Phase One is an innovative manufacturer of the highest-end medium format camera systems. They are headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark, with offices all around the world. Their motto is relatively simple, and I believe explains everything this company is about.
Freedom of choice is the freedom to use the right creative tool for the job and we are committed to equipping photographers with what they need to achieve their creative visions without compromise. (Phase One)
I have received an offer to become the key photographer for their upcoming Capture One 8 Pro software release. You can only imagine how excited I was! I was given an unique opportunity and creative freedom to create multimedia materials for the world-wide premiere of their acclaimed software package. An exhilarating yet very demanding task with super short turnover times and deadlines. In this relatively long post, I want to break down all the essential information about this high-impact multimedia assignment.
Cleint brief & concept
My task was to deliver a collection of powerful, hero portraits of mountaineers in an epic setting. The images would be subsequently used as subject to processing in the newly introduced Capture One 8 Pro RAW editing software by Phase One. I was asked to use my scientific curriculum and identify the most plausible features of Capture One 8 Pro, that fit my photography style and discuss them in the ‘processing video’. Both the photographs produced during the assignment, and the motion picture part were scheduled for the release during the world-wide premiere in Cologne, Germany during Photokina 2014 show.
Perhaps I will repeat myself, but I just want to make it clear that every single assignment I do, is mostly about the research and decent preparation. The filming and shooting for PhaseOne was no exception at all. The assignment started way before we had set our feet on the mountain. As a matter of fact, I have been preparing for this assignment for a couple of weeks. Phase One marketing team contacted me 9 weeks before the actual assignment with a very clear list of goals. Together with the client, we have translated these goals into a list of short and achievable points with alternative scenarios, should the weather fail or unexpected things happen. I dare say the preparation stage of this assignment took 80% of the overall job time.
Since the very beginning, it was evident should this assignment work the location must be epic, offer some degree of exposure to elements, yet in close proximity to an active mountain refuge. Initially, we were planning to shoot the assignment and the videos on the ridge of Aiguille d’Entreves, which served me as an excellent location on many smaller jobs. However, a quick inspection of the video filming gear, brought by the Phase One crew, made us redefine our plans. The whole photo shoot was about to be filmed with quite expensive and approx. 24lbs / 12kg Sony Cine Alta F-55 camera with additional batteries, wireless audio transmitter and a decent shotgun mic. Additionally, the opening / establishing scenes were supposed to be filmed with helicopter drone. After rounds of refinement we were left with approximately 40lbs / 20kg of media-making gear.
The very beginning of the assignment. We were trying to use a window of relatively calm weather in order to record the interview clips for the assignment video.
The beauty of living and working in Aosta Valley is an abundance of breath taking locations with relatively easy access. In order to suit the production needs but also provide professional and reliable safety measures to Phase One crew, we have decided to place the shoot in Glacier Geant, at 3300m just above the town of Courmayeur in Aosta Valley. Glacier Geant is readily accessible from Courmayeur via cable car that runs to Refuge Torino (3200m). From there, one needs approximately 15 min. to reach the glacial planes of Glacier Geant.
Another angle on the Glacier Geant location with the rocky features of Aiguille des Marbress visible in the background.
An improvised scene of “Gentleman's belay”. Five members of the crew are perfectly visible (excluding Lumi Toma, who took this photograph). You should be able to see that cameraman, Lau was belayed by Michael (the utter most left guy in black jacket.) We were photographing on an overhanging cornice of ice.
Shooting the “glacial exit” scenes with Marco and Francesco. Trying not to get blasted off the glacier by powerful southerly wind.
Shooting hero-portraits and helicopter drone clips on the wall of small rock feature, next to Aiguille Falambeu.
Phase One made sure I would have absolutely the very best of their products. Four weeks before the actual shoot time, I received a package from Denmark with Phase One 645DF+ body, a set of lenses among, which I selected 28mm f4.5, 40-80mm 4.5-5.6 and 80mm f2.8 all in leaf-shutter versions. The cherry on the cake, was a brand new IQ250 CMOS-based digital back with astounding 14-stops of dynamic range and 52 mgeapixel count. All elegantly packed in rugged peli case. I have used one 645DF+ battery along with two IQ250 digital back batteries.
Working safely with so much expensive gear at high altitude requires really reliable accessories. This behind the scenes post would not be complete without explaining the role of the most essential items.
Photo bag – Lowe Pro Rover Pro 45L AW
I have been using Lowe Pro ROVER PRO 45L AW for over one year now, and it has very quickly become my favorite backpack. I like it because of modular design. I can easily fit a DF+645 body with 3 medium format lenses, including large Schneider-Kreuznach 40-80mm f4.5-f5.6 leaf-shutter zoom, few batters and still have some room for extra clothing, food and few small pieces of safety gear.
A quick frame from the “rock ridge climbing” scene. You can see me wearing Lowe Pro Rover 45L Pro AW backpack.
Strap – Peak Design Slide
I have been enjoying the support of Peak Design for more than a year now. Beyond any doubt their CLIP system is the best on the market and made my life both easier, and safe in many situations. However, their new SLIDE tops everything these guys designed and crafted in USA. As only my prototype version of STRAP arrived, it has immediately replaced the default strap on my 645DF+ body. The peak design strap is far more comfortable, it can be easily and safely detached from the camera body, especially when you decide to use a tripod. However, the most important feature is the length adjustment system, which is solid, secure and can be adjusted even while wearing heavy duty Rab Guide Gloves.
Shooting Marco Tamponi and Francesco, mountain guides, at the very edge of Glacier Geant with Peak Design SLIDE securing my PhaseOne camera system.
A quick check up of the photos on super bight LCD of IQ250 digital back. Once again, Peak Design SLIDE saves the day. It is very easy to adjust the length of the strap with the oversized handles.
Memory Cards – Transcend 128GB CF
I have been using Transcend cards, both Compact Flash, and Secure Digital for over 2 years now. They have never failed on me and their latest cards are simply amazing. A typical 64GB CF card can hold up to 950 x 52 megapixel photographs produced by PhaseOne IQ250 back.
Prepping Phase One IQ250 digital back for a shoot. Working with my favorite Transcend 128GB card.
GPS – Garmin eTrex Vista HCX
Although, not a-typical photo accessory, an auxiliary GPS unit can be invaluable when need to work on an alpine glacier. The biggest problem of operating on alpine glaciers is finding and navigating a safe path that will keep you away from bottomless crevasses. An experienced local mountain guide will for sure know the topography of the local glaciers, however, just to stay safe it is always good to keep a record of your tracks and in the case of fresh snow and the general break-down of the weather, be able to retrace your steps. Moreover, a GPX log from your GPS device can be used to do reverse-geotagging of final photographs. In my particular case, I am using my good ol’ Garmin eTrex Vista HCX GPS unit. It is a very simple, yet powerful unit, with pressure-based altimeter, I can run it for more than 36h in a log mode (logging GPX fixes every 60 seconds) on two, rechargeable AA batteries, it can take lots of abuse and it conforms with IP6 water-, dust- and abrasion-resistance standard.
Garmin eTrex Vista HCX – a truly useful tool for long assignments on a glacier.
After the official release of Phase One Mont Blanc Shoot Video, I have received quite a few questions about the clothing I have used on the assignment. Let me start by emphasizing, there should never be a compromise when it comes to safety and comfort. Not only during an outdoor photo assignment, but for any activity, which takes place in relatively remote and potentially dangerous place. The key rule of high altitude mountaineering is to stay dry and warm. If you have followed my photography carrier, you should know that since more than two years I have been enjoying the support and collaboration with Rab, an outdoor clothing manufacturer from UK, who specialize in clothing for truly extreme conditions. I had a chance to use their gear on numerous photo excursions in Mont Blanc Massif, including week-long night long exposure photo shoots with temperatures plummeting way below -20C. Rab clothing made me always warm, dry and comfortable, irrespective of the conditions and the nature of the photo assignment.
A quick glance on the weather forecast, made it clear we needed to be dressed for winter conditions, although the actual assignment was taking place on the 1st of September. The forecast for Glacier Geant (3200m) was reporting 40-50km/h (30mph) wind in the morning, picking up in strength in the afternoon, with the actual temperature of -6C. This is why I have decided to put on multiple layers of clothing, which could be easily removed, should one start overheating. The layered clothing included: Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket (the first insulated jacket layer), Rab Spark Jacket (the shell layer) and Rab Neutrino Endurance ( the belay, all around super insulated jacket). As for the lower body parts, I was wearing Rab Xiom Pants (wind / water shell) and my battle tested La Sportiva Batura Boots. My hands were protected by Rab Guide Gloves (by far my favorite gloves ever), whereas my head protected with super-stylish blue Rab Feather Beanie. Lastly, I have decided to put aside standard eyewear in exchange for skiing googles from Salice.
Yours truly, as seen with Michael and Lau preparing to shoot “ridge traverse” scenes. You can see me wearing Rab Xiom Pants and Rab Guide Gloves.
Yours truly with the “body armor” from Rab: Microlight Alpine Jacket, Spark Jacket and Neutrino Endurance Jacket.
Storage & Photo workflow
Every multimedia project requires peculiar storage needs. What I have meant here are: storage medium including its capacity and bandwidth. I have covered this topic in “Understanding Storage Needs” post. The assignment for Phase One was no exception.
Exactly year and half ago I have completely migrated to G-Technology storage products. By migration, I’ve meant getting rid of DIY NAS server, which failed on me few times, countless number of pocket external drives, and a corporate-level RAID system with the most complicated firmware update scheme I have ever heard of. I have never looked back! Finally, I have a range of products that exactly fit the needs of various production environments. In general, my file-based workflow can be divided into three stages: ON LOCATION, INGESTION & CATALOGUING, and PROCESSING & DELIVERY.
The vast majority of my photo assignments take place in relatively remote places, most notably mountain locations. The most important practical implication of working in an outdoor environment is traveling light, but without sacrificing on the functional aspect of the workflow. While working for a client with very defined set of objectives, I always need to be able to quickly offload my work to a safe storage medium, and inspect the photo material against a storyboard or a predefined “scene guide”. My tools of choice here are Apple MacBook Air 11″ connected to G-Technology G-DOCK drive via USB3.0.
My ON LOCATION pack: MacBook Air 11″ with G-Drive Ev connected via USB3.0
All my photo files are stored on an external 1TB G-DRIVE Ev, which can be docked in G-DOCK Ev. The drive is encrypted using Apple FileVault technology. Should I loose it, nobody else will be able to gain the contents. This is especially important for clients who ask me to work on a projects that involve photographing prototype gear, hence working under NDA conditions. A bright and contrasty screen of MacBook Air together with Capture One 8 Pro allow me to quickly browse through acquired photographs and check against the assignment storyboard. Under most of the conditions, I would take MacBook Air and G-DRIVE Ev and leave for safe-keeping at the nearest active mountain refuge. I am now looking to improve my location setup, and I love what my buddy and fellow G-TEAM member, Tom Bars has put together. Check out his location workstation!
Ingestion & Cataloguing
The very first thing to do after a long photo assignment is to ingest and organize the photographs. For that purpose we have developed a customized workflow powered by Apple Script Automator. (You can see an example of time-lapse Automator workflow I have created for “Get Your Stars Right Project”). Our cataloguing workspace is powered by Apple iMac 27″ with Photodon Monitor Hood, running Capture One 8 Pro software. The photo ingestion procedure starts with docking G-DRIVE Ev in G-Technology G-DOCK Ev. This neat piece of equipment runs at blazingly-fast Thunderbolt bus, saving a lot of time for all of us. Our photo library files are stored on 16TB G-Technology Q-SPEED running in RAID-5 mode. That way we have very fast and safe access to all files. At this stage we catalogue photographs based on different criteria, which in the case of Phase One assignment were based on the type of scene and location of interest.
A docked G-DRIVE Ev, Q-SPEED and our hooded “ingestion” iMac 27″.
Processing & Delivery
My processing and delivery workflow evolves around Apple Mac Mini and Q-SPEED 24TB operating in RAID-5 mode. Once a selection of photographs for processing track has been made, they are moved to a temporal folder on our iMac 27″, from which an Automator Script distributes them to a delivery machine. All of my temporal photographs are stored on Q-SPEED, and processed in place. As you can see I am also using a G-DRIVE PRO. It is a 4TB model, which works as a scratch disk. I do have a script which empties this drive every week. All of my external drives run on Thunderbolt bus, achieving read/write speeds of high end SSD drives, with exceptional capacity. Keeping my photo-catalogues across two machines, with RAID-5 storage, that operates on enterprise-class HGST hard drives makes minimizes a chance of data-loss and allows me and my collaborators to select, keyword and process the files with very short turnover times. The assignment for Phase One required from us an extremely short turnover time. We had literally 10 hours to organize, rank, select and process the files, for “processing video” part attached below.
I have been using Capture One Pro software from Phase One for a year now. After doing comparative analysis of various Adobe Raw versions against the “old” 7.2 RAW rendering engine of Capture One, it became evident Capture One leads in almost all aspects for RAW rendering, with very obvious advantages in noise processing area and precise color manipulation. Updating Capture One from version 7.2 to 8.0 brings even better noise suppression and gives more creative control options. All of the Phase One assignment photographs were processed with the 8th BETA release of Capture One 8 Pro. That release was very stable and was resembling the final product.
I want to cordially thank my dear friends, and trusted collaborators, mountain guides: Marco Tamponi and Francesco Civradano for keeping us safe and pulling some amazing moves during the photo shoot.
Lumi Toma of Life Nature Adventure is as always acknowledged for her support on this assignment, planning and amazing behind the scenes photographs.
The Phase One Mont Blanc model team. From left to right: Marco Tamponi, Francesco Civradano and Lumi M. Toma
I want to greatly acknowledge Michael Roscoe from Phase One marketing and Lau Andersen for their high spirits, professionalism, and an amazing adventure we all had during the shoot. Guys! I really had a blast, and I can not wait to shoot more with you all!
Michael Roscoe (black jacket) and Lau Andersen (blue jacket) working hard against powerful southerly wind on Glacier Blanche.
All of the photographs presented in this post were taken by Lumi Toma.