I was in Italy a few months back as part of the Blackmagic Design European Roadshow where I was speaking for Zeiss lenses. Due to an early flight arrival I got to the hotel 3 hours earlier that the rest of the team
I wanted to follow on from the short demo film I created in while I was in Sweden ‘A Portrait of Stockholm’ and shoot a short montage to show at the event. I wanted to demonstrate that the Blackmagic cinema camera can be used like a DSLR and you can turn around content quickly.
The hotel was on the west of town and not easily walkable into the centre. I had only a few hours and so decided to challenge myself. In Stockholm I went for a walk around the block of my hotel and captured life as I saw it pass by.
In Milan the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day and by some lucky quirk of fate I was upgraded to a suite on the top floor of the Marriott Hotel. This room had a high balcony and so I decided to shoot the film without leaving the balcony.
No matter how much experience you have I still enjoy the challenge of a new location and limiting yourself to a single location really works the imagination.
Just like working out if you go to the gym, your creative muscles (the brain) really benefits from a work out.
Working from a single location means you really have to think about light and lens choice to build up a visually engaging sequence.
I had the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, Switronix power battery, Kessler Stealth slider and a set of lightweight Manfrotto legs (from my Stills tripod)
Lens wise I had Zeiss ZF 18mm f3.5, 25mm f2, 35mm f1.4 and 50mm f1.4.
The balcony was 7 floors up and so I had some perspective over the rooftops which opened up a range of shots options. The light was gorgeous, and and fairly low in the sky. This meant long shadows and great contrast on the buildings and rooftops. This exercise of limiting yourself top a single location really forces you to think creatively. You begin to see things simply by standing still in one position for a couple of hours. Also the light changes as it drops down in the sky and this changes the shape of shadows and creates and ever changing landscape.
I always begin with the 18mm lens. I settle on an establishing shot. I call this the postcard shot. If you imagine you were hired to shoot a postcard of the place you are in what would you show in one frame that would best represent they scene that you are seeing? This has the added benefit of allowing you to survey the scene and look for other interesting shots. I tend to shoot 2-3 master shots in this style as this gives me 3 options in the edit. You always want to be cutting in your head when shooting. Be asking yourself what would you cut to next, what do you want to draw the viewers attention to next?
Next you move up to the next focal length, in my case it was the 25mm f2. You then survey the scene looking for interesting shots on this lens and so on to the 35mm and 50mm. The other massive trick is camera movement, subtle camera movement. This is one of the most cinematic tricks you can employ to keep the viewer engaged.
The speed of the slides is important, you want to be super slow – and this is tricky to operate – you need to start smooth, keep a constant speed and then slow down to a smooth stop. Then you want to repeat the move in the opposite direction. The other trick is to include some foreground reference so that you can see give some perspective to the move. Tracking along side a wall or fence can be effective. Moving off a post or a vertical pillar is another way and then tracking into or out of something is a 3rd method.
You’ve heard me say this repeatedly. Light is everything. Embrace it, shoot into it and let it flare and sunburst into your lens. You are always looking for a range of dynamic shots that will cut together into an interesting visual sequence. You will discover shots that you never imagined just by spending some time in one location. This method really forces you to dig deep and come up with imaginative perspective on ordinary scenes.