I. Starting up (2015)

My first experience with portraiture was working in the urban landscape. Structures, trees, and clouds acted as natural light modifiers, blocking and reflecting light. The sun was the most practical source of light for a beginner.

My first studio was an abandoned garage that faced toward the East (see white structure above). Light was generous and soft and easy to come by.

In June, I remember going to the local camera store, purchasing white seamless paper and renting a set of Tungsten (continuous) lights, along with two C-stands. I didn't know what I was doing, but the sense of becoming a portrait photographer was palpable.

I launched my first true studio with artificial lighting in January 2016 (although throughout the year, I relied on the sun for more consistent results). To marking this transition — from sun-based to battery powered light — I painted a blue canvas to replicate the signature look of celebrity photographers such as Annie Leibovitz.

I moved to my current location in 2017 and made gradual adjustments to my studio design, including additional lights, backdrop holders, and backdrops.

Picture captions:

[1] June, 2015. Early attempts at studio photography, with 53" white seamless mounted on two C-stands and continuous tungsten lights rented from DTC lighting.

[2] Studio version 1.0. January, 2016. Westcott 43 optical umbrella paired with a Yongnuo YN-560 IV speedlight, an Ikea chair, and the textured Cerulean canvas backdrop.

[3] Studio 2.0. May, 2017. Same Westcott umbrella, with a Photec Softlighter, seamless paper, a heavier backdrop holder, and an Ikea Dalfred stool.

[4] Studio 2.1. February, 2019. Improvements include: Ceiling-mounted backdrop holder, Godox AD600 monolight mounted to a Manfrotto A5012/D600 mini-boom, Fovitec 22 beauty dish, Flolight fluorescent bulb.

[5] Old neighbor's derelict garage. Offered excellent shade and indirect light as well as a beautiful rustic wood trim. Demolished sometime in late 2015.

2. Canvas

A photographer is as versatile as his/her equipment. I wanted to do something exceptionally different when I started studio photography, and in what better fashion than to paint a canvas, something I have little or no experience doing, and hoist it to a backdrop with three spring clamps (not easy without an assistant). I followed some basic instructions on painting methods and got my socks wet; making white swirls proved to be a meticulous procedure.

I ended up using an egg-shell acrylic paint by accident, which, sadly, reflects more light than would be ideal. That's why the canvas looks so much better when lit at a 150-170° angle from an indirect source (the garage open), rather than the position of the strobe (~45°). To this day, incident light make this backdrop a pain to use — but it's beautiful when it comes out well.

After this, I've painted several more canvases, including the spacious Eigengrau, Gainsboro, Mauve, and Jade/Espresso (though none as spectacular in detail as the Cerulean). My Dad designed several wooden rods that effectively store and unload the canvas in a jiffy — essential for my photo series at the BART stations. These rods were recently upgraded to Douglas Fir for additional strength.

The warping of the Mauve backdrop is especially problematic as that is the narrowest backdrop. Canvas typically stretches and fails to restore its original shape, and I learned the hard way that a canvas backdrop is rather sensitive to physical manipulation, water, and temperature. You can't un-stretch a canvas.

Textured Mauve backdrop
Construction going on here
Early method of hoisting the wooden rod
Eigengrau black (had to repaint this due to imperfections in the first coat)
Note the severe warping at the edges
Attempts to flatten the canvas

Textured Mauve backdrop Construction going on here Early method of hoisting the wooden rod Eigengrau black (had to repaint this due to imperfections in the first coat) Note the severe warping at the edges Attempts to flatten the canvas

3. Timeline

1990 - Born in San Diego, CA.

1997 - First trip to Hong Kong. Perhaps started experimenting with photography at this time.

2000 - Went on road trip to Banff, Canada. Started using analog photography with a Nikon FM.

2008 - Started undergraduate at University of CA–Davis. Acquired a Nikon D50.

2010-11 - Photographed the WCCC cycling season on film.

2015 - Moved to Berkeley, began to more seriously work on portraits.

2016 - Converted one-car garage into a studio space, started studio lighting.

2018 - Took the MCAT. Completed renovation of a 300 sq-ft. studio in Northside, and officially changed name to MLW Studio.

2019 - More wonderful things to happen!


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