- Buyer's Guide
Specialist Carry :: Cinematographer
Cinematographer, Canon Master, world traveler…all apt descriptions of Abraham Joffe. But at the heart of it all he’s a storyteller, forgoing pen and paper in favor of a camera to capture his tales. Now he shares his own story, providing insights into the challenges and thrills of his work, his equipment and of course how he carries it all…
Firstly tell us a little about yourself and what you do for a quid?
I’ve always worked for myself. I was fortunate to recognize that filmmaking was a passion for me from an early age. Building up a company (Untitled Film Works – based in North Sydney) has been a great adventure. Film, like photography or perhaps journalism, allows you to touch almost any subject that interests you. And luckily for me I get to film adventures all over the world.
In your long list of pretty awesome projects, what was the most challenging and why?
Definitely the most recent project, producing “Tales by Light”, a six-part TV series for National Geographic Channel. It has been filmed over 15 countries in the past year featuring five of the world’s best wildlife, nature and adventure photographers. I produced, directed and was cinematographer on the show which was quite an all-consuming pastime as you can imagine.
What gem of knowledge did you glean from it?
The project has been incredibly challenging with the huge amount of logistics and travel involved…many to really remote places. I learnt that next time I will employ a full-time production manager!
What would the layman not realise about a career in cinematography?
Today I think you either need to highly specialize or be a “predator” – someone who can do a bit of everything. I think I fall into the latter. I shoot underwater, I also run steadycams…and direct…but I leave the aerial cinematography to my specialized drone operator.
“Film, like photography or perhaps journalism, allows you to touch almost any subject that interests you.”
It’s an exciting time to be a filmmaker…there is just so much technology evolving as well as tons of tutorials and workshops available. There really is no excuse if you have the passion.
Any favourite sayings that keep you focused?
“Bite off more than you can chew and then chew like hell!”
What kicked off your passion? Was there a single defining moment?
Watching Malcolm Douglas’s tv series on “The World Around Us” as a kid certainly was a factor in my love of the outdoors and telling stories through the moving image. Later on I actually got to work for my idol, which was pretty life-changing.
What are you currently working on?
Well we have just completed the series “Tales by Light”, which has been a huge project so a few weeks off. I am running a cinematography workshop in Botswana in June which is exciting – perhaps the first in-the-field one in Africa. Then off to the Arctic to film polar bears in August. November is another trip to Antarctica with Peter Eastway and I am squeezing in a filming trip back in Tonga for more whale action…so not a bad lineup of shoots.
We’d love to hear a basic gear list and what you carry it all in…
Every project requires a different set of gear but there are components that tend to travel with me often. The CANON 1DC camera with a set of primes 24mm, 35mm + 50mm always make the cut, and then a selection of zooms which always include the 70-200mm 2.8 IS L II and usually the 200-400mm f4 x1.4 IS L. Filters (NDs and polarizers) are must-haves as well as lens pouches and the typical tripods, glidecams, Ronin and monopod. I also always carry a nice microphone selection (Sennheiser) as well as a Sound Devices 633 recorder.
What’s your underwater setup look like and how do you deal with it? Film guys are the worst for “Ah shit I’ll just bring all my gear, just in case” – what do you do to avoid this?
For me, I do try not to “bring it all” as traveling overloaded is not fun. My life always seems to revolve around my weight…not my body but my bags! My current underwater setup is my Nauticam 1DC housing + Port as well as some small underwater lights. It’s a compact setup. I try and only travel with fins, mask and wetsuit. Everything else we try and source on location.
Better access vs better carry comfort. Is that the golden compromise in camera carry?
I’m a big believer in using the right bag for the right situation. That’s why I have a large collection of bags. At home, when using a car to get around, I like using the Pro Rollers…and usually the largest in the range. I have a large collection of Canon lenses so it’s nice to have most of them at hand in one place.
“Today I think you either need to highly specialize or be a “predator” – someone who can do a bit of everything.”
How do you deal with security of your gear when you want to leave the dodgy hotel and grab a drink?
I take the backpacks with the precious cameras and lenses with me everywhere. On the odd occasion I am staying in a high-end hotel I might leave bags behind but generally they come with us. I’d rather be safe than sorry.
When are you most in your element?
When I’m in some far and away place either diving a wreck, filming a tribe or capturing an exciting wildlife moment. Those moments continue to make me pinch myself that this is my career.
Do you ever take video with your phone?
Rarely. I try not to. But like everyone, sometimes the moment needs capturing and the best camera is the one you have with you!
Favorite bits of gear? Things that are worth way more than their purchase price?
My favourite lens is the CANON 200-400mm IS 1.4x. It’s the ultimate wildlife lens for me and I never go on an expedition without it.
Is it harder carrying gear in crazy hot or crazy cold places?
I have taken my kit to some very extreme environments over the past 12 months. From the freezing mountains in Ladakh, Northern India, looking for snow leopards, to the humid jungles in Papua New Guinea and the scorching deserts in Africa. I haven’t had anything fail on me lately – touch wood! Dust and humidity are two of the biggest threats. I clean gear daily, and get everything tech-checked after each trip which is just good maintenance.
Carry On or Check In? What goes where?
I carry all the cameras and lenses. The rest goes in the hold. I get away with a lot. And everyone in our crew packs a lot on their back!
You’ve globehopped in a serious way, any travel tips?
Keep up to date with injections, create a detailed travel gear checklist (which should evolve and be updated regularly).
“Dust and humidity are two of the biggest threats. I clean gear daily, and get everything tech-checked after each trip…”
Use the TripIt app – it’s fantastic for compiling your travel bookings. Always drink bottled water.
And in your opinion, what could be improved in camera gear? What isn’t entirely nailed?
We are so spoilt with what is available today but of course typically a cinematographer is never happy! We always want more resolution, higher frame rates, less compression and greater dynamic range.
What’s next for you?
This weekend some sleep and then planning the next adventure!