Archive for the 'documentary' Category

Nov 09 2009

the best iPhone photography app

Much of the talk about using the iPhone camera surrounds additional apps that you can use to tint, crop, zoom or selectively focus your photos. There are titles that bounce around the internet like Must-have apps for iPhone photographersThe Five Best iPhone Apps For Travel Photography and The Best Camera “ecosystem”.

I find some of the apps useful for making it easier to crop, adjust the exposure and upload to a photo sharing site; but I find that most of the tinting and special effects features to be cheap tricks. Most of the time the app will simply transform a bad photo into a bad photo with a blue tint.

To me, the most most important app is the person taking the photo.

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Surfer on the Venice Beach boardwalk

The beauty of the iPhone is that it’s always with you. The camera function is both very easy to use and at the same time very hard because it’s such a simple camera. The camera works great for basic snapshots of friends, but I wanted to see how it would perform in the stress test of the Venice Beach boardwalk.

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Beach visiter taking a cool drink by the iconic wooden umbrella clusters

The boardwalk is both a target rich environment with a collection of colorful characters, and a very challenging place to shoot. The light is harsh and the action is quick.

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The palm reader's sign blocked the sun creating a perfect north light studio

You have to look for the places that either have good light already or find a simple way to control the light. There isn’t an app made yet that will help you identify ways to control light by shooting your subject in front of a backdrop, or moving them in front of the sun.

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I moved the stilt-walker in front of the sun and palm trees

Since we use the iPhone’s screen to preview the photo, shooting into the sun is even harder. Unlike looking through a camera viewfinder, on the iPhone you have the confusion of the reflection on the screen and the glare behind the phone. Half the time it seems like I’m guessing at the composition. The shooting is similar to using the cheap plastic Diana camera where the joy come from the surprises created by the lack of control.

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Catching action is an advanced skill

The other issue with the camera is the shutter lag. Venice Beach is full of action and all good street shooters pride themselves at being able to capture the “decisive moment“, but with the time delay you have to press the shutter button a half second before you think something may happen. (You can control this a bit by being aware that the shutter is actually activated by releasing, instead of pressing the shutter button.)

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Quick movements often produce a warped effect

There is also a odd warping effect that’s created by the iPhone using a rolling shutter. Instead of the exposure being created all at once by the aperture effect you see on the screen, the scene is being quickly scanned. In the shot above, the head section was scanned first and the legs moved to the right by the time the scan made it down to the bottom.

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The light weight of the iPhone makes it easy to shoot down

One of my big shooting surprises is that now I’m often holding the camera straight out and shooting down. Instead of having my face up to the view-finder, the iPhone already starts away from my face and it’s a quick movement to point the iPhone down. Instead of the normal Hail Mary Shot that photojournalists use in a crowd to get the camera higher. I’m finding that I do the same thing shooting down. I simply guess at the framing and swing with the action.

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There's a whole new world down below

For most people, I suspect the hardest part about doing iPhonetography is using the moderate wide-angle lens. The view is similar to what you would get on a full frame 35mm camera using a 35mm lens. Our minds are very good at zooming into a scene to examine the front wheel pattern above, but we’re less well trained to see the wider view while being aware of all the action that’s shown below.

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Learning to see all the elements in the wide view is an acquired skill

I’m constantly working at striking the balance between simplifying and getting something interesting in the frame. When I first arrived at the beach I noticed a large sailboat on the horizon. But it was too small in the frame by itself, so I chased it down the beach while searching for something to place in the foreground. First there was a volleyball game, then a life-guard stand and finally I spotted a surfer balancing a board on his head to change his shirt.

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A balance between a simple background and a foreground surfer to fill the frame

Years of experience and learning to see like the iPhone camera is the real secret app in iPhonetography.

None of these photos required any special app filters or effects. I did use my normal workflow of opening the photos in Photoshop CS4 Camera Raw (even jpgs from the iPhone can be processed this way) and making some simple exposure adjustments and clean-up.

I took these shots in preparation of teaching an iPhonetograpy class at the Julia Dean Photo Workshops. The class is scheduled for December 6th. I hope to see you there.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

10 responses so far

Oct 23 2009

wanna buy a camel?

Update: The Birqash camel market is running into hard times. The cost for the camels is rising and the selling price is falling. An LA Times feature today highlights the squeeze on the market I visited in 2006. It also confirms my suspicion that the camels were being sold for their meat instead as a working animal.

“It’s just like judging a beautiful girl,” said Fowzan al-Madr, a camel breeder from the Kharj region southeast of Riyadh. “You look for big eyes, long lashes and a long neck, maybe 39 or 40 inches.”

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A very cute young camel

Camels have been in the news lately and I understand why. I fell in love with camels on a recent trip to Egypt. Not in love enough as the Dubai prince that paid $2.7 million for a camel today. But as a tourist sight outside of Cairo I can highly recommend the Birquash Camel Market (Souq al-Gamaal) that is 35 KM Northwest of Cairo. I had the chance to travel to Egypt with my wife and equally brilliant doctors on an American Diabetes Association organized trip. On the days that the others were busy attending their serious conference I get to go out and do some serious photography.

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Spotting a brief mention in a travel guide about a camel market I decided that this was the place to visit. Since it was off the normal tourist beat neither my driver or guide knew exactly how to find the place. There are many mysteries to driving in Cairo, but one of the best parts is that is always acceptable to stop and ask any stranger at the side of the road for directions. That is what we did. Every two kilometers the guide would roll down the window and inquire “Souq al-Gamaal”, “Souq al-Gamaal” and arms would point in one direction or another.

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An experienced camel trainer

The market outside of Cairo is more of a working class market where buyers are looking for working animals or perhaps ones that will end up on a dinner table somewhere.This was not the beauty pageant style of market in Saudi Arabia that was featured in the New York Times recently. (The opening quote is from the story written by Katherine Zoefh.) But the next time you are in Cairo roll down your window and shout “Souq al-Gamaal” for a sight that rivals the Giza Pyramids with none of the tourists.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

One response so far

Oct 09 2009

breathe. surf. repeat. the cystic fibrosis surf camp experience

The amazingly rich story of Kurtis Glade and his family landing in my lap with a few quick Twitter and email messages from Erik Proulx, ”Any chance you can be in Santa Monica at Sunrise tomorrow? Kurtis Glade (our subject) is going to be there with the film DP to get some great light. Weather calls for Fog, so that could be stunning as well.” (See previous post on how Twitter led me to Lemonade.)

The moody morning light was the perfect palette to paint the story of Kurtis Glade. After a long run as a leading advertising copywriter and creative director, Kurtis was laid-off from his big-agency job. The changing ad-world and slowing economy left him searching for other outlets for his creativity.

The short preparation allowed me to exercise my skills at finding a story instead of illustrating one that that others have shaped already. The “June Gloom” fog set the scene of quiet contemplation that was the perfect opening.

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Kurtis Glade faces the hope and the challenges of a new dawn

In the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Santa Monica there is also hope for his youngest daughter Malin and others with cystic fibrosis. Medical researchers have established that surfing is a natural therapy. The saline in the air and water acts as a lubricant to help to break down the congestion in the lungs of people with CF.

Kurtis decided to use his story-telling skills and extra time to make a movie about the Surf Experience Days sponsored by the Mauli Ola Foundation. He explains, “I can’t invent drug to cure cystic fibrosis, but I can make a movie.”

He’s made a PSA for the foundation that gives you a pretty good flavor for the film he plans to produce. He is currently looking for help in obtaining funding for the ongoing project.

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The joy of Malin Glade learning how to surf

Many of you may recognized Kurtis from the opening shot in the trailer of the Lemonade movie. The quick email message from Erik Proulx was my background brief on the project outside of a few messages about the possibility of shooting both stills and video for his movie.

I knew that Kurtis had multiple cameras working on the surfing angle of the day’s event and that allowed me to concentrate on the story of Kurtis and his family. I felt that I could also go for the high art shots. Whatever I captured wold be woven into the tapestry of the larger movie and intercut with Kurtis’ interview.

When this was shot, I still thought of myself as a still guy that happened to own this new camera that has this odd button that activated a video capture. But I had studied cinematography with renowned DP, Allen Daviau and at UCLA and learned that the most important skills were always composition, use of light and knowing how to tell a story. I played with the camera’s unique shallow depth of field look that you can see in the opening scene of the video below.

A wider selection of the stills from the day tells the fuller story about both the joy and the challenges that Kurtis and his family face. We see older daughter Ellie (who is CF free) enjoy surfing for the simple pleasure of riding the waves. While her mother, Britta one moment serves as cheerleader and then as comforter and pill dispenser to the chilled Malin .

Mauli Ola surf camp for people with cystic fibrosis slideshow from Mark Harmel on Vimeo.

I’m honored that my work will be featured in the Please Feed the Animals documentary Lemonade as well as supporting the Mauli Ola Foundation. I hope it plays a part in  inspiring ad people to either find a life back in advertising, or succeed in new ventures – like documentary filmaking. And may many people with CF learn to surf and breathe a good and long life.

Many thanks to editor Connor McDonald at Beast/SF, (with color adjustments by John Jenkins-Stark), for their work on the video segment.

Erik Proulx @eproulx, , Kurtis Glade @kurtisglade, Connor McDonald @connortmcdonald

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

3 responses so far

Aug 08 2009

two mentions today

The first comes from Planet 5D a wonderful blog site that is a great place to track the development of shooting video with the Canon 5D MKII. There is a quick run down of how I volunteered to help Erik Proulx and his Please Feed the Animals team work on the “Lenonade” film and ended up contributing video instead of stills to the production.

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David Cohen lost his job and changed his identity (still from 5D MKII video)

I’ll add more details about the project and how my new Twitter habit led me to the production.

The second Twitter connection led to a mentions in edwardboche’sposterous blog. Edward is the chief creative officer and chief social media officer at Mullen and a Twitter connection. We traded some posts in advance of his recent Crowdsourcing program for the Ad Club in Boston, and he was kind enough to express the refreshing feeling that was created by my bathtub photo from a recent Flat Creak Ranch series. (I was the poster boy photographer in Jeff Howe’s original Wire Magazine Crowdsourcing feature.)

Edward also writes about his connection to the “Lenonade” movie.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

No responses yet

Jul 29 2009

feeding frenzy at the flat creek ranch

There is this esoteric part of fly-fishing where it is important to match your fly with the current hatch of bugs on the stream. With a mix of skill and luck the goal is to toss out bomb-pops just as the trout are running up to the ice cream truck. I witnessed this amazing feeding frenzy for the first time on this trip. Rather than casting a fly to where a fish should be swimming it was possible to be standing a few feet away as the fish were leaping for the current hatch of flies.

The same spot at a different time of day only revealed flowing water. When I’m shooting for myself I go through similar periods of feeding frenzy mixed into periods of stillness.

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The mountain lake at the ranch

On trips to exotic locations I want to shoot up a storm and have to work to balance being social and being a photographer. On shorter trips I give myself permission to keep the cameras in the bag and take a break.

Over the 4th of July weekend Anne and I visited the Flat Creek dude ranch outside Jackson, WY. This was exotic enough to haul my camera bag and computer on the plane, yet the location was familiar enough to make shooting optional. It was also far enough off the grid to ignore any work and just read, ride and fish at the ranch.

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Carved door and porch at the main lodge

I admit to being a bit disappointed that there wasn’t the inspiring views of the Grand Teton peaks that could always be seen on a previous trip. They could be viewed though after hiking through mosquito infested forests. (Some people consider this to be fun.)

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Classic bathtub in our cabin

But in the middle of the night a simpler vision of the beauty that did surround me came to mind and I crawled out of bed early and fired off this series of photos of our cabin and the near-by lake.

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The amazingly well-trained ranch dog at the lake

That was it. One early morning flurry and then back to searching for the cut-throat and brook trout churning in their own feeding frenzy at a new hatch of flies. I returned to my vacation, relaxing, and waiting for the next idea to hatch.

Mark Harmel
harmelphoto.com

One response so far

Jul 14 2009

how internet dating can help you find a job

It’s not the long walks on the beach or the candle-light dinners that made the difference – the big lesson I learned was to not spend too much time on-line before meeting. The same is true when you’re looking for that dream-date of a job.

I found some women that were engaging writers and I would spends hours reading and writing emails that continued for days only to have my hopes and dreams shattered in 60 seconds after meeting. It wasn’t always just physical appearance either. Its that we can convey so much essential information with our physical presence. The way we walk and talk all contribute to the equation.

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A "dream" putt-putt golf date created for a long forgotten TV show

My old dating rule quickly became to schedule a low stress coffee or drink date as soon as possible. I find the same rule holds true to make your presence known in the communications world as well.

On a simple level when I interview a new photo assistant I at very least want to see a photo and prefer to meet them in person. This is because I’m often in medical and corporate environments and a talented assistant with dreadlocks and tattoos that may be great on a fashion or entertainment set wouldn’t work with my clients.

This means that you need to have a physical portfolio to show. Yes a website is important as well, but you need a reason to have that meeting. There may be an electronic component to your portfolio, but if all you have to show is on the web there won’t be a reason to meet. I do all the usual routine of sending our emails, printed promos and have both a blog and portfolio website – and sometimes they are enough – but the real connection happens in the face to face meeting.

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Seal the deal with a corn dog toast

All the other marketing that I do also works better as a reminder of our meeting than it does as an introduction. This is most clear in my email response stats where I see who opens my email and continues on to my website or blog post.

So there may be work to do to format and edit a book. Marketing yourself could become your full-time job interspersed with some paying gigs.

The the good news comes from internet dating as well. Like the date – going on the interview is about you sizing up the company as much as it is about you being judged. I recall being saved from having to live in Buffalo, NY after visiting a graduate program on Creative Problem Solving that wasn’t as creative as my undergraduate schools.

Perhaps you’re wondering? Did the internet dating work? Yes, but not in the way that the ads portray. I ended up meeting my wife on an assignment. She was just another doctor to shoot. This time it was to show an example of clinical research. Then we met again in the hall – and she needed a photo for her talks. The multiple internet dates helped to train me out of my natural shyness and allowed me to ask her on a simple date. If it wasn’t for all of those bad dates when the woman wasn’t right for me or the where I wasn’t right for them I may not be married now.

So make a book, work your personal contacts and go out there and book some dates.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

One response so far

Jul 11 2009

what’s my motivation? – how do i respond to an assignment call

When I talk with a client about an assignment I’m most interested in knowing all that I can about the project. I particularly interested in the end audience. To me they are always the client.

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The more information the better - telephone lines receding into mountain range during a rain storm

Assignment shooters are always working at pleasing multiple interests. There is the person that is ultimately paying the bill and often one or more people in-between. That is either an art director, designer, photo-editor or editor. And often the person in front of the camera gets thrown into the mix as well. My job is to produce a photo that pleases them all (and on good days me as well) – but the most important person in the process is the person that is looking at the photo in the finished context.

Since I live in the Hollywood area, my questions really all revolve around the old actor’s cliche. “What’s my motivation?” I want to understand the context of the communication. What’s the message? Is it an ad, a magazine cover or part of a larger story?

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What's my motivation? - Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe impersonators on Hollywood Boulevard

Is there a story (or draft) that has been written already – any other background material about the person or the subject matter? I also want to know if this is a free standing photo or is my mission to make the photo similar or different that the other images in the group?

All of this information goes into the visual blend-o-matic that helps to guide me in crafting the location and my approach to the subject. Some of the structure is very planned and logical and other part come from those magical unconscious connections…and that’s part of the fun.

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

One response so far

Jul 01 2009

i love a parade

We have your stars and your stripes and a Holiday weekend to celebrate. Pull out those lawn chairs and cheer the band coming down your street…

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Flag bloused friends in Pacific Palisades, CA

…or show your patriotic spirit all the way down to the Pacific Ocean.

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Neighborhood celebration in Manhattan Beach, CA

I’m off to catch some fish…

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Real cowboys fish with their hat on

…and ride some horses near the Grand Tetons.

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Ranch horse stretching at the end of the day

Have a great Holiday weekend!

No responses yet

Mar 15 2009

little pink houses for you and me

The rendezvous location for the Salton Sea trip was in Oceanside. I was there back in June 2007 scouting to shoot Team Type 1 for Abbott Diabetes Care in their quest to win the Race Across America bike race. It was then that I discovered a set of teeny, tiny pink rental cottages by the beach. They didn’t fit into the plan to make rider cards, but I knew that I wanted to go back and shoot the cottages sometime.

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Rider card for Team co-founder Phil Southerland

I picked up Martin at the Amtrak station and we headed down to the beach in the early morning light.

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Little Pink Cottages

These cottages remind me of the great work that Joel Meyerwitz did in his Cape Light book.

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Waiting for the beach towels

As we shot the beach community began to wake up give us the opportunity to include dog walkers, joggers or some odd new exercise contraption into the frame.

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Enter a new exercise gadget

Does anyone know what these contraptions are called?

Mark Harmel
harmelphoto.com

No responses yet

Oct 04 2008

financial worklife

Just before our current financial crisis entered possible meltdown territory I had the opportunity to spend a day in my financial advisor’s office taking what I call my modified candid photos of their office worklife that will be used in a company brochure and website.

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I love doing this style of shooting. Part of the process is being a fly on the wall and capturing spontaneous interactions that happen in the hallway.

The other part involves going into specific offices and work areas, doing some improvements to the existing lighting and then direct the people to act naturally instead of posing. I find that the best method for this is to start with my staging and lighting and then help the person become reengaged with their job. Interacting with a co-worker on a real issue is often the best approach.

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The client likes this because real work is accomplished in the process and my normally camera shy subjects return to using their real gestures and become engaged.

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I’ve also learned the art of doing nothing. When a person is already looking natural and engaged I can concentrate on improving on the existing light and searching for interesting angles through gaps in monitors or in reflections.

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Whether shooting on the street or in an office I always love how the environment can add to the story. In this case I get to use my fine art photo of the old Pacific Stock Exchange building as a way to tell the financial story of my client’s firm.

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The original Pacific Stock Exchange photo. The San Francisco build is now being used as a Equinox fitness club.

Here are some page samples from one of the finished brochures:

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Mark Harmel
harmelphoto.com
@MarkHarmel

2 responses so far

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