As the in-house director of photography here at Corduroy Media, I thought it would be fun to break down some of my favorite frames from our films with a new series, A Story in a Frame. Ultimately the job of a DP is not just to make beautiful images, it is to make images that serve the story. I will break down what went into making the image, why it works, and the gear at work. Enjoy!
Client: Raphael House, a San Francisco-based non-profit that combats the nation’s soaring homeless rate by providing at-risk families with housing and other resources to get them back on their feet.
Project: A documentary-style video illustrating the profound effect that Raphael House has on the lives of people in need. The video would be used for fundraising purposes, so emotional impact was crucial. We chose to focus on one Raphael House client and his family’s journey to self-sufficiency. We wanted the final piece to be a poetic journey, so we used a lot of slow motion, close ups, and non-traditional framing to go into the character’s state of mind.
The story in the frame (1:04): Prior to this frame, our main character, an El Salvadoran immigrant father of two children, has just described how he lost his job, hit bottom, and had nowhere to go. Here, we illustrate his dire situation by showing him very small and isolated at the bottom of the frame. He’s silhouetted against a white sky and overpowered by the city’s buildings, telephone wires, and cars. This moment in the story highlights his feelings of hopelessness. It is what Henri Cartier Bresson calls “the decisive moment,” when the briefest second captured by photograph reveals a larger truth. While we conceptualize many images, this frame was found through pure inspiration and keeping an open mind while shooting. No matter what we are shooting, I always keep an open mind to the set at hand- often the best images are made this way.
The Gear: Red Dragon, Canon L Series 70-200 2.8, shot at 200mm. The compressed framing with the long focal length emphasizes the feeling of the city overpowering him.
How the story in this frame serves our client: The goal of this project was to tell a vivid visual story that inspires people to donate money to Raphael House. In order to do this, we needed to do more than just communicate information; we needed to evoke emotion. So we chose a strong character with compelling story to tell, and we used poetic photography and visceral imagery to first illustrate a dark time in his life and then to show the relief he found through the services of Raphael House.