Valerie & Asad sneak preview

A sneak preview from Valerie & Asad’s ROM series, photographed in Singapore.

 

Will be formally introducing a new addition to the Lyrical Moments crew who took up this job…and pss… it’s a lady photographer…. ūüôā

 

 

More to come, I promise!

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Dried human placenta for USD$5

Look what I found at a popular medicinal shop along Smith Street in Chinatown, Singapore.

Dried Human Placenta for USD$5?

 

Couldn’t resist taking a photograph of it, and this is certainly NOT one item that we see being served at Chinese wedding dinners.

 

This one caught my eye as well. ¬†Those who understand Chinese might find this funny…

Semen and Jing zi (Sperm??)

 

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Review of RadLab, the latest Photoshop plugin by TotallyRad!

The past two weeks had been really exciting, apart from the massive work preparing for print competitions, I was working with RadLab, the latest Photoshop plugin tools from TotallyRad!¬†and here’s my humble review of it.

Being a fan of TRA or Totally Rad Actions since 2008, I have been following the developers on twitter and RadLab is something that I can’t wait getting my paws on…So what’s the big deal about RadLab?

 

My setup

PC Intel i7 920 CPU @2.67 GHz

12 gig ram

Windows 7 Ultimate edition 64-bit

Photoshop CS5

Images used for this review are either shot with a Hasselblad H4D-40 or Canon EOS 1Ds mk III.   All images are edited in their full resolution.

 

The Stacking game

I love the RadLab interface! ¬†The developers have certainly thought of how workflow is carried out, starting from Basic Adjustment from the top, the familiar TRA actions in the middle and sharpening at the button. ¬†Do note that the order in which the effects are applied does make a difference – for example, the vignette from EZburn looks very different if it’s place on top or below another effect say Pool Party. ¬†It does take a bit of arranging to find out what’s best for you and that’s what RadLab is all about – mixing and matching the effects first, and then saving the¬†formulas for images later.

This is one example of how I stacked 5 effects together. ¬†The image is shot with a Hasselblad H4D-40, a 40 megapixels digital medium format system. ¬†The raw file is rendered using Phocus, the Hasselblad’s proprietary software before pulling it into RadLab.

Stacking up 5 effects

 

*A little tip. Always start with an image with low contrast.  When I render my raw files, my black point is ZERO all the time and I do give a slight bump to shadow fill of about 10-20% to have the maximum shadow details possible.  Since most of the actions tend to add contrast to the image, working with a high contrast image will be tricky.

The histogram on the bottom right is a really nice feature, especially a kind reminder to go easy with the actions. ¬†Click on the ‘Finish’ button and bang! ¬†Check this out…

 

RadLab adds contrast, punch and character to the image; highlights and shadow details are well-controlled and ¬†just look at how 3D the details are, especially subject’s face and the building behind on top right. ¬†¬†I’m sure my clients who flew all the way from LA to Singapore for this photo shoot will be quite please to see this.

Here’s another example that stacks 6 Stylets, just look at how easily we apply all these without cracking up the image…

 

Still going strong with 6, no compressed highlights or shadows

 

 

Dejavu – Remembering and saving the settings

One of the neatest features of RadLab is that it remembers the last few recipes that you have used, and to top it off, you can even saved them as your own favourites! ¬†Prior to RadLab, all my important work files are saved in un-flattened PSD format so that I can remember the opacity of each adjustment layer that I have applied, which also allows me to go back and make changes to it. ¬†I cannot tell you how much memory space these PSD files do take up especially when we stack like 6 actions (especially the Hasselblad files in full-res), it’s just mad, really. ¬†The great thing about Radlab is, we can now apply the same effect over the same series of images for¬†consistent¬†results, without those additional space hogging layers! ¬†This is also particularly useful when we are doing an album, a good two-page spread is really about the consistency across them and since all the images within are point of reference to each other – ¬†it just takes one to be out of place to ruin the entire spread.

This is money - History and option to save them as favourites!

 

 

Black and White

Bitchin B&W and Boring Old B&W are 2 monochrome effects that I have been using since the first version of TRA back in 2008 and they are now amongst of the list of Stylets in Radlab. ¬†The effects are now much easier to adjust, thanks to the sliders…and even bigger thanks to the fact that I can now apply easily the tweaked B&W settings across a series of images. ¬†To add icing to the cake, the two familiar colour temperature adjustment actions Warm it up Kris! and Cool as a Cucumber, can be used to tone the monochromatic images warm or cold respectively.

Here’s one example with BW Red filter (neutral)

BW Red Filter with Obvious Glass

 

BW Red Filter with Obvious Glass + Warm it up Kris!


 

BW Red Filter with Obvious Glass + Cool as a Cucumber

Quick note: Warm it up Kris and Cool as a Cucumber at 60% and 70%.

 

Same Same but different

Those of us who are familiar with TRA actions would see some familiar faces in RadLab, such is Techno Color Dream World, Pool Party, Rusty Cage, etc. ¬†There are some subtle difference between running the same action via TRA 1 or 2, and through RadLab itself. ¬†Here’s one example using Pool Party straight for both instances (no adjustments or tweaking to the layers), and while the character is the same, there’s a slight difference in the contrast.

 

Same Same but Different

 

 

Things just get better

The good folks in TotallyRad! do take feedback seriously and implement changes and improvement to their product. ¬†Rusty cage is one action that I find a real pain to use wholesale in TRA, shadow and highlights details tend to go wild, the glow, oh mine the glow…There’s a good reason why there’s a slider for the a lot of the actions that provides ‘Glow’ , check this one out:

Finally an easy way to fine-tune the Rusty cage effect

 

Comparing it to the original image, it’s a huge amount of drama and depth RadLab has added:

Now, this is Rusty Cage on the money

 

 

Other tasty and yummy Stylets that you can look forward are the Boutwell Magic Glasses.  Check out this image that I took at a destination wedding in Marrakech, Morocco Р ND2 filter was deployed and a single 400w strobe was used for the image.  3 different sharpening methods were used and here are the results in a glance:

Check your Glasses!

 

One of my biggest issues with the original Boutwell Magic Glasses is that it adds halos to the image, especially in areas where there are high contrast;  Boutwell Magic Glasses II is a little more controlled and conservative, but it takes care of the halos; Obvious Glasses is the obvious choice here as not only does it add contrast to the image, it gives it a right amount of saturation boost here.  I can also see Obvious Glasses as a good everyday Stylet, useful for creating proofs for the customers.

 

 

My Wishlist for the next version…

  1. Option for layer masking.¬† Ok, some of you might be saying “hey what’s wrong with this guy, he just said he doesn’t want those cumbersome layers and now it’s on his wishlist??” ¬† For me, I would love to have the option of the layer mask and apply the effect¬†selectively…yes, more control when necessary. ¬†This would be particularly useful for the Highlight Separator as this is one action that while it does what it does best, i.e to recover the highlights, it does mess around with the areas where the skin tones are. ¬†Right now, I find myself having to duplicate the base layer (Ctrl-J), apply RadLab on the duplicate layer, and then adjusting the opacity of it to taste. ¬†Readers might also like to know that I never like to apply an action or an effect wholesale without any tweaking or modification on my part – it’s also faster sometimes to just down the opacity of the effects layer by 10%, rather than have to go through the whole processing algorithm again. ¬†All I’m asking for is just a check box if we want to render the effect on a separate layer people like me.
  2. Better vignettes controls.  EZBurn, the stylet used for creating a vignette around the image tends to cause a bit of banding, especially to the skies, even at very minute amount of 7%.  There are quite a good number of plugins out there that does a very good job with vignettes and this is one area that I hope to see improvement in.

My Verdict
So is RadLab worth getting even though you already have TRA 1 and 2? My answer is a big Yes. ¬†Do we still need TRA 1 & 2? ¬†Yes, we still do… ¬†If only RadLab can incorporate Pro-retouch, f/zero and Greetings from Paradise, I would be a happy man…and I would really like to see the new Stylets in revised versions of TRA 1 and 2!

For those who are new to the TotallyRad! family, RadLab is a great introductory tool, think of it as a sampler before buying TRA 1 & 2.  For those who are already using TRA in their workflows, RadLab is a great platform and colour palette to encourage the users to think out of the box Рno excuse for not being able to come out with their own recipes and concoctions.  The endless creative permutations and possibilities is what makes this software a joy to use.

 

Parting notes

Like all plugins, actions or Photoshop tools out there, RadLab cannot make a badly taken image look good, but it can make a well-taken and properly exposed image look really great. ¬†I’m also aware that some folks are probably wondering why I even want to reveal what I use in my workflow….well, let’s just say that each¬†of us have our own unique vision, it’s not¬†what ingredients, but more of how we use it.
With that, I would like to congratulate and thank the team behind TotallyRad! for a job well-done, keep doing what you are doing, you guys ROCK and I look forward to more kick-ass products in the future.

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Upcoming trips for 2011/2012

Dear all,

We have confirmed trips to

UK (London/ Newcastle) in early Oct 2011

Melbourne in last week of Oct 2011

Melbourne in early April 2012

San Francisco /LA in July 2012

Those interested in joining us or would like to meet up with us for a coffee, please drop me an email at stephen@lyricalmoments.net .

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Final Call for Overseas Bridal Photography in UK

Following my previous post on overseas bridal photography in London, we are going back to the charming city of Central London and possibly New Castle this coming October. This is one place that I have been visiting every other year since 2008 for overseas photography sessions.

Those who are keen to join us, please drop me an email at stephen@lyricalmoments.net¬† asap! ūüôā

And one of my all-time favourites photographed in Bath, UK

Beautiful Parisian bridal gown 'twirled' in Bath, UK

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Printing for Competitions

It’s the time of the year when competitions start to pile up one after another.¬† We have the Master Photography Awards, ¬†which I’ve been a part of since 2007, Canon Creativeasia, WPPI and AIPP, spread out over the year.

IMO, photography competition should be a print competition, especially for wedding photography section.¬†¬†My approach to photography is always about the print and¬†print quality is such a neglected concept amongst¬†wedding photographers, especially when most just want to deliver images on a CD.¬† Also, what looks good on screen, doesn’t necessary means it can be printed out nicely. Yesterday, I attended a workshop by

To be honest, print quality has never been in my vocabulary until I joined the Master Photographer Association (MPA) from UK. ¬†And trust me, I learnt it the hard, hard way. ¬†First lesson I learnt, you need time to do a good print; knowing how to prepare an image for printing requires discipline. ¬†Before anything gets printed to 8″x10″ or 10″x12″ for the competition, the lab needs to print out a set of proofs on 4″x6″ on the paper of choice. ¬†Choosing the right kind of paper is another hairy part of the print making process that even my own printers have problems grappling with. ¬†Some of the prints are obvious candidates for Kodak Endura Metallic paper or Fuji Pearl paper, some are slightly more artsy that looks great printed on fine-art matt or textured paper, some are safer on lustre paper because of the high dynamic range compared to the former. Oh wait, don’t even bother about metallic or glossy paper for competitions like WPPI, having your prints viewed in a room lit by just 2 strong light source at 45 degrees to the print means you’re probably better off with matt paper…. these are power tips that are shared by veterans as well as judges from WPPI.

For example, this is one print that I did on metallic paper for MPA because of the shimmer in the image itself and the grass textures is brought out really nicely on it.  Matt or lustre paper somehow looked a little too safe for this.

The Missing Link

As well as this piece, Tangled

Tangled

 

The next one that I photographed in Morocco, entitled Hand-some, was printed on lustre paper.

 

Also, all these works were shot on my Hasselblad H4D-40, a digital medium format setup which gives incredible details and tonality when we print it. ¬†It’s really about how effortless and how smooth the details are being drawn, and this is something that make me wish that all competitions are at least 16″x20″ in print size! ūüôā

We have consolidated over 100 prints from 6 photographers to share out the freight cost. ¬†Trust me, a 5.4kg parcel ain’t cheap, but sharing it among 6 photographers makes it really affordable at USD$17 per pax. ¬†Good luck Team Singapore!

 

 

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250 Cameras and flash to do this MTV, now that’s really over the top

Check this out!

250 cameras with off camera flash sync to do this, now this is some cool stuffs. ¬†I guess nothing is really over the top when you have the budget… I can only wish clients would have that kind of budget towards wedding photography – we all dream big, but often facing the harsh reality with the limited budget.

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Laksa recipe

 

Laksa - gravy enriched by rich coconut milk

 Due to popular demand, I have decided to spend some time to type out the recipe of one of my favourite local food in Singapore, the Nonya Laksa. Believe me, many Singapore wedding photographers love this and we have regular meeting ups at some of our favourite laksa spots, like the famous one in Jln Berseh (Near Kelatan Lane).

I know a lot of photographers who are highly obsessed with something else in life apart from photography – audiophile, coffee/wine, watches, etc. Cooking is one of those things that I do a lot because it’s almost reached a stage whereby if I can make these at home, why should I pay someone else to cook it for me?

Now here’s one Laksa recipe that I learnt from my folks. And trust me, when you want to make the best Laksa out there, don’t start thinking about the calories and cholesterol…Laksa is comfort food, and comfort food that’s healthy¬†well, it’s almost non-existent.

This recipe has gone through a bit of tweaking and every bit of effort is made to maximise the effect of the spices and ingredients that we use. ¬†The approach is somewhat Western for this oriental recipe, but trust me, it tastes almost as good as those you get one the streets. ¬†I will also highlight the steps meant for the hard cores who wants the best ūüôā

Here we go…

Ingredients

for the Sambal Chili paste, the heart of the Laksa flavour. ¬†Please don’t bother with those ready to go sambal chili in packs or jars. Besides being inferior in taste, they have tonnes of MSG inside, and you might find yourself persistently thirsty after that)

12-15 dried chilies (about 3 inches in length)

Blue ginger (aka wild ginger) 1.5 to 2 inches (the alternative is to use old ginger, but it won’t have that woody fragrance of blue ginger)

2 cloves of garlic

15 shallots, peeled (or 2 large Spanish red onions)

4 Lemon grass, cut away the leaves but don’t discard them.

6 pieces of Candlenut or Macadamia nuts

About 50g of dried Shrimp paste (aka belachan), use a little less if they are very salty.

1 tablespoon Tumeric powder

1 teaspoon of cummin

one handful or Laksa leaves, or 1 table spoon if using dried ones. You may use fresh basil or mint if you can’t find laksa leaves.

100ml of peanut oil

Optional:

3 medium size chilies, seeds removed. Heat factor 4 out of 10. Seeds on – Heat factor 5 to 6.

For those who wants more heat, you might want to add 3 small chilies (aka chili padi), which should bring you to heat factor of 7 to 8 out of 10.

juice from half a lime

 

for the Laksa gravy/soup, you’ll need

Freshly squeezed coconut milk from 2 coconuts (hardcore) or 700ml of pasturised coconut milk that’s available in the chillers (not too bad a compromise) or 500ml of coconut cream from the supermarket shelves (last resort)

100g of good quality dried shrimps, slightly bashed with rolling pin, and soaked in hot water for about 10 minutes

1 litre of chicken stock

Sea salt to taste

3 tablespoons of palm sugar or brown sugar

 

for the condiments

Fried bean curd (tau pok), cut into bite size

500g to 1kg of thick rice noodles (or yellow noodles)

fishball

fishcakes

crab sticks (Optional)

shredded chicken breast (I shred these from the chicken I use to prepare the stock)

hard-boiled eggs

bean sprouts

dried laksa leaves (basil or mint leaves work as well)

fresh cockles (or clams)

 

Method

Throw the dried shrimp paste into a pan, on a medium heat, roast the paste until it turns golden brown on the outside. ¬†Soak the dried chili in hot water to soften it a little and combine all the ingredient in the chili paste in the blender and let it blitz for a few rounds till you get a smooth paste. ¬†Hardcore method: Bash everything in mortar and pestle, my grandmother said flavour extraction is different when you press , mash and bash. ¬†For me, the oil should be a good enough carrier of flavour in the blender and mind you, bashing that blue ginger is not easy…. Think of this as making a spicy pesto sauce – you have the chili, the herb, and nuts.

Heat up some more peanut oil in the casserole pot or wok. ¬†Blend or finely chop the shallots, and sauteed it in the pan over medium low heat. ¬† Once the shallot has soften and about to brown, add in the chili paste and be prepared for the chili to smart your nose! ¬†Remember the piece of dried shrimp paste that we toasted? ¬†We can now break it up into small bits and throw it into the mixture. As for the 4 lemon grass stalk that we cut off and set aside, smash it with the back of the knife till it is bruised and add it to the pan. It is very important that the ingredients are sauteed to the point when the oil starts to separate from the chili paste; this requires some patience over a medium low heat, stirring constantly and depending on the heat and vessel that you’re cooking in, it can take almost 10 minutes for that to happen. ¬†This is the most *important* step of the entire recipe, so give it some time & love….don’t burn it!

Once the oil in the chili paste starts to separate, pour in the dried shrimp and the liquid that hydrated it, ¬†half the coconut milk, chicken stock and palm sugar, bring everything a simmer, no high heat or the coconut milk is going to separate and that’s a big no no. ¬†At this point, add in the tau pok (fried bean curd) and let it soak up that gravy. If you are using clams instead of cockles, this is the time to add them into the simmering gravy and cook them till the shells are opened. ¬†Any clams that are unopened should be discarded. ¬†Finally, add the rest of the coconut milk and season with salt to taste. ¬†Remove from heat right right after it boils.

In a big pot, bring about 3 litre of water to boil, add about 1 tablespoon of salt and blanch your rice noodle in it. Since rice noodles are already pre-cooked, the purpose of blanching it is to remove the starchiness and heat up the noodles.  Hardcore step: after blanching the noodles for 30 seconds, transfer them into another vessel and rinse them till the water becomes clear.  Another reason why we do this is to get rid of that husky taste in rice noodles and improve the texture.  For those who have cooked Japanese buckwheat noodle or soba would be quite familiar with this step as well.

Now the fun part, strain and portion out the noodles and tau pok in a bowl, and cut the noodles using a pair of scissors. ¬†This way, you can eat them with just a soup spoon (and no chopsticks) and minimise the splattering (you won’t want to get any of the laksa gravy on your clothes). ¬†Put the meat condiments like cooked fish ball, fish cake and raw cockles into give your noodles a spa treatment of laksa gravy by pouring over them. ¬†This should also cook the cockles a little and personally, I like them to be half-cooked. ¬†Sprinkle some of the laksa leaves or basil or mint on top and Bon Appetite!

tip: make the laksa gravy a day in advance, reheat by bringing it back to boil, taste even better this way! ¬†If you plan to do so, don’t add the salt yet until the next day and adjust accordingly… somehow, the gravy tends to be more saltish overnight. ¬†The coconut milk in the gravy can be quite a pain and tends to go rancid (when you get foams or a sourish taste/smell) pretty easily, especially if you are using fresh coconut milk. ¬†For the leftover gravy, just bring them to a boil, do not cover the pot, do not stir it… when it’s cooled down, you may put the lid back before putting it in the fridge.

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Wedding photography tip of the day – Wedding dress = no touchie

One very useful tip of the day for everyone who likes to do wedding photography, either as a hobby or as a full-time job. ¬†Do not touch the wedding dress… ¬†no touchie, non, tak boleh!

So what’s the big deal with moving the wedding gown? Here are some incidents to share:

Incident #1

I know many videographers & cinematographers who are very passionate with their job, and one such bloke (no name mentioned) ¬†took the wedding gown from the apartment to the ground floor for some video clips. ¬†Being a very creative person, he took the gown and hung it on one of the trees by clothes hanger. ¬†Beautiful golden sunlight that day, perfect for snippets that has lots of nice lens flare effects. ¬†I greeted him from afar and went up to the bride’s apartment.

Minutes later, I heard the bride’s mother and bridesmaid screaming and yelling and to cut the long story short, the gown was blown against the tree trunk and part of it got soiled quite badly. ¬†How badly? It was enough to ruin the bride’s big day and the videographer could only apologise profusely for it.

Incident #2

Read this over a professional forum where one bloke tried to emulate another famous photographer’s stun of hanging the wedding gown on a construction site scaffold. ¬†He hung it behind a door frame and he probably thought hey, who’s going to work on Sunday at the construction site? ¬†Half way through filming, two workers came out from there… ¬†Cutting the long story short again, the gown got 2 boot marks on it on the front and part of the veil was torn.

 

Nightmarish isn’t it? ¬†If these are not scary enough, think about how much some of these gowns cost. ¬†Some of my clients pay as high as USD$13k for a gown , USD$2800 for a Cheong Sum (traditional Chinese gown) from labels like Tan Yoong or Vera Wang. ¬†Would you want to be responsible for any mishap to them?

Bottom line is, unless you have telekinesis, leave that to the parents or the bridesmaid…(if it’s necessary for you to move the gown to a place to photograph it)

If you find this tip useful, please share it with your friends (you can tweet or share it on Facebook through this blog). ¬† More tips to come soon! ūüôā

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