Camera: RED Dragon 6K Widescreen
Lens: Zeiss Ultra Primes
Editing: Adobe Premiere Pro in 5k
Color: Davinci Resolve
We finally got the team back together! Sometimes you work with a certain group of people and everything always clicks perfectly. Thankfully i've found an amazing group of people this happens with and for some time last year we were shooting multiple times a month. This year hasn't been as collaborative because of many reason but with Visit Santa Barbara, we finally got the band back together.
Visit Santa Barbara was much like our campaign we shot for The Napa Valley Tourism Board a few years ago. If you haven't seen it, check out some of the beautiful places we shot in Napa. With this campaign, my long time collaborator Doug Cox wanted to shoot in B&W and really capture the many beautiful parts about Santa Barbara. He initially approached me about shooting in IR or Infrared. For those who don't know, there are multiple types of light on the electromagnetic spectrum. There is also Ultra-violet or UV, infrared, X-rays, and Gamma Rays to name a few. The chart below explains it more visually.
Doug wanted to shoot Infrared so we could make the sky black, water black, and other really cool effects you get with IR. The only problem with shooting in IR is that you can't always control how the sensors see the light and different places have different IR pollution from the sun. Thankfully i've done some tests so i had a very basic understanding on how to achieve some of the looks. The nice thing was we were shooting in B&W which meant half the battle of dealing with color wouldn't be an issue. IR color can look very crazy and make green trees white. The other problem with shooting and not knowing fully about what I could do with it was, I was in Europe for 3 weeks and could not test anything. Because of scheduling we started shooting the day after i got home from Europe. I literally got home, slept for 6 hours, and fought the jetlag to pack up and go to Santa Barbara to start the shoot. It was certainly a battle to stay awake, stay focused, and not be cranky.
Just like every shoot there is a lot of preproduction that goes into it. We talked about the look, feel, everything. Originally we were going to shoot underwater surfing sections which I was most excited about however because of budget and time, it was cut. Like I mentioned before we had originally talked about shooting in IR. Normally I would do camera tests to make sure I could achieve the look we want however I didn't have time because I was in Europe so the first day in Santa Barbara was our pre pro day where I got to see the locations and part of it was testing the water to make sure it turned black. Unfortunately by the time we got to the pool location the sun was setting and the light was going to be completely different than our shooting conditions. We also didn't have the tool we needed to switch out the OLPFs in the Dragon so i sprinted a few blocks to our hotel to get it. For those who don't know, the OLPF is a piece of glass that goes in front of the sensors on RED cameras that not only protect the sensor, but add certain looks and majorly affect how and image looks. Normally for IR you need a specially modified camera but RED sells and IR OLPF. They also have standard, skin tone & highlight, and low light. I generally shoot with the skin tone & highlight.
After being able to test it we decided that we no longer wanted to shoot IR in case client wanted to change back to color. We instead made the choice to just shoot in black and white or just desaturate the image. We can bring everything back because it's all RAW.
Starting out the day with probably the toughest shot of the whole shoot was draining. We were shooting a woman on the edge of a pool and we wanted the water to be very dark with a reflection of a palm tree. Two problems, the bottom of the pool was white and we have no palm trees in site. We did have a fake palm tree from our amazing art department Laura, however there was no way we were going to get it as big as they wanted. This is also where they wanted the pool water to be black so we were going to use the IR filter. I think we ended up putting it in just to see what it would do but it didn't help. So to solve these problems i suggested we put our actress on the other side of the pool, put the whole shot in shadow by flagging off the sun, and then in post super imposing the palm tree from B-Roll I had shot on pre pro day. One other problem, my G&E team was 2 people and a swing and that was a lot to do. Thankfully my whole team pitched in and we made it work. The shot I'm talking about comes in at the end of the video and really worked out. The frustrating part about this shot was I don't have a cam op so i'm oping at the top of a 10 step ladder and can't communicate much to our director or creative director back at video village. Yes I had a radio but that doesn't mean they are going to respond to me.
Secondly we moved into this beautiful theatre that was already ready to go. I had seen a bunch of scout photos of the location and knew we weren't going to have to light much or at all. We ended up using everything in house plus they had a hazer! I was also playing around with some added shots and movement while client and creative agency was watching the monitor. One creative director leaned over and literally said, "That looks like a shot from a Macklemore video I've seen". For those of you who don't know, I used to work for Macklemore & Ryan Lewis on their tour videos so I know my way around stages very well. Our producer and director turned and looked at the creative director and informed him that I most likely shot the video he's referring to. It was a very surreal moment that someone was recognizing my work without knowing it. The rest of the day came together nicely as we finished off at a winery bar location.
The jet lag was kicking my ass pretty hard and after day 1 i passed out in my hotel room at about 8pm. We started off day 2 bright and early so thankfully it was easy for me to wake up. We drove up to the top of a mountain to film bikers riding up the hill. Originally we wanted to do this with stedicam or movi but we had a tight budget and I didn't think it was smart to spend the money on this one shot. My solution was to put me in the back of a truck and just drive while I shot it handheld. Doug and I have this relationship where he thinks of shots that he can put me in dangerous situations and I always say, "Yep! Lets do it!". One ratchet strap to hold me down and off we went. The shots came out exactly how I wanted them.
Next we moved to the ocean where we were shooting on a sailboat. I love boats but I have a slight problem, I get really bad motion sickness. If there is ever an opportunity for me to drive a vehicle rather than someone else, I always do it for the simple fact that I get bad motion sickness. Of course I take pills to combat this however I was also nervous because the last time I was on a sailboat I was also filming and the entire boat almost capsized. Lastly during this whole shoot we had a photographer taking stills and we could only have a certain amount of people on the boat at a time which meant we had two boats and at some point we needed to switch the people from the boats while carrying literally hundreds of thousands of gear. Plus, salt water is not very nice to metal and electronics so my AC John and I wrapped everything in garbage bags to minimize the risk.
Thankfully everything went well and we moved onto our final setup, Volleyball. Our actor was running late and then ended up getting lost. We were using the sun as a heavy backlight but it was setting fast. We were worried that we weren't going to get the shot and started planning other shots to solve the problem. Thankfully when he did show up, the sun passed the tops of the palm trees and were coming through the stems. After about 40 takes of him diving for the ball we played around with some different shots and were wrapped.
It was a fast pace and challenging shoot but we solved the problems we needed to. Mostly everything outside were bounce boards, mirror boards, and flags which you can do a lot with. We only used a light inside and at the pool scene to emphasize our actress in the pool but otherwise it was all natural. Doug was able to have a quick turnaround on the edit and I'm very pleased with how everything turned out!
Nick Mahar is a Director of Photography based in Los Angeles & San Francisco.