Connor McFadden

Atlanta Photographer & Cinematographer

The Utah Trip

For someone who loves to travel, I've barely gone anywhere.

I have been outside the United States once, on a cruise, 15 years ago. Within the states, I have been to 19 of the 50 states. One of them is New Jersey, so basically I've been to 18 states. I'm not a huge vacation guy because I spend so much of my income on gear, which means anytime I consider dropping money on a trip I immediately stress out about it. Oddly enough, sometimes I enjoy the destination more if a work trip gets me there.

Last year I got to fly from Atlanta to Salt Lake City for a shoot. Even though there is always some hassle and exhaustion with traveling, I always savor the opportunity because the idea of working as a traveling cinematographer has always been cool to me. Standing in front of mountains or glaciers or sunsets dramatically, holding really heavy equipment, wearing aviators, while walking away from Michael Bay explosions going on in the background. That's the dream.

Thankfully there were no explosions on the flight in. There were mountains though. Once we were circling Salt Lake City, I got a full sense of scale of the mountains. Usually when flying thousands of feet over mountains, you don't have anything to compare them to. Here, they completely dwarfed this city, which had a fair amount of tall buildings in it. The juxtaposition took my breath away.

The next morning, the project manager and I leave the hotel and drive to the client's office to start filming. I get to their conference room and am setting up for the interview. I turn on my softbox light, and I hear an oscillating sound coming from it. I look at it and notice that it's flickering. Not in the creepy horror movie way, but the brightness is oscillating constantly. I begin to panic. That's my key light, and we don't have another light source in this room. I check in camera as a test set up and it looks far worse on the recording than it does in the room. Awesome.

I relay my concerns to the PM and she suggests that I call our creative director back in Atlanta for his advice. He suggests playing with the shutter speed and frame rate on the camera. I bump it up from 24fps to 30pfs and the shutter from 1/50 to 1/60. It is a big difference, and it's a lot tougher to notice the flicker. But the in-camera monitor is so damn small that it's tough to really see anything (protip: if you shoot a lot of DSLR video, get a monitor). There's a chance that this will cut down on the flicker substantially, and in editing I can use Flicker Free (an amazing plugin) to get rid of the rest. But it's still a gamble, and if it doesn't work then we're stuck with a whole series of FAQ videos that have this problem.

Ultimately, I decide to use the small LED light that I was going to use as a back light as my key instead. It's a little blue & harsh, and I like to think today I would have dialed it in a little better & set a better in camera white balance. But it got the job done.

Lesson learned, have a backup light source.

The rest of the shoot went well, and the client was a lot of fun. When they are, it's one of the best parts of this job. Afterwards, the PM and I stop for some food while we wait for our return flight. I played some pool and I thought I did alright, though I did not appreciate one comment in particular on my instagram feed about it.

 Thanks Todd.

Thanks Todd.

I took some more photos before I left, and was in awe of the Utah landscape. I have never been to the region before and am now dying to explore the mountains of Utah and Colorado. And luckily you don't have to be a good photographer to capture a good semblance of the view.

All in all, a good trip... before the flight home.

More on that next week.

Have you ever traveled to a vacation destination for work? Leave a comment and share your experiences below!