Meet Happyfingers, a portraiture photographer who’s currently residing in Kuala Lumpur.
Other than being passionate for shooting beautiful souls, he is also a musician! Talk about talent 😉
Hello Happyfingers! Tell us more about yourself! What do you do?
Hi Sevenpie! My full name is Don Michael Acelar De Leon but you can call me Happyfingers (it’s shorter and catchier, teehee). I’m in the advertising industry during weekdays and a singer-guitarist-portraitist-voice-artist-writer-creative when I punch the clock! During my “Happyfingers” mode, you’d either find me playing music at open mics in KL or snapping portraits away in Happyfingers Studios or the streets of KL!
As a portrait photographer, how would you describe your style? What is your photography aesthetic?
My photography aesthetic is very simple and achievable – anyone can do what I’m doing. There are no visual acrobatics or excessive post-processing or lightplay – I strive keep things simple yet pleasing to the eye.
Important question. Why the pseudonym ‘Happyfingers’?
Because I like to make happy things happen with my fingers!
You’re into music too! When did you first discover your passion for photography & music?
From my younger years, I have already been musically inclined – it runs in the family, as my uncles and aunts are all great singers. I remember singing for my family gatherings and my mother’s office parties when I was seven years old, and I haven’t stopped since then. The guitar found its way into my life when I joined the community choir of our church and they needed someone to learn and play; at the same time, I was also trying to impress my high school crush! So I learned how to play the guitar and sing at the same time, hoping that she would notice me and like me back (she didn’t). My crush was eventually replaced by my lifelong love for the instrument!
Photography found its way into my life in college as a hopeful interest. I could not afford to buy my own camera back then, so I would often walk around my university campus imagining myself capturing spots and elements and “framing” them with my fingertips. I eventually bought a point-and-shoot camera for Christmas and tinkered with it by taking pictures of flowers. Fast-forward a few years, I was getting quite stressed out in my advertising work life and needed something to balance it all out. I began taking portraits in 2013, starting from friends, friends of friends, until word spread and I found myself working within a certain aesthetic rhythm I was happy with. I began posting my portraits online through my Happyfingers page in February 2013 just to keep them separate from my personal profile, and eventually grew a modest following.
Who are some of your favourite musicians?
I am heavily influenced by Mayer, Mraz, Midon, McCain, and Madonna, among many other musicmakers =)) The musician with the biggest impact on my music and life at large is definitely John Mayer. Catching him live on a rainy October night in 2010 remains to be one of the most unforgettable nights of my life!
Give us your best advice to budding musicians & photographers.
If it looks or sounds good and makes you and your subjects/listeners happy, go for it!
Music VS Photography?
I think I will never be able to choose between the two, because both music and photography have opened dimensions, introduced opportunities, and created relationships in my life that I would have never had any other way. My goal is to live such that both aspects go up on either side of the hill.
Share with us the best highlight of your life as a photographer.
In September of 2014, I was blessed with the opportunity to photograph one of my dream models, Manila-based supermodel Jessica Yang (@jesych), for my portrait series “Coffee in the City.” Before then, I was always worried that I wasn’t “good enough” to take my photography to greater heights, but thanks to Jessica’s guidance, reassurance, and beautiful heart, I gained the confidence to work with the pros. Shooting with her proved to be a gateway for numerous collaborations and commissioned opportunities, too!
In your words, what depicts the perfect photo?
For me, in an imperfect world, there is really no such thing as a perfect photo or portrait; there is only that which moves and evokes emotions from the viewer. In my world, I always aim to make my muses, models, or subjects feel better and more appreciative of themselves after the shoot. As long as they and I are happy with what we create together, I am fulfilled.
Share with us some photography tips to nail the perfect portrait!
- Prepare and be aware of all the details before inviting a model to shoot. Leave no grey areas and be as clear with your ideas as possible.
- Know your subject, what makes her laugh/get shy, what motivates her to open herself to the world, her angles good and otherwise, what makes her happy.
- Co-create and communicate with your subject – it takes two entities working as one to produce a portrait, and no one is more important than the other.
- Master the rules before breaking them. Know your exposure triangle, settings, and perspectives. More importantly, know when to set aside all that you know in order to create something new.
- Have fun while creating. Portraiture is a fun exercise on capturing humanity, and should always remain as such!
What is the creative process behind every photoshoot?
It’s different every time, but generally I start off by presenting fleshed out creative directions, inspirations, and logistical details. Once the muse and I have aligned on these details, we jump off from some inspiration springboards and eventually freestyle to create our own spin on an idea. We then go over the shots and end with a well-deserved meal!
Any upcoming projects for you?
Music performances – yes! I play regularly at The Narra in Dataran Millennium (Fridays and weekends usually) and Timbre @ The Row in KL (Wednesdays). Jom one, Jom all!
Portrait shoots – Always! Follow me on Instagram: @happyfingers!
What is a typical day in your life?
Weekdays – Busy as a bee! Working on multiple markets for my job is no easy task, but I enjoy it! I try to cap each weeknight off with a quick run or a good meal.
Weekends – Full of creativity! I schedule my shoots and performances on these two days. Within these 48 hours, I feel alive and ready for adventure!
Any life mottos?
“You are what you can do more out of your busy schedule”
“Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
“This will all make perfect sense someday.”
Who is your all time inspiration in life?
My mother! I am where I am because of her 🙂
What is the ideal weekend for you?
Shooting or playing music in rich morning light. Ah, the possibilities! Either that or sleeping, which is rare for me..
Tell us what makes you smile the most? ☺
Crispylicious Jollibee Chicken, thigh part please!
For more of Happy Fingers action, check him out here!