Bad writing and good Photoshop


For this series we really wanted to show off the senior Cinema class. We decided to surround them with a mixture of vintage and current state of the art film equipment. With an incredible collection of HMIs, classic Mole Richardson lights, dollies and cameras; setting the scene was only a matter of deciding what we wanted. The day scheduled to shoot was right after spring break, so we had a tight crunch to do pre-production. I grabbed a quick frame of our location at 5 p.m. (the time set for the shoot on the next day), a few days before and went to work in Photoshop to do a mock-up with Abby Cole (see figure 1.1). Besides being used as a reference on set, the mock-up was also sent to Sharyn Robertson (head of the Cinema Department at Bob Jones University) to approve the concept.

Shoot day 

With a lot of help from fellow cinema students and professors the set was staged in about an hour, along with some nice last minute touches. While the team blocked the senior class and their Producer, Christopher Zydowicz; I went ahead and started getting lighting set. Armed with two Paul C. Buff White Lightning strobes and softboxes, I thought I was ready to battle the sun. Oh how naive of me. Thankfully we were no less than 20 ft. from a sound stage with a butterfly scrim and some Matthews Road flags to knock down the sun a bit. With assistance from a VAS (voice-activated-sandbag/grip) the scrims stood up to the breeze and we could march on. The main photo was a breeze (pun definitely intended) with a tethered laptop on set.   

I almost always tether while shooting in the studio, but this was my first time on location. There is no going back to checking the tiny 3” LCD on the back of the camera. You’ll see the pro’s with a pretty orange cord stretching from their Mamiya or Hasselblad to a laptop all the time. To me, that orange cord from Tether Tools is the mark of a professional photographer. It’s the mark of someone who cares enough to get feedback and who isn’t afraid of getting further direction from the client. Clients don’t want to see a RAW file and be told how much dynamic range it contains (see figure 1.2). Anything you can do to instill confidence in your client, the better. 

After the first few exposures I set Lightroom to automatically add my custom preset to every image for the shoot. (see figure 1.3) The preset allowed Sharyn Robertson to focus on wardrobe, expressions and blinkage. For the filmmakers, this is the equivalent of popping a LUT into your SmallHD to get a general idea of the final look for the director/producer/client.  

With such an awesome set already together we decided to jump in and grab some individual portraits. For a quicker set up, we simplified the lighting to a handheld strobe with a 60” Octabox and a 4x4 Road Flag for negative fill. (see figures 1.4 and 1.5)


You’ve seen the RAW photos and now the final image. Is your initial reaction to say “Oh that’s Photo-shopped”? Because, well, it is. The decision to rely on Photoshop came by answering these questions. 

  1. Q: What’s the budget for a smoke machine? A: Nada 

  2. Q: Do we want to leave a 6k HMI, 7.8KW 12 par and a 2k Jr. on for a few hours? A: No 

  3. Q: Who wants to be under hot lights for a few hours? A: No one

The solution to these problems is solved by spending a few extra hours in Photoshop. Don’t be afraid of the “P” word. It’s your friend, I promise. Planning your post work ensures that you’ll get the information captured onto the sensor that you’ll need to properly do post. Always plan your post before shooting and clue your client in on all the details so they’re not left in the dark. With many hours, masks and layers behind me, here is the final image (see figure 1.6 and 1.7).


You're only as good as your crew

A Hollywood film set employs hundreds of people from costume, makeup, craft services (can I get an Amen?), art direction, set design, construction, property managers, stunt coordinators, electrical, grip, lighting, camera, script clerk, and continuity to the director; Do you get the picture? For the past 3 years, short films 8-12 minutes long have been my life. In this tiny independent world, we tend to have 5-15 person crews with experience varying from first day on set” to 3-4 years on set.  

As my mother (and everyone else’s mother) once said, “Many hands make light work.” I don’t know about you, but I only have two hands. One hand for the camera and one for craft services. A photographer can have the most incredible vision, but without a crew, that vision will never be fulfilledThere is only so much one person can do at a time. Setting aside tasks like art direction to others will not only take a load off your back, but it will also leave room for collaboration from other professionals. Collaboration is key. Especially when your mind is all over the place. Keep your client on set. Keep them included in the process because in the end it is their photo. 


Brian French- Photographer  

Sharyn Robertson- Client on set 

Danielle Wunker- Props 

Abby Cole- Set Designer 

Luke Brubaker- Lighting grip 

Destry Edwards- Lighting grip 

Larissa Loeffler- Grip 

Caleb Murphy- Grip 

Bradley Hamilton- Grip