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My First Foray Into Cinematography

The fleeting presence of life on Earth is explored as we travel through cityscapes around the world with an ethereal being. From floating on rooftops in New York, running through alleyways in HK, or finding nature in Japan, an emotional connection is made. Traveling between time and space, we weave through crowds until we find a peaceful moment to ourselves. TIDAL was shot by two people. The duo—Director Anise Mariko of mikineko productions and me, Cinematographer Ivan Wong of the Alpha Imaging Collective—felt compelled to shoot something beautiful for our friend “Shook.”

A talented electronic pianist, Shook gained popularity through Europe; however, in mid 2016, he was diagnosed with Pancreatitis. Because of this, he has been in hospital care for over a year and continues to recover. He is determined and continues to make music whenever he can. Anise and I wanted to create a video that was the opposite of what he was feeling. An unearthly presence leading the viewer through different cities, the freedom to run wherever you want, or simply sit in place, watching the sun rise over the world. The process involved a week of shooting in the concrete jungles of New York City, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, and the serenity of Kyoto with the idea to mesh it all into one world as we follow a fairy-like girl across boundaries.

This was my first time shooting a music video. I had always wanted to venture more into cinematography - it seemed like a challenging and natural progression, but I had been afraid to take the leap. Anise decided to reach out to some musicians to help me wet my feet. The idea was to shoot purely visuals and guerilla-style instead of a detailed narrative so I didn’t need to have extensive equipment and planning to get started. We reached out to Shook who was more than eager to have us create his first music video for him.

We had a couple of locations where we definitely wanted to shoot—Arashiyama Bamboo Forest in Kyoto, Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, Quarry Bay in Hong Kong, and Times Square in NY. These represented wondrous places that the fairy in the video could take us and make the visuals more surreal. We were able to find quaint rooftops and alleyways while exploring the cities. I must admit, though, that it was scarier to shoot video footage on rooftops than still photos since I usually shoot quickly and leave.

The video was shot handheld using a Sony α7S II and Sony 24-70mm G Master lens connected to an Atomos Shogun 4K external recorder and an α7R II also using the 24-70mm G Master and a 20mm f/1.4. We wanted to shoot mostly at night when the cities came alive with light and color and dynamics, so our first choice was the α7S II. It’s widely-regarded as the best option for shooting in low light. I found that reputation to be spot on as I was able to bump up the ISO to 12500 with minimal grain! This proved very useful while we were shooting in Fushimi Inari shrine, where there were only single lamp posts every few feet along the torii gate path, and above Times Square, where illumination was completely below us.

The α7R II was set to Picture Profile 6 for daytime shots. In my research, I read that it was a good Picture Profile to retain most of the dynamic range for post processing. The α7R II was my go-to camera for still photography as well as shooting video while we were exploring locations during the day. I love that it was great at both photos and videos, and was also compact to carry around. Because the Glide-Cam that I rented didn’t pan out, I shot mostly handheld. That was very daunting since I’m a stickler for perfection, but the built-in stabilization system (IBIS) in each camera worked very well, removing most of the shakiness.

I definitely faced many challenges and had to learn as I went, but I have also learned a lot regarding cinematography throughout this process. This music video was a great way to start that journey. 

Ivan Wong is part of the Sony Alpha imaging Collective. Follow him on Instagram @ivvnwong


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