Day 1 - Architectural Images

May 8, 2017

The objective for my first day of shooting at Cebu Bar and Bistro was to get images of each room of the gorgeous 16 year old restaurant to help show off what the place is capable of and entice customers to rent out the rooms for special occasions, as well as bring in more everyday diners. I arrived early in the morning at 6am so I could get the most important rooms out of the way before service started at 11am. I got a few quick photos of the exterior when I first arrived, then I got started straight away on the main dining room.

Main Dining Room

This is undoubtedly the most complex and time consuming photograph I've made to date. I shot 150 images over two hours, starting with scouting the room for the best angle, then staging everything in the room for the camera once the composition was selected.

Because this room is large and had tons of set tables, it took quite a while to get everything looking good from the camera's perspective. I choose this composition because it shows off the scale of the room and the amount of seating that can fit in it. The mirror with menu items written on it is an important element of the space, setting the bistro atmosphere along with the blue walls, tin ceiling, and beautiful tile floor. You also get a nice little peak into the room beyond, helping you connect the spaces and know that there's more to the place than just this one room.

After the staging was complete I lit the room piece by piece to accentuate every element and give it a balance of light inside while preserving the glow of the pendant lighting and the view out the window.

Creating this image involved narrowing the 150 shots down to 63 select images to be composted into the final image. This created a whopping 9 gigabyte image file that I was sure was going to kill my computer at any minute. But it went smoothly over the two days and total of 12 hours of editing it to build this finished image.

Cebu Main Dining Before Cebu Main Dining After


It was important to get both the main dining room and the main bar out of the way before service started, so this was the next stop.

The best composition here shows of the length of the bar and the availability of the tables along the banquette, while showing the view out the window. Getting this window view without the light washing out the detail of the floor meant I had to cover the windows with black clothing, which is called flagging, then lighting the interior seperately and then restoring the view at the end.

Doing this also helps preserve detail in the beautiful tin ceiling, which this time is among darker accents of the hardwood floor and raw brick wall, giving a more intimate and moody feel to this room, meaning it needed to be lit and accented differently than the dining room before it.

The real difficulty in creating this image came when I realized the outside exposure was a little too bright, which I noticed only after I had aligned and perspective corrected the image. So I had to grab another shot with a darker exterior and attempt to match it up perfectly. It didn't work so well. So I spent somewhere around and hour or two manipulating the view out of each section of window to look right. Superimposing the server, on the other hand, was very easy.

This room took 104 frames to capture, which I got down to 38 to work with for the final composite, and it took somewhere around 8-10 hours to complete.

Cebu Bar Before Cebu Bar After


Next up is the Lounge, or Bar 2, which is the room visible through the doorway in the first main dining room, and is sandwiched between the dining room and the main bar. This may be my favorite room in Cebu just because of the fireplace next to the window, which gets its own shot after this.

Capturing this room also necessitated shooting toward the windows, which meant they'd need to be flagged off with black cloth like the windows in the bar before. I didn't have the luxury of floor to ceiling curtains like in the main dining room. Unfortunately, I ran out of duvetine (black cinema cloth) to cover the windows here, but a server managed to wrangle up and extra black apron, which I used to cover one of the top arches of the window. Whatever it takes to get the shot, right?

One struggle with this image was deciding whether not not to include the brass bar on the right that seems to exist solely to separate patrons from the little server area at the end of the bar. In the end I decided to include it since it's a unique feature I'd never seen / noticed in a bar before, and because framing the image here allows for the entire mirror behind the bar to still be included. I really wanted to get a composition that showed off the bathroom door on the left, because it has some nice "WC" lettering on it and a produces a great glow, but it didn't fit in the end.

I also moved the palm plant from its home on top of the bar to a distant spot in the composition where it would be an accent but not block the view in that corner. The next task was lining up the bar stools with the strip of tile on the floor, and arranging the tables and chairs.

Then I shot my images to light the space and accent lights on the tables, bar, and stools. Once I had the room lit I took down the window flags and lit the windows to be composited in. 

The next task was getting some life in the image, so I worked on the settings with the camera and strobe to get a good exposure of me walking through the space. Once I got the exposure I wanted, I welcomed in one of the servers to take my place. I felt it could still use a little more, so I added another server behind the bar opening a bottle of wine.

I shot 131 images in here and narrowed that down to 44 selects to composite into the final image. Things moved more smoothly here than the previous images, and it took around 6-7 hours.

Cebu Lounge Before Cebu Lounge After

Lounge Fireplace


On my first visit to Cebu I spent a bit of time getting to know the space and planning out what shots I would take and what it would take to show off the space and produce the ambitious number of images we set out for. I spent most of that day here, by the fireplace in the lounge, so I felt that I'd gotten to know the space very well. I thought for sure that I had the exact composition nailed down, but when I got there with my camera and gear, it just wasn't so simple. So I circled around and around, looking for the perfect angle, height, and composition to create a graphic image of this space that I loved. It probably didn't help that it was 2pm and I'd been shooting non-stop since 6am. So I took a break to have lunch and collect myself. Cebu partner Mike convinced me to try the salmon, since I couldn't make up my mind on what to eat. It was truly fantastic and totally reinvigorated me. Of course I followed with a  cup of coffee, too.

I walked back over to the set and knew exactly how I was going to capture it, so I set to work. Thanks to this composition being much tighter than the previous three it was much easier to set up and light. I got the chairs turned just the right way then set the table with a vase of flowers, a coffee setup with anisette and port, and a magazine - setting the stage of a relaxing day sipping coffee and reading by the fire, after a fine meal of course. Lighting the image was easy because I could keep the flash out of the frame for every exposure I needed. I really wanted to get the sconce on the right into the picture because I've got a soft spot for sones and the soft light they put out, but unfortunately it didn't quite fit into the composition, so I had to hide the light that came from it.

In the end I had a much more manageable 17 images to composite. Thanks to it being so simple, it didn't take nearly as long as the previous images. I think I only spent around 2-3 hours on it.

Cebu Lounge Fire Before Cebu Lounge Fire After

Back Room

The back room behind the main bar is another favorite if mine, particularly for the brilliant red fireplace and the accompanying tile. Did you noticed I like fireplaces?

Knowing I wanted to include the fireplace and show off the entire room made scouting for the right composition pretty easy. It only look 10 minutes to get the camera in just the right spot, and then 20 minutes to flag the windows and get the staging right.

50 shots of flash pops and bracketed images later and I had what I needed. Out of that, 30 images went toward the final picture.

Cebu Back Room Before Cebu Back Room After

Back Room - Meeting Setup

Here we wanted to show the back room being set up for a business meeting, as they've seen an uptick in this sort of request for the space lately. We decided a simple conference table style setup with water glasses was the way to go. I felt showing the daylight and window view would be more useful, so I went with this composition.

Cebu Back Room Before Cebu Back Room After

Back Room - Chef's Table

The sun had gone down and it was getting quite dark, so I decided to go for an intimate night time vibe here accentuating the fireplace so it looks as if the room is mostly lit by the fire.

I like symmetry whenever possible, so I was very intentional about making a mirror image of all the items on the table. It took some finagling to get the tables properly level and all of the candles, bottle, glasses, plates and silverware lined up just so. After that it was a matter of lighting the room from the position of the fireplace, while preserving the warm ambient glow and not letting the image get to flashy.

I wasn't able to find a position that hide the camera, so it had the stay in the reflection to be cloned out later. The window view was also a bit of an issue because it had become pitch black outside by the time I finished shooting the interior, but fortunately one of the scouting shots from before I started had a good window view I could use.

Cebu Back Room Before Cebu Back Room After

That was it for Day 1.

Day 2 consisted of Food Photography, which I absolutely enjoyed and produced some of my best food images ever. Those are already done and I'll do a write up on them soon. 

Day 3 was a mix of more interiors, cocktails and more food photography, and a twilight exterior, which will be similar in complexity to these. So there's still a lot of editing work left to be done on this job, and I'll do write-ups about it when they're ready.

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