Monthly Program – April 2012 – Chris Aquino

Nature Photography and the Cinematic Eye

Chris Aquino, our presentation speaker for this month introduced our members to another tool to add to our toolbox for seeing images. His presentation was designed to create ideas that would inspire us outside of our traditional photographic world. Specifically, using image processing as a way to create an image beyond the usual raw prep work. In three parts, cinematography and light (using examples from a variety of movie films), cinematic light in nature photography, and a live demonstration of his personal workflow, Chris shared what he has learned from studying films and how it inspired him to use light in his photography.

As an instructor of film studies, Chris has seen multiple approaches to displaying images. He notes that we are constantly being influenced by outside media and can learn from cinematographers whose talents are lighting and composition. Cinematographers tell stories with images and must execute the telling in an effective way. They began early color processes with a single color and eventually moved to multiple color processes. Lighting had its own role. Do you shoot for realism or for the dramatic? Is there a need to capture a mood, be more avande garde or shoot traditional? These considerations depend upon the story that needs to be told.

“Lighting gives detail, texture and mood to a scene. The best light is often thought to be that early morning or late evening magic hour light, but it may also be midday light filtered through fog, clouds, or the leaves of a forest.” (–Tom Mangelsen)

Chris noted that light draws our attention to areas of interest, it illuminates important objects within the frame, it can lead us through an image into various areas of interest, and it communicates a sense of emotion and tone.

In nature photography, we have challenges in order to get the light in the camera. Some of the steps we take in order to capture the right light include scouting for the right location, arriving to that location on time, cooperating weather, and waiting for the right moment to take the shot.

Another challenge is to do it post-processing. You can use layers but you need a good image to begin with, have an artistic vision, spend more time in front of the computer and be lucky, good, or both.

Chris uses Photoshop tools (when necessary). Some of his tools include layers and masks, fill settings for blocking or showing masks, multiply and screen blending modes, opacity levels, and adjustment brushes. His goal is “to subtly draw the viewer’s attention through the image in a seemingly natural way.” Chris uses all his movie influences and thinks about how he can manipulate the image so that the “viewer can understand the story he is trying to tell and/or understand the image he envisions.”

Through a live demonstration Chris led us through his workflow process and gave us an appreciation for the subtleties of light and how we can project those subtleties with the tools in Photoshop.

Thank you Chris for the tools to make our photos tell the story we want to tell and in the way we want to tell it. Or, giving us the opportunity to “light Marlena Dietrich!”

Thank you to the 83 members in attendance!

Chris has provided a worksheet on his personal workflow here.

We encourage all to visit Chris’ website at: for additional information on his bio and photography gallery.

Chris Aquino has been an instructor in the Morton Arboretum Photography program for the past five years. When not teaching photography, he teaches English at Wheaton Warrenville South High School, where he has been for the past 20 years. His passion for photography has also led him to teach a class on cinema studies at the high school, in which he challenges his high school students to observe moving pictures in many of the same ways he challenges his Arboretum photography students to create still pictures. Over the past few years, he has become a regular contributor to Nature Photography magazine and has made presentations to local camera clubs. His work is also for sale through various stock agencies, and some of his more recent images have appeared in Brown Trout calendars and the 2011 Illinois Solar Tour Guidebook. When not teaching or photographing, Chris also co-leads workshops and phototours for Hank Erdmann through Lake Effect Photographic Adventures.