If you’re in any of the filmmaking and camera tech Facebook groups, you’ll likely have come across Brandon Habuda.
Today, we’ll be talking to him about how he started his filmmaking career and take a look at some of his recent projects.
How long have you been working as a cinematographer?
Not as long as most of my colleagues. You could say my career is still in its infancy, I try to be humble in this regard. This job is more of a marathon and not a sprint that’s filled with a few leaps forward along the way. I mark my official start in 2014 as a commercial drone pilot when only a heavy lift professional drone could capture the acceptable requirements for theatrical films. Before that, I was at a 9-5 just waiting for the day to do this for a living. I shot the aerials for a big feature in 2015 then again for Netflix in 2016 after which decided to focus most of my attention towards starting my DP career.
Did you do any formal training or education in your quest to become a Director of Photography?
I spent a few years at community college and took many classes on film photography but did not attend a formal “film school”. I’ve learned everything on the job, from Youtube, or from the Facebook communities I’m apart of where everyone shares their collective knowledge and experiences. I’m a firm believer in learning hands-on and then sharing what I’ve learned with the filmmaking community. I’ll add that my early film photography days really taught me the importance of having the patience to find the right framing and how the light is behaving before taking the shot which I try to carry over into my cinematography.
Do you have a filmmaking specialty or specific area of focus?
Director of Photography or 1st AC are my two main disciplines. They are very different roles to me, being a DP allows me to unleash my creativity and 1st AC satisfies my love for prepping, organizing, and time management. Being 1st AC, in my opinion, is a great learning role. You get to be mentored by many respective DPs, learn their workflow, and ask questions. However on occasion, I will fill the role of Gaffer for my friends, it can be a nice change of pace.
What are some of your short & long-term filmmaking goals?
I want to complete some personal projects I’ve shot/shooting currently before the end of the year which are already shaping up to be the best things I’ve ever captured. Long-term is certainly DPing my first feature when the time is right.
What advice would you share for anyone just starting to break into the industry?
Never. Stop. Learning. For me, I’m always fixated on lighting, and examining what the light around me is doing and why. Whatever your role is in this industry, never stop learning more about it and improving.
“What ever your role is in this industry, never stop learning more about it and improving.”
– Brandon Habuda
What camera equipment did you use on these recent projects?
I recently worked on three projects. A short film & two music videos.
For SHAED’s “You Got Me Like” music video, my friend Max Haben who directed it approached me and wanted a very classic and simple “white cyc” look. He and the band worked to take this classic music video style and go crazy with color and good vibes. The video is basically the result of us all playing with ideas on props, colors, and jamming to the track. SHAED’s personalities are just crazy, spontaneous, and fun and I think that came through in the video quite well. I used my personal set of Leica R lenses and flew them on a 30ft jib to get the overhead shots. Vevo ended up picking the video for marketing and it’s been really well received. SHAED also just collaborated with Apple on their MacBook Air marketing and I’m super stoked to hopefully work with them on future music videos.
The second music video was for the band “Dear Cecilia”. They are an Indie Folk band from Warwick, New York. We filmed in the recital hall at Shenandoah University, which worked out great for recording live since it’s an acoustically tuned space and to top it off has this beautiful stained glass wall that I knew would look amazing in anamorphic. I rented a 40mm Cooke anamorphic from DC Camera. The look I was going for was just a very pretty place for a band to perform, I wanted it to be organic and natural but still retain some moodiness to fit the lyrics. One song was shot on Dana Dolly (embedded in this article) and the second had more energy so I went handheld with my shoulder rig, be on the lookout for that one soon because it’s going to have a very different feel than the first video.
Lastly, the short film is called “A Day Without” and I was camera operating alongside my friend John Grove who served as DP. The film is about how having kids changes a couple’s lives and the things you have to give up. Tokina Cinema graciously loaned me a set of their Cinema Vista primes including the awesome newly released 18mm T1.5 to use on the project. It’s still in post but be on the lookout for it in the near future!
The Tokina 18mm T1.5 Vista Cinema Prime is a beast of a lens, did you have any issues shooting at such a wide focal length?
It is a beast! After you get past the size and weight which isn’t really that drastically different from the other Vista primes thanks to the matching diameter and gears, I loved working with it. Using it on the VIV or Misfit Atom was no issue at all for me, I only used 2 filters but there was plenty for a third tray on the VIV if I needed it. Going 18mm or wider used to be scary when using filters because you worry about matte box coverage, I’m happy to not need to worry about it anymore. The lens itself is a remarkable engineering feat. I noticed no vignetting at T1.5 on S35 which is crazy to me, 18mm T1.5 is a look in itself. Sharp the entire range with just ever so slightly adding a bit of organic softness wide open, at no stop did this lens seem to fall apart which is just fantastic.
How important is your choice in filters to your final image?
I love using filters as a creative choice. Certain ones like Tiffen Black Pro-Mist have a distinct look that in my opinion can’t be recreated well in post. Generally, my thought process is choosing the lenses to fit the color and contrast I’m after and then adding a little extra bit of character (if warranted), using a diffusion filter of choice that fits the tone of the piece. For example, in the SHAED video I didn’t use filtration to keep that clean aesthetic in tact, but for the Dear Cecilia music video, I used 1/4 Glimmer Glass for it’s wonderful effects on skin tones and a slight glow effect on highlights. The Glimmer Glass helped me achieve that soft organic look I was going for.
What filtration do you use?
For ND, I only use Tokina Cinema Pro ND, they are just the best and great people to work with. For diffusion, it depends on the content, but I’ve used and loved results from 1/8 Tiffen Black Pro-Mist, 1/4 Formatt Hitech Supermist, as well as 1/2 and 1 strength Glimmer Glass. On the rare occasions that I use Canon L glass, Schneider’s Hollywood Black Magic makes them look great.
What do you like about the Gripper Tray?
It’s one of my favorite inventions you guys have made, even though it’s probably the most minor. I love that I can operate it one handed, with and without gloves. I always found the old style everyone else uses finicky, those are difficult to operate without both hands free to make sure the glass doesn’t slip out and crash to the floor. Not the case with the Gripper Trays, it’s totally sped up my filter change workflow.
Brandon Habuda is Virginia born and raised. A freelance DP and 1st AC around the DMV area and beyond, he grew up riding dirt bikes through the Pennsylvania countryside.
What music are you currently listening to: I actually don’t have any favorites, I like so many different genres and artists. It can be a struggle to choose what to listen to at times!
Who are your creative Inspirations: Nicholas Matthews, David Keninger, and my good friend Ian Reid have all been making some beautiful stuff lately!
Visit brandonhabuda.com to see more of Brandon’s work.