Blog

My name is Mitch Heil. I will post blog updates, things I learn, and basically ramble about whatever I want here. On other pages you can find my portfolio pages. This page is where you can learn who I am.

Making your own props

Whether it is a photograph, feature film, or commercial it is sometimes required to source out certain props for a shot. It does not matter if it is the hero prop or just background clutter. At one point or another you will need to find something to fill the frame. Sometimes it is easy. Go to the dollar store and pick up some shampoo bottles or grab a chair from your dining room. Other times it requires a little bit more digging and sometimes some creative ingenuity.

Primarily I am a photographer and videographer but I have delved into prop making in the past. When I was 17 I had an independent study with an art teacher. I had 100% creative ability to make whatever I wanted. At the time I was sort of into cars, but not enough to ever take it on as a profession. I absolutely loved the Toyota Supra. It was 2003 and the Supra had been discontinued since 1998 but it was still a fascinating car to me. For the independent study I decided to spend the entire semester carving out a 1989 Toyota Supra from a solid block of drywall mud.

Drywall Toyota Supra

Drywall Toyota Supra

Overall it came out quite well. The overall length was about 15” The base has long been destroyed by my mom. When I was in Iraq or Afghanistan she would clean my room; probably because she missed me. During one of those cleanings the base split in two. It was a poor design and had no structural integrity so I didn’t mind. Since then I have always toyed around with things to improve them or to make something from scratch if I thought it could benefit me in one way or another.

Foothills Whiskey
Foothills Whiskey

In 2010 I was working on a feature length film Into The Void for my instructor Wayne Johnson. During pre-production I held many hats. One of those was set construction. If you told my parents I was one of the builders on anything they would have told you it was not their son. This is probably because I tried to hide CAT5 wire behind wall trim at their house. I couldn't find a small hammer so I used a 2lb sledge. Oddly enough when I was finished all the trim looked brand new. I don’t even think it was the same color.

For Into The Void I ended up making a few props as well. I designed and created two liquor bottle labels and a label for a chewing tobacco can. The liquor label was especially difficult because they didn't want alcohol on set so I had to make it disappear. Even worse was it was a few bottles. Those were some good nights.

All this build up leads me to the point of this article. I recently worked on an assignment for the Project 52 Pro group. The assignment was called light as a feather. I was tasked to take an image of something light, but not just a feather falling in the park. I decided to take an iconic image of something heavy and portray it as very light. I chose one of those cartoon caricatures of a 1 ton weight which would be balancing on my fingertip.

Light as a Feather

As you can imagine it is not as easy to find a small cartoon weight as one would think. So instead of giving up I decided to make one myself. I had some thick black matte board lying around so I cut out the shapes and taped them together.

Weight Texturing

Weight Texturing

It needed some texture and weathering to not only make it not look like cardboard but to also give it detail and character.

For texture I used a can of knockdown spray texture. It is typically used for patching holes in the wall where a cellphone, fist, or mouse accidentally goes airborne and somehow finds its way into a wall. Oddly specific causes.

The paint is from a can of black truck bed liner. I used that instead of plain spray paint because it gives it more grain texture rather than just a coat of paint.

The ring is a plastic hoop that holds women’s scarves on the shelf at target. My girlfriend loves scarves so I was able to hide it as a gift to her. All I cared about was the hoop. I attached the hoop to the weight with some industrial strength adhesive. Everything was given a final coat of truck bed liner.

Finished Weight

Finished Weight

To add weathering I used metallic silver and rust colored model paint. The metallic paint was applied to edges, corners, and the underside of the hoop. Places where you would expect to see the most wear. The rust paint did not show as prominently as I had hoped. It didn’t look like rust at all actually. It did help give it more character though so it was not a loss.

All in all it was a few hours of planning, cutting, assembling, and painting to make a prop that will probably never get used again. All of the materials used were things I had lying around except the model paint, glue, brushes, and scarf hoop. I spent about $20 total. I will use the paint and glue on future projects so nothing is lost. Without some creativity and basic construction understanding I would have been sunk on this project. I would have had to come up with something else and whatever that may have been probably would not give me as much joy as knowing my subject is a 1-of-a-kind item.

Lighting Setup

Lighting Setup

This freebie will lead to something bigger!

I have heard that saying countless times. I have even fallen for that trap before. On Facebook I am in a group dedicated to filmmaking in my area and 90% of the listings say exactly that. “I am working on a project for a big name producer (who’s name is never mentioned) and we are asking you to donate your time for us. Heck, even WE aren’t getting paid!” There are a few issues with that. First of all, if you are working for a big name producer why does the project have no budget to pay for crew? Second, who is the producer? My guess is it’s a nobody. The anonymity is a bait. Third, why the hell are you working for free? This is not a 1st or even 2nd year filmmaker. This is from someone with probably 7 years experience. While it is not a huge seasoned veteran filmmaker, they have been around the block.

Filmmaking and photography is a business. Most of us are in it to make money. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to get rich. If I wanted to do that I would sell my soul to the devil and become a politician. I can do a shitty job there and still get paid. I don’t have that luxury in filmmaking or photographic endeavors. If I do a shitty job here I don’t get paid. I am getting off topic though.

I have done freebies before but they were for a good cause. A few months ago I was blessed with the opportunity to film Zach Sobiech perform at the Minnesota Varsity Theater. Zach Sobiech was an 18 year old musician who was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma. On May 20th, 2013 he lost his battle with cancer. THAT is a good case for a freebie. Zach was one of the most genuine and nicest people I ever met and he was stronger than almost anyone I have ever met. When asked to shoot his video I agreed even before I heard it was a freebie and I GLADLY accepted it as a freebie.

 

On the other hand, if a business comes to me and said “We want you to take a photo for us and it will become a bouncing board. If it works we will get more work which will lead to bigger and better things.” No. I will not do that. If you want me to perform a service for you I expect to be paid. This is my business. I can’t go to McDonalds and ask for a Big Mac and if I like it I will buy more later. It does not work that way.

The freebie way of doing things is part of the reason why I have pretty much given up on short films, ultra low budget features, and documentaries. They can’t sustain me as a business. I love commercials. I love the commercial world. I love a set timeline with a set of rules. Plus they have money. They understand that as a business they need marketing materials and they are willing to pay for the talent because it will help serve them to make more money as a business.

“Crew will get ccm (copy, credit, meal).” Go fuck yourself.

“It will look great on your resume.” Go fuck yourself even harder.

Seeing colors

As people we all like to think we see color alike. My red is the same as your red. That is not always true. A popular YouTube account VSauce has videos that cover a wide gamut of topics. They are all crazy cool science related topics. I remember they made a post about color perception. If you ever get bored and want to travel the depths of YouTube and learn something in the process, give their channel a look see. You may learn something you never thought you wanted to know.

Photographers are familiar with a company called X-Rite. They make a product called the ColorChecker Passport . It has an array of colors used for calibrating images that were shot to be true. The calibration adjusts the colors to be what is correct, not necessarily what you see or what your monitor displays. While browsing Facebook I stumbled upon a page from X-Rite called the Online Color Challenge.

X-Rite Online Color Challenge

The test is designed to challenge a user to put colors in order from one hue to another. There are 4 different rows. They provide you with the start and finish colors. It is drag and drop and is pretty simple to move swatches around. After you think your rows are in order you can check your score.

X Rite Online Color Challenge Results

The test uses golf scores. Lower the score the better you did. I got a 3. I don't know how high the test goes, but I think it is in the hundreds based on the comments on the X Rite site. The test also shows you where your high weakness areas occured. Mine were in the green to cyan range. When I did the test there was 1 tile I was not sure about. After you see your scores you can submit your gender and see where you rank against others. 

X Rite Online Color Challenge rankings

Unfortunately the results don't give you a graph. Only a lowest and highest score for your gender. 

 I think this is a good test to take. It helps you understand how you actually see color. I did this test on an Asus ProArt PA238Q monitor. It is an IPS panel and I calibrated it a few days ago. The monitor is pretty accurate as far as colors go. That is very important to me as a photographer and especially as a product photographer. I want to know exactly what color is being displayed to me. In the end I am delivering a client an image of their product. If the colors are off that is not their product.  

Seeing color is one thing. Actually SEEING color is another. Do the test and let me know how you did! 

Retouching Photos in Photoshop

If you look around the web you will see a lot of tutorials on how to retouch a photo. A lot of the time they are a professionally done photograph that is destined for a magazine or print ad. The problem with those is a large percentage of the people looking at retouching may not have a professional camera. A lot of people have point and shoots or phones.  

 

MitchCut.jpg

Yesterday I was fiddling around in photoshop and I came across a picture of myself I took recently with my cellphone. It was an injury I sustained while helping my dad put up treestands in preparation for deer hunting. I sliced my finger open with a limb saw. It was a pretty bad injury but since I don't have health insurance I went for the next best thing. Superglue. Yep,  I superglued my finger shut (among other first aid things like proper cleaning, wrapping, etc). As of writing this the wound is healing nicely and I am going to have a kick ass scar. To go back to the photoshop thing, I was fiddling around and I played with the spot healing brush and clone stamp tools. I fixed my finger without health insurance!

MitchThumb-Fix.jpg

This goes to show that it does not matter what camera your photo was taken with. You also don't need to only touch up professional photos. Play around with what you have available. Learn what does and does not work. It is a hell of a lot better than downloading specific tutorial material that is guaranteed to work because you won't run into the pitfalls a real photo can give.

Introduction

My name is Mitch Heil. I am a photographer based out of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. I have been working in the creative industry for a few years now. I started out in video production, but I am expanding to photography. While working on film sets I noticed where my place was. That was behind the camera and playing with lights. I was not a good producer and my editing skills are average. Where I excel at is sculpting with light. I love using it to create a mood or a feeling and to subconsciously drive a viewer to key focal points.  I never stop learning. Every day I scour the depths of the internet to learn the newest, latest, and greatest techniques and fill my brain with new technology.  

 

I will keep it short and sweet. I hope we can see eachother IRL as the nerds would say. I would love to take yer picture.