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Sense8 – A photographers diary

Because of the overwhelming success of the first season, Sense8 is back and shooting season 2!   This show is like no other I’ve ever been involved with. The sheer scope of it is staggering; 8 months of shooting spanning 9 countries, 10 cities, a large international cast, hundreds of extras, a creative team that is committed to pushing boundaries and making art, and a production team that is one of the best in the business.   This was my second season working with my dear friend Karin and the Wachowski’s, who have been my friends for about fifteen years.   They truly have artist’s souls. Their generosity of heart and their artistic vision inspires anyone who works with them to reach deeper into their own creative selves and to create art with them.

My job for the past two seasons has been to work with Karin and the Sense8 team to capture beautiful, iconic footage of San Francisco, both for the opening montage and as establishing shots for the series itself. For ‘spoiler’ and ‘non-disclosure’ reasons I won’t go into the details of where, what and who we shot over the course of three weeks in San Francisco, but I can speak about the process of shooing B-roll footage for a TV series and what it takes to capture those iconic shots which you may have seen in the series.

 

Shooting from the outside looking in:

If you’ve ever paid attention to establishing shots in a film, especially the opening montage of Sense8, you’ll notice that there is an ‘outside to inside’ rhythm to the shots. In the beginning of the montage  you’ll see stunning sunrises and sunsets, time laps shots at night; shots that give you a sense of standing on the outside looking into the location. Once we’ve established where you are we can take you on a journey inside of the locations to capture the heart and soul of each city.

From a distance:

Capturing beautiful outdoor shots and landscapes is all about light, and being at the right place at the right time however, not much is left to chance.   All of the locations I shoot have been scouted, assessed for the best light, the position of the sun, and accessibility.

San Francisco offers unique challenges for those types of shoots due entirely to the unpredictability of the FOG.   We may have planned for a beautiful sunrise shot, only to wake up at 4am and have the city covered in a thick blanket of white. Sunset shots present the same challenges. There are days when the fog works with you and you get really dramatic footage, and other days where it’s pointless to even try. For people shots, portraits and fashion, I love the fog. Photographers call it “natures soft box” because it diffuses the harsh sun and produces a lovely even light. But for wide-view landscape shots it’s definitely a buzz-kill.   On days like that, we pivot to the other shots in our list that we are able to capture. Shooting cityscape shots at night can be tricky. There is a small window after the sun goes down called “blue-hour” or “gloaming” light. It’s that half hour window before the night sky turns completely black where you get your best shots. You’ll see more depth in the buildings and landscapes.

A few tips for shooting landscapes in San Francisco:

  • Summer is cold, let me rephrase, summer can be freezing here. Bring warm clothes and a hat.
  • Always have a tripod if you’re shooting film or if you’re shooting stills in low light.
  • Have a buddy with you, someone who you enjoy hanging out with. Photographers with big expensive cameras roaming the city alone at night are very visible targets for robbers and muggers.
  • Download this app – Sunseeker. It’s super helpful in knowing where the sun rises and sets in the locations you want to shoot.
  • If you’re looking to capture a sunrise shot: Get up early, check the weather and fog report the night before and give yourself plenty of time to get to your location and set up before the sun comes up.

Getting in close:

Capturing the heart of a city for Sense8, is much like capturing the heart of the events I photograph. You look for narratives and energy. For Sense8, we had our narrative in the story so finding people and events that embody the diverse energy of the city was our main goal.

Each neighborhood, especially in a city like San Francisco has it’s own unique community. The Castro is entirely different from North Beach or China Town. This year, we looked at the footage we had captured for last season and tried to cover neighborhoods and events that we didn’t get the year before.   Having a list of all of the events and festivals going on while you’re in town shooting is crucial. You can’t get to all of them but it gives you options when you’re shooting people.

 

 

A few tips for shooting outdoor festivals:

  • Do your research. See if there are any ‘must see’ events or performances happening so you have a rough goal of what you want to film.
  • If possible, time your shots for ‘best light’. Since most festivals begin during the harsh sunlight mid-day hours, try and hold out for the golden light at the end of the day.
  • Ask permission. It’s important that you ask permission to film someone. Yes, if they are participating in an event in a public space then they’re fair game. But, if you talk to them, tell them what you find interesting or captivating about them and ask their permission to film them, you’ll get a willing and eager subject and much better shots.
  • Look for color, movement and the kind of energy you need for your shots.

On a personal note: I’ve been living in San Francisco for over 20 years now. I moved here at a time when the energy of the city was much different than it is now. You could walk through any neighborhood at any time of day and experience diversity and inclusion.   There was an energy to this city that has seemingly faded away. However, while it may not be as evident as it was before, I can tell you that it’s still there; you just have to look for it.   There are *blogs and publications you can subscribe to that will give you a run down of events happening each week.

 

In the end, Karin and I got most of the shots on our very extensive shot list. We traveled the bay area, shot in some amazing locations and had a great time doing it. I think we were successful because, while we were organized, planned and scouted ahead, we also left room to bend with the changing weather and a production schedule that was always in flux.

I also came away with a few insights as it pertains to my work with my clients here in San Francisco. Whether I’m shooting B-roll for a film production or capturing brand and location shots for my corporate clients, the approach and work ethic is the same: Truly understand what your client wants and needs for their project. Approach that project with the eye of an artist. Be organized, plan for all contingencies and if need be, be prepared to get up at 4am to create artful images.   Oh, and dress warm!

 

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Thrive in Joy

Two years ago, my very dear friends lost their only son to a freak lighting strike on Venice Beach, California.   The event made national news, as did the passing of their son Nick, a gifted baseball player and an incredibly bright soul who was set to attend USC that year.   The loss of a child, no matter the circumstances, is grief beyond belief – but to loose a child so suddenly and randomly is something I can barely wrap my heart around.

Last week, I was in Los Angeles to witness and photograph how my dear friends, two grieving parents, have channeled that grief into something positive and incredibly moving. They started a foundation in Nicks name and held a Baseball event at Notre Dame High School in the Valley. It’s the school where Nick played baseball and the event was created as a venue for people to come together, play ball, connect with friends and family and to raise money for the Thrive in Joy, Nick Fagnano Foundation. The foundation provides scholarships to USC as well donating money and support to several Los Angeles schools and on going projects to make over classrooms in the impoverished districts of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

The event at Notre Dame was a moving celebration of life. Dozens of people, including coaches and umpires, donated their time and energy to create events like; baseball clinics for little kids, a lecture for parents on how to support student athletes or to be better coaches for their kids teams, an exhibition game with many alumni and friends, a softball game for older men and women, food, games and a silent auction with excellent items.

When I shoot events, my job is to capture the energy of that event, the heart and soul of what it’s all about. In this case, I didn’t have to search for that narrative it was all around me. It was an absolute pleasure to have been a part of it. My friends, the volunteers and the participants were all there to celebrate the life of an incredible young man, and in his name, help others to reach their full potential.

Click here to learn more about Thrive in Joy, The Nick Fagnano Foundation

To see the full gallery of images from the event – Click Here.

Here are some images that help tell that story:

Coming to Los Angeles in June

I’ll be making another trip to Los Angeles – June 19-24th and I’m accepting bookings for Photo Shoots!

If you live in LA and have ever wanted to shoot with me this is a great opportunity.   Contact me now to book your shoot!!

 

 

 

LIFE photographer Margaret Bourke-White clad in fleece flight suit while holding aerial camera, standing in front of Flying Fortress bomber in which she made combat mission photographs of the US attack on Tunis.

Inspiration – Margaret Bourke-White

 

As a photographer, when I look for inspiration I seem to gravitate toward the pioneers in the industry. I find it in the photographers who broke new ground at a time when breaking that ground took such passion, will and determination. It’s no coincidence that many of my personal hero’s in that field are women.   Capable and exceptional women are still fighting today to be recognized in a mans-world. They are still fighting for equal pay or to retain their right to choose. Imagine only recently having the right to vote, making your mark on that world and gaining the respect and admiration of your male-peers.   Margaret Bourke-White is one of those women.

From Patrick Murfin’s blog about Margaret:

Sean Callahan, an awe struck admirer and author of the book Margaret Bourke-White: Photographer noted, “The woman who had been torpedoed in the Mediterranean, strafed by the Luftwaffe, stranded on an Arctic island, bombarded in Moscow, and pulled out of the Chesapeake when her chopper crashed, was known to the Life staff as ‘Maggie the Indestructible.”

Margaret not only entered a mans-world as photographer, she went where no woman photographer has gone before. She was assigned to Europe before WWII to document everyday life under Fascists in Italy, Nazi Germany and Soviet Communists. She was granted unprecedented access, including to Joseph Stalin. That rare shot of Joseph Stalin, smiling and relaxed appeared on the cover of Life.

 

When war broke out, she was there to cover it, surviving a Luftwaffe bombardment and firestorm in Moscow. She flew and documented combat bombing missions in North Africa, and survived artillery bombardment in Italy where the army was bogged down in a grueling mountain campaign. Margaret also followed General Patton’s Army toward the end of the war. She was with him at the Buchenwald Death Camp shortly after it was liberated. The photos she took were published in Time and were among the first and most detailed images that Americans were able to see. The experience was a tremendous shock, commenting later:

“Using my camera was almost a relief. It interposed a slight barrier between myself and the horror in front of me.”

 

Her next assignments took her to India where she documented the Independence of India and the bloody partition of India and Pakistan. Again having access and photographing the key players in that conflict including Mohandas Gandhi. The photograph of him, emaciated from fasting and sitting at his spinning wheel became one of the most recognizable images of him.

 

Margaret’s images still remain as some of the most moving and inspiring visual documents of WWII history. She, like so many women during WWII, stepped into a world previously dominate by men and showed her courage, strength and compassion. She did this, not in an age of iPhones and Instagram, she succeeded under the most dangerous and horrific circumstances.

 

She is a huge inspiration to me.

A few powerful examples of Margaret’s work:

 

Resources :

The Not Quite Indestructible Margaret Bourke-White

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Bourke-White

Making the investment in a professional photographer.

We live in the age of social media, Instagram and hi-resolution iPhone cameras. More than ever before, people are expressing themselves as amateur photographers and they’re having a great time doing it. As a photographer, I’m keenly aware that the growing trend in social media photography is opening up access to less experienced and less expensive amateur photographers. In some cases those photographers will serve you well. For instance, if you need a good Facebook profile photo or if you want a friend shoot a party or event, then going the cheaper route will serve you well. With so many friends and family taking up photography, it’s a good time to ask: When should you make that investment and hire a professional?   The best answer I can give you is this: When it matters, when it’s important to you personally or professionally to get the best quality images.

Here are the top five types of jobs for which I’m most frequently hired and a little insight on how I approach them:

Professional headshots – If you are using your headshot to represent yourself in the professional world, hire a professional to take them for you. Whether you’re an actor, author, personal trainer, CEO, performance artist, or business owner, your face is the impression people have of you. When I’m shooting headshots I make sure your wardrobe reflects your professional image by providing a free consultation so that you get the most out of your shots. A professional also knows how put you at ease, give you easy direction and guide you toward being authentic and accessible. We give you enough variety of poses and backgrounds so you have plenty to choose from. The images can be reprinted and enlarged and when you’re done, you’ll have a library of great images to use for a few years. It’s worth the extra time and money.

 

Editorial and Fashion Shoots – I think the reasons for hiring a professional for your Ad campaign are pretty evident. When you look at a finished Ad it’s easy to forget that most Editorial or Fashion shoots are a team effort. The photographer, while our vision, energy and spontaneity are huge assets, is only part of a larger effort to create an Ad campaign. There are clients and art directors, editors, retouchers and graphic artists, make up artists and stylists. There are so many creative minds working together to realize a vision that was conceived months ago. The best photographers are able to work with that team, to give them exactly what they want and to know how and when to contribute their own ideas or sense of style.

 

 

Corporate Brand Photos – Your Company’s online image is HUGELY dependent on the images you choose. This is not something you leave to an amateur. There are dozens of considerations to take into account when setting up a brand shoot. Among them is the energy of the company and it’s co-workers, the color palate of the web site and logo and the message they want to convey to their customers. Each of these considerations steer the art direction of the brand shots. A good photographer can guide small companies through those choices and work with the art director on larger shoots. We have the experience under our belts to be able to not only give the clients what they need, but to offer up ‘out-of-the-box’ images in ways that they may not have envisioned.

 

Location shots – Whether you’re selling a home, putting it on Air BnB or showing off your company space, your online images will be competing with thousands of others. You need well-lit and staged images that highlight your space and makes it stand out above the others.   Hiring a professional who has the equipment, experience and eye to artistically capture your environment is an investment well worth making. When shooting a space for a client, I make sure I’m there at different times of day to catch the best light. I look for interesting details and accents that make the space unique and I understand that images can create a sense of drama, comfort or energy.

 

Weddings and couple photos – Needless to say, your wedding is an incredibly special moment in time. It’s not the time to trust it to an amateur. A good wedding photographer has the experience to be in the right place at the right time. We plan for any lighting contingency and know how to make your special day as stress-free as possible. We communicate with the other vendors involved and work with them as a team. While there may be a lot of pressure to make sure you get all of the shots you need, it’s equally important to make sure you don’t intrude into the couple’s experience of their day. We’re able to put them at ease and allow them to have fun in the process. We also have the resources to offer our clients and their family high-end prints and photo books.

 

When you have a project that matters to you, contact me for a free consultation!