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Well the 4th of July vacation is over and it’s time to get back to work.  Today we begin a string of video jobs for a couple of local bio-tech companies with a location video interview.

It goes without saying, but one of the most important things to do is make sure you don’t forget any gear back in the studio.  This is especially true after you have been unplugged for a couple of weeks.

Although it may seem silly, one of the best ways to do this is with a pictogram.  You quickly draw out the set with every piece of equipment you will need.  It’s a good way to double check you have everything you need lined up at the loading dock before you load the truck.

On the black board, I have drawn the cameras, video monitor, matte boxes, rails, batteries, camera cart, 5 stands, two tripods, lights, flags, wireless microphones, shotgun and boom mic, and seamless paper.

Sure, there are some little odds and ends that don’t make it to the board, but it is a good broad brush technique to keep you on track.

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We just delivered the assets for our shoot up at Kestrel Aircraft in Brunswick, ME and I thought this a good chance to talk about how we shot the interview.

Kestrel CEO Alan Klapmeier

First off, I should say that this was a really cool job for me personally as the principle protagonist of this film is Kestrel CEO  Alan Klapmeier.  For those of you aircraft nuts out there, you will recognize that name immediately as the founder of the Cirrus Aircraft Corporation.   Alan was an amazing guy and a pleasure to meet.

But I digress…

Giant hangar doors provide easy load-in

Anytime I begin to light a scene, there is always a bit of head scratching.  I think for some people, the solution to problems come very easy.  For me, there is a bit of noodling about before I get everything just perfect.

As with everything, the best place to start is at the beginning, and the best beginning is to choose a location.  Things to think about here are control, sound, light, power, acoustics, access, etc… You can pick the most beautiful location in the world, but if there is a construction crew on the other side of a wall driving piles, you ain’t gonna hear a word.

 

Chris sits in for testing

 

With Kestrel, even before I got on site and took a tour of the location, I had a feeling that the best place to shoot the interview was going to be right in the hangar with the aircraft in the background.  The big concern with shooting in such a huge space like the Kestrel hangar was would we in fact be able to stop all the other work that was going on in the background?

After a quick meeting with the Kestrel team and a subsequent tour of the facility, it was made clear that we could have carte blanche and shoot anywhere we wished.  Perfect!  The hangar it was.

Door acts like a big soft box

We definitely didn’t bring enough light to fill a space this big, so we closed all the doors save one just enough to use as a background fill.  This worked perfectly and would make any Dutch painter proud!  We angled the plane to take advantage of its lines and catch the light streaming in from the side.  All that was left was to light the interview.

For this, we ended up using two Kino Flo Diva’s and one LED Light Panel.  The Divas we used for a key, and then winked in just enough Light Panel to fill in the dark side.  Below you can see a photo with and without the notes so you can get a better idea.

 

For the audio, we used two lavaliers(one wireless and one wired,) a boom mic (for safety and redundancy.)   We shot with three cameras, the Sony F3 Super 35 as “A” cam, the Sony FS100 for “B,” and the Nikon D4 for a “C” camera.   Both the “A” and “B” were fairly far away from the subject with a Nikon 180mm and 105mm prime.

In the end, it was a great shoot with a great bunch of folks.  Thanks to everyone who worked so hard to pull the day together, especially to Aaron for the opportunity to work on this film!  FYI… if you are a Kestrel fan, make sure to stop by their booth out at Oshkosh this summer.  This new aircraft is really going to be a game changer!

Chris jumps for joy in front of the original Kestrel prototype

 

All well in Madrid.  First day of shooting (12hrs straight) went great. Great client, great subject matter, great food… What could be better?

Sitting in the hotel room downloading data… just thought I would take a sec and talk a little about some of our films that we were lucky enough to be recognized for in the AVA awards on Friday.

The first film I want to show again was probably my favorite of 2011.  The film, called “PUSH,” was shot on location in Wampatuck State Park with the sole purpose of experimenting with the slow/quick technology in the new Sony F3 Super 35.  The film includes our very own Rabbit, and our summer intern Scott Wesson.  (thanks guys!)

The itteration I submitted to AVA was sans the “behind the scenes” component, however it probably does a bit more good to have the first part of the film included as it talks about what exactly we were doing.

Hope you enjoy!

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/34977416 w=500]

I couldn’t believe it when I saw the number 33 in front of this “Behind the Scenes,” but this is our 33rd in the series.  It’s pretty cool and talks about how we shot time lapse footage whiles on location in Madrid.

Enjoy!

 

If you have been following our work over the past couple of years, you have seen that we have been up to our asses in elbows trying to keep on track with all the video interviews we have been doing lately.

The dirty little secret of the video interview is that it can pretty much be shot anywhere.  In fact, in a pinch, we have even shot one with the subject sitting in a closet, and the camera in the hall…

Closets aside, the most important factor of all is the audio.  Get stuck with a loud HVAC, an unruly shipping department in the next room, or door slamming looky-loos and you can find yourself up a creek without a boat.

Yesterday, we shot interviews for a bio-tech company here in Boston.  We had gotten the word before arrival that we were scheduled to shoot in the cafeteria.   Ok… sounded good in the eMail, but when we got there and checked out the scene, we quickly realized that on the other side of the wall were the kitchen’s freezers (and compressors.)

Because the compressors were cycling on and off, the room was a no-go for audio.  We quickly punted, and found an office we could strip down and set up our gear.

One of the things you will notice in the photo is that we use the actual color seamless we want (in this case white) as a background and  NOT “green screen.”  Sorry folks… but in my opinion, green screen is LAZY.  Although more difficult to light, and the need for twice as much equipment, having an understanding of lighting and taking the time to properly illuminate the background will net you a much better looking piece of film.

For this shoot, we used 4 tota lights to evenly wash the white seamless in the back, and used a tungsten balanced Diva Lite just above the subject for a beautiful key.

 

Full on madness around here this weekend as we make the move to ID every single thing in the studio.  It’s inventory time, and EVERYTHING must get logged…

It’s a serious question for any artist.  Just what the hell do you own?  So many of us don’t really pay attention because the reality of doing an inventory is just to daunting.  But what if there was a loss?  Fire? Theft?  Just how in hell could you ever recover all the little bits and pieces…?

Daunting or not, we have been putting it off for just too long and are finally ready to tackle the challenge.  We went ahead and picked up a Brother ProXL label machine (that prints barcodes) along with a barecode gun and have kicked it into high gear.  Everything is getting a label and I mean EVERYTHING.  Every camera, every lens, every CF card, every computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse, speaker, drive, stand, strobe, weight, toolbox, drill, battery, telephone, cable, printer, shop desk, chair, and on and on and on…

 

Once a barcode is generated, it is scanned and logged including make, model, serial number, service date, and value.  With this data, we can hopefully keep better track of what is here, and what is not, as well as gauge a total value of all the hard and softwoare we are sitting on.

If you have not done this, I urge you to at least spend a second and think just what you would do if you suffered a loss…  If not the small stuff, at least get a list going of the large stuff.  The big brush strokes and at the very least, get it on your homeowners or renters policy.

Wish us luck!

 

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(I have been going back thru the blog and re-reading… lots of good nuggets that I thought I might re-post.  This post was orig written April 15th 2009.)

Sometimes as a commercial photographer we are asked to tell a story when there seemingly is no story.  This is a common theme, and is one that you will be confronted with time and time again.

During this last days work, we were asked to illustrate a scientific paper.

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The solution was actually very simple and easy… Out came the 60mm macro and the softbox, and we went to town.  Keep the light down low opposite the camera, maybe put some folds or rolls in the papers, and you are off to the races!

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Profoto AcuteB 600R

I thought I would take a second to talk about what I consider one of the most important pieces of equipment we have with respect to location photography…  The Profoto AcuteB 600R portable strobe.  Before this pack came around, we were stuck suffering through the cumbersome weight of the Profoto Pro-7B which weighed in at just over 25lbs.   At just over 10lbs, the AcuteB 600R is a perfect match for our style of photography.

AcuteB 600 at Burning Man

Now don’t get me wrong, there still is in fact a time and a place for the Pro-7b, but for 90% of the stuff we shoot, the AcuteB fits perfectly.

To wrap your head around the two, think of the 7B as the Army, and the AcuteB as the Marines.  The Marines are sprinters, and are a light and nimble force.  They are meant to be quickly inserted with minimal support, and quickly extracted.  They are easy to maneuver and can adapt to new environments very adeptly.

AcuteB 600R in the Atlantic...

In contrast, the Army is a bit more bulky.  They pack a huge punch, but take much longer to mobilize and can be far less elegant.  They are designed to go the distance, and when they come to town, they are there to stay.

The Pro-7B (the army) is an amazing pack for real heavy duty battery dependent strobe work.  The power in the pack is really solid, and will last and last.  The problem for us though is that with our style of shooting, we rarely need that much power, or that much battery charge…

Furthermore, the weight is pretty much the killer.  We never travel with just one pack (redundancy is king,) which means we are committed to traveling with two.  When you add in a third battery, the real world issues of size and weight bears its ugly head.  Two Pro7b’s, a spare battery, two heads, a Tenba Air Case and associated cables quickly puts you over the weight limit of the airlines which translates into unneeded charges for the client.

Portraits shot with AcuteB 600R

Now I’m not saying that we put the dollar over quality, but when you can get the same level of image without adding unneeded expense, why not go there?

The AcuteB 600R (Marines) is really a great bit of kit.  Its small profile allows it to be ultra portable, whist giving enough power and fast recycle time to shoot in the most demanding of situations.

The fact is that more times than not, when we go out, we have more than what we need with respect to the AcuteB 600R.  It’s light, compact, robust, and has never let us down.

Portraits shot with AcuteB 600R

We have used it on boats, in airplanes, in the ocean, and in insane dust storms with great effect.  It has always performed as expected, and is certainly an important tool in the making of great images.

Here are some images from my Portrait portfolio that were all shot with an AcuteB 600R.

Portraits shot with AcuteB 600R

Schedule

Just a reminder… As the end of the year approaches, its always a good time to look over your 1099’s for the past year and get a grip on just how your Schedule C is going to shape up.

If it looks like you don’t have enough deductions, this is the perfect time to get the new gear you have been putting off all year.

(but remember to contact a tax professional…)  Good luck!

Power inverter is key!

One of the coolest little gagets that you can have with you whist on the road is a power inverter.   Im not going to in to special magic of how it works, because its magic.

Lets you run your computer when your battery is no more...

I will however say that having one with you is a lifesaver.  It plugs into the cigarette lighter (but I guess we dont call it that anymore… 12V outlet) and turns DC power into AC power.

Its not the cleanest power in the world, but will charge your batts and keep you running!

Went with my nieces (twins) to a petting farm. Petted some ponies I did…

Anyway, a quick reminder of the simplest trick in the book when you want to shoot a kid. (I mean photograph)

If you want to make a killer (I mean great) image of a child, lower the camera down to their eye level. You can see in this image that the view of the world is clearly that of the little guys (or maybe the pony if your a little off.)

If you are interested in the original post, click here:

So far it’s not looking good for Data Robotics and their new DroboPro product.  (see last post)

thumbFirst let me explain how we intended to use the new DroboPro….  In a nutshell, I don’t think that the DroboPro is nearly fast enough to use as a primary storage device for professional use.  Even when you can speak to a Data Robotics expert, they will admit that hands down transferring data via an internal bus (i.e. and internal RAID such as in our MacPro’s) is leaps and bounds faster than via an external bus such as the DroboPro.

Knowing this, we decided to upgrade all the internal Macintosh RAID’s from 1TB drives to 2TB drives.  This would effectively double the internal RAID capacity from about 1.8TB to somewhere in the 3.5TB range for each workstation.  With respect to our “EditOne” (the main video work station which has both the internal Macintosh RAID as well as a 3Ware Sidecar,) upgrading to all 2TB drives would effectively raise the internal RAID capacity from around 3.8TB to roughly 7.5 or 8TB of primary editing space.

To make this move however, we would need to first move the data off the existing RAIDs, upgrade the drives, and then transfer the data back to the new, larger arrays.  (getting confused yet?)droboPro
This is where the DroboPro comes into play.  The idea was to set up a 16TB array, temporarily park the data onto the array, and then move it back to the newly expanded internal RAIDS.  Once this was completed, we would hang the DroboPro in the rack with the XServe, and have it act as a TimeMachine back up of both “EditOne,” as well as “PhotoOne,” (my primary photo workstation.)  In effect, this would give us double redundancy.  All data would be protected on each workstation via a RAID 5 array, and then it would be further protected via a TimeMachine back up on the network.  For data storage above and beyond the local RAIDs, we would count on the rock solid reliablity of the Promse RAID connected to the server. If the DroboPro seemed to work out, a second unit would be fitted in the rack for even more storage space.

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When shooting photos for clients, especially when they are going to be used for the web, it is always a great idea to shoot lots of detail shots.

These detail shots will not only be good for illustrating concepts, but they are great for backgrounds and web banners.  Plus… designers love to have this stuff to play with.

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We always say: “give em what they want, then give em more…”

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Often times when we begin to study photography, we get really stumped as to where the hell to place the light.

As artists, we have all sorts of choices, and these choices determine the style and feeling of the photograph.  A light in front will give a flat, uninteresting picture.  A light below will make a subject look goolish, where as a light 90 degrees to a subject will create intense drama.

A good trick to start understanding where to place your light is to start to train your eye to figure out where others are placing theirs.

In the photo above, we hung a soft box directly above and slightly behind the subject.  This caused the face of the person to become a bit darker while still illuminating his hands (where I wanted the attention to be drawn.)  This photo is less about the engineer, and more about the process hence the darker face.  Also, having the darkness around all four edges of the photo pulls your eye into the center of the frame without allowing it to stray outside.  You can also see a bit of a Dutch angle (as I talked about in a previous post.)

In order to dicern where the light is placed in photos, start looking for the shadows.  You can see a shadow under the green thingy at the bottom left of the frame.  From this, we can tell that the light is above and a bit to the right.

Extreme Dutch angle

Extreme Dutch angle

From Wikipedia:  “A Dutch angle is achieved by tilting the camera off to the side so that the shot is composed with the horizon at an angle to the bottom of the frame.”  (Its really a good article, and worth giving a read…)

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One of my favorite techniques to use is the Dutch angle.  If you look through my body of work, you will see this style come up time and time again.  In a nutshell, it tends to build tension and draw the viewer into the frame. Read the rest of this entry »

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Here is one of my favorite “secret” tricks when shooting technology in a lab…

There is always a bit of mystery surrounding good photographs of lasers.  Either people are flummoxed as to how to shoot the shot, or they think they are experts and talk about using smoke to illuminate the beam.

We first have to understand that we cant see the light in the laser beam, we can only see the particles it is hitting whilst traveling through the air.  When we try to photograph the laser light, we get nothing.  The dust particles in the air simply don’t reflect enough light to make the beam show up.

Read the rest of this entry »

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We are shooting in a very cool world these days….  Because the newest generation of digital SLR’s have such keen images at high ISO’s, we can often time shoot with a hot light like a Lowel Tota.

1000w Lowel Tota in a small Chimera

1000w Lowel Tota in a small Chimera

The question is:  Why would we do this over strobes?

Switching between stills and video is easy with the Tota Light

Switching between stills and video is easy with the Tota Light

This isnt a solution for every job.  If you want really high quality and need the resolution, you will still want to blast the shot with a strobe, but if the stills are being used on the web, or are not being blown up out of sight, then you can start to think about hot lights.

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Pelican cases are our first choice when on the road

Pelican cases are our first choice when on the road

There are so many choices for equipment cases these days, it is often hard to figure out exactly what the hell to buy.  This is especially true early in a photographers career when one has to make smart decisions with the wallet.

Really there are two camps to choose from.  On one side you have the hard case, and on the other, the soft.

In my opinion, the two leaders in these camps are the Air Case by Tenba, and the Pelican Case.  So the question is what to buy????

For me, the choice used to be very simple…  Pelican!

Pelican cases are by far the most durable, environment-proof, kick ass cases around.  They have traveled with me around the planet, and have never ceased to amaze me with their professional reliability.  There is one small bug that has slowly crawled its way into into our sleeping bag, and that their weight.

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I was bumping through some images last night tyring to gleen some inspiration for todays post when I came accross a photo we shot last summer.

The photo was shot on a 1988 Boston Whaler in the outer harbor (Boston.)  We were shooting some life style images at sunrise, and set this photo up using a camera mounted on a boom off the gunwale of the boat.

Looking at the image suddenly brought back a flood of wonderful memories of shooting out on the water, and really got my juices flowing for the warm weather.

But as I examined the photo, I remembered why I loved this particular image.  The fact is… the perspective is a bit different!

The point I am tying to make is this:  Put your camera in a different place.  Often times we grab our point and shoot cameras and take photos from a common perspective.  This is usually lazily standing fully erect, with the camera to our eye.  The net net is  a  photograph that everyone has experienced.   Boring!

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One of the real keys to making a unique image is to put that damn camera in a place that other people usually don’t go.  This may mean laying down on your belly, climbing a ladder, or even being underwater.

A nice example is seen above.  In the photo of the sail boat, I climbed the mast and shot the boat using an X-Pan from a perspective that we usually don’t get to see.

There are a lot of things that make this image interesting, but its the perspective that really makes it a great image.

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On of the cooler effects you can do with a camera is to combine motion with a flash.  This is called the flash blur.

In a nutshell, you use a long shutter to create the effect of the motion, and then freeze the action with a flash.

Normally, the flash goes off at the front of the shutter cycle, or as soon as the shutter opens.  In the case of the fire photo above, I used what is called a rear curtain sync.  This means that the flash goes off at the end of the shutter cycle, or just before the shutter closes.

Sometimes this can get a little confusing, so think of it this way…  For the sake of this illustration, lets expand the shutter cycle to 10 seconds.  We press the go button and the shutter opens.  One, two, three, four….. nine, ten, the shutter closes.  When your camera is set to “normal,” or front curtain sync, the flash is triggered on the one count.

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Now imagine the camera is on a tripod, and a man is walking from left to right across the frame.  As soon as we see him in the lens, we press play, and open the shutter.  One (the flash goes off and freezes a bright, clear impression of the man on the left side) two, three, (the film is continuing to burn his image as he streaks to the right,) five, six, seven, (the man is still moving and his image is still being blurred as he walks.  Nine, ten (the shutter closes.)

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We do a lot of science and technology photography, and are often shooting scientists and their labs.

Of course it is easy when they have hand built some insane smoking platinum time machine, or have a grizzley robot that is controlled by mind rays, or are even spinning golden thread from crushed 55 Plymouth using a 40 foot prototype laser array.

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These are the easy jobs, and obviously no one complains when there is a “cool” subject to photograph.

The real question comes into play when your mandate is to tell the story of a scientist that is involved with theory.  What do you mean… “thought experiment?” “How do I shoot that?”

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We had a great day back at Work N’ Gear yesterday.  It was a nice mellow day shooting cloths on seamless.  I really like shooting for WNG because we have such fun with their people.

We spent the afternoon with Chris Capella, one of their designers/art directors.  (Thats him holding lazily holding the ladder making sure I don’t tip over… I think)  Chris is actually going to be running a marathon a bunch of Sundays from now.  And he’s never run before!  Kick some ass Chris!

Chris is also a partner with our friend Gary Hedrick.  The two of them run Elefhantworks, a design firm here in Boston.  They too have a blog that is worth checking out if you are into design.

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CB has found his soul mate…

Of course a day at WNG wouldn’t be the same without CBK.  He makes the day run so smooth… Especially in the laugh department.

(BTW, I can only show the above photo as the blog is PG13.  Keep it up CB!)

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Chris laying down spring

A lot of folks have been following the Dominican Republic job that I have been posting about and really liking the photos.  (thanks BTW…)  But the thing to always remember is that it is the clients like Work N Gear who are the most important.

These jobs might not be as glamorous, there is no travel, no helicopters, no SCUBA gear, but they are the cleints that stick with you year after year, trust what you do, and love what you provide.  It is important to never forget this, and take care of them FIRST, becuase they will be by your side long after the helicopter and sun drenched model jobs fade away.

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Some of you may or may not know this little trick… but if you dont, it is a must have for your camera bag.

The circular polarizer is one of my FAVORITE filters of all time.  I will let Wikipedia explain it better, but in a nutshell, it basically increases the contrast between the sky and the clouds.

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Below are a couple of images that I made whilst traveling through Iowa this past summer.  For each of these images I used the circular polarizer.  Even in the case of the image with the crop duster (with no clouds) the filter darkened and saturated the sky.  I did this as I wanted  to play a deep blue sky against the bright yellow fuselage.

I tweaked the saturation very slightly in post, but for the most part, the images are out of the camera.

The effect is very cool, and worth the space in your bag!  Give it a try!

Good luck-

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Chris standing for tests

Chris standing for tests

I know this might be a given… or maybe even a cliche.  Regardless, in my opinion it is the most important part of a good commercial photography biz.

Tip # 5.  Surround yourself with GOOD people.  A good assistant can make or break a job.  When you are on the road, they keep you sane, keep you from making a fool of yourself, and often keep you grounded.

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Shukru the Crazy

Sukru the Crazy

One of the most important aspects of a successful photography career is good humor.

Although often times we are hired to tackle serious issues and solve complex problems for our clients, it is imperative that as professionals, we are able to keep this focus whilst still fostering an atmosphere of fun.

To achieve this, we often involve our clients in good natured fun during down time. This keeps everyone’s spirits up, and includes them in what can often be a long and focused day.

The series of photos above features our friend Shukru over at the Research Lab of Electronics at MIT. Sukru is a ham, and loves to get involved when we are goofing around. We shot these photos while waiting for a subject to arrive to be photographed. We had 24×24 prints made, and gave them out to his office mates. Everyone got a nice laugh.

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