A great way to challenge yourself and enhance your skills is to shoot some personal projects. Here is an opportunity to stretch your imagination. Building sets, buying props, coordinating wardrobe, scouting locations and casting talent are all part of the process of shooting your personal projects. When you apply all these things, your ideas will come to life.
I’ll get an idea visually, and then I need to make it happen. Like this 30’s Hollywood glamour shot:Once I cast the beautiful actress, Sarah Deakins, I needed to get hair and make-up. They needed to be knowledgeable about the style and techniques of the 30’s. Tina and Daphne were the stylists to complete the team. Now for the styling, some jewelry to compliment the look of the era. Finally the set, a chaise lounge, glass blocks and of course, a palm to give it that Hollywood classic look. Dial in the lighting, and get in the studio. I feel the image was very successful.
Special Operations has a huge place in my heart. I know a lot of these highly trained warriors, and when they’re on set, I never have the control or time to setup what I want to do because of the very busy scheduling of a hit TV show. So it’s going to have be a personal project:First, cast talent. I contacted my friends, Robert Garcia and Freddie Joe Farnsworth, with Devil Dogs Limited Military and Tactical Advising, and they were excited to help. I would have six operators on the day of the shoot. Next, a location that would be safe to use the weapons that would be on set and not rattle anyone around. I have a friend who has a warehouse where he keeps his military vehicles that he rents to TV shows. This is perfect, everything is going great. On the day of the shoot three of the six operators show up, and one was an hour late. Those who know me, being late is not a option; however, this time I had to dig deep and find some grace because, after all, he was doing me a favor. As it would turn out my son, Connor, who came along to help and is another Special Ops fan was asked to help out. He was dressed with the tactical gear and wardrobe, had a very intense lesson on weapon tactics and hand signals, and off we went. Connor is on the right in the image above. We had a blast (pun intended). Some smoke and gels. Another shot for the portfolio.
This will be a good transition for my next personal project, Secret Agent Man:Dino Antoniou is another actor friend of mine. With his chiseled look he was perfect. Lighting was to be from the side for texture and dramatics. Dino purchased a real bow tie to give it that nice touch, and it looked much better untied for the shot. The weapon is an airsoft pistol with a silencer. This was one of the easier shots but none the less a success.
This next shot was all about Pirates. I had never done a pirate shoot: For this shoot what good is a pirate without a ship? So, I needed to build a set that would look and feel like a pirate’s ship. With some basic woodworking skills and some dark stain on the wood and my clothes the set was built:
Next I needed to cast the pirate. I had just met Diana Paul on the set of NCIS: LA, and after discussing the shoot with her she was onboard (yes that was a good pun). Now the wardrobe, after some research I felt it would just be easier to purchase a Halloween costume and make subtle changes to it for my taste. $145 later for a costume. The advantage of living near Hollywood is that I have all kinds of access to a variety of prop houses. Independent Studio Services or as they are referred to as ISS, had everything I needed:
Make-up and hair styling was to be done by Vanessa, a friend’s daughter looking for a opportunity. She did a great job. A background plate was found so that I could match colors for highlights. Lots of work and about $500 invested, but I hope you agree with me, another portfolio shot.
This next image was another complex setup:My friend, Shiree, is an amazing make-up artist. She also enjoys dressing into costumes with her daughters. I sent her a sexy image of Snow White and asked if she would be interested in shooting. Her response was a fast “yes”. Now begins the process. I wasn’t going to worry about hair and make-up because I knew she would take care of it along with the wardrobe. The set was another issue. My friends at NCIS construction built me this set last Summer. In the same chaise lounge chair as the 30’s Hollywood glamour look above, I would let Shiree play, and she did. With five strobe heads and some CTO gels. An image from Adobe Stock as my back plate. We were again successful with portfolio pieces.
Okay, so I know some of you are thinking, “Great the guy lives in Hollywood and has access to all of these places”, you’re right. If I wanted to do a snow scene, would I just forget about it because I live in sunny Southern California? No way! If you see it, you can create it. You just need the ambition. The internet gives you the ability to get just about anything you will need for your own personal projects.
Back in school it was said “If you want it to look like a million bucks, get a million bucks”. (Yes, the serial numbers are all the same. It’s funny money, we use it all the time on TV shows and movies.) You get my point!
Remember, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. Here’s my point, until you get the opportunity to photograph something great for your portfolio, go out and be creative. That’s the time to kick ass or make mistakes, but you’re going to learn.
If you’re not doing it, your competition will. Coincidentally the 30’s Hollywood glamour image I shot above caught Scott Kelby’s eye, and he contacted me to do a training video on this look. That’s how I started my professional relationship with KelbyOne. So you never really know where your own creativity will take you.
Thank you for your time reading this.
That’s a wrap, fade to black.
Mike is best known for his work on countless popular shows that are household names: CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, JAG, Boston Legal, Pretty Little Liars to name a few. His current projects are NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles.
Mike is a Trainer for KelbyOne, and Los Angeles Center of Photography. Mike is also a member of the International Cinematographers Guild.
You can view Mike’s work at 4stills.com, and follow him on Facebook at 4Stills.