September 30, 2013

The Lady and her Self

The idea behind this  fashion shooting for Umbigo Magazine was the one of the duality of the character. The reflection in the windowpane was an unexpected opportunity we could not miss, so we lit accordingly.

September 28, 2013

Stlls from films. A possible light diagram of a scene from Moonrise Kingdom

Cinematography: Robert D. Yeoman
Camera: Aaton A-Minima, Aaton Xterá
Lenses: Zeiss Super Speed, Canon CnE
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Film Stock: Kodak Vision 7213 200T

The aesthetic of Moonrise Kingdom, directed by Wes Anderson,  definitely manages to catch audience attention: the election and look of 16mm film, the constant use of wide angle lenses, the position of the camera always in front of the action, as it was the 4th wall of a theatre, are the main characteristics of this feature that can be noticed in this screen shot above too. The composition is brilliant: the wide angle lens makes the place appear bigger than it really is and changes the relative proportions between the children and B. Murray who is perfectly centred in the frame and with the stairs and, thanks to the focal lens used, loses a bit of the threatening look the low angle camera gives him. Light is really soft and natural (justified as typical house lighting) with a warm colour balance; a multi lighting set up was used in this scene.

September 27, 2013

Light tips. How to light a bald subject

Every subject is different and has different characteristics, that's why we have to light every subject with different light: lighting is a powerful tool to hide or enhance features in a portrait. Here are some tips about how to light a bald subject.

Don't place the Key Light too high: it will reduce reflections and will shade the head.

Don't use a strong Rim Light: a very strong illuminated outline will highlight the baldness.

Throw some shadows on the area: it will darken the area not showing the baldness. To achieve this you could also use some local diffusion.

Try lowering the camera: a lower point of view will hide the superior part of the head. For certain shots, framing the subject cutting the forehead may help too.

Avoid using the Rim Light: with no Rim Light separating the subject from the background, you will create a sfumato, where the subject and the background will softly blend into each other, hiding the baldness.

Hope you find it useful! Stay tuned for more lighting tips!

September 26, 2013

Film review. An analysis of the cinematography of Rush, By Ron Howard

Rush is the last feature by Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, The Da Vinci Code, Cinderella Man...) which tries (succeedingly) to recreate an evocation of the years of glory of Formula 1 competition. Not sure if people who don't follow F1 might like it, though.

The plot. Based on a true story, the film follows the rivalry between  two 1970's  F1 drivers, Niki Lauda and James Hunt, from their beginning till the famous and exciting 1976 season.

Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mentle
Camera:Arri Alexa Plus, Arri Studio, Canon Eos C300, IndiCam GS2K
Lenses: Bausch & Lomb Super Baltar
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Film Stock: -

Anthony Dod Mentle (Slumdog Millionaire, Antichrist, Trance) was the man in charge of the cinematography of Rush. It was its first collaboration with Ron Howard thus he managed to convince the director to shoot his first feature in digital. The British cinematographer made a great job in achieving to enhance the story visually by the camera angles used, sizes of shots, camera movements and lens used along with the constant presence of flares.

The 70's look of the film is the first characteristic of Rush cinematography the audience notice since the very first sequence. But it's a kind of false one because there's no downgraded, saturated and predictable look typical of the seventies. The colour palette used is brilliant; colours are really vivid and sometimes they pop up in the shot like during the scenes of rainy Grand Prix or the one of the rendez-vous between Hunt and Suzy, where the rest of colours is desaturated or fall into grey due to light. He achieved this look also thanks to the heavy presence of a really organic grain (which is something I really love to see).

Apart from a brilliant job in post production, this was the result of combining  one of the best digital camera on the market, the Arri Alexa Plus, with its latitude and resolution, with  very old lenses like the 60's Bausch & Lomb lenses, which added aberrations and beautiful flares to the image. Dod Mentle also used a Soft Grad filter to further soften the image, producing a very soft and kind of dirty look which remind us of a 70's film stock. The soft filter anyway, produced blurred out of focus highlights (typical with this kind of filters) which sometimes I found a bit distracting.

The use of camera is amazing. It get us into the action with close ups or extreme close ups of the two rivals and the cars, where the camera is placed practically everywhere to show us every single detail important to the story: the cockpit, the silencer, the motor itself...
Dod Montle himself wore a burn suit and stepped into Niki Lauda burning car (whose accident was recreated in all details following the only footage available of the crash) to shoot subjective point of view trough the flames, sitting the audience with Lauda.

Another remarkable shot is delivered with the use of the IndiCam, a mini HD camera, that is placed inside the helmet Lauda try to wear while he is recovering in the hospital after the crash. Once again we adopt Lauda's point of view and we really pull the helmet despite the bounds and suffer with him.

Every now and then Dutch tilt is used: the camera angle is deliberately slanted on one side which adds a dramatic effect and suits well the unease, desperation and even the inner agitation hidden behind the apparent calm of the two characters.

Light has a natural feel throughout the whole film; light sources are always justified but  a bit  exaggerated to create more contrast and lots of flares that better suit the story, with lots of situations on the edge,  and the characters, always on the spotlight and pushing to the limit. The result is visually pleasant.

To shoot the Grand Prix scenes, 7 to 10 Arri cameras were used plus lots of IndiCams mounted everywhere on the car to cover every angle even subjective shots at 300Kmph; lots of CGI was employed though, for crashes, flips and recreation of circuits. Despite of that (no, I'm not very fond of today digital tricks) Rush is a very entertaining film, very well directed by Ron Howard, in which the director and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mentle, along with the rest of the crew, managed to transmit the 1970`s Formula 1 atmosphere and the adrenalin characters feel.

September 24, 2013

Portrait of a wedding in Barcelona

Wedding photography is probably one of the most difficult kind of photography, not only for the long working day itself but also for the complexity of making a valuable social reportage out of it. Staying creative and trying different PoVs is the key.

September 20, 2013

Film review. An analysis of the cinematography of The Thin Red Line, By Terrence Malick

The Thin Red Line is the third feature by Terrence Malick (The New World, The Tree of Life, To the Wonder); it received 7 nominees to the Oscar and won none, though it won The 1999 Golden Bear in Berlin Film Festival and it is considered one of the best war film ever shot.

The plot. Life, fears and emotions of a group of soldiers who fought in the conflict of Guadalcanal (Solomon Island) during the second World War.

Cinematography: John Toll
Camera: Arriflex 35 II, Panavision Panaflex Gold and Platinum, Panavision Panastar
Lenses: Panavision Primo and C-Series
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Format: 35mm
Film Stock: Kodak Vision 5279 500T, Eastman EXR 5248 100T

Terrence Malick chose John Toll (Braveheart, Iron Man 3, Tropic Thunder, The Last Samurai) as cinematographer to shoot The Thin Red Line. Good choice it was, because Toll's job is nothing but superb. Since most of what the characters go through by an emotional point of view is unspoken it was necessary to take the viewer into the action, be with the soldiers and feel what they feel, fear and suffer with them. Toll achieved that by making the camera move and by the choice of the focal length of the lenses. 

Camera barely stands still on a tripod: most of the time steadycam is used moving along the characters and following them in their journey. Sometimes it moves softly and in an unnatural way, especially when no actor is framed: typical Malick's signature we can find in all of his features. Dolly is used too, but it is used with the same logic, not just for effectiveness: like during the long scene of the hill, for example:
camera moves towards the top of the hill running with the soldiers and attacking the Japanese bunker along with them.

But camera movements are not enough if you want it to tell the story and yet be part of the story. Tolls borrows a concept from the documentary photography of early 20th century:  the wider the angle of the lens, the closer you have to get to the subject and the more you are into the action. So he used normal to wide angle lenses, generally from 50mm to 35mm and practically avoiding telephoto lenses. Also the size of the shot helps a lot to achieve the effect Toll was after: he mostly used close ups and medium close ups, while wide shots are never very wide.

But Toll's outstanding job can be seen in the way he lit and exposed the negative. He used the light in a natural way both for exterior and interior shots. He used a lot available daylight to light the scene, bouncing and reflecting the light with reflectors, keeping the subtleties of the colours and the nuances of the light of the locations. I like the way faces are kept slightly underexposed, giving a sense of darkness and doom to the story and characters themselves.

The Thin Red Line has very rich and strong colours and a quite low contrast, and Toll managed to keep everything natural. Which wouldn't be a big deal if lots of the scenes had not been shot at full sunlight. The chosen locations are in the Tropic of Capricorn area which means that the sun gets minimal attenuation from the atmosphere, resulting in a harsh light with consequent very high contrast. But every scene of The Thin Red Line has details both in shadows and in highlights
Of course the wide exposure latitude offered by the now discontinued Vision 5279 helped a lot but definitely it wasn't enough for those light conditions. Toll's skills and knowledge made the difference.
He probably rated the negative at 100 ISO (while Kodak recommended to rate it at 500) gaining an overexposure of 2 1/2 stops, then in the lab, he made under-develop it, placing the contrast in a normal range.

The Thin Red Line is a very well made film, probably one of the best by Malick; John Toll not only offers a great lesson of cinematography but also shows that it is possible to achieve a stunning photography using the tools you have (good lenses, adequate film stock...) in a competent way without turning to the help of digital tricks.

September 18, 2013

Know light. How to control light. Tools and tips.

Either if you shooting in a studio or outdoor, you have different ways to control and modify the light to get the the atmosphere you want. here are some of them.

Reflectors. The most popular light modifiers, they consist in a special piece of fabric over a frame and they bounce back the to the subject the light of a light-source. They can be differently coloured, being the most used white, silver and golden; each one of the colour will bounce a different kind of light, softer or harsher or , with the golden surface, warmer. White boards can be also used as reflectors, but not everyone of them is suitable for photographic purposes: the nature of the material or the painting can generate colour casts on the subjects, so you need something which reflects pure white , like a piece of expanded polystyrene.

Softboxes. Mounted directly on the flash head, they produce a soft, involving and diffused light generating a soft edge shadow, They come in different shapes (square, rectangular, octagonal) and sizes to proper illuminate depending on the size of the area we want to light. For some photographers, the use of big soft boxes and its characteristics makes unnecessary the use of a Fill light.

Umbrellas.  They produce a wide and soft light and, if shooting subjects, a bright spot on the tip of the nose. There are two kinds of umbrellas, the ones which bounce back the light and the translucent ones which allow light to pass trough diffusely.

Snoots. Tubes or similar objects that fit over a studio light and help to control the direction of light concentrating it in a small beam. they can have a cylindrical, conical or rectangular shape. Snoots highlight a specific area of the scene leaving other areas in shadow.

Honeycomb grids. They are grids mounted on snoot, softboxes, head lamps which narrow the beam of light to a circle with soft edges. They have different degrees to a better control of light: the smaller the degree, the smaller the beam and the soft edge.

Beauty dish. It is a parabolic reflector mounted on a lamp head that focuses the light towards a point though in a soft and wrapping way. It is especially used in fashion portrait as an alternative to soft-boxes when a more contrasty and dramatic look is wanted.

Flags. They are black panels that absorb light and stop it to reach a specific area of the scene, deepening the shadows and creating contrast. The also prevent light spill into the lens. The closer they are placed to the light source, the softer will be the shadow.

Filters. All objects that intercept light and let it pass trough without modifying the lens focal lens are filters. They can be colour gel or colour filter by which colour temperature and colour balance is controlled, colour filters to control contrast, density filters to control the quantity of light,  blocking filter to block radiations, polarizing filters to control the direction of light... this theme is so extensive we need a dedicated post to talk about it. The most commonly used are colour filters; they are thin transparent coloured sheets that are placed in front of the light intercepting the beam. They come in different colours to proper balance the light being the most used the CTO (orange) and CTB (blue). Another very used filter is the diffusion filter which softens light. They have different intensities and not really a long life: lamp heat will melt them or make the colour fade, so depending on the energy absorbed, they need to be often changed.

Barn doors. if you are shooting with continuous light yo have an extra tools: barn doors. They are metal flaps attached to a square frame on the lamp head. They block the light coming out from the source allowing to illuminate a specific area of the scene. They can be moved in different angles but be careful! always use gloves when manipulating them because they get really hot.

Cine Foil. Can you imagine barn doors which are very flexible and malleable, on where you can make cut-outs of any shape you want to create original light patterns? That is a cine foil, a black aluminium foil most used in cinematographic productions.

As you see, there are several tools to control lights. Use them creatively to get different and original results, go and experiment with them!

September 16, 2013

Where the Land Ends

With this pic I am starting a new project: a look into the suburbs, the forgotten places away from the middle class eyes, the uncommon beauty of the different,  the land of the South, the land of where the land ends. Hope you like it!

September 12, 2013

Film review. An analysis of the cinematography of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan ( Three Monkeys, Climates) was the winner of the Grand Prix at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival were it was premièred. I didn't know the director nor the cinematographer by then, when I first saw the film: it was a really pretty discovery.

The plot. In a rural area of Anatolia,  group of policeman spend the night searching for the victim of a murder whose body has been buried somewhere in the area. During the journeys from one location to another, they chat to each other about trivia and deepest concerns.

Cinematography: Gökhan Tiryaki
Camera: Sony F35 CineAlta
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Format: HDCAM
Film Stock: -

The Director of Photography of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is Gökhan Tiryaki who already worked with director Nuri Bilge Caylan in all of his previous works. To shoot the film, he chose the F35 CineAlta, launched on the market about 1 and a half year before the shooting started and now discontinued by Sony, for budget reasons rather than aesthetic ones: all of Ceylan`s projects are low budget productions; Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is probably the one who costed more because of the technical difficulties of shooting at night and in a car moving. However, Tiryaki managed to do a brilliant job, making the most of the Sony F35, of its latitude, its dynamic range and the low noise in low light condition.

The film doesn't have really a storyline: we follow a group of people searching for a corpse, then, once it is found, they take it to the morgue for autopsy. It is a quite methodical reconstruction of the search in long shots as it was a docu film without having the technical characteristics of it. It tries to be poetry, not literature. Tiryaki did the same with the light: he didn't lit the characters to point out their inner conditions because they are slightly depicted; he instead creates a decadent and beautiful atmosphere which reflects characters' mood. This job becomes even more remarkable if we consider that he used no more than three lights to achieve that.

The film begins with some of the most beautifully lit and composed images I've seen in a long time: urban and natural landscapes filmed in wide angle lenses in which the natural light of the blue hour is mixed with artificial light (lamppost and headlamps), create a nice contrast in light and colour resulting in poetic images that remind me some winner photographs of recent years IPA. The use of on set lights it is a constant throughout the film, just out of the frame or well visible and playing as Key light like the powerful headlamps of one car during the night shots. In these scenes, which fill almost the first half of the film, moon light is used to light the faces of the actors (sometimes more than 10 in the frame in Very or Extreme Wide Shots): this effect was achieved using probably a 100Kw balloon lighting positioned up in a crane,  which definitely raised the cost of the film.

Tiryaki mostly relied on these two lights (balloon lighting and headlamps) to lit the film, filling sometimes with side lights, especially for interior shots: just awesome.
Another brilliant job is the choice of the focal of the lenses: he alternates wide angles lenses, by which he shows us the wilderness and broadness of the steppe making the search of the corpse more dramatic,  with telephoto lenses to make close ups of the characters, from tired or troubled policemen to the worn face of the suspect.

Light is always soft and diffused, apart from some back-lights, even with daylight shots, where the light was diluted by clouds, and a nice yellow cast is present throughout the film, to achieve a film look but also to help the audience to get closer to the characters and to the strange story (yellow is the colour of the family, of what we know, of closeness); the yellow tone only lessen during the closing scene where they execute the autopsy of the corpse: a cold, methodical and technical description of how they find the vital organs of the victim to establish the cause of his death, which, without the slight yellow cast would have been too cold and distant.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is an unique masterpiece, perhaps a bit slow and long but very enjoyable, with a great cinematography that, even if it is not a film for everyone, it is a film every photographer and cinematographer must watch.

September 09, 2013

Medium format fashion photography

One more pic from the fashion shooting for Umbigo Magazine shot on Kodal Portra.

September 06, 2013

Light Tip. Preventing power surge damage. How to turn the lights on.

Are you going to light a scene? Remember that when you turn the light on, the electric intensity goes up around 20% than the normal (i.e.: when light is normally on). For example, let's say you have 3 Tungsten lamps of 1000w each and the maximum power your installation can offer is 3300w. Which is fine because you only need 3000w in total: you still have enough watts to connect your PC and a battery charger.

But, if you add that 20% extra lights need to be turned on, you'll find yourself that you are exceeding the maximum power by 300w:

3 x 1000w = 3000w
20% of 3000w = 600w  
3000w + 600w = 3600w > 3300w

In order to protect your equipment (or the one you are renting) you should always turn the lights on one by one, leaving enough room for the light to get that 20% extra of energy needed.

Now that lights are on, start shooting!