Archive for the ‘In The Field’ Category
We’ve got some major thank you’s to offer as we dipped our toe into the waters of video. First off to Nikon who trusted us with this project and their hand built, prototype D4 cameras. (See the video to reference the fact that I broke one–slightly.) And to Gen Umei, from the K&L agency in Tokyo, who is a wonderful friend and a wondrous art director. And as always to his colleague, Aoyagi Toshiaki, who we have known for years simply as Mr. Blue. Marco Tortato of the Manfrotto Corporation provided us with simple, wonderful tools to execute shots. And Victor Ha and Brian Hynes of Cinevate were wise counsel in the background, and additionally, offered us the use of sliders and shoulder rigs. All of this is gear we’re just getting used to, and the fact that there are people in this industry willing to help and teach is one of the truly special things about being any type of shooter, still or video.
Major props go out to Drew Gurian, in our studio, who kept pursuing this behind the scenes stuff, even though he often had a cranky and not particularly photogenic subject (me) and a world of other things to think about. Mike Corrado of Nikon, who was not only our liaison with Nikon, but also our technical advisor in the field, chipped in with a few closeups of Cora, our sweet, 9600 pound star of a pachyderm.
We had fun on the set, as you’ll see. The video is a mix of D7000 and D4.
Thanks for taking a look. More tk….
Little Freddie King is the real deal. He hopped the rails at the age of 14, and went from his family farm in Mississippi down to New Orleans, ’cause that town was swayin’ with sound, and he knew he had to be there. The ever magical Lynn Delmastro in our studio got in touch with him, and his manager, “Wacko” Wade Wright, and we were invited, briefly, into his life, and his music. It was enriching and wonderful to be around Little Freddie. I doubt a nicer man ever picked up a guitar.
We shot this short, sweet and simple,’cause that’s what we know how to do, just a little, right now. We’ve taken first steps into the world of moving, talking pictures. For fully developed, expansive video efforts shot with the D4, please check the sites of my colleagues, Bill Frakes and Corey Rich. (Those guys know what they’re doing.)
In our most recent video effort on 9/11, I was basically an interviewer, while the gang at my studio, Drew Gurian, Mike Grippi, Mike Cali, and Lynda Peckham, at different times for different subjects, ran the D7000 cameras. The questions I asked came naturally to me, as the subjects of the interviews I knew for ten years, and call many of them my friends. This was different. I took a dive into Little Freddie’s music and history, which I didn’t know anything about, and found myself drawn to his lyrics, and sounds. His songs formed the basis for my questions. At one point I said to him, “Little Freddie, you’ve written some of your songs about bad women. Are they real?” He shook his head. “Oh, yeah,” he replied. “I never should have gotten into that cab that night. It was the gin talkin’ to me that made me do it. I got in the taxi with her. She was a bad woman.” He shook his head again, mournfully. “My wife.”
For the interview, I asked the questions and ran a static D4 on sticks, which was no big deal in terms of camerawork. Drew Gurian and Mike Grippi both did the heavy lifting for the moving and sliding views. It was strange for me, I have to admit, having my eye glued to a monitor instead of an eyepiece while we, as a team, walked along here and there with Freddie. My whole career, I’ve told stories by stopping things. Now, in addition to seeing a frame, I found myself thinking about where that frame could move. But, here’s the thing I do know, being a photographer. When a shooter comes to you, impassioned about making a shot, you say yes. Drew and Mike would conjure a camera slide, or a pan, and describe it, and we’d shoot it. It makes sense to allow visually talented eyes to roam, and do what they will do.
Drew then did a rough cut, and organized the footage, and we worked with Russell Peckham of Peckham Productions, a long standing video operation on the East Coast. Russell has taught us the meaning and importance of having a good, experienced video editor on our various projects. His post skills shape the look, and the logic of the story.
During the two days we shot this, besides working the video, I also had still responsibilities, and I was not going to pass up the opportunity to do portraits of a truly unique subject like Little Freddie. In the old kitchen of the plantation we worked at, I made one of my favorite portraits of late. Shot with a D4, ISO 100, 19mm lens, f5, 1/10th.
We also went across the river from New Orleans, right at the cusp of darkness, and shot this CLS portrait, using a Lastolite 8 in 1 umbrella. I love this thing. You can shoot scattered soft light when you use it as an umbrella, but then pull a velcro port off the backside of it, pump a light through that small area of diffusion, and it behaves like a soft box. Shot with a D4, ISO 400, 24mm lens, f4, 1/2.5.
Little Freddie, showman that he is, was a natural in front of the camera, of course. He made for a wonderful subject for stills. But, his is a story that has heart, soul, history, legs and music. Shooting the video let us see him, and let us listen, too.
While I was over in Europe, went out at the edge of darkness to do some shooting, and I learned something. (This is just me catching up, really. I’m sure lots of folks already use this technique.)
When confronted with dicey shutter speeds without a tripod handy, my traditional approach is to hold steady, obviously, and also find something to brace on. (My tripod was where it usually is, back at the hotel room.) For the above I rested my elbows on a railing. Then I went to continuous high on the drive, settled in, and started bursting the camera. Hits and misses, as always, but sheer volume dictated I would have a reasonable number of sharp images.
My wife Annie, who’s got a terrific eye, was right next to me, shooting quite a bit slower. She counseled me that I should go to a feature called mirror lock up, available on lots of camera models. (In Nikons it’s up on the ring where you dial in your shooting mode, labeled Mup.) In this mode, the mirror swings up and out of the way, and the shutter opening is not immediate, as in normal operation. There is a lag between the mirror bouncing upwards (which can be the cause of vibration within the camera, and loss of sharpness as a result) and the actual picture being taken.
Now, this was news to me, as I’m sure it is not to most folks. But, seeing as we’re heading into 2012 and I’m still working on my first rough draft of the nineties, it comes as no surprise.
It’s one of those bells and whistles features I generally overlook, mostly because I still use the cameras, as fancy as they are, about the way a blacksmith uses a hammer and an anvil. But, it was cool. I started shooting in that mode, while Annie started humming the theme from Space Odyssey. (Joe make discovery!)
Looking at our respective takes later, her results were consistently sharper than mine. So it was a good outing, and I learned something. A walk with Annie, camera in hand, beautiful sunset, and I learned something? Christmas came early.
Last week, I was tied to NYC, pleasantly so, via PPE, that annual, orgiastic, nearly pagan celebration of the pixels held at the Javits Center, hard by the Hudson. It’s hard for me. I haven’t caught up to the last two new things yet, and here we are, face to face with the next new thing.
One good thing I did to clear my head was go airborne. I checked the weather, and NY was visited last week with one of those fall days, the kind of which happen only occasionally, a day that brushes over the city like a beautifully scented broom, sweeping the lingering, stale sweat of summer out to sea. As Bruce Cockburn sings, it lets the bad air out.
As a NY shooter, I almost feel it’s an almost religious obligation to update skyline views of NY. The city is dynamic, and the skyline changes and morphs over time. The energy down at the street can’t sprawl outwards—it ain’t Vegas, hemmed in by nothing but sand and cactus. In response to people, money, numbers, time, and the determination to recover from disaster, the heartbeat of the city pulses relentlessly upwards.
I made arrangements with Pete Zanlunghi of Air Metro, who I’ve flown with over twenty years. (Been flying so long over the city I flew with his dad, Chuck, who was the legendary dean of the chopper pilots who ply the nervous airways over the city.) I also called my bud, RC Concepcion, because I know he is in relentless search of good overviews of his hometown. I simply told RC I got us a spot with a great view. He was psyched. I called him back and told him to bring a sweater. I didn’t tell him our vantage point was going to have blades and a tail rotor.
I’ve got hundreds of hours by now in all manner of these nimble hummingbirds of the sky. In certain areas of the world, I’ve gotten into some prudence might have dictated avoiding, but then, I always feel, the pilot knows the machine, so I place my trust in that knowledge. It’s worked out so far. It’ actually really fun to cowboy around with bush pilots out in the hinterlands, in relatively uncontrolled airspace. They get their ya-ya’s out, and can park you in the sky in some some pretty cool places, like just about inside one of the dishes at the Very Large Array.
I even taught a helicopter workshop once, in Dubai. I was dubious. I mean, it’s hard to make a workshop out of, “Hold the camera steady, and point it at something interesting.” But, we did one day prep, and one flight the next morning, and as I thought my way into it, there was a fair amount of strategizing and, I don’t know, knack, might be a good word, that can be discussed. You do it, practice it, and eventually you develop a knack for it.
This particular workshop was interrupted by a huge fire that just blew up, while we were in the air. One of the Dubai skyscrapers just turned into a sixty story matchstick. Strange stuff happens up there sometimes.
Camera holding is crucial, obviously. I don’t use an external gyro, which is probably anathema to some airborne shooters. I just find them useless weight on the drag strip. I try to insulate the camera with my body, trying to cushion it against the vibration of the bird. I brace, anticipate the shot, and squeeze. I shoot on consecutive high, always, and try to be mindful of the buffer as I track into and approach the crucial frame.
Relationship with the pilot is key. Within the bounds of safety, it’s your bird, and it goes where you want it to go. The better chopper pilots are aware of the shadow the machinery can make in your picture, and maneuver to get themselves out of the frame. Pre-flight, even a brief one, is crucial. What are the visual objectives? How much air time can you budget for? How much time on station? Often, the vehicle comes in from somewhere else, and you have to pay for that transit time, and that will affect you fast you have to shoot and work.
(It’s also advisable to strip a loop of gaffer tape on the seat belt release. It’ll rip easily enough in an emergency, but it prevents it from accidently opening by catching on a lens, or making a careless move.)
My workhorse lenses for chopper stuff are currently the 14-24, 24-70, 70-200mm zooms. Occasionally I’ll work the 200-400, which is actually a great chopper lens. I shot a couple of double trucks for a Geographic story on the electrical grid last year with that lens. (The wind towers are shot out of a Cessna—much harder platform to work off of than a helicopter.)
I also (gulp) work a 600 up there, which can get to be challenging. It’ not so much the weight of the glass, it’s the narrow field of view. If your bird hits wind, or is bouncing around, you can feel like you’re looking at the Zapruder film as you have your eye in the viewfinder. You’ve got to settle in with it, get as stable as you can, and make a series of runs.
We worked the harbor, and One World Trade, the East River and gave a birthday tip of the hat to the lady. We had some extra fill light on the city from RC’s ear to ear grin. I’m sure he’ll post some stuff over on G+.
It was fun to get out of the Javits Center and actually use some of those pixels.
Had a blast recently shooting a new ad campaign for Epson that is just starting to make its’ way into print. It was just one of those jobs where the client, the ad agency, and the shoot day just came together really smoothly.
Big part of that is the fact that we were working for Epson, and long time friend Dan Steinhardt. He’s their marketing manager for the Epson pro division. He’s also a heckuva photographer, and, as it turns out, a damn good art director as well. It was his collaboration with the terrific team from MC Saatchi LA that kept the whole deal on the rails. Which is a good thing, ’cause when you’re 20 stories up, and have people flying 15′ in the air, you want things to stay firmly on the rails.
When it started, for subject matter, the client/agency visual direction centered around kids. Maybe even…babies. Smiling through my tears, I said of course. I do lots of kids shoots, and enjoy it, and have done baby shoots, which are actually fun, if a bit stressful. (The little darlings!) But, here’s the great thing about working for another shooter. Dano mentioned that I should throw into my roster of presented ideas something I had always wanted to do. So I went to my rather lengthy photo shoot bucket list and checked one off. My ideas are often so whacked that the client immediately realizes I’m in desperate need of counseling, and they move on, or, they go…hmmm.
Dano asked for a few more notions. Back to the bucket list. What has been there, perennially, for me, is working with the Anti-Gravity dancers. I have worked with these amazing athletes, and their formidable founder and creative director Chris Harrison off and on for twenty plus years. But I had never had the chance to work with the aerial specialists (Rayshine Harris, Vitali Buza and Daniel Stover) who perform with the patented anti-gravity boots. These, once strapped onto the legs of dancers, gymnasts, and acrobats turn these already high flyers into Supermen. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!
Which is kind of the visual we created. Flying, real time, over the NY skyline.
The rubber met the road on shoot morning. We of course had two locations paid for and reserved. The rooftop, and a warehouse interior for weather backup. Had to have a fall back, as the weather report was not a total green light. Dano and I talked. Okay…..yikes….gulp. Do we risk the roof? That’s where the better picture was, so we committed. That’s another great thing about working with a team like this. They have confidence in you, and follow the picture.
Have to say, it was a privilege not just working with Epson and the gang from Saatchi, but our own team of characters in NY pulled this off in amazing fashion. I was in heaven, working actually with two of the most astonishing producers in the business. Lynn and Lyn. Lynn is our own Lynn DelMastro, who has literally made a 9,000 pound elephant appear for me in the middle of a dry lake bed. And Lyn, is Lyn Wik, the peerless producer who rolled out all the international jobs we’ve shot for FedEx in the last 5 years. I knew, with both of them on the roof with me, it wouldn’t dare rain. We had also the usual wonderful gang of New York. Rapaz and Lenz, Cali and Grippi, Andrea Kennedy, aka AK, Kim the makeup mojo, and of course Drew Gurian, who shot the production pic. It was a bit of an upside down day (not referring to the moves of the dancers) in that we spent all day crafting the shot, but that shot, the ad shot if you will, runs small compared to the production shot. We had to pay attention to both, and make sure they both worked together, as the production picture was scheduled to run big. We couldn’t just toss it off, the way you often do when just making record snaps of the set.
The finished ad, in print now.
And, here’s a historical flash….working with Anti Gravity…..for literally 20 years now. High flyer below is Salina Bartunek, who went on to American Gladiator fame.
And of course, if there’s a dance group who will embody even the stranger bits of my imagination, it’s certainly Anti-Gravity. Below is a fashion test at what the meat district in NY used to look like. Now it’s the hottest real estate in the city. This location is just down the block from a huge new Apple Store. The city never sleeps!