I feel 100 feet tall today

April 24, 2009 Published by . Leave your thoughts

My roommie is going to film school at Columbia College right now and her new assignment is a short stop motion animation. So she’s turned our dining room into a workshop of some kind, with lots of tiny trees and clay people, and made my dining room table look like a miniature park.

I walked by it while really sleepy the other day and thought for a split second that I was about 100 feet tall. Only a split second. I think it was the half bag of Oreos I ate that day… I started to hallucinate a little bit.

Anyways… I snapped some quick photos of her and her friend animating some clay people. I’ve played with stop motion before, and it can get a little frustrating if you’re not in the zone- or if you’re on a deadline and have to have it finished soon, in this case. At some point I heard her scream something like, “only 5 feet of film?! We’ve been moving that person’s eyeballs for an hour and a half!”

I love the idea behind stop motion animation because it gets so close to the roots of filmmaking and reminds a person how film cameras work. When the first motion picture cameras were made in the late 1880’s, they were modeled after the novelty-turn-boom picture cameras. They took single photos in quick succession, to create the illusion of motion. That’s how film cameras still work- snapping 24 photos in a second, one after another, then projecting them at the same speed to recreate the motion.

Actually, when the first motion picture cameras were made, the cameras were hand-cranked and the average speed was about 16 frames per second (fps), not 24. The camera operators used to sing songs to keep a steady rhythm while cranking. 24 fps was introduced when sound film was invented and the projector needed to operate at a steady 24 fps to get the strip of sound to play properly. Which is why most silent films appear jerky now- because they were filmed at 16 fps but are being played back at 24 fps. When they were originally projected, the motion was smooth and normal-looking.

See. A degree in Cinema Studies can be useful now and then. Makes for good chit-chat at crappy dinner parties.

Headshots: four eyes or two?

April 2, 2009 Published by . Leave your thoughts

I’ve taken a lot of headshots for people who, at some point during the photo session, suddenly turn to me and ask, “should I wear my glasses in the photo?”

And, as usual, my answer is, “it depends.”

The first question to ask is, “do you always wear your glasses?” If the answer is yes, then put your darn glasses on for the headshot. A headshot is supposed to be a photograph of you, depicting what you generally look like on a regular basis… while looking your best and in a good mood, of course. So if you’re always wearing your glasses, then wear them in your headshot.

Now you might be thinking, “I always wear my glasses, but sometimes I take them off when I’m on stage… or I want people I’m auditioning for to know that I can go without glasses too…” Aha! Very good point. Gold star. Most people look completely different with and without their glasses, so if you want people looking at your headshot to see both of their options, what do you do? If you’re expecting an answer like “you should always wear your glasses in a headshot” or “you should never wear your glasses in a headshot” then I apologize, but you’re not going to get that here.

There is no right or wrong answer to something like that- it all depends on what you want, need, and are comfortable with. Here’s a case study with Victoria DeFrancesco Soto. She came to me asking for headshots for publicity purposes as a television personality and expert on minority figures in international politics. (With the recent Obama campaign, she’s obviously been a busy lady…) She normally doesn’t wear her glasses on camera, but is looking to expand her reach and believes some people might think she looks more learned and professional with her glasses on. So we snapped most of her photos without glasses, but made sure to grab a handful with her glasses on.

Now she has the option between two different looks and can use the glasses headshot for gigs she knows she’ll wear her glasses for, and the other one for purposes that she doesn’t think having glasses on will necessarily give her a leg up.

Like with any question about determining your look for a headshot, just remember to go with your gut and what you believe depicts you at your best. And ask yourself simple questions like, “do I ever wear my glasses?” And if your answer is, “only when I wake up in the morning to get myself from the bedroom to the bathroom where my contacts live, I’ll never wear them outside!” then of course you should leave the glasses off for the headshot. Or maybe ask yourself the question, “am I a Groucho Marx impersonator?” If the answer is yes, put your Groucho glasses on.

And find a headshot photographer who will ask you these questions so he or she can help you set up the best possible photo.


March 24, 2009 Published by . Leave your thoughts

I was just up in Whitewater, WI filming some interviews at someone’s house and saw this light switch cover in their kitchen. I had to snap a quick photo of it because it was just so pretty and I wanted to remember it.

I wonder what part of the brain it is, or even if there is a part of a person’s brain that makes them want to use an opportunity such as having a light switch cover to display art. Where did this thing come from? Who was the first person to look at their light switch cover and say “boooorr-ing,” and paint it pretty colors?

Dr. Camera asks: AIG- how does it make you feel?

March 19, 2009 Published by . Leave your thoughts

There are probably a million blog posts out there this week about AIG using their Federal bailout money to give their executives bonuses so they can buy more toys, and how angry that makes us taxpayers… So I’m going to try not to rant about that. Instead, I will display how I feel about it through a photo. (While resisting the temptation to just take a photo of my middle finger.)

I’ve flipped through my negative sleeves and then finally turned to my digital libraries and found a photo I took a while ago that expresses my mood when I read about greedy corporations. It’s a photo of someone peeking into a dumpster. I chose it because I think that when our taxes and our Federal financial situation are helping the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, we’re going to end up with such a class divide in this country that you either throw your food into a dumpster, or you find your food in one.

I’ve been known to take walks down alleys here and there for some fun dumpster-diving. I think it should be an official sport in the Olympics, actually. I found a perfectly good glass cabinet once and it’s still in my kitchen holding my spices and Tupperware. I also picked up an old window once and turned it into a little art project- taking the glass out, sanding the many layers of paint down, and then using it as a picture frame. Looks neat.

Most photographers or thrifty artists rely on thrift stores, alleys, and curbs for their supplies- especially tree-huggers like me who would rather re-use an old chair than see it slowly degrade in a landfill. (Who would throw away a perfectly good chair if you can sit on it without falling over? I’ve never seen a chair so ugly that I won’t even put my butt on it. Are we Americans really that snobbish?)

I guess if I have a point to this rambing, it’s that I hope there never comes a day when all of the thrifty dumster-diving artists out there ever stop looking in garbages for fun art supplies and start looking for food. I started re-reading some Studds Terkel books on the Great Depression… for tips on how to survive. Just in case.

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.