What do you do when your only key light is non-functional and you only have a few minutes to set up? You think fast. I had a shoot a few months ago where we were interviewing the president of fairly large bank conglomerate. He was visiting the area and had very limited time to give us on camera. We had to wait around for a while to figure out if he would even agree to doing the interview that day, and we also had to wait to see where we would be able to shoot his interview. He had some doubts about doing the interview that day. For us, it was imperative that the interview happen. After convincing him that today would be a fine day for the interview, and then deciding on a spot do it, we started to set up. We had two 1×1 LED panels and a SkyLux + RapidBox soft light. Pulling out the equipment, I noticed the ballast for the SkyLux unit was not in the case where it should have been. *Assume nothing. Trust no one.*
I had the great opportunity to shoot the second season of a web series called, “Pretty Darn Funny” which follows Gracie Moore, a mom who gets more than she bargains for when she forms an all-female comedy troupe in efforts to clean up the local comedy scene. Season 2 launched with this [really, really] silly parody of “Footloose” from the point of view of under-appreciated moms.
I was up in Oregon a couple of weeks ago shooting a little mini doc piece about a senior missionary couple for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The couple called their journal, “Serving in the Valley of Volcanos,” because the region they were in (circa Bend, OR) is surrounded by volcanos and buttes. I wasn’t able to take too many pictures because of run-and-gun nature of the shoot, but I was able to steal a few here and there. We shot with our usual setup of 2 5Ds, 24-70mm, 70-200mm, 16-35mm, 2 Litepanels 1×1, GlideCam, GoPro, etc. These photos don’t tell much about the shoot, but here they are anyway.
My wife always says I go on “vacation” when I work. I know what she means. With four young kids and another on the way, parenting can be a challenge—especially when your spouse goes off to work for days or weeks at a time to places you only dream about. In this particular case, I was shooting at La Costa Resort & Spa, a fancy high-end resort in Carlsbad, CA for a series of online fitness coaching vignettes. It was a pretty sweet resort. So it doesn’t help when I post pictures like this on Facebook:
Back in March, I had the chilling opportunity to shoot a documentary in Alaska. It was cold (understatement). If you missed my post about it, click here to read about it. We went back for a follow up shoot in September and it wasn’t as cold. Daytime highs were in the low 30s, so technically, it was still freezing. But it was a welcome cold compared to the -30s I was in last time. I had to trade one discomfort for another, though. If you haven’t gathered this about me already, I’m not the outdoor/woodsy guy. Camping? Hunting? No. But on this trip, I got to be involved with both. I can’t say it necessarily grew on me, but it became tolerable. LOL Most of my fears about moose hunting and being eaten or mauled by bears melted away after a day. Sticking close to the guys with the rifles helped.
I don’t even know where to start. Right now I am in the comfort of my hotel room in Fairbanks, AK feeling very grateful to be warm, alive, and connected to the internet. I’m only five days into the shoot, but I can say that the worst is over. I hope. I am shooting a documentary up here for a few weeks and the first thing we covered was the preparation and departure of Vern Stickman and his epic run down the frozen Yukon river to raise awareness for suicide prevention. Vern’s son committed suicide a few years ago and, expectedly, has devastated his family’s life. As part of his own healing process, he has decided to do this run from his home in Tanana to “nearby” villages to speak to the youth about suicide prevention and healthy living choices.
Over the weekend, I shot a short film with a good friend from film school, Michael Sokey. The last time we shot a short was 15 years ago in school. It was great working together again and it was also really interesting to note the differences in the shooting style of the previous shoot to this one. We shot the last film on Super 16mm black and white film with a crew of maybe a dozen; this time, we shot on a DSLR with just him and me for crew. It’s amazing how technology has changed—allowing us to capture infinitely better photography 15 years later. Maybe 15 more years of experience had some part in it that, as well ;) I was intending to shoot this project on my 5D but it got damaged earlier in the week so I had to send it to get repaired. There was zero budget so renting another 5D was out of the question. Michael did have a T2i, though, so we shot it on that instead. I was a bit saddened by that because I love the images I get from my 5D and the idea of shooting it on a Rebel was …
This week I’ve been in St. Petersburg, Russia because this is the home of Rembrandt’s paiting, The Return of the Prodigal Son. We have been shooting a documentary about Henri Nouwen and his very interesting relationship with this painting. We were granted the rare opportunity to shoot the actual painting as it hangs in the Hermitage Museum. It’s really amazing to stand in front of it, even more so to work “with” it. As with many of my projects recently, we shot it with the Canon 5D Mark II. It was a very overcast day so we didn’t have much light coming from the windows, nor are the gallery lights very bright. We brought in a small light kit to supplement the exposure a little, but I found myself having to have to use a higher ISO than I wanted. At 1250 ISO, the images were a bit noisy, but not too bad. For some shots that didn’t require much movement, I went down to 640 ISO and dragged my shutter a bit down to 1/30th of a sec.
I’m currently in Philadelphia working on a documentary project where Rembrandt’s work holds an important role in the storyline. We thought it would be a good idea to move a little away from how we’ve been normally shooting talking-head interviews and try to go for a more… Rembrandt feel. Now, “Rembrandt lighting” is a pretty standard and classic lighting approach when it comes to lighting people but I tend to always light from the opposite side of the face that the camera is favoring. As I studied Rembrandt’s portraits more closely, I noticed that he almost always lights his subjects from the same side as the viewer (er… camera?). So it was a bit of a change for me, but that’s what is called for. I also tend to use a varying amount of back light or edge light on my interviews, but again, Rembrandt almost always has a lack of this. His backgrounds are also very often a nondescript texture rather than a specific location or domestic backdrop. His paintings tend to lean towards the warm side of the palette as well.
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