Photographing Mad Max: Fury Road

Jasin Boland photographing Mad Max: Fury Road
 

After the success of Mad Max: Fury Road, which won an impressive six Oscars at this year’s Academy Awards, we caught up with the motion still photographer for the film, Jasin Boland.

Words: Emma Wheaton

Imagine you’re a photojournalist in a post-apocalyptic world deep in the Namibian desert. It’s a place where the atmosphere is eerie, the sky has turned grey and the earth has been sucked dry of its nutrients, so that the surface is sandy and the air is thick with dust. This is the approach Nikon Ambassador and motion still photographer Jasin Boland had for his work on iconic film Mad Max: Fury Road.

 

Jasin Boland photographing Mad Max: Fury Road

Capturing an imagined world

As a 16-year-old Jasin started out as a press photographer, so it’s not such a peculiar thing that he has adapted the skills from his early career to suit his photography in the world of action movie blockbusters.
“I get all the drive of shooting hard news yet I know I’m coming home from work,” explains Jasin of his love for his job. “I guess I’ve replaced uncontrollable volatile situations with semi-controllable craziness… Every day is different and, like news, if you miss the image in a big stunt there are no second chances.”

Jasin’s work means he stays on set during the filming of movies for months at a time. He’s worked on the likes of The Matrix, the Bourne series and Everest (shooting mountainside in -25 degrees Celsius!), to name a few.

“My little family and I get some amazing adventures in some pretty crazy places in the world. I’ve spent weeks on an aircraft carrier, been to Everest and lived in Africa; it’s a pretty blessed life,” says Jasin, who also admits he’s rarely home in Australia – having spent just 20 days here this year.

Lights, camera, action

Jasin’s role sees him taking the shots to be used for movie posters and other promotional material – something that this member of the Society of Motion Picture Still Photographers clearly has a talent for. “My knack is capturing a moment from a movie, that one image that sums it all up,” he says.

“The still photographer’s primary role is to shoot images on-set that will be used for all requirements needed for digital, print and marketing needs. Whenever you see a poster, billboard, magazine cover or image online from a film, it has generally been shot by a photographer like me,” Jasin explains.

Jasin Boland photographing Mad Max: Fury Road
Jasin Boland photographing Mad Max: Fury Road

Influencing Mad Max

When it came to working on Fury Road, Jasin consulted with director George Miller and DP John Seale on the colour palette of the film. They hadn’t made a decision and were happy for Jasin to “give his take on things”. “All the dust was causing me problems with contrast; basically I was getting a pretty flat look … I pictured the world as just being random pockets of life and the earth itself ageing like we do as humans,” explains Jasin of his thought process behind creating his incredible images.

“I turned the sky slightly grey to match our ageing hair, I tightened up the atmosphere with tonal contrast to match a lowering sun, used detail extraction to tighten up the skin and give definition to lines the same way as our faces crease with age and dehydration, with the earth which I called the yellow cake look, I put a little straw colour through it as if the planet had been sucked dry of all its nutrients and all that was left to seep out of the ground was uranium. This thinking helped me achieve the images I did.”

Miller and Seale was so thrilled with the way Jasin captured the film that Miller exhibited 300 of Jasin’s images in his editing suite as inspiration for the crew working on post-production.

His vision for Fury Road meant Jasin influenced the overall look and feel of the movie. “In many ways I contributed this film more than any other I’ve worked on. The producers gave me a massive one line credit right at the beginning of the credits as a thank you… pretty cool!”

Jasin displays a pure passion for his line of work and has immense respect for the artistic talents of the people he works with. “I don’t think of myself as an artist. My work is quite real, raw and gritty,” he says, explaining that when he’s shooting, he treats the director’s world like a real one – and he’s just there to capture that.

“I don’t think it’s possible or even fair to try and replicate a director’s style exactly. I tell his story but from a parallel path. I fill in a few gaps and hopefully give the audience an alternative view to the world created.”

Dusty days

Jasin found the dust of the Namibian desert, where Fury Road was shot, not only affected the contrast and colour palette of his images, but created more practical problems, too.

The solution was to avoid changing lenses and exposing his sensors. Instead, Jasin would have several camera bodies on the go, each kitted up differently. “I only needed to clean [the sensors] every few weeks and I just hated doing it; it was like open heart surgery with dirty hands!”

“There was tons of dust,” he says. “If it wasn’t from cars it was blown at us with wind machines! The weather sealing on the Nikons really are incredible though, as not once did I have a problem and rarely did I bag the gear up, I just left the cameras to tackle the harsh environment in the same way that I did.”

Adrenalin rush

Jaisn says he’s fortunate to work primarily on action films, a genre he pays to watch himself. However this means that when he’s not exposing his camera gear to dust, he’s risking his body for the shot – harnessed to speeding vehicles, dangling high up on a truss, or sometimes working out how he’ll capture a scene without actually being close by as it’s too dangerous. So, how does he do it?

“I have a ground camera set up in a rig with a remote and then I will be further back on a longer lens shooting the action manually while also hand firing my camera remote,” says Jasin. “On those occasions the stunt coordinator usually has one of the stunt team spot me so they can pull me out of the way if the vehicle gets all bent up out of shape. We pretty much know what happens in the beginning of an action sequence but what happens after that can sometimes not go exactly to plan.

“I literally have my camera and remote trigger in my hands and hose down the action until my spotter drags me out of the way. I just shoot until I feel the pull. It’s pretty exciting and the relationship I have with these guys is intense. We put a lot of planning into our exit strategy. I trust them to emphatically.”

Let’s talk gear

While shooting Mad Max Fury Road, Jasin’s go-to lens was an AF-S NIKKOR
24-120mm f/4G ED VR. “The D4s and this lens really are responsible for the look and style of my film stills. I loved pointing into the sun and picking up some flare.”

His other favourite was the AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm F4G ED VR II, which Jasin says made everything “pop”. “I cart this monstrous lens with me all around the world and perhaps only pull it out of the truck a few times each film but every time I do an image from it gets used. I love it!”

For remote rigs Jasin relied on a Nikon D600, which “performed beautifully under the pressure of high speed and dust.”

Now that the Nikon D5 is available, Jasin will be adding it to his kit. “The D5 simply blows me away. Shooting action films, I’m always dependent on shutter speed, most film sets are darkly lit so high ISO and low-light capabilities are probably the most important thing to me,” he says. “I never dreamed I would have a camera that could shoot over 1 million ISO. Throw that in with a blinding 12fps, an XQD card that can buffer a spray of 200 frames, 153 focus points and an advanced auto focus system, there’s simply no excuse for me missing the action.”

For more of Jasin’s photography visit his Instagram @jasinboland

In Jasin’s bag

2 x Nikon D4s
Nikon D5
Nikon D810
Nikon D750
Nikon Df
Nikon 1 system
AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G ED
AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G
AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G
AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G
AF DC-NIKKOR 105mm f/2D
AF DC-NIKKOR 135mm f/2D
AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2G ED VR II
AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f2.8E FL ED VR
2 x AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR
AF-S NIKKOR 14–24mm f/2.8G ED
AF-S Zoom-NIKKOR 17–35mm f/2.8D IF-ED
3 x AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm F2.8G ED
2 x AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II’
AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR
2 x Nikon AF-S Teleconverter TC-17E II
Assorted BlackRapid straps
4 x AquaTech sound blimps and tubes
3 x letus camera cages
6x pocketwizards
camera clamps and custom mounting rigs
bag full of safety gear, ear muffs, safety glasses, harnesses, helmet, webbing, carabineers, wet weather gear, extreme weather gear, climbing equipment.
All packed safely to travel the world in 8 HPRC hard cases.

Read more on Jasin’s tips and tricks for shooting stills in the motion picture industry or view our story on photographer Brett Patman’s Lost Collective project.

Find out more about the award winning D5, our flagship DSLR and choice of professional photographers.