Shooting a Dan Winters style portrait

Sometime in May, I did a Dan Winters style test shoot with Abdu in a studio. I was feeling kind of adventurous and wanted to try a lighting style different from the usual 1-light Rembrandt I’ve been doing. So, I decided to dig through my Ideas Folder (basically a folder full of images I aspire to shoot) to find something more challenging to create.

Dan Winters has been one of my favourite photographers for a long time. I love the way he creates drama in his portraits by angling and slicing his lights. I also love how classic and sombre his portraits feel. It’s almost like a throwback in time. For a millennial who grew up seeing way too many clean, bright, overly optimistic images, Dan’s photos are certainly refreshing. There’s a certain realism and draw to it that I like. So for this shoot, I decided I would emulate some of his photographs.

I started off with watching a ton of videos on him (Oh thank god for the Internet). They ranged from interviews to behind the scenes to technical lighting videos. Aside from learning about his lighting techniques, I was also interested to know how he started envisioning his photos the way he do. After getting a good sense, I decided to find a model that would best showcase his style of lighting. As I’m using hard directional light this time, I wanted someone with very sharp, sculptured facial features to bring out the best in the lighting. Thankfully, I managed to find Abdu from Now Model Management, who aside from being an amazing model, was also an amazing person. I also worked with Christabel, a hair and make-up artist, so I could create a nice polished look to the photos. As if I was shooting a real magazine cover.

The key to this shoot was in the flagging of the lights and the use of a negative fill. Those are techniques I’ve never done before but after applying them I realised what a hugeee difference they make in the photo. I absolutely love how the shadows come in at the right place to create some sort of drama. It certainly makes the image more interesting than the usual Rembrandt. I bought these A1 sized black cardboards from Artfriend to use as flags. Flags help to block off light so the light goes only exactly where you want it to. Then I used the black side of a 3/4 body reflector as negative fill. As the name suggests, a negative fill helps to take away light and creates that nice dark shadows on his sides.

Another key for this shoot was the control of the fill light and the highlight to midtones to shadow ratio. The fill was given by a 4 ft Octabox directly behind my camera. It helped to give details in the shadows as well as provide a little bit of illumination to the background. Initially, I was too excited about the contrast I was creating I’d forgotten about my shadows, which I tried very hard to recover in post. Thankfully, there are still some details left. Having overly deep shadows can make the photo look a bit dated and out of trend. Something which I learnt from my mentor Geoff Ang and will take note for future shoots.

Overall, I was pretty happy with the final results and think I managed to get 70-80% of the ideal Dan Winters image I had in mind. Definitely something to continue working on. 

Check out the behind-the-scene pics below for my lighting diagram if you’re keen. If you wish to commission me to shoot a similar style portrait for you, drop me an e-mail at sayhello@matthewng.co and we’ll chat! Cheers!



Shooting YOTEL’s Purple Campaign

Wow, it’s August already? Time really flies…I know I promised regular updates on this blog so, no excuses, I’ve got 3-4 posts coming up, including this one, to make up for lost time :) 

In April this year, I got a chance to work with Monimedia, an agency, and their client YOTEL for a social media campaign around the theme Purple, which is YOTEL’s corporate colour. The agency wanted to create a series of images for YOTEL’s Instagram page with a consistent purple colour scheme to give the page a fresh consistent outlook. Their brief to me was simple:  Go around Singapore and find purple objects with a local flavour to photograph. When I first heard of the brief, I was like: Hell yes, challenge accepted! This is my favourite type of brief, where the client just trusts you and leaves you to go out there to get the shots. You can manage your own timeline and be free to photograph whatever you want as long as it’s on brief. To add to the awesomeness, as I also love roaming & discovering new places, this brief was just perfect. Although the campaign was canned halfway through publication due to some internal restructuring, it still remains one of my favourite assignments today. 

So how did we do it? Although the brief was straightforward in expectations, it wasn’t exactly as straightforward in execution. One of the crucial things was to ensure an efficient use of time to capture all the objects needed. It wouldn’t be effective to just roam the streets with an off-chance of finding something purple, only to photograph it and have the client reject it at the end of the day because we can’t write a suitable photo caption around it. So the agency and I came up with a list of objects/landmarks that can be photographed, found out where we can shoot them, and then decide how much time I need to get all the images. Also, not all objects/landmarks need to be photographed. The agency decided to use stock images for the overly photographed landmarks like GBTB and MBS so I could focus on getting the more local shots. Below is a brief sample of the document we created: 

The pre-production research was perhaps the most tedious part of the shoot. Although the shoot took around 2 days (18hrs), the research & planning itself took me 1 entire day! With a solid checklist and a proper schedule, the shoot was easy breezy! I went into shooting the assignment with a laser sharp focus. There were little hiccups like being unable to find certain objects/locations cos they’ve shifted but all in all, no big deal. The images I submitted were in neutral colours, to which the agency will do some enhancements to bring out the purpleness. 

Here are some of the images I’ve submitted to the agency! It’s a pity I never got to see the final imagined product.

If you wish to commission me for similar assignments, local or overseas, drop me an e-mail at sayhello@matthewng.co and we’ll chat! 


Shooting for a Commercial client/March Update

It has been nearlyyy a month since my last post. Pardon me as I’m still trying to get into the groove of blogging regularly. The past month has been a busy month for me: I started it with a multi-day conference shoot for a logistics company, then did a corporate photoshoot for a team of 32 financial advisors (phew) before flying off to Shanghai for a week of travel conference coverage. The month concluded with a shoot for the chefs and managers of an Italian restaurant group. So yea, I’m thankful for the little bit of breathing space now to blog and explore Singapore.

At the end of Feb, I got a chance to photograph for a commercial client (Voltaren Singapore) thanks to a recommendation from a good friend of mine, Keith. We worked on a personal shoot with my go-to model Victoria last year in Dec and his clients loved the photos enough to engage us for this shoot. This is my first commercial shoot and commercial is where I want to head so I’m very thankful for this opportunity.

Doing a commercial shoot presented new challenges for me but it was a great experience learning how to overcome them. I tend to work directly with my clients for most shoots but this time round there’s an agency involved and having an agency involved means another set of expectations to manage. Thankfully the agency was very proficient, so I didn’t get much “client trouble”. Of course, there were times when ideas flip flopped or gets culled halfway but that’s only normal because of the no. of parties involved. In the end, we settled on a series of photos shot against white background for flexibility, which would be processed as GIFs later. The concept was to introduce stretch ideas using GIFs as part of a content marketing campaign Voltaren Singapore was doing. 

After weeks of discussion, the shoot finally took place. Except for a few hiccups, the shoot itself went fairly smooth. I had worked with Victoria, our female model, before so there were no surprises. Elavaanil, our male model, was a super fun guy and had great vibes with Victoria. For shoots like this where technical proficiency isn’t a big challenge, I prefer to concentrate my energy on directing the models and creating the right kind of mood. The agency wanted the photos to turn out fun/optimistic/high energy so once I got to the studio, I had some good vibes music set up. During the shoot, I also cracked some jokes to further lighten the mood. The shoot got really fun towards the end when we did the couple stretches. Everyone was laughing, even I completely forgotten how stressed I was. 

Well, that’s all I’ve to share for this short update! :) Check out snippets of the Facebook Canvas Keith put together from our work and the behind the scenes below:


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