July 31, 2013

Stills from film. An analysis and a possible light diagram of a scene from The Man Who wasn't There

Cinematography: Roger Deakins
Camera: Arriflex 535B
Lenses: Cooke S4
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Format: 35mm
Film Stock: Kodak Vision 5277 320T

The Man who wasn't there, by the Coen brothers, is a magnificent job by the great cinematographer Roger Deakins, who shot it on Kodak 5277 film stock, a colour negative with softer and more pastel look now discontinued, and processed it in black and white. In the scene above, the lawyer is explaining to B.B. Thornton and his wife, his new idea to get her out of jail. Deakins used just one light in the scene: a strong HMI placed in the zenith high on a crane as we can see from the very defined shadows. He also used some smoke to make the scene more dramatic. By just using this simple set-up, Deakins achieves the tight atmosphere to enhance the story. The lawyer is speaking about the reality: "there's no what happen: looking at something changes it. Our look defines the reality". Deakins translates this concept into a powerful image. He uses a theatrical light, from above which is like saying: there's no reality, only a representation of reality. Also, light coming from above is related to the divine, the inspiration: the lawyer has the idea, he is the only one bathed in light and well defined as silhouette. Light is the Word, the Truth, shadows are ignorance, not-to-know; that's why all other subjects are left in half shadow. The only character left entirely in shadows is B.B. Thornton; light is Good, shadows are Evil, the circular form  drown by light  unconsciously reminds it as well: as we know, Thornton is guilty of the crime his wife has been accused of.

July 29, 2013

Haute Couture fashion shooting in Barcelona

This is one of my favourite photo from the fashion shooting we did in Barcelona that was recently published in Portugal. It was taken on Kodak film and Medium Format camera and it was home developed with C-41 processing. You can see the full shooting and the complete credits on Umbigo Magazine

July 26, 2013

Picasso's The Guitar Player in Rio de Janeiro

I don't normally make this kind of photography: I'm more into controlled-light-and-situation photography like portrait, fashion or landscape. But I was walking in Lapa, a Rio de Janeiro district, when I sow this man taking a rest in the shadow: the position of his head and shoulder reminded me of the painting by Picasso titled The Guitar Player. I couldn't help it: I took my camera and shot.

July 25, 2013

A different postcard from Barcelona

Barcelona is not only Gaudí, Las Ramblas, the narrow streets of the centre, the beach... One day a week, depending on the district you are, you can find all sort of furniture in the street, waiting for being collected by the street cleaning service or by passing byes willing to give a new use to a piece considered too old by the previous owner. This day is called dia dels trastos.

Film review. An analysis of the cinematography of Now You See Me by Louis Leterrier

It's summertime. Theatres are full of Hollywood commercial films which entertain and leave very little space to make the audience think. Now You See Me, directed by Louis Leterrier ( Clash of Titans, Hulk, Transporter 2), is one of them.

The plot. 4 magicians join forces to create the biggest show in the world mesmerizing the audience with a series of original and incredible heists which will make FBI and Interpol investigating them and scrambling to anticipate their next move.

Cinematography: Larry Fong, Mitchell Amundsen
Camera: Panavision Panaflex Gold II, Millenium XL2, Lightweight and Platinum
Lenses: Panavision G Series, C series,
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Format: 35mm
Film Stock: Kodak Vision 5219 500T, Kodak Vision 5207 250D, Kodak Vision 5213 200T

The French US-based director made a singular choice for his last film: he chose two cinematographers. He called again  Mitchell Amundsen (G.I. Joe, Wanted, Transformers) with whom he already worked in his first feature, Transporter 2,  and who rather has an extensive filmography as second unit DP (The Bourne Legacy, Mission Impossible III and Ghost Protocol, The Island, National Treasure, The Bourne Supremacy...). But Leterrier also called Larry Fong (Super 8, Watchmen, 300, Lost) whose quality as cinematographer, especially for action-movies, is probably second to none. According to Leterrier himself, Fong was in charge to shoot the magic scenes and Amundsen to shoot all the action scenes. Lots of questions arise from this choice, but what it really matters is that the two cinematographers worked really well together, achieving an homogeneous good quality result. Both Fong and Amundsen shot their previous work on film, and the director is fond of the film format, so this choice was unanimous, as it was the choice of Panavision cameras, a preference easily visible in both cinematographer's filmography. The grain is subtle but present and the big work in post production managed to keep the organic look of the Kodak film stock.

Light is slightly expressionist and theatrical which works really well with the story. When on stage the magicians are generally lit from above and light beams keeps moving around all over the magicians and the audience (during the final show light beams are bigger and work as  blue-contrasty-back lights for characters), while all kind of lights on the stage keep turning on and off continuously, creating a very appropriate show effect. When not on stage, the magicians are still lit with a light that has a kind of magic and an atmosphere which reminds the one of a show: natural light sources are used (like windows for example) but they are exaggerated  or diffused with smoke, achieving an unnatural effect; moreover, anamorphic lenses are used producing, when a back light is framed, the typical lineal flare crossing the frame from side to side; these constant and bluish flares remind the light beams used in shows: very good and clever way to highlight the fact that the four magicians are not making tricks just on stage...

The way Fong and Amundsen lit the film remarkably suits the story and the camera movements definitely enhances it. Camera doesn't stop moving, on dolly, on steady, on crane, hand-held... Not only during chase and action shots but also during the show scenes and the ones with dialogue between characters: camera hardly stays still on a tripod. Camera movements are framed in short shots put together with a dynamic editing full of rhythm; this creates a sense of confusion which helps not to make the audience understand not just the tricks but even what will happen next, just like a magician who leads the audience eyes and attention away to perform his trick.

Now You See Me is a film that doesn't offer much more than fair entertainment and it will keep your attention  during almost 2 hours even if the characters aren't developed at all and we never empathize with them and  the final is too simple for the way the story is told. Anyway, Fong and Amundsen do their job and, even if its cinematography is not among the top ones of the year, it makes the film more entertaining and captivating.

July 22, 2013

Are you talking to me?

I like the challenging pose we worked out with Cris for this session, In order to enhance the concept of the pose I broke some rules: I positioned her in the middle of the frame, positioned her up in the frame, cutting her head and exposing "incorrectly" blowing a bit the highlights in some area of the image. I think that the portrait wouldn't have worked otherwise.

July 18, 2013

HMI lights: from cinema industry to a photographic session. A review of Profoto ProDaylight 800 Air

An HMI light is a metal-halide gas discharge lamp with two electrodes of medium arc separation which excite the mercury vapour to emit light. They provides a very high output and better efficiency than common incandescent lamps; they also have a high colour rendering index (CRI), never below  90 value.

An HMI light spectrum is very similar to daylight spectrum, this is why it can be used in exteriors without the need of colour correcting by filters and, because of their high emission, they are used to simulate the sun. They need a ballast to operate and make them flicker free and, depending on the lamp, they need around 5 minutes for all the parameters (tension, intensity, power, temperature) to stabilize and operate correctly. Turning them on and off affects lamps life and never they should be turned off throughout the 5 minutes-switch-on process. Their life time should neither ever be extended more than 25% because risk of explosions may increase.

Colour temperature is another issue of HMI lamps: with age the arc length becomes larger and needs more voltage which makes colour temperature decrease (estimated in less than 1 Kelvin per working hour).

HMI lights are most used in cinema industry and the most known manufacturer is  ARRI; because of weight and high heat emitted their use wasn't suitable for photography, unless in very specific mise en scène. But lately Profoto launched on the market a new HMI light with characteristics that make its use in a common photographic shooting possible.

It only weights about 2,3 Kg and its low heat emission allows the photographer to use traditional light shaping tools, including umbrellas and softboxes (only the HR series thou). The 5600 K colour temperature makes it perfect to work with balanced day light film or along with flash light (the combination between these 2 light creates a wonderful peachy skin tones) or sunlight and, unlike normal HMI, it can be held in zenith position without any problems.

But the maximum wattage of the Profoto lamp is  800w which can be a bit of a problem with diaphragm aperture: photographers who normally shoot  at ƒ11 or ƒ16 won't be able to achieve these apertures if they don't use some reflectors that allow to gain 1-1 and 1/2 stop along with a faster ISO, solution that is not always an happy one.  For this reason I think that, unless you are comfortable with shooting at ƒ5,6 or ƒ8, Profoto HMI light are far better used as fill, rim or back light instead of as a key light.

Cliffs of Moher in black and white

The Cliffs of Moher are located in the south-western edge of the Burren region, county Claire, Ireland. It was a cold, rainy and foggy morning, something quite usual in the green island, when I got there. I used a 80mm on a MF camera so I had to jump the fence and get as close as possible to the edge to frame the shot I wanted. To get rid of the fog I used a Y8 filter, which darkened the sea too.

July 17, 2013

Film review. An analysis of the cinematography of Wadjda by Haifaa Al-Mansour

Wadjda, released as "The green bicycle" in some countries, was presented in last Venice Film Festival; it is the first film entirely shot in Saudi Arabia and the first to be directed by a Saudi woman, something extraordinary in a country were women can't vote, drive, show their face to men or even ride a bicycle.

The plot. A 10 years old Saudi girl, Wadjda, is determined to buy a green bicycle that captured her interest. In order to raise money  to fulfil her dream, she signs off for her school's Koran recitation competition trying to win the cash price for the first place.

Cinematography: Lutz Reitemeier
Camera: Arri Alexa
Lenses: Zeiss Master Prime
Aspect ratio:1.85:1
Format: Arriraw
Film Stock: -

Wadjda is the first film by Haifaa Al-Mansour, who started to be recognized as a film-maker in Germany and Holland after winning some competitions with a short-film and screening a documentary about Arabic women in several festivals. This is one of the reason why the production is German and so it is the cinematography crew. Lutz Reitemeier is chosen as cinematographer: he has a modest filmography, basically German documentaries and Asian films, so Wadjda may be considered as his first film internationally recognized.
Being a German, there's no surprise he chose to shoot with an Alexa and Zeiss Master primes, whose sharp image he diffused with filters. Since the beginning of the film, Reitemeier uses a very natural look, rooted in his background as documentary cinematographer: the camera is like a voyeur who leads us in the street of Riyadh, into places where no man is allowed to enter, into the ordinary life of the characters. The story is told in a simple way, without pretension nor looking for effectiveness: camera barely moves,when it does it is on steadycam following the characters, and it is always placed in positions which are as objective as possible, unless for the very wide shots, in which Wadjda walks alone, and stands out, trough desolated and ruined Arabic urban landscapes, symbolizing her solitude fight for her dreams as a person and rights as a woman against the deep rooted Arabic traditions.

In some of these shots, thou, the focal plane is not parallel to the subject plane, creating disturbing converging lines, probably produced by the hurry they had to shoot in a country where shooting is not common at all, and the presence of women in the street (the main characters and the director are women) is allowed under certain conditions and never with men who are not family.

The use of light is natural too used as they normally do for a documentary; while the interior shots are illuminated with artificial light which is always soft, the exteriors are lit with natural daylight, sometimes harsh and sometimes soft light is used not for storytelling reasons but rather according to climate conditions. In either cases, both in interior and exterior shots, Reitemeier's concern was to get the correct exposure, meaning for correct the average one, the sufficient exposure to record the image with enough brightness rather than to enhance the story visually. So, his cinematography limits itself to accompany the story in the most natural way without really supporting it. However, it has to be reminded that the shooting conditions weren't the optimal: apart from the problems earlier mentioned (Al-Mansour had to direct hidden in a van, for example) in Saudi Arabia theatres are prohibited, so I guess there are no cinematographic material renting company, which implies that they had to shoot with almost no means; this may explain the use of photographic lens instead of cinema ones in some shots where lens breathing is evident.
I reckon Wadjda should be seen without caring too much about the technical stuff and just follow the story of this little girl chasing her dream, a green bicycle. By the the way green is the colour of freedom, the freedom achieved trough knowledge: a great metaphor of women condition in Saudi Arabia (a reference to The Last Emperor?).
Wadjda is a fine film capable to take us into a secret and unknown world (at least for the most of us) definitely worth seeing, where we realize that the problems people have in countries so far away and different from the places we live in, don't differ that much from our owns.

July 12, 2013

The masked girl

The masked girl was immortalized on Kodak Portra 400 with C-41 home processing

Knowing Light. Lighting set-ups (IV)

Missed part III? read it  here.

Let's continue with more light set-ups.

Rim Lighting. If the Key light is placed behind the subject only the outline will be illuminated leaving the subject in shadow. It is used to create silhouettes and express a sense of mystery and intrigue in a very artistic way. You can choose to soften the effect by placing a Fill light or a reflector in font of the subject. Rim lighting is very often used in conjunctions with more lights because it helps to separate the subjects from the background and to highlight hair.
Back lighting. When the rim lighting is not that extreme we have a light set-up which is especially used for translucent objects like bottles and glasses. The key light is normally doubled: two lights of equal power are placed on both side of the subject. You can either choose to light directly the subject or bounce the light with a white background. In both cases you have to be careful with light spills: to prevent this you need to use flags and lens hood.

High key lighting. This set-up is characterized for very bright mid tones, intentionally blown highlights and very few shadows. The key light is positioned on one side of the subject at 45º, while the fill light in the opposite side at the same degree. The background has to be white and illuminated by two background lights of the same power.

All these lighting set-ups are really variations of the triangle set-up we seen in this post. These are the basis but you have to feel free to add or remove lights, change positions, directing the subject towards one light or another and move around: you'll see how light and its effects change by doing so. This is the best way of learning to master light: practise and experiment.

July 11, 2013

Do you wanna fight? A black and white film boxing gloves advert

Kodak Tmaxx 400 was used for this boxing gloves advert. This is one of my favourite work with Isa, a great model. Would you fight her? I recommend you not...

July 10, 2013

Film Review. An analysis of the cinematography of La Migliore Offerta by Giuseppe Tornatore

La Migliore Offerta (The best Offer) by acclaimed Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore (Baaria, Malena, Cinema Paradiso) was one of the three Italian movies whose screening I was waiting for since they have been released in Italy earlier this year.

The plot. Geoffrey Rush is an eccentric art auctioneer who rejects every kind of relationship with people, especially with women. But he starts to be obsessed with an heiress who wants to sell her family's works of art and whose agoraphobia makes her even more eccentric than he is. 

Cinematography: Fabio Zamarion
Camera: Arri Alexa Studio
Lenses: Zeiss Master Prime
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Format: Arriraw
Film Stock: -

G. Tornatore doesn't have a trusted cinematographer he usually works with; he changes quite a lot. He already worked with Fabio Zamarion in The Unknown woman and the documentary L'ultimo Gattopardo but he didn't call him for the magnificent Baaria, his last movie before La Migliore Offerta. Zamarion is known for Respiro by E. Crialese and Evilenko but his filmography is best known for his work as a camera: Goya en Burdeos and Tango by Saura, Little Buddha and The Last Emperor by Bertolucci among others. So he had one of the best teacher possible: Vittorio Storaro. Unfortunately, in La Migliore Offerta, very little of the master's legacy can be seen

I don`t mean at all that Zamarion badly lit the film, but its cinematography is impersonal and undefined. This way of lighting was probably chosen to make the audience pay attention to the plot but a cinematographer's job is not only to illuminate a scene with sufficient light to record it on a sensor or a film. Placing a light on the right has a meaning, placing it on the left or above has another one: that is what I missed in Zamarion's cinematography. 

Light is always soft and diffused, even outdoor, as well as natural, so, when windows are not used as light sources (very balanced contrast, by the way, when they are in shot, with details both in highlights and shadows) light comes from above.  Side lighting set-up is preferred thou, which is a very good election for the story: throughout the film the audience doubt about the real intentions of the characters who have a lot to hide so, leaving them half in shadow and half in light enhances this concept (the same Storaro taught that light is the conscious and shadow the unconscious). But contrast is never strong and shadows are soft as there were an intention of showing everything in the scene; to remain with Storaro's teching, by this way only the conscious is visually represented, not the unconscious.

However, Zamarion's choice of lighting works well in the scenes held in Oldman`s house: it emphasizes the eccentric art auctioneer's pulchritude and clinical order (even his wardrobe and collections of gloves and ties are held and placed as they were pieces of art in a museum); moreover the camera follows him in a slight low angle giving the character  the importance and the authority he really possesses in his life, but, the camera maintains the low angle even at the end, where the character is lost and defeated, which is contradictory.

The Zeiss Master Prime lenses' hardness is softened with a diffusion filter, probably a Pro-Mist, and the camera is sometimes placed in interesting angles; but when we see Claire's house for the first time, in a wide shot, the barrel distortion is not corrected, resulting in converging lines that make the image not quite pleasant.

Zamarion's cinematography of La Migliore Offerta is quite fair then, even though we can enjoy some beautifully composed and lit images that are spread all over a film that, in my opinion, deserved more from a visually point of view. La Migliore Offerta, anyway, is well directed but its script is predictable and sometimes improbable; I understand Tornatore's need and desire to film stories different and far from the ones told in his Sicily but, being such a great director as he is, I expect him to deliver us a work whose quality is at the same level his previous works are: La Migliore offerta failed to satisfy this expectation of mine.

July 08, 2013

Medium format film fashion shooting in Barcelona

Here's one of the photos of the fashion shooting we did last month in Barcelona. Model is Laura from Francine models, Dress from Valentina Bcn, Jewellery by Luz Vargas. The art direction is by Gemma Malé and MUA and hair stylist by Lucía Hernandez. Once again I used Kodak Portra 400 home processed with C-41. You can see the making of video here.

July 05, 2013

Lighting set-ups (III) Rembrandt, Loop, Butterfly and split lighting

 Missed part II? read it here

Depending on where and how you position lights you'll be using different lighting set-ups with different results . Let's go through them!

Rembrandt lighting. It borrows the name from the famous Dutch painter who created and used this technique in his paintings. The Key light is on one side of the camera at a precise degree and height in order to produce the main characteristic of this set-up: a triangle of light beneath the eye opposite the light-source, produced by the shadow of the nose. To soften the harsh light you can place a Fill light on the other side of the camera or you could fill up the shadows by bouncing the key light back with a reflector.

Rembrandt lighting. Move up ant tilt down light for loop lighting

Loop lighting. If you modify the height of the key light in the Rembrandt lighting set-up, positioning it at a higher point and tilting it down a bit, you'll see how the triangle of light will disappear and the shadow of the nose will move from the cheek  all the way down, getting closer to the lips. This is called loop light and it helps to stylize a round face.

Butterfly lighting.  Also known as Hollywood lighting is considerably employed in fashion photography. The key light is placed with the camera in front of the model, high up an tilted down (just like Loop lighting). By this way it models the face and produce a butterfly-shaped shadows right underneath the nose. A fill light or a reflector underneath and pointing up is needed to fill up the shadow under the chin and to brighten the eyes. Because it creates large shadows you should avoid it with subjects with facial hair.

Butterfly or Hollywood lighting

Split lighting. The Key light is placed on one side of the model at the eyes height. It divides the subject in two: a bright side and a side in shadows. Depending on where you position the model the effect will change: if the light stands slightly behind the subject you'll have more shadows, if it's slightly ahead you can brighten a bit the eye in shadow. It highlights textures and produce a sense of strength, mystery and menace; so it is very suitable for male subjects. You can strengthen the mood this set-up creates by adding an equal light-source on the other side of the subject, as I did it in the picture on the left.

Split lighting

All of these lighting set-ups can be used with a single light-source. In the next post we will go through multi-lamp set-ups. Will you miss it?

July 04, 2013

Storm approaching at Ladies View

Ladies view is a spot on the Ring of Kerry next to Killarney, Ireland. It is named after the admiration Queen Victoria's ladies in waiting expressed while visiting the place in 1861. I was lucky enough to stop at this place at a very cloudy day which makes the photo more dramatic.

July 02, 2013

Film review. An analysis of the cinematography of Man of Steel by Zack Snyder

Watching Man of Steel wasn't in my to-watch list: I kind of felt that the reboot of Superman by Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch) would not be comparable to the remembrances I have of the original saga which I saw when child; anyway I couldn't find any interesting première this week, so I gave it a go. I definitely should have followed my instinct.

The plot. The life and battles of Superman since the destruction of Krypton till he saved the earth from the first time fighting against General Zod (a mix of Superman I and Superman II).

Cinematography: Amir Mokri
Camera: Arriflex 235, Arriflex 435 ES, Panavision Panaflex Millenium XL2, Red Epic
Lenses: Panavision C Series,  E-series
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Format: 35mm
Film Stock: Kodak Vision

Even if Man of Steel is a film with plenty of special effects (the normal choice would have been to shoot on digital format), the cinematographer Amir Mokri (Fast and Furious, Transformer: Dark of the Moon, Vantage Point, National Treasure) decided to shoot it in film. I am not sure if the choice was his or it was a director or production´s demand, the fact is that after all the post-production the negative has gone trough, there is nothing left of the film feel and look. Instead, Man of Steel has a modern, contemporary look, far away from the original saga. The image is clean  and sharp, the contrast is quite high and the shadows are deep; there´s a cold and bluish tone throughout the film, apart from the flash-backs of Superman childhood, and everything is just darker: even his traditional blue custom and red cape turn swarthy. It looks like Superman has started to become the Dark Knight... Christopher Nolan, the man behind Batman´s reboot is Man of Steel's writer and producer: is this change his call?

Camera never stays still or, I should say, camera moves too much. Camera is often hand-held, and shaking is evident: it is used this way to express how Clark Kent/Superman feels, lost, out of place, unwanted and looked as different by his school mates. But the shakings are exaggerated, the shots are short and close, and the editing quite quick, creating a sense of giddiness that, if it's ok for the fight scenes, it doesn't work at all for the rest of the movie.

Man of Steel doesn't really have a cinematography: everything is just there for being spectacularly visual rather than having a meaning, like for example, the abuse of the typical flares anamorphic lenses produce and the repetitiveness of the fast zooms in the first part of the film. I suppose Amir Mokri just tried to light in the best way possible in order to achieve an image that would have made easy the post-production work.

Finally, Man of steel is a film which is audio and visually loud, made to impress, full of too long fights, with an empty story and flat characters. I might be a conservative or a nostalgic but I prefer more content and less special effects, like the original Superman.