Stills from Motion
There are many reasons for shooting Raw, high resolution motion... from the substantial image benefits that come with downsampling, shot stabilising and reframing options, the future proofing of rushes, the rich grading depth of 16 bit colour, the extended exposure latitude, the 'softer' rendering that added resolution affords and last but not least the camera's potential to generate stills from motion.
I began life as a stills photographer, growing up in a family where both parents were professional photographers. And although I was pulled away from this to the rich creative potential of the world of motion I continued to shoot stills for myself and bring some of the aesthetic and approach into my motion work. Even now I will occasionally retro-mount one of my Red cameras and shoot with the exact same Nikkor and Takumar lenses (albeit 'cinevised' versions) that I began my career with.
The process of extracting stills from motion has further cemented my two passions. So why extract stills from motion? Why not break and shoot stills or try shoot simultaneous stills and motion side by side. Extracting stills from motion allows me to capture the decisive fleeting moment that has just unfolded in motion without compromise, without trying to re-stage a moment of performance or a heightened moment of real life. So many unrepeatable moments, delicate moments of engagement with the lens that have blended perfectly in both motion and stills.
Stills have become so key to the marketing of films, television and commercials and often, as in the world of fashion, eclipsing motion in importance. I have shot actors and models drenched in water, paint and glitter... no going back on these moments, animals disappearing as fast as they appeared, dangerous prison gangs who engaged with the lens for a moment and then no more, young children whose spontaneous actions can never be repeated or athletic moments, the beauty of dance, suspended delicately in space. There is something of Cartier Bresson's 'decisive moment' in this process, where Red's camera systems have allowed me to capture the precious unrepeatability in both mediums.
And then there is the glass, the beautiful precision optics that cinema affords to cinematographers... handmade stellar performance that one rarely finds in the world of stills. The precision and geometry of Masterprimes, the 'pop' of Ultraprimes, the beauty and softness of Cooke and Angenieux, the funky distortion and flare of Lomo anamorphics or the breathtaking optical modernity of the Leica and Signature primes. No amount of Photoshop can recreate the look of these lenses, nor can it do justice to the diffusions regularly employed in motion photography.
From behind the lens diffused Optical Low-Pass Filters or nets to front of the lens glimmers and glows, to rooms filled with haze or even the natural mists of jungles and ice, the smoke of fires, the nuanced mix of softening and glowing of halation and flare augmentation. These soft fields of optical augmentation are everything to cinematography and, with some rare exceptions, they do not exist in the world of stills.
The publicity stills I produced for Elizabeth I were shot on a 6K Epic Dragon, with a Kipper Tie diffused OLPF, an Ultraprime at T1.9 and rooms filled with haze. I did very little to these outside of a tiny in-camera 'look' (subtle desaturation) which we kept in post. The stills that went on to consolidate the success of the series were all distinctive in their 'cinematographic' look... they did not look like traditional production stills, these were actors very much within their characters, their space, their costumes, their moment... and they ensured the huge success of the series.
I had begun the process of extracting stills as a sort of 'dailies' for myself and crew... to keep a sense of our 'look' and to lock in the visual aesthetic we were reaching for. I would circulate these among production and crew after each evening of shooting. Quite rapidly everyone realised the worth of these assets and on most of my shoots they have replaced the traditional marketing stills generated. These frames have subsequently adorned billboards and magazine covers to announce the coming of a film or series. In my Commercial and Beauty work the simultaneous production of stills is an even bigger deal. The look of a model, their styling, hair, makeup and performance are often quite fleeting. One might shoot for a day to find that rare moment, the fleeting crystallisation of these many elements. To simultaneously acquire both assets in that moment is highly desirable. There are also of course some solid economics at work in this simultaneity. When on documentary shoots with tiny crews the advantages of emerging with marketing stills for a series has been transformative. Working with tiny crews on canoes, ice flows and mountains, I have still managed to emerge with the marketing stills needed.
These images have been key to establishing a strong sense of photographic personality. Particularly given that my work is quite eclectic, more so than most Cinematographers. I shoot across Drama, Documentaries, Commercials and music videos. And I find that keeping my camera tool set constant is key to keeping my grip on my visual style, on the look and perspective that I hopefully bring to each genre. Extending this tool set into my stills output was a radical and fruitful step for me. The resolution of modern motion was key to this, allowing me to blow up prints that have been used in galleries, books and billboards. That the camera systems I use shoot Raw was of course crucial to this process. The resolution needed is only half of the equation, while the extended latitude and colour depth of a Raw image completes the print offering.