My All-time Favourite Models (with a Side of Fractalius)


Mrs. HoaiPhai has beautiful eyes, and this is the nicer of the two.

I love taking photos of just about everything but by far the most daunting subjects are people and other living creatures. They also happen to yield the most rewarding images if everything works out. My problem with living subjects is twofold…

  1. Living subjects tend to move occasionally and I have a leisurely photographic technique and slow reflexes, and…
  2. I hate having my own picture taken so I imagine that my subjects are similarly photophobic, causing me to feel uncomfortable imposing myself on them (even if they’ve requested me to photograph them).

Linda Evangelista, Heidi Klum, and Cindy Crawford are professional models and are good-looking (no, not all models are attractive) but they have nothing on my own favourite amateur models. What makes a good model, in my opinion, is someone who…

  • … is not self-conscious in front of a camera and might even play to the camera a bit yet is not a ham, and…
  • … doesn’t consciously pose or, better yet, does all the posing on their own because I really don’t like telling my subjects what to do, and…
  • … looks good in the final photo. I’m not saying that they have to be good-looking, just that they are among those whose images on paper resemble how I see them both physically and emotionally. And, yes, I realize that my inability to capture in the camera how I see the subject is my own damned fault, and…
  • … puts me at ease while I shoot them. Linda, Heidi, and Cindy would absolutely intimidate me and that’s why any one from my small herd of models is better than these famous pros. Besides, none of “The Three Stunners” have never come by my house for a coffee.

So let’s take a look at who I like to photograph!

Mrs. HoaiPhai

I love taking shots of my wife but she is only slightly less camera-shy than I am. Most of the time she’s reluctant to sit for a photo and when I get what I think is a good candid shot of her, she doesn’t often like how she looks in it.

Most of my best shots of her are candids or semi-candids where I secretly set up a shot and then make a strange sound or shout, “Hey!” or some other clever attention-getting thing and then snap the picture. I know this sounds like a formula for getting deer-in-the-headlight shots but I know her well enough to know her “expression recoil rate” and so I time tripping the shutter until the instant just after the deer-in-the-headlight moment but just before the on-no-I-haven’t-primped-myself-up-to-look-good-for-a-picture cringe reflex sets in. This is the best way for me to get natural unposed photos of her.

Mrs. HoaiPhai

A previously approved shot of Mrs. HoaiPhai. This was also the very first image I tried to adapt the wet-chemistry Orton Effect for use in a digital workflow. I think it worked.

I am kind of throwing this post together quickly [read: < 5,000 word objective] and haven’t had the chance to ask her if it’s OK to post a couple of shots of her. I know the ensuing looking through photos of her and discussions about which ones she doesn’t mind me posting would set this post back another week so in the interest of getting this post up (and wanting to avoid sleeping on the couch for publicly embarrassing her if I don’t ask permission) the photo of her at the window above and the headline shot of her eye is all you’re going to see of her for right now.

The Dane

The Dane and I have been friends since he first arrived in Canada and became “the new kid” in my Grade 4 class. We live in different cities but he comes over for holidays and stuff. Coincidentally, he just called five minutes ago when I was in the middle of writing the last paragraph of the Mrs. HoaiPhai section above. He’s off to Denmark for his summer vacation and just wanted to touch bases about the last time he came over and stuff. I didn’t have too much of a chance to ask him about guidelines for posting his pictures here so, again, you’re getting one measly shot of him in which he cannot be recognized unless you already know him.

The Dane is the hammiest of my herd of models. We’ve known each other since we were 10 years old and we still revert to inside jokes from that era. I have lots of shots of him acting up in front for the camera. Sometimes he notices that I’m taking a shot and slightly changes his pose and other times he just goes full-ham and does something strange.

He’s also very good at posing for “serious” shots. One time I had the camera in the back yard and he poked his head out the door.  I raised my camera to take a shot and he noticed even though he wasn’t looking in my direction and ever so slightly “unslouched”, something that really improved the shot, but didn’t facially respond to the camera. He has great reflexes. He’s lot’s of fun on outings where he’s OK with having candid shots taken and occasionally hamming it up in varying degrees.

The photo below was one of those full-ham moments where he lay down on a grassy slope and was acting like the grass was attacking and “absorbing” him. And, no, there was no alcohol involved. In post-processing I added some effects to make it more fantastic and more cartoon-like. I printed it on canvas and told him not to frame it just use a couple of thumbtacks to hold it to the wall. Supposedly it looks pretty good like that (it’s been a while since I’ve gone to his place) and he says that displayed like that gives it a raw, stolen art look..


The Dane being attacked by vegetation. It’s this over-the-top type of stuff that not only makes for an interesting photo but shifts all responsibility for the pose away from me. Special effects mostly courtesy of the Fractalius Photoshop plug-in.


Josie is one of my nieces (some have told me that, technically, she’s my wife’s niece but I make no such distinction) and is the most “natural” model I have ever had the pleasure to have in my sights.


This image of Josie has received 70% more all-time clicks than any other photo on my blog. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks highly of her as a model.

You might recognise her from an appearance she made in my review of the Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 AI-S lens, which can be used as a fantastic but sometimes-tricky-to-use portrait lens.


This looks like a posed shot but wasn’t. We went out for an outing to the shore and she brought this fleece blanket for warmth. I just snapped this shot during a rest break a few seconds after she took a photo of her aunt. Maybe I’ve spent too many winters outdoors not wearing a tuque but in this shot she kind of makes me think of her being a fashion model and the blanket as some haute couture wrap.


A cute shot of her playing to the camera and making my job a breeze!


A variation on the photo posted on the Nikkor 50mm review post, this one with the Orton Effect digitally applied.

I don’t know if it is because Josie grew up in the age of omnipresent camera-equipped cell phone but being photographed seems to be a non-issue for her. Like I’ve said, I really feel that pointing a camera at someone is an imposition on them but Josie never gave an indication that she was the tiniest bit put out. The first and last images of her here happened because I really wanted to get a couple of nice shots of her because we hadn’t seen her in a decade and it might be a while before we saw her again. I didn’t want to bother her by asking, and just figured that I’d get a good shot of her at some point during her visit but my wife mentioned it to her and she stood up and said, “Where do you want me to stand?”. It was perhaps the only time I’ve given posing direction to someone other than my wife and not felt like a jerk.


Alice is our grandniece and is one major sweetie. It was a little over a year ago that she first came to our house for less than a week’s visit and she became hooked on Canada.


Alice was eager to sit for a portrait as a souvenir of her Christmas in Canada. She also jumped at the chance to wear her party dress again and to show off the Pegasus necklace that Santa brought her.

Last autumn her parents gave her the choice to travel to Los Angeles to visit her aunt or to come to cold and damp Canada to spend a month-and-a-half over Christmas. She immediately chose to come here, and we were so glad she did.


This shot was one of those serendipitous events that comes up every once in a while. I asked Alice to just sit there so I could take a few shots to test the lighting before the “serious” shooting would begin and this was one of those test shots. When I started working on the pictures on my computer, I found this shot and absolutely loved it. Her unposed facial expression can be mistaken for an “attitude” of a maturity beyond her years but the pyjamas peeking out from the bottom of her dress confirms her youth and innocence. It looks a little muddy on screen but I’m in a hurry to churn out this post so I’ll not correct it and you’ll just have to live with it.


“Avatar Alice”. This shot was taken just a few frames after the very first Alice shot of this post, and the raw image from which this one was made is very similar, except that Alice wasn’t wearing her glasses for this one. The post processing involved about an hour fiddling with Fractalius until it was just right.

I’ve never had a model quite like Alice. She actually had fun having her picture taken but had the maturity to know that some shots ought to be more serious than others. She enjoys painting and I got the sense that she wanted to contribute to making a nice image of herself.


Alice and her new friend, Dukie. [Note brilliant segue]



The only time I’ve ever seen Dukie pull a face like this was when I pointed my camera toward him. What a diva! (Or would “devo” be more appropriate for a male?)

Dukie seems to perform if he knows that pictures are being taken of him… as soon as I level a camera at him he’ll either freeze or strike a pose and then freeze. In a way in front of the camera Dukie behaves a lot like The Dane does. Dukie posing for the camera is really strange.

Speaking of strange, I figured I’d post some strange photos of Dukie fed through a couple of Fractalius’ filters. These striking surreal images of “the avant-garde dog” (pun intended) take what some might think as routine pet shots to an entirely different level. I also promised Vintage French Chic that I’d post a few more Fractalius-treated photos.


This was the very first shot I ever applied Fractalius using the demo version that watermarked it and, I believe, set limits as to the image output size. I have since bought the full version and have removed the watermarks in this version. You might recognise this photo as being the headliner for my previous post.


I believe I used Fractalius’ shaggy filter to create this effect and actually have a couple of versions of this image with various levels of “shagginess”.


In this version, I’m pretty sure I used a Fractalius setting other than “Shaggy” but cannot remember what it was. It looks a lot like the background is encroaching on poor Dukie, an effect similar to what was happening to The Dane earlier in this post.


Here is what the Fractalius control panel looks like. There’s much work to be done to get that shot just so!

To Vintage French Chic: I apologise but I haven’t applied Fractalius to very many subjects but will try to look for more in the coming weeks expressly for this purpose. Aside from the Dukie shots, the one of The Dane and “Avatar Alice” were also done with Fractalius. I hope this will be enough for the time being and this post demonstrated what you asked me about.

A Note About Fractalius: Fractalius is not a filter suite for the faint of heart. While it can help convert a conventional image into something stunning, surreal, or just plain weird, there are some things you ought to know about it. First of all, is not a one-button magic photo transformer. There are 14 different effect algorithms (“Slow Motion” is shown here) plus Unsharp Mask, and every one of them has the 21 buttons and sliders shown in the screen capture on the left. Sure, you could just hit the green “Go” button at the bottom but you’ll most likely be wasting the resources of this powerful tool that could otherwise help you arrive at the image perfect.

Be aware that if you’re trying to find the right settings for the right effect and you later think that some previous combo was the best one, you will have a lot of trouble going back and figuring out how you did it. Same thing goes if you are preparing an image to be printed smaller than the original file size, Fractalius does not record it’s settings in the image file’s metadata so if you like the small image and want a larger version you’ll either have to up-sample the small image or wing it and try to replicate the effect. The only safeguard is if the small image was the last thing you opened in Fractalius, the last mode and settings you used will be the ones preset when you load a new image into it. I strongly suggest that you keep records of the Fractalius settings you used for individual images so you can use them as starting points for future images.

I’m not getting any kind of compensation from Redfield Plugins, the people who make Fractalius (but if they were to offer me one of their other plug-ins for free to say thanks for mentioning Fractalius on this blog I wouldn’t say no). I’m just telling you about it because I think it’s a great product. You can go to their site to either download a trial, which I recommend you do, or you can just buy it outright. They also have a bunch of other plug-ins that look really interesting so check them out, too!

About HoaiPhai

I'm up late digging up the dirt. View all posts by HoaiPhai

11 responses to “My All-time Favourite Models (with a Side of Fractalius)

  • vintagefrenchchic

    Merci! That is one funky filter…did I say that before? It is really cool how varied the final photo image can turn out. I love it! Avatar Alice…funny!

    My other comments:

    1. I highly suspect that your wife is a saint (on so many levels)
    2. Everyone should have friend like The Dane.
    3. Josie is gorgeous.
    4. Alice is obviously wise beyond her years. And a cutie patootie to boot.
    5. You have a gift for portrait photgraphy.

    : )

    • HoaiPhai

      De rien! If you let Fractalius loose on a naturally abstract-looking object then the weirdness of the finished image is sometimes normalized. It’s effects are striking and it’s very easy to be tempted to apply it to too many images.

      1. Yup, she is a saint (she kind of has to be).
      2. While The Dane is no saint, he is a loyal friend. Everyone should have someone like him in their life who provides a living link back to youth. We don’t go trekking from one end of the city to the other like in the old days but we still share many interests, like “psychotronic” films and Harvey’s hamburgers.
      3. I think you’d like Josie. She has a degree or diploma in furniture design but couldn’t find work in her field so she works for a cosmetics company.
      4. “Cutie patootie”… perfect word for her! And wise she is also… she was discussing relationships with my wife in an incredibly mature yet not-devoid-of-emotion sort of way including the topic of boys. I’m king of surprised she didn’t ask me about boys… I happen to have a lot of experience being one.
      5. Thank you but I’m not sure it’s a gift. I think it’s more along the lines of “sometimes being lucky on purpose”.

  • Ape No. 1

    Ape will not even pretend that he understands as much about photography as the Hoaiphster. Dukie looks like living electricity!

    • HoaiPhai

      Funny that you noticed Dukie’s energetic look… we once caught a young nephew trying to “recharge” poor Dukie using a plugged-in extension cord.

  • Redneckprincess

    My favorite shot is the bubble gum shot. Priceless 🙂

  • intuitivejuliemarie

    If you were giving out awards (just read your post from last year about them because needed an extra helping of smiles today) I would put in a vote for the photo of Alice in her jammies. I am not an expert in photography, but her energy speaks volumes. What a wonder she will be, she is. Old soul, just waiting for the body to catch up…
    And are you sure Dukie isn’t part human? That ‘oh, crap’ look on his face is the same one I get when a camera is pointed in my direction. Thanks for the lift-up today. I was reminded to visit here because I saw your little raccoon eyes peering at me from a ‘like’. Life does sometimes get in the way, doesn’t it?

    • HoaiPhai

      Just wondering… which post were you looking at? The one about the summer stay action or the one about Christmas?

      Yup, Alice is an old soul looking for a big change. She’s very introspective and so much more mature than I was at her age. She a real free-thinker, too. Dukie certainly is an odd little guy, especially the way he reacts sometimes to people and cameras. Glad you got a bit of a lift from my humble blog!

  • pegoleg

    Love the photos, and whoa…that Fractulactalootie thing is MAJORly cool! (she said, enigmatically).

    • HoaiPhai

      There you go throwing around that word “enigmatically” again. Now I have to extract it from my upcoming post and slip it into something else a month or so “hence” [I’m using “hence” in deference to the fact you’ve been spending a lot of time in that ancient place where they drive on the wrong side of the road, and I don’t mean Quebec].

      Fractalwhatchamacallit is a powerful photographic tool that must only be used occasionally otherwise it becomes cliché. Either that or you have to use it all the friggin’ time so it becomes your “look”, but I’m too lazy to fiddle with all those dials and knobs for every single skunk picture I churn out. But you never know… once I get a couple of family matter off my chest I just might do a “look at some pictures” post and throw in a few Fractalthingy shots.

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