Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Prime & Fire Action Sports Mini-Documentary Competition

Prime and Fire have just launched a competition through Talenthouse for action sports filmmakers to produce a mini-documentary film with an incredible prize...

The brief is:

"Prime & Fire Selects are looking for talented filmmakers to pitch and produce their ideas for a short specialist sports documentary. The most outstanding pitch receiving £10,000 production budget towards the production of their final short film, whilst 9 additional filmmakers with exceptional pitches will receive a £2,000 production budget each.
Fimmakers must submit a 1-2 minute video and include a maximum 300 word description in English that tells the human-interest story behind the documentary. Judges will weight both the written pitch and video trailer equally. The video can be a trailer or snippet to tease their documentary idea, and should demonstrate not only the story behind the documentary but also production skills and creativity."

And the judges are looking for...

"undiscovered human-interest stories and mini-documentaries based around action, endurance or specialist sports. The scope is huge and can be absolutely anything from skateboarding to free diving to stories of human sporting endeavor.
The 10 most innovative and original pitches will receive funding and support to make their ideas a reality."

The competition brief pretty much describes the films I have been making with Jamie Barrow for the past four years and the prize would be a dream come true for our next film project, involving Jamie setting a snowboard speed record being towed by a plane.

For the competition I've submitted this video trailer, summarising our previous films:

And this pitch:

Breaking Barriers and Snowboard Speed Records

My proposal for this competition is to film ex-Team GB snowboarder Jamie Barrow as he attempts to set the snowboard speed record for being towed by an aeroplane. I've worked closely over the past four years with Jamie, filming him as he has set or broken a number of snowboard speed records: the outdoor, indoor, towed by a car and propelled by electric jet engines. 

For each of these records, I have filmed, edited and produced 3-10 minute documentaries, all without funding. The films have all received great publicity, making news stories on both Sky and the BBC, published on a variety of websites and magazines and featured on TV shows such as the Daily Planet (Discovery Channel). The video I have submitted here is a short trailer, showing clips from each of these films. 

Our next project, and proposal for this competition as mentioned above, is to film Jamie as he attempts to set the snowboard speed record for being towed by an aeroplane. As with the speed records for being propelled by electric jet engines and being towed by a car, this record will take place on a frozen lake. Jamie will be towed by a pilot with years of experience flying in these conditions and his speed will be recorded with accurate laser timing equipment. 

If we are successful, the prize money from this competition would go towards our travel, accommodation, equipment and the cost of hiring a plane and pilot. It could also cover an additional person to help film the event. 

As well as the attempt itself, the story will also cover everything from Jamie's background as a Team GB snowboard cross racer, his injury that prevented him from going to the Sochi Olympics and his reasons for doing these speed records. It will touch briefly on Jamie's work as a Sky Sports Living For Sport mentor as he goes around the UK giving talks in schools on how you can overcome your barriers and follow your dreams. 

The film will not only stand alone as an original, creative mini-documentary that ties in with Jamie's previous records, but it also has a very personal story, giving the film a much deeper meaning.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

How To Become A Photographer - Starting Out, What Gear, How Much To Charge

I thought I'd put together some tips on how you can develop your career in photography from the experiences I've come across over the past few years and all the mistakes I've learnt from.

You probably have so many questions about exactly the best way to start out, from when you should be charging for your work to exactly how you should be promoting yourself. I by no means consider myself an expert and have only been working in the industry for a small amount of time compared to others, but with the tips below I hope to help answer some of these questions from the experiences I've had:

1) Get that portfolio up! 

My roots in photography came from simply taking photos and videos whilst doing something I loved - sports and being outside. What I also learnt was that I really enjoyed seeing people's reactions to my work and this is one of the biggest reasons that drove me to pursue photography as a career.

To start with, I used platforms such as Flickr and Facebook to show people my work online and send out links to albums and photos. However, as I began to realise that I wanted to do photography full time, I required a more professional, better suited website and after plenty of trial and error, I eventually ended up using Smugmug to create my own homepage, (find out my reasons for doing so here).

Creating this online portfolio is crucial - it gives you a location people can instantly go to to view your best work, find out what type of photography you do, read more about you and get in touch. Thus it is also important to make sure your website:

- looks great
- isn't too complicated
- is responsive (works on computers, smartphones and tablets)
- only shows your best work
- tells the reader where you are located
- a little bit about you
- and how to contact you

To make it even more professional you can:

- use your own domain name
- highlight how you go about your work (your style, methods, gear etc)
- explain what content you are providing (hi-res images, photo books, HD video etc)
- show any clients you've worked with before
- and mention what gear you use

Ultimately, in this job, you'll only get work if you've got something to show or have a proven track record, so there's so much to be said for getting your portfolio up straight away when you're starting out. Remember however, it's your portfolio, it's always expanding and it will constantly change. Don't worry if you think you don't have enough content to show yet or you're not happy with your images, just get something up there initially and develop your portfolio as you progress.

Great websites for creating photography portfolios:

- Smugmug
- 500px
- Squarespace
- Viewbook
- Zenfolio
- Wordpress

2) Social media and blog

To be honest, I was initially reluctant to promote myself on social media. I didn't feel like I was professional enough and was almost too shy to show off my work. I started out writing this blog on a very casual basis, just posting short articles on various videos and websites I liked. I also had a YouTube channel on which I was uploading home-made videos of various mountain biking or skiing trips, purely to show friends and family.

As my portfolio expanded and I became more confident in my own work and I joined Instagram, Twitter and Google+ (I've yet to create a Facebook page), using all three to talk about my latest work and share my content. My YouTube channel became the perfect hub to upload and embed my latest films and I also created a Vimeo channel (I prefer the look of the player and embed videos from here onto my website). I also adapted my blog to the type of work I was doing but continued to use it to post about things I just found interesting or inspiring.

Has it been worth it? Without a doubt, yes. Not only do I actually now enjoy sharing my work but I've secured plenty of jobs and projects thanks to these networks. The benefits are clear - you are simply expanding your audience reach through multiple channels, for free.

A few other communities and networks I highly recommend:

- 500px: fantastic images, great community, really interactive, best photography iPad app I've come across
- Pixoto - fun website where you can submit your images to be voted on by other members, regularly competitions and prizes to be won
- Behance - new to Behance myself but am impressed with the nice apps and projects
- LinkedIn - huge professional online community and becoming increasingly better for creatives
- TalentHouse - another site I'm new to but great for finding work and projects

3) Develop and focus your work

I found that because I had a website and social media networks to promote my work, it drove me more than ever to go out and just improve my photography. I jumped at any opportunity to take photos of sports or the outdoors and by doing so I was enhancing my portfolio, getting better at understanding the equipment and developing my technique.

As a result, I could then be much more critical of what images and videos I wanted to show on my website, choosing the media that I felt showed my best work as well as the area that I wanted to be working in.

The advantage of this is that potential clients will instantly see from your portfolio that you specialise in that area and you'll be attracting the clients that you want to be working with.

So it's important to constantly develop your work by practicing, being self-critical and getting opinions from others. In doing so, you can then begin to focus on the specific photography you want to be doing and specialise in that.

4) When should I start charging for my work?

You'll probably have to do a lot of work for free to start with, I most certainly did. Pretty much all of my initial work I did for free or with only my expenses covered, and had to keep another day job to pay for my equipment and living costs. So I had to use up all my own spare time doing my photography work, but this wasn't a problem because I was doing something I loved. This 'free work' gave me the foundations to build my portfolio and eventually meant I could charge for my time.

So when should you actually start charging? For me, it was when I felt that I was really supplying a service that was valuable to the client, something they couldn't do themselves or get a friend to do, and that required the skill set and knowledge that I'd gained from all my previous experience.

5) How much should I charge?

This is an extremely difficult question as there are so many factors - your experience, who the client is, how long the shoot takes etc.

To keep it simple, my advice would be:

- If you're doing photography as a side job, use your gut instinct when determining an hourly or daily charge depending on the amount of work and who the client is. This sounds strange but it's something I learnt quite quickly. If I tried to use a specific amount to quote to all my clients, I found it put them off as they either couldn't afford me or presumed I wasn't good enough because I was undercharging. Once I became flexible with my quotations and started quoting clients according to how much I thought they might accept, I was a lot more successful.

- However, if you've quit your job and are attempting to earn a full time living from photography, you absolutely need to sit down and work out how much you need to earn to survive. There are plenty of online calculators out there to help you do this and using those you can determine exactly what you should be charging per job.

6) What gear should I start with?

Let's face it, we photographers LOVE our gear. And why shouldn't we? These days, the sheer amount of cameras, lenses and accessories available to us is mind-blowing.

When it comes down to choosing what you should be starting out with, my biggest tip would be to think about your current situation and what you will need to be producing. If you're not likely to be doing all-day, large studio shoots for billboard advertising campaigns, then what's the point in spending your life savings on a camera that's made for that?

For me, I knew that I'd be doing small, personal projects with individuals, most likely in tough, variable weather conditions. So I chose a DSLR with decent weather sealing that didn't break my bank balance. I knew I'd also be moving a lot so I chose lenses and accessories that were light but durable.

A DSLR doesn't have to be your camera of choice either. I have many friends and colleagues that have discarded their larger cameras in favour of the smaller micro four third/mirrorless units. Bentley, for instance, shot their latest advert using only the iPhone 5s!

So start out with something you can afford that matches the minimum requirements for what you need to be producing.

I hope the above points help you in some way when starting out your career in photography. There's obviously a lot more to it but if you get these first basic steps right you'll be off to a good start.

Friday, 16 May 2014

DSLR Video Predictions and Wish List for 2015

I've been making films with DSLRs for a few years now and there are definitely a few key improvements that I think will be coming in the next year or two, or at least I hope they are.

Here's my list of predictions and wishes for 2015:

A DSLR made for video - Let's face it, the DSLR camera was never made with video in mind. Its main focus has always been photography with video merely an add-on as technology has improved. When the Canon 5D Mark II launched with broadcast quality video capabilities in 2008, the industry suddenly took notice of the potential of video in DSLRs and since then, HD video has been standard across the market. However, I still feel that there is a large gap in the market for a DSLR made specifically for filmmakers - a camera that gives you the same quality as a something like a RED Epic, without costing you $50,000.

Quality - The best quality video available on current DSLRs is 1080p at 30fps or 720p at 60fps. We know that better technology can be put into smaller devices - the iPhone, for instance, now shoots video at 120fps and can shoot 4K video with certain apps. It's only a matter of time before the DSLR catches up.

Stabilisation - Once you've watched some of the films that were shot using the Cineflex and a great stabilisation system (i.e. The Art of Flight by Brainfarm), you'll see exactly why it is hugely important in filmmaking. On this note, it's crucial that a DSLR designed for video has ground-breaking stabilisation software built into the body or the lenses (or ships with something as good as the MōVI..!).

Weather Proofing - With the ability to shoot high-definition video on an affordable, lightweight DSLR, filmmakers around the world have been able to take their filming equipment to a huge range of extreme environments. Therefore, the camera and lenses need to be completely weather-proofed to perform to the best of their ability. Currently, only the very top-end cameras have this and it would be great to see improvements on the lower-end models.

Battery Life - We are fortunate that battery technology is getting better and better but I'm sure most DSLR filmmakers would agree, it still has a long way to come. The Lithium Ion batteries perform well in the cold but I find shooting video eats up battery life whatever the weather. An improvement in battery lifetime without having to screw on a heavy battery grip would be ideal.

Design - The DSLR has been designed perfectly for the photographer but most definitely not for the filmmaker. A complete redesign should be done, taking into account the best grip for stabilisation of the device and controlling focus. The new design should also improve the viewing of the LCD screen and live video output. Currently, DSLR filmmakers have to use a larger external LCD monitor or attach a loupe to magnify the screen.

Other improvements: With the launch of a DSLR specifically for video as described above I would also expect to see much faster autofocus, better low-light capabilities and an improved microphone that doesn't pick up the camera's internal noises or wind distortion.

There we go camera manufacturers, please prove me right!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

DSLR Camera Comparison - Nikon D7100 vs D5300 vs D3300

I was recently asked by a client to recommend an upgrade for his old Nikon D80. They had a budget of £300-£700 and wanted to stick with the DX format so they could keep their lenses.

Here are the three models I recommended (the prices are just for the camera bodies, no lens included):

Nikon D3300 (£400): Cheapest of the three so not the best build quality but it's a perfectly good DSLR, a big step up from the D80 and it's also the lightest. (24 megapixels, HD video, 430g, 11 focus points)

Nikon D5300 (£530): Better build quality than D3300 and only slightly heavier. The technology inside is better too, giving it a faster and sharper focus. Has a better microphone and also the LCD screen on the back flips out and can be angled, helpful if you are taking pics of things at an awkward angle. (24 megapixels, HD video, flip-out LCD screen, 480g, stereo microphone, 39 focus points)

Nikon D7100 (£715): The best model of the three with superior build quality giving it protection from water and dust, which also makes it the heaviest. It's faster and has a much better focus than the other two, along with far more options for things like image size and various shooting modes. The batteries have a longer life and are more resistant to cold weather. It also has two slots for SD memory cards rather than just one. (24 megapixels, HD video, 765g, stereo microphone, 51 focus points)

You'll notice all three have the same number of megapixels but are very different in price, that's because megapixels are hardly important these days in determining the price of a camera. The build quality, batteries, memory cards and technology inside the camera are far more influential. Pretty much all digital cameras these days are over 12 megapixels and that's more than enough. The quality of the image comes down to the choice of lens and understanding your camera so that you know how to make the most out of it.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Top Five Photos and Videos Featured on Photography Blog ThisIsSouthwark

My good friend Arturo recently featured me on his photography blog ThisIsSouthwark in his regular Five Fab Photos article, where he highlights a photographer's five favourite, best, most influential photos or videos.

Check out the blog here.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

The Yeti GPS Snowsports Wristop by Delazify

Here's a product video I put together for the British sports technology company, Delazify.

The brief was to make a video for their prototype snowsports wristop, the Yeti, that they could use for a crowd-sourced funding campaign, such as Indiegogo or Kickstarter.

We shot the section with Arron Duddin (founder of the company) at a ski centre in the UK and the mountain shots in the Austrian Alps.

Shooting a Daily Vlog During the World's Toughest Adventure Race - Part 1

Earlier this year I got a phone call from Red Bull athlete, Paul Guschlbauer , asking if I was up for shooting and editing a daily vlog wit...