Getting the Hollywood look with nothing more than a HD camera, a tripod and natural light.

Getting the Hollywood look doesn’t take millions of dollars. In this article I am going to teach you how getting the Hollywood look simply takes patience and a good understanding of your medium. All you will need is a HD camera, with a decent amount of manual features, a tripod and a good location.

I am going to use as an example a video of some test footage I took in Tipperary, Ireland out in the country on a summer’s day. It was taken on the Panasonic HDC-SD60 which is a run of the mill HD camera. Nothing particularly special about the camera by today’s standards, but nonetheless a very good camera at a very good price.

Shot 1

The shot at 30 seconds is a good starting point. A simple but strong silhouette with stuff happening on the horizon anchors the shot. The wind farm was a good thing to include as it moves the shot into a moving image different from photography, and the gentle movement of the clouds signal the end of the day. It is important to know when you go to a location where the sun will be at a certain time. The rule is simple but important. The sun rises in the east, and the sun sets in the west is common knowledge, but less well known is the fact that the sun is in the north part of the sky passing from east to west during the summer, and then it is in the south of the sky in the winter. This knowledge will let you know what your location will look like at a certain hour on a certain day, though checking the weather forecast beforehand is good practice anyway.

So going to this location I knew that in the evening, shooting into the sun would give me this dynamic silhouette, as the sun would be setting beyond the hills, and I knew the valley was in the north. Also this knowledge allowed me to make an educated guess that the sun would be softened by aerial diffusion or clouds, as the sun would be low, and have more clouds to pass through, creating a nebula like play of light instead of a harsh spraying of blown out white which never looks nice, and screams amateur footage. Try to shoot with the camera pointed towards the sun, as this will give more atmosphere and depth due to the creation of shadows and highlights which give a vivid interesting picture. In this image the magic is given by the dynamic horizon line and the flares bursting through the clouds. It is more difficult to control but if you have set your camera to what your eye sees it shouldn’t be a problem. With the sun behind you, people may be in clearer light, but it will lead to flatter, duller images, which is poison to the Hollywood look.

In the close up at 44 seconds, the clouds pass by at a quicker rate. This is part of the charm of telephoto lenses. Part of the Hollywood look, is the use of these kind of lenses. Never physically go in with the camera set at the widest focal length it will simply distort the face unpleasantly. Feel free to stay some distance away and zoom in. This will flatter the face. Telephoto lenses increase the size of the background in relation to the middle ground, so a mountain behind a person, that once looked small, can be made to look like Mount Everest, just by going back a few metres, zooming in on the person.Text Box:  The camera’s white balance was set to daylight at shot .55, which, due to shooting at evening, when the sun’s colour temperature is warmer, gives a great golden hue passing over the green fields. This gives a vibrancy to the natural colour which the camera exaggerates, and you get the feeling of a beautiful summer’s day of your childhood. Hollywood knows this, and given any opportunity, cinematographers will inject their light with an extra bit of warmth to give this vivid colour. By shooting in the evening, you can do this too. This is why setting your white balance by a piece of white paper is poor practise as you will get rid of this hue, which would be stupid to ‘correct’.

At shot ‘‘1.05’ this is simply a zoomed out version of the last shot. The last shot is simply in the middle top 1/3 of the screen. Notice how much more immense that appeared in the last shot, again the compression of middle and background elements that telephoto lenses give.

It is often good to manipulate your shutter speed to stray from the standard, 1/50th at times. In this shot I set the camera to 1/100th shutter speed, and before I knew it all the flieing insects in the air became clear, creating a visual symphony. At 1/50th they were invisible due to the size and the blur at that shutter speed, at 1/100th, blur is virtually non existent.

The golden flare is an effective device, it speaks to us as beams of light from the sun, another advantage of pointing at the sun. The tree in the deep foreground, gives a great sense of depth not only due to it’s position, but also due to the fact that it is draped in shadow. It is always good to drape your foreground objects in shadow and your background objects in bright light as this will give the image a great sense of 3 dimensionality, without the glasses. You can see it in this shot, it is essentially a greyscale, the darkest in the foreground leading to the background in the brightest tones. The foreground stands out that extra bit due to the sun highlights that surround the edges of it. Finally, the foreground acts as a pleasant frame, that surrounds the shot.

The next shot at 1.09 marks a good transition in the editing as even though it is at a different time of day, the shot is similarly framed, and the eye reacts to that. It is good to fine similarities when there is a primary degree of contrast in shots to link things for the audience.

shot 3

The shot at 1:23 is a good example of what you call a play of light. A tree becomes interesting because of the sharp silhouette it is in, and the sharp specular highlights on the leaves, that shimmer when the leaves move in the wind. Finally, the tight telephoto framing, helps to give a compressed abstract feel.

The shadows on the statue are always interesting, creating texture and visual saturation, as well as wrapping the object in the environment.

shot 4

The final shot at 2.03 is a great example of the use of a telephoto lens. This is merely a small hill in real life, but due to the telephoto compression, it has enlarged. That and the haze in the air has brightened up the background in relation to foreground, giving another degree of depth.

This video is proof that you can get great results with a relatively cheap camera, and using NO video manipulation in post. Just using the natural light and close, patient observation.

John Redmond

Setting Up Your HD camera to get the best results.

I am using the Panasonic HDC-SD60 which is a run of the mill HD camera, but anything written in the article can be used with essentially any HD camera.

First things first, make sure the camera is set to the right settings. Totally manual is the way to go here, automatic is fine for family days out, but for a shot at the best picture possible, manual is the only way to go. In your location set your camera up, frame your shot on the tripod, and bubble it up to make sure you are getting an evenly framed picture. Set your camera’s shutter speed next, the Hollywood standard is 1/50th which gives a nice natural sense of movement, but if there is fast moving action in your frame you may want to set the camera’s shutter speed to 1/100th, as this will pretty much annihilate blur.

The exposure is next, which on most camera’s is a simple plus to minus setting, but the real skill here is being able to judge accurate exposure with your eye from the monitor. I often find that the natural desire is to make the picture brighter, particular when outside, when there is plenty of glare on the camera, which fools the eye into thinking there is no shadow detail. Go against this instinct, a correct exposure is always a bit darker than what one thinks it is. Also with the nature of digital cameras they work better when underexposed a little anyway, though one may want to have editing software to bump up the picture a little afterwards, but I will talk about that more in another article. With many cameras, they will of course have an inbuilt exposure meter, though I suggest exposing the image 1 stop less than the suggestion anyway. But the most important thing with exposure, you are trying to get the closest exposure to what your eye sees.

The last thing to do to make sure your camera is set correctly is to set the camera’s white balance, which is simply making sure the camera’s reaction to the colour temperature of the light is accurate. One note on this is never set the white balance by holding a piece of white paper in front of the camera and then let the camera find the colour temperature. This is incompetent, as it will get rid of any interesting hues. There are two white balances of importance, tungsten, signaled by a lamp symbol, and daylight which is signaled by a sun symbol. Simply put, the lamp white balance is for indoor lights, and the sun symbol is for natural sunlit outdoor light. Any other white balances are not important for the time being anyway.

One more note on exposure, once you get a good accurate exposure of a particular location, you can then just pop off shots without worrying about exposure. You do not need to keep changing exposure from shot to shot, unless you are dealing with very contrasty  lighting, but otherwise, when you shoot in a darker area, don’t say yes to the urge to brighten it up, and vice versa, this will just leave you with loads of washed out unappealing looking footage.

With the settings on your camera ready you are ready to start shooting.

John Redmond.

The top 10 rules to becoming a Pro Photographer.

No 10 : Understand that editing is as important as shooting.

No 9 : Always remain open minded to creativity.

No 8 : Make friends, never enemies.

No 7 : Understand why others have and been successful.

No 6 : Pay attention to details. They are the difference between enthusiast and professional.

No 5 : Never forget professional photographers who do not market themselves are never heard about.

No 4 : Learn the importance of Clients. Without them you are not a professional.

No 3 : Research Clients before meeting them, research people before photographing them.

No 2 : Always fulfil the client Brief, and then shoot for yourself.

No 1 : Never Give Up!

Behind the scenes ‘What does your soul look like (Part 1)’

Deconstructing the shot. What does your Soul Look like (Part 1)

Good vs Evil


I completed this project in late 2010 after having held the rough idea with me for more then a year. People have asked what inspired this shoot and I would have to say most notably the book ‘The hero with a thousand faces’ by Joseph Campbell. This book has influenced a raft of ‘good verses Evil’ tales with the most famous being the inspiration for the Star Wars films by George Lucas. The underlying premise is of the eternal struggle for identity throughout the ages, with a hero at the centre of it all.

At around the same time I came across an amazing image by Oscar Rejlander Titled ‘The two ways of life’ (1857). The photograph had been printed from a combination of over 30 separate negatives and was an allegory of the two paths through life, the ways of right and wrong. It was so famous at the time that even queen Victoria bought a copy to hang in her main residence.

the two ways of life

Oscar Rejlander The two ways of life 1857

My Initial idea was to recreate a modern good verses evil shoot on a grand scale. The 7 deadly sins verses the 7 heavenly virtues, with 7 different models playing both their good and evil self in the image. This is an idea I hope to venture back to, but the logistics of such a shoot seemed far too much to deliver in the little time we allocated. After much deliberation we settled on just the 2 models and I set about formulating my ideas.

Location / Lighting

Lately I’ve tried to tell stories in my shoots where possible, and have felt a mixture of strobe with film lighting, or purely film lighting on its own gives the look I’m after. We found a great 5 storey Georgian House in Dublin city centre that was perfect for the shoot. As was the case with this shoot, a good location can stimulate the mind to improve on the pre-visualized ideas. It was discussed between myself and John (Redmond) that the attic was perfect to recreate a heavenly atmosphere, the basement with it’s 18th century decrepit range would be ideal as a hellish environment, and we could recreate purgatory on any number of the floors inbetween.

heaven behind scenes

A behind the scenes shot from heaven.

Now anyone that has worked with film lighting knows it can take a long while to achieve the required look. We aimed to keep things simple as we had three setups to do in one day and we were also limited by the power at the location (the house was in a state of disrepair and only had 2 free electrical sockets working over the 5 floors). Now John worked as the cinematographer on the shoot setting up the light’s to my brief which really added a dramatic effect, considering the number of lights we were limited to. Below is the lighting setup we used for Heaven..

lighting setup

heaven shots

Models / Makeup, Hair & Styling.

Good models are a godsend – they can make an otherwise ordinary shot extraordinary through their pose, expression and grace. Working with top creative models allows me to more easily tell the story I want in a believable way, as I find less time is required with direction – a simple 5 minute conversation with the model about the aims of the shoot is nearly always enough to get the desired results. The models we choose for the shoot were with 1stoption in dublin and were karolina & Maria.

Top Makeup artists can command a high fee, but the results are definitely worth the investment. Here I gave oksana a brief and let her create the look for both girls. I also allowed her to go wild with the extravagant hair styles which were created by a hairdressing friend. This shoot was quite unique, and I don’t know of many other mua’s capable of pulling this off.

We were lucky enough to gain the services of a great young stylist on this shoot Sara (sara mia styling). Sara brought with her a number of great outfits in fitting with our concept which really gave an edge to the shoot.   

Paulina Kwasniak - A Models Perspective

Paulina Kwasniak is an emerging talent in the Irish Modeling World and one of the most creative and hard working models we’ve had the pleasure to work with. We Shoot People recently asked Paulina about her thoughts and experiences on what makes a good photographer;

Paulina Kwasniak

Not every person with the camera and some basic knowledge of the photographic profession can call themselves A TRULY GOOD AND DEDICATED PHOTOGRAPHER. But what does the term “good photographer” mean? Well it can obviously mean many different things for many different people. I can only talk about my feelings from a models point of view.

My name is Paulina and I have been modelling for quite a while now. I was always passionate about fashion but I like other aspects of photography too. My adventure with modelling began when a certain friend invited me for a test photo shoot with one of the local photographers. Since then it just went off and I have been gaining more and more experience. The more shoots I have done the more I discovered what a big role a “good photographer” plays.

I was always aware that the model, the make up artist or the hairdresser can never take the whole credit for the finished shoots and that the role of the photographer was always very important but never to this extent.

Most people think that it is only about creating a good atmosphere during the shoot. They cannot be further from the truth. Yes the atmosphere is very important, I agree. It is always better to work in a nice, friendly, professional and relaxed environment, but as we know this is not always the case. Quite often people have a tendency to demand too much from each other, complain or just be unpleasant in general. We are only humans and even the nicest person can have a bad day. I have always understood that and so as much as the good atmosphere is important; there are many other issues which should be discussed.

The good photographer can give well structured instructions to the model and that can greatly help. It is not about telling the model what to do every 5 seconds. If that is the case either the so called “ model “ should not be the model or the photographer has some kind of psychological problem that demands him to boss people around. I have always hated that. As a model I know what to do, how to pose myself. I only need clear instructions of what exactly is the photographer’s vision and how he sees me in it. The photographer and the model (plus the entire team involved) should be ready for a bit of impulsiveness and a compromise as things never really go the exact way that we have imagined. But that’s good.That is just called being spontaneous and creative (both very important characteristics which a good photographer should have).

The photographer should give little tips during the shoot. Remind his model about the intensity and direction of the light or little things which models might forget about. I often had a tendency to slightly close my eyes ….little tips from a photographer are crucial. It is also good to notify the model that she is doing good or a bad job in a respectful manner. I like to know if the way that I am posing works or not. I will add that being assertive here is the greatest characteristic of all. Openly talking about your feelings and suggestions, without offending anybody during the shoot often brings the greatest results.

The good photographer should also have a great technical knowledge. This is so useful both during the shoot and later when editing the photos. Some people are more artistic then others.

I do not have to point out that the over use of photoshop’s various features is like a suicide to any respectful photographer. Making faces look plastic, very bright or dark is not showing the highest standard of great photography, but a lack of an art knowledge and imagination. I am aware that photoshop is very difficult software but if a photographer calls himself a photographer he or she should remember that editing photos is as important as taking them.

Finally a good photographer respects his deadlines. There is nothing worse than a long month of waiting and begging for your photographs. But that can go the other way around. Receiving 20 weak photographs a day or two after the shoot is just useless. We should all understand that ‘great art’ takes time: it might be a week or two. I always preferred to receive few very good images rather than 20 weak images. This is crucial especially for more established models as the photos that you start to send to the agencies can make or break your career.

Posted by David Frain

When I was on trips I used to put Polaroid’s in a container with sea water, sand and pebbles. I’d swirl it all around to get scratches. It’s this random element that I call ‘the drip’. It’s the drip which might splash onto the other side of the canvas when you’re working on a painting and make you think ‘that is good’, possibly leading you to explore other things. My whole life is spent in search of the drip; it can change everything.
David Bailey
Gracie Lou beauty shot
Makeup by Daria
Styling/Clothes: Rebecca FlanaganHair: Anna CurranAssisted by Steve Daly
Lighting Diagram to follow..

Gracie Lou beauty shot

Makeup by Daria

Styling/Clothes: Rebecca Flanagan
Hair: Anna Curran
Assisted by Steve Daly

Lighting Diagram to follow..

Model: Anouska Proetta BrandonPhotographer: David Frain Stylist: Danielle FitzgeraldMUA: Amanda SharkeyAssistant: Stephen Wall-Morris
Lighting Diagrams to follow..

Model: Anouska Proetta Brandon
Photographer: David Frain
Stylist: Danielle Fitzgerald
MUA: Amanda Sharkey
Assistant: Stephen Wall-Morris

Lighting Diagrams to follow..