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 1x1 daylight panel, along with a mini-plus set and a micro. The large 1x1 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 1x1, 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.