After working as a director of photography in Toronto for the past 15 years, there’s one thing Jeff Green knows: September and the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) are always hectic. When we hired him for the Shutterstock and Variety Portrait Studio at TIFF he readily accepted, knowing he would get to swap out the chaotic red carpet for working behind the scenes in the Portrait Studio.
See the action from the Shutterstock and Variety Portrait Studio, then read more about Jeff Green’s experience shooting behind the scenes.
How do you prepare for an event like this and what equipment do you use?
I was the “fly on the wall” in the Portrait Studio. I used my Canon C300 digital cinema camera, with a Canon 24-70 f4 IS lens, and a custom camera mic — the Audix m1250b. A technical note for those who might be wondering: I chose the f4 version of the Canon lens over the f2.8 since the f4 has the IS image stabilizer — a big advantage when working hand-held.
I shot everything wide open in my favorite camera profile, the Canon CLog (you have to protect those highlights!). I custom tweak to “massage” the shadows. I find that with the Canon CLog profile, the shadow areas often get lifted too high and noise becomes readily visible — even with low ISO settings. During grading I usually end up lowering the shadows anyway. I use a custom profile, almost identical to the factory CLog profile, but with lower gain in the shadows.
I relied on Shutterstock’s in-house photographer, Andrew Walker’s, modeling lights, so I set my ISO to 2000. There was no tripod, or monopod; my setup was comfortable and lightweight, practical for the task at hand.
Do you get nervous when it comes to an event as big and global as TIFF?
I’ve shot behind the scenes on film sets and music videos, and I have worked press junkets. I don’t get star struck by celebrities and am comfortable in the environment. (I have to admit, meeting Rami Malek of Mr. Robot was very cool – it’s one of my favorite shows.)
I fully understand and appreciate that my role is secondary and that I can’t interfere, at all, with the main task at hand — the portraits. So it’s not a stretch to say that my real job is to remain as invisible as possible. I’m not there to chat up the talent — they are already overwhelmed with a demanding TIFF schedule.
How do you capture the right ambiance and lighting when you’re working in someone else’s space?
Andrew Walker had two sets: an all white, seamless look; and a more classic portrait set up anchored by a beautiful wooden table. As it turns out, we were lucky — the table was just sitting in the location, waiting for someone to discover it. The white set was lit from the front with a large key light, a 4’x5′ softbox, and soft fill on both sides to even things out. The portrait set had a large four-foot beauty dish covered with a soft cloth diffuser — a gorgeous light! A little bit of hairlight and some front fill finished the look.
One of the challenges for me at TIFF 2016 was varying the shots. It’s important to find the interesting angles — high, low, to the side, from behind, etc. Compositions that not only show the subject, but also the environment. When you move around the set, the images take on a new look and feel because what was once a key light now becomes a backlight, or sidelight.
As a director of photography, did you learn anything new at the TIFF Portrait Studio?
As someone who appreciates great images — and what goes into making great images — watching Andrew Walker work was impressive. He has wonderful technical and artistic abilities, but what sets him apart is his ability to provide great direction to the artists, ensuring everyone is at ease. Photographing Hollywood’s finest over four days isn’t for the faint of heart. Andrew worked at lightning speed and a lot of people remarked how it was the quickest shoot they’d ever been on. He keeps it simple, efficient, knows what he wants and when he gets it, the shoot’s over.
What advice would you share with our readers?
When you are shooting behind the scenes on any type of production, you have to understand and remember that your images, while important, take a back seat to the main camera.
The producers and the publicity departments appreciate what you are doing, but you have to tread extra softly on set. It’s always best to introduce yourself to the crew and let them know what you are shooting, that you are working for the production company, ask them where is the best place to be that won’t interfere with their jobs, and where you won’t cause lighting or audio issues. Typically you will want to shoot during rehearsals, and not during the actual takes.
Oh, and one last, very important tip! Don’t stand behind the microphone boom operator unless you want to get hit on the head!
Check out some of the images captured in the Shutterstock and Variety Portrait Studio:
Top image: David Oyelowo, Queen of Katwe. Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Variety/REX/Shutterstock.