Lightroom Holga

Recently, I found myself flipping through some of the stunning images from uer taken at Hashima Island.  One of my secret passions is urban exploration, but I’m way too cowardly to actually do any infiltration.  I love reading stories about people chartering local fishing boats to take them to remote islands, but I don’t have the balls to attempt it myself.  
Hashima is a derelict island off the coast of Nagasaki.  Once a coal mining facility, it was abandoned in 1974 when coal went out of fashion in Japan.  For the past 30 odd years, it’s been left to rot; a ghost town in the middle of the ocean.  
The explorer who snuck onto the island took a Holga and shot everything he could see.  I found myself entranced by the pictures.  There’s something so appropriate about shooting abandoned locations with a camera like a Holga.  It’s an atmospheric device, to say the least.  
Originally sold as a toy camera in the 80’s, Holga has developed a cult – like following.  Known for its light leaks, blurry photos and all around random imaging problems, it has a kind of supernatural built – in eeriness that is just damn cool.  
I took a lazy Saturday afternoon and tried to create my own Holga lookalikes, using only Lightroom.  

I shot RAW, with presets as close to neutral as I could.  I varied my shutter speed from 1/60 to 1/30.  Since I tend to have a shaky hand, 1/60 is just slightly out of focus while 1/30 has defined blur.  Apertures hung right around f/2.8; way too open for Holga (which was either f/8 or f/11) but more visually interesting for me.  I wasn’t trying to create an exact Holga replica, just my interpretation of it.  
Once in Lightroom, I kicked around temp and tint until it looked interesting.  I pulled clarity down and punched vibrance without touching saturation or lightness at all.  I also threw on the vignette that Holgas are know for.
After an unsuccessful attempt to render light leaks in Photoshop, I moved back to LR and began playing with the gradient tool.  I found that applying a bright gradient (high exposure) followed by a darker one would give exactly what I was looking for.  

Click for larger version
I’m quite satisfied with my results.  I don’t normally shoot or process this way, but it’s good to know that the option is available to me if I’m ever so inclined.  
You can see the whole album of my Holga images at flickr.

Firecracker says “Go there!”


More From The 48 Hour GFC

Hey guys,
The 48 Hour Guerrilla Film Competition has issued a new challenge: the team with the most hits on their video will win $1000!  Please help us be that team by taking a minute (well, five minutes) and watching “Blood” on youtube:
Thank you so much for your support!  

48 Hours

It’s 4:00am Sunday morning, and I’ve been up for twenty – two hours.  I’m sitting in front of Samuel Hall’s editing suite in South Philly.  He’s just finished color correcting the last shot from our movie.
“Okay,” he says as we watch the yellow render bar slowly creep.  “What’s left?”
Somewhere, deep inside my barely – operational brain, a list begins checking itself off.  Fix the dialog for the second half of the movie.  Record and add foley.  Write, record and mix music.  Render a master and compress an online.  
Is it four in the morning?  Shit.
“I think,” Sam says, “for our health, we should get some sleep.” 

Bill Dwyer
Photo by Samuel Hall

It’s 6:07pm Friday and we’re in my office in Center City, staring at the 48 Hour Guerrilla Film Competition’s website.  My mind runs through possible prompts.  
Romantic Comedy?  Difficult.  
Grindhouse?  No problem.  
Action/Adventure?  A dream come true.  
Space Opera?  We should probably just concede.  
Sam clicks the “Start” button and the GFC’s website refreshes as it loads our prompt.  We hold our breath.  
“Email me a copy of the script,” Sam says before he leaves.  It’s 10pm Friday and we’ve just finished “Blood” a conspiracy thriller.  It will be our life for the next forty – four hours.
This is not a regular screenplay.  It’s four pages long, almost all dialog.  It’s missing scenes because they’re unnecessary to put down on paper.  It’s a cross between Fringe and the Bourne trilogy.  We wrote it in two hours.  We’ve spent the last two planning out shots and logistics.  We’ve contacted the actors and set up times.  In short; we’ve done all we can for the night.
Sam heads home and I email him the script.  We go to bed, where we barely sleep.  I dream that a fat diamondback rattlesnake is chasing me.
It’s 11:30am Saturday.  Bill Dwyer, our everyman hero, sits on a bench in the middle of a crowded Rittenhouse Square.  Next to him is Alexander Sando, a scientist who might not be as crazy as he sounds.  He’s just told Bill that he needs to inject him with a secret serum; the cure to a deadly virus.
“I don’t mind assisting…” Bill begins.  This is the line he can’t screw up.  This is the prompt line, the one we were assigned, the one that has to be perfect.  
A girl, no older than 9, runs through the shot, yelling.  For a moment, the actors hold it together, then break into laughter.  
“Cut,” I say, grinning.  The father apologizes profusely, but we laugh it off.  This isn’t big budget.  Hell, this isn’t even low budget.
I look over to Sam.  He’s crouched behind his camera, laughing and shaking his head at the absurdity of it all.  
We are alive.  

Bill Dwyer, Alexander Sando, me and Beth Gorman
Photo by Samuel Hall
It’s 4pm Saturday and Andrew Feierabend is pointing a pistol at Bill’s head.  Bill is tied to a chair in the middle of a derelict old building.  The floor is giving way in one corner.  Rain hammers the windows outside.  
“Who am I?” Andrew asks, rage coloring the edges of his words.  “I’m the man with the gun.”
Bill looks into his eyes, fearful.  “Where’s the man with the balls to use it?”
The entire crew breaks into laughter.  Beth Gorman goes over to muss Bill’s hair.  It’s too kempt for a guy who’s just been kidnapped.
It’s 8pm Saturday and Billy Zane is talking to Jessica Fletcher.  Meghan Marvin lies on a yoga mat on the floor, occasionally offering words of criticism to the characters on Murder She Wrote.  I’m sitting on the couch.  Sam’s in a recliner.  His cat, Rooth, is curled on his chest.  
We’re waiting for the footage to transcode.  I close my eyes, trying to force myself into sleep for a few minutes.  It isn’t working.
“I have coffee if you want it,” Meghan tells me.
“I didn’t know you drank coffee,” I say.
“I don’t generally,” she explains, “but sometimes I just really crave it.”
Rooth puts her paw on Sam’s face.  It looks like she’s trying to push his mouth open.  

Beth Gorman and Elizabeth Green
Photo by Samuel Hall
“I can’t do this anymore,” I say.  I push away from the computer and stand up.  It’s 11pm Saturday and I’ve been syncing dialog with images for two hours.  The first scene is almost done.
Sam takes over and begins to cut the chase scene.  I drink grape juice and wonder if I’m going home tonight.  
It’s 2am Saturday and I know I’m sleeping here.  The air conditioner hums in the window, the sound accented by the pitter patter of rain on its metal exterior.  
Our cut is done.  The movie is five minutes and forty – two seconds.  
“I think I can do the color correction,” Sam tells me.
I feel like I’m going to die.  I can actually tell that parts of my brain have shut off.  I remember an episode of SGU where they talked about sleep deprivation.  They said that sections of your brain will actually go to sleep, even when you’re still wide awake.  
Sam exports the XML and opens it in Premiere, then After Effects.  I keep seeing something out of the corner of my eye.  It looks like a human figure.  

Bill Dwyer and me
Photo by Samuel Hall

Rooth jumps on me.  I’m on Sam’s couch.  I don’t know what time it is.  I’ve slept soundly and deeply.  
I check my phone.  8:45am.  Sunday.  I get up and take the coffee out of the fridge.  I consider making half a pot, then decide that’s stupid and brew a full one.  I take my first cup upstairs.  It’s in a black Ikea mug.  
Sam’s already there, in his pajamas.  He’s only been up a few minutes.  The day is fresh and I feel surprisingly good.  
11am Sunday.  I feel like shit.  I ate a bowl of shredded wheat mixed with soy milk and vanilla ice cream.  Then I took two painkillers for my headache.  I feel hot.  I think I’m going to vomit.  
Sam’s music fills the room.  He’s deep in Garageband, pounding out drums, cellos and pianos.  I go down to the basement and record foley.  

Bill Dwyer and Andrew Feierabend
Photo by Samuel Hall
It’s 3pm Sunday.  Sam’s other cat, Chelsea, wanders over his desk, rubbing herself against his chin.  He reaches around her to use his keyboard.  He doesn’t throw her down.  
We’re doing the final mix: dialog, music and foley.  Sam doesn’t like the final piece of music.  He sits down at his keyboard, almost in a rage.  He re – scores the entire end of the movie.  It’s better.  
“I just want my life back,” he says.  It’s a half joke.  Only half.  
I never did vomit.
It’s 4pm Sunday and it’s done.  We stand at the island between Sam’s living room and kitchen.  He makes beans and I eat ice cream.  Upstairs, the computer compresses an online version of our forty – eight hours of effort.  
“We have to re – integrate with society now,” Sam says.  This is true.  We’ve lived this movie for the past two days.  There has been nothing else.
I make a joke about the “civvies” and put my ice cream in the freezer.  We go upstairs to upload the movie to the website.  We are exhausted, pushed to the very brink of our endurance.  
We are alive.  

Watch it here.

After the Storm

There’s this magical time.  I’ve only experienced it in Philadelphia, although that might just be the only place I noticed it.  It happens after a strong, humidity – breaking storm; the kind of storm that you wait days for.  

At sunset on those days, just around 8pm, the sun begins to set.  It must be some trick of the clouds, the way the light of the setting sun refracts through them.  But it turns the world amber.  It turns the sky yellow.  

It’s magic to me.  It’s one of those events that a camera can’t truly show.  

More pictures on my flickr.

Art with an Invisible Hand

“If you’re good at something, never do it for free.”
– The Dark Knight, 2009
Jamie Melendez and Swan Vacula
I think I just lost a potential client because I charged for my services.  It doesn’t bother me that much, but it does highlight a topic I’ve been thinking about for some time, and it seemed to be a good first blog post.  
A bit of background: while I’m mostly a filmmaker, I do some photography work on the side.  I prefer to do model work rather than “documentary” style (weddings, events etc).  This is probably because model photography is as close to filmmaking as I can get.  Most of the work I’ve done has been free, but I have done some commissioned work too.  Recently, I put my portfolio up on and offered to work with interested models and photographers.  
I was contacted by a young actor to shoot some headshots.  She seemed nice and was very excited to work with me.  We emailed back and forth, determining what she wanted and how quickly she need the shots.  
In the last piece of correspondence she sent, she asked how much I’d charge.  Now, I know a few photographers who do this kind of thing, and I have a a pretty good idea of what the going rates are.  I named a price that was reasonable and in keeping with the industry.  I never heard from her again.  
At the heart of this conundrum is the debate of professional vs amateur work, something that I’ll get into in a future post.  But, in a nutshell, it’s the obligation of the amateur to assess the market’s climate and charge accordingly.  It’s unfair for someone with less experience to make significantly less while still delivering a similar product.  This seems like a dilemma that is confined to our industry.  Well, that and performing arts. 
This harkens me back to another pricing debate I had.  About ten years ago, when I was just starting out, I was hired to make a series of instructional videos for a local karate studio.  The videos, totaling twenty – four in all, were shot, cut and burned to dvd for duplication and distribution.  I even went so far as to create interactive dvd menus and a special effects laden intro.  
I learned a lot throughout the process, particularly what the work was worth.  I undercharged for my services, over – delivered the final product, and left the project with something of a bad taste in my mouth.  
Two years later, the client came to me again and asked me to make another series.  I had gained some experience and suggested a price more in keeping with what the work was worth.  The client balked, but acquiesced and I got my fee.  And he never hired me again.  I found out that he now works with a shooter/editor who does the work “as a hobby”.  
The worst part of this whole situation is that I’ve soured that client on professionals.  I delivered professional grade work for an amateur price and now he’ll expect the same no matter who he hires.  And he’ll always be able to say, “Well, the last guy did it for half of what you’re charging.”  

photo credit: Swan Vacula
The ultimate question here is; what is our work worth?  It’s not an easy one to answer.  In these days of budget cuts and inflated unemployment, it can be difficult to outline a project and demand a hefty price tag from a client with plenty of other options.
I work in a retail store, and it’s easy for us to determine what we charge for our products.  We simply look at what we paid for the item, what the going rate is, and charge so we make a little money and don’t exceed the market value of the product.  But it’s much harder with art because there is no standard “market value”.   Every product is different and requires different things from the artist.  
The truth is, our work’s price is determined by the industry, and we’re obligated to maintain that price.  If the filmmaker across the street charges half of what I’m charging, I’ll have to lower my prices to maintain my clients.  If he then chooses to lower his, we end up in a Adam Smith nightmare, where the client wins but the businesses go bankrupt in a matter of months.
There’s nothing wrong with charging fair prices or making exceptions for clients on a case by case basis; that’s what economics is all about.  But it’s our responsibility to familiarize ourselves with industry rates and make fair and honest quotes about the worth of our work.  If we do this as a community, we make the invisible hand work for us, instead of getting pushed around by it.  

Or, as my good friend Sam Hall puts it:


I’m finishing up something.  I’ll post soon.

Until then, here are some pretty flares:

This is with my new Canon 28mm f/1.8.  People give this lens bad reviews because of its excessive flaring.  Me?  That’s one of the reasons I bought it.