Thursday, April 17, 2014

Botanical Gardens

The Botanical Gardens were established in 1921.  In winter you can see beautiful lotus flowers and falling leaves here. In the 1930s there were 1129 species in the garden, but a lot were lost when the garden was deserted during World War II. Currently, the garden is well maintained and has over 100 species of plants. The 17 districts and nine ponds in the garden show a wide variety of plants including these beautiful lotus flowers:

Purple lotus in a pond with water lilies
Lotus flower at botanical gardens in Taipei
© Photographer: Kenneth Paul | Agency:

The gardens are great for day trips and are situated next to the National History Museum, Science Museum and Art Museum for further exploration on your trip.

Orange flower with green leaves isolated
A Chinese Trumpet Creeper taken at the Botanical Gardens
© Photographer: Imagesbykenny | Agency:
To learn more about interesting places and sights to visit in Taiwan, check out my list of Places to see in Taiwan

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Examples of My Workflow with Actor Headshots

Headshot shoot for an actor in Taipei

 Headshot sessions can be done in the studio or on location. Personally, I prefer location shoots for corporate headshots to give them an environmental portrait look. But I prefer studio shoots for actor headshots so the focus is 100% on the face, without any distracting background elements.  

I emphasize that headshots should be fun! We are trying to capture a range of images that show your personality. There is no need for modesty, at the shoot you are the center of attention. You can relax, emote, play, goof off, and be free to step out of your comfort zone.

Setting up for the headshot session

I always set up the lighting and test exposures with a gray card before the actor arrives. Having people wait to be photographed while you set up lights sometimes makes the subject nervous, impatient, or fidgety; none of these are good for the shoot.

For actor headshots I keep the light soft and even. Dramatic lighting is great for portraits but casting directors want to see faces not lighting. I position the key light in a brolly box or shoot through umbrella slightly off center to the actor's head to keep the lighting even but still retain definition. I use a white or silver reflector as a fill; usually just below chest height. I keep both of these light sources as close as possible to the actor's face for soft flattering light.

There are two strobes with modifiers lighting the white background with black V-flats stopping direct light from these hitting the subject and white V-flats on each side of the actor to keep the lighting even around the face.

For headshots, I use a Canon 70-200 f2.8 L telephoto lens which compresses the distance to the subject and is more flattering to facial features.

Posing for head shot in photoshoot


The headshot shoot

Getting a good headshot goes beyond technical ability. The most important element to me is understanding my subject, the roles and characters they play, and their expectations of the picture. So before the session, I'll discuss the goals of the headshot with the talent to get an idea of the style required.

JJ is a Belgian-Chinese actor, animator, and martial artist. He has acted in several short films in Taiwan. He tends to play the villain role, so we went for more ominous-looking headshots to show off his bad ass side. I usually suggest sticking to head and shoulder shots for actor's portfolios as this is what casting directors want to see. In JJ's case, he also wanted to show his martial artist side, so we included a few shots to show these poses along with the appropriate clothing. JJ also wanted to have shots with and without facial hair, so we shot the first half with facial hair, then he shaved and we took more shots of his clean-shaven look.

Adding in some drama to show acting talent

Brandon is an American actor, comedian, and singer with a big warm personality. To me, Brandon looks like a young Mickey Rourke. His experience on stage showed as he was automatically at ease in front of the camera. This comfort, confidence, and relaxed attitude translates well on camera and greatly improves the quality of the headshots.

Brandon mostly wanted to show his potential as a comedian. We went with suits for clothing to give a polished professional look, but kept most of the poses fun and whimsical to show off his comedic expressiveness.    

Brandon, an actor in Taiwan in headshot session

Proofing Gallery for the Headshots

The headshot shoot is the fun part of having new headshots taken. The difficult (and most difficult part) is choosing the right images from the online proofing gallery. It's important to choose the ones that represent you as an actor. I suggest asking advice from friends and family when picking these to get an idea of how others see the "real" you. Below is an example of a proofing gallery from JJ's shoot.

Proofing gallery for headshots

Retouching Headshots

Headshots for actors are meant to represent what you look like in person. So I do not do high-end fashion style retouching. I first remove temporary imperfections, such as redness in the eyes, blemishes, stray hairs, etc. Then I soften dark shadows, complexions, and wrinkles and bring out features like the eyes, but I do not remove permanent facial features like moles and scars. 

 If you are an actor in Taiwan, and looking for a headshot, check out my headshot packages for actors.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Judging a Photo Competition

I was recently asked to judge a children's photo competition. Three judges were selected for the competition. Each of us could follow our own judgment and criteria to choose the five best photos. I decided to define specific parameters for my selections in order to keep the selection process the same for each photo. 

I went with a two-pass process. On the first pass I eliminated the photos with obvious negative factors such as the focus not being on the main subject, poor composition, blown-out highlights, and bad exposures. Since the photos that made it to the second pass were technically satisfactory, I could focus more on the content of each photo. For this I used a scoring system broken down into four criteria—technical merit, subject, composition, and impact.

For technical merit I looked at focus, sharpness, detail, depth of field, color, brightness, contrast, saturation, and light.

The subject was children with a product, so I checked how relevant the content was to the theme and also how well the photo connected me to the subject.

For composition, I tried to see if the photograph told a story, where the photo leads the eye, and the overall balance of elements in the photo. I also took into consideration distracting background elements.
The final criterion, impact, is of course completely subjective. This was based on if I thought the image was creating the visual impact I thought it should.  This is a partial overlap of how strong the connection is with the subject.

Following these parameters helped streamline the process and create a selection that was balanced between technical and artistic merits.