Not that I am not a fan of previews, or sneak peeks—or “teasers,” as those things are often called. I am in fact crazy about, say, movie trailers, and in some cases end up liking them better than the movies themselves (it’s an idiosyncrasy that I share with my writer friend Ari Mabansag, who likes to download trailers and hand them to me in bulk). At book launches (and there are very few of them these days), I relish the readings and wait until they’re done before grabbing my own copy. I follow the indefatigable Grace Coddington on Twitter to know what the next issue of Vogue is going to look like weeks before it hits the newsstands. In the fields of modern portraiture and wedding photography, my favorite lensmen from the, um, Western world like to post “teaser shots” in their blogs, to stimulate their viewers’ visual appetite, before proceeding to the main event—the Texas-based whiz Clayton Austin, for example, is a perennial favorite of mine, not only for the softness and warmth in his photos and his astute attention to detail, but also because of his penchant for putting up “teaser shots” accompanied by quotable quotes and aphoristic snippets of wisdom for other photographers (aspiring, startup, or veteran) to enjoy and reflect on (click here to see an example). And even my own mentors Malou Pages-Solomon (of Shutterfairy Photography, where I am currently apprenticing) and Paul and Charisse Calo (the husband-and-wife team at Calography) like to post albums of “teaser shots” in their respective Facebook pages. So, you see, putting up a preview is an essential part of some of the most interesting creative processes, and is something I admire in others’ works. Why, then, do I not apply it to my own work?
Yes, you might have noticed that never once did I put up a preview—not in this blog, not anywhere. The closest thing to a preview that people ever got from me were behind-the-scenes photos, posted on Instagram. I do do digital proofing, and religiously, but those things don’t count as they are for clients’ eyes only. Make no mistake, I’d been dying to do previews since day one, and would love to be good at them one day. What’s been stopping me, you ask? Well, two reasons, actually.
The first one you are probably gonna hate me for: It takes an awful lot of time for me to do post-processing. I should remove the “for me” from that statement, because the truth is the post-processing work is not all me. Yes, a day or two after a shoot, after I have down-selected the more decent shots (at least 150-200 of them), they go to a third party guy for retouching—and by retouching I mean removing some of the more glaring imperfections, like skin blemishes and/or discoloration, the occasional red eyes, visible tags, pins and binder clips on clothes, etc., and unwanted background (or, in some cases, foreground) elements, like passersby, for example. You would think that I am good at that kind of thing, having worked for a magazine and an e-zine before, but I am not. And so, yes, when I started this whole thing, I commissioned someone (who is more knowledgeable and highly trained) to do all that for me. And because this guy apparently also does it for a lot of other people (I wish he was exclusively mine!), this could take up to two or three weeks. Once I get all of them back from him, I then take care of everything else, like adjusting the brightness and the contrast, adding fill light here and there, performing color corrections, and then applying the “artistic” effects. Now, although this part I am quite skillful at, it, too, could take some time because, well, you have to make a little room for tweaks (depending on the client/s). Give or take, this entire process could take up to a month. And that is why I skip doing previews and just go straight to the good stuff.
The second reason, and perhaps the more excusable one, is trauma. For lack of a better term, of course—it really isn’t anything scary. When I was starting out, you see, and I posted two or three preview shots of one of my first few couples on Facebook, I got a message from the bride-to-be’s sister asking me to take them down because “we don’t want to take away the surprise element.” I obliged, of course, although I was kind of baffled at first. And then I had a word with their wedding planner, and that’s when I kind of got enlightened: In this part of the world, you see, engagement photos are done mainly so they could be used in the various audio-visual media to be presented to guests during the wedding reception, and not so much to simply announce the engagement. And these presentations, they become one of the highlights of the event, one of the few things that wedding guests look forward to. And so it’s understandable that they would want to keep it a “surprise”—as the wedding planner put it, so much nicer if the ooohs and aaahs happen on the big day itself, and not weeks before the wedding somewhere in cyberspace.
Some of you might say that by laying these cards on the table—especially that first one about my ineptitude in the retouching department—I am driving away potential clients. I did think long and hard before writing this, though. The good news is that, as of a month ago, I have started to take steps in improving my post-processing skills by learning basic retouching via a combination of online tutorials and some side-by-sides/observations. And a few weeks ago I also got into discussions with my mentor Malou about my goals for early next year, and that includes taking a break from the field and spending more time with her at her desk to pick up a couple of post-processing best practices—and she’s already said yes to this. I have to keep in mind, though, that the ultimate objective is not so much to finally be able to do previews like everyone else does as to be able to cut down the post-processing cycle times. And costs, too, because, if come you come to think of it, going to a third party for retouching entails some money—no one is ever going to do that kind of stuff for free!
More good news: I have finally found a way to deliver something sort of a preview without compromising the “surprise element” that most couples to be married (or their kin) consider to be crucial. I’m talking about a save the date photo session. A spin-off of the main engagement session, with a setup that’s completely different—different location, different props, maybe even different clothes/looks—so as not to be a dead giveaway of the sets that are to be shown during the wedding. A little more toned down and casual, if you will. I know it sounds like extra work—well, it is extra work—but it’s a great bonus to give to your clients (especially those who are worried about the formal invites not coming out of press on time), and plus you (or they) can post the shots all you (or they) want (online or wherever) without getting the, um, ire of a few of their family members (just make sure there’s a little caveat about it in your contract, though).
Here are a couple of shots from my very first save the date session, for one of my first few couples Paolo and Kiselle. You will notice that it’s totally different from the engagement session that I did for them. Well, not completely different, because one item did a repeat performance, and that’s Paolo’s red fleece hoodie—I had to allow it ‘cause he was down with the flu and it was kind of raining that day, plus the goal was to make it look as casual and uncontrived as possible. The guitar idea was mine, because, well, I love guitars—I know it’s kind of hackneyed, but I just never get tired of that thing. I also asked them to bring their wedding bands, and a chess set, not so much so I could practice taking detail shots, but so we could tell a story. I was thinking of something along the lines of “We’ve quit playing games and are getting married!” Not that they’d been playing around before that, because these two had been faithful to each other since the day they’d first met some eight years back (in college), but…well, you get my drift! I just had to find a cuter way of saying “We’re settling down.”
So happy with how these pictures turned out. No drama, no fuss, but still romantic. The couple would release the save the date e-cards I made for them (see bottom of this post to view the e-cards) some two or three weeks before their wedding day, to positive responses from their friends and families. Happy to report, too, that I retouched this set of photos all by myself—yes, I didn’t have to go to my retouching guy! I didn’t have it easy, though, and I think I spent an hour per photo, but I’m not complaining. Hey, it’s baby steps!
Yes, speaking of quitting playing games, the time has come for me to stop looking at this whole thing as just a hobby, and to start getting my hands dirty. There’s so much more to being a photographer than just taking pictures. And, as it turns out, it doesn’t stop at retouching, too, or at putting up previews, or at understanding contract terms. Everyday I am learning something new about this craft, and sometimes it all can seem pretty overwhelming, and can even cause you to lose sleep, but that’s OK because that only means I’m not just going through the motions here. As long as I keep an open mind, I guess I’ll never be stuck. Of course, I’m very lucky, too, to be surrounded with a lot resources that make the whole thing more stimulating and engaging. And I’m not just talking about materials and technology here, but people, too—my mentors who never hold back on the sharing, the makeup artists and stylists who are always quick to dispense wonderful advice, and even subjects/clients who allow me enough freedom to experiment. Just a week ago a close friend of mine asked, “What if you wake up one day and realize that this whole [photography thing] isn’t for you?” To which I just smiled and assured her that that day was never gonna come: “I wouldn’t be blessed with this much resources and helping hands if it wasn’t.”
Jun Paolo Dedamo and Kiselle Ibones | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Mandaue, Cebu, on July 31, 2011 | Hair and makeup by Owen Taboada (to book Owen, click here) | Special thanks to: Inez Reformina and Mia Bacolod