Mid-career grant winner: Eric Westrom

Two-day training focused on techniques and best practices

Eric Westrom is this year’s winner of the Idaho Press Club’s Mid-Career scholarship.  His article shares what he learned at the Director of Photography Creative Conference.  It was a two-day training event that focused on multiple techniques and best practices for cinematographers, videographers, and production crew who film narrative stories and documentaries. The presenters ranged from the director of aerial photography for Top Gun Maverik to internationally recognized cinematographer, and film and television technology consultant Phillip Grossman. These experts in the field shared their knowledge in valuable Q & A sessions, as well as one-on-one instruction

Some fundamentals discussed in this conference weren’t necessarily new concepts to me but were presented in ways that engaged the classes and made me rethink previous ways of working. In Phillip Grossman’s presentation: The Art of Shooting in Impossible Places, he found himself filming in locations such as the Chernobyl reactor site, the Buran Space Vehicle (Soviet Space Shuttle), and hosted Mysteries of the Abandoned. Grossman reviewed how he packs for difficult shoots in uncertain environments and conditions, explaining what he carries, and why.  These include preparing for the possibility of running out of water, stitching up a wound or using an emergency spot tracker to monitor his location.  I don’t foresee myself filming at Chernobyl any time soon, but I did see potential cross over into my current job. This type of readiness for any situation is useful when shooting for Idaho Public Television’s Outdoor Idaho program. We do send videographers and producers into remote locations across the state. It could apply to any of IdahoPTV’s productions. In the spring of 2022, I found myself filming in a blizzard in Eastern Idaho. The forecast called for snow, but it wasn’t an ordinary snowstorm that we encountered. We found ourselves in white out conditions with snow drifts of several feet. It was a reminder that we sometimes find ourselves in unexpected situations and I’ll take some of Grossman’s preparation ideas and incorporate them into my gear bag. He suggested including a better multi tool, multi-purpose shears, a higher-powered emergency flashlight, a more robust first aid kit, and using small cases to fit more gear into my bag.

The second workshop, led by Jem Schofield on The Fundamentals of Lighting People & Faces: A Small to No Crew, was an excellent session. At my job, I typically find myself in a two-person crew – myself and usually a producer. Schofield demonstrated how he approaches interview shoots. He uses a technique for lighting which doesn’t necessarily follow the standard three-point lighting system. He suggests using natural light from a window as a key light, or making use of the environment that you find yourself in. Incorporating natural light from windows, diffusing that light with cloth or blocking it out completely. Simple methods such as opening or closing doors to bring in or take away light not just from the interview subject but into the background – lifting and separating. Schofield demonstrated using a 6×6 piece of half grid cloth with your primary light placed on the opposite side of the interview subject. Diffusing the light in this way gives you more options to mold the lightening, creating a dynamic interview shot. It was a reminder that we are, in essence, painting with light while filming interviews. I’ll be taking these techniques forward with me and have already started using some of them in a recent shoot.

In an era of one-man-bands, the advice both experts gave was something all photojournalists should heed. Make use of everything around you, prepare for the unexpected, and simple ideas can lead to great results.