How To Break Through Your Creative Plateau By Adding Video to Your Workflow

Last summer, the team and I wanted to start a new series using backgrounds and landscapes to inspire wardrobe color. We researched a lot of countries and settled on South America because it featured some of the world’s most colorful cityscapes and landscapes. With it’s mix of light pastels and easy tones, we felt that it would be the perfect setting for the start of this project.

Uyuni, Bolivia © Michael O’Neal

Along with shooting stills, the team and I thought it would be a great idea to capture motion in this project. I’ll be honest though, I’m a stills guy and this was the beginning my exploration into video. Not knowing a ton about what type of motion equipment to travel with, the staff at BorrowLenses was able to point me in the right direction. Here is the list of criteria for the video camera we needed:

  • Lightweight – We were traveling to many locations in South America so we wanted to stay as light as possible.
  • Slow Motion – I knew right off the bat this was something I wanted for the project visually.
  • Discrete – Traveling to third world countries with gear that looks expensive is risky, so we wanted to keep the attention at bay.
  • Lens Adaptability – We needed a camera that could use my photo lenses already a part of my kit.

With these requirements in mind, the video team at Borrowlenses recommended the Canon C300 or the Sony FS5. We ended up choosing the FS5 because it met all the requirements and featured internal 4K recording to SD cards, as well as shooting in log profiles to capture the most dynamic range possible.

Uyuni, Bolivia © Michael O’Neal

The Salt Flats in Uyuni, Bolivia wasn’t easy to get to. We flew into La Paz and were greeted by our guides at the airport with loaded 4x4s and beers in hand. We had no idea what we got ourselves into. A 340 mile journey took us through old mining towns, alpaca herds, and a desert that sits at over 14,000′ in elevation.

A post shared by Michael O’Neal (@mo) on

We arrived on location just before sunset and set our alarms for 4:30 AM to catch first light. It was 10 degrees fahrenheit when we started shooting and, as you can see, our model Ignacia did not have many layers on. We wanted to juxtapose our model and landscape in a simple but completive way, so we composed a shot that was little more elevated. We were able to gain that perspective by standing on the roof of our SUV. Overall this was one of our favorite spots not just because we got a few of our hero shots here, but physically being on the Salt Flats is completely magical.

Laguna Colorada, Bolivia © Michael O’Neal

Sitting at 14,035′ in elevation, Laguna Colorada was our most remote location. The high climb in elevation and 6 hours driving on dirt roads was reciprocated by beautiful views of a pink lake inhabited by thousands of flamingos. Most of these shots were done handheld to show a little camera movement. The color palette here was very pastel and our stylist chose an amazing wardrobe to compliment the landscape.

Ollantaytambo, Peru © Michael O’Neal

Ollantaytambo is a beautiful little town in the Sacred Valley of Peru know for their iconic ancient walls. Built so precisely, the Incans shaped the rocks that are still standing today. There are plenty of little paths and walkways in this town. We were in a rush against time, so we quickly found a good location where light was creating interesting shadows. On a technical standpoint, we placed the model a few feet from the wall to create shallow depth on the medium and close-up shots of her face and wanted to be eye level with her for a more intimate composition. After composing we diffused the light just enough where we still had some shape. We lucked out on this location because we had just the right amount of time to get our shots before the sun dropped. The wind was also creating an interesting draft that allowed our models hair to act very freely.

Local Color from MO Studio on Vimeo. Shot with a Sony FS5 using a Canon 70-200 F2.8L, Sony Vario-Tessar 16mm-35mm f/4, Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 DistagonSachtler Tri-pod with a fluid head, and a Glidecam HD-2000.

Cusco, Peru © Michael O’Neal

The challenge of this setup was that I didn’t have an AC to help me pull focus so I had to be acutely aware of how far my subject was from my lens for continuity in focus. I also learned that shooting someone through tempered glass is a little challenging to color correct in post production!

Follow Focus Like a Pro: Intro to Follow Focus Units for New Filmmakers

Pampa de Maras, Peru © Michael O’Neal

We stumbled upon our last location in Pampa de Maras by accident. Most of the shots were captured with the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 except for the last shot which we swapped out for a 55mm to compress the background more. We were able to get creative with camera movements by simply using a tripod and pulling out/panning up.

Pampa de Maras, Peru © Michael O’Neal

Taking on new challenges like this is something I love. It pushes me to work harder, work smarter, and learn new things about different mediums like video. My new appreciation for this medium has inspired me to dive deeper into new video projects.

To learn more about video production, see the entire videography collection here on the BL Blog.

Michael O'Neal is a fashion and lifestyle photographer based in San Francisco. His portfolio is distinct for its timeless simplicity, frequent use of negative space, and intent to transport viewers to stunning locales. He co-founded and curated the 100-50-1 Photo Show and volunteers at Earthfire Institute, a wildlife sanctuary in Driggs, Idaho. Micheal lives with his best friend and abnormally photogenic co-pilot, Preston, a blue merle Australian Shepherd.

1 Comment

  • Mark Scott

    Michael, A very good article and descriptions of your South American Project.
    Congratulations on stretching your talents into the motion world.
    One group of your words just screeched to me was “by simply using a tripod and pulling out/panning up.”
    I assume pulling out means either you physically moved the camera while capturing [dolly] a movement sequence or zoomed out on a lens. I thought you were using primes? Most important I learned in school 35 + years ago is Tilting is always Up or Down, Panning is always Left to Right or vise versa. Pan is short for Panorama. I have corrected many Professional Directors and DP’s over the years on their choice of words.
    Michael, continue to strive in your creative projects and continue to share.
    My Best!
    Mark I. Scott

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