Due to the nature of my work it can be a very, very long time between shooting a photo and it going public for everyone to see. This is one of those short posts where I get to show off photos I shot that have recently(ish) been allowed out in the wild world of the internet. If you like the look of what I shoot, say hello at firstname.lastname@example.org and have a look at more of my work in my Portfolio and Gallery pages.
The Dry Cleaner (Short Film)
It’s a huge shock to the system to get back into the swing of things after spending the entire Christmas period away from the computer, having one of these rumoured things normal people call “holidays” where your work brain switches off entirely.
Couple of things to show off! First off – New Large Format photo! Secondly – Exclusive stills from the next work in progress Chris Cronin film! Woo! Content releases!
Tech Hunt – Large Format
The first photo today is one of the successful Tech Hunt experiments from over a year ago! Originally shot as an examination to my critical focusing skills with a large format camera, it’s been decided that the photo is good enough for you, the wonderful public to enjoy! (Image actor – Michael Collin) – Click to embiggen!
Also, because I cannot get enough of it, a 1080p anamorphic crop!
I’ll be writing a follow-up article about the techie stuff behind these Large Format photos over the coming days – I didn’t want to clog up a sweet collection of photos with boring details.
Next up are a smattering of key stills from the next, mysterious Chris Cronin film, hinting at things to come! This first still really should be viewed as big as your screen can make it! Click and embiggen it up! Exclamation marks!
Did you like these photos? Want to tell me you liked it? Maybe you even want me to take photos for you? Give me a shout at email@example.com
So the team behind Tech Hunt have finally released the main poster for the film! (click for the full-size image)
Unsurprisingly, this is a poster that contains photos I’ve taken! More surprisingly, is that I created the whole image! One is not normally tasked with creating posters, they tend to be crafted by professional graphic designers. However this time the director Chris Cronin was clear that he wanted a single photo to be the key focus for poster, rather than a graphic heavy collection of different images that is frequently the case.
Believe or not, the final result looks almost nothing like the original photograph! So, for the sake of shameless self-promotion, lets go on a journey of discovery and learn about how this poster came to be! Find out how we went from nothing but an idea – to this:
Then from that image* how I created the final poster!
Before The Shoot“Marc. You’re going to take a photo of a rough cowboy lookin’ type leaning against a shot up wooden wall. Red light shafts will be running through the bullet holes. I don’t care how. You have an afternoon in a farm to make it happen.”
The whole shoot was also highly experimental, we had no idea how it was going to turn out! Mostly because we were all primarily concerned with the filming of 30+ horses and the stunts they were performing, planning for the photoshoot was low in the priority list. We had no choice but to figure everything out on the day and then decide how to tackle any problems in post-production.
Performing The Shoot
It was a cold time of year. Very. Cold. The air was filled with flurries of snow and icy drizzle. Me and my crew were also exhausted from several days of filming horses causing all types of mayhem from the back of a pick-up truck. However the job needed to be done, otherwise a lot of money was going to be wasted.
Having spent the past few days shooting in this farm, I had a rough Idea of the kind of props and locales that were around for us to borrow. There were numerous barns, sheds and buildings about the place, however the owners were not going to be particularly happy if they found us drilling bullet holes through their favourite horses stable, so we had to think quickly and creatively!
Terrible weather aside, I needed to have total control over the lighting, so an external location was not the answer. We also needed lots of space and zero daylight.
Luckily, we had the perfect location for my needs. There was a large stable with a dirt floor!
All we needed now is some kind of wall to lean our actor against. This is where we were really lucky, the farm had a few disused buildings and the owners were generous enough to let us have a dive through their old junk where we found an old wooden barn door! Short of permanent structural damage to their property, this was the best we were going to find.
So the basics were starting to take place. We had a location, some lights and a dressed actor, from here on, it was all down to making sure everything looked good and was suitable for later editing. My plan was to create a series of locked-off photos where we blast out some smoke and move the lights behind the barn door around so that I could merge rays of light together in photoshop later.
So we’ve taken the pictures and got the assets we need to make the poster, now we just gotta piece the puzzle together. First of all, to prove that the idea doesn’t look hideous no matter how much work I put into it, I threw together a proof of concept. I created a normal coloured photo and a pink/red version and blended the light rays.
It’s pretty rough, but it proves that the red rays of light could be created without looking like utter trash when more care is taken. Obviously we quickly decided that it would look better to have the whole scene looking red rather then just the shafts of light.
Feeling confident that hacking everything together would be worth my time, it was now a case of collecting a number of photos where the rays of light played nicely and extend the wall using various wood textures I had previously taken pictures of at the farm.
Boy, what a task that was!
The final .TIFF file is a whopping 350mb large and consists of well over 100+ layers. I’m sure there are graphic designers laughing at these pithy little numbers, however considering the most I do to photos is cover up blotches and liberally splatter colours about, this is a huge job!
I’ll spare you the boring gory details about the edit, there are plenty of sterile tutorials online that you can fall asleep to if you want, however I will give you a glimpse into the magic that took place. Rather than using words, let me show you a graphic of the various stages the poster went through. It reads left to right, from top to bottom. Hopefully this wont ruin the magic and show me up as the terrible photochopper that I am.
One of the biggest jobs there is actually really hard to witness in that image, late on in the process we decided that we should shift the actor about 6 inches to the left, forcing me to create details that were never there before!
So there you go, another glimmer of faint light in the dark and dangerous world of working as a stills photographer. If you have any questions, (or even want to hire me) feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*This photo has actually been manipulated pretty heavily already, but it’s the first coherent and recognisable photo compared to the final poster.
It’s not common for me to pursue photography outside of work any more, the amount of time and work that goes into a good photograph can make it hard for it to be as fun, or entertaining as something else I take less seriously, such as awful drunken dancing.
However, when my girlfriend tells me that we’re going on a two day “staycation*” in one of Britain’s most beautiful gardens, it’s hard to not enjoy photographing everything around me.
Where did we go? We stayed in the grounds of West Dean College for two nights. It has some of the most stunning gardens and flowers I’ve ever seen. I can’t help but feel that the whole thing is wasted on me, since I can barely tell the difference between a Dandelion and an Evergreen Fern, but I can at least take some pictures and make it look pretty for everyone else to appreciate.
I didn’t have much time to take photos, probably only a couple hours at most, so I figured it would be prudent to make the effort productive as well as fun.
Shooting without purpose is terrible for me, so I gave myself a handful of tasks to complete:
1. Scout the location, and take characterful landscape / architectural photos for my fellow film producer friends.
2. Take some test Large Format photographs, finish off my box of colour film.
3. Photograph some of the flowers
4. Generate content for the blog
Enough words now! Bathe in the radiant light of a summery West Sussex. (click for larger pictures)
Beautiful isn’t it? However, as a photographer / filmmaker, there is one part of this facility that is rife with cinematic / photogenic potential.
Personally, I can’t believe that plants this good looking are even capable of growing in England, the head gardeners here must be magicians,
Absolutely stunning. Tricky exposure aside, it’s really really hard to take a bad picture in these grounds. As I stated before, one of my goals was to fire off the last two colour photos of my current pack of 5×4 film. I’ve yet to see the results, but hopefully everything went as planned. Naturally I couldn’t help but take some photos of the Graflex camera while here!
Over the next few days, I’ll be posting photos of pretty flowers, and I’ll release some wallpapers for those who prefer to have their computers decorated with flowers rather than blurry cityscapes.*I say staycation, however when you spend 6am-7pm on your laptop writing emails and making phone calls, it’s hard to call it much more than “work with a nice background”. I’m a terrible boyfriend.
It’s good to have a
spring summer clean sometimes.
Due to the outburst of really great work being produced and made public lately, I’ve decided that it’s already time to update my Portfolio, something that can take months or years to happen! It’s not the major overhaul that took place earlier this year, however there are a number of new images being displayed that will hopefully display the best of my capabilities.
Twenty pages is barely enough to cover a single film, let alone dozens of them! What happens to the poor pictures that were culled out by the brutal selection process? Do they just go back home and wait out the days, hoping to be seen again before they’re lost forever? It’s become so hard to pick portfolio images lately that I’ve felt it’s time to bend my own rules! Until today, I only ever made a handful of carefully curated images available on my site.
The savvy Marc fans out there might have spotted a new “Gallery” button on the top nav bar.
On this quietly glorious little page I’ve decided to make available many more images that while might not quite be portfolio suitable, is still definitely cool enough for everyone to see at their own pace. Unrestrained from the requirements of a formal client-attracting document, the Gallery page will be showing a much wider collection of photographs I have shot.
I’m still experimenting with the exact format and adding photos, mixing it all together in no particular order on purpose, shoving former portfolio pages next to behind the scenes shots, portraits of cast / crew and even the occasional magazine / newspaper clipping. Things will likely be added, changed and messed about with, so keep an eye out for new freshness!
Let me know what you think of what I’m doing at email@example.com!
A surprisingly chilly and gloomy Sunday outside the Royal Palace considering that the day before crowds of naked cyclists riding were riding by. On this day however, an exhausted Marc was dragging himself in the direction of Victoria Train Station along the wide roads that lace the palace grounds.
Ding ding ding ding ding!
An alarm bleeped from a pocket in my jeans. A loving reminder that I had woken up 24 hours ago to start working on the Mr Happy set. Having only finished working and left location around 20 minutes beforehand, Marc was a tired boy after working what must of been a good 22 hour shift. Oops.
Considering how rigid the structure of command is in a film crew, and how quickly on-set weirdness can be normalised, one can still be surprised in how unpredictable and wildly varying work can often be when filming.
Working as the photographer on set puts you in a very unique position. The mix of being uncritical to the production of the film itself and occasionally having large blocks of waiting to be busy means that frequently I’m roped into helping with all kinds of things. I’ve operated booms, been an extra, helped block off roads, set up lights, plucked strangers off the streets to be extras, constructed sets, found information, found props, I’ve even been ordered to sit at a bar and drink to keep the location owner happy!
Being a camera guy I also tend to be close with the cinematography teams, who are almost always extraordinarily hard working and good people. I have huge amounts of respect for camera department, I’ve always said that they effectively do my job, but it’s 24 times harder. It’s not uncommon for my to provide some sort of assistance to cinematographers, if I’m asked for opinions or equipment I’m usually happy to oblige. It usually amounts to moving equipment, looking after the camera while the operator has to leave set for a short while, or even just lending my lens cleaning tools. In all my time however, I’ve not been asked to operate a video camera for production purposes, I’ve genuinely spent more time being in front of a video camera then actually using one.
All that changed when I started working on Eugene Magee’s Mr Happy short film. After shooting the main bulk of the film it was later decided that they needed to shoot some additional footage with a minimal crew to tie things up. This is frequently called shooting “pick-ups”. I was originally asked to just come along and take some pictures, because it never hurts to have extra coverage. When I saw that they were looking for camera people on Facebook the day before shooting it never even dawned on me that I might be asked to help.
Oh blissful naivety.
I’m frequently asked whether I’m considering a move into cinematography, by both new acquaintances and long friends alike, because the fundamentals of the job are clearly very similar, and because I’m constantly grumbling about the limitations of still photography as a creative medium. Every time I have answered with a resounding “No. I have too much respect for cinematographers to arrogantly think I can just swan in on set and do their job.” My job revolves around doing everything possible to prevent camera movement, not embrace and control it. I have zero training or experience with how to handle the moving image. I also lack experience in knowing how raw footage will end up edited, picturing how a series of different shots stitch together can sometimes take me a while.
My dusty, tired old brain doesn’t even remember being asked to operate their Red Scarlet camera, I just know that on this particular day my skills would be better utilised operating the Red Scarlet than by me stubbornly insisting on taking stills. Having spent countless hours working alongside highly qualified cinematographers, I was fairly confident that I could at least mimic their efforts enough to get by on a day filled with mostly pretty simple set ups.
The value of an image.
One thing you pick up very quickly as a photographer is that when you need to stop the crew to take some pictures of a particularly important or visually unique scene, time is your mortal enemy. I’m rarely given more than 5 minutes of free time with actors on a clean set. You can feel seconds burning away as the crew grow impatient, wondering why a photograph takes more than 10 seconds.
Within this small time frame I have to explore a full scene for the most suitable angles, let the actors play through their scene, or direct them myself. Fiddling with the camera to double check that the limited time I’m given isn’t wasted feels like I’m just gawping at my camera like an idiot. Rarely is time given to me to manipulate the location for my suiting, moving furniture out of the way can produce a groan from the crew, let alone a request to move lights or other equipment that frequently finds itself in my frame.
Operating the main movie camera on the other hand is a totally different ball game. It’s still bloody hard work, but for very different reasons. If the camera needs to go somewhere for a shot, it will go there. Furniture is moved, lights are repositioned, actors are shuffled around. Almost nothing is more important than the primary camera.
Operating the camera is also highly methodical, to use it otherwise is risking a total failure. In between shots I was vigilantly checking the batteries and storage cards, something I never have to do when shooting stills. Using the tripod for nearly every shot is also a huge shift in working style, surprisingly similar to shooting with my Graflex albeit much, much faster.
One thing I will say I didn’t like was being forced to use an LCD to focus. I never, ever focus using the screen on DSLRs, optical viewfinders are much easier to judge sharpness, even if they’re not totally accurate in extreme scenarios. The focus assist mode where the camera applies a crazy strong unsharp mask filter was pretty interesting (it makes sharp edges really stand out), though I felt that it made me complacent about the accuracy of my focusing.
The other interesting thing was how I struggled with both tracking (pushing the camera along a mini rail system) and follow focusing (refocusing during recording to follow the subject). Tracking I found hard simply because I lack the experience to know how the speed of my movements relate to the footage, and how that ties in with the directors expectations. Similarly, manually follow focusing and being 100% accurate is bloody damn hard!
Would I consider a career in cinematography?
I’ll admit that I found the job pretty damn fun, I wasn’t anywhere near as stressed as I thought I would have been. If a brave Director of Photography asked me to give them a hand on their camera team I would struggle to refuse the job, with the caveat that I would need some on the job training, and that follow focusing and general camera movement is beyond my current skill range.
You never stop learning on a film set!
I like politics I do, I find myself frequently listening to political shows, debates and the various assemblies at Democracy Live when I’m working at my desk during the day. It’s a great way to learn about all manner of subjects which might not otherwise come into your consideration, it also helps keep my analytical and critical thinking skills on the ball, never a bad thing.
Despite my interests, talking about politics publicly is generally something to be avoided by me, especially on the blog. The risks of angering a future client is far too great if I’m seen to be taking sides on a particular issue. I’m also far too humble to espouse a particular position, especially since there are far more educated and qualified people who are capable of discussing any political / legal subject far better than me. The likelihood of me buggering up a legal/political topic is high.
However sometimes things happen which directly affect my work and my colleagues that need to be raised.
Today, it came to my attention that the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill is effectively guaranteed to become law.
Without commenting on the bill as a whole, I want to discuss one particular part of it that concerns content creators, both photographers and filmmakers alike. Orphan Works and Extended Collective Licencing.
Before this bill is passed, the UK followed the Berne Convention, an international copyright protection agreement. Copyright in all the signed countries are counted as equals under the Berne Convention. Under the Berne Convention, orphan works, copyrighted material where the creator / owner cannot be contacted, are not available for use. This, while arguably heavy handed, totally protects the copyright holder.
The UK’s Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill changes all this. Orphan Works can now be used by commercial entities providing that they performed a “diligent search” for the owner. What diligent search means legally is entirely unclear and thus totally open for abuse. Is it checking the EXIF info? Is it simply a reverse Google image search? How many pages of results does a company need to look at? 1? 10? 1000? Asking camera manufacturers the contact details for everyone who’s bought a camera ever? Emailing every known photographer in the world? Searching Bing for images with keywords?
The point is hypothetical situations like this can easily occur:
I could take a photo for a film, a relatively unknown film. No-one cares who I am nor do I own the copyright (that is handed over to the production company), so I don’t have a watermark on the image, and the filmmakers didn’t want to put the films title on the photo for various reasons.
Someone thinks the photo is cool, saves it to their PC and re-hosts it somewhere, stripping it of all meta data. Meanwhile the production company have altered their marketing campaign and decided to take the original image down, maybe for contractual obligations. It can no longer be found via search engines.
Any company could now find and use that re-hosted image for whatever purpose they see fit and never be sued for it. Even controversial organisations will be free to use this image without me or the production company knowing about it. As a result, no longer can I be ensured that my work will be used properly.
Fortunately, the vast majority of my work comes from production companies, and it’s much harder for films to disappear out of record, however other photographers will be utterly open to abuse. It has already been bad enough for photographers who have frequently had their work used without permission or payment by less than honourable news paper companies, this law will only encourage papers to pretend that they found no contact details in order to lower their costs of operation.
I understand the intent of the bill, which was to allow libraries to digitise old books without fear of a legal reprisal, however the way it has been handled is less than stellar and really can cause a lot of damage to creative industry workers who’s incomes are already highly squeezed as it is.
How do we as content creators handle this? How much will this affect every day life? What are the exact repercussions? Honestly, I have no idea, I’m a lowly cameraman. However I will admit that I am annoyed at myself for not doing more to try and stop it from passing. I heard rumbles about this law a long time ago and did nothing to assist the people and organisations who didn’t want it to pass.
I want write about this further, however I feel that I would be rambling too much about wider points that don’t strictly pertain to the topic of the blog, so I will leave it short but sweet.
I welcome any and all discussion on this topic whether it’s private or public, especially if you’re someone who understands legalese and can make educated points. Feel free to make comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If I feel it’s necessary, I might make a follow up article on the subject.
Highly recommended reading about the bill itself from the Dept. of Business Innovation & Skills blog. Read the comments too.