IMAGO award winner Adolpho Veloso chooses AMIRA for “On Yoga”

In “On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace,” Brazilian cinematographer Adolpho Veloso follows still-photographer Michael O’Neill on a trip through today’s world of yoga. In this interview, he shares his experience of working on this visually impressive documentary, shot with the ARRI AMIRA camera.

Jun. 11, 2019

In the film “On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace” we see the stunning work of Brazilian cinematographer Adolpho Veloso. He follows celebrated still-photographer Michael O’Neill on a trip through today’s world of yoga. O’Neill, perhaps best known for his portraits of the famous and powerful, is a devoted practitioner. It is this devotion that drives him to record his striking images of the discipline. Veloso, in turn, delivers a fittingly beautiful film that also earns him one of the industry’s most prestigious cinematography awards, The IMAGO International Award for Best Cinematography for Documentary Film. Veloso tells us about his experience working with O’Neill, director Heitor Dhalia, and the nimble ARRI AMIRA camera.

Thumbnail - On Yoga The Architecture of Peace - Documentary Feature Film Trailer

First of all, congratulations on winning the IMAGO documentary award. Can you tell us how the three of you came together for this project?

Thank you very much! Everything started a couple of years ago when Heitor met Michael on a beach during a New Year’s Eve celebration. A few days later, Heitor called me asking if I’d be interested in shooting a documentary about a still photographer and yoga. I didn’t hesitate at all. I promptly said yes. It was pure instinct because I had never shot a documentary before. And I didn’t know Michael’s work. But after I started looking at his amazing portfolio, I was sure this would be a fantastic opportunity to do something great, visually.

It must have been interesting working with a master like O’Neill. But what influence did he have on your images?

That was really interesting indeed. I sure learned a lot from him. We actually tried hard to distance our language from his. We wanted it to be as natural as possible and that the viewer could really sense when it was Michael’s image on the screen. We wanted his images to really pop when they appeared, to create an impact on the viewer. It was actually easier to do then I had first imagined. His way of working is totally different from mine. He uses flashes and interacts a lot with the subject. I was trying the total opposite, to play only with available light and to not interfere much with the subjects and environment. It was actually really funny because in the beginning Michael, as the master he is, was really worried about the images we were capturing and was always asking things like “are you sure you don’t need more light here?” I think he only relaxed a few weeks later after we showed him a selection of the images we had shot.

This film is indeed chock full of beautiful images. What kind of look were you after and how did it lend itself to the subject matter?

We thought a lot about how to shoot it. We were in love with the idea of making what we called “moving stills.” So, it was really intuitive to go for slow motion and extreme shallow depth of field. The purpose was to feel like it was a camera traveling though a picture, or the POV of a still camera trying to find the shot.

How did you prepare for the challenges you would face, shooting in India for example?

Even though I had never shot a documentary before, I was somewhat used to a “guerrilla” style. So, I knew we needed to be light. One of the first decisions we made was to abandon the tripod. That thing can be heavier and more difficult to carry then all the rest! We put everything we had in one big bag. And that was it.

You often shot at high frame rates. You used Zeiss Super Speeds. But how did this influence your choice of camera?

As an ALEXA user 99% of the time, I was sure I didn’t wanted to go with anything else but ARRI. So, the AMIRA was really an easy choice. 200 fps and fast lenses were essential for the look we were trying to get. Also, we couldn’t risk bringing a camera that couldn’t deal well with the extreme situations.

Were you operating alone? How did the ergonomics of the AMIRA help you?

Yes. I had one assistant that would help me with everything. But I was operating and pulling focus alone. For me the AMIRA is the digital camera with the best ergonomics, it perfectly fits the shoulder and has the perfect balance when you hold it from above for lower shots. Also, all the user buttons and the internal NDs were something that really saved us lots of time.

Since completing this film you have again worked with Heitor Dhalia. Can you tell us what you are working on now?

We did a fiction feature based on a comic book called “Tungsten.” All set in Salvador, a city in the northeast of Brazil. Shot with the ALEXA Mini. And I just shot a Portuguese feature directed by João Nuno Pinto called “Mosquito,” set in World War I in Mozambique. Also shot with the Mini. Right now I’m starting pre-production on an Argentinian feature directed by Felipe Gomez Aparício called “The Perfect David,” which I’m hoping I can shoot with the Mini LF!

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Video Interview: Adolpho Veloso at Camerimage 2017