Thoughts On Photography

Like a lot of filmmakers, I also spend time doing still photography. Unlike a lot of photographers, I love taking pictures of people, not just buildings or landscapes. I love taking photos of all kinds of people, almost always using natural light. Sometimes I take photo gigs for pay, and it’s always a rewarding experience. Today was one of those days.

All of a sudden in the middle of a shoot, I realized a truth: as a photographer you’re in every picture you take.

This is true on a physical level, as your image will show up in the subject’s eye when you shoot closeups. And it’s true on a deeper, less tangible level, too.

What I mean is, your vibe- your energy- will reflect back at you when you’re shooting. If you’re having a bad day and putting that out into the universe, you’ll see it in your photos, in the subject’s face, somehow. It’s subtle, but it’s there. If you’re having a great time, enjoying the process, and enjoying the person you’re shooting, well, that comes back to you in the photo, too.

When I shoot somebody, I feel incredibly privileged. I know that I’m asking them to let me in, and that can be a very intimate thing. When I get the chance to see someone with their guard down, being themselves instead of putting on the masks we all must wear to protect ourselves, it’s a beautiful, honest moment.

That’s what I am trying to capture. And it requires that I, as the photographer, also let my subject in. I must be as completely vulnerable, open, and alive,  as the person whose image I am capturing. Because that’s when the good stuff happens.


Thoughts on Facebook

GM just pulled its ads from Facebook, because they don’t work. Studies show that Google has a far higher click through rate than Facebook, and that their ads have far better reach than Facebook’s. Here’s a good article from BusinessInsider about it, although this stuff is now all over the interwebs.

One of the points of this particular article that I hope everyone notices is that advertising on Facebook is actually FREE. If you create compelling content.

Well, well, well. So here we are, a few years after everybody got all hot and bothered about tweeting and status updates for their brands, and put all their money into building social media “presences” instead of creating quality content. The tide has begun to turn, as businesses realize that getting people to talk about your brand only matters when you have something cool/fun/useful to say, and which leads to actual purchase decisions.

Finally, content is king, again. If you’re smart.

If it sounds like I have a love/hate relationship with social media, you’re right. I love how social media can connect us and keep us involved in each others’ lives. But I hate how most of it has been vapid claptrap nobody cares about, and that goes triple for corporate presences in social media. Too often, it’s just noise. And noise sucks. In the end, Facebook is one of many tools a smart business can take advantage of and use to build and communicate with audiences.

Let’s get back to work, people. How to do that?

First, create cool, killer products and services that matter. Then, hire an agency like mine to craft compelling stories that help sell your awesomeness.

As for Facebook’s IPO, and the effect of corporations finally wising up to reality and refocusing their efforts on Facebook’s bottom line: I really don’t care. The billionaires and insiders will get richer (especially that Facebook founder who just renounced his U.S. citizenship to save millions of dollars in taxes), and the poor saps who invest at the wrong time will get taken for a ride.


Hot Rodding RED-MX

I make films with a lot of different cameras. But my favorite cam is still the RED MX. It’s absolutely perfect for cinematic shooting. Problem is, it’s a little bulky at times. So I’ve been working at hot rodding our faithful serial #2464 to give it some new life, and let me use it a bit more often in tight spaces and flying on my steadicam.

As great as the camera itself is (built like a tank, all the ins and outs a pro needs, stunning RED Epic sensor inside which makes gorgeous Oscar-nominated pictures), RED really failed on the accessories side of things. They clearly erred on the side of “make it big and heavy”. And expensive. Here’s a few of our hot-rod pieces that I’ve found that make things much, much nicer for camera operators and for day to day use:

Longvalley Equipment lightweight 15mm rods for RED ONE and MX
This setup is awesome! It replaces several pieces of heavy RED hardware with an elegant 15mm rod setup that lives on the front of your camera. It’s not only lightweight, but it also lets you finally take best advantage of the 15mm rod accessories out there (the stock RED supports are 19mm). The 15mm world has a ton of lightweight and much cheaper accessories thanks to the DSLR explosion. Best of all, my existing follow focus and matte box are convertible to the 15mm standard.

SmallHD monitor and EVF System
Again- lightweight, great quality, and the ability to use the RED menus. The whole system weighs less than the plain RED LCD monitor we also own, and it weighs about 2 lbs less than the RED EVF.

These two sets of hotrod tweaks to my RED MX make it possible to do handheld and steadicam shots I wasn’t able to easily get, before. It cuts about 6 pounds of weight from our setup- when you have a camera on your shoulder, that’s a huge difference. More than just cutting weight, it also cuts bulk. Now, my RED MX is about the same dimensions as a new RED Epic, when the Epic is using the pro i/o module. That’s stunning!

Of course, the next phase in this process is getting rid of the stupid, FAA-banned RED brick batteries and replacing those with airline-friendly, lighter weight batteries. I can’t wait!


Do You Need a Mobile Website?

In most cases, you do not need a mobile website. What you need is a website that’s designed and built to work on a variety of platforms- from desktop to mobile- automatically. If you build your website using web standards, you’ll be about 90% there.

The only reasons for having a mobile-only website are if you have large Flash items on your site (most mobile devices, smartphones, etc., don’t do Flash), if your homepage is extremely “heavy” (tons of scripts and big graphics), or if you have a legitimate need to present totally different information to your mobile audience.

The money spent developing a mobile website is often better spent enhancing and streamlining your main website.

I know, short post. You’re welcome.


SEO Spam- Beware!

Like a lot of businesses, we get a ton of spam emails. From phishers trying to get you to put your account info into a phony site, to that crazy Nigerian prince, still trying to get that $8 million out of his country, which he could, if you’d only give him your bank account information. But one spam tactic that’s been a bit more than annoying lately is “SEO consultants” sending emails offering their services.

These aren’t real SEO consultants, of course. It’s just spam. But they send messages claiming that your site isn’t performing well on Google, and promising 1st page results if you only give them your information.

Many businesses probably fall for these spammers. After all, everybody wants a great ranking in search results on Google, right? Here’s a sample from today’s email:

“I think you should know that your site isn’t being properly promoted on Google. I don’t know if you’re satisfied with your current results, but it appears that not enough is being done (almost nothing, to be frank) to make sure you reach the top 1st page results. I’m promoting sites in much more competitive markets and have promoted tens of sites with excellent results. (First results for extremely competitive keywords). In addition, I’m the owner of a global Internet-marketing training center, which you’re invited to view and form your own personal impression of, available at www.eMarketSchool.com. I can assure you with all confidence that I can promote your site on Google better than its current position, and I’d love to show how you may significantly improve your rankings. -David Moore”

Scary, right? But not to worry, David Moore of eMarketSchool.com has the solution!

Too bad it’s all bullcrap. First of all, we pretty much own the keywords that matter to our business on Google. First page results all around. Secondly, perhaps more importantly, David Moore’s eMarketSchool.com has, itself, an absolutely terrible Google search ranking. Abysmal!

If I didn’t have a policy against working for nitwits and spammers, I’d say we should help Mr. Moore market his failing site.

And for those reading this, hoping to learn something about how to actually get a better search result on Google, there’s no real trick to it. Just create and publish relevant content for your audience, through a well-structured blog and website. The search engine love will follow.


New website and web video launch… coming.

We just finished work on a huge new website design project that includes a web promo video as well. I can’t say much, but it should be publicly launching in a couple of weeks. I can say the whole team’s pretty excited, and that the web application part of the project was massive and turned out great.


Great Things Afoot

I’ve always wanted to say ‘afoot’ in a post title. Some loyal readers (hi, Mom!) may be wondering why we haven’t posted in a little while. Well, it’s because we’ve been very busy with several nice projects from clients new and old.

We’re in the end stages of launching a very cool new website and promo video for a technology startup in the healthcare arena, I’m working on a cutting-edge video project for a major university, we’re doing multimedia work for an organization, I’m working on a film for one of our UK clients, and I’m composing the music to my film “Unlaced”.

Oh, and we’re doing a redesign of our client truckaccidents.com, too.

For a small agency, that’s pretty busy. We’re still accepting new clients, but I am getting a lot more picky about the ones we choose. That’s a nice place to be, and the work is much better because of it.

Great things are definitely afoot.


NAB Thoughts

I know, NAB’s still going on. But I have some thoughts on some of the more impressive announcements:

RED’s Dragon Sensor
Wow, this thing’s gonna rock. Too bad it won’t really be here until at least 2013, unless you’re a Hollywood studio. RED pushes those guys to the front of the line. I’m pretty disappointed that it won’t work in a RED MX body, as I’ve found the work I get done with our MX is incredibly cinematic, and part of that’s having a decent sized camera, when appropriate. For me, it’s weird weighing down an Epic or Scarlet with bricks to give it some heft. That’s like what we did back in the early 2000s with DVX100s and Sony cams. Still, when Dragon comes out, it seems like it’ll have the latitude to crush anyone. But again, given RED’s history of promises and slow delivery… nah, Dragon should still be state-of-the-art in 2015.

I think it’s interesting nobody’s talking about the other pitfall of Dragon: 6K imagery means a total reworking of your post production pipeline. It’s not just a little more than 4K or 5K. It’s a lot more data to deal with. It took me a long time and a fair amount of cash to get a working 4K pipeline. And by working, I mean a pipeline that can turn projects around fast for clients with deadlines. I know computers are getting faster and storage is getting cheaper… but 6K means you better have a couple of RED Rockets ($10K) in your system. And forget about shoving all that into a Mac Pro- you’ll need expansion chassis to make it work well. Better spring for at least 40TB of storage, too. Gets expensive.

Blackmagic Design’s Cinema Camera
This one will be purchased as soon as it is available. I’ve been on the fence about upgrading our Canon 7D for a year. I’ve almost pulled the trigger on a RED Scarlet, a Canon 5D Mark III, and a Nikon D800. All good cameras. But this one… the Cinema Camera… woah! 2.5K Raw recording, beautiful form factor (just gorgeous- unlike another brand of camera I own, which has been described as “butt ugly”), and only $3,000- including a copy of DaVinci Resolve! Unbelievable! This camera fits solidly in my workflow, and is gonna be a great addition to our toolset here. So what if it’s got a super 16mm film sized sensor? So did the camera used to shoot a raft of Oscar-winning films.

There’s a thing Blackmagic’s said that really resonates with me: bigger is not always better. Sensor size doesn’t make cinema. Latitude helps, though. 13 stops is what this cam offers. That’s equivalent to our RED MX. It’s effectively what Scarlet and Epic offer, too. Did I mention this camera costs $3,000? There’s no excuse to not own one of these things, if you’re serious about quality filmmaking on an indie budget.

Canon’s 4K DSLR
I want to see and know more. Put this baby in a cage and accessorize and it seems like… is it too good to be true? Shane Hurlbut says the footage looks better than RED’s Epic. It’ll be around $10K street price. Interesting.

Adobe Premiere and After Effects CS6
Just the ability to feather masks on a point-by-point basis will make my day. The ability to play back any footage through my monitor is incredible, too. Totally worth the upgrade cost, whatever it is.


One of the best testimonials, ever


I love that I get to do cool projects for clients, whether it’s a killer video, a website, or whatever. It’s especially gratifying when a client says nice things about the work, and our relationship, too. Here’s what Damien, the chief product officer and co-founder of our very awesome iPhone app client Vocre, had to say about working with us:

“A visionary with a great team and the willingness to work side-by-side with his clients’ concepts and ideas are only a few of the reasons we enjoyed working with – and will continue to work with Patrick Ortman.

Being from a [Design] services industry myself – and being a stickler for quality – I’ve been impressed with the results of each production.

Nevertheless, when I first approached Patrick Ortman with our product and relative project requirements [for video], one of the main reasons we initially chose to work with Patrick was not due to the quality nor highly professional (& award winning) projects displayed in his portfolio; however, ultimately was the passion he, himself, showed in respect to our product and vision. When one has passion, their work embodies that.”

Damien Dalli
Chief Product Officer, Co-Founder
myLanguage / Vocre


On Choosing the Right Camera


Today is the start of NAB, the whiz-bang big conference for video and filmmakers in Vegas. Over the course of this conference we’ll see a ton of awesome gear that’ll soon be available. It’s always really heady, and really fun to browse the new tech, especially the cameras that’ll be on display. This is the year of 4K, and most major camera makers are showing off some amazingly cool cams.

But this always leads to an affliction I call “gear lust”, and an even more terminal malady: “frozen dreams”. A lot of us find it so easy to get caught up in making sure we have the “best” cameras to do our jobs or make our movies that we end up waiting- forever!- to actually make the movies. It’s insane!

Last year was a year like that for me. I knew RED was going to be introducing their Epic-X, and I knew I qualified for their amazingly generous “trade in your RED One for an Epic” deal. Problem was, the Epic wasn’t ready, yet. It was a matter of waiting another 9 months or making my movie and the spec pieces I knew I needed to get the  business to the next level. After much gnashing of teeth, it became, finally, obvious that it’s better to move forward today than to wait for the perfect camera tomorrow. I gave up the option of trading in my RED One, and instead did the sensor upgrade to MX (The same sensor in the Epic) and got rid of the clunky hard drives we’d used to record to, and replaced them with SSDs. Sure, sometimes I really wish we had an Epic here, but fact is our RED MX is a killer camera and makes video that our clients (and I) absolutely love. Super famous director David Fincher seems to agree.

What I’m getting at is, the answer to which camera is right for you is almost always “the one you have”, assuming it meets the project’s technical requirements.There’s really no reason to hold off on making your film, thinking you need a RED Epic or a Arri Alexa or something like that. You don’t.

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