Photography Tutorial: Sunset self-portraits using off-camera fill-flash

Getting creative with random kids in Bali… I found myself alone on the west coast of Bali with time to kill. If you’ve been to the island, you will know that every single sunset is spectacular: vibrant, detailed, textured. I have a camera & an off-camera flash… time to play!

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Exposing for the sky at sunset will make your foreground subjects silhouette

Silhouettes are great. Their shapes can be simple and distinct, and allowing your subject to go completely dark to expose for the sunset means the colors will remain rich and saturated. You’ll retain the details in the sky and present a more accurate mood. However, if you want to get the detail of the person in the foreground, you can either create a HDR image with multiple photos, or, use a flash to fill in your shadows.

The light was changing rapidly and a local crowd gathered to watch me muck around with a number of setups. This kid (top) wandered into my frame, so I picked him up to use him as a prop! This photo would be a silhouette if not for the flash, so if you’re interested, here’s how you would accomplish a shot like this:

  1. Set your camera to manual exposure, and place it on a tripod. Make sure you are shooting RAW instead of JPEG so you have maximum latitude in this high contrast setting.
  2. Adjust your ISO, aperture, and shutter speed until you have a correct exposure for the sunset. My settings here happen to be ISO400, f8, 4sec.
  3. I’ve set the focus manually to a spot I marked in the sand, and f8 will keep the image sharp so I have a little latitude to move around.
  4. Place your flash to the left or right of camera to get more shapely shadows. You’ll need a wireless trigger on your camera to trip the off-camera flash. Put your flash in manual mode, and test out how much power output you need to expose the subject.
  5. I have a remote shutter trigger in my right hand on a 2 sec delay. This allowed me time to pick up the kid before the camera fired.
  6. Because the burst of the flash is so instantaneous, the kid and I are sharp even though we’re moving. The black shadow beneath me is the trail of my silhouette over the remaining 4 seconds the shutter was open to expose for the sky – basically me putting the bewildered little guy back on the sand and returning him to his mother.

I’ll write another post soon about how to shoot a similar setup during daylight, as there are some basic principles you can follow to get your settings in the ballpark before fine tuning for the particular environment.

To finish off, here is the actual image I was going for… something I could use on a website to illustrate a photographer in action in a dramatic location (despite that – if you know anything about speedlites – I’m “adjusting” the wrong side of the panel, and, really, you should never look into a firing strobe in the first place….). But it pictoralizes a “behind-the-scenes” nonetheless.

Setting a speedlite to manual power to compensate for an exposure set for the sunset

“Crushed” Feature Film Shoot

This week I’m shooting set photos for my fellow AFTRS alumni Megan Riakos on her debut feature film Crushed. It’s also starring one of my best friends Sarah Bishop!

Our set is a vineyard in Mudgee, with DP Mike Steel at the helm, another friend who has shot one of my own films.

Good to be back out in the country side. There are fires casting a smoke haze over the whole region though, giving the sunset an extra red glow.

And as the sun comes up over the vineyard, that’s a wrap on Crushed!!

Crushed Cast and Crew

Check it out on Facebook: http://on.fb.me/1eIV0HQ

Ava DuVernay: What do you want?

I love this advice from filmmaker Ava DuVernay at the 2013 Film Independent Forum. The last question put to her was: “Should we keep making 50K films, even if they don’t launch us to Sundance?” To which Ava replies, “the question is, what do you want?”

Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why do you make films? What does success in filmmaking look like to you?

Telescope Timelapse for Daft Punk’s Album Launch

I’ve been babysitting the giant dishes at Australia Telescope today, in preparation for Daft Punk’s album launch. How are the two related you ask? Good question. Sony is keeping quiet on that one.

I sat in the dry grass with my calculator computing how many rotations we could get the telescope to make over 300 x 4-second intervals. Three and a bit, it turns out. The dish takes about 9 minutes to make a full rotation, and it takes me about 20 minutes to create a 12 second shot.

Australia_TelescopeSurrounded by kangaroos and hares, I thought how lucky we are in Australia to have such a beautiful landscape and fresh air (and how lucky I was to have access to a piece of machinery the weight of 1.5 jumbo jets). Six telescopes line the 3km railway track with a fibre optic cable sending enormous amounts of data back to the server in a room insulated to prevent radio interference. Even mobile phones have to be switched off at the entrance to the property.

I’m also filming night time-lapse, but at 40 second intervals, will generate only 3.5 seconds of film every hour. Slow going. However, the star trails look astonishing with the milky way rotating past the dish’s upturned nose! I’m working at the end of the track, and it feels very remote. There’s no moon, no ambient light, just a countless array of stars above this enormous machine. Its motors grind away in the otherwise silent landscape. It slowly turns its face towards me and I can’t help feeling like it has a personality of its own.

The staff at the CSIRO have been great sports with all the filming and interviews.

During Daft Punk’s show, I went up in a light aircraft to shoot aerial shots of the dance floor. This was the best angle to see its design: a spinning record. However, looking through a lens with a moving horizon while doing constant 2g turns did make me chuck twice!

That’s a Wrap!

IMG_4363I have wrapped photography on MONKEYWRENCH after a 2 day shoot! The crew created a superb look and feel and the actors delivered hilarious performances. Everyone was a delight to work with, and perhaps as reward for making it through Hurricane Sandy and a snow storm, we were gifted with perfect weather over the weekend.

Have a look behind the scenes at our steadicam in action in this video:

If you would like to see more behind the scenes production photos, visit the album on Facebook.

UPDATE: You can watch the completed film here.

MONKEYWRENCH – a 16mm short film in NYC

ABOUT MONKEYWRENCH…

Monkeywrench is a 7-minute comedy shot on 16mm film on location in New York. We have assembled a talented team of creatives to produce it!

Why this film? Because in the spectrum of life, monkeys and heartache are at opposite ends. Everyone loves monkeys, especially the fluffy, stuffed kind, that a special someone might win for you at a State Fair. Aww. On the other end… you have the every-atom-in-your-being-is-not-okay-right-now process of being wrenched from someone or through something, like that same special someone breaking your heart.

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Vanessa is suspicious when her ex-boyfriend Josh unexpectedly arrives on the doorstop of her New York City apartment, offering to fix her sink with his wrench… and holding a giant fluffy monkey.

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And in this process that you know is called ‘moving on’, because your friends keep yelling at you to ‘just move on!’, what often remains is getting annoyed about stuff you accidentally lost. Or can’t bare to let go of. Little things, or maybe not so little. Like maybe a monkey. But you can’t just go back and ask for it. Or can you?

In 7 minutes – comedy meets romance, break-up meets make-up, and… monkey meets wrench.

THE CHARACTERS

JOSH

Buff, good-looking, 20s. He is an ambitious, out-spoken, likeable Californian living in New York. Masculine, but not particularly handy with a wrench. He recently broke off his long term relationship with his Australian girlfriend, Vanessa.

VANESSA

Also in her 20’s, Vanessa is an artsy Australian who has been living in New York for several years. She is emotionally dependant, unwilling to let go of her connection to Josh… and fiery when scorned.

NICKY

Nicky is Vanessa’s housemate and best friend. A Brooklyn local, Nicky is fiercely protective of Vanessa’s interests and suspicious of Josh’s intentions.

THE PEOPLE BEHIND THE FILM

DIRECTOR – DAVID JOSHUA FORD

David Joshua Ford is a film & television director based in New York. Ironically, David didn’t have a TV set until the age of 12. A trip to the cinema was a luxury… and an escape. It was literature that stirred his imagination, and as an avid reader, his desire to understand the world grew through stories.

A directing graduate of the prestigious Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS), his work deals with themes such as human relationships, cross-cultural encounters and social imbalances. David’s visual style often favours heightened realism, with bold colours and contrasts.

David’s website and previous works: https://davidjoshuaford.com

JEFF MELANSON – DP

Check out Jeff’s amazing images on his website: http://www.jeffmelanson.net/

WRITER – MICHARNE CLOUGHLEY

Micharne holds a Graduate Diploma of Dramatic Arts (Playwriting) from the National Institute of Dramatic Art. In 2012 her play ONE FLESH was directed by Anthony Skuse at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. Her work has previously been included in festivals by Playwriting Australia, Baggage Productions, the NYC Playwrights and Short and Sweet Festival. Micharne co-wrote the web series MY SECRET FRIEND (Think(it) Film Assembly, due for release late 2012) and the short films FREE BIKE and PERSPECTIVE, directed by Kristen Kress and featured on the Home Beautiful Magazine website.

PRODUCER – ALISON PATCH

is a California native who escaped back East 7 years ago to pursue her life-long dream of seeing leaves change colors and snow falling from the sky. From the mountains of the Caucasus to the streets of New York, she has produced films across the world, giving her a knack for making things happen in even the most creative circumstances.

UPDATE: Watch the finished film here.

Tropfest New York!

From the Tropicana Cafe in Sydney 20 years ago to Bryant Park in New York City, Tropfest continues to make it’s mark across the world! I am thrilled to be able to celebrate its inaugural screening with a bunch of Aussies and a few Americans 🙂

New York Fashion Week 2012: Norma Kamali & Jack Feldstein

Australian filmmaker inspires New York fashion icon Norma Kamali

NEW YORK –

“The minute I met Jack, I knew we would be friends forever.”

Fashion icon Norma Kamali walks alongside filmmaker Jack Feldstein, both dwarfed by 8-foot Glamazons at the launch of her KamaliKulture collection for New York Fashion Week 2012.

Why is that? I ask. “Because I’m small, and the right size to be a friend!” exclaims Jack, and Norma breaks into laughter.

In an increasingly common tale in the digital age, Norma discovered Jack’s neon animation films on YouTube in 2010. After a “first date” to see a 3D documentary, the techno-savvy designer, renown for being ahead of the curve, took on the challenge of making a 3D fashion film for her spring line last September, despite neither of them having worked with the format before.

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