ALL THIS FOR ONE FRAME (but it's worth it)

Over the past several months I have been shooting, grading and now finishing the TV pilot 'Make Or Break', Written and Directed by Thomas Petrakos. Working with Tom has been both super enjoyable but also challenging - challenging because he always wanted to best possible result, no matter what. This of course is how I live! Always striving for the best possible result, with whatever I have to work with....and often that means no time, limited gear and limited coffee. That being said, I would work with Tom again and again and really enjoyed collaborating with him :) The REAL challenge came with not only achieving a certain level of quality, but also arriving at place that we were BOTH happy with. This of course is what true collaboration is all about and something I constantly work on.

When talking about results, I often look at an image and think about how much work went into it. Sure, if you're shooting with a vintage 85mm wide open, have some beautiful afternoon sun as a back-light, a natural reflector filling in your subjects shadows...throw in some lens flair, a slight breeze blowing the hair and BOOM! You've got an image that looks a million dollars. Instagram that shit, get your likes and feel good about being able to capture attractive, professional looking imagery. BUT! What happens when there is no sun, no reflectors, no flairs, no wind and no magical moment. What do you do then? You gotta up your game and learn how to create magic yourself (not something I claim I know how to do! But I feel like I'm on the right track).

Once we had finished shooting the Pilot, we then had the challenge of creating promotional material. For me, this meant shooting images for a Make Or Break poster. You may have seen the lighting diagram I created for this shoot in previous blog posts, but I wanted to elaborate more this time round :) The amount of work that goes into a single, still frame is well, a lot. Photography obviously shares a lot with Cinematography, but there are some fundamental differences - the obvious being that cinematography is associated with images that reveal information over time through sound and movement, guiding the viewer through a story. Photography on the other hand has less direction and allows the viewer to discover information at their own pace, creating a story based on what they see in their mind.  For me, that basically means that with photography, EVERY SINGLE PIXEL needs to be considered, especially when it's a studio shoot like this one. 

After deciding on a look (in-line with the Pilot's genre which is Comedy/Drama), we decided to shoot the actors on a white background in a studio. Sounds simple enough, right? Sure! And although it all ran pretty smoothly, it took a lot of hands, minds and hours to make this happen. 


Normally with a shoot like this, photographers use strobes. This makes perfect sense! Strobes (big studio flash lights), are low power drawing, high output, daylight balanced lights that can easily be modified and adjusted to taste. Because they only "flash" when required, they aren't continuously "on", creating heat and drawing lots of power like film lights. That being said...I don't have experience with strobes, so I stick to what I know...continuous lighting. Although necessary for film work, continuous light sources like HMI's, LED's, KINO Flows and Tungsten lamps are not efficient when it comes to power draw and like I've mentioned before, get hot. That doesn't mean you can't shoot photography with them, not at all :) 

Above is the setup (safety second?), which took me a good three hours to perfect on the day (and about a decade to learn how to create in the first place). It might look like I've literally thrown a bunch of lights into a corner, but each one of these lights has been meticulously place and modified to achieve a certain look. Rigging those over-head LED's was not easy either hehe...thanks to my gaffer Glen Cook for making this happen :)


The diagram above describes in more detail which lights I used and camera settings I had, etc. As you can see, we're pulling a fair whack of power with the 2 x 1.2K HMI's in the back, let alone the industrial fan in the front hehe. This same level of exposure could have been achieved with MUCH less power and I could have shot at a much lower ISO if I used strobes. The thing is though, we were on a budget (and who is isn't?), already had the lights hired for the pilot shoot (although one of the HMI's is mine), and we could only afford a bare bones studio to shoot what we needed. Regarding this setup, I have been asked "why did you shoot such high ISO?", and the simple answer is that it's the ISO I needed for decent exposure at f4. At a glance, you'd think light levels would be through the roof with this setup, but once you diffuse and modify, stop down your iris and shoot at 1/100th, you're not left with much.


In the world of stills, Davinci Resolve is not your tool of choice...and for me, it's not LightRoom either (shudder). Photoshop on the other hand allows anyone with a creative vision to BASICALLY do anything you like to an image. It's amazing! Especially if you shoot RAW.

My usual workflow on a shoot like this is to go through the hundreds of shots and choose a handful that might work. From there, it's a matter of tweaking the RAW settings of the image, ready for 'shopping ;) Below you'll see what I've done with this image of talented actress Rosie Noon beginning in RAW and ending with a cutout. 

After I'm happy with the RAW processing, I then start looking at what features can be enhanced in the image. I refine things like contrast, making blacks black, warming and smoothing skin tones, soften highlights (sometimes adding a glow to them), repainting lips, brightening eyes and generally just cleaning up the image. On top of that, I also have to cut out the model from the background, which can be tedious when you get the hair, let me tell you! Not all of those editing adjustments are present below because I've flattened layers along the way, but you get the idea.

I spent about 6 hours in total on this image. Probably a little excessive I know (and definitely not a cost effective way to go about things), but you need to remember that part of that time is me experimenting and exploring what I actually want to change. If knew that from the beginning, and knew exactly what the outcome was supposed to be before I started, I'd be able to finish the job in 2. Needless to say, now that I look at it this closely again, I want to change and enhance even more hehe ;)

We are now in the final stages of putting the poster together (the top banner image is not the final result). My strong point was never design, so I'm struggling with things like title placement and text but it's getting there slowly. 

So, I hope you enjoyed this quick summary about what was involved to capture and edit ONE single frame :) In summary, here's what was involved:

Studio Hire (white backdrop, decent power, fan, change room and makeup room)

Equipment (Camera, Lighting, Light Modifiers, Laptop)

Crew (Director, Photographer, Camera Assistant, Gaffer, Hair & Makeup Artist, Talent)

The Shoot (1 x 10hr day)

Post (1 week with multiple changes and design evaluation)

All in all, it's a massive amount of resources for a few shots. Short films have been made with less....but hey. For me, this sort of care and commitment to something is what draws me to people like Tom and our crew. Priority no. 1 is to make the best possible imagery we can. Speaking of crew, not once have I mentioned or given credit to the people that helped make this photo shoot possible! So remember that it doesn't matter how good your lighting is or Photshop skills are, you need to surround yourself with talented people who actually give a damn about the final result :) A HUGE shout out to Maryana for her beautiful hair and makeup, a big up to Glen Cook for helping me rig this show, and my wonderful AC in the studio, Jessa Rose :) Let's not forget Tom, who without, none of this would have happened! You're a legend mate...we're almost there! 

How are your Photoshop skills? Do you enjoy photography as well as cinematography? I love both, and often find myself missing one while I spend time on the other. Along with Davinci Resolve tutorials, would you guys be interested in Photoshop tutorials? I know plenty of cool tricks and can show you my exact workflow if the demand is there. In any case, thanks for visiting! 

Posted on August 12, 2015 .