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October 7th, 2014

FREE Travel Photography Video Tutorial

If you missed Pulitzer-prize winning photographer Brian Smith’s live presentation on travel photography at B&H Photo in New York City last month, you can now see it online for free. Brought to you by Sony, this inspiring and educational one-hour video is filled with stunning images, practical tips and technical advice to help you capture better travel photos. Take it from Brian, he’s traveled six continents, taken thousands of photos as a Sony Artisan of Imagery and built a stunning collection of travel photos that will motivate you to get brave and creative with your camera, especially when you travel.

Brian-Smith-Sony-A7R
Brian Smith with the Sony a7R

Sponsored by Sony, creator of Sony Alpha-series mirrorless and DSLR cameras

October 2nd, 2014

“How Come This Stuff Isn’t Animated?” The Story of Mr. GIF

Pop star Miley Cyrus and the rapper 2 Chainz backstage at Jeremy Scott's S/S 2015 show at New York fashion week. © Mr. GIF

Pop star Miley Cyrus and the rapper 2 Chainz backstage at Jeremy Scott’s S/S 2015 show at New York fashion week. © Mr. GIF for Milk Made

Mr. GIF wants to animate the Internet. The creative duo has made photographing and illustrating GIFs—the 27-year-old bitmap image format that supports crude animation—their calling card. They’re the team that Marc Ecko, Evian and Transamerica tap when they need to quickly make strong, easily shareable moving images for whatever they’re selling. In just a few short years, they evolved from a pair of daydreaming MTV plebes to shooting Miley Cyrus and 2Chainz backstage at fashion week. To them, still images that move were obviously taylor-made for the Internet and its thousands of screens. But can you really make a career of making GIFs?

The duo, Jimmy Repeat and Mark Portillo, are college buddies. They studied advertising design together at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Their studies were almost irrelevant—Portillo didn’t even finish—but the renowned art and design school is where the two would meet. Less than seven years later, they would quit their jobs to make GIFs—the full-time for clients like and others. Even an insurance company.

Having gone their separate ways after school, Repeat and Portillo reconnected under the umbrella of Viacom, at MTV’s “Geek” vertical, which covers cartoons, comics and videogames. Doing research for work, they devoured the same comics, but were struck by the format’s limitations.

Maria Sharapova for Evian at the U.S. Open © Mr. GIF

Maria Sharapova for Evian at the U.S. Open © Mr. GIF

“We were like, ‘How come this stuff isn’t animated yet?’” Portillo remembers. “We read Akira and we were like, “If this background was giving me seizures, it would be so much better.’”

So they dreamed up a GIF comic over smoke breaks outside Viacom’s Times Square HQ, and quickly learned why animation was so expensive (it’s a lot of work!). They abandoned the book idea, throwing the frames they’d finished up on Tumblr. But they were having fun. Illustrations gave way to photos, and a thought: “How is the GIF better than the JPEG?”

“We saw the potential,” Repeat says. “Everywhere you look, there’s a screen.”

As relative neophytes—Repeat especially—they were intrigued by the technology of photography. They experimented with odd cameras well-suited to the medium; at first, digital models like the Fujifilm FinePix Real3D W3, but they would later become obsessed with the aesthetics of analog. Toy cameras like Lomography’s Pop 9 (a nine-lens camera that makes nine exposures at once) and ActionSampler (four lenses, four consecutive frames), even 3D film cameras like the Nimslo 3D. The multi-exposure cameras helped streamline their workflow—helpful, as they had to develop and scan each frame to animate their GIFs. They found creative ways to merge digital and analog, using a DSLR to make time-lapse clips of instant film as it developed. They have a lot of cameras.

Marc Ecko, founder of Eckō Enterprises, Mr. GIF’s first big client. © Mr. GIF

They spent their nights and weekends making GIFs and posting them to Tumblr for free. It wasn’t long before Mark Ecko came calling (tweeting, actually) with their first paid gig, animating his upcoming TEDx presentation. They powered through it in three days. “I think we made 200-300 GIFs in one night,” Portillo says. “It was intense.”

“That was the beginning of the end for our day jobs,” Repeat says. “Like, ‘Oh, this is what a good client’s like?” Ecko dug the work, and they started to get more gigs. They GIF’d the U.S. Open for Evian, and fashion week for Tumblr. By 2013, they had quit MTV, and would soon score a huge project: a year-long Tumblr promoting the San Francisco-based insurance company Transamerica’s “Transform Tomorrow” campaign.

The pair convinced Transamerica to send them across the country making GIFs of America’s cities. They flew drones over rooftop gardens in Detroit, Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota and, of course, San Francisco and the iconic Transamerica building. They booked a room at a luxury hotel with the perfect view for a 24-hour time-lapse of the skyline. Transamerica was skeptical of the format—until they saw the popularity of the first clip they posted. Now, when you go to www.transformtomorrow.com, their fancy hotel view of San Francisco graces the background, the current time of day reflected by the time of day in the 24-hour time-lapse they made.

A time-lapse GIF of the San Francisco skyline, that Mr. GIF made for Transamerica, prominently featuring their iconic headquarters. © Mr. GIF

A time-lapse GIF of the San Francisco skyline, that Mr. GIF made for Transamerica, prominently featuring their iconic headquarters. © Mr. GIF

Now certified pros, they’re still almost instinctively inventive with their resources. When a client that was supposed to fly them out and put them up in Austin, TX, to shoot a SXSW panel told them that they had to pay their own way, they got their drive down to Texas sponsored. Their friends at Tumblr would connect them with Transamerica, but it was the GIFs they shot on the trip to Austin that would help them land the gig. When a job for St. Ives took them to Hawaii, they stayed an extra week and shot Honolulu for Transamerica. Since they like to shoot film (which is expensive to buy and process), rather than go to a professional processing house, they trained the local CVS employees how to prep and cut their negatives, adding a healthy tip for their trouble.

One thing they learned early on is that new work leads to new work. They needed to show clients they could make the work, so before they had paid work to show, they just did it for free, and for fun. The fun shows up in the work, and it works.

September 12th, 2014

Sony Courts Filmmakers with New Full Frame Lens

Sony’s continued its push to make its full frame mirrorless system attractive to filmmakers with the new FE PZ 28-135mm F G OSS, the first full-frame lens with a power zoom for smoother focusing. SELP28135G_A-1200

The new E-mount lens is part of Sony’s effort to boost its full frame cameras among filmmakers by tackling three issues that bedevil still photo lenses during video shoots: changes in angle of view during focusing, focus shifts during zoom and the movement of the optical axis during zooming.

The new lens will combat these maladies with a supersonic wave motor drive and a double linear motor to reduce focus noise.

The FE PZ 28-135 will also have separate control rings for focus, zoom and aperture and features a maximum aperture of f/4. Optical image stabilization is also on hand to keep things steady—it can be switched off via a button on the lens barrel.

The new lens is set to ship in December for $2,499.

July 23rd, 2014

Tim Matsui Wins $25K Fledgling Fund Grant for Sex Trafficking Project

From "Leaving the Life:" Lisa in her robe. ©Tim Matsui

From “Leaving the Life:” Lisa in her robe. ©Tim Matsui

Photographer Tim Matsui, who has focused on stories about sexual violence and human trafficking for the past decade, has won a $25,000 Fledgling Fund grant for his project called “Leaving the Life.” Matsui will use the grant to engage audiences and spur dialogue about sex trafficking of minors in the US. He plans to produce several videos, each about 15 minutes in length, tailored for different audiences.  For instance, one of the videos will examine prostitution among minors from the perspective of law enforcement, which traditionally treats minors in the sex trade as criminals rather than victims. Another short video will present the issue from the perspective of young sex workers.

“Fledgling is supporting the initial creation of this campaign which include several live screenings of the [short videos] and a basic web platform which, in the future, will be built out,” Matusi explains.

Fledgling Fund administrators did not respond to a request for comment.

Matsui won an Alexia Foundation Women’s Initiative Grant in 2012 to document new approaches by officials in Seattle to addressing the problem of the sex trafficking of minors. He will use footage he’s already shot for that project to produce the short videos for “Leaving the Life.” Separately, he has produced a longer documentary in conjunction with MediaStorm called “The Long Night.”

The Fledgling Fund, established in 2005, provides filmmakers with grants to “move audiences to action” with outreach and audience engagement initiatives. The fund has provided nearly $12 million to support 333 projects to date.

Related:
Anatomy of a Successful Grant Application: Tim Matsui on the Women’s Initiative Grant (for PDN subscribers)
Frames Per Second: A Corporate Story, Told by a Journalist

June 12th, 2014

Todd Hido Shoots Fall 2014 Campaign For Victoria Beckham’s Fashion Line

An image from Todd Hido's campaign for Victoria, Victoria Beckham's Fall 2014 collection.

An image from Todd Hido’s campaign for Victoria, Victoria Beckham’s Fall 2014 collection.

We never thought we’d mention Posh Spice and Todd Hido in the same sentence, but here goes: Victoria Beckham (previously known as pop singer Posh Spice) enlisted fine-art photographer Todd Hido to photograph ads her Fall 2014 collection of women’s fashion.

The images of models wearing Beckham’s looks recall Hido’s fine-art photographs of women in motel rooms who appear to be living on society’s fringes. In images on the fashion designer’s website we see models posed on bare mattresses or in rooms with shabby carpeting and unmade beds. Hido’s work for the label also appears to include video pieces. In one video we see a model standing against a wall in a dark room while fuzz flashes across the screen of an old-model television set.

Hido didn’t respond to our request for comment. According to W Magazine, Beckham herself said that, “Working with a photographer who doesn’t traditionally shoot fashion really enriched how I could portray the collection this season.”

Related: The Prevailing Wind: Todd Hido’s Excerpts from Silver Meadows

March 6th, 2014

PDN Video Pick: Making an Award-Winning Story of One Woman’s Resilience

Sensei from ora on Vimeo.

Ora DeKornfeld, a communications major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, won first prize for her video “Sensei” in the Multimedia Feature category of the 2014 Pictures of the Year International competition. Brilliantly shot and edited, DeKornfeld’s video tells the powerful story of a rape victim’s survival, resilience and determination. DeKornfeld explains how she won her subject’s trust, found a way to portray events in the past through evocative imagery, and produced a tight, dramatic narrative.

PDN: What was this project was for? How did it get started?
Ora DeKornfeld: That project was made as a final documentary piece for a journalism class. The assignment was to make a vérité documentary. It was a challenge for us to [record] something actually happening, instead of fully relying on B-roll over interview audio. My professor [Chad Stevens] assigned the project knowing that was unrealistic, so this project deviated greatly from that initial assignment, but that’s how it started.

PDN: How did you find this subject, and how get her to open up?
OD: I went to this neighborhood in Durham (North Carolina)–a pretty dynamic low-income neighborhood, and I saw a flyer for self-defense classes and that’s something I have always been personally interested in, and I wanted to do a piece that touched on women’s issues. So I called the number and ended up talking to Brenda, the subject, and she was immediately open. She told me that the reason she got into martial arts was because she was a victim of a violent crime. I didn’t push that at the time, but it was an immediate indicator that she had a real deep experience that motivated her. So I said, would it be OK if I made a documentary about you? She was really open to it.
I went to her karate class on Tuesday and Saturday for two weeks, then I asked if I could come to her house, meet her family and start hanging out with her there. And I kind of just stayed until she said, “OK, Ora, you need to get out of my house.” But through that experience we bonded. (more…)

February 26th, 2014

Cinetics Intros Axis360 Motorized Camera Slider and Quickly Hits Kickstarter Goal

Axis360-1Cinetics is a company we’ve been following since its deceptively simple CineSkates camera dolly system caused a splash back in 2011. That product, which was introduced on Kickstarter and quickly made its funding goal, was followed by CineMoco, a more sophisticated motorized camera dolly that also easily hit its Kickstarter pledge mark.

So what does Cinetics do for another encore? It introduces the Axis360, a compact, motorized tripod head and slider system which — you guessed it — made its Kickstarter goal of $75,000 yesterday, less than 24 hours after it was launched.

The Axis360 slider, which is designed to help photographers and cinematographers create dynamic panning, tilting and sliding video along with timelapse photography, has collected nearly $110,000 in pledges from 150 backers at the time of this writing.

Here’s how Cinetics describes its new motorized slider in a press release about the product:

“Axis360 is an automated motion control system that rotates and slides a camera. Designed specifically for small production crews and extreme portability, the system is compact and lightweight, sets up quickly and easily, and is extremely versatile. Compatible with most DSLR, mirrorless, and cinema cameras weighing less than 11 pounds, Axis360 can move at a wide range of speeds, fluidly or incrementally, and the number of system combinations to suit specific shooting needs is virtually endless. Axis360 is controlled by the CineMoco motor controller, which is compatible with most video cameras and can synch moves and timelapse photos on most Canon and Nikon DSLR cameras with cables included with the system. Many other cameras support timelapse photography with built-in timers (intervalometers) and do not require a camera cable.”

Axis360-with-Rail-Low-Res-2

The Axis360 will sell in three kit configurations: Basic, Plus and Pro. The Basic Kit ($450) including the CineMoco controller, tripod, and ballhead. Tripods with ¼”-20 or 3/8”-16 attachments can also be used.

The Axis360 Plus ($550) includes the components of the Basic Kit plus a Tilt Kit for balanced, motorized tilting moves. The Axis360 Pro ($900) adds a slider rail for automated horizontal and vertical camera moves.

You can get more information about the Axis360 at its Kickstarter page. Also, check out the demo video below.

November 27th, 2013

PDN Video: Is Your Photo Project a Contender for Lens Blog?

Jim Estrin: How Lens Blog Selects Photo Projects from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

Jim Estrin, founder and co-editor of Lens, the popular New York Times photography blog, recently sat down with PDN to talk about what he looks for in photo projects, what distinguishes the projects that Lens blog publishes, and why Lens editors reject many other stories. For photographers trying to get his attention, he offers insight and tips about work ethic, story choice, and representation of subjects. He also discusses two projects that exemplify Lens Blog’s standards and esthetic.

 

November 20th, 2013

PDN Video: Bil Zelman on Shooting Portraits of Difficult Celebrity Subjects

Photographer Bil Zelman: How to Shoot Portraits of Challenging Celebrities from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

Celebrities can be skittish and uncooperative in front of a camera, so photographer Bil Zelman sometimes uses psychology to elicit a particular reaction for a compelling portrait. In this video, he describes how he calmed author Isabel Allende, who was self-conscious in front of the camera, and how he got himself out of trouble on a shoot with film director Werner Herzog. “He was just staring at me,” Zelman says. “It was a blank stare. I was getting nothing.”

In addition to shooting portraits, Zelman specializes in shooting lifestyle advertising for top brands such as Coke, Apple and Budweiser that looks real, not staged. In previous videos, he shared tips and tricks he uses to coax natural performances from the non-professional talent he uses on most of his shoots.

Related:
PDN Video: Portrait Master Gregory Heisler on How to Relate to Portrait Subjects
How Top Photographers Shoot Great Portraits
PDN Video: Bil Zelman on How to Shoot Ads that Look Real (Not Staged)
PDN Video: Bil Zelman’s Tips for Directing Kids on Advertising Shoots
PPE 2013: Tips for Shooting Ads That Viewers Believe and Clients Like
A Hands-Off Approach to Real People Shoots

November 19th, 2013

PDN Video: Tips for Directing Kids on Advertising Shoots

Photographer Bil Zelman on How to Photograph Kids for Advertising Campaigns from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

Photographer Bil Zelman explains how he used psychology (and magic) to get emotionally genuine performances from kids for two recent advertising shoots. Zelman specializes in shooting lifestyle advertising for top brands such as Coke, Apple and Budweiser that looks real, not staged. In a previous video, he shared tips and tricks he uses to coax natural performances from adults. He also explained why he prefers non-professional talent, and how he scouts that talent for his shoots. (Check back tomorrow for another video featuring Zelman explaining how he handled two difficult celebrity portrait shoots.)

Related:
PDN Video: Bil Zelman on How to Shoot Ads that Look Real (Not Staged)
PPE 2013: Tips for Shooting Ads That Viewers Believe and Clients Like
A Hands-Off Approach to Real People Shoots