As we get older, we tend to become more serious about life due to financial obligations, parental duties, etc. We define our lives by the career paths we've chosen and feel that it would be a little foolish and not financially viable to make a change at this point in our lives. And we feel all this despite the fact that we have other dreams and aspirations that go unfulfilled. "Dreams are for young people without anything to tie them down," we say. "I have too much to lose if I fail."
Well, as a 45-year old father of three, I can tell you that all of this is true...in your own mind. In reality, however, it just isn't the case. People in your life want you to be happy. They want you to succeed at something you love. And all people love to see risk takers make a go of it. You'd be surprised how much your friends and loved ones will be willing to help and sacrifice to see you reach your dreams, and in turn, you'll inspire others to do the same.
Two years ago, I started a journey to become a cinematographer, photographer and digital artist, and I've certainly seen my share of ups and downs financially and emotionally, but the journey continues despite the setbacks. Why? Because being happy isn't always about succeeding. Sometimes it's about failing, learning and trying again. It's about realizing your potential and doing something that you truly love.
Have I hit the jackpot with my endeavors yet? Nope. But that's OK. It's not about that. Yes, that's right, I said, "It's not about getting rich!" It's about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and discovering what you're truly capable of. It's about the thrill of trying new things and finding a way to make a living doing it. And, if you persist and focus on continuously getting better at your craft, you might find someone willing to pay you a lot of money to do it. If not, so be it. You're making a living doing something you love! If it doesn't afford you the biggest house or newest, nicest cars, who cares? That doesn't matter. Your perspective is so different when you wake up in the morning and realize that people pay you to do something you think is fun!
I've been fortunate to have great clients and friends that I've worked with over the years, who believe in me. And my wife and kids have been nothing but supportive, making suggestions, helping on shoots, and in the case of my oldest son, making it his life's ambition to work in film. My younger son was introduced to music through some of the work I've done with musicians and local events, and now he plays the drum set like a beast. My daughter is very creative and wants to be a model. So as you can see, my journey is having an amazing effect on my kids' lives, too!
So two years into it, here are some cool things I've been able to do:
Became a certified drone pilot to shoot aerial video and photos - At this point, I could take flight lessons and get a recreational pilot's license...it's not easy to pass the commercial drone pilot test!
Shoot photos of war planes, pit crews, molten steel, and lots of other badass guy stuff - absolutely love getting to film/photograph cool stuff!
Create a short film with some amazing parkour athletes - Check it out.
Work on a film festival comedy short film with some great young creative people - As an "old" guy, it was great to work with young creative people that have such passion and idealism for the craft. It's motivational.
Shoot model portfolio photos - this type of photography really pushes you to try new ways of lighting and artistic ideas, but it was also way out of my comfort zone. I'm expected to know how to make the model look their best and bring creative ideas to the table.
Shoot photos and video of firefighters at controlled burns and firefighter training centers - Can't say enough about firefighters...haven't met one yet that I didn't like.
Shoot video 175 feet up under the Oakland Bay Bridge
Shoot video in giant tunnel under construction
Create a moving mini-documentary about my son with cerebral palsy - Watch it here.
Travel to Vancouver, Toronto, Seattle, Denver, Tuscaloosa, Kansas City, and Mississippi to shoot video - It's not easy to travel with a bunch of gear, but getting paid to do it makes it worth my while!
Shoot video from a paddle board - way out of my comfort zone, but I got the shot!
Shoot aerial video of a wake surfer over Lake Norman - 10 feet off the water and half a mile off shore - also out of my comfort zone, but it was worth it. Check out the final video.
Shoot my first band promo video - Turned out great! Check it out! And I'm going to be shooting a rap video soon with a talented up and coming artist with big vision - I'll have to channel my high school/college self for this project. :)
I'm probably forgetting some things, but as you can see, a lot has happened because I went looking for it and wasn't afraid to try something new. Each new endeavor builds confidence for the next one, and with all of the great "how to" info on the Internet, you can literally become an expert by watching videos, reading articles and getting out there and doing it!
If you truly have a passion and an aptitude for something, don't look back and regret that you never tried it. Figure out a way to make it happen.
Most DSLRs have the ability to capture exposures up to 30 seconds without any additional equipment. In a lot of cases, trying to do that long of an exposure can result in an overblown image, but if you pick up an ND filter (sunglasses for your camera) and learn a few tricks, you can use long exposure to create some amazing shots - day or night!
To do this properly, you have to use a sturdy tripod, because even the slightest camera shake becomes very noticeable in long exposure. You should also set your camera on timer mode. I use the 2-second timer for most shots. This allows you to press the shutter button and then completely remove your hands from the camera so it doesn't shake. If I want to get in the shot (like you'll see in some of the examples below), I use the 10-second timer. This gives me time to move into the frame before the shutter opens.
Here are some ideas for you to try.
LIGHT UP THE NIGHT
Long exposure is a great way to make the most out of available light at night. It's truly amazing what a small amount of light can do to a night scene. The image above was taken during a full moon, which gave fantastic light to the clouds. And beyond the relatively dim lights on the bridge, no other lights were used to capture this shot.
One really cool byproduct of long exposure is light trails. In this shot, I timed my exposure to capture cars moving through the intersection, and in this case, I blended multiple exposures together in Photoshop to combine multiple light trails (Google "image stacking" to learn more about that). Beyond moving vehicles, you can really get creative with light trails...just waving a flashlight around or holding up your iPhone and moving it in a pattern will produce interesting results.
One very cool attribute of long exposure is that the only things that look solid are those items that remain in the exposure the entire time, unless it's a bright light. That's why cars leave light trails, but you don't really see the car unless it stops...and even then, the car is see-through.
For this image I took advantage of that unique property of long exposure and made two "ghosts" of myself in one image. Using a 25-second exposure and a 10-second timer, I pressed the shutter button and ran to the first spot to the left of the tree. After I heard the shutter open, I counted to 10 and moved over to the other side of the tree. Then I held my pose and counted to 10 again. Before the shutter closed, I ran back behind the camera. Those times are flexible and will dictate how "see-through" you are. And remember as you experiment with this, be ready for onlookers to think you're crazy as you run to different places and look at your camera!
NOTE: For this shot, I was pointed directly at the sun, so I had to use dark ND filter. Mine is a Tiffen Pro100 10-stop ND, so it's really dark. There are other great ND filters out there, but I would recommend avoiding variable ND filters for long exposure. At their darkest point, they tend to create weird X patterns or vignetting.
SPARK YOUR IMAGINATION
This is one of the really cool techniques for lighting up a pitch dark night. Buy some steel wool, attach a piece of it to a wire (or something else that can handle being hot), touch the steel wool with a 9-volt battery to start it burning, have someone press the shutter button, and start swinging the steel wool. You can do similar shots with sparklers. For this shot, I purposely chose a wet parking lot for a couple of reasons: 1. The burning steel wool will put itself out when it hits the wet ground, and 2. It creates a reflection of the sparks.
Note that you shouldn't do this on dry grass or in the woods, because you can inadvertently start a fire.
SMOOTH THE WATERS
Another really cool effect that comes from long exposures is the smoothing of water in lakes, oceans, rivers or waterfalls. Even with choppy water, the effect is quite stunning. These shots look best with stationary objects in the foreground and some clouds in the sky to show dramatic movement.
This type of photography takes practice and a lot of trial and error. And your shots turn out best if you have the ability to do some post-processing via Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop. That's not to say I haven't captured some amazing images directly in the camera, but because you are typically dealing with a wide range of light from pure darkness to bright lights, it helps to be able to adjust the images for maximum effect.
I hope this article inspires you to get out there and create. Cameras are amazing tools when you use them to their fullest potential!
Brant Waldeck is a next level cinematographer, photographer and graphic designer living in the Charlotte, NC area.