A Lighting Test

So this was a different thing. By far the most moody and stylized projects I’ve done to date verses what normally fills up my hard drives. I’ve been sitting on a couple reference images for a long time that I absolutely wanted to use but for one reason or another hadn't gotten around to shooting. The whole idea was wrapped around lighting, body structure, and direction. Well, that and my thing of always wanting to do stuff and a goal to post to my blog at least once a week this year.

In putting a treatment together – or at least a look book – I dug through a ton of references I’d already had stored away. I’ve also been listening to a TON of Anderson .Paak so I knew his music would be playing a major part. By the way, I'm awful at coming up with titles, so ignore the "Graceful Strength" part if you download the look book. This whole thing was more about a lighting test than anything proper.

There were also the self-imposed restrictions of a simple background, using my own equipment (short a couple c-stands and apple boxes), and keeping the talent either seated or lying down. I’d love to talk about my incredible studio space with all its incredible amenities, nice leather couches, and cases of LaCroix Sparkling Water, but instead I’ll show you my bedroom where I pushed everything up against the walls before the shoot and then reset before Anne the Wife got home.

Initially another model was lined up but reached out to someone else due to scheduling conflicts. Madison Bready is an OU student I met years ago and worked with a few times recently. Turns out Madi was absolutely the right person for the shoot. Cynthia Dreier is a makeup artist I’ve worked with on quite a few projects and she killed it in making sure Madi looked her best and kept us on track during the shoot. Did I mention Madi is an OU student, because we only had like 90 minutes to do makeup and shoot everything in between her classes that afternoon. Oh, and did I mention I was super happy with what we got? Because dang…

Gear-wise, we shot with my RED Weapon Helium at 8k, 60 fps, 2:1 aspect ratio, and 15:1 compression through my Zeiss CP.2 len set (25, 35, & 50). I'd also set my white balance to 4500k to warm up the tungsten light and white backdrop – along with her skin tones and haircolor. That being said, all the footage in the edit is straight out of camera; I didn't do any additional color work to the footage (or still frames). I also tried a step printing technique shooting at 8 fps and a 360° shutter angle, but it was at the last couple minutes of the shoot and I wasn’t really happy with the footage; I should’ve shot closer to 4 fps. For lighting, I setup an Arri 650 head through a couple scrims and two layers of diffusion. A bunch of black fabric hung on camera right helped control the spill. I’d roughed in the lighting setup using a styrofoam head on a light stand before the talent got there.

Post-wise, I knew the 8k files were going to be a monster. We shot about 325 GB of footage which isn’t nuts with my camera package, but honestly it’s a pain to edit such large files. Adobe Premiere on my Mac Pro setup will handle it like a champ, but having to lower the playback resolution to 1/8 or 1/16 just to just slog through the .R3D files is like tying that champ’s arm behind his back before going into a fight. I’d worked with offline edits WAY the hell back in the days of SD footage and tape decks, but this simple YouTube tutorial pretty much changed my workflow and is keeping me from looking so longingly at those fancy Alexa Minis and their blissful 4k sensor sizes.

Music is always the hardest part for me during an edit. I promise, I’m all about supporting other creatives and paying to license music, but after a genuinely solid effort I couldn’t find or afford something that fit as well – in my opinion – as this Anderson .Paak track. 99% of my edits start with a music track – especially with personal projects; It's got to feel right or else it's not worth the effort.

After I'd gotten somewhat through a rough edit (and several glasses of whiskey) I reached out to a few other creatives for feedback. Crazy thanks to those guys for the insanely solid ideas, helping me step back from how close I was to the work, and look at what I was missing.

Good grief I hope to do more of this soon.

Slow Season Busy Work

It's slow season ya'll with way more time than work. It's that time of year when I'd honestly prefer shriveling up into a wad of insecurity and self-doubt and drink coffee till things get better.

Anne the Wife has been around long enough to know when I need to get out and go shoot something. Thankfully I got out to The Farm before the January temps in Oklahoma dropped to angry Minnesota winter levels. Oh, and by The Farm I mean "my-parents-land-forty-five-minutes-from-Oklahoma-City."

Obviously I'm always hoping for good light but that's harder to come by now with two young kids. Normally I'm running one kid to school around sunrise and then cooking, eating, and/or cleaning up after dinner during the evening light. My window to shoot these days feels like a relentless insult of midday sun.

It was still that "Hey dummy, no one likes you" type of overhead light while I was out the other day. The thought was to try and shoot anything around The Farm and how it was moving with the wind. I also had a can of Atmosphere Aerosol with me, but it was too windy for it to make a difference. The footage was all shot on a 35mm CP2 between 5-8k widescreen on my RED Weapon Helium at framerates between 60-150fps.

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Everything got edited down to the good bits in a "cuttingboard" timeline. That gets copy/pasted to "v1" and I go from there. I always end up pulling framegrabs from the footage to feed the Insta-beast and color them as I go. VSCO on my iPhone is my go-to photo editor but I'm also learning to use Adobe Lightroom – thx YouTube. There's also the idea of making your own LUTs in Lightroom – thx again YouTube – and bringing them into Premiere Pro. I tried making a couple for this edit, but in the end I went with a pre-made LUT in Premiere. Color correction and grading – to me – is always the most intimidaing part of any edit. I'll reference my edited stills, but those looks rarely end up being appropriate as part of a whole in the final edit.

Music is the next part of the project. Wish I could say that I always get the rights to the music I use, but I don't – especially for these random edits who'll be seen by like six people. Client projects, yes. Recently I've been digging through SoundCloud for music; some let you download, others don't. It's great to find a song you like and then it refer you to others you might also like. For this edit, I used "Fireworks" by Pham. I'll break the full track down into bits, normally looking to keep the total edit to around 60 seconds – gotta feed the Insta-beast.

Once I get the music close to where I want it, that's when I start laying down the edit. Again, for this edit I wanted to do something with how the wind was moving the grass and trees. The footage alone wasn't enough so I also added digital zooms and subtle rotation at times. Editing something like this is mostly gut-level for me. I'm not looking to tell a story, but I'm VERY intentional about how each indivial clip feels and interacts with others in the timeline and music track. I'm constantly considering building/releasing tension, pacing, and resolution.