomb for the (UFO) snoot.

Another change I made to this version was the back of the bowls. On version 1, my mindset was to try to use items that were in my recycling bin as much as I could. This included a thick grey plastic bag that had been used as a postal envelope to cover the back of the white plastic bowls to eliminate light leaks. I thought that the double layer was a bit of an over-kill so I used only one layer. But on the bowl that would be the front of the snoot, I used the black electrical tape that I used to put the straws together into a honeycomb. After shooting, I realized that the black tape blocked out the light, like I wanted, but it was also doing a MUCH better job than the reflecting dish on the back end. So I took off the plastic and taped it, too.

The Test

After testing out the 3 new lighting choices that my wife and I had made, I can say that 1) version 1 helped out a lot in my understanding of what I need, and 2) version 2 is working better than I could have imagined.

The next step is to start finding different things to photograph. The plants, water, and smoke are great starting points. I think they make for great practice. I think they are also great as exercises from which to build a solid base of fundamentals to expand into more complicated stagings. Stay tuned.

How To…

If you’d like to see how these were done head over to the original issue for the steps to do it yourself. The strip box ended up being a little different. If you’re interested in the steps to the strip box honeycomb, leave a note in the comment section and we’ll post an update!

Stay safe and have fun!


2019 has come and gone. We’re over a week into 2020 and I’m a little surprised I haven’t seen anyone make use of the myriad of 20/20 possibilities other than the Barbra Walters one. I suppose they’re waiting until they do their year end reviews of this year. So be forewarned: You will be inundated with a variation of “My year in review: Hindsight is 20/20”.

After reading my friends’ and colleagues’ blogs on their 2019 I got caught up in the wave. Roy Cruz, an ex-pat from the Philippines, a wonderful person and photographer (I’m probably forgetting bass player, as well.) has been using a format where he chooses his personal top 10. He takes it a wonderful step further and includes the camera, lens, and setting that was used for each photograph. He then writes a paragraph telling of the story behind each photograph.

Jason Teale is a fellow Canadian ex-pat, an awesome photographer and cinematographer. (If you don’t know what that is, click on the link and prepare for your mind to be blown.) I’m honoured to be able to call him a friend. He has done such amazing work as you’ve seen, but also the behind the scenes within the ex-pat photography circles here in South Korea. Whenever I need advice on something, he’s the first person I contact, and he’s always helping out the best he can. He puts photowalks together, Facebook groups together, and a website for other ex-pats who live or want to visit Ulsan, the city he’s called home for the past 15+ years. He offers online teaching and tutorials for photography and cinematography. Please do check out his page.

Jason, inspired by Roy, did a take on his top 9. He did an awesome job by giving an insight to his thought process behind each of the photographs which is awesome. When all of the “beginner” books and articles started to blur themselves into one another and no matter who I read, it felt like they were all saying the same thing, I wanted something else to help me further along the line. I wanted to know the thought process and what was going through the mind of the photographer when they decided to take that photograph- why they took that photo, not just how they got the photograph. This is what Jason has done and it’s brilliant.

This inspired me to do one as well.

I will give another long winded warning: During his time as a magazine mogul, David DuChemin in his interview sections would ask the photographer if he or she planned their shot or did they shoot primarily intuitive. That was the first I had ever come across that type of distinction, and it made a lot more sense to me and helped me understand where my mind was. It made me realize that I shot intuitively which is why it’s been so difficult to satisfy that need for the next step in my progress after the beginner books. So I apologize if the explanations are a little short of spectacular. (It did make a programme director upset once, which is a post for another day.)

For those who follow me on Instagram and Facebook, you are probably aware that I posted the “Best Nine” from each of my 4 Instagram accounts. This post I will look at my “main” account.

The first thing that jumped out at me was the fact that I had only posted 97 photographs in the year. In this day and age, that number is far too low, and I apologize. I’ll try to do better in 2020. What makes it even more sad is that 33% of these photos weren’t taken in 2019.

This green tea photo was from my first trip to Boseong with my D50 during the Green tea Festival in the spring of 2006. One of the first, if not the first photo I was able to get a little fog. I liked the freshness of this; the green, the blossoms, and the fog. Enough to make you think it was about 6am? I still shake my head today that this was at 2:30 pm.

This one, although I didn’t post it until January 2, 2019, was the final sunset of 2018 from Incheon overlooking the Yellow Sea. After 8 years of living on the east coast, it was nice to live a little closer to the west coast for the opportunity to capture some unblocked (by mountains) sunsets.

This next one was from the first week of January. I had worked a camp in the back hills of Yangju, and as I drove to the camp, to my surprise, was a Buddhist temple. It was still relatively small compared to many others I had seen, but this one had a building with a gold dome, something I had never seen. They were in the process of building the temple’s grounds and even dropping by yesterday, there is a lot of work to be done. These 3 statues have been moved to a more permanent location. I liked the simplicity of this angle and felt it deserving of a black and white transformation.

I can’t remember why I was downtown Seoul so early in the morning on this day. It’s possible I was in signing up for my Korean class. Even though this is 10:10 in the morning, you’d never guess that this is one of the busiest pedestrian streets in the city. This is Insadong, one of the most popular tourist areas. Generally this place is literally shoulder to shoulder full of people. I love the peace of an early morning city.

This next one, is a cinemagraph. You can’t see it here, but if you click on the image it will take you to my Flixel account where all of my cinemagraphs are shown. I wasn’t a lover of oysters – well any seafood for that matter – before I met my wife, a pescatarian. We came to this area for the lunar new year with her family because it’s a famous oyster area. It was so good that we came back a couple of weeks later by ourselves and turned it into a bit of a photography day trip. Being on the west coast again, a chance to get that pesky sunset.

This was also the time of year my professional life just got a whole lot busier…

As said, my professional life got a lot busier than I ever thought it would, meaning that it took more time than I thought it might. But there’s one time of year I have to get out and get something. Fast forward 3 months into May and Buddha’s birthday. It’s one of the most colourful times of the year. The temples themselves are painted with a wide range of colour, add the colours of the lanterns and pow! I found 2 temples hiding, buried in the hills not far from my last home. This temple had set cloth lanterns, something I hadn’t seen before. They are usually paper. These lanterns were awesome. The temple itself, other than the huge golden Buddha it had for a roof, was actually underwhelming, but these lanterns… I coupled this with one of my favourite things to do… shoot into the sun with some flares in the lens, something that my 30 and 40 year old lenses do nicely.

This next photo was a cinemagraph as well. To see it in action, click on the image to take you back to my Flixel account. This was the same day, just a little earlier than the previous image. This temple is just up the road from the other one. This one was a more traditional style temple but with much fewer buildings. I liked the lines and how the lanterns with their shadows formed a triangle on the building. There was a nice breeze as well, which made me get my tripod out of the car to allow me to film it to make the cinemagraph.

Photography is a funny animal, really. I was exploring the back alleys around Insadong, that popular tourist destination, looking for some inspiration. With this image, I don’t remember posting it, let alone taking it. I remember another photo that I took on the same exploration that day, but this one… But here it is… one of the most popular “by Instagram standards”, in fact it garnered the second most number of likes of the year. I can’t even find it in my archives. I have a funny feeling that this image, too, wasn’t taken in 2019, but clearly the one that I posted in 2019 and only 2019. Funny enough it was the most commented photo as well.

Later in the year, after my workload had calmed down, I went out looking to practice tourism portraits. I’m getting better, but my photos of people are generally pretty bad. It’s something I know and trying to change knowing that I am looking to make photography my full time career come March of this year. I would stop random people at various tourist areas in Seoul and ask if they would pose for me to help me practise and in return I would send them fully retouched and finished photos of their trip. These two were a father and daughter. She had been living in Korea for sometime and her father had come to visit from Malaysia. After posting it, it (for me) blew up and is by far the #1 like getting photo I have on Instagram. She had given me her Instagram name to send the photo to, so I visited her profile and found out that she’s a pretty big deal in Malaysia promoting Muslim women’s rights and peace.

So there you have it. I try not to have any favourite photos. I am a huge fan of John Stanmeyer, and his reasonings for not having a favourite photo really hit home to me and make 100% sense. (Another blog post for the future.) But I will admit that with these “Best Nine” things, I’m a little disappointed when certain images don’t make it. Which leads me to another problem to solve as I enter photography full-time: finding out the times and hashtags that will allow for the maximum viewership.

I’ll leave you with one of those images. Thanks for reading and let’s stay in touch for 2020 and let’s make it “Foresight is 20/20”.