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January 2021: A new approach

A new approach

Across The Pond / Mark London Williams

MA RAINEYÕS BLACK BOTTOM (2020)
Dolly Grip Kyle Carden, Cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler, Camera Operator Kirk Gardner.
Cr: David Lee/NETFLIX

A new approach

Across The Pond / Mark London Williams

In recent months, it’s felt like ‘Across the Pond’ might more aptly be titled ‘From the Precipice’, as things have been poised on a rather thin edge for a while, certainly on these shores.

Normally, a January dispatch would carry word of award shows. Who emerged victorious from the ASC’s annual gathering? Who was honored? Which fruitful collaborations with DPs were mentioned at the Art Directors’ Guild? Or at the VES Awards? And what does the handicapping look like heading into IndieSpirit/Oscar weekend, which would normally be the stuff of February writing.

But not, of course, this year.

There may yet be an Oscar ceremony – of some kind – in April. April, Come She Will, as Simon and Garfunkel promised. But come she will, bringing what? This winter, of both discontent and streaming content, already brings an attempted far-right insurrection in this nation’s capital, and the tentative start to a new Federal administration with a rather Herculean task in front of it, as far as reigning in the pandemic – at least to a degree where folks can gather on sets again (as far as the usual purposes of this column) and start to line up shots in their ALEXA viewfinders. Or, perhaps, VENICE viewfinders, as you read on.

Folks gathering in seats again, though, to watch some of the things shot with those ALEXAs, REDs, Canons, et al – seats outside the confines of their homes – will be even further down the road, even if, as we tap our keys here in California, the Golden State appears to be allowing a tentative return to some outdoor dining, barbering, etc.

A lot of our coverage in this brave new year, then, will be to track the progress of things like vaccination schedules and safety protocols, while awards, it seems, will have to wait.

And as we wait, many theatrical features will continue to show up on our home screens, such as Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. The caper-y comedy, written by and starring Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo, following up on similar dual-threat success with Bridesmaids, was shot by Toby Oliver ACS.

We last chatted with him in what must now be regarded as more innocent – jejune? – times, when he was shooting Blumhouse fare like Happy Death Day and the break-out Get Out.

Barb and Star was originally intended as a summer comedy, presumably to follow up on what was assumed to have been Wiig’s increased visibility co-starring in Wonder Woman 1984, the prior holiday season. Instead, the film instead joins WW as a direct-to-streaming release, in this case starting on VOD platforms in February.

Shot primarily in Cancun, doubling for the Florida resort town of the title, the comedy – featuring the pair taking on a local “super villain” – wrapped in the fall of 2019, with post being accelerated to get it ready for its original release date.

But even if post was rushed, Oliver had a great time during production, calling it “such a fun movie to be part of. Odd and kooky in a really good way – a very sweet story,” wherein “the best of friends find themselves over their heads.”

The sweet kookiness was captured primarily with a Sony VENICE sporting Cooke Anamorphic lenses, the “first time,” he reports, “I’d used a VENICE on a big actual movie production.”

Actually, two of them, since another VENICE was on the land-and-soundstage part of the shoot, but not just Sonys, as it turns out: During a Jet Ski sequence “we used the small Blackmagic 4K cameras mounted to the Jet Skis for that super POV stuff,” adding, with a wry knack for understatement, “whenever you go and shoot off dry land, suddenly everything becomes more difficult. You’re out there in the open ocean, with the swell – it’s almost impossible to change a mini-card on the camera.”

And director Josh Greenbaum appeared to show a landlubber’s preference for keeping those cards in – perhaps because he liked to see a lot of improv with his comically adept cast. “Like a lot of directors, he’s very much ‘keep rolling, keep rolling,’ – he doesn’t want to have to stop.”

Kristen Wig as Star and Annie Mumolo as Barb in 'Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar', shot by DP Toby Oliver ACS. Photo Credit: Cate Cameron
Kristen Wig as Star and Annie Mumolo as Barb in ‘Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar’, shot by DP Toby Oliver ACS. Photo Credit: Cate Cameron

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Kristen Wig as Star and Annie Mumolo as Barb in Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. Photo Credit: Cate Cameron
Kristen Wig as Star and Annie Mumolo as Barb in Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. Photo Credit: Cate Cameron

As for how Oliver felt bringing his renowned horror-film chops to a more brightly-lit comedy – with “high keys,” as he describes it, “It’s great doing different genres, where you get the opportunity” to try different visual styles. But genre shifts aren’t the only changes afoot, as he notes that colour grading, and many other aspects of post – rushed or otherwise – keep changing around “the whole thing of the cinema release,” or rather, lack of same, and instead aiming for 65-inch home screens as the key medium of a story’s release. “It’s one of those things we’ve got to start thinking about,” he says, including acknowledging that currently shifted business models “might be changed permanently… it affects the way we’ll shoot a movie, too…We’ll make different decisions.”

People everywhere are having to make different decisions, of course – April (and beyond) will surely bring more of that. A couple of craft heads in other departments – both with recent high profile Sundance films (itself a virtual festival this year) – talk about continuing to tread water (without the benefit of waterproofed Blackmagic cameras!) during lockdown:

“It definitely pushed all my design projects to undetermined dates,” says costume designer Brenda Abbandandolo. “The film I was working on when lockdown happened was a pretty big movie with large background scenes and just couldn’t be done in a COVID climate. It also shifted the premiere for a couple of my films. An American Pickle shifted from a theatrical release to a streaming platform and CODA which is at Sundance has also moved to a virtual premiere.

“I just worked on a film fitting all of the background and the protocols were very complicated.

The number of fittings we could do in a day were streamlined to a fraction of what we normally do. I was wearing full facial gear and not permitted to enter the fitting room with the actor. The clothes were placed in the room before they entered, and I would talk them through the change from the door… Despite it all, there was a lot of comradery among everyone. It kind of made the crew even tighter because we are all in this new process together. I also felt very safe and thought the studio did a fantastic job keeping it that way.”

Even film workers who usually aren’t on set are also being affected, of course. Composer

René G. Boscio, who scored the also-at-Sundance Romeo and Juliet adaptation, R#J, said the virus has “severely impacted the collaborative process when it comes to writing music and getting feedback from the filmmakers. Pre-pandemic, I would have directors come by the studio every Friday to look over the progress we had made and tackle any revisions on the spot…But since COVID hit, all revisions happen over calls, emails, and Dropbox links.”

On the other hand, he notes that since August, “things picked back up… once producers started figuring out how to catch up and keep going despite COVID limitations.”

Of course, the ultimate question will be how that stream of content will stay caught up with all those at-home viewers. Meanwhile, shows and features do keep finding audiences, as people await their vaccines.

Rene Boscio
Rene Boscio

Costume designer Brenda Abbandandolo
Costume designer Brenda Abbandandolo

One such was Netflix’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (which at the time of writing has just been nominated as Best Feature in the Independent Spirit Awards). It is an adaptation of the late, great August Wilson’s Tony-nominated play, set in a ‘20s era Chicago recording studio as blues singer Ma Rainey comes to cut an album, and most of the folks at the perpetually-delayed recording session start to see their lives, and livelihoods, fall apart.

It was directed by George Wolfe, who is better known for his theatre work, but cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler ASC says he “loved working with George. I don’t know if it’s his theatre background, but he is an absolute genius when it comes to blocking actors.. He didn’t want the camera to distract from their performances, but only to compliment them… George specifically wanted the scenes in the band room to feel like a boxing match. He compared their words and dialogue to the use of fighting gloves which immediately gave me ideas for camera movement and coverage.”

Starring Viola Davis, and the also late, great Chadwick Boseman, as both singer and musicians who must also deal with white management looking to profit off “the blues,” Schliessler “placed each camera on dollies and track with four-foot sliders for the operators to make fine adjustments. It became a choreographed dance between the actors, the operators, and the dolly grips… I think the best cinematography always serves the story first and foremost.”

MA RAINEYÕS BLACK BOTTOM (2020)
Camera Operator Kirk Gardner on the set. 
Cr: David Lee/NETFLIX
MA RAINEYÕS BLACK BOTTOM (2020)
Camera Operator Kirk Gardner on the set.
Cr: David Lee/NETFLIX

MA RAINEYÕS BLACK BOTTOM (2020)
Dusan Brown, Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman. 
Cr: David Lee/NETFLIX
MA RAINEYÕS BLACK BOTTOM (2020)
Dusan Brown, Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman.
Cr: David Lee/NETFLIX

MA RAINEYÕS BLACK BOTTOM (2020)
1st AD Michele 'Shelley' Ziegler, Cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler, Director George C. Wolfe and Camera Operator Kirk Gardner.
Cr: David Lee/NETFLIX
MA RAINEYÕS BLACK BOTTOM (2020)
1st AD Michele ‘Shelley’ Ziegler, Cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler, Director George C. Wolfe and Camera Operator Kirk Gardner.
Cr: David Lee/NETFLIX

As for how he lit, Schliessler collaborated with production designer Mark Riker “who found a beautiful impressionist painting titled Chicago, 1906, that portrayed the city as a sweltering inferno which was exactly the feeling George wanted. We used this painting as our main reference for both the colour palette and tone of the movie.”

He also shot on a Sony VENICE, along with the Zeiss Supremes, a combination he’d used once before, and “really loved how the two complemented each other. That said, my first instinct for Ma Rainey was to use older large format lenses or anamorphics. I had Keslow Camera send me a set of Canon K35s, Leica M Primes, Hawk V-lites, and the Zeiss Supremes to Pittsburgh for my initial lens test. I went through the pros and cons of each, with George, showing him extreme focus racks, lens flares from practicals, and how they would perform shot wide open in low light. Ultimately George wanted to go with the Supremes because we had planned a lot of focus pulls between the actors, especially for the long dialog scenes, and they exhibited the least amount of breathing.”

Schliessler also adds how grateful he was “to have been a part of this film. Ma Rainey is a beautiful story and was told through such incredible performances from the whole cast. It really was a dream to shoot.” He mentions Wolfe again, who “along with the amazing producers, Denzel Washington, Todd Black, and Netflix made this movie what it is and created an environment for everyone’s talents to shine through. That’s all you can ask for, and in my experience.”

As for the breathing, hopefully we’ll be able to do some of that a little easier, in the year ahead.

Until next month.

@Tricksterink, AcrossthePondBC@gmail.com

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The International Space Station Beautifully Captures Earth’s Aurora

The International Space Station’s current Expedition 64 crew has recently shared a few gorgeous photos of Earth’s auroras. The stunning natural colors are thanks to the station’s orbit that takes it as high as 51.6 degrees above the equator.

As explained by Digital Trends, auroras appear when particles from solar storms interact with gases in Earth’s atmosphere. The best places to view auroras on earth are as close to the Arctic Circle as you can get in the Northern Hemisphere, and the far south of Tasmania and New Zealand in the Southern Hemisphere.

But from space, moving your orbit into position can reveal the natural phenomenon. Below are the images recently shared to NASA’s Flickr account:

Photo by Roscosmos

The above image was captured on January 18 as the International Space Station was orbiting 264 miles above the North Atlantic. “The Earth’s airglow, an optical phenomenon caused by cosmic rays striking the upper atmosphere, blankets the horizon,” the caption reads.

Photo by Roscosmos

This photo, also captured on January 18, was taken as the ISS was in orbit 263 miles above Romania. The city lights of Sweden and Finland are visible below the aurora above the Earth’s horizon. The dark area in between the two Scandinavian nations is the Baltic Sea.

Photo by Roscosmos
Photo by Roscosmos

The two photos above were taken on January 13 from 264 miles above Kazakhstan and looks north towards Russia where the brightly-lit cities can be seen below the aurora.

Photo by Roscosmos
Photo by Roscosmos

Captured on January 12, these final two photos were both taken over Russia. The first image shows a look between Ukraine and Kazakhstan, while the second is closer to the western border of Kazakhstan.

All the images above were captured on a Nikon D5 with either a 58mm or 85mm lens.

This recently published documentary on NASA’s YouTube channel shows more auroras captured from the space station along with several other stories of what it is like to look down on Earth from above.

(via Digital Trends)

Red Bull Showcases Women Photographers Capturing Hawaii’s Big Wave Season

In an effort to expand the opportunities for women, Red Bull has hired a group of women photographers to document three key Hawaiian big-wave breaks (Jaws, Waimea, Outer Reefs) for the entire winter season.

The Hawaiian big wave season has been in full swing since November and normally continues through February. After soliciting women for the opportunity, Red Bull is now starting to show what the photographers were able to create. Both the surfing and photography industries are male-dominated, and Red Bull hopes that this gallery will provide a new lens with which to view the sport and capture a more intimate angle of the competitors.

Red Bull tells PetaPixel that the goal of the photography project is to highlight women photographers – with a spotlight on existing professionals on the island as well as those that are just starting their careers.

The organization says that it has made a commitment to hiring a different woman to shoot each day and every swell in the hopes that, once finished, there will be a collection of the single largest gallery of surf photography from women photographers ever assembled.

Red Bull has provided an extraordinary series of photo from five photographers that have already taken advantage of the opportunity. Below is a small sample of those provided to PetaPixel which illustrate how each photographer’s style translates to beautiful differences in finished images.

Ha’a Keaulana

Daughter of Hawaiian surf and water safety legend Brian Keaulana and granddaughter of the equally legendary Buffalo Keaulana, Ha’a Keaulana grew up immersed in big-wave culture and has made Makaha Beach, one of the iconic big-wave breaks, her home. She has combined an artistic spirit with a life steeped in saltwater to bring a more intimate look to surf photography.

Christa Funk

Christa Funk is a former competitive swimmer and Coast Guard Academy member who moved to Hawaii and fell in love with water photography. Drawing from her strong swimming background, Funk quickly flocked to one of the most difficult surf photography assignments in the world: swimming the big-wave Hawaiian breaks, namely Pipeline.

As one of the only women shooting breaks like Pipe and Waimea from the water, she’s successfully captured some of the most beautiful surf shots of the last few years.

Roxy Facer

Roxy Facer travels the world for commercial swimwear shoots, but her favorite place to shoot is the sandbar at home on the North Shore. “When conditions are sunny, with waist-to-shoulder waves, it becomes a playground for everyond here,” says Facer. “Getting to shoot all your friends on every board imaginable, in turquoise water, without worrying about reef, is top of the list for me.”

Jackie Fiero

Growing up the daughter of a photographer in Hawaii, Jackie Fiero’s water photography career blossomed at a young age. She learned to shoot at Sandy Beach on Oahu’s East Side for years before graduating to swimming the big wave breaks on the North Shore. Today, she combines a bright, glamorous aesthetic with the technically and physically imposing task of in-water surf photography.

Alana Spencer

Alana Spencer is a photographer and model from the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. Her focus is sharing an intimate, profile-style perspective of her subjects, in and around the water whenever possible. She is the owner of Coconut Comradery, which is her collection of photographs & stories, gathered from places familiar and far and are visually rooted in the tropics and inspired by the immediate connection with others who mutually adore an islander’s way of life.

You can learn more about many of the female surfers captured by these photographers at Red Bull Magnitude.


Image Credits: Photos are categorized by photographer and are copyright and courtesy of Red Bull Media.

Leica Ad is an Evocative Reminder of Photography’s Importance

Commercials don’t have to be powerful and emotional works of art, but they are often much more successful if they are. Leica’s latest 1-minute ad is just that: an evocative reminder of photography’s value to society.

The commercial reminds viewers that this world we live in is everyone’s world, and the emotions and feelings that are a part of living here as humans can vary between overwhelming joy and the deepest pits of despair. The thing about being human is the ability to experience that whole spectrum and process those feelings.

Leica’s commercial captures that feeling by showing those emotions to us through powerful imagery. It’s one thing to hear the word happiness, it’s another to hear it while seeing an image of pure joy.

The commercial and associated campaign is called “The World Deserves Witnesses.”

“A witness, someone who sees what others simply watch,” the company writes in a description of the campaign. “When Leica invented the first 35mm camera in 1914, it allowed people to capture their world and the world around them and document its events, no matter how small or big they were. Today, as for more than one century, Leica keeps celebrating the witnesses, the ones who see the everyday beauty, grace and poetry, and the never ending irony and drama of our human condition, and bring their cameras to the eye in order to frame it and fix it forever.

The campaign page features several of the images shown in the video and delves into the stories behind their capture. Even though this is an ad that is clearly designed to sell us a Leica camera, it’s hard to not be taken in by the overarching message.

Photography is important, and Leica continues to remind everyone of that.

Watch Colorful Paint Smash into Artist’s Face in Super Slow Motion

Ben Ouaniche of the YouTube channel Macro Room has uploaded some really beautiful work combining slow motion and macro photography. To celebrate hitting one million subscribers, he shot himself getting hit with colorful liquid-filled balloons in super slow motion.

PetaPixel has featured Ouaniche’s work before, and this latest project was shot on a Chronos 2.1-HD. The slow-motion camera is capable of 1000 frames per second for up to 2.76 consecutive seconds. Using it to its fullest, Ouaniche manages to capture an amazing shot of the multiple colors blending into one another as they smash into his face.

The Chronos is only able to capture 1080p Full HD video, but Ouaniche’s upload is in 4K which means he probably upscaled the footage in post. Still, the images from the footage look incredible despite this.

Ouaniche shared a real-time versus slow-motion video on Instagram that shows a bit of the behind-the-scenes of the shot:

While not visible in the final video either due to a clever angle and lighting or because it was removed in post, Ouaniche was able to assure that all the balloons would pop precisely because he placed a needle on the bridge of his sunglasses. You can see that in a compilation of his failed attempts here:

For more from Ben Ouaniche, you can follow Macro Room on Instagram and subscribe to his YouTube Channel.

(via Laughing Squid)

Artist Erects Bizarre Photo Installation as Tribute to Kim Kardashian

London-based artist Max Siedentopf is known for making unusual art pieces and photos and his latest does not break from that trend: he claims to have dug a several meters deep hole that he has then lined with images of Kim Kardashian to pay her the biggest tribute he physically could.

Called “TRIBUTE,” the bizarre installation takes the shape of a giant anthill and is centered by a long tunnel plastered hundreds of times with the reality TV star’s visage. Siedentopf says the art piece “pays homage to possibly the biggest icon of the 21st century.”

“Easily comparable to famous icons from the past such as Marilyn Monroe or the Mona Lisa, no one else has had more influence on contemporary visual culture such as Kim Kardashian,” he writes.

“Described by The New York Times as ‘the queen of selfies,’ Kim Kardashian has shaped and reinvented over the past decade what self-portraiture is today. Her images are omni-present, her selfies have influenced an entire generation and have become an integral part of today’s pop culture.”

Siedentopf claims that his tribute is a multiple meters deep tunnel that took him weeks to dig.

“As the ultimate homage to this 21st-century icon, I have decided to pay the biggest tribute I physically could,” he continues.

“Over several weeks I have dug a tunnel which spans over many meters into the earth. It’s almost impossible to find the end of it, seemingly going all the way to the center of the earth. The inside of the tunnel is built as a hall of fame, plastered with some of Kardashian’s most iconic portraits, forever celebrating her image.”

While it is entirely possible that there is some level of depth to his art piece, it also looks to use a set of two-way mirrors to produce an optical illusion. The fact that the piece has height thanks to its anthill-like design lends credence to such a theory. Sometimes referred to as an “infinity mirror,” the technique can be used to create the look of a bottomless pit.

While not doubting Siedentopf’s word that he spent weeks making his tunnel, it’s likely that the illusion of ongoing depth combines that deep hole with the “infinity mirror” technique.

Siedentopf has not revealed if this installation can be viewed in person.

Siedentopf is the mastermind behind multiple photo-based artistic installations dating back to 2016. PetaPixel featured what can only be described as his “unusual” Passport photos in 2019. His Instagram is also filled with unusual photos that are clearly designed to illicit emotion, whether that be curiosity or revulsion.

Whatever you make of his art, there certainly is a statement being made about Kim Kardashian through the multitude of photos he’s lined his installation with. What that statement is might be what he claims – a tribute – or it might be something else entirely that is left open-ended for the viewers to decide for themselves.

It’s an interesting exhibit nonetheless.

10 Top Tips for Motorsport Photos by Photographer Larry Chen

Larry Chen is a world-renowned motorsports and car culture photographer from Los Angeles. He went from a young man growing up in Santa Monica with just a passion for cars to a passion for photography, to even a paparazzi photographer before finding his niche for professional motorsports and automotive photography.

Chen, who has competed in amateur racing events, started shooting racing and cars in 2004. “I just enjoyed it so much as a hobby, I wanted to figure out a way to do it for work,” Chen tells PetaPixel.

Car culture is also a favorite of Chen. “I love telling the stories of home garage builds, or next-level technology, power and speed,” Chen explains.

At this year’s Formula Drift Seattle event. A crew member watches the other cars in the hot pit area. Canon 1D X Mk III, Canon 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM, 1/1600, f/2.8

Chen started his photography passion with a Canon Rebel XT and now is a Canon Explorer of Light and shoots both DSLRs and mirrorless (check out his gear in the captions). When asked how many car photos he has taken, he answers, “Maybe 4 or 5 million? I have one Canon EOS-1D X body with 1.3 million shutter actuations.”

One genre that you will not see too much of on Chen’s portfolio is crash-and-burn photos, as he does not “glorify those.”

Because motorsports in 2020 was pushed back, the final drift event I shot at Irwindale had Xmas light decorations set up for a holiday drive-through. It made these cool shots insane. Canon 1D X Mark III, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, 1/10, f/2.8
This was the world’s last major motorsports event before Covid19 shutdowns halted everything. This was during WRC Mexico in 2020 as the Toyota goes through a very silty area. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, 1/640, f/2.8
Shooting sunrise at 11,000ft in elevation during the morning practice for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 2013. Canon 1D X, Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM, 1/1000, f/2

Does Chen, one of the most recognizable figures in motorsport photography, do smartphone car photography? Sure. “I only used android phones on Instagram till I hit 100K followers; after that, it was fair game,” he recollects. “I currently use a Google Pixel 4 XL.”

“For the past 15 years, I’ve been working as an automotive photographer,” says Chen. “I’m the official photographer of the Formula Drift motorsports series, and also the famous Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado. You guys might also know me from my Hoonigan Autofocus YouTube channel as well.

There are not enough weekends in my lifetime to photograph all the automotive related gatherings and events, but you can bet I will sure as hell try my best. – Larry Chen

So, in no particular order, here are Larry Chen’s top 10 tips for shooting motorsports (in his own words)!

Tip #1. Panning shots

One of my favorite snapshots from the 2019 24 Hours of Daytona. The light streaks were from a random spectator camping area. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM, 1/10, f/4

One of the first things photographers will tackle when shooting cars is the panning shot. A panning shot is when a photographer tracks a subject’s movement with a slower shutter speed (i.e., 1/60th) than normal to blur out the foreground and/or background. The subject can be anything moving, whether it’s a car, a motorcycle, or even a horse. If it’s moving, you can pan it. The challenge comes when shooting at a lower shutter speed. I would suggest starting at a relatively easy shutter speed (1/250th) and just work your way down as you get comfortable. When shooting my panning shots, I find my comfort zone around 1/30th to 1/60th. Everyone’s comfort zone will be a little different but if you aren’t satisfied with your higher shutter panning shots, start dropping those shutter speeds a bit. The biggest tip here is to exhale as you shoot. Similar to shooting a bow or a firearm, you want your camera to be as steady as possible while you’re firing away. Practice makes perfect so just keep at it.

Tip #2. Show the landscape and surroundings

I’m in a helicopter shooting the 2016 Baja 1000 race in Mexico, chasing the race leaders. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, 1/15, f/13

Too often, I see too many motorsport photographers focus too much attention on the action itself. While this works in some situations, I wouldn’t focus all my attention on just that.  I like variety in my photos when I shoot. It goes a long way to show off a bit more of the background to highlight certain areas that make it unique. Otherwise, it’s just a zoomed-in photo of a car that could have been shot anywhere. So, zoom out a little.

Tip #3. Don’t rely on the crop

BJ Baldwin wraps up filming of Recoil 2 in Ensenada, MX with the final stunt. Canon 1D X, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, 1/1250, f/2.8
On the set of Gymkhana 10. This segment was shot in Los Angeles and had Ken Block drive without tires to create this sparkling shot. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon EF 200 f/2L IS USM, 1/15, f/4

Like the above point, I see this too often as well. Many photographers rely on cropping their photos instead of improving their framing. Take the time to tell yourself to apply the Rule of Thirds as an example. This works with both moving and stationary subjects. As long as you’re mindful of it and make an attempt to work towards not center-focusing and just cropping in later in post, you’ll see a substantial outcome as you shoot more. Obviously, crop if you have to, ha-ha! I limit my cropping mostly to adjusting the horizon of a photo.

Tip #4. Use all the settings that are available for you on your cameras

Full send action at Hoonigan’s Burnyard Bash event back in 2018. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L IS II USM, 1/160, f/1.4

I get asked what my settings are all the time at events. And I say I use all settings the camera has to offer. I’ll use Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, even Bulb. Whichever setting will net me the exact photo I’m looking for, is the setting I’ll use. In a situation where I’m doing panning shots in broad daylight, for example, I’ll prefer shutter priority. I’ll start by setting up shutter speed and ISO (usually low). In most of these situations, the aperture won’t really affect my image all that much as it’ll be high regardless, but to keep it as low as possible, I run as low of an ISO that I can to minimize sensor dust.

Tip #5. Take off your lens caps

Pit stop action at 2 am during the 2018 24 Hours of LeMans. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM, 1/15, f/9
Travis Pastrana jumps over a speed boat on the set of Gymkhana 11 from 2020. I liked the water getting shot out from the boat, so I positioned myself for that. Canon R5, EF 24-70 f/2.8L II USM, 1/1600, f/5.6

I see MANY other photographers run into this issue when I’m at race events. The cars will come by, and the photographers will go to shoot before noticing their lens caps are still on their cameras. I just leave mine off and run filters on all my lenses. Most filters are pretty scratch resistant anyway, and I’ll go through at least a year with them on before they get too scratched up. Decent ones can be had for less than $30.

Tip #6. Since we’re talking about filters, circular polarizers are a photographer’s best friend

From the filming of Climbkhana at Pikes Peak. Ken is going through the famous section of the course called Double Cut. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM, 1/1600, f/2.8
A Ford GT goes hard during the 2019 24 Hours of Daytona. I was in the grandstands as the seats are pretty colorful to provide a nice foreground. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM, 1/20, f/16

Neutral Density filters and gradual ND filters are great too. I always run CPL filters during the day. Always. ND filters are often used, mostly for when I’m panning, and I want to shoot with a low shutter speed and wide-open aperture. Gradual ND filters are great for golden hour as well

Tip #7. Move around

My friend Zac Mertens doing a fat burnout in his Chevy C10 truck in front of a huge crowd during SEMA 2019. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, 1/4000, f/2.8

If you’re shooting at an event, don’t put all your focus on a single shot or single area of the track. Move around and aim to get various photos throughout the area to best show the overall event. This also includes the pit and paddock areas. Just because you’re shooting car racing doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to shoot people as well.

Tip #8. Listen to the track officials

On the set of Climbkhana with Ken Block as he drifts through a corner in 2016. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, 1/2000, f/5.6

Don’t be stupid and put yourself in a dangerous situation where death becomes a factor just for a cool photo you have in mind. It’s not worth it. There are plenty of ways to shoot an amazing photo that don’t put your life at risk. The track officials know best when it comes to safety, so if they tell you to back off and get out, back off and get out.

Tip #9. Wear the appropriate clothing

I was riding shotgun in a drift car, shooting another drift car at Road Atlanta during Gridlife South 2019. Canon 1D X Mark II, Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM, 1/50, f/4

Tank tops with board shorts and sandals will not help you, especially if you’re shooting something like drifting and anything off-road. I always check the weather for an upcoming event as well in case rain decides to make a visit. And I always wear proper socks and shoes as I’m usually standing for well over 12+ hours on long race days.

Tip #10. Don’t be afraid to preview your shots

I wanted to focus on the smoke plumes coming off the tires for this shot and decided to show it off with this shot. Canon 1D X Mark III, Canon 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM, 1/640, f/2.8

I do this all the time to help readjust my photos. With certain racing series, there are enough cars for you to practice on to help attain the shot you’re looking for in a small amount of time.

Hope you enjoyed my 10 tips. Maybe I’ll see you out at a future event!


If you have any questions, you can message Larry Chen on his Instagram @larry_chen_foto, where he’s most active.

And be sure to check out Car Racing Photographer Gets Crowd to Light Up a Photo with Phones.


About the author: Phil Mistry is a photographer and teacher based in Atlanta, GA. He started one of the first digital camera classes in New York City at The International Center of Photography in the 90s. He was the director and teacher for Sony/Popular Photography magazine’s Digital Days Workshops. You can reach him via email here.


Image credits: All photos by Larry Chen and used with permission

Dick Pope BSC / Supernova

LOVE AND LOSS

Dick Pope BSC / Supernova

Lake Screenshot from online trailer

LOVE AND LOSS

Dick Pope BSC / Supernova

Writer/director Harry Macqueen’s second feature Supernova explores love, loss and the heartbreak of coping with a terminal illness that is cruelly causing cherished memories to fade.

Supernova tells the powerful love story of partners of 20 years Sam (Colin Firth) and Tusker (Stanley Tucci), following them as they embark on a road trip across England in their camper van. Whilst retracing their past, the pair relive memories which have become even more precious following the diagnosis of Tusker’s early onset dementia.

“Straight off the page, Supernova showed a generosity of spirit in the writing. Utterly compelling,” says cinematographer Dick Pope BSC, recalling his initial reaction to writer/director Harry Macqueen’s script.

“On any project, I want to share the journey and explore all aspects of how we’re going to visualise and
shoot, in the true spirit of collaboration. I’m looking to be fired up by that spark which Supernova had in droves. The premise of a road trip and going on this emotional journey, the profound depth of their loving, caring long-standing relationship, along with such great dialogue lit up the pages from the very first scene.”

BBC Films production Supernova is Macqueen’s second feature, following 2014’s Hinterland, which also centres around a journey of love and heartbreak. Creating a sense of intimacy and close chemistry between the two main characters was once again of great importance. “The only home we see of Sam and Tusker’s is the interior of the van in which they have spent so much time together. Harry wanted the audience to enjoy spending time with them in there, increasing the emotional journey when things begin to derail,” says Pope.

This intimacy was also achieved in the cinematic creations Pope has crafted with director Mike Leigh for many years. “Many of his films cut through everything else to reach for the essence of a relationship. So, shooting Sam and Tusker inside the close proximity of their camper was the challenge I relished most, alongside filming the grand sweep of the Lake District’s wide landscapes.”

Dick Pope BSC (l)
with writer/director
Harry Macqueen
Dick Pope BSC (l)
with writer/director
Harry Macqueen

By popping out the camper van’s roof lights Pope could
film straight down on Sam
and Tusker as they lay in bed
By popping out the camper van’s roof lights Pope could
film straight down on Sam
and Tusker as they lay in bed

Believing in camera work and editing that possess stillness, restraint and poise, Macqueen feels the camera
should only move when necessary. Like Pope, the director favours composing an image and letting the
action play out within it, focusing the audience on the performances by setting the correct frame.

“This blends with the style of editing he likes to work within: extended takes, a focus on letting a scene breathe and not cutting overly, but trusting the shot and the acting,” says Pope.

Gathering creative inspiration for Supernova from references such as Paul Hart’s landscape photography
project Drained and Gregory Crewdson’s photography Beneath The Roses led into four weeks of prep, which saw Macqueen, Pope, production designer Sarah Finlay and gaffer Tom Gates begin by examining the camper van within which much of the narrative would unfold.

They explored the possibilities for shooting the interior scenes and chose the colour palette, décor, fabric, window coverings and built-in practical lighting. Finlay also added a personal touch and warmth to the van’s naturally cold and sterile interior.

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To overcome certain practical challenges shooting inside a van presented, a built-in strategically placed mirror was used to observe both characters in the same frame. The Artemis viewfinder on Pope’s iPad made it possible to examine what was achievable with minor disruption and to then discuss alternatives for
impossible angles.

Later on that warm sunny day in late August when Pope and Macqueen headed to the Lake District, where the entire production was filmed, was a stark contrast to the following day’s torrential rain which continued throughout the four-week prep and into the six-week shoot. For essential weather cover from the rain, the disused factory where the production and all other departments were based was transformed into a stage in which the camper van could be placed inside.

Lighting was stylised but natural to achieve a heightened sense of realism. “I try to visually enhance the way I imagine the world we’re creating should look; either shaping to control natural light or adjusting my lighting fixtures to achieve the perfect and most appropriate light on the actors, architecture and landscape,” Pope says.

The low-voltage car battery powered practical lighting in the van was modified by adding tiny fixtures and in-line dimmers to create different moods. Production designer Finlay added Venetian blinds to control how much could be seen outside and Pope created a backdrop of light and foliage outside the windows. For day scenes, the slats of the blinds were partially closed with bright and diffused daylight brought in through the windows. For night work, very low ambient light was brought in through the slats.

The locations where the camper had been parked for exterior shots were used as a lighting reference, showing what the view outside the windows should look like.

Pope filmed with an open gate, full sensor ARRI Alexa Mini, framing at 1.85:1. The camera’s light weight and small profile was perfect for both hauling up hills as well as shooting inside the van’s tight confines. Pope says that “1st AC Graham Martyr faced tough challenges in finding somewhere to work from in this limited space,
but miraculously always kept things sharp.”

The camper’s many windows also offered Pope a variety of angles. By popping out the roof lights he could film straight down on Sam and Tusker as they lay in bed. “It was all achieved by keeping it real and without removing many fittings or cutting the camper in two,” he says.

Prior to lens selection, Pope arranged for Macqueen to watch a screening of Motherless Brooklyn, Edward Norton’s crime film Pope photographed using Cooke Panchro/I Classic Primes. Macqueen was impressed by the results of the lenses, describing them as having “a rounded and natural feel which reels the viewer in.”

Subsequent testing featuring the principal actors, confirmed Pope’s initial feeling about the lenses’ suitability, choosing them once again. Pope, who filmed Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner using the original Cooke Speed Panchros, finds the updated Panchro/I Classics retain the vintage lenses’ characteristics.

“They haven’t lost the feel of the originals, with their tiny front elements, compact profile and light weight. Over the three films I’ve shot with both the original and updated versions, I have become attached to the Panchros’ look, partly because they’re not clean, modern looking or super sharp, but really rather painterly and cinematic. Like the originals, they feature subtly flawed glass aberrations, and when used wide open, can offer focus fall-off at the edges of frame – all the attributes Harry and I wanted for Supernova,” says Pope.

Credit Harry Macqueen
Credit Harry Macqueen

Dick Pope BSC
Dick Pope BSC

Shots of the wide epic landscape of the Lake District are contrasted with, what Pope describes as, “the equally epic landscape of Sam and Tusker’s faces”, filmed in close enough proximity to explore every nuance of their expressions and feelings.

A variety of camera tracking techniques were used to capture scenes of the lead characters driving through the Lake District. As the camper was tall and wide, potentially blocking most of the view ahead, the camera needed to be high, looking slightly down over the van as well as quickly capture shots from other heights such as clean POVs of the road ahead.

To do this, grip Colin Strachan arranged for a GF8 crane from Panavision to be fitted with a Libra remote head from Camera Revolution, mounting the rig on a Bickers Silverado tracking vehicle. As an alternative rig, the same Silverado with an A-Frame doubled up as a towing vehicle when cross-shooting inside the moving camper.

A LUT was created in the DI suite from the test footage by desaturating, adding a little contrast and pulling blue into the shadows. DIT Kev Bell used this as a starting point throughout the shoot, grading on top for each scene.

DI was largely achieved remotely during lockdown, with colourist Greg Fisher from Company 3 using the same machines he would use in his DI Suite but instead, working from a converted space in his home and streaming to Macqueen and Pope, who used calibrated iPad Pros in darkened rooms set-ups in their own homes. “The system worked really well. After lockdown was lifted and we were allowed back into the DI suite to finish the film, almost all the remote timings stood up on the big screen and didn’t need refining,” says Pope.

Supernova’s power and beauty lies in its honesty, the cinematographer believes: “The thing is, it’s realistic, you can believe it. Its razor-sharp cutting edge offsets all that emotional warmth and makes it compelling.”

Pope highlights one scene as a “visual lynch pin” – the pivotal moments when Sam and Tusker drive to the lake and camp in the spot they had often visited many years before. This scene’s success partly relied on sun, so when a break in the relentlessly stormy weather was forecast, the crew rescheduled and headed to the lake.

“Visually, this turned out to be the triumph of the film,” says Pope. “After so much constant, hard rain, the camper’s drive through the now sun-soaked woods to the lakeside was a revelation.

“Sam and Tusker get out and embrace beside the lake and the moment was joyous because we had become very uncertain we would see the Lakes as the script demanded, with their autumnal colours in full glory. It grounded the film – a sun-filled memory for them of once standing side by side in the very same place all those years before.”

BY ZOE MUTTER

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Astounding Detail: A 10 Billion Pixel Panorama of Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’

Emilien Leonhardt and Vincent Sabatier from Hirox Europe last year took part in an incredible project: they photographed Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” at an incredible resolution to allow anyone to see the painting down to the level of 4.4-microns per pixel.

The project was undertaken in order to evaluate the surface condition of the painting, measure cracks, and see the topography of various key areas while assessing past restorations.

With their specialized equipment, the duo made what Leonhardt describes as the first 10 billion pixel panorama (93,205 x 108,565). That equates to about 10,118 megapixels.

Overnight, 9,100 photos were automatically captured and stitched together to form one finished panorama image where one pixel equals 4.4 microns. The resulting detail is truly extraordinary.

Below is the full painting:

This is a closeup of one of her eyes:

And this is an even closer view of that same area:

The Hirox 3D microscope can be given certain parameters and then will set out to autofocus and capture detailed images of an area and then output a finished, correctly-focused final image. This image can then be used to give researchers and art historians an incredibly clear image of particular areas of a painting.

Leonhardt and Sabatier specifically targeted 10 key areas which were captured in even greater, super-high-resolution to create 3D stitched images of the surfaces, where 1 pixel equaled 1.1 microns. That 3D image can be used to then measure the topography of the painting in those key areas to actually see the height differences of the paint as compared to one another.

The entire painting panorama is available to view full-screen on a website set up by the duo, and the 10 individual key areas that were further analyzed allow for even closer zoom are included. The full 3D maps of those areas are also available on the website.