Kabalen Ash Castro: Self-Taught Professional Fashion Photographer
Even though I am not a photographer, I have always been fond of photography. If not only for my busy schedule and unfinished commitments, I would save money for a high-end camera and try to develop whatever skill I have in photography, like what my now-US-based brother did post graduation. This sleeping interest is the reason that from time to time I surf the net and take a look at the works of local photographers, model or scenery.
With the thousands of photographers circulating their works in cyberspace, can one photographer’s work stand out from the rest? For me, one sure did, with his excellent style and signature identity. The best thing for me is that he is a Kapampangan like you and me, and, consciously or not, the stereotyped perfectionist and elegantly lavish attitude of our people manifests in his works. Gaining name in a short span of time, he has been featured several times in photography magazines and a lot of nice model pictures are scattered all over the Internet (to the point of some people grabbing his works and putting their names on them!) bearing his name as the mind behind.
Ash Castro is a 26 year old photographer from Arayat, Pampanga, but is doing his work in Manila, where models, agencies, and fashion-related events come in plethora. He graduated last 2005 at Holy Angel University with a degree in AB Communication Arts. To get to know this young, pleasant master of the camera more, I did a casual interview with him.
Q: When did your interest in photography arise? Was it self-decided, or were you influenced/inspired by certain people?
ASH: My interest in photography started when I was just in college. I have been taking pictures of my friends using my point and shoot cam or camera phone and when bored at home, I was doing some digital manipulation. It was self-decided and I was inspired by friends I met along the way who are also photographers.
Q: Tell me about the initial stage of your learning photography. What pictures did you take? What frustrated you? Whom did you look up to, that person which you secretly said in your mind: “I have to be like him or surpass him.”
ASH: My early engagement in photography was very exciting. At first, when I wasn’t yet doing fashion photography, I’ve been shooting sceneries to expand my portfolio and learn the basics. I look up to Gaelle Morand and Chris Zwirner because their works are stunning and surreal.
Q: Did you take any special courses on photography? Were there any items you learned that caused you to think: “Aha! So that’s the secret!” or “Aha! So that’s how it’s done!” because formerly you didn’t know how to do that?
ASH: I did not take any photography classes. It was all self-taught. I learned some techniques in post processing photos through online tutorials. I also learned the value of good lighting to produce a quality output.
Q: When did you decide to pursue photography as a professional career? Who is the subject of your first professional shoot?
ASH: I have decided to pursue photography as my professional career just last July right after I celebrated my first year in photography. My first subjects during my professional shoot were Long Mejia and Brod Pete. I did the poster and publicity shots for their concert at Music Museum.
Q: Tell me about the evolution of your equipment. During the wee stages of your interest in photography, what camera did you use? As time went by, how did you come to acquire your own photography camera? Where did you buy it and why did you choose that? Do you have your own studio, lights, and editing PC?
ASH: I started shooting using a Sony point and shoot camera which was only 4 megapixels. The photos it produced already made me happy. Before I dabbled into photography, I used to work in a call center for more than three years. With my salary, I saved enough money for a DSLR, which I purchased in Singapore. Before I bought my camera, I read reviews through forums over the Internet so as to make sure that it was worth buying. Comments from other users were positive; thus, I decided to get it.
I don’t have my own studio but I already have my own strobe lights. I’m still enjoying outdoor shoots because I don’t want to be stuck in a studio. I also have my own PC which I use for editing. It is very important for photographers to have a good calibrated monitor in post processing to make sure that colors are correct when printed.
Q: How is the process of your art from conceptualization to the finished product? Before you go to the shoot, do you already have an idea in mind or do you figure out things on the spot? How do you motivate your models for you to get that emotion/expression you want? How intervening is photo enhancement via computer to you?
ASH: Before I go to the shoot, I make sure that I already have conceptualized. I talk to my makeup artist, designers, and models whom I will be working with ahead of time to make sure that the shoot on the date itself will be fast and smooth. It’s hard to shoot without any concept in mind as it is very time consuming. Computer enhancement could be of help in color and light adjustments, but facial expressions of models do not come out as good when just edited.
Q: A lot of your pictures are sexy—both from the male and female gender. How do you motivate a model for her to have a facial/bodily expression of sexiness?
ASH: Are they sexy? LOL. I make sure that I build rapport with the models I will work with. Sometimes, when I am assigned to shoot a model, I research a bit on his/her background so that on the day of the shoot, I’ll know how to ignite a conversation.
Being sexy on photos doesn’t require being nude. I coach my models what to do and how to stare in the camera. You see, I am such a perfectionist. I believe that even if the model’s pose is simple, it can be very sexy in the eye of the audience as long as the model made love with camera during the shoot.
Q: Some photographers merely take and take pictures, and if you look at their portfolios, they don’t have a binding signature factor that will tell people “these pictures were definitely taken by Mr. X.” Honestly, your pictures have an identity which when I encounter I at once know they were your photos. Are you aware of this? If yes, what is it in your pictures that you always make sure to be there? What is your “subtle pattern” in your pictures? What is your signature style?
ASH: Thank you. I am very happy when people somehow appreciate my humble works and when I hear them say, “Oh, that’s Ash Castro’s work” even if my name is not present. Colors have always been my signature. I also make sure that my work is clean and that the model looks good on photo, not sacrificing the make up and clothes in editing.
Q: At the beginning of your career, what did you have to do to be known by models/agencies? Currently, are you the one being sought for by models, or do you still “sell” yourself to them?
ASH: My photo from the recently held Rayban Rockstar was one of the five grand winners among the thousands of entries submitted. From then on, I gained more friends and networks from other modeling agencies. I have also met various people in fashion events I attended and built connection with them. Currently, I am the one being sought for by models. Aside from contributing to magazines and newspaper I also do model’s portfolios.
Q: Who/What is your dream subject? What is your dream project (e.g. 100 Naked Pictures of Celebrities; the Religions of the Philippines ; coffee table book on present heroes; etc.)?
ASH: I don’t have a dream subject but my I do have a dream project. I want to do a fashion shoot showcasing interesting places in the Philippines and have the pictures exhibited.
Q: If you were to do a project for Pampanga/Kapampangan as your contribution to its culture/history/identity, what would it be about?
ASH: Since I am fashion photographer, I will still add a touch of fashion on my work if ever I will contribute to Kapampangan. Maybe I would do an editorial shoot showcasing historical places and the talented people of Pampanga. I will collaborate with different Kapampangan artists for the whole production.
Q: Is it possible to have photography as one’s sole career? Are you able to sustain your living or even earn extra with your income in photography?
ASH: Yes, it’s possible. I never imagined myself having photography as my professional career. It isn’t easy though because when you’re in the office, money is much easier to earn. When doing photography as full-time work, you have to manage well your shooting schedules and make sure the clients you have are satisfied with your work to make them patronize you and refer you to their friends. Thank God I still manage to send money back home and pay my bills through my earnings while earning extra for my personal needs and wants.
Q: Your word with photography enthusiasts?
ASH: First, have a motivation factor. My priorities are my parents and my younger brother. We are nine in the family and all my siblings are married except for me and my younger brother who is still in high school. I work hard not just because I love my job but also because I need to earn, hahaha.
Second, do not burn bridges. It is very important to maintain good relationships with people. We meet them because of a certain purpose. They could be our future colleagues or future co-workers. Respect is always important.
And lastly, always believe in your potential. I admire and support young talents because I was also once a newbie in this industry. I have also experienced a lot of humiliation and have encountered criticisms when I was just starting. Believe in your style, but make sure to find time to improve it. Learning should not end. Also bear in mind that criticisms are made for us to do better next time.
Q: What is your personal definition of photography?
ASH: For me, photography is about beauty. It is about capturing beautiful moments, places, and faces. It’s also a worthy alternative for people engaging drugs, because it is just as addictive. (Right! —Laxamana). END
You may visit Ash Castro’s Multiply account and view his vast number of pictures (in color) by going to http://ashcastro.multiply.com.