Shooting with an Enlightened Heart

An interview with Luis Liwanag and his family by Gigie Cruz

I met Luis Liwanag in 2004 during a workshop organized by the Philippine Center for Photojournalism in Subic, Zambales. Having well-known and established Filipino photojournalists as resource speakers, I somehow got inspired to pursue photojournalism to help me advance my advocacy.

One of the resource speakers then was Luis Liwanag, who shared his experience as a photojournalist. I got fascinated by how dedicated he was as a photographer, in spite of the dangers lurking in his exciting life. But according to his wife Venus Liwanag, what is even more inspiring is Luis' fight against blindness ever since he was diagnosed with glaucoma in 1992.  I remember one story shared by Venus Liwanag when we met last year during the Asia-Europe Young Photographers’ Forum held in Manila.  Father Luis and son Akira were part of the organizing team.  Luis apparently finds time to teach his two children Akira and Isis his knowledge and skills in photography as his eyesight deteriorates.

The story below is based on my interview with the Liwanag family - Venus, Akira and Isis. Sir Luis is currently busy covering the blast in Glorietta last October 19 and other assignments under the Agence France Presse where he’s currently affiliated.
Luis Liwanag, 2007.  Photograph by Gigie Cruz.

It could be a twist of faith that Luis’ surname is “Liwanag” which is a Filipino word for “light.” Even before college, Luis has already been interested with photography. Having a father who is an architect and painter, I would say visual artistry comes natural with Luis. Venus even shared that Luis’ mom has been an avid photographer trying to document special events and taking portraits.                                                                       

Luis initially took up Geology at UP Baguio but his father’s health forced him to discontinue his college education. However, this didn’t stop him from pursuing his studies. To earn a living, Luis applied as a school photographer for “The Dawn,” University of the East’s school paper.  This started his career as a photographer while taking up Fine Arts.

He was only 19 when he got his much awaited break in photojournalism. While doing presswork for his school paper, he heard several gunshots which urged him to grab his gears and get out the street to document the scene.  He covered the scene, without knowing that the dead man was Ben Tumbling, one of Manila’s most wanted men at that time. This experience helped him land a job under the Daily Express and the rest was history.

Luis Liwanag also covered for Asiaweek, Agence France Presse, Newsbreak, Manila Times and contributed photos as a stringer for Gamma Liaison.

Luis Liwanag left photojournalism for six years to work for an animation studio in San Francisco called BigTop Production as part of the team who created Felix the Cat and the Simpsons. However, he realized that his true calling is photography so he went back to the Philippines and did some networking with his old contacts where he landed work for Manila Times.

Akira Aprielle Liwanag, Luis’ 16 year old son got into photography inspired by his dad’s dedication to the craft. Out of curiosity, Akira (when he was still 8 years old) tried to use his dad’s camera while Luis was taking a rest. He pressed the shutter twice as he explored the Depth-of-field of Luis’ Film SLR camera. This “wonderful” experience as Akira describes urged him to join different photojournalism and photography contests when he was still in elementary school. He joined contests on journalism, news writing and photojournalism representing Kamuning Elementary School in the Division and Regional levels.
Akira Liwanag
16 years old, enjoys doing street photography
with his Dad, Luis, whom he idolizes.
Photograph by Gigie Cruz.

He remembers the first time he joined his dad to a rally when he was 11 years old. Though he was aware of the dangers, he enjoyed every bit of it which he now attributes to his adventurous nature. He sees the shooting experience as a bonding opportunity with his dad whom he fully admires. They both enjoy street photography and try to find time to shoot together when possible.

Akira finds his dad as cool person, warm hearted and a very good mentor. He cherishes all the times they shoot together because he learns a lot from him. All the things he 
knows in photography he learned from his dad. Luis always reminds Akira that it is a never-ending learning process, he reminds him that there’s always something new to learn.

Akira learns through the critiquing session he and his dad always have right after they shoot. There was a time when Luis criticized Akira’s failure to produce sharply focused images telling him “ Kung pagfocus di mo kaya, paano mo pa magagawa yung iba”(If you can’t properly focus, how can you execute other important stuff…) probably the worst statement he heard from his dad but it was something that pushed him to do his best always. On the other hand, he felt ecstatic when his dad praised his images as “Pang-Magnum” (Magnum Quality) after their day long shoot at the railway in Sta. Mesa, Manila.

Aside from the critiquing sessions between the father and son, Akira also posts his images to his blog to get comments from other people. Something he looks forward to.

Akira admires his dad’s discipline especially in keeping his gadgets clean and organized. Akira got scolded once when Luis found some fungal growth on one of his lenses. Luis according to mom Venus is very meticulous when it comes to his camera stuff and spends enough time to clean his gears.

Talking about gears, Luis Liwanag currently uses Canon 350D and 30D with wide, normal and telephoto lenses while Akira uses his Canon Elan camera and Zorki Rangefinder.

Akira also attributed his dad’s ability to create compelling images to his unending passion on photography. Venus Liwanag added that Luis’ people skills helps a lot in creating good images.  He doesn’t instantly shoot upon arriving in an area.  He makes time to speak with the people in the area before taking their images. According to Venus, Luis stresses the importance of showing interest to your subject to create a mutual response from them. Aside from these traits, Venus also thinks that Luis’ endless quest for learning, open mindedness and Spirituality makes him a very effective photojournalist despite his blindness on the left eye.

Akira and mom Venues describe Luis as a man with a big heart. Luis also gets inspiration from his idol Henri-Cartier Bresson and believes that it is important to “shoot with your heart,” he believes that this is reflected on the images one creates. Checking his blogsite confirm Luis principle as written on his profile “My eyes are going blind...and I have just only began to see. Look and feel for the things around you and open your eyes from within your heart.”

Though Akira dreams to be an established filmmaker in the near future, he still wants to be like his dad –his idol. He will definitely continue his photography and would love to do it with his dad Luis.

Enlightened.  Luis Liwanag's significant other, Venus Liwanag, 9-year old Isis Ingrid Liwanag and eldest child Akira Aprielle Liwanag.  Everyone does photography in their own way, as inspired by the head of the family, Luis.  
Photograph by Gigie Cruz.

To view some of Luis Liwanag’s work, visit 

Luis' youngest daughter also maintains a blog at

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