For Unconventional Images, Use An Unconventional Lens


I don’t know about other photographers, but for me, taking photos is not only fun, it’s almost a compulsion. If I go somewhere interesting, I HAVE to take photos. If I don’t, I feel that I’ve missed out on the full experience.

Here’s the problem though: when you visit a place you’re not familiar with, it’s easy to take the same photos that every other visitor takes. What’s the satisfaction in that? You may as well buy a postcard.

There is, in my opinion, a way to avoid that trap (hint: it’s the title of this post), but first a little background.

Over a decade ago, when I started to get serious about photography, I had the opportunity to talk to a National Geographic photographer. Like most beginners, I had one big question: what camera and lens should I get? He told me that he and most of his colleagues used a Canon 5D, and that the Canon 24-70mm / f.2.8 was his favorite piece of glass. Both pieces of gear were expensive, but I took the plunge, bought both items, and have never regretted it.

While the original 5D is now my backup for a newer model, I still use the 24-70 lens all the time. It’s almost as sharp as a prime, and the field of view is perfect for scenics, food and general travel & tourism subject matter.


There’s only one problem: so many other people use the 24-70 that sometimes my pictures look a lot like other people’s pictures. That bothers me. So, on a recent business trip to New York City, I decided to challenge myself: once my assignment was over, and I had some time to wander the city, I’d use only the lens I normally use LEAST. In my case, that’s a 14mm / f2.8 Samyang prime. I bought it a few years ago for architectural interiors, but found that I preferred the Sigma 12-24 for that application. Ever since, the Samyang has sat on my shelf feeling lonely.


My idea was simple: to avoid getting generic, picture-postcard shots of the Big Apple (which is probably the most photographed city on Earth), I’d use the 14mm lens to capture super wide-angle shots that would immediately look different from the average NYC Instagram or Flickr feed.


As you can see, the Samyang was very happy to be taken out to play. Here are a just a few of the very non-generic photos I took over the course of just one and a half days in the city. My conclusion? The experiment was a success! By challenging myself to use a different lens, I was able to escape the trap of taking photos that look like everyone else’s. From now on, when I travel, the Samyang 14mm is traveling with me!

NYC-web-9457   NYC-web-9434 NYC-web-9565 NYC-web-9590  NYC-web-9603

BTS: Live Action + VFX for Capable Civilian Training

fury bts 2The world is, increasingly, an uncertain place to live and work. Thanks to terrorism, mass shooters, and economic unrest, it’s no surprise that more and more people are trying to learn how to stay safe. Whether correctly or incorrectly, the self-defense industry has long been associated with an over-abundance of testosterone and far-right-wing politics. I’ve recently started doing some work with a company that’s trying to change that. It’s Fury Security Consulting, and they have developed a corporate-style approach that they call Capable Civilian Training.

To communicate the company’s efforts to bring personal security out of the gym and into the boardroom, I worked with my colleagues at Pixel Method to create this promotional video for the Capable Civilian website, combining upscale cinematography with high-tech motion graphics.

Using Premiere Pro & Handbrake To Create YouTube-Friendly Files

A couple of people have asked me recently how I deliver finished files to my clients for web use (typically YouTube). Until recently, I simply used the Premiere Pro “YouTube 1080p HD” preset. However, uploading these files to YouTube often delivers or both of the following warning messages:

youtube errors

Neither of these make sense, since H264 is most certainly a “streamable file format,” and I’ve never actually had any audio/video sync issues with the files I’ve uploaded. Nevertheless, these warnings are annoying and disconcerting to clients.

So, what I have started doing recently is to export my files from Premiere as ProRes files, and then using the free video encoder Handbrake to crunch them down to YouTube/client-friendly files.

Pricing Your Video Production

I was asked recently about how I determine pricing for my projects. The three most important factors I consider when pricing a video production job are time on location, time editing, and overhead costs.

Time on location is fairly straightforward: I charge a dayrate for myself and my “crew of one” gear package that is comparable to what other professionals at my level in my area charge. You don’t want to work for nothing, but you don’t want to price yourself out of the market either!

Time editing is always an estimate, because you never really know how long something will take to edit until you get into it (especially if the client has a lot of revisions). I used to track my hours and adjust my final bill accordingly, but clients hated the uncertainty, and I hated having to watch the clock all the time, so I switched to a project rate for editing. Now, I tell the client how much I would charge to deliver what they want, and that’s what they pay. If it takes me less time, great for me; if it takes me more time, great for them.

The Untold Story of “Slaughter Nick for President”


Rob Stewart as beach-bum detective Nick Slaughter, with Carolyn Dunn in “Tropical Heat” AKA “Sweating Bullets”


The indy documentary, “Slaughter Nick For President” follows Canadian actor Rob Stewart (most well-known for playing the ruthless assassin Roan on “Nikita”) on a trip to the Eastern European nation of Serbia, where he is a huge celebrity because of a TV role he played in the 1990s.

The Canadian late-night crime show “Tropical Heat” (aired in the USA as “Sweating Bullets”) followed the tongue-in-cheek exploits of beach-bum detective Nick Slaughter, as he solved crimes on a fictional resort island. Unbeknownst to anyone involved with the production, the show aired in Serbia during the Yugoslav Wars, where it become an enormous cultural phenomenon, and inspired a generation of political activists.

In “Slaughter Nick For President,” Stewart and his friends, siblings Liza Vespi and Marc Vespi, travel to Serbia and try to figure out why “Tropical Heat” and Stewart’s character, Nick Slaughter, are so immensely popular. “Slaughter Nick For President” is available for instant viewing on Amazon and iTunes, as well as on Google Play, Vudu and DVD.

Fortunately for CrewOfOne readers, the film’s Executive Producer/Producer/Co-Director Liza Vespi was kind enough to talk to me about this truly one-of-a-kind project.

“Crew Of One” Director Tries The “One Man Crew Director”


Since I’m a video director with a blog called “Crew of One,” it’s only natural that I’d be interested in a product called “One Man Crew Director.” As a commercial shooter with 15+ years of experience, I love projects that allow me to hire my core group of freelancers, but often I find myself working on assignments in which I have to be the director, DP, audio operator, grip, gaffer and editor, all by my lonesome. On these “crew of one” jobs, it’s always a challenge to add visual interest and production value, especially to “talking-head” shots of sales pitches or interviews. Fortunately, that’s exactly what Redrock Micro’s “One Man Crew Director” (OMCD) is designed to do.

Q&A With “Heavy Objects” Director Fletcher Crossman

Fletcher Crossman

I had the pleasure of meeting phenomenally talented artist Fletcher Crossman back in 2009, when I photographed him in his backyard studio for a now-defunct magazine. At the time, Fletcher was focused on painting: his large-scale, figurative paintings – often incorporating text and political/philosophical overtones – made a big impression on me.

I found Fletcher himself to be a very affable British expatriate with a dry sense of humor, and the kind of vivid imagination rarely found in anyone over the age of three. We kept in touch after the shoot, and in 2010, we collaborated on a short documentary called “The Apple Thief.” The film followed Fletcher as he worked on a huge, controversial painting of a woman in a Christ-like crucifixion pose, while having challenging conversations with religious leaders about the role of women as defined by different faiths.

“House Of Cards” Style Photo Tutorial

I had so much fun doing a self-portrait in the style of the “Gotham” promo photos that I decided to do another. This time, I’m using as a stylistic reference the extremely cool b&w portraits done for the Netflix hit series, “House Of Cards.”


As with most promotional images, all the copyright info is for Netflix, so I have no idea who actually took these photos. I suspect that the individual portraits were shot on a Hasselblad, probably with some kind of large “beauty dish” lighting, and then stitched together in Photoshop.

But, that doesn’t mean that the rest of us can’t do something similar, in whatever space, and with whatever equipment we have! Here are a few of the shots I came up with for myself.

House Of Cards style lighting

Without further ado, here’s my video tutorial on “House Of Cards” style photo lighting.

“Gotham”-Style Photo Tutorial


I’m a big fan of the new “Gotham” TV show. I also like the promo images that were done for each of the main characters. I couldn’t find any information online about who took the images,or how they were done, so I decided to figure out how to do something similar myself.


Waveform 101

Back in the early days of video, tehcnicians relied on two main instruments: the waveform and the vectorscope. Even though we now have fancy flat-panel monitors, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these venerable tools – especially the Waveform.

In Premiere Pro, you can switch to the Waveform view by clicking on the little wrench icon under the program window.

Ideally, you want a full range of video signal all the way from bright white (100 IRE) to dark black (0 IRE). If your signal is all smushed up in the middle like this, it’s going to look muddy and unattractive.

Goodwill Christmas TV

I was recently hired by the good folks as The Brandon Agency to shoot, direct & edit a series of spots they’d written for Goodwill Industries. In time for the season, here’s the Christmas spot.