“I’m not a sportsman,” says Tolis Fragoudis, “and I’m certainly not as talented as Pamela, but at many points in this project it felt like I was pushing myself and the Sony Alpha 7S III to the limits, too.”
Shooting in the middle of Vienna, Tolis and Pamela started with a plan, but with various limitations on filming, the pair needed to tear up the plan and improvise. “The whole project ended up being very spontaneous,” he tells us, “and in the end it felt like I was doing parkour too – just that my obstacles were filmmaking ones, not walls and benches.”
Needing to quickly adapt actually helped to define the opening sequence of the film however, and led to some of Tolis’s favourite shots, as well as an early workout for the Alpha 7S III. “Having not been able to film in a few places that Pamela knew, she suggested we go to her training hall. Originally we had wanted to be outside all the time, but I thought ‘okay, let’s do it.’ It turned out to be a really good decision, and made a great contrast for the outdoor sections later.”
Tolis shot all of the interior sequences handheld, making use of the Alpha 7S III’s in-body image stabilisation for a smoother look. “I used a mix of manual focus and autofocus to follow her movement,” he explains, “and the new subject tracking AF was incredibly impressive, but also simple to use.”
“The fact that you can simply touch the area you want to track on the touchscreen and have the camera follow,” he continues, “is really amazing. At one point, where Pamela jumps up to grip the edge of a wooden platform, I set the AF to track her hand, and it did exactly that. When you think about the complexity, it’s astonishing. It’s not just tracking a strong colour or tone, but an object that’s changing shape and angle as it moves through the frame. I don’t know how it works. I’m just glad that it does!”
Tolis occasionally switched from working handheld to mounting his camera on a gimbal, especially when tracking Pamela from a car or running after her.
Of course, every gimbal has its maximum payload,” he says, “but the Alpha 7S III is so light, it really helps with that. I also used compact wide-angle lenses for a lot of the project – for example the FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA with the FE 24mm f/1.4 GM lens – partly as they work well when close up to sporting subjects, and also because wider lenses show up lens vibration and give a smoother image. That was important as we didn’t want lots of shake taking attention away from Pamela’s movement.”
That movement is shown perfectly when Tolis switched to his camera’s slow-motion modes. “When the camera was announced, like a lot people, I was surprised,” he reveals, “I was expecting it to have 4K at 60fps, but Sony gave us 120fps, which I have to say is incredible. You can slow it down around five times, which is really useful to have in post-production. But the main attraction in my film was the way it revealed the complexity and grace of Pamela’s movement,” he continues. “Athletes like her are so fast that it’s only when you slow things down people can recognise the incredible things they’re doing.”
One of the shots that Tolis enjoyed the most was a rooftop scene at sunset. “We got there just after the sun went down,” he explains, “but still had this wonderful sky full of red, yellow and orange tones. Pamela was backlit by the brightness of it, but using the Alpha 7S III’s new S Log 3 profile, I could expose her without getting a silhouette. The profile gave us all the data we needed for post-production without losing any detail in her figure or the sky. It’s not something I could have achieved before.”
With the project completed at breakneck speed, what was it that really stuck with Tolis from this high-energy shoot? “Almost the whole camera was a new experience, and it worked brilliantly,” he says, “from the new button placement to the customisable inputs. And with all of its technical achievements, like the ISO and the autofocus, the more I use it the less I feel I need to pack a dedicated video camera.” But as impressive as Tolis found the kit, his main admiration was reserved for Pamela. “For all of the technical challenges the camera overcame, what really counts is what’s going in front of the lens. I was so lucky to work with this amazing athlete. Just like my camera, she tackled every obstacle without breaking stride and it was amazing to see.”
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