I was in Stockholm, Sweden for 3 days a few weeks ago week giving a keynote about using Zeiss lenses on the Blackmagic cinema Camera. This was as part of the Blackmagic European Roadshow I was to speak in Stockholm, London and Milan. While there I wanted to shoot something. But what to film? This can be a challenge and on occasion you can hit 'creative block' where you want to shoot but nothing seems to inspire you. The best cure can be to simply go for a walk with your camera and a few lenses.
I use a set of ZF.2 lenses when I travel. On this shoot I had an 18mm f3.5, 25mm f2, 35mm f1.4, 50mm f1.4, 85mm f1.4 and 100mm f2.
Several reasons really; I like the metal construction as this makes them extremely durable. The ZF .2 are Nikon mount and have built in aperture ring which really does make a tremendous difference when exposing because you can adjust the aperture ring smoothly rather than in stepped increments when using Canon less with electronic iris control. I had two fader ND's, a Heliopan 77mm and a Genus 82mm and a series of adaptor rings for each lens. I'm also using a cheap nikon to canon adaptor that I bought at B&H earlier this summer.
I had a really early start to get to Sweden (3.45am) so after a 2 hr sleep on the plane I arrived in Skavsta and after another 1hr 15 coach transfer I was at my hotel. Fortunately I had a terrific room on the top floor which overlooked the water.
My keynote was to illustrate why I choose to shoot with Zeiss lenses and so I wanted to create a unique film just for the audience.
One of the joys of travel is that you arrive in a location with 'fresh eyes' - the secret is to get out quickly and start shooting before the environment becomes too familiar. So I did just that.
The real beauty of this type of shooting is that you really don't need to travel very far to see great shots. The sun was out and it was a crisp cold day so the light was very pure and there was a clarity in the air. But the strong sunlight was also creating lots of 'flare' opportunities
Learn to Embrace Flare
On a recent Cinematic production Workshop in Chicago, a student was wary of shooting an interview with a window throwing light into the lens in the back of shot. He said "I didn't think that was a done thing" and it got me thinking about how challenging it can be if you are becoming a film maker as a secondary career or passionate hobby - because you don't have the benefit of years of shooting and learning from watching others work. Sometimes just having the confidence to shoot something that feels wrong can be a really important step in your film making career.
This is true when shooting into the sun. Most lenses come with some kind of lens shade and this is designed to reduce excess light from 'flaring' the lens which reduces contrast and clarity. But flare can also be your friend. I rarely carry lens hood with my ZF lenses because I love using flare to create entirely unique in camera images. The effect of flaring a lens just can't be replicated as well in post.
Other gear I travel with and used on this shoot.
My trusted Miller Compass 20 and Carbon fibre Solo legs go everywhere with me when I travel. They break apart and fit nicely into the bottom section of my Burton bag. I wrap the head and legs in bubble wrap to add extra protection from those ever so careful baggage handlers at airports. Then I have my Kessler Crane Stealth with the low profile ball head and Kessler Quick Release plate. This is such brilliant accessory because it allows you to work quickly on and off the tripod.
And finally I was using a new Switronix Power Base ProX-70 solution for the Blackmagic camera. This extends the length of time you can shoot - it actually recharges the cameras internal battery while you shoot. I was out for around 4 hours of total shooting and I still had battery power left at the end of the shoot and the camera was pretty much on the whole time.
I basically went for a walk with the camera looking for interesting angles and light. I wanted to capture a portrait of that part of Stockholm where I was staying. Everything I shot was captured within about 1/2 mile radius of my hotel. I started shooting at 12.30pm and wrapped at 4pm. I had no real plan other than to follow the light and end up by the waters edge.
Working with prime lenses forces you to think about each shot so that you select the right focal length. This is a great discipline and you'll develop a more photographic approach to shooting.
The other key to variety of shots is to vary the height at which you shoot from. Don't be shy about getting a lower perspective, this is especially effective when shooting with wider focal lengths. The Kessler Stealth has rubber feet and so it's very low to the ground when you move off from the tripod. This gives a very cool perspective.
I decided to shoot in ProRes which would give me more capacity on the SSD. In total I filmed 75 shots and I edited it in about 2 hrs. This version is ungraded so what you are seeing came straight out of the camera as shot. I have made some minor adjustments to the luminance in a couple of shots that were a bit hot but that's all and only within the colour corrector in Final Cut X.
A Final Note
Thos edit was done very quickly and I have not yet had time to refine it or grade it properly but that is largely besides the point. I wanted to illustrate what the images look like straight out of the camera. please watch the film with this in mind and study how the light reacts with the Zeiss lenses and the image sensor of the BMCC.
At some point I'll grade this and create a tutorial as I do it to show you one route of finishing with DaVinci Resolve.