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March 2010

Pierre Deschamps started his career in the French television industry and, in 1997, moved to Scandinavia to begin working as a director, director of photography, editor and stills photographer. As a passionate 'image-maker' Pierre enjoys working on documentaries, shooting portraits, and making commercials and short films. He currently lives in Paris and shoots his film projects with his Canon EOS 5D Mark II and a selection of Canon L-series lenses. Doug Harman finds out what equipment he uses and why...

Pierre Deschamps reveals: “I'm self-taught in photography and movie making and I just try to do it my way. I am a passionate image-maker and storyteller. I seek to frame in detail precious moments of life that are ignored by the eye in a busy everyday life. The 'openness' in my work, that is what I try to do.”

© Pierre Deschamps

A self-portrait by Pierre Deschamps.

Now aged 45, Pierre speaks English, French and Danish and believes: “Experience is everything.” He has lived and worked in Scandinavia, the Cayman Islands, France, the Commonwealth of Dominica, and the USA, and is currently considering a move to the UK. His desire to shoot to his exact unique and demanding standards drove him to shoot his own movies, as he explains: “After moving to Scandinavia - where I was starting to direct more of my own concepts and projects; writing and producing as well - I found out very quickly that I was struggling to find someone who could shoot with me. So, I simply decided to shoot it all myself, using whatever cameras were to hand.”


Pierre reveals: “I started out at 15 with an Olympus OM2 but, sadly, someone stole it. When I went to live in the Cayman Islands, in my early twenties, I bought my first Canon camera, the T90. I was already shooting 8mm movie film on a camera I got for Christmas when I was 14. But I stayed with Canon when I bought my first Canon EOS-1, then came the EOS 5, then the 5D and, now, my EOS 5D Mark II.”

Pierre's route into TV and movie making was unconventional and came while he was working as the tennis coach: “I had just got back to Paris, teaching tennis in a club. One day there were two guys behind me making a movie and making loads of noise. I told them to 'shut up' but it turned out one of them was Patrick Sabatier, the biggest French TV host at the time. I got chatting with him and it ended up with Sabatier asking me if I wanted to work for him.”

© Pierre Deschamps

Pierre Deschamps' 'Unbeaten Paths' film for the Dominica tourist board was shot entirely on the EOS 5D Mark II, before the firmware upgrade for manual control over video exposure.

His move to the using the 5D Mark II to shoot films came recently: “I was in the Commonwealth of Dominica last year when I heard about the 5D Mark II. I quickly realised that it would be the perfect match for me, since I already had a set of Canon lenses. The compactness of the camera and the fact that it's easy to use and very versatile made it ideal for my work, so I decided to invest in the camera and more lenses.”

He reveals: “In Dominica, as I used the new equipment, and started to build up my website, it allowed me to show the Dominica authorities what I could do. That and my past experience all meant, luckily, I started working for them and shot the 'Unbeaten Paths' promotional movie.”


Pierre has a selection of Canon's L series optics: “I bought many of the lenses years ago but I have modern ones too. I have an EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM tele zoom; I had the 15mm too and about three years ago, when I decided to focus a little bit more on my movies, I invested in the EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye”. This lens seems a strange choice for movie making but it is typical of the way Pierre works.

He explains: “Somehow I can get some fun things going on with such a lens, but not using it too much – as with a 16-35mm wide zoom, each can provide a different view or look to a shot. And I have a secondhand 300mm telephoto and the 1.4x and 2x extenders, plus a macro lens. Now I have my eye firmly fixed on the new EF200mm f/2L IS USM lens, I would love to buy that lens.”

In terms of lens choices, Pierre's work can encompass everything from ultra-wide to telephoto; lens choice is both a creative challenge and a technical one: “In some of my work on 'Unbeaten Paths', I used an EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM zoom and there's one scene shot on a 15mm Fisheye where I cropped, but that's the beauty of it on a 35mm full frame sensor and using High Definition - you can crop and you won't see it.”

© Pierre Deschamps

A sequence from Pierre Deschamps' 'Man of the Soil' film shot on the EOS 5D Mark II with Canon's EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM telephoto lens fitted with an EF2x II extender, taking the focal length to 600mm. Pierre recalls: “I was about 30 to 40 metres away from Jerry but I forgot the clamp to fix the camera to a tripod so I just put it on top of the tripod and tried not to move it. This sample is before colour correction but I only took this shot once and, to me, the light is prodigious.”

Movie making

Pierre strives for what he calls his “intuitive and spontaneous” approach, and it was this that helped his work for the Commonwealth of Dominica and that really started the HD movie ball rolling. Pierre explains, although he had the Dominica 'gig', it was not all plain sailing: “The first film I made - the five minute promotional film 'Unbeaten Paths' - was all shot on the 5D Mark II.”

But it was not cut and dried, as Pierre explains: “There were a couple of issues. The first was I had little control over the camera – this film was shot before the superb firmware update sorted those issues. And, because of the close environment in which I was filming, I had to constantly switch lenses and so I kept getting dust on the sensor. Then, the large number of pans required meant I would have to deal with 'jigger' (panning the camera causes stripped artifacts to appear on the moving image) so now I'm very careful with the camera set up and shutter speeds.”

The EOS 5D Mark II firmware upgrade (Version 1:1:0), which gave manual exposure control when shooting movies, where shutter speeds, apertures and ISO could all be controlled) made a big difference as Pierre admits: “I was so happy to get the update because it made things much better. Importantly, I think Canon really understands that the DSLR can really hold its own against 'traditional' video cameras; the 5D Mark II really stands tall.”

Planning a shoot, be it still or video, is vital and it was no different for 'Unbeaten Paths': “We knew where and what we had to shoot. I worked with an English partner, who is also a guide on the island, and he knew Dominica perfectly. This meant we not only knew exactly what we had to shoot while at each location. Thus I knew exactly what equipment was needed in advance - that's a big help.”

© Pierre Deschamps

Pierre Deschamps' 'Man of the Soil' film was shot with the EOS 5D Mark II and a variety of L series lenses – from a 15mm Fisheye up to a 300mm telephoto with 2x extender.

Pierre's film 'Man of the Soil' threw up other challenges: “The main character, 'Jerry', had no idea about film making, and that's fair enough. But I didn't want to be an intruder in his day-to-day life - shooting on the 5D Mark II allows this as there is much less bulk to deal with in terms of equipment. I would tell Jerry what I wanted to do and that I would simply try to follow him. Ultimately, this is why I love the film so much, everything had to be done in the camera at the moment it happened,” explains Pierre.

He adds: “There's a section shot deep in the forest where Jerry is washing the vegetables. I started shooting with the 16-35mm zoom, switched to an EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM zoom, then quickly had to switch to the EF300mm; put a 1.4x extender on, and I ended up using the 2x extender as well. I had just five minutes to do all that, switching and switching, putting the camera back on the tripod and checking again with no chance of a re-take! It was tricky, but fantastic.”

His concerns about spontaneity and over dust reaching the sensor meant solutions were needed. Pierre reveals: “Luckily, I worked with an assistant director whom I had stand beside me with another lens at the ready. When I removed one lens he quickly put his hands over the camera's mount to help prevent dust getting in with the lens at the ready, it meant it helped me to keep up with Jerry.”

Pierre explains: “There's one shot in 'Man of the Soil' going into the forest where I follow Jerry. It is just all so green; the greens appear to be almost at the same level, merging onto one block of colour. I decided to push the black to help the contrast, otherwise the footage looks a little flat - I adjusted it and edited using Final Cut Pro.”

Pierre would love to shoot feature-length movies on the 5D Mark II: “For me the camera has a 'cinema quality' to it, no doubt, but it can be pushed further. There are other advantages: it enables you to use a small team and keep costs down. I have a feature length project in mind where I need just one star. It's on a lower budget but keeping the same quality – quality is the key no matter what. You need the quality in the storytelling too, not just the 'content', but I wouldn't be happy if I didn't have the graphic quality, the artistic quality at the same time.”

© Pierre Deschamps

A sequence from Pierre Deschamps' 'Man of the Soil' film shot on the EOS 5D Mark II with Canon's EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM zoom lens. Pierre says: “This is a Steadicam shot - I chose to use the 16-35mm f/2.8 lens as I like the space and fluidity of its movement and I think this shows perfectly the wilderness of Dominica's nature.”

Awards and the future…

Pierre's 'Man of the Soil' film won an award for best editing from Serbia's SILAFEST international film Festival (2009) and received a Special Mention for Best Cinematography at the Bridgetown Film Festival, Barbados (2009). Other accolades for the film include becoming the Official Selection for the Third Annual Africa World Documentary Film Festival (2010) in St. Louis, USA, and being selected by the Berlinale 2010 Berlin International Film Festival, to be shown in the Culinary Cinema section. Pierre notes: “These are all great and the Berlin festival is a big festival, so it is fantastic. 'Man of the Soil' has also been broadcast on CANAL+ in Poland.”

So, what of the future? Pierre explains: “I have so many projects I'd like to shoot on the EOS 5D Mark II; but, for now, I have two feature documentaries. One is a campaign called 'Re-Rights' where I want to highlight what a great idea the Human Rights charter is but now, in 2010, we are still along way from being good at sorting human rights for everyone. I intend to shoot people saying the words on the Human Rights Charter, in fixed (shots in Paris) - it is to be edited together like a music video. It should be completed before the end of the year.”

He adds: “I'm soon to shoot a small feature production using two EOS 7Ds, a documentary feature called 'The Feet Journey' - yes, it's about feet! Other projects include one about organic farmers and I'm writing a few fiction scripts as well. I'm positive about the future, the equipment I'm using and the projects I'd like to work on. As long as I can go with the flow, be spontaneous and create, I'm quite happy.”


Pierre Deschamps' equipment:

EOS 5D Mark II

EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye
EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
EF50mm f/1.2L USM
EF85mm f/1.2L II USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM
EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM
EF1.4x II extender
EF2x II extender
Extension Tube EF25 II

Sachtler FSB 6 tripod
Steadicam Pilote
Ikelite 5D Mark II underwater housing
2x16GB Scandisk Extreme IV UDMA 45 MB/s
Custom-made Pelican cases pre-cut to each camera and lens

Final Cut Pro editing software