That’s a Wrap – Let the Show Begin

Bags are packed, gear checked, batteries charged, hard drives backed up (twice)… and with that Rwanda: Hope Rises is a wrap. I’ll sum up a few of the challenges and successes in a little while… It was a very difficult trip, but ultimately we came away with some incredible stories and images of Rwanda, pieces that I hope will do this place justice.

And with that, I’m on to my next big assignment – a calendar photo shoot in Swaziland. I’ll be taking photos in Bulembu, an ex-mining town for Teldon Community Foundation. I’ll post more as I go… but for now it’s time to get me, and all my gear, checked through via Nairobi and Johannesburg…

A Second Sun

24-70 f2.8L detail

Over time I’ve developed a kit of photo gear that I’m very happy with. On my shoulders is a sling bag holding my trusty 70-200 f/2.8L IS, spare batteries, angle finder, 17-40 f/4L, a small nalgene for water & a clif bar for stocking up on energy. In one hand is usually my 5D & battery grip, loaded with a 24-70 f/2.8L.

On this trip, I have a new addition:

Flash Device
It’s a wireless handheld flash contraption, in case you’re wondering.

For the last while I’ve wanted to try carrying a small strobe with me, for practical and artistic reasons. Practically, a flash can help manage contrast in mid-day equatorial sunshine – shooting dark skin often results in excessive dynamic range, beyond what a digital sensor can capture. Artistically, a strobe allows creative control over contrast, giving me a second light source. I’m no longer at the mercy of the sun.

I’ve rigged together something portable that I can hold while shooting, or have someone else hold for me (human light stands are more flexible than metal ones). It consists of a post mounted onto a threaded handle (actually designed for shock-mounting a microphone), onto which tightens an umbrella angle bracket. I’m using Pocketwizard wireless flash releases, one on the camera, the other on a custom threaded mount (a screw welded onto a hose clamp, which tightens around the handle). On top of it all is a Vivitar 285HV flash.

The results are dramatic. Otherwise unshootable scenes transform into photographic frames with pop. My favorite technique is to cross-light, using the sun as fill and the flash as key light. Here are a couple examples from a recent gallery:

Rwandan Kids in Field 1Rwandan Kids in Field 2

I’m very pleased with the results, and I’m looking forward to using this technique in Bulembu. The original idea for this combination came from conversations with Jesse and reading Strobist, a great online resource for photographic lighting.

Here’s a few photos of the kit all put together:

Strobist Kit 1Strobist Kit 2
Strobist Kit 3Trev in 24

Gallery – In & Around Kigali

Kigali Kids - Large

The last few days have been fun shooting days, mostly with with my 5D, a 24-70 f/2.8L and a wireless flash. This gallery is in two parts: yesterday, driving outside of town to a limestone quarry and a farm; and today, walking down some of Kigali’s dusty roads with Jeff-u (Jeffrey’s Rwandan name), my custom flash contraption in-hand. Click the pic to take a look. (Check out the Post Index if you’d like to see more galleries.)

Under Construction

Today was a relaxing day, spent mostly reading and researching for my upcoming trip to Bulembu, Swaziland, picking up some extra audio and doing some writing. I’ve also been practising my off-camera flash techniques with a new set of Pocketwizard wireless flash slaves.

Here’s a “mini gallery” of construction shots from around the compound (click the pic to view).

There & Back Again

After an evening of packing, sorting, and de-integrating our now well-rehearsed package of gear, Lyn & Jesse have hopped a flight to Nairobi. I’m here in Rwanda for another week, picking up extra shots, stills, and waiting on a couple possible interviews before heading to Swaziland. There is more still to be written in the story of this film, but somehow the departure of the better half of the crew is a good time to take stock.

Lyn & Jesse at the Geranium Project - Small

A few things I’ll miss now that Lyn & Jesse are on their way:
  • Lyn & Jesse
  • Rosten Jr, a.k.a. the RED
  • the sounds of Super Mario Brothers chiming from Jesse’s laptop
  • Lyn perched on her chair, editing audio
  • trekking across three hours of “main” road, stopping for bridge repairs and trees being felled on the road
A few things I wish I’d known before arriving:
  • that we’d only shoot 500GB worth of footage (I brought 8 terabytes of storage…)
  • that a portable card downloader and sling bag are necessary accessories for shooting RED
  • how hard this trip would be (more on this later)
A few things I’m glad I got right:
  • get a big, bad-ass pelican case. It’s always handy for keeping something safe (e.g. transferring a RED over open water, or protecting drives as bounce down the road)
  • bring a backup for everything critical in the imaging chain
  • local knowledge & friends on the ground make all the difference
Something I won’t miss:
  • Sony gear. All things Sony seem bent on my distress.
A few things I’m looking forward to:
  • some time to slow down and take stock of where the film is at
  • space to wander, shoot stills and observe without impending deadlines
  • time spent with our main characters outside the rigors of filming

More to come…

Without You

The last few days it has been on my mind that so many people have given up a part of their life to help this film. Even though this trip – and the story of the film – are still in mid-swing, I wanted to give some credit…

First of all, Nicholas and Elsie, our main characters who’ve opened up their lives and their story to us. At times we have searched through painful memories, dredging past distress and anguish. Though it hasn’t all been smooth, they have been gracious and forgiving of the young crew that showed up three years ago wanting to tell their story.

A few others:

I feel so grateful for the sacrifices these people have made. I often fail to publicly say thanks… so, thanks! By your efforts you are now an inextricable character in the making of Rwanda: Hope Rises.

Three Days

  1. Monkeys, rainforest, pizza, winding road, broken motor, cozy cabin, steak, long sleep…
  2. Fixed motor, fume-induced headache, swimming, cruise, negotiations, fishermen, evening light…
  3. Morning light, cleanup, three-hour pound, trees on the road and more on the way, bridge out, school field trip: hauling rocks, home.

We’re back from Kumbya, on the beautiful shores of Kivu and through the Nyungwe forest. Photo gallery coming shortly…

Bourbon, Nyungwe & Kivu

Today we visited Bourbon Coffee to shoot some b-roll and interview Amy Karuletwa (Arthur’s wife). Bourbon is a bustling place, with the best lattes I’ve had anywhere (except maybe for JJ Bean in Vancouver… maybe). It’s a first rate coffee shop, smack in the middle of Kigali – and they’ll be opening a second location soon.

The coffee shop is part of their holistic vision, “Naturally Rwandan, from Crop to Cup.” They work with the farmers to maximize quality and pay them a premium for their coffee. They are also helping develop a coffee culture within Rwanda, and exporting Rwandan coffee as a premium product around the world.

Amy’s a firecracker and a lot of fun. Everything I’ve seen of her and Arthur’s work is first-rate quality, and I expect they’ll have a lot of success with their vision of exporting Rwandan coffee as a premium product around the world.

Tomorrow, Lyn, Jesse, Jeff and I head South to a little hideaway on Lake Kivu. We’ll be passing through the Nyungwe Forest, a place full of beauty and history. We’re hoping to get some shots of the lake, the forest and the tea & coffee fields along the way. We’ll be back late Friday; I suspect we’ll have no chance to update until Saturday.

So until then…