Made in Frame: Kurt Iswarienko Moves Fast in the Cloud
You might not know Kurt Iswarienko by name, but you definitely know his work. He’s photographed some of the most recognizable humans in the world: Roger Federer, Orlando Bloom, Pink, Viola Davis, Ryan Gosling, and Chris Pine—to name just a few—across his illustrious career.
Most recently, we captured Kurt in action as he played, well, a character who is basically himself, in our latest video for the FUJIFILM X-H2 and X-H2S in-camera integration. Along with the integration in popular photography app Capture One, these new additions to Frame.io enable photographers to reap the same benefits that videographers and filmmakers have been enjoying for the past two years through our Camera to Cloud workflows—and for the past eight years in terms of accelerated review and approval, and streamlined collaboration.
We always put the tools through their paces before we release new integrations to our customers. But having Kurt partner with us provided even more insight into how much the Fujifilm integration might change the way photographers work in the future, by empowering them with greater creative control while enabling better communication with clients and collaborators.
A creative partnership
Fujifilm has always been at the forefront of photographic technology, and it’s why Kurt has consistently used their cameras from early in his career.
“I’ve been shooting on Fujifilm digital cameras since the first [Fujifilm GFX] 50 came out,” Kurt says. “I bought it right away because I’m really into lenses. I had a project where I was shooting motion and still, and we wanted the motion to match the stills. So I had a set of Mamiya Cs, and I was able to use the same lenses on both cameras.”
For a photographer, camera and lens choices are the foundation to creating exactly the look they’re after. When Kurt discovered the Fujifilm cameras, he knew that they would essentially become creative partners, imbuing his work with his own signature look. “The Fujifilm camera was literally the only camera that allowed me to make that happen. Using it let me set myself apart in that regard,” he says.
“The Fujifilm camera was literally the only camera that allowed me to make that happen.”
Now, with Fujifilm creating the first in-camera integration with Frame.io Camera to Cloud, Kurt was eager to be among the first photographers to test it out. And his revelations more than exceeded our expectations in terms of how game changing cloud workflows will be for those working in photography, videography, or both.
The way this new breakthrough works is that the FUJIFILM X-H2 and X-H2S cameras are capable of sending RAW, JPEG, and HEIF files automatically to Frame.io (as well as 4K, 6.2K, or 8K ProRes video) without having to upload from an SD card. This allows any authorized stakeholder to view the images immediately from anywhere with an internet connection on a computer, iPad, or mobile phone.
With the addition of the Capture One integration, files can go directly to the digitech or photo editor, who can immediately begin culling through images, doing color correction, and distributing those images back through Frame.io so that photographers (and stakeholders) have the peace of mind of knowing that the creative vision is being achieved. Or, if it isn’t, changes can be made while the shoot is in progress.
Preparation and limitations
As an entertainment photographer responsible for creating everything from movie posters to video, Kurt scrupulously prepares for all the knowns surrounding the assignment—and for many of the unknowns, as well. “A two- or three-day shoot involves anywhere from two weeks’ to a month’s worth of prep,” he says. “Meetings, conference calls, location scouting, figuring out logistics, and solving all the practical problems of production.”
That kind of preparation is vital, especially when working with A-list celebrities who are available for only a few hours on the actual shoot day. Being sure that both his equipment and crew are reliable is only one part of the equation, reducing the chance of technical problems. Directing the talent is another challenge. Which means that there’s not a lot of time left for spontaneity—especially because it’s not just Kurt who’s evaluating what he’s photographing. He’s got clients, as well.
So let’s back up for a moment. Before this Fujifilm in-camera integration was released, the way photographers got their images into Capture One was via a tether—the ubiquitous orange cable that attaches the camera to the computer that the photographer’s digitech is using. The digitech, similar to a DIT in video, evaluates the image in Capture One to make sure that there are no issues with things like lighting or exposure, that the angles are matching up if there are other elements to be composited into the final image, or that there’s nothing extraneous or unwanted in the frame. The digitech knows what the photographer is trying to achieve, and is their important second set of eyes.
But that tether imposes certain limitations. First, it means that any stakeholder (including the photographer) who wants a look at what the digitech is doing has to crowd around the computer or iPad. The digitech often hears the client’s feedback first, and is responsible for sharing it with the photographer so they can make necessary adjustments based on those notes.
What working tethered also means is that the photographer is either limited in their movement by the length of the tether or, as Kurt has frequently experienced, it means that if he disconnects the camera from the tether so he can move around the set or the subject, the stakeholders can’t see what he’s capturing because the images are stored on the camera card.
As someone who’s working with top talent, it’s important for him to involve his clients and stakeholders. Of course they’ve hired him because they trust him. But in the event that he has an idea that involves untethering, it means that they have to trust him…more.
“Let’s say I’m shooting an actor in a studio for a magazine, but on the way to the studio in the morning I happen to drive down an alley and I notice there’s a really cool fire escape and the light is good. I could say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do the studio thing, but let me run around the corner with the talent and we’ll just shoot a bunch of stuff,’” Kurt says.
With the new Fujifilm and Capture One integrations, Kurt explains that now he’ll have the freedom to exploit unplanned opportunities but still keep his clients connected to what he’s doing. Because now, they’ll be able to log into Frame.io and see everything as it’s happening for themselves, on their own devices, from wherever they may physically be.
But it goes beyond that.
Maintaining the vision
Earlier in Kurt’s career he had the luxury of being more involved in the post-production process of what he’d shot. The good news is that he’s now a much sought after talent. The downside is that he now has less time or ability to see his images through from capture to retouching to final delivery.
“After the shoot, the client would take the hard drive and I don’t necessarily see it again. So it’s in my best interest to design the way I shoot something to make it as in-camera finished as possible, to know that when I’m handing off that hard drive it’s as far as I can get to having it look like a photograph of mine is supposed to look,” he says.
“The people who hire me to do this work will get more of what they’re paying for.”
But now that he’s able to view and work with the images in his hotel room at night after a pre-light day or on a multi-day shoot, he can really examine what he’s already done and make plans for what he can do differently, or better. He can also now easily share very specific notes with a client or creative director so they can better align on the vision before they reconvene the next morning.
In Kurt’s opinion, having more immediate access to his images is a benefit for both him and his clients. “The people who hire me to do this work will get more of what they’re paying for.”
Hearkening back to his early realization that the Fujifilm camera let him use the same lenses on his still and video cameras, Kurt emphasizes another way in which this new integration is exciting. “The typical workflow for me is to do both motion and still campaigns,” he says. “But sometimes I’m doing the stills and another director is doing the motion. In either scenario, the benefit of having all the files for both aspects of the project going to the same place, for anyone who needs to work on them, can’t be overstated. It’s such an economical proposition.”
Saving time and peace of mind
In the past, having to send image files to clients who weren’t on the shoot was a laborious and time-consuming process. The digitech would have to stop what they were doing, make a jpeg, email it, and then wait for that person to respond with feedback.
“Maybe they’re not looking at their email or they’re making lunch for their kids,” Kurt says. “It could be hours before the feedback loop is complete, and we’re already under pressure to finish the day. With Frame.io, you cut that time to seconds from when the frame is captured, so it clears up that jammed feedback pipeline.”
In this case, getting the necessary feedback quickly means peace of mind for both photographer and clients. With the Capture One integration, Kurt has an extra sense of confidence knowing that the clients are able to better visualize what the final images will look like. “One of the things I’ve learned during the years of doing this is that many people are very literal. If I’m sending a raw image to someone and I have to explain, ‘Don’t look at it for the way it looks. Imagine we’ll make this blue and we’re going to cut this out.’”
“They have to visualize that. So the great thing about Capture One is that I can send the image to a retoucher a thousand miles away and they can make some quick changes and share it out with Frame.io. Or if a subject is going to be composited into a different background, they’re able to tell us if it works or if, for example, the perspective or sizing is wrong, and we can make adjustments on the fly. They can give us the green light and we can continue.”
Even more than that, there’s the peace of mind of knowing that the RAW image files are immediately and securely backed up in the cloud. Kurt recounts his experience on a shoot in South Africa, after which all the drives were with all the people traveling back on the same plane. If you consider how many times media is in danger of being lost in transit or of camera cards or drives getting corrupted, there’s an enormous value, as Kurt explains, to “the client, the retoucher, the art director—whoever has to touch the files—knowing number one that they’re safe.”
A lens on the future
Now that Kurt has had a chance to experience this workflow, he can already envision the ways that it will help him in the future.
Kurt cites the importance of the relationship he has with his digitech. “In the days before digital, the first assistant was the most important person you were collaborating with. When digital came into play, they became sort of like the omniscient lab technician of the digital space. They were my first and last point of contact for everything,” he says.
“I could not do a single job without my digital tech, so very often, if I have to travel alone I won’t accept the job. If I can only travel with one person, it’s my digital tech. They know my lighting, my workflow, my relationship with the camera I’m using. It’s a very all-encompassing trust. Because while I’m physically engaged and shooting, they have their eyes on the monitor and are my quality control center. It’s very, very collaborative, creatively.”
So what if, in the future, the digitech could be in a different space altogether? It’s perhaps not that much of a stretch, considering that in the world of video, editors can be in a different location—or even a different country—while directors are shooting. And as bandwidth and connectivity improve, sending raw files—whether photos or video—will be increasingly easier and faster, which only makes these workflows more probable.
“My hope is that Frame.io becomes my hub for everything.”
Kurt has many ways of expressing how he views these new cloud workflows. “It’s like having an extra gear in a sports car that lets you go even faster,” is one. “The luxury of time will be more on my side because I’ll be able to take the time to quickly reengage with my own work,” is another. “My hope is that Frame.io becomes my hub for everything—the files are there, and the client can go there. And from a storage point of view just having people congregating with this technology for multiple reasons is going to be an industry standard,” is a third.
But maybe most significant is this answer. “It’s a peace-of-mind-maker and a confidence builder. With the level of talent I’m working with, the whole name of the game is to get them through the experience as quickly as possible and in a way where they feel like you did world-class work in a world-class time frame. So anything that helps eliminate steps or question marks is a winner for me.”
Likewise, for us at Frame.io, helping someone with Kurt’s level of talent feel better about his workflow and his ability to create his best work is a winner for us.