Improve Photography Podcast

improve-photography-podcastA big thanks to Darin Mellor and Jim Harmer over at the Improve Photography Podcast for the invite to come on the show and talk about sports photography. Improvephotography.com is one of the biggest photo blogs around and one of the most popular online training site dedicated to helping people learn photography. Their podcast is top notch and has an incredible worldwide audience of a half million followers, so it was really an honor to be invited on the show. The guys were great to work with and it was fun to chat about the BYU wireless workflow, autofocus tips and even mirror-less cameras. Check out my episode at improvephotography.com.

Christopher Lloyd

grantieFLATS

I don’t get starstruck very often, but I recently had the chance to shoot Christopher Lloyd for BYUtv’s production of Granite Flats and lets just say that I was very excited for the opportunity. It may have something to do with the fact that I’m a Sci-Fi geek who as a kid watched Doc Brown explain time paradoxes in Back to the Future a few hundred times. In this show he is playing the role of a professor who moves into Granite Flats to become an english teacher to many of the main characters. He’s a lot of fun to work with and a true professional.

I do a lot of set photography for BYUtv, not only on Granite Flats, but for several of their shows. This includes shooting stills on set of scenes being filmed and marketing shoots that are set up on location, usually in a very short time frame. I had just a few minutes to get as many different looks as I could so that BYUtv could use a variety of images in their marketing and social media campaigns to advertise Season 3 of the show. In this type of situation, I try to find a location that will give me several options without having to move very far. Christopher’s character is an eccentric english teacher at the high school so I thought it would be best to put him in that setting as much as possible. I spent a good hour scouting the best locations in the school and decided on starting at the back entrance to the school. I figured if I could put Christopher there I could get a shot of him in front of the double doors at the schools entrance and then I could move to his side and shoot him with the brick wall trailing off in the background. The plan was to have him walk inside the doors and go into the very first classroom on the bottom floor, which was maybe ten steps from the first setup. In there I could get a shot of him from two different directions, so with two spots 15 feet apart I had 4 completely different looks.

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Canon 5D Mark III, 24-70 2.8 lens at 38mm, ISO 100, 1/200 Sec at F/3.5 – Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU

I decided to prelight both locations and trigger the lights with a Pocket Wizard Plus III. This is done to save the time it takes to move and reposition lights and then dial them into the correct exposures, and remember, every second counts. Both stations were on different channels, so when Christopher walked into the classroom, all I had to do was change the channel on my triggering wizard and the second set of lights was ready to go. We did the entire shoot with three Einstein E640 monolights, powered by Vagabond Mini Lithium batteries because we didn’t have any power on the set at that time. We did test shots of all my setups and by the time that Christopher arrived I was really confident that we would be able to get the shots we needed.

On shoots like this I always shoot with a wireless tether, sending all my images instantly to my iPad which is either held by an assistant, or in this case my art director Michelle. We use the Canon WFT-E6A wireless file transmitter sending jpgs to my iPad which is running the shuttersnitch app. Michelle was able to see each photo 2 seconds after they are captured, which helps us know if there are any adjustments we need to make or if we have the shot that we need so we can move on to the next look. When Christopher arrived we showed him the test shot I took of Michelle on the iPad so he knew what we were trying to accomplish. I think this type of feedback is very helpful for actors, by knowing what the camera is seeing they can adjust their performance to it.

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Canon 1D-X, 70-200 2.8 lens at 102mm, ISO 125, 1/250 Sec at F/3.5 – Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU

Both of these shots were done with a single Einstein E640 light with a stripbox and fabric grid just to light and shape his face and I let the overcast ambient take care of everything else. I like the look of the fabric grid over the softbox because you get a great quality of soft light from the softbox, but the grid keeps it from wrapping to much and gives the light an edge. Christopher gave me exactly the look I was going for, so it didn’t take long for us to get the shot and move on.

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A test shot of the classroom set with the 2 Einstein lights. Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU

For the next shot, my idea was to shoot him through the window panes from outside so that I could frame him in the pane. In this photo I have a wide shot of the classroom so that you can see I had another Einstein with a stripbox and fabric grid set up camera left and illuminating Chris and camera right I had another Einstein with a barn door acting as a separation light and filling in the other side of his face.

We walked him into the classroom and here came the hard part. The school is unheated and it was freezing, but I really didn’t want him to be in his overcoat for the shots inside the classroom, it wouldn’t have made much sense visually. I explained that we wanted to get a shot of him through the window panes, like he was keeping an eye on the students outside and then I sheepishly asked him if he would be willing to take off his coat for the shot, apologizing for the cold all the way throughout. His response was classic “Yes, its cold. Ahh, but for the sake of art.” Then he pulled off the coat and went right to my mark. I actually had to have him stand on top of a apple box, just because I needed him to be up a bit higher so that he was centered in the window pane.

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Canon 1D-X, 70-200 2.8 lens at 95mm, ISO 125, 1/250 Sec at F/5 – Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU

This was the shot that I really wanted to get. I shot it at F/5 to darken up the ambient of the room so that Christopher would stand out starkly against the dark background. I love how the metal window frame and the dirty panes of glass gave some texture to the photo. For the final shot I wanted to use the windows from inside the classroom. I grabbed my stripbox and positioned it camera left up high and asked Christopher to smile and to look up into the light.

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Canon 5D Mark III, 24-70 2.8 lens at 70mm, ISO 200 1/200 Sec at F/3.5 – Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU

With that photo we were done, I thanked him profusely for his time and he went onto set to film a scene. When all was said and done I had taken 150 shots in exactly ten minutes, which to be honest was more time than I was expecting. Its pretty gratifying to have a shoot of this scale go off without a hitch, but I think that all the work I put into planning the shoot and testing each of the locations solved most of the problems that usually come up. Granite Flats is a really fun show that is great for the entire family, if you haven’t seen it yet you can catch up at BYUtv.org.

Making Swan Lake

I’ve wanted to shoot a dancer on the water for the longest time, so when I found out that our Theatre Ballet would be presenting “Swan Lake”, I knew that I finally had my opportunity.  Shani Robison, the Director of BYU’s Theatre Ballet, liked the concept and we set about to make it happen. My idea was to put the dancer on a platform about an inch below the water, and take the photo at sunset with a simple background. I used Google Earth to scout all the small lakes within an hour or so of campus, and I found one that was about 45 minutes away. I went up to the lake early one morning to see it for myself and found a spot that would allow me to get the shot I wanted in about 2-3 feet of water.

Next came the platform. Stability was the most important thing about the setup, because I didn’t want the ballerina to end up in the lake instead of on top of it. My dad is a general contractor, so of course I went to him for ideas on how to make this happen. What we settled on was a metal platform that is used by guys that hang drywall. It was about 12 inches wide with very sturdy adjustable legs.

Bella Torgerson and Todd Wakefield find the perfect place for the platform in the mud. Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo
Bella Torgerson and Todd Wakefield find the perfect place for the platform in the mud. Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo

My plan was to set the platform in the mud where the water was 2-3 feet deep and then carry the dancer out to the platform. Continue reading Making Swan Lake

Dancing in the Rain – BYU Photo

By Mark A. Philbrick and Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo

A few months back we were approached by our dance department to create a poster for their upcoming concert. One of the featured numbers involved students dancing in the rain so we thought that would make the perfect poster, as long as we provided the rain. In case you were wondering, we kind of have an affinity for water shoots as of late (Softball – Gymnastics). Continue reading Dancing in the Rain – BYU Photo

A Spin on Christmas – BYU Photo

By Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo

This year we tried to create a really unique image for the annual “Christmas Around the World” Concert with the BYU Folk Dancers Company. We wanted to shoot directly down on a group of dancers with some fog and lots of different colored lights. The best way to do this was to attach our camera to a lighting bar directly above the stage and take it up 20 feet above the dancers. Continue reading A Spin on Christmas – BYU Photo

R.I.P. Kodak T-Max 3200

Salt Lake Community College Basketball shot on Kodak T-Max 3200 Black and White Film. Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU

Kodak just announced that they will stop production on T-Max 3200 Black and White film. As a freshman student at Salt Lake Community College in 1997, I first used 3200 to shoot the colleges basketball games in a very dark gym. I still remember how amazing it was to be able to shoot action in such unfavorable conditions. T-Max 3200 was a crazy emulsion that you could push and pull like crazy and it had a really cool grain structure. Yet one more relic of a forgotten age that will be sorely missed.

And here is another one from Dot Paul at the University of Georgia:

Photo by Dot Paul

So, this is one of the first images I ever shot with tmax 3200 back in 1997 when I first began studying photography–shot with my Nikon N6006 and the kit lens that came with — I think a 35-50 f4.5/5.6. This is my dad, sitting at the kitchen table — all natural light just monkeying around and got very, very lucky. A little burning and dodging in the darkroom too but not really all that much. When I read they were going to discontinue the film, I immediately ordered 10 rolls from Adorama. I’ve got my grandfather’s Nikon SP now and I’m looking forward to running that film through it!

Litepanels Demo

As still photographers move more into the video world, we’re once again in need of some continuous light sources that can work for both our still and our video work. Here is a quick demo I did with the Litepanels Micro Pro and the 1X1. These lights are quickly taking over the broadcast world, and anybody who have ever burned themselves on a hot light can understand why. We have a 4 light kit that has two 1×1 spots and two 1×1 floods. We use these LED lights for both still and video shoots, and they are quickly becoming my favorite lights. They are daylight balanced, fully dimmable, cool to the touch and they travel like a champ. My only complaints are that they are very pricey and they need to be brighter. I’m sure that the next generation will improve on both counts, but for now when we are shooting video we always try to completely black out a room and light it only with Litepanels. Here are some examples of work that we have done with them:

Continue reading Litepanels Demo