It's been 3 years since he migrated with his family more than 5,400 miles away to the US island state of Hawaii. It was a fresh start with lush surroundings and an altogether new way of life. He has settled in as the maintenance supervisor of a high-rise condominium in downtown Honolulu. Incidentally and perhaps surprisingly, in his new spot he has also found his mark in photography.
Now specializing in conceptual and cosplay photography, he has finally realized the genre that fulfills his interest the most. But much like his move from Bulacan to Hawaii, it was a long journey getting there. But as they say, it doesn't matter how fast or how far you go, as long as you reach your destination.
Turning fantasies into images, Lheo Halili is the featured Focus photographer of the month.
How did your photography affliction get started?
L : Ever since nauso ang Nokia camera phones and point-and-shoot, nahilig na akong mag-litrato ng mga napupuntahan kong lugar. Dati basta pindot lang nang pindot, ang importante sakin ma-capture ko ang gusto kong kunan so that I can share it with my friends na never pang nakapag-travel para mayroon na silang idea in the future. Siguro since 2004 'yun, but 2012 noong nag-start akong mag-aral ng photography because my wife got her DSLR. Nanghihiram lang ako kasi Sony Cybershot digicam lang ang gamit ko noon, hehehe. Sumali ako sa photography club 2012 yata, I'm not sure. Since then lagi na akong uma-attend if there’s a shoot or event . Dito ako natuto gumamit ng DSLR, kay Sir Jeremy Sandel . Then naging Focus member din ako at lalo akong nahilig sa photography.
When you were just a newbie, what did you find as most challenging in this art form?
L : Pinaka-challenging sa akin ay mag-manual mode and madami palang genre ang photography and hindi ko alam kung ano ang gusto ko before.
Your photography has evolved over the years. Your specialty now is more of fantasy with photo manipulation being an integral part. Tell us how you shifted or became inclined to this genre.
L : To tell you frankly guys, I don’t know how I got to this type of genre. It just happened, but sometimes I imagine unusual things like it’s kind of surrealism or fairy tales and I started adding it up to my works.
How do you feel now that you could see your photos are much improved?
L : I can’t really feel anything at this moment… maybe because I’m at the point that I need to explore and learn more. And really right now I’m just enjoying my craft.
What’s your favorite shooting combo?
L : For shoots, I always stay with Nikon. I don’t have any favorite combo right now let's say I’m just lazy to bring a heavy DSLR so i always bring the D5300. It’s so light but it can do my work done in a normal shoots pero kapag event or malaki ang bayad full-frame ang dinadala ko, hahaha .
Can you tell us what’s your workflow like when producing fantasy-like images?
L : If fantasy mas prefer ko ang wide lens, I like doing the shoot in creepy areas like the forest . One of my favorites is the levitation shot using 2 or more image in the exact same position with identical framing. The first photo is the portrait and the second photo is an identically framed shot of the scene, just without the subject. It’s very helpful to use an identical focal point and identical exposure settings between the two photos. My post-processing is done in Adobe Photoshop with layer masks. This technique requires a bit of practice and patience but the results are almost always fun and interesting.
You’re now based in Hawaii and it looks like it has opened a lot of doors for you in terms of photography. How is it like to be a photographer in Hawaii compared to being in the Philippines?
L : Ah, medyo malayo compared diyan sa Philippines. May discrimination kasi. Bago ako makapag-shoot, na-discriminate na ako agad but it's okay, that’s a part of my experience kaya ako nagsumikap nang husto. Here in Hawaii mahirap sa una, why? Because I'm just a nobody and I don’t know how to market my photography but one day I was discovered by a Pinay model based here and she introduced me to another photographer and that’s how my career got started.
What’s your ultimate favorite photo and what’s the story behind it?
L : My ultimate favorite photos are photos of my loved ones because they are the ones who inspire me and make me happy. That’s why I always treasure them in my heart wherever I go.
What do you consider as your biggest photography achievement so far?
L : My biggest photography achievement so far is... ano nga ba? Siguro noong medyo nakikilala na ako dito sa island, kung mayroon mang nakakakilala, hahaha. Ah, medyo nakakapag-pundar na ako at nakaka-ipon para may pambili kami ng airplane ticket para makapagbakasayon diyan sa Pinas. Mahal din kasi tapos apat pa kami ng family ko.
There’s always room for improvement. What do you still want to learn or improve on?
L : Everything! I like coming up with a new technique that sets a new standard for the industry. Every year may nauuso, dapat laging kang updated. Sabi nga, “to continue to learn is to continue to thrive”.
Who or where would be your dream shoot?
L : Who? I don’t know yet… Maybe in the US mainland where the celebrities are mostly based. Hollywood! Hehe.
On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest, how would you rate your photography five years ago? And how would you rate your photography now?
L : I rate myself 1 out of 10 five years ago. Now I rate myself a 5.
Words of advice you’d like to share to photographers who are trying to find their niche or signature style?
L : Keep on shooting, try all kinds of genre. Kung may time, try to experiment din. Experience is the best teacher. Never give up kung wala kayong nakuhang magandang photo today, 'wag huminto. There’s always tomorrow. Also, we are the ones who make the photographs, not the gear.
Message to Focus followers and your fellow Focus members.
L : Guys, you are all wonderful friends, and I appreciate your love, kindness, support, and generosity to our group. More power, Focus Bulacan! Thank you! Mahalo! Salamat po!
The road to finding his niche was hazy but he pushed on till there was clarity. Now that he has found his direction, his attitude remains the same : that of perseverance and an insatiable quest for knowledge. Let's sit back and relax, as we're sure that in the years to come, Lheo will keep churning out works where dreams are turned into reality.
Every month, we have a feature on our members, our photography idols, and other photography issues we feel deserve a heads-up.