Discovering What’s Around You

Today I’m going to talk about how to cheat in the world of close-up/macro photography.  You’re probably scratching your head right now thinking…”wait, the title says Discovering What’s Around You, what does close-up photography have to do with that?”…well, everything actually.

Today’s blog isn’t going to be long and lengthy and the tools are simple.  As long as your digital camera has the pixel count and image area to handle hard crops then you can do this type of photography without all the extra equipment.  You probably won’t even need a flash or you can use a white or silver (depending on how much extra light you need on your subject) bounce card.  Having a fairly good understanding of your image editing software is essential.  I’ll talk a little more about that in a little bit.  This is about how close-up/macro photography can transform your backyard, your local city park or your neighbors hedges into a whole new shooting landscape (of the smaller world around us).

http:// mushroom in a bed of mulch

The image of the mushroom is a perfect example of what kind of image can be captured in a very small space.  Composition is critical here though.  You have to be very aware of what is in the background as well as the foreground.  An easy way to do this is by shooting in liveview mode.  This should show you what your picture will look like.  With this particular picture, I decided to place the camera in a position that allowed for green shrubs to be in the background.  The trick here is to have the background blurred out enough so the shrubs don’t look like regular house shrubs and yet not so blurred that we don’t recognize it as some sort of plant.  This allows the mushroom to look as if it may have been shot out in the woods somewhere.  I will be honest here and let you know that this was shot with dedicated equipment BUT this is where your editing software comes to play. Right now I just want to show the different things that can be discovered and shot within easy walking distance of your front (or back) door.  I’ll talk software later.

http:// jumping spider

When shooting insects with a standard kit lens I would suggest shooting with your widest aperture to start with.  Photographing insects can be truly tricky with dedicated equipment and might come to be a little easier with your kit lens using the crop to get in close.  More times than not you want as much of your subject (insect) to be in focus while having as much of the foreground and background out of focus so the viewers eyes are only on the subject.  While it’s easier to get the blur you want for the foreground and background with dedicated lens or macro adapter rings it does make it more difficult to get enough of the subject in focus to satisfy most viewers.  The reason for that is the closer you get to the subject the shallower your depth of field will be.

http://bug on a leaf

I probably love close-up/macro nature photography as much as I love wildlife photography.  The exciting thing about the former is that on any given day you can come across an insect that you never seen before (or at least you’ve never taken notice of before).  It’s almost like you are documenting a new species (who knows…that could happen as well).  Even the common insects that you see all the time will come to have a whole new look once you study them through the lens of a camera as the picture of the jumping spider shows.

http:// daddy long legs

We have all seen daddy long legs.  Many of us have even held them (being one of the very few and sometimes only spider we will hold).  Now, take a picture of one, crop in close, sharpen the image up without ruining the aesthetics of the image and suddenly we see creature with long black legs and…fangs!  Doe’s it make you second guess all those times you held one?  Probably not but you get the idea.  The images I have shared are of subjects that are easily found in close to home if you just look.

So how exactly do you get these types of images without a dedicated setup?  Let’s start with your kit lens.  The best kit lens are the ones that have a reach of at least 105mm.  What I will share with you will hold true to everyone no matter what kind of zoom lens you have.  You want to get as close as your lens allows for focusing zoomed in to your subject.  The further you can zoom in and get close the more of your background and foreground will be out of focus.  With “kit” zoom lenses you should be able to shoot at it’s widest setting (usually f/3.5) and get the right amount of the subject in focus.  Here is a BIG warning though.  Most lenses (even professional lenses) are not optically at their sharpest when they are at their widest aperture.  To get the sharpest image that your lens is capable of producing usually requires shooting between f/5.6 and f/8.  Of course not every lens acts the same so I suggest that google search for test reviews of your particular lens and what f-stops gives the sharpest image.  There are times though that you may get a lens copy that wasn’t calibrated correctly and causes back focusing issues with your camera.  If you are getting constantly out of focus images (at least where you intended the focus to be) and you have even tried shooting with a tripod and remote shutter release then this could be the issue.  It can be corrected by you but it isn’t a quick and easy solution.  I won’t go into detail but you can find out how to do this by googling it.

Okay, so you have taken the picture and it’s now up on your photo editing software.  Before you start adjusting for sharpness, color and lighting I suggest you crop first.  Now you have cropped.  Now it’s time to adjust the exposure, contrast, highlights and shadow (but only if needed) then and only then should you start thinking about sharpening.  When you sharpen the image (if you feel it’s needed) you are sharpening for the subjects eyes and you have to be careful not to sharpen to the extent of making the image look digitized.  Only take it to the point of still looking natural.  Once you have your subject to your satisfaction it’s time to look closely at the foreground and background.  Are they both out of focus enough to the viewers eyes are automatically drawn to the subject?  If not, most programs that are out now have the ability to manipulate those areas only and blur them out even further.  Youtube is a great place to find tutorials on pretty much anything and everything that deals in image editing software.  Some companies even have it on their website.

So the point of this blog today is to, again, get you thinking outside of the box.  With practice and the right technique you can transform a back yard, front yard or your local city park into a photo mecca by going small.  The right composition, camera angle (to keep manmade objects out of the picture) and f-stop can make it look as if you went out on a photographic journey to the great outdoors somewhere far away.

One last note.  I mentioned in Monday’s blog about being prepared for snow and that the prediction for Wednesday wasn’t going to be anything to get excited about…well…that may have changed now that they are predicting anywhere between one to six inches.  THAT is enough to get excited about and snow pictures can make for great close-up work!


Keep warm ~ R

Winter Photography

http://Central Park

It’s that time of year my friends.  That time where throwing off the warm blankets and crawling out of bed seem down right silly.  For the most part I don’t blame anyone with these thoughts.  Of course nothing is going to get done just laying in bed.  There are some things you can do to keep you photographic skills up during the time of year.  Even I don’t get out during the winter very often to shoot.  What does get me out though is right after a fresh snow has fallen overnight.  Of course for me it has to be somewhat significant coverage (not a “dusting”) but this is my preference.

Let’s talk briefly about when it doesn’t snow and it’s just too cold to go out shooting somewhat bare looking landscapes.  Set up a home table top studio.  These can be fun once you get going.  You can become creative and try some crazy ideas in a controlled environment.

http://Two roses without stems and shot glass with fruit punch.  ISO 640 @ f/10 and 1/80th SEC

http://diamond wedding ring on black reflective plastic. ISO 800 @ f/25 and 1/80th SEC

As you can see from the photos above you can continue to create, hone your skills and continue to develop a better understanding of you equipment.  You may think that you need a lot of things or specialized equipment for this but it takes less than you think (and cheaper too).  You can buy table top kits for less the $100 but they are usually limited.  Light output usually isn’t very good and the tent provided is usually small but they do offer other sizes too.

Then again you can make your own.  One way of doing (and this won’t limit much to the size of your subject) is set up a table next to a window.  If your window has a curtain rod then take the curtain off.  Take any color bed sheet (although black or white is the most popular choice for table top) and clamp it to the curtain rod and lay it over the table.  This gives you a large solid background allowing you to shoot many different size objects.  Next, the lights.  You can use either a couple of floor lamps, end table lamps or all of them for different lighting effects.  If you have them (and if not go get them before it gets too cold), I would use the LED bulb they have out now for regular Edison sockets as they have low heat output or the GE Reveal bulbs or any that have near daylight output, as they tend to be easier (for me) to adjust in Light Room.  Use at least a 100 watt equivalent as this will allow you to shoot at lower ISO and higher shutter speed to minimize noise.

Another way of doing this is by using the light from the window as your main light and a white construction paper or anything white and somewhat reflective) to bounce fill light.  You can make the back ground with the bedsheets by taking it to the wall (if you can live with a couple of small holes) or by using a tall enough object (such as a box spring) or objects (a couple of coat racks) to attach the sheet to.  You can also use large construction paper by taping it to the wall and and table to keep it stationary.  How you set it up depends on you.  Think out side of the box.  I’ve made this suggestions because there are many of you out there that do not own external flashes or continuous studio lights.

http://Rose with water drops. ISO 100 @ f/36 and 1/200th SEC

The two roses with shot glass and the ring were shot with a Nikon D800 and a Tokina 100mm macro lens and an inexpensive continuous studio light set that I purchased just for this on for around $300.  The rose with water drops was shot with the same camera but I used a Tamron 180mm macro lens and two Nikon external flashes.  The next picture (below) is one I shot with a lighting solution similar to what I have suggested for the truly budget minded.

http:// ISO 50 @ f/25 and 1/100th SEC

Rather than use external flashes, I used instead the camera’s built in flash at it’s lowest setting (so to help fill shadows and a floor lamp with an arm that extended over the flowers (as a main light).  This helped keep the stems from being to apparent and the background blacked out.  I then used LightRoom to complete the look by darkening the stems out so it was just the flowers.  Again, it comes down to shooting a lot and using a lot of different settings and light configurations.  Many time the best shots come by accident.  Just don’t forget how you got that shot for future reference.

I decided to talk about this mostly for winter photography because I had talked a bit about outdoor winter photography (shooting snow scenes) in an earlier blog.  Just a quick refresher though.  Plan ahead.  I watch the weather reports religiously (no matter what time of year so I can be prepared) to see what the snow predictions are.  As an example, this Wednesday they are predicting rain that may turn over into snow over night but it’s too early to tell just how much snow or if any will actually fall.  Of course we all know that temperature will play a big part as well.  It may be cold enough higher up but if not at ground level then forget the snow pictures.  If everything works out (which it often does here during winter) there will be enough days of a pristine white blanket covering everything and you better be prepared the night before so you can be up before the sunlight crest the horizon.  One set of foot prints in the snow can add to the pictures story but a lot of footprints is just a mess (though I prefer none).

Good gear to have is either a circular polarizing filter or a set of neutral density filters.  Thin insulated gloves that allow for easy camera holding, button pushing and dial turning.  Tripod is a good idea because there is always a good chance that your body will shake a little from the cold once in a while and this will help to battle that.  Snow pants are a great tool to have as well.  I use the term “tool” for them because they give you more warmth without too many extra layers (makes it more comfortable for walking a lot too) and the ability to get down on the ground for creative shots.

Those are my ideas and thoughts for you this winter.  The last thing you want is for your camera to collect dust, your creative juices to dry up and skills to dull.  So don’t let cold non-snow days keep you from continuously learning and developing.  Have fun no matter what.  This is what we do and love so it shouldn’t feel like work but rather the creation of art.

All the very best ~ R

An interview with VFX/FX artist Emmanouil Bampatsikos


Meet Emmanouil Bampatsikos.  An up and coming VFX/FX artist that you should keep your eye one.  Emmanouil graduated from University of Kent  (Masters of Science / Digital Visual Effects) in 2013 and at his current age of 27yrs old it would seem he is a late bloomer.  Then again, when you look at his show reel, you might just think he did it at the right time for himself.  Check out his show reel below and decide for yourself.

Robert – Did you draw, sculpt or paint prior to getting into digital arts?

Emmanuel – No.  Believe it or not, I didn’t know how to do any of those things prior to pursuing this career.  Just the basics that your parents hang on the refrigerator door even though they’re not sure what it is you drew.

R – Why did you decide to go into the arts of VFX/FX work?

E – It was just my dream to get into the field of creating realistic effects for movies, ads and games and tried hard to achieve my targets. I love watching movies with visual effects, also creating ads and games, Thats why i started learning VFX.

R – For everyone out there who doesn’t know…Can can give us the difference between VFX and FX in short detail?

E – VFX is the general meaning of all the digital visual  artism. Including modeling, animation, texturing, compositing and many others. In all that, one more section is the FX, which means the effects specializing, like smoke, fire, explosions etc.

R – You graduated from University of Kent  (Digital Visual Effects) in 2013 and after only a year out of school you have already accomplished a lot.  I know that most people that graduate from film schools come to realize that the industry is saturated with film school grads and that breaking into the industry for pay is very difficult and can take a lot of time.  How were you able to get so much work so early?  Is it just that really good VFX/FX artist are in short supply?

E – As for myself, I did a lot to reach this level, especially during my master studies, and every day I’m hunting for more work. I want the different experiences and also I love this field so much. That’s why I can work hard. VFX needs fantasy and dreams and this is want I really like. My brain can’t stop working under these conditions. I didn’t have the chance from my university to get into the VFX houses but I’m doing freelance and have partners all over the world because I found the power to speak to each one without knowing them.

R – What part of VFX/FX work do you find the most challenging?

E – For me the most challenging field is the FX because you have to create realistic phenomenon which are around us and you have to create them as closer to the original.

R – Of all the VFX/FX software out there which is your favorite?

E – My favorite software is Maya from Autodesk, because I started working on it before 2 years and I believe after a long research and experiments to some softwares that is very strong for VFX. Also for effects is very strong and next versions will have more updates.

R – Which is your least favorite?

E – My least favorite is 3Ds Max at the moment, but this is not something standard. According to the needs, maybe I will need also 3Ds Max, which is also very powerful.

R – Which one was the hardest to learn and master?

E – According to my opinion the hardest to learn and master are Maya and Houdini.

R – Do you have a particular project that you have already worked on that you find the most  rewarding (not financially but rather personally)?

E – The two projects (My showreel and The video for the Kazakhstani museum), I sent you are for me and according to many opinions, the most rewarding, Also I’m working for a short film in US, with a team around the world and with target to get the short film to famous festivals.

R – Where do you hope to be in your career down the road?  Working solely as a freelancer or working with someone like Pixar?

E – My target is to work for some years in a big studio like Pixar, MPC, DNeg, Cinesite, Dreamworks, ILM etc. and then do freelancing for them remotely. This is my dream and my target. As for the moment I’m quite happy working as freelancer for so many stuff and keep myself so busy.

R – Do you have any advice to anyone who is considering this as a career path?

E – I’m advising all the people to follow their dreams and not what they have to do to make money or if they have particular jobs in their country. This is my advice in general. So for the field I believe that freelancing needs a lot of work until reaching a point and have so many customers and then have a good salary. But I believe that all should have an experience from a big studio. At least for some years.

All the very best to you all ~ R

Fall Photography

This time of year, when the temps begin to fall, I find myself struggling a little more with the desire to get out of the comfort of my bed and warm covers just to go and shoot.  Too bad to because this is one of the best times to go.

Not only do you get great colors of the changing leaves here in New York (and many other places)…


but you also get migrating birds that are stopping over for a time before moving further south.


I have come to learn that some of these migratory birds will actually stay here for the winter and then move on.  Besides these guys though, there are the usual suspects that are here all year and no less fun to photograph.


Where is the best place to find our fine feathered friends?  For me, right here in New York City.  Of all the parks here, Central Park is probably the best.  It’s certainly the easiest.  Many of the birds here you can get pretty close to which is really nice for the photographer who is on a tight budget and isn’t able to throw cash down on at $8000 lens!

Central Park has areas that offer great fall foliage to photograph as well.  You just have to be willing to walk around and explore.  Other areas to note here in the city for colors and migratory birds are Forest Park in Queens, Prospect Park in Brooklyn and New York Botanical Garden in Harlem.  While these areas are easy for landscape photography they can be more challenging for bird photography.  This is where that nice big lens comes in handy.  What is the best focal length for birding?  The 600mm lens is probably the most common but you could get by with a 400mm lens coupled with 1.4 extender.   Of course, if you are shooting with an APS-C size sensor then that 400mm lens becomes the equivalent to a 600mm lens without an extender.  You could save a ton of money by going with a 300mm lens and an extender with that size sensor and you’ll have plenty of reach as well.

Of course, you still have to get yourself out of bed despite temps in the 30’s, if you are hoping to get the colors or the birds!  Don’t procrastinate though because the orange, red and yellows will be gone much fast than the those feathery flighty critters.  Good luck shooting (photographing)!


Thinking Outside of the Box

Hi everyone.  Thank you for sticking with me.  I’m happy to be back and share one of my passions with you.  Today is going to be about photographing flowers and the practice of thinking “outside the box”.  One of the most common mistakes for those just getting into photography is photographing their subject in the center of the camera’s frame.  You see something pretty.  You look through the view finder.  The subject is in the center of the frame and you snap the picture.  There are some occasions where this might work but not often.  Not only will I harp on composition and the but also creative ways to shoot your subject.

http:// flower 1

The picture above (flower 1) has a soft dreamy look to it.  A peer of mine said to me at one time “it looks like a painting now…imagine how much more it would if it were on canvas!”.  Every time I go out and shoot I try to get my results in camera because I’m not a professional graphics artist.  My work with Light Room and Photo Shop is just basic enhancements right now.

The effect the I was able to achieve with the flower above is a mixture of having the right equipment and knowing how to maximize your camera’s settings.  For all of you who shoot with your camera phones…you’ll need to be really good with post production work to get this.  For everyone else (even those with point a shoot camera’s) this is obtainable.


So let’s start with everyone who’s using point and shoot camera’s.  Most point and shoot camera’s have a macro setting thus allowing you to get closer to your subject.  The problem here is (at least from my understanding), most of those camera’s macro capabilities work only at the wide end of the camera’s lens zoom range.  This will make it difficult to get enough of the foreground and background out of focus for this type of effect.  Don’t worry though because there is a way to get by this obstacle without doing a ton of post editing…use a close-up filter.

Hopefully your camera’s lens has front threads that allow you to use screw-on-filters (or you’ll have to hand hold the filter).  I have read reviews of some camera’s who’s lens has what appears to be threads but doesn’t take filters so you may want to check your camera’s manual to be sure.  The close-up filter’s only objective is to allow you to obtain focus at a closer distance.  Your lens and f-stop play a big roll in how much of the dreamy effect you get.

Okay.  So you went out and bought a set of close-up filters and now you’re ready to go and shoot.  Great!  One piece of equipment I find to be very important when it comes to this type of work is a tripod and remote release.  Most everyone has a tripod (whether you spent $50 or $2000) but many do not have remote releases. Good news is, if you camera is able to accept remote release, you can get one for less than $10.  If your camera doesn’t allow the use of one or you don’t have a store close enough, again don’t fear, you can use your camera’s self timer feature.  The remote (or self timer) is simply to eliminate as much camera vibration as possible.  If you have a light weight tripod then I would suggest finding away to use your camera bag as a hanging weight.  This will help with vibrations caused by the breeze.

Now you are at the door.  Everything’s in hand.  Don’t go out yet!  Take the time to get your camera out first and check your camera’s settings.  Make sure that you turn off your camera’s macro feature because you have the close-up filters.  I’m not saying you can’t use them at the same time, I just want you to become comfortable with just the filters first.    Most of the camera’s out now allow you to shoot manual, aperture priority, shutter priority or use programmed scene settings.  Of course there is auto but no…you will stop using auto from this point on.  Right?  Right!  While I prefer complete control (using the manual setting) I want to make this as simple as possible for you until you get more comfortable with your camera.  With that being said…set your camera to aperture priority.  Now set your aperture to it’s widest setting (hopefully that will be between (f/1.4 to f/5.6 depending on the focal length you are shooting at).  The lower the number the more of your foreground and background will be out of focus.  Now let’s go out!

http:// flower 3

Now that you are out “in the field” and your camera is set up for shooting, it’s time to start.  Remember when I had you set your f-stop (aperture) to it’s lowest number?  This is so you have a starting point.  When you shoot, you will start there and with each picture (of the same subject) you will adjust the f-stop upwards one stop at a time.  I suggest that your last shot is at f/8.  This way when you get it on your computer you’ll be able to compare them and see what “feels” right to you.  Shooting for that soft dreamy look is a part of the “outside the box” thinking I mentioned but you want to constantly find ways to add more “punch” or “uniqueness” to your flower pictures.  We often will look for the “perfect” flower but this is where you have to really begin to look at what’s around you.  What do you think would be more interesting?  A perfect flower or a flower that has one petal that is bent?  The flower that is a little imperfect has character and a story to tell if it could talk.

http:// flower 4 (example of finding something with character or uniqueness)

I mentioned in an earlier blog about composition (rule of thirds) and I will continue to do so in other blogs.  It’s one of those elements that helps you go from “snap shooter” to a “photographer”.  I won’t guarantee instant professionalism but you will begin to stand out from casual shooters.  In the example of the first flower picture my point of focus is the green top of the middle stem.  It is the only thing I want in focus.  You’ll notice how the base of the the subject starts off in the lower thirds (both horizontally and vertically) and the point of focus ends up just to the right of being dead center (horizontally) but it’s top is in the upper thirds (vertically).  This is working with the compositional “rules of thirds”.  The flower (or point of focus) is not in the center of the frame.  It is at a point that allows your eyes to be drawn to it.

Other ways of getting more out of this style (and let me say that this can work with any style) is to look for uniqueness within the scene.  Sometimes you may even have to create that “uniqueness” by trying different camera angles (see example of flower 3).  That’s the beauty and fun of digital photography though.  You can try things out and shoot as much as you want without spending extra money (on film).  Another great piece of equipment to use (if you can) is an external flash (not your built in flash) AND a white and a black mesh screen.  You understand the flash but why the mesh screen?  A mesh screen cut into a square large enough to be rubber banned over the front of your lens will create a foggy/misty look providing that the mesh holes are big enough for the lens to focus on your subject.  Just go to your local lenin store and look at the material that is used to make veils.  This is also a great trick for portraits!

Now this is for everyone out there (point and shooters and dslr users)…another filter that will help you get this effect (if you are struggling to get it) is the “soft focus” filter or the soft focus lens for dslr.  Depending on how much you are willing to spend the lens of course will produce better results than the filter (but not by much).  You’ll still want to practice with using the lower f-stop range but the soft focus filter will get you quicker results.  If you are wondering…no…I did not use one (soft focus filter) nor do I own one but I understand what my camera and equipment can do.

For my fellow dslr users out there you have a few more options in equipment because you can change your lens and we know we can take screw on filters.  Besides the close-up filter we have the choice of using a dedicated macro lens, extension tubes or a bellows.  Bellows are great BUT a good one is not cheap so I have shied away from using those.  The cheap alternative (and I’ve mentioned this in another blog and it’s something that I own) is the extension tube.  They come in sets of three and can be purchased for less than $100.  They have no glass so there is no loss of image quality and you can use one tube or all three (which will really get you in close) at the same time.  Some support auto focusing but more times than not you’ll find that auto focusing in macro/close-up work is often frustrating (even if you are using a dedicated macro lens and no tubes).

Take a good look at the photo’s above.  You’ll notice that flower 2 (shot with a 35mm non macro lens attached to an extension tube) seems to have more depth (or separation) in the scene than flower 1 (shot with a dedicated 150mm macro lens) and flower 3 (shot with 70-200mm “macro” lens and extension tube).  Something that’s important to know in fine art photography (this also plays into filmmaking) is that the wider the lens (or the wider you shoot with your zoom…if you don’t have a prime lens) the more sense of “space” (the amount of space between your subject and everything around it) or separation.  In flower 1 and 3 you can see that those scenes are more of what we call “crushed”.  There is no sense of space or separation in relation to the subject and what is in front of it and behind it.

I know this makes it sound more complicated and involved just to get to this effect but it’s not.  Not really anyway.  If you have a zoom lens and an extension tube then just play around with different focal lengths.  Just remember the closer you can get to you subject (without being right on top of it) the easier it will be to get the dreamy look.  Use that LCD on the back of your camera!  Often when you are out in the field shooting flowers and such the the lcd is hard to see due to the bright sun.  A quick easy fix for this (because you are using a tripod) is to use an umbrella!  Not just any umbrella mind you.  No.  Look for umbrellas for baby strollers or lounge chairs.  These are great (except on really windy days of course) because they just clamp to the tripod leg and blocks the sun from the LCD screen.  In live view you are able to see the effects automatically your settings will render before you even shoot.  This will of course use up your battery faster but you are practicing and learning so who cares!

Here is the breakdown of each shot above to give you some starting point!

Flower 1…Nikon D7000, Sigma 150mm macro lens, external flash used with diffuser, f/5.6 @ 1/80th sec and ISO 200 (tripod and remote release used).

Flower 2…Nikon D800, Nikon 35mm lens, 12mm extension tube, f/2 @ 1/8000th sec and ISO 400 (tripod and remote release used but no flash).

Flower 3…Nikon D60, Tamron 70-200mm “macro” lens at 200mm, 12mm extension tube, f/5.6 @ 1/125th sec and ISO 320 (tripod and remote release but no flash).

A quick note on the Tamron 70-200 lens.  This isn’t a true macro lens but they (Tamron) list it as a macro lens because it allows you to get close enough to your subject for a 1:3 reproduction rate (most zooms allow for about a 1:6 reproduction rate).  A true macro lens is 1:1.

There you have it.  If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask and if you have an image that you took and would like feed back on it or would like it featured on the blog let me know.  Now get out there and shoot!


I haven’t forgotten you

Hello everyone!

I want to apologize to everyone about the lack of activity on on this week.  I had to adjust my priorities this week.  My wife had hand/wrist surgery leaving her unable to use her dominate hand so I (the good husband I am *smiles*) put everything to the side to take care of her.  I’m able to make a little time for myself right now to jump on here and give you all an update and let you know that I will be back on schedule come Monday.

All the very best!


Nick Bargini (actor/director) Interview

nick2-1 Nick Bargini

Today we are talking with the talented actor and director Nick Bargain.   As the co-founder of Headcase films in Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area of Minnesota, Nick, claims to be a “late bloomer” in the industry when he started at the ripe old age of 22 (he is now 28).  So, without delay, let’s see what he has to say.

ROBERT – Nick, you may find this surprising but I have always been curious as to how the film industry is Minnesota.

NICK – The industry here is terrible. It’s a commercial state (although we do have River Road Entertainment which did “12 Years A Slave”.

R – Now, you started your career as a background actor in California at the age of 22.  When did you decide to go back to Minnesota and start Headcase Films?

N – Two years ago.

R – What prompted you to do this?  I know moving to California with little to nothing in your pocket is a big risk but so is moving back home and starting a film business in an area that isn’t known for it.

N – Honestly, I hated every minute of it.  Being a background actor and all.  At one point I was living out of my car.  Don’t get me wrong.  I worked with great companies such as Atlas Entertainment and Bold Films and what I learned was invaluable but I was never in a position to work on what I wanted to work on.  To do that I needed to make a change.  A change that would allow me to create, as an actor or director, films that truly mean something to me.

R – What do you find more challenging, directing or acting?

N – I find Directing far more challenging and thus far more rewarding.

R – Do you feel being an actor helps you as a director?

N – Absolutely!  I already have the experience and understanding as to what it’s like as an actor in front of a camera and the challenges the actor faces.  It also helps me to be able to articulate and express what I’m looking for in a particular scene from my actors.  I know how to “speak” actor!

R – The going trend for actors who become directors is still to act in the film they are directing.  Are you in the same boat as well?

N – Yes.  I prefer to do both, because I do not like acting in pictures that I’m not directing.

R – Let’s go back to your time in California for a minute.  Tell us a little bit about you what you have done in acting.

N – I’ve been in three feature films.  “Ice Scream”, “The Host” and “Walk of Shame”.  I have also been in a few shorts.  There was “The Man Awake”, “One Deviant Man” and  “Pink Toenails to name a few.

R – Have you ever taken acting classes.

N – Believe it or not, I never took a single acting class, unless you count YouTube.  I was very fortunate that acting seems to come pretty naturally for me.

R – What about any formal training for the film industry?

N – I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Digital Media, which was essentially film school. If I had it to do over again I would have just learned myself (hello internet), although the great thing, theoretically, about film school is being able to work.

R – Do you only shoot in Minneapolis?

N – No.  We shoot wherever we can, all over the state, and I shot in LA when I lived there (I plan to go back).

R – Starting a company is really risky in this industry and maybe even more so where you are at now.  What have you found to be the most challenging aspect of it?

N – I’ll have to compare what it’s like in LA compared to here in Minneapolis. There are too many challenges to name when it comes to filming in LA, but the biggest thing is the attitude of the people with respect to a newcomer. In LA, EVERYONE wants to be rich and famous, so why would anyone help you out?

In Minnesota, people think it’s fun, new, exciting, and they open their arms enthusiastically. The number of local businesses and people who have helped us out cannot be understated, and it makes this a great place to hone your skills for the big time which is still LA.  Of course there is New York City that is on LA’s heels.

The most challenging aspect of starting a production company has really just been the organizational stuff. Paperwork, scheduling, I have done it all myself and it’s not what I prefer to do (duh, creative people will say). The balance between making money and making passion projects has also been a challenge, but less so than I initially thought because of the generosity of a couple people in funding our passion projects quicker than I could have dreamed.

R – Let’s talk about your current project “Pink Toenails”.  You have already mentioned that this is a short film and a really interesting story line.  What was your inspiration for it?

N –  “Pink Toenails” is a 30-ish minute film.  It is a short compared to a feature but not exactly a “short” film by some film festivals definition.  With  that being said, we’d eventually like to turn into a feature.  I wrote the story when I first moved to California at 21, not knowing a soul on the West Coast. I was feeling alienated, alone, different, all of the things that the lead character goes through in “Pink Toenails”. In other words, my own isolation inspired what I hope will be a great piece of work (a little cliche’, but true nonetheless).

R – You know what they say.  Write what you know and you did.  Many great stories come from something that the writer has either experienced personally or have thought about many times over.  Is anyone else helping direct “Pink Toenails”?

N – My partner, Sean Guthrie is helping me on the project, but I am the Director.  I would never work on a project with 2 director’s who had an equal share of the power. I believe in hierarchy, especially when it comes to filmmaking. I would put the power split on “Pink Toenails” at 80/20, with me being the 80.

R – What has the experience been like working on this film?

N – It’s been hell! We were funded on this project before we were ready to make a movie of this scale. We have a smaller crew than is necessary to make a movie of this scale. It has been next to impossible to work out the schedule of 20+ high school kid cast members and another 20+ Extra’s, especially since I have been doing it all myself (not recommended). However, I would change absolutely nothing if I had it to do over again. This is how you learn to make a film. When we step onto our next set, we will be infinitely more prepared than we would have been if we had done things the “right” way. I have learned more about filmmaking on this movie than I did in 4 years or film school, and the “feet-to-the-fire” method of learning is something I will continue to champion. If you want to learn to make movies, just make movies. We have young and exciting actors, a small crew that believes in what we are doing, and our confidence and skill set grows by the day. Upon reflection, it’s been great.

PT13 Raye Brooke

R – Your lead actress is Raye Brooke.  Did you find her through casting or is she someone you worked with in the past?

N – I worked with Raye on our last film, “Maryland” ( We found her during casting for that movie.

R – Raye Brooke’s has acted in theater as well as on camera and I know from my own experience that it can be a little difficult for someone from theater to transition to being on camera.  Did you find this to be a problem for her?

N – No.  I wouldn’t even call Raye a stage actress. She may have some experience there, but she was born to act in films; her talent is in her subtlety and she takes direction about as well as anyone I have worked with. The dream of any director is to be able to develop a shorthand with his/her actors and crew. I have that with Raye and it works very well. However, yes, theater and film are not even in the same ballpark as far as I’m concerned, from the writing to the acting.

R – I have to ask.  Do you normally write your own scripts?

N – I do prefer to write or co-write my own scripts, but I am always, actively and enthusiastically seeking writers to work with.

R – Writing for comedy or drama, which is more challenging to you?

N – I find comedy way more difficult because of 3 things: timing, the subjective nature of the genre and my own personal preference for drama. If I make a comedy, you can be sure it’ll be dark or different in one way or another.

R – Anything else on the horizon after “Pink Toenails” is wrapped up?

N –  After this film, we plan to promote the hell out of it and either pitch for funds to turn it into a feature, or develop a distribution strategy for the film as-is. With the rise of VOD and self-screenings, I think we can develop a following that we can take with us as we build our company (this has been one of the benefits of our cast size and age, they are likely fans for life and also provide free marketing).

R – Anything else you would like to share about yourself or the film?

N – I’d like to take this opportunity to shout out everyone in our cast and on our crew, and to call on all filmmakers to remember that this is a very collaborative medium. Someone else’s success does not by any means prohibit your own success. Use your cast, involve them, let them make decisions, make them feel that they are as invested in the success of the film as you are, because not only is it true, but it only helps as you move from making the film (the “easy” part) to getting people to watch it (the “impossible” part). I like to call it “social filmmaking”. It’s not that everyone has an equal say in the decisions that will be made, like I said I believe in hierarchy, but I very much believe that there is great value in every cast and crew member and it is the #1 role of the leader (or Director) to find and utilize that value in service of the film. Do it together or don’t do it at all.

I want to give Nick a very big thank you for taking the time out of his very busy day for the interview.  I personally can not wait for the screening of the film “Pink Toenails”.  With Nick’s outlook on the importance of every member of the filmmaking process (actors and crew), I have no doubt that this film and future films will find success.  Look for follow up interviews of Nick Bargain as his career continues to blossom.  Below are some BTS shots from the set of “Pink Toenails”.