As a morena, getting my photograph taken properly has been a long-time struggle. In my high school graduation photo, the makeup artist powdered my face white, and the final result was airbrushed to "perfection." I barely recognized myself. When I first started experimenting with VSCO filters later on, I couldn't find one that improved the overall photo while maintaining my warm tan as well. Whenever I took my photos outdoors, I felt like the sun would often wash out my skin instead of enhance it. I wanted to show off my skin color, but truth be told, I just didn’t know how to.
To find answers once and for all, I reached out to Juro Ongkiko, the creator of Moreno Morena, an ongoing photography project that celebrates dark skin. We talked about his experience capturing these stellar morena photos, plus some tips and tricks for us to follow as well—from makeup and outfits, to lighting and editing.
Tell us about you and your photography project Moreno Morena.
"I graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from UP Diliman in 2016, and I've been working as a freelance photographer since 2017. Looking for work was a bit of a challenge for me because I was trying to get into the creatives industry where I don't think a psychology background gets a lot of love YET. After a couple months of applying for jobs I knew I wasn't going to be happy with, I decided I would try out taking some freelance photography gigs.
Moreno Morena started out as my photography and graphic design portfolio. I went for a very strong look in its earliest stages because I noticed that the photographers or artists in general that make it big are usually the ones with very distinct styles. I first posted the photos on Twitter where I got tons of positive feedback, which made me realize that there was a demand for content that appreciated dark skin. I've been working on it for almost three years, and I know it has more room to grow."
How is Moreno Morena different from your other photography-related work?
"It's the longest project I've worked on so far, and it's the one I'm most invested in. One of the benefits of it being my project is the 100 percent control I have on creative direction and not so much pressure to keep producing work."
What look do you usually request from the makeup artists and/or models that you work with?
"Makeup looks usually depend on the moodboard I come up with for the shoot. I'm just happy if my makeup artists have the right shade of foundation to use because I've heard a lot of brands in the Philippines don't usually carry the shades for darker-skinned people."
When it comes to clothes, do you go for a specific look or color palette in order to accentuate dark skin?
"Outfits also depend on the moodboard but I tend to go for bright colors. The times I do use toned down colors, I just make sure they aren't close to my models' skin colors."
Any tricks you're willing to share with budding photographers (and frustrated Instagram models like me)?
"Studio light setup will depend on the kind of mood you're going for with the shoot. For ~*softer*~ shoots in general, I like to keep my key light a bit farther away from my model so that the reflection of the light won't be so visible on their skin, especially for close-up portraits.You'll want to diffuse the light as much as possible if you want to avoid too big a reflection of the light on your model's heads.
If you're not really particular about that or if you're going for a more intense mood, a personal rule I follow is to avoid having the light right in the middle of the model's face. Something about the light's reflection on the center of the model's face is kind of off for me."
What are your main considerations when doing an outdoor shoot with morenas?
"Good or interesting light will always be the number one priority. If you aren't too sure about shooting in very harsh light, you can start out by shooting in the shade for a couple of shots first for safety. I also like to underexpose my shots a bit because you'll be able to recover more detail when you edit underexposed shots compared to overexposed ones. It'll be a plus to coordinate your outfit with the background you plan on [using]."
What's the number one tip you can give regarding the editing process?
"It's better to have everything good on-cam than to fix your shot for hours in [post-production]! Don't be afraid to have several takes of a photo if you're not sure of how it'll turn out. Also, try not to overdo your post-processing. I like to see how far I can push my model's skin color sometimes, but it should always be within reason (sometimes I fail at sticking to this, too, so I've gotta work on it). It helps to have a reference for how dark someone's skin can get to guide your post-processing."
For us non-professionals, we usually stick to mobile editing apps. How can we select flattering filters that don't change our natural tan?
"Since you'll be going for flattering your skin tone as much as possible, it would be best to choose filters that lean towards the warmer side. I'm not familiar with any of these filters in particular, but I'm assuming those filters will already have pre-made adjustments that would compliment one's dark skin tone."
If there was one thing you wish you knew before you started Moreno Morena, what would it be?
"It would definitely be not to be shy [away from] asking for help. Being a one-man man team is tough, so I always appreciate [it] when I find other people, be it models, makeup artists, other photographers, or just people who follow the project, who give me new insights and ideas for shoots to try out. Running Moreno Morena is a huge learning process for me, and it wouldn't be where it is today without all the help I've gotten."
Follow Ayn on Instagram.