What is a film idol?

We all know what a film idol is–someone who is a star. Vibrant. Someone who commands cinematic presence.

But could YOU be a film idol?

There is no doubt that some people walk into a room and everyone stops. Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan, Dean Martin, Rock Hudson.

It is their style, their clothes, grooming, confidence, and their attention to detail. It doesn’t hurt that Hollywood photographers aided stars with great photographs: dramatic cinematic lighting (appropriate for the time period), great backdrops, great angles, and great photography.

Axel worked with a studio, taking still photos on movie sets. He got to know cinematographers, directors, and lighting people. It was that start that gave him  the skills to look at portrait photography differently: how could he make his subjects look like film idols in natural cinema surroundings.

His formula–whittled down–is this: great location + great lighting + great angle + top of the line equipment. Of course, skill is involved, but it is not as simple as it seems. Not everyone can make you look like a star–a film idol–because not everyone has the skill or invests in the equipment, and knows how to post-process the results.

Why do lenses matter?

Simply put – studios go out of their way to buy the best photographic equipment to give their films that “look”. The “look” is usually outrageously sharp subjects, juxtapositioned against subtle backgrounds. In other words, the focus is on the actor, not the surroundings.

To accomplish this, Michael Axel at FilmIdol.com uses the best equipment on the market. High end cameras ensure that subtle colors and full contrast ranges are recorded. The best lenses (many costing $2,500 or more) ensure that the foreground image is absolutely sharp, while backgrounds can be blurred out to match the requirements of the portrait.

Compare this to other portrait photographers for a moment. Almost every other “professional photographer” in the area uses a consumer-quality camera and lens. The results, while they might pass the quick look test, and look like a portrait–don’t pass the professional level test.

Let’s look at the lens for a moment. Great lenses are tack sharp, but capable of also throwing the background out of focus in a very pleasing way – this is a Japanese term called “bokeh.” A soft, buttery bokeh is used to make the subject “pop” from the background. Consumer cameras and lenses produce a “busy” bokeh–one that is not buttery looking. Compare these two images (the bad bokeh is courtesy of Wikipedia and reproduced here under common use license):

A typical consumer lens used by other photographersA typical lens used by most photographers in the area. It is a “kit lens” or
consumer type zoom lens, very inexpensive and lacks the fidelity to properly
expose the shadows of the image, is not terribly sharp, but worse, the
backgrounds are course and distracting. Here is a section of that horrible
out of focus background (reproduced under creative commons license), and the tell tale sign a photographer is using sub-
standard equipment…

Detail - A typical consumer lens used by other photographers

Here is the difference using a professional grade lens, costing 15 to 20x
more money than their consumer lenses…

A high end professional portrait lens used by Michael Axel at FilmIdol.comNotice the nice tonal range, even in shadow. The subject is tack sharp,
yet the background has a very pleasant creamy look to it. The sharp
subject against that creamy background with good bokeh, makes the
image “pop”. Here is a section of the background showing how
smooth the transitions are from light to dark…

Detail - A high end professional portrait lens used by Michael Axel at FilmIdol.com

 Why do cameras matter?

Quality differences between the consumer based cameras most other photographers use, and professional level cameras Michael Axel at FilmIdol.com uses, are many. First, our cameras can withstand the work of being used in light rain because they have professional bodies that are weather sealed. Secondly, professional level cameras have a broader range in terms of capturing more data, and more dynamic range. This means images are more pleasing and natural. Third, one feature is very important: the size of the sensors used in our digital cameras…

Comparison of consumer based DX small consumer sensors used by other photographers, and high end FX sensor used by Michael Axel at FilmIdol.com

A more engaging experience

Face it: if something isn’t fun or satisfying, why do it? That’s Axel’s philosophy, and he wants every experience with him to be the best. It comes from working the fashion industry where burnout is a real problem. He knows your session has to be fun, exciting, and full of ideas in order to get the best images. You will find him fun, engaging, artistic, easy to be around, and encouraging. He makes every subject feel comfortable and at ease with his direction.

While other photographers struggle to find the pose or the composition, those are natural things Axel knows from decades of experience, working with models and sets.