Process: What I’m Thinking When I’m Shooting – Clips

Here’s an excerpt from the Redwoods section of the sample of A Life’s Work. Notice the first two shots and the last two shots.


Here’s about five and half minutes of raw footage from the Redwoods shoot. The first two and last two shots from the first clip come from this raw footage.


This was one of the rare shoots I went on solo, so I can tell you what I was going for with that camera in my hand. If you look at the full Redwoods section you’ll see men ascending the trees and cutting clippings, clippings falling to the ground, men descending the trees, more cutting of clippings on the ground, and packing up the clippings. That was the goal: document the process from start to finish.

In the raw footage above the goal was to capture these guys clipping and bagging. I was working hand held, and I moved around a little bit. I wanted to get different angles within a 180 degree arc and different sizes — close ups, medium shots and long shots. I was thinking about how this little sequence might be edited together as I was shooting, so I was conscious of “matching” shots, that is, I was consciously trying to get a long shot of a man with a clipper in his right hand, shoot a close up of the clippers, get a shot of clippings being placed in a bag or cooler. That way the shots could be edit seamlessly together. I kept thinking: different sizes, different angles, give the editor as many options as possible. Frame the shots simply. Nothing distracting or disorienting. In the raw footage you’ll see the tripod as the camera follows the climbers out of the alcove and approach the cooler (4:20 to 4:35). Bad bit of luck there.

As I look at the footage now, I think I did an okay job, and maybe the proof of that is in the excerpt, but I probably should have shot this without engaging the climbers. After all, my aim wasn’t to interview them (they aren’t the subjects, David Milarch is), but to get footage of them packing up the clippings. In my defense, I knew at the time that the footage I would need from this setup would be minimal, and I was confident I was covering that. With that in mind, I felt free to talk to them, because you never know what you might get. Also I wanted to talk to these guys because I really liked them, so I indulged, and I don’t regret that at all. More on that in a future post.

See also Why Do I Keep This in My Wallet? a post about the jitters I felt before this shoot.

This post is dedicated to John Metzdorf, tree lover.