If you need a bit of comic relief on Monday evening, this short parody by YouTuber MasterChiefin1 has you covered. It’s an ode to “the high school photographer,” that one person who “thought they were put on this Earth to take photos and think deeply.” Given our audience, there’s a good chance a few of us were this person.
The video doesn’t need too much by way of introduction. As Jacob (AKA MasterChiefin1) explains:
The High School photographer is the person in high school who thinks they are destined to take great photos and they snap photos of things that they think are deep. They share photography quotes on their Facebook or Instagram and proclaim no one understands them because they are such a deep being and they take photos to express that.
From chain-link, to railroad tracks, to bags drifting in the wind, and more. They act is if they see the world in a different light from the rest of us and they express that through their photos. For a photo speaks a thousand words.
This could honestly apply to any young creative who is apt to cross the line between “artsy” and “insufferable” from time to time. Even calling them “young” is probably a stretch. Regardless, whether you knew someone like this or you were someone like this, check out the full video up top for a quick chuckle.
Earlier this week, The German Society for Nature Photography (GDT) unveiled the winners of its prestigious European Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest, crowning photographer Jasper Doest the “Overall Winner” for his moving photograph of a despondent macaque removing a human mask between performances in a sake house north of Tokyo.
More than 19,000 photos from 38 countries were submitted to this year’s contest, which had to be judged over video chat. This obviously complicated things, but the jury ultimately prevailed in selecting a total of 85 images to highlight, including an overall winner and 1st place in 10 different categories including Mammals, Birds, Landscapes, two separate Youth categories, and more.
The top prize and title of European Wildlife Photographer of the Year went to photographer Jasper Doest of the Netherlands, whose image “The Monkey’s Mask” sits at the intersection of documentary and wildlife photography. The striking images was captured in a sake house north of Tokyo, where dinner guests can watch Japanese macaques perform tricks with various props on a makeshift stage.
The photo shows how snow monkeys, once considered sacred religious symbols in Japan, have been transformed into a “defaced outcast and target of mockery.” Doest, a senior fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP) captured the image on assignment for National Geographic:
“Photographs have a unique way of stirring up a great deal of emotions in the viewer within a few seconds. This is especially true of the images presented at this year’s GDT competition European Wildlife Photographer of the Year,” says Dr. Beate Jessel, one of the contest’s judges. “While many submissions show untamed nature in all its wild, untouched beauty, the winning photo by Jasper Doest arouses diverse, indeed contradictory feelings and associations. It moves us and silently talks to us by questioning human dealings with wild animals and nature.”
In addition to an overall winner, the judges also selected 1st and 2nd place finishers—as well as several honorable mentions—in each of the contest’s 10 categories: Birds, Mammals, Other Animals, Plants & Mushrooms, Landscapes, Underwater, Man & Nature, Nature’s Studio, Youth 14 years old and under, and Youth 15-17 years old.
In their latest demo of the upcoming Luminar AI photo editor, Skylum takes aim at landscape photographers and shows them just how powerful Luminar’s machine learning-based tools really are. From Enhance AI for relighting and color grading, to Atmosphere AI for adding fog and other effects, there are some impressive automatic editing tools coming to your laptop very soon…
The short demo covers a lot of ground in just 63 seconds. Not only does it re-highlight the latest updates coming to Sky Replacement AI, Skylum shows off several new landscape editing tool that will be built into the AI editing program. That includes:
Composition AI – Automatically crop and straighten images with one click.
Enhance AI – Automatically detects uneven color and lighting and balances them for you.
Sky AI – Swap out the sky in your image and tweak the horizon blending, position, and scene relighting to taste.
Atmosphere AI – Add realistic atmospheric effects like fog.
Golden Hour Image Relighting – Tucked alongside options for Dehaze and Foliage Enhancer, this feature allows you to intelligently relight the scene to give it a golden hue.
With Adobe making a not-so-subtle grab for Luminar AI’s prospective audience with the release of Neural Filters in Photoshop, Skylum obviously wants to make it clear that they’re not going anywhere. Adobe may have more money and man power to throw at the problem, but Luminar’s creators are trying to make the most of their head start in the AI photo editing space.
Judd Apatow & Robert Elswit ASC / The King Of Staten Island
Judd Apatow & Robert Elswit ASC / The King Of Staten Island
Captured on Kodak 35mm film, with the naturalistic look-and-feel of an indie movie, Judd Apatow’s bittersweet comedy, The King Of Staten Island, has been described as ‘undeniably gorgeous’ and widely-applauded as a touching, soulful and ‘richly-enjoyable’ movie watch. The Universal Pictures Production is available to watch now on VOD.
Working variously as a screenwriter, producer and director, Apatow has been the driving force behind many commercially-successful Hollywood comedies. And, at his express desire for a distinctive look, many of these have been shot on 35mm film too – The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), Bridesmaids (2011), Trainwreck (2015), and the HBO series Crashing, to name just a few.
“Whilst there are circumstances where digital can be helpful, for me there’s a magic to film that makes a production stand out from the crowd, so I try to use celluloid often as possible,” says Apatow. “With The King Of Staten Island, we wanted the production to be naturalistic, to connect to the performances with a real and gritty feeling, and I believed we would be able to accomplish that much better on film.”
The movie follows Scott (comedian Pete Davidson), a weed-smoking slacker and wannabe tattoo artist, whose deluded ambition to open a “tattoo restaurant”, and whose lethargy to do anything meaningful with his life, are much to the chagrin of his mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) and long-suffering girlfriend Kelsey (Bel Powley).
After his younger sister heads off to college, his mother starts dating Ray (Bill Burr), a loud-mouthed firefighter. This sets off a chain of events that forces Scott to grapple with the grief surrounding the death of his father – also a firefighter who died in service when Scott was seven – and to start moving forward in life.
The screenplay was written by Apatow, Pete Davidson and Dave Sirus, and is a fictionalised, semi-biographical account of Davidson’s own life. He lost his firefighter father during the September 11 attacks, and has had his own battles with depression and Crohn’s disease.
When it came to the visual storytelling of The King Of Staten Island, Apatow turned to the talents of renowned cinematographer Robert Elswit ASC, whose own credit list is liberally sprinkled with film-originated productions – There Will Be Blood (2007), for which he won the Best Cinematography Oscar, plus Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011), Inherent Vice (2014), Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2014) and Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017). He shot Write When You Get Work (2018) on 16mm.
“I have been a giant fan of Bob’s work for a long time. He is a real storyteller as well as being an incredible technician with an amazing eye – Michael Clayton (2006) is one of my favourite movies of all time,” says Apatow. “His style is very alive and energetic, and reminds me of films I love from the 1970s, from directors like Hal Ashby and Sidney Lumet. I was in no doubt that Bob was the perfect person to shoot this movie, and I got lucky to have him.”
“Judd made the most of the rhythm and discipline that comes with shooting on film – talking to the actors and enjoying a joke as we reloaded and got ready to roll again.”
– Robert Elswit ASC
A mainly location-based production, Elswit has six weeks of prep before principal photography began on June 3, 2019, in Staten Island, and continued throughout June and July. A small number of set-builds on stages in Queens, dressed by production designer Kevin Thomson, included the sleeping quarters above the Staten Island firehouse, based on detailed reconnaissance of real firestations. The movie’s final scenes were shot on the Staten Island Ferry and City Hall Plaza, Center Street, New York.
Recalling his preliminary discussions with Apatow about the cinematographic requirements for the production, Elswit remarks, “Judd did not want it look at all like a traditional Hollywood movie – shot from the dolly, with the actors in flattering beauty light. He wanted more of what you might call an ‘artificial’ documentary feel, handheld, with a definite edge. It was the opposite of what I expected, but he was adamant.”
Elswit says he was also surprised by Apatow’s determination to shoot on film. “I asked him why we were not shooting digital. Surely the actors would have more time to riff, and be less constrained if the camera were allowed to keep running? But he said he didn’t work that way. He did not want to walk into an editing room with two hours of material from a two-page scene, and felt that after shooting either 400ft or 1,000ft of film the actors would usually be done anyway.
“He was not kidding. During production, Judd made the most of the rhythm and discipline that comes with shooting on film – talking to the actors and enjoying a joke as we reloaded and got ready to roll again. It was his personal creative preference, and I had a lot of respect for that.”
Apatow adds, “Of course, when you shoot digitally, the cards have so much memory that is there no reason to ever cut. But I do believe there is something beneficial in having to stop and letting everyone take a breath and a few moments to think about what they are doing and to make adjustments. That’s very helpful. When you don’t stop, you can easily find yourself burning out the actors and the crew. So when I hear that the camera is out of film, I am usually happy to wait.”
For the production Elswit elected to shoot in spherical 2.40:1, using Panavision Super Speed lenses from the mid-1970s, remarking that, “whilst I love Anamorphic, shooting spherical widescreen allowed for more improvisation, for me to move the camera around the set and to be much less restricted by the depth-of-field. I did not want to impose that on Judd. In fact my job was to make things as easy as possible for him, so that he could concentrate on the performances.”
As for his choice of filmstocks, Elswit went Tungsten, shooting Kodak Vision3 5213 200T for the day exteriors and most of the interiors, whilst utilising Kodak Vision 3 5219 500T for darker sequences and night scenes. The rushes were developed at Kodak Film Lab New York, located in Queens, with dailies HD-scanned at Company3 in New York and reviewed every evening. Circle takes were scanned at 4K for final editorial, with colour grading done by Stefan Sonnenfeld at Company 3 in Los Angeles.
“I have used Kodak’s Tungsten stocks, especially the 500T, a lot over the years,” says Elswit. “I know their dynamic range very well, and their ability to show detail in the range of brightnesses, from light to dark, in highlights and shadows. Film stocks in the olden days had a very narrow dynamic range – the original Eastman colour neg had around six stops. Shooting outdoor in the sun, the shadow detail would block up very quickly if you didn’t add lighting to fill in. The new stocks have a far greater dynamic range.
“I really like the grain structures of Kodak’s Tungsten stocks too, the contrast and the way they render skin tones. Typically, I rate the 500T at 400ISO as I never want to underexpose, and did so again on this production.
“Additionally, shooting Tungsten is helpful with the lighting. At times, we had to cut the lighting so that the artificial on-stage illumination matched the available light, or the style and quality of light we had set-up previously at out locations. It is much easier to do that using Tungsten stock.”
He says he diffused the filmed image ever-so-slightly, using either quarter or half Tiffen Black ProMist filters all the way through, so as to make the image, “not too sharp or etched.”
While Elswit has shot many films digitally, he acknowledges it can be struggle to achieve a filmic look. “The problem with digital is it is so sharp, so clear, so bright, that you are constantly trying to defeat it. In many digital movies these days, on close-ups and medium close-ups, you can see every pore on an actor’s skin. It’s a matter of personal taste, but I don’t like that that one bit. People get nostalgic about the soft and romantic look film, and try very hard to emulate the same quality of light and fall-off that you actually get straight out of the box with film. So it’s best to start with film, if that’s the look you want.”
Elswit says his overall approach to lighting the movie was essentially, “to make it look as if it were not lit, nothing overt or theatrical, and never a statement. There was some expression to help convey the emotional mood of a scene, but the lighting really never called attention to itself. I was very happy with how the firehouse interior/exterior, day/night scenes turned out.”
Filming on film also helped during the day exterior scenes at the beach and deserted outdoor basketball court – when the conditions could sometimes be blazing overhead sunshine, sometimes overcast.
“On these occasions film sings,” he says. “You can filter the front and backlight and make the image seem like captured moments, and balancing different lighting conditions is much easier later on in post. Dealing with the different lighting conditions and look would have been so different on digital.”
Along with the naturalist aesthetic, moving the camera was a significant factor in delivering the movie’s emotional connection, and Elswit, who shot A-camera, supported Apatow’s desired for a handheld approach for the vast majority of the production.
“There are parts of the film where Pete’s character gets very manic, moments when he is sweet and sedate, and other moments when he loses his bearings, and the style of the camerawork would change based on how he was feeling in those moments,” he explains. “To ensure we caught the comedy, as well as the pathos, we mainly shot with two cameras, with 1,000ft loads for the longer dialogue scenes.”
Apatow remarks, “Bob is one of the greatest camera operators of all time. A lot of the reason why the movie looks so good has to do with his in-the-moment choices as to where to point the camera. In past I have probably asked the cinematographer to keep the camera stationary, to serve the comedy and capture the delivery of a great line from a comic improviser. During this production however, amongst all the goofing around and the rough-and-tumble, I let the style be driven by Bob’s eye and his instincts. I trusted his feelings and decisions about when and how to move the camera. What I found in editing was that he was never on the wrong person, it was always spot on. We never lost a joke in 53 days, and that’s remarkable.”
Apatow acknowledges that he is among band of filmmakers – including Ken Loach, Christopher Nolan, Kenneth Branagh, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino – who actively choose celluloid for their productions.
“People love watching movies on film, and it’s essential that we always have the option to shoot on film. The world would be a much darker world if we didn’t have that choice,” says Apatow. “There’s a place for digital photography, but I don’t think digital ever truly feels like film. Actually, most shows that are being shot digitally end-up looking exactly the same.
“When we shot Crashing, our HBO series starring comedian Pete Holmes in New York, we decided to shoot on film because no one else was shooing on film. It looked fantastic and helped it to stand out. Shooting film was no more expensive than digital, and it didn’t slow us down during production either. All of the same has been true of The King Of Staten Island. There is no negative side to doing it. I always try to remind people that they have the option to shoot on film and should give it go themselves.”
Elswit concludes: “I was very happy to work with Judd, who made it fun for us all everyday on-set, and very happy to shoot on film. It did all of the things we hoped it would do – to make it feel interesting and real, and ultimately to connect with the performances, especially Pete.”
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Harbison wrote that the idea to capture this image begain in 2013 and started taking place in 2015. Over the course of five years he shot thousands of photos cataloged into 200 panels that he would eventually process into one finished photo of the Orion Nebula. Called The ORION Project, Harbison describes creating this image as the culmination of years of interest in the stars.
“I suppose the best thing to say is that I could identify the familiar symmetry of Orion at a young age,” Harbison says. “I viewed it through rustling leaves as a child on camping trips with my parents and grandparents. I looked for it when my Mom signed me up for Boy Scouts, and where I looked through my first tiny telescope at Skymont Boy Scout camp.”
In 2015, Harbison saw the release of a new camera, the QHY 16200 CCD mono camera, and after doing his research invested in the system in 2016. It was this camera that he decided to utilize to bring his Orion Project to life.
“I fully committed to this sensor for my project.”
The QHY 16200 CCD APS-H camera with an integrated 7-position filter wheel is designed specifically for astrophotography and retails, when in stock, for around $4,800.
Where Harbison had previously captured an image of the Nebula on a 10-11 pixel scale, using the QHY 16200 camera would change that to a 1.6-pixel scale of the constellation Orion.
“I was certain this would reveal the true nature of that space- behind the clouds, behind the colors,” he said. “This would become my ORION Project: Five years. 2,508 individual images, 500+ hours of integration, lots and lots of patience.”
As you can imagine, capturing thousands of images of the constellation would require hundreds of nights of shooting.
“The image posed many problems from the start- balancing differing sky conditions per night, aligning to the same star position each and every night, and meticulously returning to a position just a few thousand pixels North, South, East, or West,” Harbison said. “Aside from the challenge of software, there were also the continual hardware problems and challenging weather conditions in East Tennessee. Sure, there are some good nights, but there are some not so good nights as well,” he explained.
“My fellow astrophotographers and I actually retrofitted ice fishing tents to use as astronomical shelters.”
Even after all the images were shot and each panel completed, the finished image did not come together smoothly. “I began in 2015 on a Mac Pro with 2 Xeon Processors and 64GB of RAM. This machine was easily one of the fastest computers of the day, and it carried me all the way up to panel 47 where I believe I hit the RAM limit of the computer.”
It would take five years from that point for technology to catch up to Harbison’s needs as he wouldn’t have a computer powerful enough to complete the task until August of 2020. “The new computer is an AMD Threadripper with 24 cores and 256GB of memory,” Harbison said. “It took a total of 23 hours to provide an astrometric solution for all 200 panels and then an additional 19 hours to merge into the gradient merge mosaic tool.”
But finally, years after he began the project, his 2.5 gigapixel image of the Orion Constellation is complete, and you can view it for yourself here. The image is fully navigable, so you can peruse even minor details of the constellation at your leisure.
And here are two images that result from zooming into sections of the original. As you can see, the detail is extraordinary:
This is Harbison’s full timeline of the ORION Project:
2013: Development of idea
2014: Purchase of initial equipment
2015: Refinement of process
November 2015: Officially began mosaic with a failed start- re-figuring equipment
2016-2017: Backyard and weekend warrior- decided to create dual imaging system (two tubes, one mount)
2016-2017: Local imaging at dark sites anytime the skies allowed
2016- 2017: Completion of 52 panels as a travelling imager
Fall 2017: Invited into MaRIO Observatory in Marathon. Tx at the Marathon Sky Park. Completed 28 panels in one season
2018: Completion of an additional 49 panels in one season in an observatory
2019: Completion of a total of 58 panels in the observatory
Spring 2020: Completion of a total of 26 panels (many redone because of subpar data) in the observatory
Summer 2020: First attempt at processing complete data met with failure because of inefficient processing/computing power
Summer 2020: Compiled data and built a website to house the data during spare time afforded by pandemic
Summer 2020: Built a computer to process the 22 TB of data stored across 12 hard drives
August 27, 2020: Calibrated and registered all 204 panels with astrometric solutions via Pixinsight
October 2020: Solved and processed the final data for release
What Harbison has achieved here is nothing short of monumental. His extraordinary effort has provided what is likely one of the most – if not the most – detailed image of the Orion Constellation ever conceived, all borne from the curiosity he felt as a child.
French photographer Romain Veillon recently had the chance to explore a famous old chateau that represented the height of luxury in 1901. Now abandoned, the chateau in Veillon’s images shows how the ravages of time spare no second thought for riches, leaving the place, quite literally, in tatters.
“The story of the castle Laurens is incredible: in so many ways it looks like something out of the imagination of Alexandre Dumas,” Veillon tells PetaPixel. “Born in 1873 in a very wealthy family, Emmanuel Laurens was an avid traveller. While he was wandering all over the world, he inherited a huge fortune from a remote cousin, then his father who dies the same year, at the age of just twenty four years old.”
“He also inherited a site in the city of Agde, and despite his complete ignorance of the job of architect, he decides to draw himself the plans of the future villa he wants to build on his site,” continues Veillon. “He wanted his castle to be a masterpiece, but also a piece of art in ad of itself, where the architecture, the scenery, the furniture and the art of living come together seamlessly.”
The result was the Chateau Laurens: a grand villa in which various rooms were themed according to Emmanuel Laurens’ travels abroad.
According to Veillon, Laurens lived “the high life” over the next few decades, throwing decadent parties, traveling widely, and otherwise spending all of his money at a prodigious pace. As a result, he was obliged to sell the chateau in 1938 and move into a part of the villa where the servants used to live.
Since then, the property has gone through several incarnations: it was occupied by the Nazis during World War 2, fell into disrepair and decrepitude after its owners death in 1959, and was eventually purchased by the city of Agde in 1994, which has spent the years since planning for a full-scale renovation.
“The public opening is set for the end of 2020,” says Veillon, “so maybe the magnificent villa will reveal to the upcoming visitors some new secrets that are already followed by the villa’s mesmerizing history!”
In the meantime, you can take a peek inside by scrolling through some of the beautiful images that Veillon captured during his time inside:
To see more images from inside the castle, or if you want to explore more of Veillon’s work, head over to Romain’s website or give him a follow on Facebook and Instagram. As you probably guessed, he specializes in urban exploration of abandoned sites around the world—castles, factories, hospitals, and churches, among others—so there’s a lot more where this came from.
Image credits: All photos by Romain Veillon and used with permission
Audrey Woulard, a new addition to Nikon’s team of ambassadors, has provided an exclusive first look at images created with the upcoming Nikon Z7 II mirrorless camera as well as her thoughts on what she likes best about the upcoming new flagship.
Woulard was given the opportunity to use a pre-production model of the upcoming Nikon Z7 II with very little advance notice. “You don’t get any info,” she told PetaPixel, referring to what is provided by Nikon. “No camera name, no camera info. So you go into it, in my experience, fairly blind. It’s a good thing because you don’t overthink it – I’m the queen of overthinking.”
When asked what about the Z7 II she noticed as improved over the original, Woulard says that the changes Nikon has made mix particularly well with what she expects from a camera for the kind of work she does.
“The thing that I have seen improved that lends itself really well to the way that I typically photograph is the dynamic range. The different situations I am in, I can go from bright sun, to really dark areas. So I’ve found that to be absolutely improved and so much better,” she said.
“In regards to focusing, I religiously photograph really wide open. I’m going to push the aperture as wide as the lens will go. There was a lot more detail from head to toe, I felt that the focus system was a lot better.”
Woulard explained that the improved autofocus options allowed her the freedom to work in her ideal format. Because the camera tracks so well, she said, Woulard was seeing improved clarity in her images even when she and her subjects were moving during the capture process. “I’ve got kids moving and I encourage them to move. He’s walking, and I’m walking with him. When they’re moving, I’m moving. The focus system was much better.”
Nikon sent the pre-production camera out to Woulard with not only short notice, but with a comparatively small window of time to use it.
“It wasn’t a lot of time,” she said. “I’m talking like two weeks to put together a full-on shoot. That included getting permits because I do photograph downtown in Chicago. It was intense.”
Nikon did not give Woulard specific instructions on what it was expecting. Instead, the company just asked her to be herself. “They told me, ‘We want you to do what you do, shoot how you shoot.’ So I pretty much scheduled different looks and lighting all in one day. I started at like 10 AM and wasn’t done until about 5 or 6 PM.”
Though the images have a consistent look to them, Woulard admitted it wasn’t due to any pre-planned concepts. She said she makes her best work when thriving on chaos and the pressures of the moment.
“I had no concept, to be honest with you,” she said, laughing. “Part of the way that I photograph is that my goal is to have some sort of connection with the people I am photographing. An actual concept? That’s too much pre-planning for me.”
Woulard says that when she shoots, she’s aiming for a specific look to the light mixed with engagement with the subjects. “Anything that happens organically, happens. I typically will use the beauty of light downtown, bokeh with different lighting which will bring in color into my background. Then I rely on fashion.”
Filmography (so far): More Hate Than Fear (2015), Lead (2016), The Vest (2017), Not With Fire But With Paint (2017), My Mother (2018), Reach (2018), November 1st (2018), If You Never Answered (2018), City Of Children (2018), Pompeii (2019), plus many music videos and commercials.
When did you discover you wanted to be a cinematographer?
I was really into photography at school. When I was 16, I took a camera that could shoot stills and video to the Occupy London protests and realised that what the protestors were saying was as important as what they were doing. So I ended up making a little film. I thought I wanted to be a documentary filmmaker for a long time. I went to Bournemouth to study film production and I soon realised the fiction teams had these amazing sets and camera kits. So I swapped over to fiction and shot my grad film More Hate Than Fear. I had no idea what I was doing– it was great.
Where did you train?
Bournemouth University of Arts, and National Film & TV School.
What are your favourite films?
Rust And Bone (2012, dir. Jacques Audiard, DP Stéphane Fontaine AFC) – such an intimate film.
La Haine (1995, Mathieu Kassovotz, DP Pierre Aïm AFC) – so powerful, the camera is always in the right place.
Irreversible (2002, dir. Gaspar Noé, DPs Benoît Debie/lighting, Gaspar Noé/camera) – the films aggressive subject is depicted in its wild camera movement.
I like a camera that follows the emotion rather than the filmmaker’s preconceived thoughts. All those films make you think through story and camera.
James Blake leaning over Molly’s shoulder whilst shooting his music video “Can’t Believe The Way We Flow’ (shot by Jill Ferraro)
What’s the best advice you were ever given?
I called Stuart Harris for some advice whilst trying to do an intricate moving light shot. He shouted down the phone. “One light Molly, one light,” and then hung up. It has stuck with me ever since.
Who are your DP/industry heroes?
Bradford Young ASC is a constant source of inspiration. I love dark intimate images, and his frames capture an emotion rather than show off. I feel like he’s always trying new things rather than imprinting his look.
Stuart Bentley’s work is so simple and yet so effective. He taught me a lot at film school about not being afraid to be restrained in your approach.
Frank Lebon, a director I work with, because on every project he opens my mind to a new way of thinking.
Barney Batchelor, my focus puller, who puts up with me walking on set at 6am and asking for a 150mm at T1.4.
Have you won any awards or received any nominations?
Awards: More Hate Than Fear (Ozzie Morris Award For Cinematography); November 1st (Panalux Cinematography Award).
Nominations for: NHS Nurses campaign (British Arrows); A$AP Rocky ‘Sundress’ (MVA); More Hate Than Fear and November 1st (Camerimage Silver Tadpoles); City Of Children (Camerimage Documentary Short).
What’s your proudest moment?
Seeing my best mate, Billy Boyd Cape, pick up the Best New Director award at the British Arrows, seeing how far we had come since making our graduation film, and being able to stand beside him and grin.
Shot by Charlotte Ellis whilst on set shooting ’November 1st’. Two cameras sporting master primes on a low loader around Dunsfould cheating it for Ohio!
What have been your best/worst moments on-set?
Best: was filming Lindsey Duncan whilst the World Cup was on. Between takes she and I would sneak the radio on to listen to the England game. She would still manage to give an amazing performance every time we went back to work.
Worst: probably a project where I had a slow realisation that the director didn’t care – suddenly your excitement falls flat on the floor.
What was the biggest challenge on your latest production?
The last short I shot the director really wanted to shoot on DV cameras. We worked really hard to adapt them to have wireless focusing and monitoring. It felt like taking steps backwards in order to go forward and often people don’t support your research as they think you’re bonkers, but I really enjoyed it and it looks wicked!
Tell us your most hilarious faux pas?
I can’t think of one! But a spark once asked if I was free, took me to the generator and said, “Stand there, watch that”. When I told him I was the DP he was so embarrassed.
Away from work, what are your greatest passions?
Cooking, eating and drawing.
What one piece of kit could you not live without?
My hat, I can’t think or see without it on. But really, it’s the Sony Venice, I’m addicted.
What’s the hardest shot/thing you’ve had to light/frame?
We shot an advert for Adidas shoes on half-frame 35mm stills cameras. We shot three night shoots in three different continents over ten days, sleeping mostly on the planes. I was crawling along the streets animating the shoes at 18fps a second. We had to turnaround a lot of scenes and had only one chance to shoot each set-up. We shot with a flash, which is obviously more unusual in film, and we were also lighting the ambience. It was challenging to say the least.
Tell us your hidden talent/party trick?
Mario Kart champion.
In the entire history of filmmaking, which film would you love to have shot?
Kano – Hoodies All Summer; James Blake – Assume Form; Obongjayar – Which Way is Forward?
Can you tell us your greatest extravagance?
Food! I love to spend money on good food. Especially in the pudding form. And also large format – don’t make me go back to a 35mm sensor.
What are the best/worst things about being a DP?
Best: Finding a solution to the problem. I love solving problems in prep. This often means no one else is aware, but it’s even better when the whole crew collaborates to find a solution and it works really well.
Worst: missing friends and family, not being around for birthdays, etc.
Give us three adjectives that best describe you and your approach to cinematography?
Simple. Dark. Connected
If you weren’t a DP, what job would you be doing now?
I would love to be a radio presenter.
What are your aspirations for the future?
To be financially comfortable and continue to make films that question the world we live in.
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In a thrilling WWII story, inspired by actual events during the Battle Of The Atlantic, Captain Ernest Krause leads an international convoy of merchant ships across the treacherous ocean to deliver soldiers and much-needed supplies to the Allied forces fighting in Europe. Written by and starring Tom Hanks, the movie is available to watch on the Apple TV app.
The $50m production was directed by filmmaker and former DP Aaron Schneider ASC, and shot by renowned cinematographer, Shelly Johnson ASC. It is based on the 1955 book The Good Shepherd by C. S. Forester, a nautical war novel depicting the difficulties of the Atlantic war: the struggle against the sea, the unseen enemy, and the fatigue brought on by constant vigilance.
Set in the winter of 1942, during the early days of the United States’ involvement in WWII, the movie follows US Navy Commander Krause on what turns out to be his first war-time assignment in command of a destroyer, the USS Keeling, call sign “Greyhound”, and his leadership of a multi-national escort group defending a 37-strong flotilla being hunted by a wolfpack of German U-boats. Unlike the prototypical hero, he must battle his own self-doubts and personal demons to be effective.
The cinematic evocation of this single, 72-hour moment in the Battle Of The Atlantic is powerfully realised. The enormity of the decisions and the procedural complexity of commanding the convoy are conveyed with historical accuracy and technical detail. Although the events and characters are fictionalised, the story depicts the real difficulties faced in wet and freezing conditions, and stresses just how attentive the men on-board, especially the sleep-deprived commander, had to be in dealing with sonar/radar equipment and unreliable communications between different parties.
Greyhound was scheduled to be theatrically-released in the United States on June 12, 2020, by Sony Pictures Releasing, but was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The distribution rights were then sold to Apple TV+, which has released the film on its Apple TV app.
Based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, pre-production on Greyhound began in January 2018, before principal photography took place over 40 shooting days between March and May. As Schneider was keen on authenticity, part of the production took place aboard the USS Kidd, a WWII Fletcher-class destroyer now permanently moored as a museum piece in the banks of the Mississippi River, and also on meticulously designed sets constructed at Celtic Media Center. These included the ship’s bridge and surrounding deck – built on a programmed gimbal to simulate the swell of the sea – plus the Command Information Center, the captain’s quarters and various adjoining passageways, which were static and freestanding.
Depicting the real-thing required Johnson to learn a great deal about the practices and procedures on-board a wartime destroyer, as well as how the ship itself manoeuvred around the flotilla in high seas. Whilst many cinematographers compile general story and colour arcs in advance of their work, Johnson created what he calls a “manifesto”, detailing scene-by-scene changes of camera and lighting “to make every shot speak as loudly as possible.”
“Greyhound was a unique and unusual project because most of the film takes place within the bridge of the ship, following the decision-making process of the ship’s captain and crew, often under extreme stress and in ever-changing sea and lighting conditions,” says Johnson, whose credits include Hollywood blockbusters such as The Wolfman (2010), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters (2013). “This film was anything but typical of the Hollywood tradition, and would not conform to any sort of established visual or production plan either, which I found both challenging and freeing at the same time.”
Along with Greyhound, Johnson was recently the DP on two additional movies slated for release in 2020, Honest Thief directed by Mark Williams and Bill & Ted Face The Music, directed by Dean Parisot. Ron Prince caught up with the cinematographer as he hunkered down in this Santa Barbara home, to discover more about his work on Greyhound.
What were your first thoughts about the script?
SJ: I thought it was a very interesting story and great for a film. Tom is a self-confessed WWII enthusiast and historian, and I really liked his idea of basing the story around Krause’s experience and inexperience, what he does and doesn’t know. The story goes through incredible peaks and valleys, swells of hope and desperation, with never a moment’s rest, in an incredibly tense situation. He had penned it with a lot of procedural details – with dialogue about compass headings, rudder commands, ranges to targets and torpedo trajectories – and much of it was based around the audience needing to absorb the inner drama.
“To me, the expressive character of the cinematography was the changing light and the camera performance. So I wrote a long document and broke the whole movie down scene-by-scene in regard those elements as a visual manifesto.”
– SHELLY JOHNSON ASC
What were your initial discussions with your director Aaron Schneider?
SJ: I knew Aaron back when he was a cinematographer – a very good one I might say. We had met at events at the ASC Clubhouse and I knew his work in episodic television and features. So when he called and asked me to come for a meeting I was absolutely tickled.
He explained more regarding the procedural component of the story, but the first thing we talked about was an early scene in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977, DP Vilmos Zsigmond ASC HSC) set in the air traffic control room, when the air-traffic controllers converse with the plane crew over the radio and listen-in to what they are seeing in the distance from on-board. This is what Greyhound was all about – the evocation of an unseen enemy.
The second thing Aaron told me was that he expected his cinematographer and first AD to learn as much as they possibly could about sonar tracking, radar, maritime weather, how a crew would plot and execute a strategic engagement, and the way a destroyer manoeuvres through the ocean. His reasoning was that during the production, he would be very involved with cast, and providing for the audience an understanding of these details was fundamental to us getting an authentic and compelling drama on the screen.
Did you consider any references?
SJ: This was a unique story, with a participatory camera that would be up-close with the actors, particularly Krause. We looked at Das Boot (1981, dir. Wolfgang Petersen, DP Jost Vocano BVK ASC), which was most like our film regarding its subjective immersion for the audience. However, there are not a lot of sea-going movies that have the same sort of internal focus and action as we intended.
In reality, I took most of my cues by how we wanted the film to feel. This movie was written in such a very different way, it had to feel authentic, with no false Hollywood tone. We knew Tom would deliver in his performance, and it meant the rest of us turning up with our A-game so that we could keep up with him and what was going on in Krause’s head.
To me, the expressive character of the cinematography was the changing light and the camera performance. So I wrote a long document and broke the whole movie down scene-by-scene in regard those elements as a visual manifesto.
Tell us about your choice of cameras, lenses and aspect ratio?
SJ: When it came down to focussing on the visual intent, for Aaron, the story was about the faces, but he did not want any distortion in the image. Being a cinematographer himself, he asked me about shooting in large format and the use of spherical lenses in this respect. I agreed with him that shooting widescreen would give the production a textural, cinematic feel, and also allow us to do wide close-ups, with one or more characters in frame at the same time.
After testing the available options, we settled on the Panavision DXL1, based around the RED Dragon 8K Vista Vision sensor, shooting for a 2.39:1 extraction, using Panavision Sphero 65s. Those lenses are very popular and we got a set about three days before we started shooting, so I had very little time to get to know them, and how they would take to our lighting.
But, right off-the-shelf, those lenses and that camera were our look – the pairing delivered a very sweet and deliberate tone, like the right guitar and amp. I was very impressed by the Sphero 65s’ subtle aberrations, their rounded capture properties, pleasing flesh tones and soft, classic overall look. I liked the way they gathered the atmosphere and veiled the highlights of the incandescent lamps on our interior sets. And, I was blown away by how the camera and lenses together handled the mixed warm and cool colours of the overall lighting – all without needing any filtration on the image.
We mainly shot with 35mm, 40mm and 50mm focal lengths, but went with a 24mm for a handful of wide close-ups. The Sphero 65s are small, and this meant the camera package was of a decent size to fit-in amongst the crew and actors in the very tight confines of the bridge.
As we had many dark scenes, I typically rated the DXL1 it at 1000ISO, and also played with the shutter angle to get the correct exposure. This also helped us be fiscally responsible with the lighting budget. For the “red scenes” in the sonar room, I cranked the ISO up to 1600 or 2000, and was not averse to any noise this introduced, as it had the textural feeling of film grain and was expressive.
Did you develop/use any LUTs for the production?
SJ: I used one base LUT that I developed a few movies ago, which maximises the sensor’s response and puts the image in a good place to start grading. It has some desaturation, but not much, with good colour tone separation, and it holds the highlights well. Essentially, it allows me to overexpose and open-up the camera a little to capture shadow detail.
What’s your on-set workflow?
SJ: I have evolved a filmic style of workflow and monitor the exposure myself on-set. I prefer to work without a DIT, and to put that budget into proper dailies grading. On this film the dailies were managed by Technicolor from a nearby suite on the lot at Celtic Media Center. At lunchtime, they would take footage from the morning’s shoot and grade according to my notes. By the time we wrapped, I could go to the suite for an hour or so, view and comment on rushes, and also give my instructions for the material we had just shot in the afternoon. Every morning I would see stills of what had been done overnight. It’s an efficient way to work, away from the hustle and bustle of the set, and means editorial gets material graded the way I prefer.
Who were your crew?
SJ: We shot Greyhound largely handheld thanks to the masterful talents of two venerable camera operators – Don Devine SOC and George Billinger SOC and their focus pullers Michael Charbonnet and Ryosuke Kawanaka. Our grip/electric crews lead by Bob Babin and gaffer Bob Bates were also up to their usual stellar standards and approached their jobs with creativity and an indomitable spirit that transformed our small set into a living and ever-changing environment. I was so fortunate to have these people as part of my collaborative crew and will forever be in their debt for their efforts.
I must also mention the VFX supervisor, Nathan McGuiness – he did an unbelievable job in putting the ships on the water, and in making the CG VFX and live action coalesce. We worked very closely together. He grew to understand how the movie was shot, the lighting changes, and added to that. I think Greyhound took on more of an epic quality because of his work.
What was your camera movement strategy?
SJ: Except for a flashback scene to a hotel, and exteriors around the USS Kidd, the movie was predominantly handheld, with some Steadicam. We went handheld, on the shoulder, as it was expressive of Krause’s human experience, and I felt it was the best way to put the audience on the bridge. It also had the advantage of freeing-up the camera from the sway and swelling motions of the gimbal, and gave us good manoeuvrability around the bridge.
Having shot on the gimbal, Don and George did a wonderful job in harnessing their muscle memory to mimic the rocking of the ship in-camera when we subsequently shot on our static, freestanding sets. Their performances, along with our focus pullers, were just as important as the actors, and I am in awe of their impeccable work.
For the medium exteriors we shot around the USS Kidd. We had to get 50ft above the waterline to see the deck of the bridge, so we used a remote head on a 75ft Technocrane that was fixed to a barge on the river. On separate barges we also had wind and water machines, plus construction cranes suspending silks and greenscreens. All-in-all there was quite a tangle of gear in our own flotilla on the Mississippi.
On these exterior shots, we had to give the impression of a ship moving thorough the sea, sometimes with 30ft and 40ft pitches over just a few seconds. To achieve the effect of being in swells at sea, I remotely operated the roll axis, with Don on pan and tilt.
Please give us some insight into your lighting plans?
SJ: Overall we wanted an expressive naturalism. Along with the camera moves a lot rested on the achieving right lighting. Even though we were shooting on-stage I made every endeavour to make it feel real.
The Greyhound was always moving in and around the convoy at different times of day and night, which meant the light changing all of the time. It was never just from one direction. So we necessarily needed interactive lighting that we could animate as required, and the skills of my lighting crew were very impressive.
For example, we surrounded the set on the gimbal with white muslin in a huge horseshoe shape, with more muslins above, and shone arrays of ARRI SkyPanels through these. We also had moveable soft boxes, again with SkyPanels, if I ever needed more directional light.
The great thing about the SkyPanels is that you can colour mix them and programme the illumination as you need it. This was where my manifesto proved very helpful. I could cool the lighting between midday to late afternoon, go even cooler on the dusks, create a greyness to the night scenes, and make the dawns very cyan. We could also programme fire, explosions, star shell bursts and muzzle flash effects all in tune with the swell of the gimbal, sometimes give the impression of the ship turning around. We generally lit the interiors of the ship with incandescents, augmented with small LEDs.
The beauty of shooting “whitescreen” using the muslins, meant that it was much easier to light and much easier for the VFX teams to deal with in post-production than the green spill associated with traditional green screen.
What were your working hours?
SJ: We worked five-day weeks, 12-hours-a-day, with a break for lunch, nothing crazy. I would start and end each day reviewing the rushes, and spend some time on weekends creating temp VFX comp-stills, to see how the VFX elements were working with my live-action lighting. For me the shooting day is very physical, and the weekends were also a time to relax, recharge and think about what was coming next.
Where did you do the DI grade?
SJ: I completed the grade with colourist Bryan Smaller at Company 3 Los Angeles. He has a great eye, and like my crew, he was similarly willing to go all-in. Because of the Covid-19 outbreak, it was required that much of our work be carried out remotely, either from my home or isolated in a theatre on the Sony lot. Bryan and I finally got to grade in the same room for the final two days of the DI in late June.
How challenging was this as a movie?
SJ: All movies are a challenge. I have been a DP for 34 years, shooting in mud, mountains or underwater, being either cold, hot or wet. But, I am no stranger to being uncomfortable or away from home. It’s now become a lifestyle.
On this movie, whatever distractions might have come up – about the cameras, lenses and lighting – the initial visual goals that Aaron and I made regarding the cinematographic storytelling, were the food we had to keep swimming for. We had to stay focused on the narrative in a highly-technical environment – that was probably the greatest challenge.
Any final thoughts?
SJ: Looking back – beyond shooting 8K large format and the cool LED lighting set-up – the talent and dedication of the cast and crew are what brought life to this project. Also, every day, as I climbed up the scaffolding and onto the gimbal, I quietly said to myself, “I am very lucky to have the job I do, and I have a lot to be thankful for. I am going to give it everything I have.”
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