Professional moviemakers have long understood the power of presenting a familiar action in a surprising location. Think of the aerobic exercise in “2001,” the war in Alien, or the chase scene on Mt. Rushmore in “North by Northwest.”
Celebrated dance/fashion photographer Tristan Pope illustrates this creative option beautifully by transporting dance sequences out of the concert hall and into more than a dozen locations in New York City—in less than two minutes. Tristan’s ingenuity inspires us to look at dance in a new way.
Of course, shooting on location brings up all sorts of challenges—everything from safety to permits. When we asked Tristan about this, he answered: “For releases and such, we had to follow all the same rules of filming as you would if filming with a prosumer camera. The most important thing to remember is that no matter what medium is being used, the basics of filmmaking still apply. But with any new medium, it is even more important to not lock yourself into filmmaking 101. The secret is to push the boundaries of the techniques and processes learned over the years. Be creative. Embrace the fact that your smartphone won’t shoot 4k resolution RED footage and play. Enjoy the small form factor to get those shots otherwise impossible on a large camera, while embracing the suspension of disbelief.”
Repeated viewings of “Dancers of NYC” will provide plenty of entertainment. But those of us who want to improve our own mobile moviemaking, a close study of this movie will provide many practical ideas worth pursuing with Pope himself already offering some cutting edge services via his photography using these new methods in what he calls In Motion Headshots and Reels: http://www.tristanpope.com/portfolio/in-motion-headshotsreels/
In the following piece about “Dancers of NTC” Tristan provides a behind-the-scenes commentary on his goals, techniques, and problem solving.
* * *
My name is Tristan Pope and I am a dance/fashion photographer. I mix Glamour and Fashion with the Strength and Movement of dance. I find the dance world to be invigorating, a refreshing way to show off that perfect clothing line or product, all while pushing the human body to the limit and focusing on strong passion. You can view my work at http://tristanpope.com.
Previously, using just the 60 frames per second option, I could capture some amazing moments during the photoshoots I do with dancers from all over NYC. But when I heard about the 240 frames per second on the iPhone 6—being able to significantly slow down the beautiful and powerful dance moves— I knew I had to experiment with that device.
The Sunday that I picked up my iPhone 6, I immediately put out a call to everyone I had worked with before and those who might be able to put a shout out for me as well. (Thank you Luis Pons.) Within hours I had 18 dancers booked for Monday – Thursday. This was going to be a long week.
I looked through my camera gear and found my old iPhone 4S and 5S tripod adapter… needless to say, the new iPhone 6 didn’t fit, so I ended up tearing it apart and rigging my iPhone 6 with rubber bands and luck. Equipped with my tripod, an Anker battery pack (can charge my iPhone 8 times from 0 before it runs out of juice!), my laptop, duct tape (always carry duct tape), and a protective pouch(no one had any cases in stock) for my iPhone 6 I was ready to begin!
Over the next few days I traveled to many of the iconic NYC locations to capture that perfect dance pose, with a dancer booked every hour or less. I quickly learned what this camera was truly capable of. For me, I have stuck with Apple’s iPhone because of the camera. Sure an Android phone may have some features I like, but the camera is never the main focus, but for Apple it has always been a major priority. I headed out to Brooklyn for my first shoot and was taken aback at how intuitive the interface was for shooting these videos(minus the screen being covered by my 20 rubber bands). I could have the dancer perform one move and immediately play it back to see if we had gotten “the take”. With the bigger screen, it was easy for us to view it together to make sure we were happy with their form and composition.(It was especially helpful to be able to see it live in slow motion to pinpoint what needed to change or what could be improved) It took about 10-15 minutes per dancer to get the perfect shot. Then I would toss the phone into my pocket and head back to the subway to my next location.
For slow motion I used Apple’s stock camera app and for timelapse I used Hyperlapse by Instagram. The built in image stabilization made it ideal for quick shots without having to worry about keeping my hands still. If only the stock camera app could utilize this same technology to give the iPhone 6 the same stabilization as the 6 +.
You may wonder why I didn’t just get the 6 plus… well, I enjoy my skinny jeans and have girlishly small hands, just ask my piano teacher from middle school. Regardless the iPhone 6 screen was the perfect size for viewing.
Overall this smartphone shot like a beast, capturing what would otherwise be impossible via small corners, angles, and discrete shots in popular locations. As a photographer, when you carry around a DSLR with a 200-400 lens on your camera and put down a tripod, you can guarantee the cops will want to “chat” With a phone, they are more or less confused why you have it on a tripod, and usually just walk off mumbling something about hipsters. I even had a guy come up to me with his DSLR and ask if I wanted him to take some “real” shots for me. I giggled.
The only issue I ran into the entire time was nighttime shooting. With any high frame per second camera, you need a serious digital ISO to counter the fact that you are essentially shutting down your exposure the more fps you shoot, and unfortunately the iPhone can’t quite handle that load yet. While the footage is still viewable, for this video it just wasn’t on par with what I wanted overall. I had two great shots with ground lighting effects and overhead lighting, but the grain to me was unacceptable(even with post applied to it). I believe this is just not something such a small sensor can accomplish quite yet, but still for what it is, it is damn impressive. Had I taken that same shot with normal 1080p 30 frames per second, the grain would have been more than halved. But the 240 fps just eats your light.
The second issue I ran into is my tripod literally snapped in half at one point because I have had it for 10 years and it finally died. Luckily I have Amazon Prime and got myself a new Amazon Basics tripod for the next day. Amazon tripods are actually very good quality for the price tag of 14 dollars. I also bought a Reticam iPhone 6 tripod mount. This thing was easy to use and held the phone still while protecting it and giving full screen access.
Regardless of the tiny hiccups along the way, I am very pleased with the outcome and I hope you all enjoy the video. A lot of people’s time and effort went into making this a reality. I want to thank all the dancers I got to work with (see below). Without them this wouldn’t have been possible. They came ready to work, with a wonderful positive attitude, and gave great input. I know when someone shows up to a photoshoot with just a camera phone it can be a little… disconcerting. But we made it happen!
I can’t say I will ditch my Canon for this, as I felt naked at times without it, but this truly pushed me to try things I would have never thought to do with it.
All dancers in order of appearance:
Anna Pinault Callie Lyons Arielle petruzzella haylee Nichele paulina bracone Candace Can Dance Jacob Melvin Brittany Cavaco Julian Watson Ashley Marinelli Bjorn Bolinder Lindsey L Miller Noreen Hughes Mckenzie Mullan Kailee Felix Natalie Deryn Johnson
Photographer Assistant: Alana Nicole
Directed/Filmed/Edited: Tristan Pope