Guj Tungpalan of redsheep PhotoCinema is sitting down with us today to share how he went from IT to photography, tips for traveling with all that gear, sage advice for achieving your end goals in this exciting and creative field, and more! Hello Guj~
Your work is fabulous. What pulled you into this industry?
During my early days as a photographer, I would bring my camera whenever I attended weddings of friends and officemates. [I was working for HP, a multinational IT company at the time.] I would often share the photos I took as a guest and would constantly receive positive feedback. Why not post them online and see what happens?
I launched my first website on August 8, 2008 (08.08.08) but I had to wait for that first client who was willing to take the risk; after all, all the photos on my website were taken from a guest’s point of view and I hadn’t covered an entire wedding yet.*
That someone who was willing to take the risk eventually came and we did our first official wedding on January 2, 2009.
*[The normal industry practice was for one to be an apprentice of a big shot photographer and build your portfolio as a 2nd or 3rd photographer. I started my wedding photography career from scratch and I built my portfolio as a guest seated somewhere in the pews, not as someone's 2nd or 3rd photographer.]
That’s my “origins story” for wedding photography. Doing wedding films came a year after. I’ve mentioned in my bio that I was a musician. Wedding photography lacked the musical expression that is so inherent to wedding filmmaking. I was drawn to the fact that making music videos for weddings is a fusion of my two biggest passions in life: creative imagery and music.
Our cinematography team was also built from scratch. There was no big shot filmmaker to be an apprentice to, it was only us: photographers wanting to be filmmakers. We started by offering basic “video coverage only” services to our photography clients. In order for me to practice, I would give them free behind the scenes videos of their engagement sessions. (I would take video clips in between shutter clicks.) For weddings, I would attempt to do a Same Day Edit video for them; if I was able to finish the video on time, then great, that’s a big freebie for the couple. If we didn’t finish the video within the day, there wouldn’t be an issue in any case since it’s non-contractual. It was a high pressure but low risk way of learning the ropes at wedding film-making. It took me a couple of weddings before I was able to finish my first “Same Day Edit” video. Slowly but surely, we were able to build our video portfolio.
As I am typing this, I just realized how the Lord took care of us and brought us to where we are right now. I know that we're still far from the top spot, but considering where we came from, we literally started from scratch! Right now we’re traveling all over the world to do destination weddings. This wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for those God-orchestrated moments. I guess the Lord has this track record in showing his might through a frail man armed with a donkey's jawbone, a band of uneducated fishermen, a little boy with two loaves of bread and five fish, or a wannabe photographer and filmmaker with no formal training in photography and film-making (to this day). That guy even has no background in marketing and running a business! Heck yeah Unmerited Favor.
How do you blend the artistic side of your style with the documentary style?
Our paradigm in filming weddings is to do a documentary (by definition, factually, truthfully and honestly) using artistic tools. The artistry comes into play with the aspects that we can control:
- depth of field (shallow/dreamy for that filmic/cinematic look)
- frame rate & shutter speed (24p for that film look)
- lighting (natural light)
- composition (art house, highly stylized)
- camera movement (handheld)
- editing and post processing (color grading using Film Stock presets, use of film burn and film grain)
We ensure that these artistic (controllable) aspects do not interfere the documentary facet of filming. Events are documented as they are; events naturally unfold as they happen. We are as unobtrusive as possible, to the point that we get feedback from our couples that they don’t know that we’re already filming and they’d be surprised to see that certain event was captured in the final video. Enter: the sneaky, artsy ninja. Direction is kept at minimum so essentially, in our wedding films, it’s accurate to say that you’d see the couples as they really are. [I really don’t believe that you have to become a more dramatic version of you just because it’s your wedding day.]
We see that you love using film grain and flare in your videos. Do you ever use antique film video cameras? If so, what’s your favorite film to use?
In filming destination weddings, I use DSLRs (Canon 6D and Sony A7s) during principal photography and I add film grain and film burn plug-ins in post-production. My photography background intuitively led me to use VSCO Film to color grade my footage. That’s basically color correcting 24 frames of photos per second of video. I use Kodak Portra 800, Kodak Gold 100, Fuji 400H, slide film and other still photography presets to color grade video; grain and film burns is added separately in post-production. (Flare is achieved naturally by our lighting techniques.)
I haven’t done video using old school film stocks (Super 8mm, Super 16mm, Super 35mm). I do film photography though (35mm and Medium Format) and this gives me good insight on how film behaves. This enables me to emulate the film look in a more accurate way.
How do you pack when you travel for destination weddings? What is in your bag?
I make sure that what I have in my carry-on baggage is enough to cover an entire wedding; I never check in lenses. If there's a worst case scenario, like flight cancellations due to inclement weather, missing luggage or if one of us doesn’t make it to the wedding day due to other reasons, not all our eggs are in one basket; each team member carries at least one camera and at least one wide and one telephoto lens. We also take different flights as much as possible.
All the gear in the photo (plus a few sets of clothing) can fit into my Rimowa Cabin Multiwheel luggage; Pelicans are way too heavy. I minimize the risk of having lost baggage by putting all the essentials in my hand-carried bag. Packing light and packing right is of great importance. During the actual shoot itself, I use a smaller bag to carry my lenses, batteries and cards. I’m using either an ONA “The Union Street” Messenger Bag or a Fjallraven Kanken (for more casual shoots).
Cameras: just two good cameras - one for stills, one for video. Leica M and a Sony A7s or two Canon EOS 6Ds.
- A standard/portrait lens: Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L is my "go to" lens; I can cover an entire wedding using just this one. A Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.1 and a Zeiss Biogon 35mm f/2 are mounted on my Leica M.
- A wide angle lens: either the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L or the TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II.
The rest of our lenses are distributed among the other photographers/filmmakers in the team:
- Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye,
- Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L
- Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L
- Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8
- Canon EF 135mm f/2L
- Sigma 150mm f/2.8 Macro
- Canon EF 300mm f/4L
Variable ND Filters: These are crucial in achieving the film look. Variable ND Filters enable you to film at a shutter speed of 1/50s while having a very wide open aperture in bright sunny outdoors. Variable ND Filters also allow you to expose the image faster than changing the settings on camera. The shutter speed (1/50s or 1/125s depending on the frame rate) and aperture (shallow depth of field) are pretty much kept constant, so we use Variable ND filters (and ISO settings) to expose our images.
Storage & Media:
- SanDisk Extreme SD Cards in a waterproof case. Invest in high quality SD cards. All the day’s hard work being corrupted by cheap SD cards is simply unbearable.
- LaCie Rugged 2TB USB 3.0 External Hard Drive.
Optical Viewfinder: Zacuto Z-finder
- “Where’s my Zacuto?” You would often hear me saying that as if I were looking for some sort of security blanket.
Run n’ Gun Rigs: Zacuto Enforcer and Target Shooter
Most people think that doing handheld work is done by merely holding the camera with your hands and being as shaky as possible. Doing this introduces something that I call “microshakes”- that jerky, erratic movement that’s very irritating to watch. Real handheld camerawork is done using rigs, grips, or at the very least, a viewfinder like the Zacuto Z-Finder. This gives you the real and visually appealing handheld movement that we’re looking for.
Field Recorder: Zoom H5 Handy Recorder
Audio is the bass guitar of filmmaking. Get it right, no one notices (except if you’re listening to a virtuoso bass player like John Myung, Victor Wooten or Abraham LaBoriel). Get it wrong and everything is dragged down with it.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50 Professional Studio Monitoring Headphones. I could go on and on telling you how this pair of cans sounds really really great, at the fraction of the cost of designer headphones that are meant to be worn on the neck more than over your ears.
Magazines: Because you wouldn’t want to read the same inflight magazine twice (unless you’re flying out the next month) and it feels like an eternity waiting for the seatbelt sign to turn off, before you can use your personal music player or watch the in flight movie.
Bellroy’s Travel Wallet: This is such a charm. Fits your passport, boarding pass, your credit cards, and has compartment for two currencies and a slot for your Nano SIM. All these while still being slimmer than your average day to day wallet. And it even comes with a small pen. Good for filling out immigration and customs forms.
MacBook Pro 15” Retina
iPhone 6 Plus and a Power Bank
Aesop “London” Travel Essentials
2 credit cards
My business cards with QR Codes
Guerilla marketing stickers
When I was starting as a wedding photographer, I sported a "one man army" setup. Would you believe 3 cameras hanging from my neck and shoulders, and an accessory belt with 4 other lenses? It was an overwhelming experience and I ended up being controlled by my lenses and not the other way around. There were so many options to choose from and ironically, it was harder for me to choose which lens to use in taking the shot. I have the entire Canon EF L lens line-up, but then I learned this: you only need two [good, I mean really good, lenses] - one really good portrait lens (a 50mm or 85mm depending on your personal preference) and one really good wide angle lens (17mm is my personal pick, but 24mm is also good. or a 35mm if the 85mm is your main lens). So there, just two lenses. Have your 2nd photographer worry about the telephoto lens. If for instance I can only bring one lens, I would choose the 50mm.
You seem to have a gift with making couples feel incredibly comfortable in front of the camera. Do you have any tips or tricks for fellow cinematographers?
[ Oh wow, it feels great that you’ve noticed it! ] It’s adding that personal touch. I make it a point to meet the couple at least once and get to know them on a personal level: what their favorite cities are, what was the last movie that they watched, what’s on their Spotify playlist, what’s their love story, how are they as a couple (are they the platonic type or the ubersweet type? somewhere in between perhaps?), what’s “awkward” to them, etc.
My rule of thumb is never to use a template or a cookie cutter approach - not just in filming the couple but in filming the wedding in its entirety. When directing and giving instructions, I don’t micromanage. Giving them room to act candidly and naturally is the perfect catalyst for those awe-inspiring and genuinely heartfelt moments of their togetherness. In my humble opinion, the most elegantly supermodel level pose is easily outshined by the simplest yet most genuine candid moment.
Anything else to add?
Find your voice: easily the most important tip that I can share. If you’re a newcomer, it’s very tempting to simply follow trends and follow what the “Big Boys” do. Yes, that can give you an easy stream of clients, but where’s the artistic fulfillment in that? People are going to book you because you’re a “poor man’s <big shot artist’s name here>”... because you’re affordable and available, not because they really love your work. You’ll end up doing double effort but getting half of the results that you want. It’s really hard not being yourself. Be patient and don’t be a hard sell. This is art after all; (and hence, self-actualization) the business aspect is just a big bonus.
Also, “begin with the end in mind”. Set goals on what you would want to happen to you in your photography career. I wanted to be a “destination wedding photographer & filmmaker” so I made sure that all of the actions that I would take - no matter how small - would lead me to that end. This means knowing which projects to post on your website, what sacrifices to make, what gear to invest in, where to advertise (or whether or not you should advertise), and narrowing your niche further, etc - all these little things drawing you closer to your end goal.
Guj is a destination wedding filmmaker & photographer based in Manila, Philippines. He is the founder & creative director of redsheep PhotoCinema and is part of Rangefinder Magazine & PDN's first batch of In-Motion awardees: The 20 Emerging Artists To Watch in Video. Known for his art house sense of aesthetics, Guj is passionate about crafting filmic and cinematic images in natural light, favouring the candid over the contrived. Guj is a self-taught visual artist and an avid musician; he suffers from a severe case of wanderlust, breathes progressive rock and bleeds #UnmeritedFavor. Stalk his works and travels at redsheepphotocinema.com and @redsheepphotocinema on Instagram.