As a commercial photographer it’s my job to make engaging visuals for others. This means that although commissions are a collaborative experience, the over all vision of the shoot is a compromise. This is not a bad thing but after a busy season of shoots I like to realign my own vision by shooting a self assignment.
Self assignments are a way to grow as an artist while testing ones skills in a particular area. In some areas of photography, like fashion, self assignments are referred to as ‘tests’ and as the name suggests you come up with concept, detail out the specifics, gather your team and shoot.
Tip – Self assignments combined with photowalks are a solid way to grow. Although with photowalks it’s easy to shoot a variety of subjects, focus your creativity on one subject for a series of images.
For this particular self assignment I wanted to test my skills in a full out hybrid shoot. The overall goal of this project was to create a portrait of transformation in the form of a short video. I asked myself how would this look visually and how would I communicate this message through video?
Since video is nothing more than a series of still photos captured in sync with an audio track, I shoot my video like a photographer. This means I mainly use still photography tools like the GH4, a basic tripod and keep my lens choices simple. If I were to shoot this test as a still shoot I’d end up using the same tools. The key concept here is that shooting one still frame per second we’re recording 30 frames per second. How I operate in a hybrid shoot is the same as in a still shoot.
A nice by-product of a self assignment is to test gear. Because I shot everything in 4K with the GH4 I had plenty of content to pull photographs from.
Some things I wanted to test
• autofocus while shooting video
• optical image stabilization
• vintage glass
• new concepts in animated portraiture
Having autofocus with face detection while shooting video is a godsend. The GH4 just locks onto the actors face and it works. Not having to focus while shooting video frees me up to work on other areas of importance like being creative on set. Having AF with video is also a stress reliever and you can’t put a price on that. 🙂
Tip – Remember that video is a series of still photographs and with 4K each photography is over 8 megapixels so if a frame of 4K video is sharp you’re good to pull it and make traditional print based products.
Because I believe photographers should shoot video like taking photographs, I don’t use camera rigs or other external stabilization tools with exception to a small tripod and Optical Image Stabilization. While I often shoot video with the camera locked down on a tripod, sometimes I want movement in my shots. For this reason I wanted to test out Panasonic’s O.I.S. built into the lenses I was using. For this shoot I used the Nocticron and 35-100 f2.8 both of which have O.I.S.. Handheld shots that are a bit loose feel authentic, but I still wanted the images to be somewhat smooth. While the O.I.S is not going to provide me with the same effect as a gymbal costing thousands of dollars, the results are more than smooth enough for simple shots.
Tip – Take it easy with coffee and other energy drinks on set. Having a major dose of caffeine won’t help keep your shots steady, seriously.
To keep my skills fresh I’m always working on next gen concepts in portraiture so for this shoot I wanted to experiment with animating my lights and multi-prisim glass. Fiilex sent some LED lights to supplement my K311[link to my review] kit that I use for all my work. They sent me a Q500 and a second K311 kit so I had a total of 9 including my two battery powered P100’s. Photography is all about how you manipulate light so if you’re light is not good to begin with, you’re facing a uphill battle from the get go. I have no reservations when it comes to saying what I feel is the best gear for how I shoot – Lumix for photography and Fiilex for lights. Being able to roll 4K video while the GH4 is constantly keeping the actors face in focus and being able to adjust the color of the lights all at the same time is just mind blowing. It’s so easy to shoot like this and get killer results.
The kaleidoscope optic I used in the final shot is a vintage lens I found on eBay. Since the GH4 is mirrorless I often adapt vintage and rare glass to the body to get a unique look but for the final shot of Light and Color I wanted to animate the prism effect while I recorded in 4K. To do this I mounted the vintage lens on the front of the 35-100 f/2.8 and rotated the lens while recording. And yes, the face detection AF worked shooting through the kaleidoscope optic. I shot a few takes to get the rotation speed right then had Sarah, the actor, time the rotation with a head tilt.
Since I tuned the color live in camera my post production was pretty straight forward. Getting the image looking close to perfect as possible in camera is part of the test but it’s also good practice for everyday shooting. Don’t save everything for post or expect it to be fixed in post. Remember that since video is 30 photos per second (I prefer the look with 30 or 60 FPS) having to fix a mistake in post can take hours. Before photoshop there was a saying, “get it right in camera” and it’s a good idea to practice this concept today as well.
Testing your skills on a regular basis is a good practice to get into. Create with purpose, have goals in mind and have fun. Even if your test does not come out exactly like you might envision it (they rarely do) the skills you learn on a test are priceless.
If you want to see how all this works in action I often hold live shoots at Lumix dealers around the country. Check the calendar on Lumix Lounge to find dates and times. As a photographer, shooting video can be challenging but if you’re committed to your art and craft, you’ll grow creatively in new and exciting ways by testing your skills on a regular basis.
Giulio Sciorio – Photographer
Small Camera Big Picture
Kristen Wrzesniewski – Producer
Sarah Creel – Actor
Maggie Mae Martine – Wardrobe
Brittany Lloyd – Hair, Makeup
Tre Miles – Assistant
Lighting Provided by Fiilex
Cinemagraphs made with Flixel Cinemagraph Pro.