Shutter Games

I recently got in touch with old colleagues from a photography/publishing studio that I used to work for.  I got called in to do some art direction regarding materials for this huge photography competition they were concocting. And knowing the team, I’m sure that this would definitely be something to look forward to.

I got at the new Bella Lucce studio around noon, where I met up with Nick (Digital Photography Philippines’ Editor in Chief) and did some catching up. It was moments later that Niko Villegas from Edge of Light came in along with his model.  Though this was the first time I’d be working with Niko, something about his vibe made me feel confident about us being able to dish out some kick assed results with the afternoon’s shoot… I was not disappointed.

Shutter Games Poster 1

and we even got the whole behind the scene to be featured soon on a photography show…

Video Guy

… where I could look forward to marveling at my awkwardness in moving picture form. © Digital Photographer Philippines

Let the games begin

For the event, teams would be comprised of two contestants, both would be shooting in regards to the given themes within Intramuros. Points will be cumulative to each submission the team would bring in, the highest of which will be the winner. Judging will be done by Edge of Light’s Niko Villegas, DPP’s editor in chief Nick Tuason, and Street / Fine Art Photographer extraordinaire Justine Wright.

Shutter Games Poster 2

Prizes for this event ranges from 10 to 30 grand plus photography gear. There is also a bonus category by the DOT (Department of Tourism): “Street Photography, It’s more fun in the Philippines”, where the chosen picture not only would get a cool 75 grand, the team behind it would also get an advertising contract to shoot for the ongoing DOT campaign.


Winning money is always “more fun” regardless of what country you are in.
© Digital Photographer Philippines

The Venue

A whole floor at the Bayleaf Hotel in Intramuros was cordoned off for the event. Space was an issue in housing the huge turnout, so it was a smart logistical move dividing the shooters into two large groups, alternating the time on who shoots and stay inside for all the photo gear goodies and seminars presented by top local photographers, which for me (the unqualified participant) was pretty much the meat of the event.

Personal space, where art thou?

Personal space, where art thou?

The Meaty Bits

Alright, I admit that the last month have been a dry photography season for me. I could only describe it as like hitting a wall of sorts, messing with my momentum, and diminishing my interest. Hoping that this seminars would snap me out of my stupor.


Trying out the theme “old and new”, and “accidental tourist”.


I finally found where this place is… achievement unlocked!


meh… rusty, rusty photographer boy.

Since the seminar was a free for all, I got to start off with Chasing Light’s Landscape and Advertising photographer Jay Jalorina. Now, I could shower this Canon Band Ambassador with praises about his work, technique, and teaching skills. But I’m still peeved with him running off with a camera flash I sold him years ago, which, up until now, I’m still waiting payments for.

What. A. Dick.

Good thing he “promised” me a FREE Chasing Light Workshop for my troubles. Which is good, because those workshops can cost up to php12k++, and hopefully I could write a review about it here afterwards.


After Jay, I walked in on Fujifilm’s sponsored seminar with one of the Philippines’ top Wedding Photographer, Lito Sy, which turned out to be a sales pitch for Fuji’s new X series. Holy crap, I’ve never wanted a camera so badly after that. The only thing that’s stopping me from swiping the old plastic cash is the image of me in a ditch, dirty, hungry, and probably missing a kidney… but with a brand spanking new x-pro.



I need my kidneys you bastard!

I also had a blast listening in on Mark Terence Sy’s talk on shooting concerts, the genre which  got me started with photography. It was nice picking up a few tidbits on how to capture the perfect shots with the challenge of erratic lighting and subjects from somebody who is successful at making a living out of it.


There was also a free Cosplay shoot with the self-proclaimed “Geek photographer” Jay Tablante, and Model Photoshoot with our pal Niko Villegas. I only got to sit in the latter half of Niko’s seminar, but what he said emanated with such sincerity that my respect for the guy went tenfold. He was sharing how grateful he was with finding a mentor such as Xander Angeles, who gave him the chance to be successful in doing the thing that he loves most, which is fashion photography. He reiterated the importance of paying it forward, being that now he is mentoring other aspiring photographers to reach their dreams.



And then there was George Tapan.

From what I heard, George had one of his pictures win an International National Geographic contest. Aside from that, I haven’t had the chance to know nor see the guy in action nor in person. But with the supposed accolades under his belt, I assumed we were in for a treat.


It started off with a video presentation of sound bites they got off from his guesting at Camera Geek TV. It went off nice enough, with George in one of his seminars in Corregidor, people having a good time and all that… after which, in a contemptuous tone, atop his photography high horse, disparage the use of Photoshop and other photography effects to “exaggerate” reality.

Now, I do think that some photographs out there are over the top in regards to post processing, but I don’t go around like a westbro batist photo nazi telling people what they should do with their photographs. As they say in Filipino: “walang basagan ng trip” (closest translation: to each his own).

To be fair, I did get where he is coming from. From a print standpoint, sometimes an overly processed photograph doesn’t come out right on print due to poor color management. It is where you need to hit the sweet-spot of having your color reproduced faithfully throughout mediums such as monitors, inkjet, and prepress printers. And having a faithful reproduction means you have a better chance of selling your photographs at the right price. But his fragmented way of speaking came out condescending, and having him show off his NatGeo award, exotic coffee table book projects, and expensive gears every minute or so wasn’t winning my sympathy to his cause either.

The last speaker I got to listened to was bird Photographer Rey Sta. Ana. I really appreciate the dedication of his bird photographer’s association in regards to protecting the endemic species of birds in our country. But with the optimal zoom lenses required that would equal the cost of a small house, I don’t think I would be joining in on their bird shooting fun anytime soon.

May the light be forever in your favor…

Overall the Shutter Games turned out to be quite an awesome experience. And for 250 bucks (500 since you need to register in pairs), it’s a great deal! Sure I did feel a tad rusty with my photography when I was trying out some of the themes, but what’s important is that it got me started again, sparking a little bit of curiosity and inspiration with the help of the speakers…

…and yes, even with Jay Jalorina. That dick. >:(

Workshop Review – Winsam Photography Workshop

I decided to mix things up by trying out some photography workshops that were out of my comfort zone. I was looking for something that wouldn’t take so much of my time and money, nor having to do any photo walks under this god forsaken heat. So I thought of shooting me some sexy models at Winston’s photography workshop.

Though I’m no stranger to Winston Baltasar’s outdoor studio workshops, I never did get the hang off adding strobe lights to my repertoire of mad photography skillz, nor did I have the resource to get good shooting them sexy ladies. Besides, these are one of those workshops I really don’t mind taking again.

The Instructor

Winston is a technical maestro when it comes to strobe lighting and portraiture with having 30 years of photography experience under his belt. He conducts his workshops during the weekends, costing around Php 1k – 1.8k ($24 – $44), and even less for students who are taking the course the second time around. A very good deal if you consider all the resources needed to make this sort of shoots happen.

Getting there…

The studio is located along Kamagong Street, Baragngay San Antonio, along Makati. If you’re commuting from the south like me, you’d want to take the LRT Ayala bus and get off “Mayapis” and have a tricycle drop you off the place where there is a huge mural of swimming dolphins.

The Workshop

The last time I took this course there was a morning “primer” to get the beginners acquainted with their gear. I’m assuming that the recent batch of students I was with weren’t beginners, so the morning was swiped aside and we went straight with the afternoon shoot.

The Shoot

The shoot would be consisted of 3 layouts, with the usual 15 minutes of rabid shooting time given to students per layout. They involve the model in casual attire, lingerie in a makeshift outdoor bed, and in a bikini during Winston’s signature water splash set up, (edit: which I was informed took longer than 15 mins) … yup, water splashes, alongside electronic equipment and lighting… let that sink in for a moment.

Oh my gulay… O_O

I can safely say that in most cases, I do not have a problem shooting people. I can go walk around shooting, and sometimes connecting with random strangers on the street without even batting an eyelid, but boy did my confidence level dropped when the crazy Disney otaku model Katie Anne walked in…

© Amiel Lapuebla, Workshop,Winston, 03

Damnit Amiel… Focus. Now’s not the time to go through puberty all over again.

And after a few minutes of experiencing a “blood loss” induced stupor, did I realize that she was with her photography extraordinaire buddy, Allan Muhlach.

The Setup

Now, this was my qualm in regards to photo workshops set up like this. There were around 10 -12 photographers at the workshop. We were divided by 2, with each group having 15 minutes each to get their shots within 3 shoot layouts. Now, each of these students has a couple of strobe lights assigned to them. Do the math and you’ll see that there are way too many lights (and light stands) getting in the way. Even though I’m a complete n00b in regards to strobe… I have art directed enough photo-shoots to know that not only does setting up one light would take around 2-5 minutes, add to the fact that I do not know what I’m doing which would probably take even more time. So, screw it, I said to myself… I’m shooting ambient.

My short lived tryout with a strobe. I think I used  Beauty Dish on this one... or a small Soft Box, I forgot.

My short lived tryout with a strobe. I think I used Beauty Dish on this one… or a small Soft Box, I forgot.

Katie Anne

With my little qualm aside, Katie turned out to be one awesome professional model. She brings so much character and energy to the table, that my inexperienced shots seemed like a winner. She even gave some tips on how to connect with the models I’m shooting, which I, the “shy” wallflower that I am, obviously lack.

© Amiel Lapuebla, Workshop,Winston, 11 © Amiel Lapuebla, Workshop,Winston, 12 © Amiel Lapuebla, Workshop,Winston, 13 © Amiel Lapuebla, Workshop,Winston, 14 © Amiel Lapuebla, Workshop,Winston, 15 © Amiel Lapuebla, Workshop,Winston, 16

“Sir” Allan the Awesome

If Katie Anne was this sweet, sexy, gorgeous icing on the cake. Allan would be the meaty cake bits. With the tips that I got from this guy, that Php1.8k ($44) that I paid for this workshop felt like stealing. This guy knows his stuff; from building report with the models he shoots, to the same “simplifying photography” philosophy we both share. This was accentuated by him presenting some really good portfolio work done with a kit lens and an on-board flash. This just shows that the guy gives more precedence connecting with the subjects, rather than hiding his face behind a big expensive camera system, which is evident from all the crazy gorgeous shots he has produced.

The Challenge

There is a transition that I had to cross between what I’m used to shooting and this workshop. From an “invisible” photographer that takes pot-shots off his subjects in a glass bowl, into someone who has to assert himself, commanding a connection with the model on top of the other photographers clamouring for the same attention. It was not an easy challenge for me to overcome, I don’t even know if my pictures exuded some of that supposed confidence (but they sure look pretty enough to me though), but having Katie as a model with Winston and Allan as instructors, sure made the steps a little easier.

© Amiel Lapuebla, Workshop,Winston, 01

© Amiel Lapuebla, Workshop,Winston, 04 © Amiel Lapuebla, Workshop,Winston, 05 © Amiel Lapuebla, Workshop,Winston, 06 © Amiel Lapuebla, Workshop,Winston, 07 © Amiel Lapuebla, Workshop,Winston, 08


If you have a dream of one day shooting sexy models for a men’s magazine, or if you just want to post something on Facebook that shows how much of a “like” whore you are, I would recommend that you try out Winston’s workshop. It is setup in such a way that there is a good chance, under the tutelage of Sir Winston, you would get yourself some really good shots even if you are beginner in photography. I would suggest though that you get a primer on how to utilize those strobe lights beforehand because you’d want to spend the limited time that you have building a rapport with your model rather than figuring out how to get those lights to work, let alone making them look natural on the spot.

© Amiel Lapuebla, Workshop,Winston, 18



Besides having some douchbag suddenly pop in front of your lens as you frame that awesome shot, or waiting for Sir Winston to finish his moment with the model, I would say that this workshop is an awesome way to spend your weekends.

Learning - *****

Having received their inputs and encouragements, I got pretty lucky for having Kate and Allen on board. Though I considered this genre of photography not my cup of tea, having to work with those guys inspired me to give this another look.

Technical - **

There were a lot of modifiers and strobe lights around and not much explaining on how they work. Did you know that it’s the aperture that you need to mess around to change exposures when using strobes?  Really? Well, I didn’t at that time.

Thriftiness - *****

Php1.8k ($44) (discounted) for a shoot with a crazy sexy stateside professional model, along with an afternoon picking the brains of a master. I felt that I cheated Winston on this one.


4 out of 5 thrifty awesomeness! I highly recommended this workshop for the experience.

Trying the patented Winston Workshop "splashing some water near equipment" shot... someday, Imma get this right... someday.

Trying the patented Winston Workshop “splashing some water near equipment” shot… someday, I’ma get this right… someday.


It’s the holy week season once again. The Catholic version of Ramadan, when instead of not eating things, we as a nation go on a spiritual journey to our own personal Meccas.

And for my personal Mecca, I visit my home province of Buhi, Camarines Sur.

Welcome to NakaBuhi!

Welcome to NakaBuhi!

Buhi, which is a few light-years south of manila (a slight exaggeration, but felt that way as my wife and I traversed 12 hours by land), is a town province of Camarines Sur. The quaint farm town began as a small settlement for refugees fleeing the outrage of Mount Mayon. This great exodus is known in their vernacular as “naka-buhi” or escape.  Asked by the Spaniards to “what” the name of their town was, it was misinterpreted to “how” their town began, hence: NakaBuhi.

Getting there

There’s a whole bunch of terminals in manila to choose from to get to Buhi, costing you around 400 to 800 pesos ($10 – $20). There’s even an option for  reclining lazy boy seats, but since it was the great Lenten Season exodus rush, we were lucky just to even purchase the tickets we had.

For the more adventurous type, there is also an option to take the train. You would want to take the Manila-Ligao City route, riding the train at the Tutuban Manila station which passes by your drop off point at Iriga City. From there Buhi is just a jeep ride away.

Those were the days

Back when I was a kid, Buhi was this mysterious and faraway place where time stood completely still. Sure, I crave every bit of that stillness now, but back then it was torment.  I was an indoor Manila boy, whose life revolves around the awesome “technologies” and “modern” conveniences the ‘80s had to offer. Back then, the idea of traveling that same 12 hour journey to a place devoid of my trinkets and doodads was upsetting, especially to my ADHD.

Another thing that bothered me back then was that holy-week during the pre-cable TV era means there was NOTHING good on TV.  It was just the usual touched by an Angel (before 7th heaven) marathons and the same faceless Christ TV series made in the ‘70s that are shown way before the R- rated, anti-sematic, blood fest, Mel Gibson version of today. And who could forget our beloved comedy variety show hosts trying to expand their acting prowess by diving into these contrived afternoon “Lenten Specials”?

Fast forward to 2013 and I find myself in front of the TV, sitting through a priest’s sermon about the evils of secularism, controlling life, health, and population. In an apparent yearning for us to go back to as an Islamabad-type church state, overpopulated with people with all sort of dark age blight and illnesses which are easily cured by today’s medicine and reason.

That’s when I decided that I really should get myself out and shoot me some pretty pictures.

The Farm

If I wanted to capture the uneasy stillness I felt when I was a kid going to Buhi, the farm would be an awesome subject of choice. Referred by the locals as “Malayee”, it is a vast field of rice that connects the hills of Buhi to its town center. There are neither power-lines nor streetlamps, so people usually cross its narrow stretch of walkways during the day, and that’s why I decided to shoot it at dusk.

This is me having one of those "farmer moments."

This is me having one of those “having my own farm would be awesome moments.”

Ducks! ducks everywhere!

Ducks! ducks everywhere!

© Amiel Lapuebla, Buhi, Camarines Sur 2013, 04

And this is why I opted to shoot at dusk.

© Amiel Lapuebla, Buhi, Camarines Sur 2013, 11

Almost regretted my decision after realizing how dark being in the middle of a farm could get.


Abandoned Resort

From what I remember, this was supposed to be a park of sorts for the people of Buhi that didn’t quite click. Abandoned and disregarded, it was left to be battered by the consistent torrential storms that cross our country.

© Amiel Lapuebla, Buhi, Camarines Sur 2013, 02

© Amiel Lapuebla, Buhi, Camarines Sur 2013, 03

© Amiel Lapuebla, Buhi, Camarines Sur 2013, 05

The Procession

There is this ritual among the devotees, where they place illustrations and other nick-nacks all around town portraying Christ’s time from palm Sunday up-to the resurrection. What they do is go “tag” themselves along these shrines in sequence until they complete the journey…like a very, very slow version of “The Amazing Race”.  Now, these processions up the ante by turning said illustrations and nick-nacks into huge floats. They then parade all over town just like marde-gras, but with the fun expunged and replaced with feet shuffling and somberness.  And these parades can get crazy long too! It took me more than an hour just to get at the back of the thing.

© Amiel Lapuebla, Buhi, Camarines Sur 2013, 14 © Amiel Lapuebla, Buhi, Camarines Sur 2013, 15 © Amiel Lapuebla, Buhi, Camarines Sur 2013, 16 © Amiel Lapuebla, Buhi, Camarines Sur 2013, 17 © Amiel Lapuebla, Buhi, Camarines Sur 2013, 18 © Amiel Lapuebla, Buhi, Camarines Sur 2013, 20

The Blackouts

Boy, does this town have a problem with their power. But it too can be a boon if you just look up.

© Amiel Lapuebla, Buhi, Camarines Sur 2013, 22

The Great Big Easter Surprise

This is the part where I give a big shout out to Cebu Pacific, thanking them for the 3 hours flight delay back to Manila.  I enjoyed every minute of that Easter day patiently waiting for more than 4 hours (because it was you guys who advised that we should be early for checking in to avoid the apparent hassle of being late for a flight). I did enjoy flying your non-air-conditioned craft during mid noon in this crazy heat, afterwards reshuffling my schedule that day to accommodate your fine service. I sure would like to do that again!

But with the Cebu Pacific guffaw aside, my short stay in Buhi reminded me of why I keep coming back. I have but explored a small part of this wonderful place due to time constraints. Something to look forward to when the time comes once again to pack my bags and carry on with my proud ancestral tradition of running away and doing my own “naka-buhi”.


Anawim (Hebrew), “the poor who depend on the Lord for deliverance.” 

So I’m working on this pet project for Anawim,  a community for the abandoned elderly which was established by the Light of Jesus Community, headed by Bo Sanchez.  The idea for the project came to me a few months ago while on a trip to Dos Palmas, where I got to meet the preacher in blue jeans himself. I figured sharing my “mad photography skillz” to raise awareness of some sort for the community. I guess this was my little way of “giving back” for the awesomeness I’ve experienced during the previous year.

Ah 5:00 am, you cursed ungodly hour, we meet again.

The pilgrimage to Anawim took a good 3 solid hour commute. Dozing off along the way, I didn’t really get much detail on the trip itself. But, I did remember waking up to the sight of a cheap crematorium along the road, which services adults for php 7500 ($180) and children for php 4500 ($110). Not only did the kiosk style establishment fail to exude customer confidence in me, but the unsightly shirtless man guarding the front door didn’t do much to help with it either.

Are we there yet?

After a few more minutes of butt numbing commute and dozing on and off, we got to pass by Payatas. A low income housing project which, I’m not sure, is spearheaded by either the local government, Habitat for Humanity, or Gawad Kalinga. The history of Payatas (Payat sa Taas) is quite gloomy, being that it’s a community living off the garbage of the metropolis. But I’m seeing some pretty decent housing units which is good progress.  I should do a photo documentary of the place someday.

…and then there is Anawim.

The place was the size of a Resort Villa with the ambiance. It has an administration building alongside a clinic, a gazebo chapel, nippa huts, where I assumed are where the orderlies are staying, and the rows of good, solidly constructed houses for the elderlies which are much better to the ones in Payatas.

After a brief orientation we were divided into smaller groups for a more intimate tour of the place. Where, to no one’s surprise, I got separated from my group and got lost… AGAIN. Which was ok because I really didn’t need the pressure of having to catch up with my group as I took a look around and met with the elderlies by myself.

Now I don’t really want to give away too much of this little work in progress project of mine, but here’s a little sneak peak of what I have so far:

© Amiel Lapuebla, Anawim, 01 © Amiel Lapuebla, Anawim, 02 © Amiel Lapuebla, Anawim, 03 © Amiel Lapuebla, Anawim, 04 © Amiel Lapuebla, Anawim, 05 © Amiel Lapuebla, Anawim, 06 © Amiel Lapuebla, Anawim, 07 © Amiel Lapuebla, Anawim, 08 © Amiel Lapuebla, Anawim, 09 © Amiel Lapuebla, Anawim, 10 © Amiel Lapuebla, Anawim, 11 © Amiel Lapuebla, Anawim, 12 © Amiel Lapuebla, Anawim, 13 © Amiel Lapuebla, Anawim, 14

Of Family

It is strange that a culture such as ours which gives precedence to family can have a problem with the abandoned elderly. We live in a culture of extended families living under one roof. So it is very unnerving to delve in these elderlies stories of how they were simply forgotten.  It is a boon to them that there are people like Bo, and the volunteers of The Light of Jesus who are there to offer a helping hand.

First Photo Trek of 2013 – Wawa Dam

I have procrastinated long enough.

I know it’s a little late for those “new year” blogs, but the year went off to a very busy start for me. So, better late than never, I guess.

Last weekend, me and a couple of photography buddies decided to trek WAWA DAM in Montalban Rizal. For those who are not familiar with the place. Wawa dam, also known as Montalban dam, is a gravity dam constructed over the Marikina River. Apparently it was built around 1909 during the American Colonial era, and was the only source of water for Manila until they build the Angat Dam. It would take about three to four hours commute from Manila to get there. That’s Manila going to Marikina, and Marikina to Montalban, Rizal.

© Amiel Lapuebla

It’s really not that far, but feels that way when you notice the rural-ness of the surroundings, from the peaks resembling the sacred mountains of China (it was a foggy day), to the rickety bamboo bridges, and the tranquility emanating all throughout…

© Amiel Lapuebla

…until the karaoke version of gangnam style started blaring,  which pretty much ruined the moment.

© Amiel LapueblaThere is a small village built above the dam which is easily accessible by trekking a flat surface trail…

© Amiel Lapuebla© Amiel Lapuebla© Amiel Lapuebla © Amiel Lapuebla, Wawa Dam, 06 © Amiel Lapuebla © Amiel Lapuebla
© Amiel Lapuebla© Amiel Lapuebla…BUT getting to the dam itself is ANOTHER story.

© Amiel Lapuebla© Amiel Lapuebla

I’ve researched some pictures of the dam on Google to know what to expect, but part of its beauty is its facets CHANGES over time. Gone are the bamboo bridges which are a boon to those like me who’ve never climbed rocks amidst raging dam water while lugging around my water allergic camera gears.

© Amiel Lapuebla© Amiel Lapuebla© Amiel Lapuebla

Yep, you read that right, ROCK CLIMBING amidst RAGING dam water. But with the pictures I got off it, it was dam worth it.

Here’s to an awesome 2013.