Aren’t they a gorgeous pair? Meet the beautiful Myla Barandog and the dashing Lance Shan, winners of Shutterfairy Photography’s first-ever styled engagement session giveaway (contest opened September last year; winners announced October)! I can’t remember exactly how many entries we got, only that there were quite a handful. I also can’t remember how my boss/mentor Malou Pages and I ended up picking this couple’s submission as the winning entry. What I do remember is that much of it had to do with the fact that theirs was the only entry that had been sent in by the fiancé (whereas everything else we got had been submitted by the fiancées)—I mean, how sweet is that, right, to have the guy participate in contests like this, when it’s usually the ladies who scramble to join in these sorts of things? To quote snippets from Lance’s e-mail entry: “My fiancée Myla has always loved [Shutterfairy Photography’s] style… She would always make me visit your Website… She already included you in our list of possible [vendors] for our upcoming wedding… Just a few days ago she learned about this contest, and she was very thrilled that she called me right away… I discouraged her from joining, and told her it would be impossible for us to win… But I want to surprise her, so I am writing this in the hopes of giving Myla her dream engagement session…” Who wouldn’t be floored after reading something like that? He even added: “She could be hardheaded at times, and so I’m expecting her to submit her own entry anytime soon.” Sure enough, we would receive an entry from Myla days later, but little did she know that her fiancé already beat her to it!
The Shutterfairy team flew to Davao (where Myla is based) to sit with the couple and discuss their desired concept/s and outcome/s. And they came to the meeting very prepared, it was as if they’d been planning this their whole lives! They showed us a few photos of couples clad in basic white-T-shirt-and-jeans combos (they liked the simplicity and cleanliness of this look), and of a room filled with balloons of all shapes and sizes. They also mentioned they liked the “vintage travel”-themed shoot that we did for one of our couples back in 2011 (especially the old trunks/suitcases). But the biggest thing that jumped at me about their mood boards was that they were chock-full of screencaps from the 2009 movie (500) Days of Summer. I asked why this was so, and Myla explained that they liked not just the “lightheartedness” of it all, but also how it looked timeless—i.e., you know it’s set in modern times because of how they talk, how they dress, the songs, etc., but there was something about the whole thing that lent an old-fashioned feel to the picture. I was quick to break it down for them, ‘cause it was exactly this element that made me fall in love with the film, too: the reason it worked was that there was a third character in play, and that was the architectural wonders of old L.A. , collectively—the Bradbury Building on Broadway (between W 3rd and W 4th, built in 1893), the Fine Arts Building on W 7th (between S Figueroa and S Flower, built in 1926), and the Eastern Columbia Building (built in 1930), to name a few. So I gave them an assignment: come up with a list of three or four of their favorite old (or old-looking) places, and that’s where we were going to be shooting!
I think it took them a little over a month to scout for places—they looked at a couple of places in Davao, and I think Lance did some research on a few historical spots in Cebu, too. Ultimately, they settled for Negros Oriental, not just because this was where Myla’s family has roots (in Dumaguete), but because it was home to three structures that she found to be very fascinating:
- An old bahay kubo-style fishing barn somewhere in Manjuyod (some 40 miles northwest of Dumaguete City), owned by the family of their wedding planner Grace Sycip-Romano (who herself had used the place as the site of her hacienda-themed wedding last year)
- The pretty Mojon Chapel in Bais City (some 29 miles northwest of Dumaguete, just before you get to Manjuyod), which some people erroneously cite as having Moorish architectural influence, but which actually borrows styles from Carpenter Gothic (no one can tell me when this structure was built, but my guess is it dates back to the early 1900s)
- The El Puerto Rico, a charming, privately-owned mansion that combines Baroque and Spanish Colonial (or hacienda) styles, located in Dumaguete’s El Pueblo Genovivo Subdivision (which the couple also booked for their wedding reception)
I’d only been to Dumaguete once (some two years ago, for the wedding of one of the first few couples I photographed), and I’d always known the place was rich with history, but I’d never imagined it would be this rich! After I got the e-mail from Myla containing pictures of the abovementioned locations, I wasted no time in asking her to book our plane tickets! From that moment on, I knew that this was going to be one of our best shoots this year!
Of course, at the same time, I knew that this was going to be one of the most challenging, as well, especially storyboard-wise: unlike most of our styled shoots, which are developed from a central idea, an overarching theme, this time we had to come up with a concept (or a string of concepts) based on our shooting locations. It’s hard when it’s a place/locale that serves as inspiration/starting point for a job, because then when you’re given a number of very disparate venues you’re not going to have it easy trying to piece the sequences together into something that makes sense! Thankfully I only had to look at the other variables in their initial mood boards and combine them with a number of inspirational elements already in my back pocket to help me build the scenes!
For the scenes that were to take place in the barn, I looked to the 1994 western movie 8 Seconds for some inspiration—except that, instead of having them don cowboy-inspired outfits (we’d already done that for another couple a few months back), I had them wear farmer-y clothes in denim and white, which was perfect because, as mentioned earlier, this very ensemble was a key feature in their mood boards. Myla’s outfit for this set was inspired by a photo of the actress Jessica Beil by Mario Testino in the February 2010 issue of Vogue, in which she wore oversize weathered denim overalls, and by a look in Ralph Lauren’s Spring 2010 Ready-to-Wear. I may have also been thinking of that one scene from the ninth episode of Season 4 of Sex and the City (“Sex and the Country”) where Carrie Bradshaw ends up in a puddle of mud in her boyfriend Aidan’s country retreat in Suffern, and you can see her struggling for her life in her denim overalls and dark olive green wellies. I loved that when we got to the barn we did not have to do a lot of cleaning—there were wood shavings scattered everywhere, but I decided against sweeping them into a corner because I liked how they added a rustic feel to the pictures. I also asked the couple to bring with them some farming tools—I wanted a couple of photos of them carrying a rake and a spade (we couldn’t find a pitchfork, you see), as a nod to famous 1930 Grant Wood painting American Gothic. I had to be careful not to make the whole thing look too masculine, of course, so I asked Jenny Hortillosa, who assisted me with the set decoration, to throw some horticultural elements into the mix, like an eggshell garden, and a bottle garden (complete with plant markers that bore love quotes/phrases with green thumb-y references, like, say, “Romance in bloom,” or “Secret garden”). (I would have loved for a couple of farm animals to be in the picture, too—couple of goats, or maybe even a couple of piglets—but then this was a fishing barn smack in the middle of a pond, so you can’t really expect goat husbandry or pig farming to take place in such a spot, right?)
As a rule, I (or we at Shutterfairy Photography) try not to reuse themes of shoots past, so when Myla said she really liked the aforementioned “vintage travel” theme that we did for one of our couples some two years back I had to discourage her from going down that route. But she insisted that, for the photos that were to be taken at the old chapel in Bais, she really wanted to make use of these postcard-pretty vintage-looking suitcases that she found in Dumaguete, so I asked to see them. Sure enough, when I laid my eyes on them—a pair of decorative wood-and-faux-leather suitcases with Parisian iconography scribbled all over them—I figured that they didn’t deserve to be punished just because I was unwilling to repeat concepts! I allowed her to use them, on the condition that she was not going to be wearing anything era-specific (the original “vintage travel”-themed shoot that we’d done had featured a kind of ‘60s look). We went for a look that, again, combined elements from Ralph Lauren Spring 2010 Ready-to-Wear: denim slip dress that called to mind blue work shirts, brown oxfords, and a grandmother-style long cableknit sweater cardigan in luscious lion brown (from Charlotte Russe).
For the photos that were going to be shot at the El Puerto Rico mansion, I wanted something a bit played down, just to offset the grandiosity of the place. I followed both Myla and Lance on Instagram, and that was how I found out they both loved to have coffee/tea together, and they both loved breakfast food (e.g., sweet breads), so I figured that a breakfast scene was in order. To set the mood I updated our boards with a 2002 Fabrizio Ferri photograph of the English musician Sting wearing a Tom Ford for Gucci kimono, lounging with his dogs at his Figline Valdarno, Tuscany, home. The kimono look was a little too fancy for my taste, though—I wanted something basic, modest, snug. So I asked the couple to show up in cotton pajamas in earth tones. The idea was for them to look like they’d just hopped out of bed, but not quite ready to slip out of that comfort zone just yet. It was kind of dark inside the El Puerto Rico, but I managed to find a solitary corner that was gorgeously lit, and that was where I set up our make-believe breakfast nook. I greatly enjoyed doing the set decoration for this scene. Mind you, nothing about that task was haphazard—everything was carefully laid out, from the placement of the croissants, to the slightly askew placement of the crochet table runner. I got so caught up in the set decoration part that I kind of overlooked the styling aspect (i.e., I forgot to pass on Myla’s grey-and-hot-pink polka dot socks—well, it didn’t come out too unseemly, so we’re fine)!
I gave them a bonus (fourth) set, just so Myla could have an excuse to wear a long dress. I was tempted to give her the “room full of balloons” that she’d been dreaming of, but had to nix the idea when I realized a lot of people had done that sort of thing already. So I proposed a sea of tealights instead of balloons. I was thinking of Julian Broad’s 2002 photograph of the Irish singer Enya in a room full of candles. I might have also been thinking of a similar scene from the music video of Mr. Big’s 1991 hit “Just Take My Heart.” Thankfully the couple was sold to the idea! It was an arduous task, trying to light over a hundred tealights—imagine the drops of sweat rolling down our foreheads—but it was so worth it in the end! The tealights lent an ethereal look to the pictures! Before we wrapped I asked for a few photos of them standing in front of El Puerto Rico’s main double doors—not so much because this structure reminded me of the door to curator Astrud Crisologo’s Casa Amarilla, but because I felt like the weathered wood and the cascading vines suited overall feel that the couple was gunning for.
Lance and Myla were such a delight to work with, not only because of their good looks (I swear, that line from a song that goes “that laugh that wrinkles your nose” might have been written for Myla) or their irresistible chemistry that made them very photographable, but mainly because of how they were very committed to turning this shoot into a memorable affair for the two of them (well, for all of us, actually). Always I tell my clients, “Don’t stress too much about this: it’s only your engagement photos, not your wedding day,” but this couple right here begged to differ, and approached the whole thing no differently than how they would approach the planning of the actual wedding! Their exchange of comments on Instagram and Facebook made it very clear that they took pleasure in every moment they spent deciding on each detail of the shoot. Myla, in particular, was quite hardcore: when I asked for the possibility of a sit-down meeting to discuss last-minute details, she wasted no time in booking plane tickets to Cebu, just like that! Also, I would credit Jennifer as the sole props master for this assignment, but that would be doing a great disservice to Myla, who sourced majority of the props that you see in these pictures (most of these items, including the mason jars and the mugs, she got from her favorite online store Paper Chic Studio). Lance actually mentioned in his first e-mail that these were just few of the qualities that he loved most about his fiancée: “She’s very full of ideas, and very creative—and she’s good at budgeting, too!”
They are set to tie the knot later this month (May 25), at the Our Mother of Perpetual Help Redemptorist Church in Dumaguete. The reception, of course, is going to be held at the El Puerto Rico. I’m sure the wedding photos are going to be as lovely as the engagement pictures, if not lovelier! It’s going be a magical day, I just know it! I can already picture Myla giggling endlessly. As for Lance…well, as he mentioned in the e-mail that he sent to us before we even met them, “Nothing makes me happier than seeing her happy.”
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This engagement session was featured in the April 24, 2013, edition of Manila-based online bridal inspiration magazine BridalBook.ph, making it my second time to be featured last month (after the surfer-/beach culture-themed engagement session that I did in Siargao late last year was showcased in April 10), and my third time overall. I am truly honored and extremely humbled that respected arbiters such as this Summit Media/Summit Digital title have taken notice of my (our) work, and so, to that end, I would like to take this opportunity to give massive, massive thanks to Kristy Ann Texon and the rest of the editorial team at BridalBook.ph—thank you so much, you guys, for your tireless support!
Lance Conrad Shan and Myla Belle Barandog | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Bais City and Majuyod, Negros Oriental, on March 2, 2013, and in Dumaguete City on March 3, 2013 | Main photographer: Malou Pages for Shutterfairy | Hair and makeup by Edrico Chua Palencia | Set decorators: Angelo Kangleon and Jennifer Hortillosa | Special thanks to Paper Chic Studio and Grace Sycip-Romano of Creative Concepts