Friday, September 19, 2008

Capturing Faith

I don't know how many of you reading this is religious, or have at least thought about what religion means to you (or the people around you). I've given this a lot of thought this past month and was "forced" to come face to face with not just what religion (Christianity) means to me, but also to those around me (especially my brother). I was asked to photograph two church (EFC Irvine - Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine) events... first was the 1.5 Gen worship (I was going to attend anyways, but my brother asked me photograph it - I was really honored and gladly accepted). The 1.5 Gen worship is more of an informal gathering than an actual fellowship that meets every other month or so. It is geared towards people like me, those of us that are not 1st generation Chinese, nor 2nd generation... those of us that have no place to call home, no single culture to identify with but instead straddle the line, mixing best parts (I hope) of both cultures. The service is done mostly in Chinglish and consist of song/hymns in the beginning, a sermon and quick prayer session... all kept informal for the younger audience. For this, I tried to capture of a personal relationship with God, and just the power of faith for individuals... Here are some shots:


From EFC Irvine 1.5 Gen Worship


From EFC Irvine 1.5 Gen Worship


From EFC Irvine 1.5 Gen Worship


I just love the back lighting of this shot... not sure why but just has that "big stage" feel almost.
From EFC Irvine 1.5 Gen Worship


While this shot is a bit blurry... I still like it. I've known him for a long time and it's just powerful image to see him so devoted and I could almost feel the power/energy flowing through him and reaching me....
From EFC Irvine 1.5 Gen Worship



From EFC Irvine 1.5 Gen Worship


From EFC Irvine 1.5 Gen Worship


Here I started playing with the wide angle and strong back lighting to get some lens flare as well as long shadows.
From EFC Irvine 1.5 Gen Worship

From EFC Irvine 1.5 Gen Worship


Some post processing done here to really highlight the spot light on the cross (deepened the shadow and brought out the highlights). The increased contrast seems to make the image feel more dramatic.
From EFC Irvine 1.5 Gen Worship


From EFC Irvine 1.5 Gen Worship


This might be my favorite shot from the day... I just love how everyone is kneeling down in front of the cross in prayer. I also like the wide angle distortion which makes the cross look much further away than it actually is. It was another extremely powerful moment for me, made me want to put down my camera and pray with them...
From EFC Irvine 1.5 Gen Worship

The second church event was EFC Irvine's 20th anniversary this past weekend... it also happened to be my brother's ordination as minister at the church so it was a big day for everyone involved. I was really hesitant to accept the "job" at first (mainly because I wanted to enjoy my brother's big day), but my mom's who asked and I really couldn't turn him down... The church wanted some large group shots mostly... which is probably the most challenging thing I've ever done as a photographer to date. Anyways, here are some photos from the day...

Started off with some photos of the choir, various performances...
From Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine 20th Anniversary

From Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine 20th Anniversary


I wanted some shots from behind the conductors, just felt it would be more interesting making him as the main subject...
From Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine 20th Anniversary

From Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine 20th Anniversary

From Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine 20th Anniversary


Some cute shots of the young kids choir...
From Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine 20th Anniversary

From Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine 20th Anniversary

From Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine 20th Anniversary


Then came the big event for me, my brother's ordination...
I have to admit, when they raised the projector screen and the cross became visible... I was really moved... it was just "wow" for me. I can't quite explain the feeling I had inside... but it was different, something really strong.
From Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine 20th Anniversary

From Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine 20th Anniversary

From Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine 20th Anniversary


This was the most powerful shot for me of the day... He has changed a lot... I remember back when we first moved to the states (we lived in South Pasadena back then), he was really one of the "bad" kids, joining gangs and what not. But God has really changed his life, perhaps saved him... going from gang member to a minister. I've always known how important the Church and everything is to him, but to experience it up close and personal, it was totally different... All these thoughts just hit me all at once, suddenly I got it... I understood him much better at that instant and it just moved me to see him so devoted. Like I said... looking through the lens allows one to experience things differently, on a much more intimate and personal level and this was no exception for me and perhaps that is what really touched me.
From Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine 20th Anniversary

From Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine 20th Anniversary


My brother has played a big role in the church, especially for the younger generation and has touched many lives... and today, you can add me to that long list as he has truly touched my life (the story of me and my brother warrants a whole post on its own).... For me, it was really heart warming to see him smile and be greeted by his close friends.
From Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine 20th Anniversary

From Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine 20th Anniversary


The day closed with a moving soloist that my mom claims is super handsome... I believe he works as a professional stage manager or director of some sort... anyways, he performed "How Great Thou Art!"
From Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine 20th Anniversary

From Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine 20th Anniversary

From Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine 20th Anniversary


From Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine 20th Anniversary


Finally, the group shots that I've been waiting for all day...
From Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine 20th Anniversary

From Evangelical Formosan Church of Irvine 20th Anniversary

So the group shots were really challenging, both from lighting and actual organization perspective. Each group size was very different, one group was about 1.5 times this group size and was near impossible to fit into the frame (and I was using the 10-22mm!!!). Larger groups also meant that there was more distortion on the side as I couldn't zoom in. I was too nervous trying to get everything to work and forgot to pay attention to balancing out the two sides so some groups had way more people on one side than the other... There were other people photographing the groups so there were people running all over the foreground... It was just not very organized and partly it's my fault, partly it's miscommunication. From lighting perspective, this was even more challenging. There was a spot light, but it mainly lit the center of the frame and it was a fairly warm light source... to balance this out, I set up an umbrella on each side of the frame for some cross lighting (the left umbrella pointed to the right edge, and right one points to the left). This allowed the majority of the light to "fall off" before hitting the center and far subjects which is exactly what you want as there'll be plenty of light coming from the other umbrella. To balance the colors out I gelled each of the flash with a full CTO gel and set my camera's white balance to tungsten... this more or less evened out the colors across the entire frame. The rest was more or less experimentation... I set the flash on manual at about 1/2 power to play with and then just adjusted the shutter/aperture on the camera to balance the exposure... some shots came out better than others, some shots were ruined due to the large group and close proximity to the umbrella (so the edges got too hot or bright). I was also using the cheapo ebay (Cactus V2) triggers which is definitely less than 100% reliable (seemed to be more like 75% accuracy)... All in all, I'm relatively satisfied with the results, especially considering this is my first time doing large group portraits. 


Anyways, sorry for the incredibly long post... and way too many photos. At the end of the day, I don't know if I captured people's "faith"... but I ended up with some images that had a lot of personal significance to me. On an interesting side note... quite a few people came up to me afterwards and asked what photo studio I was with ... o.O;; People are also fairly happy with the group photo results so it looks like I'll be doing a lot more church events in the future haha.