What it’s like to be on Digital Rev’s Cheap Camera Challenge (with fire)

By on April 27, 2014

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to be a part of DigitalRev‘s “Pro Tog, Cheap Camera” challenge on the beaches of Hong Kong with… you guessed it: Fire!

Lok from DigitalRev put together an epic video of the challenge, involving a home made flamethrower (coffee creamer, fire starter, funnel and Kai‘s lungs), a model in full out air-soft gear and yours truly with nothing more than a cheap Ricoh Capilo R6 and a Nexus 5 to edit the photos.

Curious to see how it came out? So was I! Check out their video:

Since I was travelling with my friend Sam Tsang from Silistudio (that’s the sexy bloke holding the fire starter at 12:45), I thought: wouldn’t it be fun to have a BTS of the cheap camera challenge? So while my D800 was supposed to be resting in my Think Tank bag, he took it out and put it to some good use while snapping some additional B-roll.

The results? A different look at the same photoshoot :)

Meeting DigitalRev

Things actually came began at a pretty chaotic start with me messaging the wrong Kai that I had arrived in Hong Kong. I had just recently switched from the iPhone to Nexus 5 and was getting acquainted with Whatsapp and somehow managed to have full conversations with this wrong Kai over the span of 3 days. Brilliant. Things were off to a wong start.

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By the time I actually managed to hit up the right Kai, we were only two days away from the actual shoot and I was feeling relatively stressed with no details on where, when and how this whole thing was going to come about!

Thankfully though, turns out that the DigitalRev team is quite adept at making things work out and by the next day we had location, model and props locked down.

With things finally coming together last minute, all that remained was for me to show up at the right place at the right time. Thank goodness Sam was around to play tour guide!

Morning of

On the train towards the shoot, somewhere between watching other Pro Togs like Chase Jarvis and David Hobby tackling their challenges, I realized that in all the excitement, I had managed to dress myself in fully synthetic clothing – a terrible idea when shooting fire (read my tips on how to shoot fire)

Luckily, we arrived a bit earlier at the mall we were meeting at giving me and Sam ample time to go and hunt for a nice snazzy cotton sweater that I was extremely grateful for, 5 minutes before the shoot.

The meeting

Surprisingly, I wasn’t able to recognize the team. I blame Kai for having his glasses off – he was kinda like Clark Kent but in reverse. Thankfully Sam saved me any potential embarrassment by guiding me towards the right group of asian folks so I could gracefully introduce myself.

Things turned out to be far less formal than I expected – no scripts, no preparations, no list of topics to hit… just a small little mission: To go and buy supplies and head off to our photoshoot.

On the list of things to purchase: Coffee creamer, Fire starters, a wet towel for safety and BBQ tongs.

The shoot

On most of my photoshoots, the videographers in place are part of my team which means that I know that at the end of the day, anything too ridiculous that I do or say can be filtered out. I also control every aspect of the shoot from casting, to production… so when something goes wrong I have only myself to blame.

In this case though, I was more of a guest on a show so I wasn’t ever quite sure what I was supposed to… and not supposed to do. The cameras were constantly rolling so it was up to me to just be myself… and roll with whatever happened, weather it was a broken pump, a forgotten propane tank or a completely dysfunctional lighter.

Of course I did my share of making mistakes such as having my cheap camera drop out of my pocket as I was hopping around. Solution: Clip the dinky thing on my waist using Peak Design’s Pro Camera clip to prevent any further damage.

Shoot conclusion

At the end of the day, despite all the mishaps the entire photoshoot ended up being exactly what all shoots are like: problem solving and having a great time producing great images. It didn’t matter who was recording or how many innuendos were tossed out, we all worked together to do the best we could with what we had available.

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Post-Production

Although I would have had undeniably better results editing things with Photoshop, I felt that it would be a lot more interesting to see what magic I could pull off just editing things with my Nexus 5. I had never edited anything on my phone before other than instagram (which hardly constitutes editing), but had heard that SnapSeed from Google could pull off some pretty amazing results so decided to give it a spin.

Of course, the perfectionist in me probably spent more time editing the images on my phone than I would have on photoshop (so much appreciation for layers and opacity controls) but at the end of the day, I managed to get some pretty decent (albeit super noisy) results.

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In Conclusion

I definitely loved the challenge of being put into an unfamiliar situation and I’m happy that I managed to pull off some pretty nifty results despite all the mishaps. I seem to thrive under pressure and hope that in the future, I can be a part of more projects like this one :) If you liked the episode, be sure to send a tweet @digitalrev so that they invite me back!!

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  • Kay O. Sweaver

    Thanks for the extra BTS and the… what do you call digital contacts sheets? All the unedited photos and the photos that didn’t make the cut. It really helps to fill in the blanks.

    • http://www.vonwong.com/ Benjamin Von Wong

      Could be contact sheets :)

      Glad you enjoyed the post :D

  • Itripper

    Incredible pics, it looks like some awesome “B” movie!

  • Thomas Adhi Nugroho Chua

    The Linear noise pattern actually accentuates the atmosphere, it looks as if it was a live capture of a war from a drone or something

  • Rick Lloyd

    Great images from a very creative shoot! Glad to see you using a “cheap” point-and-shoot camera – they are all I use now because of the portability. Thanks for turning me on to the coffee creamer trick, too!

  • Adam Forsberg

    You did a fantastic job. These are probably the best pics to come out of any of the Cheap Camera Challenges

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