There are numerous photographic niches and styles. Here at LearnMyShot we always aim at sharing tips on how to photograph anything. But one day when your wings get strong you will pick one area of expertize and fly away to develop your own style. Having a distinctive style or a strong focus on a particular niche of photography has proven to be a successful path for commercial and fine art photographers. Being really good at one thing one is considered as a master. While being good at everything is often compared to not being good at anything. But is it really true?
Early in my photographic career I focused on learning how to shoot anything. I spent about 5 years assisting photographers from diverse industries, portrait, lifestyle, fashion, wedding, event, paparazzi, product, architecture, real estate and still life (That’s how I met Robert Grant – assisting him on a product shoot some years back). When I learned to fly on my own, I chose Food and Beverage as my specialty and took another 5 years to master that particular skill. Often, especially at times when cash was really tight, I asked myself did it ever make sense to spend years experiencing other niches in depth, prior to focusing on one specialty? The answer came in clear recently when I landed a Grey Goose account.
photo by: Sasha Gitin | f1.4, 1/125 50mm lens on 5d
The job required photographing mixed drinks and bartenders in action making those drinks. There are a lot of beverage photographers out there and there are 100 times as many portrait photographers. But being able to shoot both environmental portrait and beverage equally well was something unique to my style and it got me the job.However, the skill required to shoot this job went far beyond the standard norms. The job had to be performed during the filming of Beyond the Bar series on Sundance Chanel. While the job of the film crew involved filming interviews with top national bartenders, my job required to create photographic images of drinks and bartenders in action in between filming sessions. The images where intended to be used for Sundance Chanel website, advertising and point of sale.
photo by: Sasha Gitin | f2.2, 1/125 50mm lens on 7D
Generally it takes about 2 hours to do one drink shot and about 1 hour to shoot an environmental action portrait. My assignment was to accomplish both tasks in 3 minutes. That’s right! 3-hour job in 3 minutes. So three minutes of shooting every session. My production was equivalent of a pit stop during formula racing. So everything had to run perfectly. Every job generally is broken down into three steps: Pre-Production, Production, and Post -Production.
photo by: Sasha Gitin | f1.8, 1/160 24mm lens on 5D
The first and crucially important part of any kind of job is the pre-production. Luckily, I had plenty of experience shooting on movie sets. That experience came from number of previous jobs: Shooting behind the scenes shoots for movie production as a PA during my college years. Shooting celebrities on movie sets during my short lived paparazzi adventures and shooting celebrities on film sets for public relations firms. Shooting people on movie set is one thing, but this job also required shooting drinks. I have done some editorial assignments in the past where I was hired to shoot at restaurants or exclusive dining clubs where the use of flash was not allowed and lighting was a real low-light kind of situation. Based on prior experience:Choose Equipment wisely:My choice of equipment was 24mm f 1.4 L lens, 50mm f1.2 L lens. My Original plan was 35mm and 50mm lens but the rental house didn’t have the 35mm in stock so to compensate I decided to use two different bodies Canon 5d Mk2 (Full Sensor) , and Canon 7D (1.5 crop factor). Thus being able to cover 24mm, 35mm, 50mm and 75mm with only two fast prime lenses. The reason I rented those lenses is because most of the shots where done handheld with lenses open below f2.8.
photo by: Sasha Gitin | f3.5, 1/100 50mm lens on 5D
I forgot to mention that this job came a bit of a last minute. It was awarded to me during the last three days of my family vocation in Mexico and scheduled to be shot the next day I come home to New York. My pit stop crew consisted of a trusted assistant who was sent to the studio prior to the shoot for walk around and took photos of the shooting space and sets which he then emailed to me for review and planning.Assistant was also sent to rent 5d M2 body and lenses. Pre-production also involved communicating with Advertising Agency, Production coordinator, studio people, rental house, assistant etc… While this part sounds easy when you are at your office. However, It required me jumping from roof to roof in search of cell phone signal in Akumal, Mexico and occasionally cutting my snorkeling short to check emails. I knew better not to take any chances, and make sure every box received a check mark.
photo by: Sasha Gitin | f4.5, 1/160 24mm lens on 7D
The advantage of working on the movie set is that the lighting is already there. However there is a negative side to that. First of all, the light intensity is often not enough to shoot action for stills. Secondly the lighting set up to light the set and a person but is not so great for drinks as it’s too specular resulting in a bunch of unwanted reflections in the glass. I had to solve both of these issues.
photo by: Sasha Gitin | f3.2, 1/80 50mm lens on 5D
photo by: Sasha Gitin | f2.5, 1/80 50mm lens on 5D
The first day of the four-day shoot was going smooth. Except for a little adventure early on. At first I was worried that 3 minutes might not be enough to capture great images. So I decided to try shooting during the filming. My assistant rigged up a tall ladder and I climbed up with 70-200 f2.8 lens on top. Positioning myself high above the film and production crew. I set camera to silent mode and used live view to avoid mirror clopping sound. During the first roll I started quietly taking shots of the bartender interviewed. I knew I was far away enough from the boom not to mass up the sound. But after the first take the director started to refer to strange clicking he heard. DP told him she didn’t hear a thing and sound engineer assured him that there is no unusual noise. But you can’t fool the man. While canon is pretty quite in live view mode (mirror locked up ) the shutter still clicks a bit. Director started looking around and inquired who is making this sound. He was a bit agitated and was not about to give up. The reason he didn’t see me is because I was about 3 feet above him on a ladder rig. The most natural and honest thing for me to do at that moment was to admit my clicking, apologize and let the shoot move on. But it was way to early in the game for me to mess up and get everyone’s negative attention and start off the first day of collaboration on the wrong foot. I remained quiet hoping no one would look up. Sound engineer suggested that probably what director heard was the was something computer related. Director didn’t buy it but moved on. That was pretty much the end of my “shooting with long lens during filming” idea.
photo by: Sasha Gitin | f2.8, 1/125 50mm lens on 7D
Knowing that I did not have those back up shots put a bit of extra pressure on my 3 minute lime-light. To ensure that everything on my end was ready I communicated to the set dresser to provide us with a corresponding empty glass prior to the shoot. My assistant would then prepare the glass, which required: windex cleaning, dulling spray application, and sweat / mist application (water + glycerin 50/50 spray). I spent the stand buy time wisely during filming as I carefully observed the bartender during the interview, paying close attention to which angles of the face and body positioning were good and noticing how the talent responds to the direction of the director. I figured that if I only had a few minutes, I needed to step in as a continuation to what the director had already started. The talent was already warmed up, allowing me to jump on the same wave and ride it straight the the final shot.
photo by: Sasha Gitin | f1.6, 1/125 24mm lens on 7D
Film crew was done with the first take and that meant showtime for us.We walked in fast and determined. My assistant carrying the hero glass and tools to work on the drink and me carrying a camera on each shoulder and an extra lens hanging on my belt. I instantly engaged with the bartender in the same tone of voice as the director, but with a even softer voice making him feel that this part was easy and more pleasant. I asked the bartender to make a fresh drink shooting him in action and giving him a direct direction. Switching from one camera to another. Occasionally swapping lenses. Shooting approximately one frame every second. Once the drink was ready, I asked bartender to pour into the hero glass. Propping fruit and the placement of Grey Goose bottle, took about 20 seconds. Usually at least 20 minutes required for that step. I took a few shots and heard the Sundance producer. “Sasha your time is up, we have to move on” I shot another 10-15 takes at the rate of a machine gun. Producer again mentioned that I have to get off the set. I complied.
photo by: Sasha Gitin | f1.6, 1/125 50mm lens on 7D
For me, keeping track of time is not an easy task, when I am shooting, I am in the moment, in the dimension where time doesn’t really exists. However, it became clear that 3 minutes is not really enough time. Making the drink took over 2 minutes. To Prep the drink, Style props and shoot the image under one minute is quite a challenging task. I thanked the bartender for his work and went off to talk to the producer.
Conversation was not flowing very smoothly. While both of us had an objective to keep the client very happy with the outcome of the project. Her main concern that filming goes smooth and on the schedule and I was a clear abstraction to her plan. My main concern was to deliver great images. Which was crucially jeopardized by the time limit imposed on me. I continued to roll smoothly and I constantly kept adding oil into the gears. Producer and I agreed that I would be given one minute warnings and it seemed to work fine.
photo by: Sasha Gitin | f4.5, 1/80 50mm lens on 7D
I eliminated the step of making the drink from scratch and reserved to pouring the already prepared drink into prepped glass and simply tweaking the details and glass décor. Bartender in action was limited to pouring and shaking etc… on request, not entire drink making coverage.
photo by: Sasha Gitin | f1.8, 1/60 50mm lens on 5D
There was an instance when original drink was not usable as it had spills and fingerprints. Set dresser did not have an extra glass of that kind so original glass had to be cleaned and new drink to be made. This obviously consumed all my valuable minutes. Even before I started shooting I heard the producer say: “Sasha, you have two minutes”. At the moment when she told me my time was up I haven’t still made my shot. But I kindly replied (without stopping shooting) that I never got a one minute warning. She pointed out that a two minute warning was given. I kept on shooting while kindly replying that she can’t switch the time warning procedure on me all over the sadden, as we agreed on one minute warnings. She then pointed out that the 2 minute warning was actually given 3 minutes ago. At that moment I already felt that I had the shot.A combination of good humor and positive energy will get out of many situations and will buy you an extra minute, if that is what at stake.
photo by: Sasha Gitin | f3.2, 1/200 24mm lens on 7D
As there where about 150 final images and Ad Agency has a great retouching team, My post production was all done in lightroom. With a focus on sorting through 2000 takes and tweaking the color contrast and white balance.
photo by: Sasha Gitin | f4.0, 1/80 50mm lens on 7D
At the end everyone was happy, filming was done on time. And client really loved my work. Hopefully next year I will have this gig again. But next time I will ask for 5-7 minutes. Really! When you are shooting a job all your previous experiences come into play. Understanding color temperature of film lights and gelling the flash correctly came from shooting behind the scenes on film sets. Being able to switch cameras and lenses fast came to me from my event photography experience. Working with talent came from years of shooting portraits. The ability to style props fast came from experience of product catalog photography and editorial jobs. Shooting food and drinks is my main trade and that part I have down to a science. Being able to interact in a friendly manner with clients and crew came from traveling and other life experiences which allowed me to improve my previously poor social skills.
When you have 3 minutes to get the shot done there is no room for thinking nor trial and error, it’s only direct autopilot. Being the jack of all trades finally paid off.
To see all photos from that shoot visit Beyond the Bar Page
For all featured cocktail recipes click here.
Special thanks to Moosilvanya Ad Agency, the Grey Goose, the Sundance chanel, the film crew and all of you for reading.
Challenge: Create two images. One: Environmental Portrait of a person performing her craft, and a second image: The still life of the outcome.