Road Journal: Tica and Nica

Costa Rica: Dec 2-23

Marianne Wells Yoga School (www.mariannewells.com) hired me to document a two week long intensive 200 hour teacher training, in the small Caribbean village of Cahuita, Costa Rica. I booked a ticket leaving 12/2/16, returning 1/1/17, with the intention of spending the latter half of the trip traveling around Central America after the teacher training.

Once we all arrived to Cahuita via a 4 hour bus ride from San Jose, CR, I was struck by how raw and un-polished this part of CR is. Cahuita felt like a primordial jungle, especially at night when the sounds of the jungle came to life.

Yoga practice is an especially vulnerable time to take photos, so I made every effort to make sure my presence was rarely noticed. At times, I would put down my camera as a respect to someone that was discussing a particularly difficult topic in their lives.

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I quickly became part of this tribe of beautiful, strong people, and it was an extremely beautiful, cleansing experience for me. It's struck me how much more powerful the experience was as a student in the training - I was often moved to tears just as an observer. These people came to the training as strangers, and through sharing their experiences I saw such pure love grow between them.

There were tears, but so much more laughter and enlightenment. I learned that these yogis were more similar to myself than I would have ever expected. 

As the training progressed, I found that my favorite time to shoot in the yoga studio was about 6:30am, as the rays of the rising sun were able to selectively highlight teachers in golden light. I also found that as time went by, that the students saw me as one of their own rather than "the photographer", and wanted me to help capture the beautiful moments they had with their new lifelong friends.

After I left the yoga teacher training midway through December, I wanted to keep a bit of that calm with me. I've seen more sunrises and sunsets during that time then I have in the past 10 years combined. I had gone from eating a massive amount of meat and drinking like any good New Yorker to an occasional glass of wine, and an almost entirely pescatarian diet.

Man on horseback on the Caribbean

Man on horseback on the Caribbean

Nicaragua: December 24-31

I had originally been keen on going to Colombia to visit a friend that would be in Bogota during that time, but after talking to people about Nicaragua, the beautiful colonial architecture in Granada called to me. After some scheduling snafus because everyone was trying to go from Costa Rica to Nicaragua for the holidays and many bus lines were booked, I made it to Granada.

I wanted to capture genuine, gritty photos of Granada locals, so each morning I would get up with the sun at 5:30am, and ask people if I could take their photos as they started their morning rituals. I however wanted to use my control of off camera portrait light to really highlight people's features and personalities. This is a small sampling of the best of them:

This man looks like a guru, but he is actually a well known building contractor in Granada

This man looks like a guru, but he is actually a well known building contractor in Granada

This woman helped me find the convento in Granada, and in return I helped her across the street

This woman helped me find the convento in Granada, and in return I helped her across the street

This is Austin, a pipas seller and from one of the original African-Caribbean families that settled in the area. He is much loved by the community

This is Austin, a pipas seller and from one of the original African-Caribbean families that settled in the area. He is much loved by the community

This man runs a small stand in the central park area of Granada

This man runs a small stand in the central park area of Granada

This is Roger Martinez, a photographer in Granada. I had just met his brother by chance a few hours earlier.

This is Roger Martinez, a photographer in Granada. I had just met his brother by chance a few hours earlier.

Orlando is a tough man, but as soon as he started talking about his girls (his eyes softened and he called them his little angels) I knew I had to make a portrait for them. Here he is with his girls Sharon, Emily and Jennifer.

Orlando is a tough man, but as soon as he started talking about his girls (his eyes softened and he called them his little angels) I knew I had to make a portrait for them. Here he is with his girls Sharon, Emily and Jennifer.

This is Sergio Antonio Aburto Gaitan, a master craftsman and owner of a Talabarteria (horse tack shop) tucked away in the side streets of Masaya, Nicaragua

This is Sergio Antonio Aburto Gaitan, a master craftsman and owner of a Talabarteria (horse tack shop) tucked away in the side streets of Masaya, Nicaragua

This is Miguel Torres, a "cuidador" or caretaker of a property one of my new found friends own. He has worked with his hands all his life, and was a "grey work" ie concrete layer before he was brought on as a caretaker. Right out of frame is the ubiquitous Nica machete

This is Miguel Torres, a "cuidador" or caretaker of a property one of my new found friends own. He has worked with his hands all his life, and was a "grey work" ie concrete layer before he was brought on as a caretaker. Right out of frame is the ubiquitous Nica machete

 

Through various coincidences, I ended up falling in with a group of ex-pats and locals that worked or were connected to a yoga spa called Pure Nica (www.purenica.com). I ended up joining them for adventures in Granada, Masaya and Laguna Apoyo and they really made it hard to leave central america!

 

 

Wedding at Camp Stalker on beautiful Guemes Island, WA

My dear friends Adam and Janelle (now the Stalkers) got married on Washington's breathtakingly beautiful Guemes Island. For many it was a weekend long event, waking up to a gorgeous sunrise on the east-facing beach while drinking coffee and eating eggos, and catching up with many familiar faces and good friends that were in attendance.

Portrait Session FAQ - Short Version

I wrote a long rambling version of this several months ago for clients, and this is a much easier to read version based on feedback from all my beautiful clients. If the question or answer is applicable to everyone, or primarily to women or men I will mark it as such.

General Prep Tips

  • Drink plenty of water the day before and the day of the shoot - hydrating the skin is important
  • Try to get enough sleep the day before. I realize that this isn't always realistic, but it makes a difference

What Should I Wear?

  • How many outfits? Recommend bringing 2-3 different outfits.
  • What types of outfits do you recommend?
    • Simple, single color clothing with no prints, patterns, florals etc is highly recommended.
    • Clothing with texture looks great in portraits: Chambray, denim, distressed clothing all look very good in portraits.
    • If this is for a standard headshot portrait, they will be cropped around chest or waist level so don't worry about bringing different changes of what you're wearing on the bottom. Focus on your tops.
    • Layering and accessories like scarves is always a good idea and is a fun way to dress up basic outfits
  • Should I wear jewelry and eyeglasses? Avoid large pieces of jewelry as it can be distracting when it catches light from the studio flash. If possible I recommend not wearing eyeglasses, as the flash can appear in the glass from certain angles - however this is something I can easily work around if needed. Best case scenario if you want to wear frames in your portrait is if you have a spare pair of glasses without lenses in them.
  • Tips on suit jackets/blazers: Darker colors for jackets/blazers is in general best. Recommend against jackets/blazers that have a lining or are made from a thick heavy fabric as they can add bulk to a portrait. Fit is of course important with suits and blazers - so make sure the seam is hitting correctly on your shoulders

Makeup Tips

  • Bring powder! By far the most important tip. Even if you don't normally feel like your skin is oily, the bright light of the flash will emphasize skin oil. Also, oil builds through the course of the day so if you're doing your shoot in the afternoon/evening, using some oil is definitely recommended.
  • Minimize usage of products that have a highlighter in them: A "highlighter" is often used with makeup "contouring", and basically just makes specific wherever the makeup is applied shinier. They'll often come across with a slight sheen in the makeup.
  • Go easy on blush: It's easy to put on too much blush for photographs as usually it's not as obvious under natural or lights in your home. The color-corrected nature of portrait lighting will show over-application of blush though, so everything in moderation. 
  • What if I typically don't use much or any makeup? This is completely fine - as retouching allows me to apply similar effects of makeup in post like smoothing skin and removing under eye shadows. If possible I typically recommend applying at least something around the eyes to bring them out.

If you have any questions of course feel free to contact me at info@sungparkphotography.com as we build out your portrait shoot! Again thank you for choosing me as your photographer, and I'm excited to work with you!! 

How Should I Prep for a Portrait Session?

First of all, thank you for choosing me as your portrait photographer!

I thought it would be helpful to put much of the pre-shoot prep information in one place, as it is my most asked question as the portrait session nears.

My most asked questions are:

  • What should I wear? Are there colors/patterns I should avoid? What looks best?
  • What should I do with my makeup? Is there anything that I should avoid wearing? Will there be a makeup artist available?
  • Where and when should we shoot the portraits? Will you come to me or do we need to select a venue?
  • Do you retouch the images (ie commonly known as "photoshopping" or post processing)?

Warning: this is basically a brain dump, so this is a lot of words and I can ramble.. you've been warned.

 

What Should I Wear?

In general, I typically recommend that you prepare at least 2-3 different outfits for the shoot. At the bare minimum I like to have people bring 1 casual outfit (which can absolutely be whatever you come to the shoot wearing), and 1 dressier or professional outfit. But if you want all of the shots to be professional/dressy outfits, of course feel free to bring an assortment of those.

You won't need to bring different pants/skirts as most of the time the portraits are waist up or higher (a traditional portrait or headshot is usually cropped around chest level or even tighter in some cases).

Avoid distracting patterns or designs. Usually solid colors work the best, in a complimentary color to your skin tone.

If you want to wear a white button-up shirt/blouse, it's often a good idea to bring a blazer or something to layer on top of it as a plain white button up can appear a bit flat in photos by itself.

If you're wearing jewelry, try not to wear anything that is super shiny as it can catch light from the strobes in a distracting way.

If you are wearing a suit jacket, I tend to recommend one that is not lined or avoid heavier fabrics as it can add a lot of bulk to the portrait. I guess somewhat obvious, but cut in the shoulders is critical with both fitted tops and suit jackets, so try and wear a top where the seam hits correctly on your shoulder.

 

Any Tips on Makeup?

If you are doing your own makeup, I have a few recommendations based on what I've seen out of many portrait shoots, and what tends to work well or not so well.

I won't go into too much detail, as I am not a professional makeup artist, but a few basic things that will help a shoot go smoothly;

Bring powder! I think this is by far my most important tip. People have all different types of complexions, but in general almost everyone that I've taken portraits of can use a bit of powder (both men and women). As the day progresses, and skin gets more oily, it can catch light in an unflattering way and powder is a quick way to reduce/eliminate that shine.

In fact I have started to keep powder on hand for both men and women to use, as it can be so useful in really perfecting a look straight out of the camera. All is not lost if you don't have access to it however, as typically I can correct for shine in post/retouching.

Avoid or minimize usage of highlighter (unless you have specified a shoot outdoors or in natural light). Again, I am not an expert in makeup but I've noticed that with the popularity of contouring, highlighter in powder or by itself has become pretty common. The vast majority of my portrait shoots are in the studio, using high powered strobes, and these lights are amazing at defining subjects in a flattering way. However highlighter tends to show up as shine in an otherwise perfectly exposed image. If you want to use highlighter, I would recommend using the bare minimum to complete a look as a little goes a long way in the studio.

Go easy on blush. In natural light and varying types of light (say you did your makeup by window light and then come into my studio where you are light by slightly cooler temperature strobes) blush can be more or less intense. Again, like with highlighter, a little goes a long way when it comes portraits taken with studio strobes. If we are specifically doing an outdoor shoot with constant light sources, then a bit more is totally fine but in general we will be shooting indoors using strobe lights.

I tend to prefer shooting earlier in the day as oil tends to accumulate more on the skin towards the end of the day, and in general energy levels are higher earlier in the day.

Lastly, goes without saying that you should drink plenty of water and get some rest the day before the shoot as that often will do more for your complexion than hours of makeup.

Also, if you feel like you'd be happier with a professional makeup artist to prepare your look for the day, I can absolutely recommend one that fits your budget and needs.

 

Where and When Should We Shoot the Portraits?

If the shoot is in NYC, and you are coming to my studio in Chelsea (off of 24th and 7th and nearby most of the major subway lines) then we can work around any time of day - early morning, past midnight, etc.

If I am on location in SF and Seattle (or other cities, but these are the two other cities I tend to service the most), then I recommend a space that is at least 12-15 feet lengthwise (in general the more space the better), with at least 8 feet of width to work with, and the ability to close or shade the windows if we are shooting during the day. If we are doing a posed portrait for you, I prefer some privacy as it makes it much easier for you to relax and get into the shoot. I won't need access to electrical outlets as all of my gear is all battery powered.

As I mentioned in the makeup section though, earlier in general is always better as you will have more energy, and skin has a way of accumulating oil as the day progresses.

If we are shooting outdoors, in general I recommend avoiding shooting right around high noon and instead either in "golden hour" of around sunset and sunrise. But with the magic of battery powered strobes, we can light you perfectly in many different conditions so just inquire about what your preferences are. Keep in mind though that in some cases an outdoor shoot can be a bit more expensive if hiring an assistant is required to hold shade/reflectors/lights/beer/etc.

 

Do You Retouch the Images?

This topic is a popular and somewhat sensitive one for many, but in short, yes I absolutely do retouch images to varying degrees (almost all of the photos in my galleries have had some amount of retouching done to them).

My ideal for portrait retouching is an image that simply looks like the best photo ever taken of you, rather than an image where the instant reaction is "wow that was heavily retouched". So I take the time to reduce prominence of aspects of the portrait that may be less flattering, but I typically don't remove them completely.

My retouching approach is focused towards essentially bringing out the most flattering elements of the image. I typically will smooth the skin slightly to reduce the prominence of pores - important to note that I do not smooth skin to the point where pores entirely disappear as this can lead to an unrealistic doll-like appearance. I strongly believe that reducing prominence of pores is not "cheating" when it comes to making an image look better, as it is intended to selectively dial down the level of detail ("specularity" in photographer's parlance) that studio strobes and incredibly detailed high megapixel camera sensors are able to deliver. In real life, when someone is standing in front of you, no one can see the level of detail in your pores and such unless they were literally a couple inches from your face, so in essence retouching/smoothing skin is actually a better reflection of reality than straight out of the camera non-retouched images. Think of it as perfectly applied foundation :)

In addition to all of this I will do the baseline level of retouching like correcting for color temperature and balance, exposure, and some tasteful cropping to ensure we're focused on you the subject.  I'll also decrease darkness under the eyes, increase the prominence of the irises so they really pop in the image, and remove skin blemishes like acne and such.

Also, if we find that there is an image that is absolutely perfect but perhaps a lapel is sticking out in an awkward way or we're shooting maternity photos and your belly band is showing through the material of your clothing, I can easily remove these things as not to distract from the image.

Again I will stress that this is something that I will work closely with you to dial up or down, as I want to make sure that people are 100% thrilled with the images I produce. I strive for people to leave my studio (whether it's my actual studio in NYC or on location in your home of office) feeling like we've worked together to produce the best photos anyone has ever taken of them. 

If you have any questions of course feel free to contact me at info@sungparkphotography.com as we build out your portrait shoot! Again thank you for choosing me as your photographer, and I'm excited to work with you!!