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M.A.C Dsquared

Atelier. Access to the studio with Dean and Dan Caten before Milan Fashion Week

The advent of the Canon EOS 5D Mk II  and the possibility for stills photographers  to shoot video brings with it a whole new  set of opportunities and challenges, and for  me, the biggest is when I am commissioned  to shoot stills and video on the same shoot. After a couple of successful personal and  commissioned moving picture shoots with  the 5D Mk II, MAC Cosmetics NY  commissioned me to collaborate on a  project during Milan Fashion Week  with Dean and Dan Caten, the Canadian  twin brothers behind Dsquared2.   I love working with MAC, and knew  this would be a challenge, both creatively  and logistically. As always, my close friend  and agent Mark George made sure that  everything was organised to the last word,  from flights, equipment, assistant and hotel,  through to equipment rental and purchase.  Whenever I’m asked to do stills and video  my heart misses a beat, because you have to  be in two places at the same time and be  able to do two things at once. Of course,  this is not possible, and to do the two and  achieve the results for each demands a very  accurate shot list from the client. This is  then agreed by myself, making sure that it’s  achievable and realistic. And you have to be  very regimented and organised.


The idea was to cover the Atelier day on  the Sunday followed by the show on the  Monday. I was to shoot as much relevant  material as possible and I had a free rein as  to how I did this. The creative team at MAC  had some reference material that had been  shot with quite strong direct light and flash,  and they thought this approach would help  with the immediacy of the backstage area.  As I would be shooting both video and  stills, I wanted to use continuous light, and  spent several days researching a lighting  system that would answer MAC’s creative  brief and enable me to work in the cramped  and chaotic space backstage.  I’m not a blogger myself, but I really  appreciate the hard work other photographers  put into sharing their work, thoughts,  inspirations and most importantly,  equipment lists. For me, Vincent Laforet  (blog.vincentlaforet.com) has been a constant  source of inspiration and information. Since I  saw his first film Reverie, which he made  entirely by calling in favours and with his  own money and hard work, I thought: ‘This  is someone of whom I should take notice.’  Vincent’s blog is like the holy grail for  someone new to video, and in particular the  5D Mk II. From his blog I discovered the  existence of Lite Panels (litepanels.com),  which is a magical Hollywood LED  continuous lighting system.  I immediately ordered a 1×1 daylight  panel, along with a mini-plus set and a  micro. The large 1×1 needed some additional batteries which amazingly give  it 1.5 hours of almost continuous use,  while the mini-pluses come as a kit with  everything you need. This shoot was early  on in my 5D baptism of fire, and I decided  that an external monitor would be essential.  Again, thanks to Vincent, I managed to  order the latest ikan 5600 HD TFT LCD  monitor from the US (ikancorp.com).  I rigged an external flash bracket to the  camera and then attached the monitor with  the addition of a cable tie to stabilise it. The  monitor connected to the camera via an  HDMI cable and had its own battery pack  attached. I made sure each piece of  equipment had two sets of batteries and  chargers, including the 5D Mk II, which  had the battery grip, two batteries, plus the  AA cassette and several packs of lithium  batteries. As always, I used a 1TB LaCie big  disk and a 500GB rugged with ChronoSync  to make sure everything was backed up.  I have to be honest and say I knew of  Dsquared2, but had not realised just how big a   brand it was until we arrived in Milan and  just about every 48-sheet poster hoarding  was for them. I tried not to feel nervous, but inevitably, I  did. In fact, I always do prior to shooting.  However, with a really experienced assistant  and thorough preparation, I feel better. For  this shoot, I had Roger Richards, who is  meticulous and resourceful while sticking to  you like a shadow. The shoot started on the  Sunday when we entered the hallowed  house of Dsquared2, passing the sharpsuited  security guards and shiny black  Mercedes-Benz G Wagons into a beautiful  courtyard and studios.


The day was frenetic and it took all our energy and resources to stay on top of the shot list. In hindsight, I should have had at least two assistants.


After adding four red heads and the  introductions with MAC Cosmetics vice president  of make-up artistry Gordon  Espinet, Sam McKnight (hair) and of course  Dean, Dan and the model, Roger and I hung  back and let everyone do their thing. After a  while I started to move in a little closer, and  along with our art director from MAC NY,  we started to tick off the shot list.  For stills, I used my ever-faithful Canon  EOS 1Ds Mk III as I prefer its focusing  system and general feel. Initially, for video  we kept the 5D Mk II along with a RØDE  microphone and ikan on the tripod. But as I  started to feel the pressure, the first thing to  go was the ikan, as it didn’t seem to give  me the clarity and definition I could get  from the 5D Mk II’s built-in monitor, and it  had a two-second lag from pressing the  shutter release to recording. I then decided  to ditch the tripod and rigged a makeshift  steady-cam from a Manfrotto Monopod and  started to follow the action. As with most  shoots, everyone was very relaxed and  co-operative, and I was careful to be as  sympathetic to their space and yet still get  the results I needed. The worst that can  happen is that you are told to hang back,  but to my surprise this did not occur.  The day gave us some interesting results  and I was particularly impressed with the  Litepanels 1×1, which gave a gritty yet soft  daylight look, which we subsequently  softened even more with frost. It was  particularly good at putting lovely big  square highlights in the eyes.


Monday brought new challenges, as we  had no control over the available light and  the show was on a large scale, which meant  a great deal of running back and forth for  Roger and our art director, who had no  choice but to become a second assistant.  Once again, everyone was great and I got  even closer to Dean and Dan as they went  through rehearsals. The day was frenetic and  it took all our energy and resources to stay  on top of the shot list. In hindsight, I should  have had at least two assistants, if not three.  Roger was busy trying to back up the stream  of CF cards, as well as follow me with the  Lite Panels, cameras and lenses. At one  point, someone backstage shut the lid on  the laptop as it was downloading files,  but fortunately Roger had been really  meticulous when downloading and all was  okay. Just to be on the safe side, a security  guard was posted next to our desk.  The big challenge on day two was  capturing the key shot of our model in the  line-up, as the area was almost totally dark  and jammed with stylists, make-up and  security. We began shooting and I had to  shout directions over the noise as models  started to line up. The usage agreement was  for one model, so we couldn’t show any  others. The jostling continued as security  would try to move me on until they realised  I had permission to shoot. Our model took  the direction beautifully. The shoot was for  make-up and the outfit included sunglasses,  but as with all great models, she made it  look easy and, if anything, the glasses added  to the look. Roger followed an imaginary  clock face around the model, and I shouted  out the numbers that corresponded with  where I wanted the light. The mayhem  added to the whole atmosphere, which,  of course, was the intention.


I have mixed feelings about my work after  a shoot, but usually it starts to grow on me.  Looking back, I would probably have shot it  with more LEDs and definitely more  assistants. With the stills I have total control  over edit and post, but with most MAC  projects I make my favourite video selects  and then pass them to Austin Lynn Austin in  New York (austinlynnaustin.com). If you are  going to hand over editorial control, it’s  good to put it in safe hands, and there are  few safer than MAC Cosmetics and Austin.