The “Mario Testino meets National Geographic” test

Creative choices are multiple from the very beginning of the filmmaking process. Sure, your choice of camera and lenses will say a lot about how you shoot (and you can read more about thin is this post by Borja Alexandre). But what about the choices we take before then? How do we really start shaping the way in which we are going to tell a story?

In this article I would like to share a “test” we have developed at MIND THE FILM. We like to start each new project with the Mario Testino meets National Geographic test. It is an exercise we have ideated to set the grounds of each film, and to take an opportunity to reflect on the main features of our filmmaking style.

The test is based on the comparison of these two images –

The “Mario Testino meets National Geographic” test is based in the comparison of these two images.

The first one is Afghan Girl, a 1984 photograph by the journalist Steve McCurry, which became a world-famous cover of National Geographic in 1985.

The second one is a portrait by photographer Mario Testino, which was taken for the 10th Anniversary Special Issue of Vogue China.

Apparently, two portraits of similar composition and outstanding quality. Additionally, two clear examples of different production styles. Start thinking about the production requirements behind each image and then you will be wearing a producer’s hat.

This is what Steve McCurry said about taking his photograph Afghan Girl:
 “I spent maybe two minutes with her, I photographed her. I made 15 pictures I would say.”

And now compare that approach to the amount of staff, stylists, models, lighting equipment and producers involved in the production of a photo-shoot for VOGUE.

What we like about the Mario Testino meets National Geographic test is that the comparison helps us differentiate two important production approaches.

The National Geographic way would focus on the idea of “capturing something”. Navigating through reality and being able to capture the best moments of it.

Following the Testino way would mean that we first work on the idea and create the conditions for the image to be produced. And that involves the studio set-up, props, casting etc.

At MIND THE FILM we favour a documentary-style, and the philosophy of capturing the most meaningful images out of reality –whilst we also welcome the freedom to create and catalyse cinematic situations.

No one better than Mario Testino himself to sum it up: “I divide my work into two sides. One is to photograph what already exists. But then there is photographing things that we create. We have an idea and we decide that we are going to interpret this idea.”