Wednesday, November 19

Lighting Set Up for Never Alone

Camera: Canon EOS 60D
Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm L f4 focal length 70mm
Flashes: Two- Canon 580ex ii, Two- Canon 430ex ii TTL mode
Light Modifiers: 12" Beauty Dish, 24" Beauty Dish, Theatrical Blue Gels
Iso 800,  f10, 1/250
White Balance: Daylight

There were two flashes covered with blue gels. One was place below the pipe and the other was behind her head. Then I put a small beauty dish above her head and covered it with a more transparent blue plastic - just enough to add some more blue on the hair but not on the face. There was a bigger beauty dish pointed to her nose. No blue gel here as I wanted her face to look normal. The light spills from the blue gels of the other light sources add a bit of hue to her face and I thought that was okay. I set the white balance on Daylight to make her face a bit warmer.

For the smoke, we just have to keep shooting until we got the result that we desired. I asked the model to practice smoking the pipe a few days before so I think that helped. By the time we were done, while I needed a smoke, my poor model told me that she was done smoking for the day.

Tuesday, November 18

The Young Artist (before they ruined the John Lennon wall)

Addendum:  I read the news today Oh boy... and found out that some students calling themselves Prague Service painted over the famous John Lennon wall in Prague.  What a shame.  I was there last year and was able to document the stuff posted on the wall.

Story link here.

Original Post June 8, 2013 below.

Shown here is Spunky H completing her graffiti art on this wall. She has been known to single handedly cover an entire wall with her signature graffiti in less than two hours. Rumor has it that England-based graffiti artist Banksy is considering a collaboration project with Ms H.

Anne: Love the color. I wonder what she is writing.

Juzno: Don't know either but I think it was in Korean.

Anne: Oh... she must be addicted to Korean drama... pretty boys and girls...

Juzno: Oh yea ... Ms H has been known not to miss any episode.

Fujifilm X-pro 1, 35mm
© 2013 Rob Castro
Lennon Wall, Prague, Czech

Tuesday, November 11

Heavenlies (Repost)

Originally posted January 29, 2014

Dear Rob,

Yes, it's me.  I know I have not touched base for a long time.  So this may come as a surprise.

I have so many gloomy thoughts lately.  Everybody wants to give me spiritual advice so that I may weather my dark thoughts.  They are fine things but most of the advice are of idiotic priestly qualities that sum up why I am feeling the way I am: they are telling me I have low self-esteem.  Perhaps.

At the present moment, I have lost my taste for the current state of the visual art.  Every time I go to websites like Flickr and Facebook, all I see are mediocrities of utter proportions.  I look at these photos that are supposed to stimulate me and all I could think about is "So what?"  There is nothing compelling to see.  The street photography that I highly look up to has devalued into shades and blurs of mundane events - if you can even call them events - that does nothing to satisfy the soul.  I have tried to go back to nature photography.  Even that is pathetic.  Most of the ones I've seen have been shown before.  I think I can understand this deadly apathy for there is nothing new under the sun. 

Even the photo shots I attempted to make.

At least there is music.  I am still contemplating my response to Mr Mojo Rising as he shook my imagined reality into bits and fragments of made up illusions.  I now have taken refuge to listening to the classics: Berlioz, Brahms and the likes.  Their music is not classical in the real sense but my ignorance in classical music allows me to find that excuse in my music appreciation.  They say that music appreciation is subjective.  A rather profound statement if I may think so.  Because if appreciation is subjective, what is the basis for its subjectivity?  Shouldn't there be an objective standard to say that one is subjective?  If one can say, "that is subjective" then can that statement also be based on subjectivity?  "Well then, your statement is just as subjective as mine."  If all else - then everything is subjective.  Such a grim thought it seems to me.  Which means everything in this world is subjective.  For now, I shall table this problem when my thoughts are not as clouded.

Please excuse this silly banter as I have nothing better to write about.  Please drop me a line when you have a chance.  Until then,

Yours forever,


P.S.  I am attaching a photo of what I recently took while I still have the strength to take pictures of nature.  I feel that strength is waning.  Oh well.  Maybe you can look at it from a different perspective and let me know how it is.  Cheerio.


Somehow Juzno's letter fell into the hands of "M":

Dear Juzno, It’s me.   Well, lookie here… it’s Novela descending from heaven only this time, focused. I avoid giving and taking advice. But one thing’s for sure. I observe.Last week as I was on my way to blowing this pop shop, I looked to the west and saw an incredible sunset.I thought about you my friend and hoped that  you’d tuned in. What a drag if every sunset was exactly the same. Change is awesome and you look good in blue.

At this time, Juzno finds time to have the time to respond to Ms "M":

Dear "M",

Your genuine warmth and splendor has brought daylight into my melancholic moments.  Alas, I have been awaken from a momentary lapse of vitality.  Life is indeed good.  By the way, do I really look good in blue?  It may interest you to know that last night after reading your letter I have ordered on-line a dozen suits with matching ties and socks - all in Indigo Blue.  Why a dozen, you may ask. Well, I needed a least seven for each day of the week.  And then I wanted to have back-ups.  And back-ups of the back-ups.  And so on.  One cannot be too complacent nowadays.

I also see a glimmer of hope in the market.  The Dow slumped by almost 200 points at present.  That is good according to my broker.  He has given me wise advice to buy more stocks while they are cheap. I cannot question his wisdom for I am such a financial illiterate.  But I trust that all will be well.  He advised me to invest in blue colored corn.  That is why I thought your observation about me in blue was an epiphany.  I now own 0.00000000000000001% of Monsanto's genetically modified corn stocks.  I am hoping that by the end the year, my investment would reap its harvest.  That is assuming that the Republicans lose the House, and the Russians lift the ban on gays.

I will keep you posted on how my blue colored corn is doing.  Until then, I remain,

Verily yours,


Thursday, November 6

Stand By Me

I find it interesting that at times one has to resort to social media to get the exposure one needs to stand out.  I read somewhere that Picasso was very good at that.  He befriended the French Resistance while sipping wine with the Nazis.  The alternative is one dies and hopefully gets discovered after decades like what happened to Van Gogh and Vivian Maier.

What does this have to do with this picture?  Actually, nothing.

But the last few days, I've found myself hysterically campaigning to get my photo entry noticed that I've lose sight of the trees from the forest (or was that the other way around?)  In one of my previous post, I quoted Magnum founder Henri Cartier-Bresson, "You want to give something to know that somebody will accept it. In fact, when you love somebody, somebody will not turn you down, your love is accepted. And this is communication to me. To give something which is..."  At the end of the day, art should be about communicating.  That is sobering to me.  It is not about scoring points and receiving accolades - although that in itself is not bad.  But when that becomes the end, the pursuit of art becomes vain and empty.

I still think that the brilliant minds were able to convey their messages effectively through their art... perhaps they got their art published through some social connection but that's the way it is for most competing endeavors.  Social networking it seems is neither good nor bad -- but when it becomes quid-pro-quo then honest art is compromised.  At least, that's what I think.  But I would also like to think that my heroes in art never gave in to just be popular.  True art is about being true to oneself.

Wednesday, November 5

Are we afraid that heaven is a bribe?

Photo © 2014 Rob Castro

You may think that there is another reason for our silence about heaven - namely, that we do not really desire it . . .  It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. - C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, November 4

Food Selfie Antithesis

With the ubiquity of cell phone cameras, most people can't resist taking pictures of the food they are about to eat.  I choose to do the opposite.  The photo above is what was left over from the seafood lunch that we just ate.  Hence, the poor viewer has no choice but to imagine what the food was like.  Some will think that is kind of cruel of me but I insist that it was out of mercy that I did it.

My sister-in-law celebrated her birthday at Gladstone in Malibu.  Her husband had ordered a seafood plate appetizer that was so huge it occupied our entire table.  Poor old husband had to leave to pick up his nephew at the airport so he didn't really enjoy his appetizer.  While he was gone, she, Rose and I all ordered two-pound lobster each.  At first glance, on the menu I thought it was $38 for the lobster.  Well it was -  except that it was $38 per pound.  Two Chardonnays, two ice teas, two cappuccinos and a shot of Macallan 18 year old whiskey later, our bill came to the neighborhood of $550.  All that was left was a few chips on the basket.  And her husband hasn't returned yet.  I thought that he at least deserved to know that we were very happy with our food and show proof that the only ones left were the chips.  After all, it was his credit card that my sister-in-law used to pay for our bill.

#food #macro #chips #CloseUp #NaturalLight #FoodSelfie #humor

Tuesday, October 28

Surprised by Joy

I was experimenting with the custom white balance using the Expodisc on my Canon 60D the other day and I forgot to reset it back to Auto.  The next day when I used the 60D on this photo I was pleasantly surprised to see the unusual colors.  So I kept the color the way it is.  I just love it whenever I'll get these joyful "accidents".

#flower, #WhiteBalance

Monday, October 20

Thoughts on Babes, Cake and Candies (Repost)

Black and white photos tend look timeless in my opinion. As someone commented this is a Kodak moment. Though maybe Fujifilm -- the camera I used to shoot this -- will probably resent the reference to Kodak.

The picture of the two girls could have been taken in the 1950s. Yet they have just been captured last summer. That's 2012 for those of you reading in the future.

I like how their dresses appear 50'ish. Even their hairstyles look retrospective to me. Somebody told me it's called the Betsy Johnson look. Now I know what to tell my hair stylist next time I go for a hair cut.

And the M&Ms. Did you know they were created in the 40s so that the chocolate won't melt? 

The two girls are focusing on something other than the M&Ms -- that is a bit of a mystery because it is out of the frame. What was it?

#BlackandWhite, #children

Friday, October 10

How I create portraits (part 2)

Here are some examples of the before and after using the technique mentioned in Part 1:

Example A

Example B

Example C


Thursday, October 9

How I create portraits (part 1)

Here's a glimpse of my workflow:

I shoot everything in RAW and usually bracket my exposure.  Then I import my images in Lightroom 4 (LR4).  Out of the bracketed exposures, I choose one that seems right for me.  Here is a screen shot of the RAW image in LR4:

This was shot with the EF24-70mm f2.8 L ii mounted Canon 5D mk ii.  Focal length 70mm, 1/400 sec, f/2.8, ISO 400, no flash fired, aperture priority.  Not an ideal camera to have for portrait but since that was what I carried at that time - it would have to do.  As one can see, there are a lot useless space on the image.  Cropping out those useless pixels would compromise the quality of the image but I didn't have much choice.  (My EF70-200mm f4 would have been a better choice but I left that at home.)

In LR4, I tweaked the image so it looks a bit better:

Exposure +0.45, Contrast +22, Highlights -100, Shadows +80, Whites 0, Black 0, Clarity +18, Vibrance 0, Saturation -3, Tone Curve (TC) Highlights 0, TC Lights +9, TC Darks -6, TC Shadows 0, Split Toning 0, Sharpening 25, Radius 1.0, Detail 100, Noise Reduction 0, Enabled Profile Corrections, Everything else is 0.

Then I export the image to Photoshop CS6.  Here is the image cropped at 4x3 portrait:

Using Silver Efex Pro 2, the image is rendered in black and white:

Then I remove the background using layers.  It is much easier for me to remove the background when the image is already in B&W.

I used Analog Efex Pro to add some grit and dirt:

Viveza for selective dodging and burning:

On a new layer, I then tamed the highlights on the nose and the beard using the brush tool and copying the grey tones that are on the image.

Then I created a vignette using Color Efex Pro 4 and was able to easily remove the name tag with a brush tool.  We are almost there.

Then I darkened the entire image using Viveza but I masked the face so it would not be affected.

I added a film grain using Color Efex Pro 4 to smoothen out the gradation on the background.

The last step is to create a copy using Shift+Alt+Cmd+E on the iMac.  Then I applied the hi pass filter that is built into CS6.  I applied a Radius of 1.8 pixel.

Change the blend mode to Soft Light and reduce opacity to 17%.  Viola!

Hope this helps.  Next time I will write about how I get my signature shoe polish look on the faces of my portraits.  Cheers.


Wednesday, October 8

Riva del Garda from a room with a view

Riva del Garda is a small town located in northwestern corner of Lake Garda, which is the largest lake in Italy. 

We were blessed to have a balcony overlooking the scenery.  The weather was near perfect.   

Friday, October 3

River Verona

Photo © 2014 Rob Castro

This was taken after Rose and I left the The Verona Arena (Arena di Verona), which is Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Bra in Verona, Italy built in 30 AD. (I'll see if I have any good shots of the amphitheatre for the next post.) We had to walk back to the cemetery where our coach was parked - probably a good 20 minutes walk - while the rest of our group took the taxi. On the way back, we passed this river. A mix of modern and antiquated architecture and gentrification.