I was asked to produce a music video for Lanice London for her new track Chuck Taylor. We decided on an urban walkaround/day in the life style video.
Because the song is about how she wears her Chucks for everything, I decided to use slider shots of her shoes to tie the chorus together. I recently acquired a slider and was eager to test it out.
Shooting the Music Video
The first day of shooting took place at Milk Boy Studios and was the perfect way to get started. We hung in the background, capturing Lanice and Rich Quick working on Lanice’s new album, Murphy’s Law. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a recording studio, and it was great to dive into the environment again. We really fed off the creative energy that night and had a wonderful time.
The next day was our “story day”, when we filmed the plotted scenes for the music video. We shot the opening of the video and the barber shop scenes in North Philadelphia. Once again we kept to the background, our intention was just to capture the moments, rather than create a false environment. We wanted the reality.
Later that day we travelled to the Delaware riverfront and filmed several passes of the song, along with some slow motion B – roll. The Ben Franklin Bridge in the background is an awesome landmark; it’s iconically Philadelphia and forms a spectacular backdrop to the epic waterfront shots.
Day three started on the roof of a parking garage just north of City Hall. From there we travelled around the area, shooting full and half passes of the song. Lanice was very enthusiastic and seemed to feed off the energy of the people around her. More than once, we were stopped by pedestrians interested in who we were, what we were doing and when they could see the finished product.
We finished in underground near the Walnut/Locust stop for the Broad Street line. It’s become one of my favorite places; wide open with pillars and beautiful texture. Neil Burger probably agrees.
Just outside, we shot a quick interview for the “making of the music video” doc, and wrapped production.
Everything was edited in Premiere and graded in After Effects. Because we used natural light for most of the video, I found myself shooting at high ISO’s, especially the first day in the studio. Magic Bullet Denoiser helps, as does a small amount of digital film grain added in After Effects.
I tended toward a cooler look for this video, with crunchy contrast. I found cautiously applying large radius unsharp masks helped to make the urban landscape pop.
Behind the Scenes
Samuel Hall was on set, providing B Camera shots and capturing the action for this exclusive, behind – the – scenes documentary.
Additionally, Elizabeth was capturing stills of the shoot.
Without question, Joshua Hoffine and Gregory Crewdson changed the way I think about photography. They introduced me to a way of shooting: painting scenes like pictures that truly capture a moment in time.
I came across Hoffine on a photography website a few years ago and immediately fell in love with his work. For those of you not familiar, Hoffine creates horror photography in a way I’ve never seen before. Instead of relying on makeup or creepy locations, he creates a scene: a horrific snapshot of fear.
Shortly thereafter, while looking for photographers like him, I came across Gregory Crewdson. What Hoffine did for horror photography, Crewdson did for Americana. His images are slices of life; snapshots of emotional moments. His photography lives in both reality and imagination, a half – world between the two.
They do more than take pictures. They tell stories.
Dangerous – My First Foray
I shot a set called “Dangerous” long before I came across this storytelling photography. I had shot models before, but I wanted to do something heightened, more than just a person on a background.
So, on a dreary January morning, I set out to tell a story of heightened drama, using Elizabeth and some fake guns. The result is exactly what I wanted: a model shoot, elevated by a larger scope of action.
Jilted – Photographing Frozen Drama
Sufficiently inspired, I created this image, which I affectionately call “Jilted”:
I’ve always been fascinated by artist’s self portraits. I think something gets brought to the surface when you capture your own image; you reveal things about yourself through your art.
I also really like the technical challenge of shooting myself, giving up the control of being behind the camera. It takes a completely different skill set, because you’re not looking through the viewfinder. It forces you to think about composition and to plan the layout of the shot long before you set up your equipment.
We were staying at Elizabeth’s family home; an old farmhouse where she grew up. The bed in the guest bedroom faces a huge mirrored dressing table. I noticed almost immediately that anyone standing at the dressing table could look in the mirror and see behind them, out the door and into the hallway, and my mind started working.
The remainder of the image came within twenty – four hours. In an odd way, the dressing table created the moment – why would these two people be in these positions? What is the life between them?
Details – The Coolest Part of the Image
I like shooting self portraits. It forces me to give up an element of control, because I’m not looking through the viewfinder. It makes me think very intently about the composition of the image and the placement of everything in the frame.
Elizabeth was kind enough to provide me with a lipstick kiss on my neck. I do wish I had thought to change out the hallway light for a traditional bulb instead of the energy saving one, but that’s a pretty minor detail.
I processed in Lightroom, where I also added some saturation to some areas, to make up for the lack of artificial lighting. If I had more options, I would have put a small keylight on details like the contents of the dressing table, to make sure they stood out. But, being nearly three hundred miles from my equipment, I had to make do with what I had at my disposal.
It was a fun image to produce, and it definitely got me thinking about photography in a different way.
Photography as Storytelling
Every photo we shoot should tell a story. Every moment we capture should be compelling and entertaining and it should spark the imagination of the viewer. Even simple images should always be a moment of time, full of life, energy and whispers.
or: The Quest for Warm and Cool
Speaking of education, I dropped out of art school back in 2005. At the time, all I wanted to do was make movies, I didn’t want to understand why images were specifically constructed and how to scientifically dissect why a photograph was visually appealing. I just wanted to shoot dammit!
Over the years, however, I’ve slowly returned to those principles I rejected. I find myself discovering something that works and then learning WHY it works. This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me; I’m the type of guy that can’t be told how to do something. I have to uncover things out on my own. Like Neo but with less spoons.
Color theory is one of those beasts. If you watch movies these days, you may notice an abundance of warm and cool colors, like yellow, oranges and blues, tossed around on screen. Why do filmmakers choose these colors and why do they make everything look so damn cool?
Color Temperature: Warm and Cool Colors
“Color temperature” is a phrase we use to classify the color values we’re shooting. It is measured in Kelvin (K) and visible colors generally fall between 1000K and 10,000K. Using this scale, we can chart warm and cool colors and classify them easily: Basically, warmer colors are classified with lower Kelvin values (5500K and below), and cooler colors are classified with higher values (5600K and above).
If your camera has an onboard white balance meter, you’ll notice that the values are reversed. That is, the higher (or cooler) you set that number (5600K and above) the warmer the shot gets. That’s because the camera’s white balance is offsetting the color temperature of the light around you. If you’re shooting inside under household light bulbs, you’ll set it at 3600K to get true white whites. If you’re outside, you’ll set it around 5600K for the same result.
Take a moment and think about skin tones and where they fall on the chart. Probably somewhere around 2000K, right? Remember this; we’ll be coming back to it later.
Complimentary Colors, Contrast and Distance
Ok, now that we’ve got a basic understanding of the Kelvin scale and color temperature, let’s talk about how our brains understand color. You probably already know that complimentary colors, or colors that are opposite in hue, look awesome together. That’s why Spiderman’s costume works; blue and red are complimentary and set each other off nicely.
So why do we find complimentary colors so visually pleasing? The answer actually comes the way light works and how our brains interpret it. Light travels as a wave, much like sound. And, like sound, different frequencies travel at different speeds. You may know that bass travels slower than treble; it also travels further, which is why you can hear bass from passing cars.
Light is the same way. Cooler light is more like bass – it travels further distances and moves slower. Warmer light is like treble – quick and short.
As light waves travel through the atmosphere, some of that visible light gets scattered by the molecules of oxygen and nitrogen in the air. Specifically, the longer wavelengths are scattered more than the shorter ones. What this means is that things in the far distance will look cooler (bluer) because they are further away.
Think about looking off at mountains in the distance. Chances are, they are blue or purple, not red or orange. Our brains understand this difference. So when we’re looking at a picture with warm and cool colors, our brains are interpreting this contrast as distance and separation.
You literally perceive cooler colors as being “further away” regardless of the actual distance they are from you. Just one of the many ways your brain takes shortcuts when forming a view of the world around you.
How to Use It – Composition, Tint and Split Toning
We all know that images with high luminance contrast (bright highlights and dark shadows) are visually interesting. You’re probably already creating this contrast by crushing the blacks and blowing the highlights (not nearly as dirty as it sounds).
Now it’s time to take it a step further and establish a similar contrast in the colors themselves. Remember our skin tone temperature? It was pretty warm, right? Let’s set that person against a cooler background. In doing so, we’ve automatically created color contrast, just by manipulating our audiences’s brains.
Now, let’s push that color contrast even further. Depending on what program you’re using, your method may be slightly different. Most video editing programs have a Tint filter which allows you to change the tint of the highlights and shadows. Lightroom has a super useful Split Toning, which does the same thing.
If your image is properly exposed, your skin tones should be somewhere in the upper mid range. Go ahead and add some warmth into them, maybe yellow or red. Now do the opposite to your darks; make them blue or dark green. In doing so, you’ve actually created more contrast in your image than you originally had. And made and damn good looking picture in the process.
Conclusion – How Important Is It?
Only as important as your client wants it to be. As visual artists, we tend toward bold visual choices, especially in color and framing. Clients are often turned off by such distinct choices.
But it is up to us to educate ourselves and be able to explain to our clients why we shoot, correct and process the way we do. “It just looks cool” will never fly with a stubborn client. But “Complimentary colors create a greater sense of visual depth in the image” just might sway them.
Creating Looks In – Camera
I was second shooting a wedding this year, clicking off max res RAW images and rapidly filling my camera card. I mentioned this to the lead photographer. She told me that she had been shooting jpg’s all day, because she doesn’t need the flexibility of RAW. She knows exactly how she’s going to process the images and space is more important that latitude.
It got me thinking. She was a professional photographer with a ton of experience; the type of person you’d expect to crave the highest quality and broadest latitude out of her images. But she was shooting jpgs. And, in a way, that’s what made her a professional.
Back in the day…
When I first started out making movies, consumer and prosumer editing suites were extremely limited. iMovie was a brand new thing, and a new program called Final Cut Pro was making a splash. I was taking a broadcast class when Apple debuted iMovie, and I cut several promo videos for that class on our old G3 iMac. In fact, I was the student who spearheaded our adoption of FCP and pushed to move the studio to digital, non – linear workspaces.
At that time, with non – linear color grading in it’s early stages and DV images captured in such fragile codecs, your options were limited. Maybe a little white balance correction, maybe a bit of a tint, but that was it. Push those images too far and they quickly broke down into a mess of ugly pixelation.
As filmmakers, we circumvented our inability to color correct by “baking in” color profiles. That is, we created the look of the final movie in the camera, while we were shooting. It was what cinematographers had done for generations.
You set your sharpness, contrast and color balance before you started shooting. This allowed you to capture dynamically colored images, therefore permitting you to move much faster in post. Cut, maybe alter white and black levels in your NLE and send the movie on its way.
Slowly, as technology improved, we were granted more flexibility in the images. You could push them farther, and you could perform real color grades – actually creating a “look” for your film during post production. This was a boon for amateur filmmakers, as it allowed us to finely tailor the images to suit our needs. The whole realm of emotional color theory was opened.
The caveat of color grading in post is simple – you can’t have it both ways. You can’t bake in a look while shooting and generate a different look in post; it’s one or the other. So, if you want to take advantage of the powerful color tools at your disposal, you have to shoot flat. Low contrast, low saturation and low sharpness. Otherwise, you have to push the image even further, past the look you had previously created. The image quickly falls apart.
The Professional’s Toolbox
I used to be a die hard proponent of “shoot flat, grade dynamic”. I assumed that in – camera looks were a thing of the past. But the more work I do, the more I realize that baking in a look still has its place. Sometimes your deadline is too tight to perform a real color grade or sometimes the client just isn’t paying enough to justify another twelve hours spent in the editing room.
Baking in looks, like everything we do, has its place. Think of it more like a monopod or macro lens – some shoots will benefit from having it, others will not. As professionals, part of our job is knowing which toolbox to bring to each shoot. Baked in looks is one of those tools – use it wisely!