Rekindle Your Creativity – Creating an Original Holiday Themed Photo

It’s safe to say that exposure to the Winter holidays is inescapable. Lights are hung, cheer is in the air, and opportune moments exist for capturing a great image. This year I challenged myself to capture a creatively themed holiday image unlike any I have seen or taken.

For myself, the ritual of a Christmas tree comes along with the celebration. Each year the tree is dug out, erected, and decorated. Back in 2007 I took my first creative Holiday images with my first digital camera, a Canon Rebel XT. It was a long exposure intended to make the tree appear as if it were on fire (Figure 1. O’ Tannenbaum).

It not only captured a ritualistic  holiday family tone, but a sense of mystery and darkness. Around this time I had first seen and been inspired from David Lynch’s film “Blue Velvet” and Otto Muhl’s experimental short film “O Tannenbaum”, to which I appropriated the name. Other inspiration for the image came from photographer Diane Arbus “Xmas Tree in a Living Room” below (Figure 2).

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Figure 1. O’ Tannenbaum – Kevin Vogrin 2007
Diane Arbus Christmas Tree
Figure 2. Xmas Tree in a Living Room, Diane Arbus, 1963.

Here is the image I’ve come up with for the challenge (Figure 3). The editing isn’t 100% as I still need to tweak the color and make the image pop, but for what it is, I feel it accomplished the goal. Creating the image started with experimenting with a wide lens (16mm). After a few shots I noticed the sides of the tree wrapped around the back, and the center bowed forward due to the distortion of the lens. Using this to my advantage, I made a long exposure. Here’s the real kicker; while the shutter was open (8 -10 seconds) I walked a 360 degree circle around the tree equal distance to it’s front, until the exposure stopped. Because the composition of the tree and distance never changed, the shape of the tree remained the same. The result is a 3D representation of a 3D object on a 2D medium. The inclusion of the ceiling in the frame tells the process of how the image was created, melting into a smooth circle on the top of the image.

Kevin Vogrin Christmas Tree
Figure 3. Christmas Tree, Kevin Vogrin 2014

So there you have it, I’ve accomplished my goal and I have to say that experimenting creatively feels great! It opens up the creative juices that only enhance other work. I hope this is an inspiration to go out and capture your own creative holiday images. Keep those shutters clicking!

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Rekindle Your Creativity – The Single Shot Music Video

“Okay crew, we’re going to have the band play the song, everyone shoot and we’ll edit it into something.” How many times have you seen a music video that falls into either of these over-piled categories:

#1.Quick cuts throughout the video made without thought or reason.

Or even worse…

#2. A semi-follow able side plot of nameless characters juxtaposed between live shots of the band performing.

Viral music videos are at an all time high, but what do they all have in common? They are unique and based on a creative concept. The huge budgets companies and bands once had access to for videos have diminished. The music video is now made with the smallest budget possible and as cheaply as possible, forcing filmmakers to conceptualize a unique and creative concept that can be enhanced through the tools and limitations of filmmaking. Shooting a one shot video forces the film maker to creatively plan out every portion of the video and constantly justify the reasoning behind each step.

What makes a one shot video successful basically can be broken down into two areas: use of filmmaking, and creative conception. As filmmakers, we should have the first down pat, but as for the second….

Let’s take a look at two examples, the first highly successful with a high production, and the second a low budget production that fell short. Also, let me clarify I enjoy every band I’m listing, and am not saying the song or band is not talented because of their video.

High Production & High Success:

“Ava Adore” by the Smashing Pumpkins, blends both filmmaking and idea conception together wonderfully. The filmmaking side is heavily influenced by theater with the selected costumes and lighting, and the movements and positioning of characters are choreographed down to the dot like a theater production. A dose of German Expressionism mixes in though the singer’s Victorian style clothing  as the singer rising slowly from his seat, nodding to the silent era Nosferatu film. The movement of the band members in and out of both sides of the frame as well their positioning broken up between foreground, middle ground, and background move the theatrics into a creative level of film making. All these elements add together in perfect proportion to making a creative well thought out, and high end video.

That is, until the video flips the viewer upside down. At 2:36 The camera crosses the threshold revealing the back end of the production process and the fourth wall comes crashing down. The viewer rethinks everything up until this point. The rooms the singer progressed, each distinctive in lighting and design, were all part of a set. The dolly track, crew members, and lighting come out from the shadows. The video takes on an entirely new meaning having the viewer question what is before his or her eyes. Rain inside, a simulated sex scene, and the singer on the theater screen mirroring and zooming into infinity. Without this addition, the one shot direction of this video would be average. We re-watch the video again. We notice the primary color palette in the opening room, the high key black and white room, we realize what went into the video that we have overlooked.

Low Production & Not Successful:

“”Yellow” by Coldplay is a more poetic or lyrical approach influenced by the French New Wave movement and post-new wave film makers such as Gus Van Sant. Now I’m saying the video isn’t well done, but the bare bones filmmaking mixed the low visual progression doesn’t keep interest. The visuals of the video fit the meaning of the song, slowly transitioning from night to day (though it looks mostly though color grading). It is beautiful, the song fits the style, but the creativity stops there.

High Creativity On a No Budget:

What if I don’t have a budget?

Time and time again I quote that filmmakers are some of the most intelligent people due to the fact they can manage creativity and skills for any budget, small or large. I’ve found two great examples to fuel creative thinking. Before we do so, let’s jump back again to the focus of this article now that examples have been established. Making a one shot music video is all about making as creative a production possible that translate into film, and using film as a tool to enhance that idea. By planning out every detail of the production including the reasoning behind the camera movement, the composition, and the lighting, conception of future projects will be greatly enhanced.

After the short introduction by the band, the magic begins at 10 seconds in.

What stands out first is that the filmmaking is outlined but not planned down to a “T” mirroring the persona of the band’s aväntˈɡärd music style and personality. Here’s where the creativity mixes exceptionally well with the film making. By the look of the video it was shot with an older camera such as a VHS or Mini DV. But now the real kicker… it’s left on Auto Focus!

The layout of the video has four main spots, the beginning area, the singer, the drummer, and the guitar player with a run and gun switch off between each. The camera is fixed on a tripod and pans to each. The location looks like the inside of a house or apartment corridor with exposed lighting cords in plain sight. All of these elements add to the overall success and creativity of the video by addressing and working off of each. Let’s compare this video to the previous two. “Ava Adore” is well produced and successful, but turns into somewhat forced, while “Yellow” turns into a snore fest. This video is “Fun”. After watching twenty or so one shot videos, the most successful entries have that word in common. That fun translates into creative thinking and utilizing the strengths of filmmaking.

Let’s take a look at one last example.

“LifeWar” by Demon Hunter is about as basic as a production can get. One light (possibly two including the blue flashes on the singer’s face), and a stagnant tripod shot. What makes it successful? The idea mirrors not only the style of the music but the band’s personal message. It has progression – fog, water, paint, fire, etc. This is an excellent example of a creatively successful music video that fits the band’s personality.

I know I skipped over most of the more well known “Viral” style videos such as those by OK GO (Check out the mousetrap fueled fun in “This Too Shall Pass” if you haven’t already), and there are many others that are great as well. Even if you don’t create a full one shot music video, translate these concepts into your productions. Thinking of the reason behind each addition to the production will greatly increase direction and overall quality of the product. Very often the most engaging and emotional moments in films are dynamic single shots. Let this be an exercise in tools that will translate into short films, commercials, and personal projects.

1:1 Ratio Photos – Should You Switch?

Lately, I’ve been switching from a 4:3 ratio to a 1:1 ratio while shooting photographs.

Nostalgia pours in as I think back to this time of the year during early days shooting on film. Leaves falling, days growing shorter, and myself alternating between 35mm and 120 film (a 1:1 ratio). Mentally, shooting on 1:1 is very refreshing and brings me back to a time when the instantaneous results of digital was not present, and composing a shot in my mind was not as fast. My memory recalls paying more attend towards changing light of compositions and limiting shots by how much film was left in the camera.

Shooting on a 1:1 format has made me rethink the entire process of capturing an image. The rule of third has changed to quadrants; geometric patterns have also become much more evident. When I hold up my camera I find myself thinking, “Why am I taking this photo and what has drawn me towards this?”  I would recommend switching formats to anyone seeking to rekindle their lost creative spark, ambition, or sense of adventure of just going out and shooting. Even if you never show or use any of the images, just shoot. Shoot, and your potential creativity will thank you later.

Recent shots I’ve taken at a 1:1 ratio.

The Russello Project

The Russello Project is hands down, one of the most talented instrumental rock band I’ve come across. I had the opportunity to document their performance with Ken Jones Imagery, at The Factory Underground, located in Wilkes-Barre PA. Ken Jones Imagery and I are also collaborating on a live DVD/Blu Ray for the Russello Project, and are currently at the post-production stage.

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Specializing in: Documentaries, Weddings, Commercials, Events, Music Videos, and more in PA, NY, NJ.