Today I want to introduce my friend Yinsey whom I’ve had the pleasure of shooting and working with in the past. A creative soul, Yinsey spends her days working as a lawyer and any time out side of work she’s cooking up and executing creative ideas!
During this lockdown she’s been sharing her journey into self portraits over in our Color Lab Facebook group and it’s been wonderful watching her grow. I wanted to share her inspiring journey with you all! Yinsey was kind enough to answer a few questions and share her thought process with us.
I hope you enjoy her story and that it inspires you to push yourself in ways that may challenge you too!
A little background
When Bella Kotak approached me to write this article after seeing a few of my posts, I was over the moon! I love her work and find her teaching methods so inspiring and helpful. On a personal level, I am grateful for her and many others’ respective friendship in encouraging me to try new things, including creating these shots at home. Although I am still experimenting with style, software and hardware, I am trying to be brave in sharing it online. Here is a bit about my journey so far, and hopefully it will encourage you to share your work too!
Getting creative and delving into artistic pursuits is a real treat, especially given I have a very different day job as a lawyer. As a child, I always loved playing games where I could project myself as all sorts of exciting characters, like the ones in adventure stories and fairy tales. Then, I realised as an adult that I could continue at it, as I started getting exposed to the world of fine art and fantastical portraiture photography. Modelling became an outlet for me – I became a chameleon of sorts, a princess one minute, then an armoured warrior another. In the process, I made so many wonderful friends who push me to grow and explore what is possible.
Finding an escape
As the lockdown began, I cancelled modelling workshops, projects and trips. It has become ever more apparent that this would be a much-longer term lifestyle that I would need to adjust to, i.e., not going out there into the woods, a ruin or a studio with an abundance of props to play around with. However, I felt I had all this creative energy that I wanted to channel somewhere and I wanted to escape this situation somehow. With so many cancelled plans, I recuperated some time and thought to myself, how can I fill it in a way that is meaningful and important to me? For me, I wanted to go back to those mystical worlds of mythology and adventurers. Of course, everyone deals with these sorts of times in all sort of ways, and in addition, circumstances may restrict movements, access to resources, energy and time. I know I am incredibly lucky that I have such a supportive husband who allows me to take over our living room, provides moral support and helps me click the camera for the final picture!
I had some basic fluency in Photoshop because I used to draw a lot of anime and manga (in my high school years!) using the program and also tried some photography (when I was studying law and beginning my training as a lawyer). I liked shooting simple photos for friends, but found it stressful to shoot and edit for more “ambitious” projects where teams were relying on me for pictures. I was also never confident about editing or using all these multitude of tools on Photoshop. For the last five years, aside from candid photos of friends and holiday pictures, my camera was collecting dust. Then it “clicked” (forgive the pun!); during the beginning of the lockdown, I started scanning the recesses of my brain for my own little “creative” bucket list and remembered I had always wanted to train myself more formally in portraiture and composition. So, I bought was Bella Kotak’s and Pratik Naik’s Creative Live course entitled “Fine Art Conceptual Photography from Shoot through Post-Processing” and it opened my eyes to the world of using layers effectively and the application of Curves, Dodge and Burn. I finally understood how to use layer masks and felt empowered to give it a go!
Resources and exploration
The beauty of self-portraiture is you just need yourself (a huge bonus is if you are isolating with a willing minion to help focus and click the camera, hold props and swish hair, etc. – in case, my husband Han!). Lockdown also makes you resourceful – what do you have in your home or “bag of tricks” to create? Given my modelling hobby, I have amassed some pieces here and there that I would use for shoots, and so I thought to start incorporating them into my work. I also have a collection of dried flowers which I turned into a headpiece.
Investing time (that I would have otherwise been using commuting in and out of London) in watching tutorials and making mood boards have been integral into getting me into the right mindset.
Tutorials have helped me understand more about the tools available to me as well as how to use them more confidently than previously. There are also tons of other online resources (many of them free or heavily discounted given lockdown pricing) that are out there, it is almost a bit overwhelming how much is out there to teach and equip you. I think a great question to ask oneself before embarking on anything is “how do I learn best?”, for example, for me, I like a step by step and structured course, so I decided to invest a bit of cash in courses instead of watching YouTube clips in isolation.
By collecting and analysing images, it got me thinking about what appeals to me artistically. I have also started to ask myself questions about what makes an image effective. For example, one of the tips I picked up from Bella’s and Pratik’s Creative Live course is considering the expression of hands. I am now so much more conscious of that!
Everyone has to start somewhere – my first attempts
My first attempt involved using some pistachio shells to make some flowers, which I spray painted gold. I thought to try this after browsing around some DIY sites and looking at images showcasing pistachio shell art. I was so conflicted about sharing it on social media at first but gave myself a mini pep talk before finally sharing. It was definitely worth it! A photographer reached out saying how much they loved it, and had even created an animation out of it, with movement coming out from the petals!
On our social distancing walks, my husband and I have been coming across pinecones, bits of twig and all sorts. Let’s just say, I am a bit of a magpie… I spray-painted them gold and off-white and clumped them together and started daydreaming about an idea of these bits and bobs being left behind by fairies. So, out spun the concept of a forest maiden who wanted to remember the fairy folk before she would then grow too old to remember them (sort of a Neverland concept!). In addition, a dried flower crown I made was placed on my head, and voila, I had my second attempt! The Pratik Naik “Portrait Retouching Basics” course came with some complimentary Color Lab actions and so I played around with it, and the results delighted me. I tweaked the settings and I think it was a bit of a “eureka” moment for me when I understood the power of a good Photoshop Action!
Later, I got a bit braver in my third piece, inspired by Mulan actually! I had a Chinese hanfu lying about that I always wanted to shoot, so I thought to put it to good use. I wanted to show her emotional concern about being good enough to raise the honour of the family. I also loved the floral details on the hanfu but wanted just a subtle reference to that using fresh flowers. Given there are tons of bluebells this spring, I stuck a few on my face with some eyelash glue. Encouraged by the Bella Kotak and Pratik Naik Creative Live course, I thought it’s time to practice some hair compositing, and incorporated a bit of movement by getting Han to help me count down and click the camera trigger. I merged two images together and because I now understood how to composite, I did not have to choose between two images I liked for different reasons.
I am an avid fan of ancient civilisations (particularly Ancient Greece!), so a lot of my inspiration draw from that. I adore Pompeiian frescoes, Greek marble sculpture and the works of Homer. Everyone will have something personal to them that stirs their hearts and evokes imagery that compels them. For me, even if it may deviate significantly from the source material, inspiration often starts with a song, an image or a concept and then it seems to find its own life from there. Other times I may be inspired by certain historical figures or events, music or art pieces, and of course, the amazing fairy tale and fantasy creative community, and want to pay homage to that!
Being part of a community and overcoming self-doubt
What I have found is also having a solid support group and creative forum to share with others (such as the Fairytales and Fantasy with Bella Kotak Facebook Group) has been a great catalyst, as creation is contagious. Seeing what other people are doing starts sowing little seeds here and there for new ideas and directions. It works both ways! Wonderfully, some individuals have messaged me or responded to my posts saying they have been inspired by my initiative and would like to create something in isolation too!
It can also be incredibly intimidating showing your work for all to see. I think being forgiving of oneself is so important, especially as we are all our own worst critics! In her Creative Live course, Bella explores her development, lessons and journey, and it really got me thinking – why not tempt fate and see where this goes on my own personal path too? Even if I fail, at least I tried. Furthermore, this would not be a failure in the “true sense”, given it would be something that makes me feel happy and fulfilled. Maybe, just maybe, it may also help me develop as a model too as I grasp another perspective (and lead to new opportunities post-lockdown). Also, I might have found another aspect in life, in my own story book adventure, that I end up falling in love with!
Thank you Yinsey for sharing your journey so far! We look forward to watching you grow!
Please do go follow and send Yinsey some love over on IG! – https://www.instagram.com/tornandpolished/
Share your work and stories with us over on our Facebook group!
And feel free to let us know in the comments who you would like to see us feature / interview next!