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Michelle in Chicago Redeye

March 12, 2009 Published by . 1 Comment

Today, I woke up to several phone calls, emails, and text messages from friends laughing at me. Yes, they were laughing. My photo was on the cover of the Redeye- the entertainment publication of the Chicago Tribune, which is free and known for being picked up by commuters to learn about what Britney is doing and to pass the time on the train with some soduko or a crossword puzzle.

I learned today, that if you see someone you know on the cover of a newspaper, you laugh at them. Don’t get me wrong- they weren’t making fun of me- when you see something you didn’t expect while on your daily commute, you can’t help but grab your belly and laugh. Of course, they congratulated me and I thanked them… though I didn’t feel like I did anything difficult. A reporter emailed me a few weeks ago, asked me some questions, sent a staff photographer over, snapped some photos in the freezing cold without my coat on, and that was it. Not hard work at all. Except for the freezing cold photo session, I guess.

I know this is a blog about photography, so I should let everyone know (if you don’t pick up the Redeye) that I’m also an independent filmmaker. I’ve been making independent short and feature films for some time, and have co-founded a production company called Brown Finch Films, where we’re working on several feature-length documentaries.

Primarily I work as the cinematographer, which makes sense if I’m also a photographer. Some people ask me if there’s a big difference in filming movies compared to taking still photos. My short answer is, “yes. When you shoot someone with a movie camera, you can hear them fart. You can’t with a still camera.”

But I think my old cinematography professor from college summed it up best when he said, “Michelle, movies is just moving pictures. Photos in motion, but photos are photos. If the photos in the movie look like shit, the movie is shit too.” I plan on cutting out the article and mailing it to him where he now lives in Bulgaria. He might be the only other person to recognize the camera I’m holding in the cover photo… Which is a 16mm Soviet made Krasnogorsk-3, for all you other nerds like me.

Rainy day project

March 7, 2009 Published by . Leave your thoughts

Yesterday was a gorgeous day for Chicago in March: 65 degrees outside! It was so refreshing after months of snow and below freezing temperatures that I saw people just standing around outside and finding every excuse they could just to stand outside for a few minutes to enjoy the warmth. Some people looked confused. They were like pre-springtime zombies.

My boyfriend and I took the opportunity to walk around outside a bit and do some thrifting at a resale shop. We came across bags and bags of sewing thread and bobbins. I think he said something like, “jackpot.” Of course, he’s a fashion design student so all that thread for $5 was an amazing find and totally useful.

I have an antique sewing machine in my apartment collecting dust as a “conversation piece.” The conversations usually go like this:

“Wow, is that an old sewing machine?”
“Yep.”
“Groovy.”

Today has been slimy and rainy outside, so I decided to make it a true rainy Saturday and do some crafty little things. I dragged out my lights and the heavy sewing machine (with a heavy wrought iron base, mind you) and played with the spools of thread and bobbins and made myself a photo. I’ll include the setup of the shot, so you can see that I used fishing line to get the bobbins to float in midair like that. I’m only half magician.

I’m going to finish the rainy Saturday by making some banana muffins now.

"Standard" vs. "Artistic" headshots

March 5, 2009 Published by . Leave your thoughts

The general “rule” for photographers when lighting a headshot is to light it evenly, diffuse it nicely, and keep shadows to a minimum. The idea is to take a portrait of someone that shows every inch of their face- because that’s what a headshot is– a photograph of a person that is a clear representation of what they look like, to help casting directors, agents and anyone looking at the photo know who that person is.

So most of the headshots I take are very bright and lit rather simply and minimally. But that can get boring for me. I didn’t spend all that money on cameras, strobes, grids, and fancy electronics to take high school portraits, did I?

To keep me happy as a photographer, I like to try new things and get a little creative with the lighting. After all, “rules” should be in quotation marks, because if you know what they are and why they’re there, can’t you try breaking them now and then?

So here’s the challenge: make a headshot more interesting with a more dynamic lighting setup, but still be true to the headshot’s main purpose: to be a clear representation of a person. When you start changing lighting and angles in a photograph, a person’s face can appear a little different than it did in the photo before. Our faces are 3D and photos are 2D, so any change in angles and representation will make a person look slightly different… which we don’t want in a headshot– a photo of someone that doesn’t look like them.

I was taking headshots for Hannah yesterday, and after taking a majority of the photos in a more “standard” headshot lighting setup, I changed the lighting to make the headshots more “artistic.” Hannah asked which would be better for a casting agent.

Good question.

My only answer is whichever photo you are more comfortable giving, and which one you feel looks more like you at your best. If the more “artistic” or interesting-looking headshot still conveys your look, your style, and your attitude, then print that sucker and hand it out. But if you’re more comfortable with a “standard” look, then go with that. Some may say that the “artistic-looking” headshots will give you a leg up on a casting director’s desk– if the photo pops, then the person pops too, right? Others might say it’s a gamble. But I think as long as a headshot is doing its job, then it’s already a winner.

Watery dreams

February 2, 2009 Published by . Leave your thoughts

I was looking through some old photos of mine the other night and then I had weird dreams. I dreamt I had to take photos under water but couldn’t keep my eyes open under the water and couldn’t find the shutter button for the camera so I had to open my eyes to see it… so I opened my eyes under water and my contacts floated away. When I finally found them, I tried to put them back in my eyes, but they were the size of teacups and too big to put back in.

A friend of mine told me once that if you eat different kinds of cheeses before going to sleep, you’ll have strange or intense dreams based on the kind of cheese. Maybe the photos you look at have that same effect. I looked through a file of folders a friend and I took at a hotel swimming pool while we were on a trip, and the contacts-the-size-of-teacups is the dream I ended up with.

Maybe tonight I’ll stare at a big chocolate cake and brochures from day spas before heading off to bed…

Yoko Noge: wonderful nutty lady.

January 6, 2009 Published by . Leave your thoughts

For New Years Eve I hopped across town to a handful of parties, and found myself at Galaxie for one- where my friend Harry organized some jazz and swing bands to play for a few hours. Even though I just planned to pop in for a cameo (if I can pretend I’m cool enough to call it a cameo), I really wanted to make it in time to see Yoko Noge‘s band play.

I’d been following Yoko Noge from afar for a little while- she’s a bit of a Chicago mini-legend for playing in the jazz and blues scene for so long. I was also hoping to finally meet her, since Harry knew her and could introduce us. Well I stepped in the door just as she finished belting out her last note. I didn’t even have my coat off when I heard over the microphone in the other room: “thank you, you’ve been great!” and then no more music.

I wandered through the rooms to get myself a drink and as I turned a corner I stopped short and so did Yoko- we nearly ran right into each other. I said “excuse me,” and she looked down at my feet and then back up at my torso, pointed, and said, “oh, wow! I love your dress! Sparkly!” Then walked off. Of course, Harry later introduced us formally, but I really like how that was my first in-person encounter with Ms. Yoko Noge herself.

Yesterday, Harry asked me and my roommate to come with him to Andy’s Jazz Club, where Yoko and her band play every Monday night. And to also bring my camera to snap a few shots he might be able to use for a new website if he gets around to building it for her. I was glad to do it, and so glad to hear the band. They played some amazing Chicago-style bluesy jazz… but also threw in some traditional Japanese instruments. Some of their songs would start out with the stiff plucking of a Shamisen, or the soft flute-like shakuhachi, then somehow melt into a jazz tune. Seriously, an amazing experience. If she were to pitch the idea to a record producer, they’d call her a nutjob… but when you’re there listening to it, it works amazingly well.