Insight is a blog by photographer and director Greg Williams, focused on the technical, practical and artistic decisions presented while working at the converging edges of digital photography and filmmaking. Each week Greg takes a close look at one of his films, photos or motos and answers your questions about it. It's also a place to get sneak peeks of new projects, camera gear and movies.

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Hero Fisher “Fear Not Victorious”

Official music video

I shot this video for my good friend and very talented recording artist Hero Fisher.

t’s the first video from her upcoming debut album ‘Delivery.

I had this idea of doing a video that really encouraged the audience to listen to the track.

I wanted to shoot something that sits between a Moto and a narrative story.

Hero, her guitarist and her friend came over to my house. I didn’t have a clue what we were going to shoot but I had rented a Phantom camera with crew and knew we’d come up with something cool using ultra high frame rate.

My brother in law came over to give a hand too.

So as Hero’s doing her make-up I’m racking my brains and listening to the track “Fear Not Victorious” on this big sound system I have out in my garden, and I can hear this train in the beat so it made me think…

Last year i did a shoot with Ruth Wilson on a train track in a studio. I’d had the track built out of fibreglass and kept it afterwards in a barn at my home (I’m a massive hoarder ya see).

So thats how this video came about.

It took approximately 5 seconds to film and plays back at over 6 minutes. So it is the last 5 seconds of Hero’s life before she gets hit by a train. Why she’s there you decide.

The thing I like is you have a narrative in 5 seconds and it makes you listen to the track. It should be boring, some may say it is, but if you concentrate most people find it hypnotic.

The effects came from a garden hose, a leaf blower and a smoke machine. Very lo-fi for something that has a lot of production value.

Turn it up – Hope you enjoy

—Greg Williams (with Samuel Agboola)

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Armani Tweet Talks

#armanitweettalks

On Tuesday 28th of May I was invited to discuss fashion and film by Armani in Cannes. The panel, moderated by Peter Howarth, included Derek Blasberg, Kevin Maher, Zachary Quinto and Hilary Shor. If you missed it you can follow the twitter stream by following me @GregWInsight, or searching for #ArmaniTweetTalks.

—Greg Williams (with Samuel Agboola)

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Kate Winslet

5th November, 2012

↑EXIF DATA

Camera: Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III

Lens: EF135mm f/2L USM

Date: 5th November, 2012

Shutter speed: 1/100 sec

F-stop: f/2.8

ISO speed: 320

Focal length: 135 mm

Flash: Did not fire

This was shot for Madame Figaro. You see Kate shot through a doorframe, visible at the top and right-hand side. What we call a dirty foreground. The house we used has glass floors which we’re below. I love the concrete at this location so much I’ve had some flats built of it that I can bring into studio.

There are two different schools of thought on light. I learnt from this brilliant DP called Harris Savides, who used to talk about lighting a room and then placing people within it, so they could move freely and the light would still work. In this case the light is also shaping her fantastically. She’s pulled herself into a pose and created an incredible, sexy, hourglass shape.

We set up a 4K HMI which we pointed through the floor. The floor is made of thick glass which has a green tint so we corrected the color later in post. We put a flag on the floor so the light cut across Kate’s face. It creates this nice stretched shadow from her elbow, like an arrow which leads the eye towards her.

It’s quite a film noir image. She looks like a femme fatale. She’s looking at camera, but I’m sure it would’ve done just as well  to have her looking away. The foreground makes it seem more voyeuristic, as if she’s just turned her head.

This is the last shot of the day. We tried a lot of outfits. We just played with things, standing in a bathroom just chucking things on. This was literally the last outfit and Kate said “This can work, I’m sure this can work”. It’s my favorite shot of the whole shoot and it was the one we very nearly let go, because part of my job is to make sure we get return business and, as when people start to feel that we’ve got a bunch of good stuff they wonder, “Do we really need this last look?”.  I’m a great believer in calling a shoot before everyone gets pissed-off and bored with it.

I generally show subjects my pictures, I don’t like taking a chance on them not liking something, especially a setup like this. We already had a bunch of good looks and we were running out of time. Still we stuck with it as Kate is a great sport. I showed her and said “Look. This is a hot picture.” She liked it. It’s a serious, sexy, woman and she’s empowered. I’m proud of it.

—Greg Williams (with Samuel Agboola)

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Victoria Pendleton

23rd May, 2012

↑EXIF DATA

Date: 23rd May, 2012

I shot Victoria Pendleton for Esquire magazine around April or May. I think it was one of the last shoots she did before the Olympics.

Victoria has these amazing thighs because of what she does for a living. She’s incredibly muscular and very sexy. At the beginning of discussions with the magazine, they said “We don’t want her to look too big”, and I said ”No, no no. She’s got an incredible physique, let’s celebrate it”. She’s really beautiful and really fun. She has a predictably great work ethic.

The colour here is real. The background is pink and I used chocolate and pink gels on the lights. I asked Victoria to breathe deeply. It’s something I often do. There’s something that happens in the eyes when people are filling their bodies with oxygen. There’s also a little dirtiness at the edge of the frame. Just a piece of poly-board which makes it all look more real.

If I were to shoot a shot like this a certain way, with a ring flash and the wrong lingerie, it could look like an image for one of the tackier men’s mags. I wanted to make Victoria look like a superhero. Olympians are as close as the real world gets. It’s like a boudoir shot of Wonder Woman.

—Greg Williams (with Samuel Agboola)

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The Box

27th September, 2011

↑EXIF DATA

Camera: Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III

Lens: EF50mm f/1.2L USM

Date: 27th September, 2011

Shutter speed: 1/125 sec

F-stop: f/1.2

ISO speed: 320

Focal length: 50 mm

This picture was taken at The Box nightclub in London. I’m friends with the owner, Simon Hammerstein and had talked to him about trying to do a project there.

The Box started in New York several years ago, and is renowned for shows which are risqué and provocative. They’re directed by Simon, people pay an absolute fortune for a table, and it attracts many of the world’s great and good. This photo is of a show called Allison in Box Land, which is their take on Alice in Wonderland.

We got the talent to come in during the day as normally the club is on at night and they set up a number of shows for me to shoot. In this image the rabbit is feeding Alice opium. We used the lighting that was there but adjusted it to our needs. There’s a difference between the information an eye sees and what a camera records. Things like the smoke in this image were added by me, and you never see this angle from the audience as I took this from the side of the stage.

The girl playing Alice is a dancer called Charlie. I watched her perform and looked for interesting shapes before finding the best angle to work from. The image is theatrical, but still in line with my kind of lighting and the idea of performance. I like to observe people doing things rather than posing. I like the drama of the flames, the smoke, her shape, and the surreal nature of the rabbit.

I tend to shoot single frame and I got them to redo this several times. This was the shape I was going for, I pre-visualized and we kept working at it until I got  it.

This isn’t shot at very high ISO, we added light. That doesn’t mean it was bright, it just means I added light to shape the subjects. The primary light source is the flame.

This photo ended up being used as an ad for the new Box sister club, ACT! in Vegas, but I didn’t do the shoot with that campaign in mind. It was a personal project. I was lucky, they haven’t allowed many people to  photograph there in the past. It’s special.

—Greg Williams (with Samuel Agboola)

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Skyfall on Set

This shot was taken on the set of Skyfall. It shows the hunting lodge that is Bond’s ancestral home, exploding, towards the end of the film. It was built in a military area I used to train in when I was in the Army as a medic.

Explosions like this take a huge amount of preparation. I waited at least seven hours for this picture, rushing to get there in time having waited all day. It was so much bigger than I thought it was going to be that I had to do a bit of work on the picture to salvage the moment. The very bottom of the frame starts where the black begins below the house. I had two cameras set up, one hand held and the other on a tripod. One with a 24 mm lens and the other a 35 mm.

Amazingly, they could reset this house after the explosion and do it again. They built the house without a roof and designed it so that things would catch fire and fly off. Guys would run in afterwards and douse the flames. It was ready to explode again in about a day.

The explosion was massive. That’s a full-size house and the people are a long way from it. You can just about see Bond’s Aston Martin which is in the foreground on the left. The mushroom cloud was about 600 feet high and 300 feet wide. It just kept going up, and up, and up. I was completely unprepared for it. If you see the original image it’s completely skew-whiff because I was tilting the camera trying to get the whole thing in frame.

After the explosion the wind changed and the flaming debris started dropping on us. We ran around like nutters trying to avoid it, but it was so well done that by the time the fallout landed it wasn’t dangerous. More like the end of a firework than the start of a war. At the time you don’t know that, so you run off in the dark through a bog.

—Greg Williams (with Samuel Agboola)

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Myanna Buring

5th October, 2011

↑EXIF DATA

Camera: Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III

Lens: EF135mm f/2L USM

Date: 5th October, 2011

Shutter speed: 1/125 sec

F-stop: f/2.0

ISO speed: 320

Focal length: 135 mm

Flash: Did not fire

This shot of Myanna Buring, is for GQ magazine. Mayanna’s Swedish and she’s in the last Twilight movie. A very good actress, totally involved and very, very, very collaborative.

We did a couple of setups and this was my favorite. There’s something in the styling, with a mix of that high-gloss latex dress, and the sheer gossamer top, which works. Off set Myanna generally dresses quite modestly and when we put her in these outfits we couldn’t believe her body. Definitely shot through my hands, and the only retouching was smoothing out a wrinkle in her shirt behind her shoulder.

This picture is sexier than most I take. In fashion there’s this strange standard which suggests it’s acceptable to show women’s breasts when they are small, but somehow naughty when they’re not.

I feel that because of the cinematic feel, a very shallow depth of field, and that it’s smoky, you feel as if you’re looking at a character being sexy in performance, not an actress pretending to be sexy for the viewer. I showed her publicist afterwards and we all agreed that it was sexier than something she’d normally do, but we all liked it and felt that we struck the right balance.

It’s a collaboration so when we look at a picture and the reaction is “Phwoar look at that”, as opposed to of “Oh God I think we’ve gone a bit too far there” then you know that you’re in the right territory. I’m shooting a picture for men’s magazine and the idea of this image is to make men attracted to the woman in the photo. That’s my job. The thing is to do it in such a way that the people involved don’t regret having taken it.

I don’t know a woman in the world doesn’t want to look sexy, they just don’t want to look sluttish. Looking as if you’re in control and not a victim makes a massive difference between those two things.

—Greg Williams (with Samuel Agboola)

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Gong Li

16th May, 2006

↑EXIF DATA

Camera: Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II

Lens: 35 mm

Date: 16th May, 2006

Shutter speed: 1/50 sec

F-stop: f/2.2

ISO speed: 800

Focal length: 35mm

Flash: Did not fire

This was taken in, I’m guessing, 2006 or 2007 at The Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong. It was a publicity shot for Universal Pictures’, Miami Vice.

The Peninsula has a fleet of Rolls-Royces, and we rented one to take Gong Li to locations. It’s a funny thing when you have this actress who’s well-respected in the West but in the East is an enormous star. We had paparazzi following us in cars and we had to use the back entrance to the hotel, with secure doors that would shut behind us, so the press could be held back.

She’s so much more famous in China than in the UK. At one point I took her out on the street and did some pictures. In under a minute we learnt this was never gonna work. We had to get her in a car and get away.

She has one of the most emotive faces I’ve ever seen. You could just call emotions out to her and her expression would change. You couldn’t see her face move it was all in her eyes. She could go from longing, to despair, to joy, to being turned on, to being in love, with the flick of a switch.

The light above her head in the car is hitting her hair, and the rest of the image I lit with little, brick-shaped, handheld Litepanels. Steve Jackson, my assistant, is in the passenger seat next to Gong Li, I’m in the front seat next to the driver shooting back into her. I’ve shot a lot of women in the back of cars, I’m not entirely sure why that is. Probably some demented thing from my youth. The light coming in across the right side of her face is the neon in the street outside. The rain is real, not staged. It’s very much a reportage picture.

The thing that I try to get in all my images is a sense that you are looking at a performer in a role. You should feel there’s some danger outside of the car. I wanted it to be not so much a portrait, more a cinematic image of a character.

—Greg Williams (with Samuel Agboola)

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Daniel Craig – Skyfall Moto

I worked about 40 days on Skyfall, on set, producing a book on the film. I was wearing one hat as a reportage photographer, and another directing an advertising shoot the next. Two quite different frames of mind. Tricky to manage.

I’d had this idea and been thinking about it for quite some time. That you could have people walking towards camera, and you’re locked-off, and the lighting is constant, so the only thing changing is them because they’re walking on a treadmill. Pictures that felt like the posters but which moved.

To get that effect I used constant lighting for the still shoots on my Canon bodies, then we brought in the Red Epic camera to shoot the motos. We had a set up which was one, very strong, 18K HMI, fired through a light opal frost frame, with poly boards down the right-hand side to give a bit of fill.

We turned the Epic on its side so that it recorded a portrait image and brought in a treadmill you can ride motorcycles on. They have no sides, so someone can walk, run or drive towards you on it. We put it in exactly the same lighting environment as we’d shot the stills in.

This set of Motos was used extensively at the premiere at the Royal Albert Hall. At the after-party in the Tate Modern they had columns of screens showing them in a loop. They also appeared at all the normal video advertising spots, in Times Square and at all the London Underground stations.

The first moto I ever did was on Quantum of Solace. It was quite nice to bring it full circle and do it again on Skyfall.

—Greg Williams (with Samuel Agboola)

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Bérénice Marlohe

↑EXIF DATA

Camera: Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III

Lens: EF85mm f/1.2L II USM

Shutter speed: 125 sec

F-stop: f/1.2

ISO speed: 320

My relationship with the Bond franchise means I get to shoot some of the advertising campaigns for their product placement partners. This was for Heineken. I also shot some stuff for Omega and for Sony Electronics.

This is not a picture they actually used, but it’s my favorite shot from the setups. It’s been Photoshopped less than the ones that are turned into adverts and used online. It was taken on the set of a train carriage. Most of what I was doing that day was against a gray backdrop. I saw this great set which they were using for a TV commercial and suggested setting something up.

The lighting reminds me of the first teaser poster I did for Casino Royale, the one with Daniel Craig in the casino and all these out of focus chandeliers behind him. I wanted something that felt luxurious, in that Bond world.

Bernice is the Bond Girl in Skyfall. I haven’t lit her face, I’ve lit the environment, and a lot of the light is coming from the chandelier. I’ve got a soft light above her, probably a small source on a soft box – a 1K or  something smaller. Then there’s a dedo light behind her letting her hair through the window from the left. I’ve got another dedo light skirting her from the right, and a Litepanel giving some fill to her body, and face. It’s shot at f1.2 with an 85 mmm lens. That’s as common as mustard with me. I definitely have my hand over the front element. It gives that extra out of focus feel and a brown tint to the image.

The picture’s about her body shape and her expression. It feels as if it could be a perfume ad and there’s a luxurious feel to it that you probably wouldn’t normally associate with a beer but you would with Bond.

—Greg Williams (with Samuel Agboola)

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