This week's leading article is a guest post by Bill…
Before we dive into this guest post, we want to say how thrilled we are to see Corey Rich launch his new Beam site! We’re loving the way his action-packed images display full-bleed on the homepage, not sparing any details from his extreme shooting adventures.
Corey is using the Promenade template to show off both his still and motion work. His still portfolio features several awesome galleries, and the motion page is integrated with Vimeo so visitors can watch directly on his Beam site.
“I’ve been blown away by how good my images and videos look on Beam,” Corey told us. “Presenting my work through a clean, modern interface makes a difference in how my clients view me as a professional and judge the quality of my work. In a world where websites can be one of the biggest drains, both with time and money, it’s incredible to finally find an online platform that makes my life easier.”
If you don’t know Corey Rich, here’s a quick soundbite: he’s one of those photographers who takes storytelling to a whole new level. Hang off a cliff to shoot stills of a rock climber? No problem. Scale one of the world’s tallest mountains to film an interview with a renowned alpine climber? Sure thing. Strap the latest Nikon camera to a drone and fly it over an Amazonian jungle river? You got it.
We did a webinar with Corey last year and went behind-the-scenes of one of his tamer multimedia projects. It’s obvious that Corey and his production team have mastered the art of capturing both stills and motion on location. But as we learned from this guest post, not every project has gone so smoothly.
The first rule of being a pro photographer or pro filmmaker is not to talk about how much you screw up. But as Corey says, “The truth is, on any given shoot we botch, blunder, and bomb. And it’s our little dark secret.”
The following is directly from Corey Rich:
Life as a working professional in the world of visual storytelling sometimes feels like that scene in Fight Club where Ed Norton sits against the wall of some dark alley and repeatedly punches himself in the face. Sure enough, when you try to wear too many hats during a still and motion shoot – whether you’re the interviewer, DP, audio tech or still photographer – you can easily knock yourself out.
With most clients now demanding not just great still images but also accompanying motion spots, many photographers naively agree to deliver video content without quite realizing what a world of hurt they’re about to enter. And I’m no different – I spent the first two decades of my career contentedly working as an adventure photographer. But then the Nikon D90 (the first video-enabled DSLR) came out. The D90 not only changed the world of photography, but also the direction of my life. I saw the future of storytelling as being all about combining still-image and video-capturing skills into singular dynamic shoots. It was a crazy learning curve, but one that I’ve more or less successfully climbed.
Yes, yes. I know what you’re thinking. On the surface, things appear to be going quite well for me. I was just named a Nikon USA Ambassador. I have a sweet new PhotoShelter website on Beam that launched this week. And on August 26-28, I am teaching a creativeLIVE course called “Still + Motion: Storytelling on Location“.
But there are a few skeletons in my closet. The times I botched, the times I blundered, the times I bombed. As photographers and filmmakers, we stand united in this solidarity. Just like members of Fight Club, we may pass each other on the street, and give each other knowing winks, thinking “I once totally messed up the white balance, too.”
Today I come to you with the true stories behind four of my worst gaffes as a photographer/filmmaker, if for no other reason than to confess: I’m in the club, too.
(Some names have been changed to protect the innocent.)
1. The time we botched the audio
I was on an assignment for one of the biggest Fortune 500 companies in the world. The assignment was to go to Europe and interview the CEO of a network television station. To be clear, this CEO was the real deal: extremely smart, cool-headed, and his time was probably valued somewhere in the $10,000/hour range. Incredibly, he promised us exactly one hour of his time to conduct the interview.
I was with “Ms. 500,” my client at the Fortune 500 company, as well as “Audio Pro,” a well-vetted audio engineer from France with a reputation for being one of the most experienced guys around. Then there was me and of course Mr. CEO.
The interview was going great. I kept thinking, “We’re killing it!”
Then I happened to glance over at Audio Pro. Something seemed terribly wrong. His face was burning bright red, and an Amazonian rainforest of sweat had beaded on his brow. Finally, 45 minutes into the conversation, Audio Pro interrupts CEO. We all look at him with blank faces.
“You’re not going to believe this,” said Audio Pro, his voice dry and meek with fear. “I haven’t been recording…the whole time.”
Mr. CEO, being cucumber-cool, looks at us, then looks at his watch. With the level-headed calmness that could only come from running a major TV network, he said, “Well, we have about 14 minutes left. What do you want me to say?”
We scrambled, and asked him to revisit a few key topics crucial to our story. He spoke, almost verbatim, the lines he’d uttered earlier, only with much less emotion. He was never flustered or phased. And, ultimately, we got enough audio to barely make it through the spot.
Audio Pro’s fate was different, however. In my opinion, Audio Pro had done the right thing; instead of not saying anything and trying to pass it off later as a confusing technical error, he piped up then and there, and tried to make it right, regardless of the consequences. There are times in this business when you just can’t blow it – the stakes are too great and there are no second chances. This was one of those times.
Sure enough, as soon as we got out of earshot, Ms. 500 nailed Audio Pro to a cross. He was fired on the spot. “You’ll never work for this company ever again!” was one particularly memorable line that I sometimes still hear ringing, at a shriek-level decibel, in my nightmares of nightmares.
2. The time I blundered the focus
Let me introduce you to “DL” – one of the best alpine climbers in the world. We acquired the funding (a decent chunk of change, actually) to travel to a very remote mountain range in Asia and climb an extremely difficult high-altitude mountain of granite. Just getting into this remote region was extremely expensive. Most of the funding went toward expedition expenses, not our production team, which was necessarily “small footprint.” It was up to me, an RC-helicopter pilot, and my assistant to shoot a television show, a short film, and stills for global advertising campaigns and magazines.
One day we set up to do the most important interview with DL. My assistant was holding a reflector. Meanwhile, I was juggling two cameras, recording the audio, and also trying to conduct an engaging interview.
I’ll admit: I was cocky. I was so confident in my camera skills that I actually focused more energy on my interview questions, knowing that I’d need to work really hard to extract great sound bites out of this rather reserved climber.
I didn’t know it at the time, but camera 2 – the tight angle on DL’s face (i.e., the really important angle) – was out of focus. Despite three record cycles, there wasn’t a single in-focus tight shot.
After returning home from the mountains, I delivered the footage to two different production houses, one in Switzerland and one in Great Britain. The Swiss producers were working on the film-festival cut. When they showed me the rough edit, I asked, “Why didn’t you use any shots from camera 2?” They just didn’t have the heart to tell me the truth.
It wasn’t until I saw the British cut, for the TV show, that I realized how badly I’d blundered the focus. But the Brits didn’t bother to tell me that I’d screwed up; they just used my blurry, horrendously out-of-focus shots – probably mostly to stick it to me. Every time I see that cut it feels like daggers in my heart.
3. The time we didn’t clean our sensors
We were on location for a major ad campaign, both still and motion, and we needed to shoot lots of time-lapse sequences. These were huge 15 to 18-hour days. We’d return to our condo at midnight and have to get up at 4 a.m. to shoot more time lapses.
At midnight, I asked my sleepy-eyed assistant, “Hey, man, I know you’re tired; but can you clean the camera sensors tonight? We need them spotless before tomorrow morning.”
“No problem,” Sleepy Eyes said. “I’ll just get up a little early and do it then.”
Right when he said that, I knew in my heart of hearts that there was no way Sleepy Eyes was going to get up at 3 a.m. to clean six camera-body sensors. But I shrugged and went to bed. Sure enough, when we got back to the office to start cutting, there was a floating piece of dust moving through the most important time lapse of the whole shoot.
Sleepy Eyes spent the next week manually removing the dust spot from all 300+ frames, then re-cutting the time lapse. Lesson learned, and a pretty tough one at that.
4. The time we bombed a prototype Nikon D4 into a jungle
I can be a little more forthright with the details of this gaffe because there’s footage of us doing it online in our behind-the-scenes video, “How of Why”. But a few years ago we were shooting “WHY”, the release video for the Nikon D4. I was with my crew and a representative from a Tokyo-based ad agency for Nikon, who had brought three prototype D4s – some of the only D4s that existed in the world at that time.
We were in Veracruz, Mexico, shooting a world-class kayaker drop 40-foot waterfalls. One of the goals of the shoot was to really get the camera moving, so we brought in an RC helicopter and pilot for the two-week shoot. On the first day, we were so stoked to see a D4-equipped drone in motion and decided that would be the first objective of the entire shoot. We’d track the kayaker running whitewater, flying over a river through a tight jungle corridor.
As we scuttled around like a bunch of overly enthusiastic children opening presents, the representative of the ad agency piped in with a concern: “Do you think it’s a good idea to be flying an RC helicopter in a jungle, over water, with our prototype on it?”
I looked at him deadpan, and with the straight-up B.S. arrogance of a politician, I said, “Absolutely. It’s not problem. We do this all the time.” In fact, we hadn’t actually tested the relatively heavier D4 with the helicopter; we just assumed it would be able to handle the weight.
Turns out, we were wrong. The RC helicopter was in flight for a glorious 15 minutes before it, and the D4 prototype, crashed into the morass. The representative from the ad agency went completely cataleptic – his heart nearly beat out of his chest before I swear I saw it stop.
Breaking one of only 9 existing D4 prototypes in the world at that time would’ve meant game over. Shoot’s done. Pack ‘er up, boys. We’re going home.
But we got lucky. The pilot, to his credit, performed some Top-Gun-grade evasive maneuvers once he lost control; he jerked the drone to the left so it wouldn’t fall into Class 5 whitewater rapids, and instead went into the jungle. Somehow we found the helicopter and, more importantly, the Nikon camera. And after an hour of cleaning mud and leaves off of it, the camera – and therefore our jobs -appeared to be more or less intact.
Obviously, a client shoot is the wrong place to learn. But that said, being on location might also be the only place to learn. Because after re-living all of these horrible gaffes in my professional career, I’ve realized something: when you’re out in the field, battling through those real-life do-or-die situations, those are the times when you either make or break your professional career.
And like I said before, if we didn’t routinely botch, blunder and bomb, we wouldn’t actually be true professionals.
Join Corey Rich August 26-28 for my creativeLIVE workshop: “Still and Motion: Storytelling on Location.” This three-day course is FREE to watch and it broadcasts live on August 26-28. http://cr8.lv/coreyrichsm