Packing for two, sequential, inter-related shoots. One still photography and the other video. Double the pain?

I had the highest hopes for what some on the web are calling hybrid imaging. The idea is that we'd find one camera that would do really great photos and really great video (done!) and then we'd find one type of lighting that would work for both types of imaging. We would happily switch between stills and video without ever having to change our lighting and everything would be quick, convenient and merry. I bought into it. But it's total bullshit----at least for now.

Let me backtrack... I bought into the concept because, for many of the jobs I do the new way can really work. If I go out to shoot an executive portrait and the marketing department also needs an interview I can set up LED or fluorescent lights, grab a Panasonic GH4 (or even a Sony RX 10) and get good stills and video content at the switch of the mode dial and with the attachment of a good microphone. Where things start to break down is when we move beyond the easy stuff and introduce subject motion and the need to freeze action in still images. All of a sudden we're back into the realm of flash.

I'm doing a job today that would be perfect for continuous lighting if it weren't for the fact that we'll need to create a feel of rock concert kinetics with our actor. We're doing marketing images for Zach Theatre's rendition of Tommy and we're going to try and get wild stage movements and swinging, Roger Daltry-esque microphone moves frozen on a white background and then we need to get the same kind of moves again for video, on a green screen background. Ouch.

The fast movements of the actor require the action stopping short exposure times of flash. He'll also be wearing a jacket with fringe all along the sleeves and the fringe will create even more movement as the actor rocks across the white background. I'm taking four Elinchrom flashes to deal with this part of the shoot. We'll set up two units to light the background, one unit for a main light and the fourth for fill or accent. We've done this a thousand times before and I have no fears that we'll be able to get exactly what we want for the stills. With flash.

But flash is, of course, useless for video. We're shooting the actor against a green background so the editor can composite some really cool animation into the background. And that means that the screen has to be evenly lit and as far from the talent as focal length and studio configurations will allow. We don't want the green from the background to wrap around onto our actor's gold,  highly REFLECTIVE, jacket.

I'd like to through a lot of light onto this shot so we can use 60 fps to make the video look sharper. And we need to be careful to match front and background exposures so we don't have issues in post production. I'll be using six, big fluorescent fixtures with modifiers, where necessary. Two directly on the background, two on the talent and one as a backlight. The backlight fixture will have a layer of magenta gel on it to combat any incursion of the dreaded green wrap. (The Mag. filtered light will serve to cancel out the green).

To do these shoots, one after the other, requires: A set of background stands. A white background. A green background. Clamps to tighten up the backgrounds and kill wrinkles. Eight or nine light stands (the continuous lights require more stands for the modifiers we put in front of them). Diffusion frames for modifiers. Four Elinchrom strobes with umbrellas and a soft box. Six (heavy) fluorescent lights. Filter gels. Four 25 foot extension cords. One still photo tripod with ball head. One video tripod with fluid head. One monster Gitzo tripod as a solid base for our video slider. One heavy duty cart to transport everything with.

Did I forget anything? How about cameras? I'm taking the GH3's and GH4 and  small sample of lenses. And, with green screen, always a light meter. Oh heck, always a light meter anyway.

The schedule is tense. We leave the studio at 12:30 and start unloading and setting up at the theatre at 1 pm. The still shoot is first. We fine-tune and get our still shots from 2 until three. At three on the dot we pull down the white background and exchange it for the green one. We pull all the flash units and replace them in new configurations with the fluorescent lights. The actor's make-up and costume gets refreshed while the director and I fine tune the video imaging and go over settings.

We're using the clean HDMI out of the camera into a digital recorder that writes 10 bit Pro-Res 4:2:2 because the editor is old school and got burned on much older video cameras many years ago. He wants to start with the cleanest, sharpest green screen files he possible can. I am more optimistic and I'm dying to try shooting in 4K and then importing in FCPX as 1080p (in Pro Res 4:2:2) but we're working as a team and the editing is his area of expertise so I bow to his experience.

We need to be lit, metered, color correct and ready to go by 3:30 pm. That's a really tight turn around. But I think we'll manage. We have both Ben (super assistant) and my new intern in tow. Ben will take charge in wrapping up the gear we used for the stills. We start shooting the video in earnest at 3:30 because we have a hard stop at 5 pm when we have to start packing and hauling stuff out. The theater needs the space back by 5:30 pm.

If we shoot to the digital recorder in the video sequence then my part of the video production ends them. My job is to get the director and editor the best technical content I can so they can concentrate on directing and editing.

Ben and I should be back at the studio by 6 pm and we'll unload before we head to the house. Saturday I'll come back to the studio after swim practice and unpack every thing and put each tool in its place. Trying to stay organized so we don't waste time getting ready for next week's projects.

It would be a lot easier to do this all with one set of lights but sometimes you just have to bite down and do things in the optimum method. For this shoot it's all about lights and making stuff sharp. For the video it's all about nailing the green screen. And as far as I can tell there's no way to hybridize the lighting tools. Sorry Hybrid Imaging. 


Michael Matthews said...

Something tells me you'll find an opportunity to shoot a sequence in 4K for import to Final Cut Pro -- then make a sneaky after-the-fact comparison to the edited footage produced the other way.

Extra points for yielding to the editor's preferences. Those final steps can kill lots of good work if you're not in sync -- and he who goes last controls the final output.

Anonymous said...

I won't say "I told you so," but so called Hybrid Photography is a little bit harder to do than the advertising would lead you to believe.

Also there is a huge difference between shooting talking-heads/home-movies and a Hollywood production. The ads don't mention that either.

BTW Madison Ave invented the Big Lie, not the Nazis.

Have fun, with your experience it should be a piece o' cake.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, video and shooting stills are two different jobs and need to be address correctly,quality work
takes time and thought.Hybrid short changes the idea work of having substantial merit.As photographers we need to challenge those folks i.e.iphones,hybrid
photography,if we don't it's another job,for Uncle Harry. Mark Kane

Anonymous said...

"We would happily switch between stills and video without ever having to change our lighting and everything would be quick, convenient and merry. I bought into it. But it's total bullshit----at least for now."

Well, I wouldn't call it bullshit. I'd call it horses for courses.

In fact, I'd go a step further and call the whole concept of having an ideal stills and an ideal video camera within the same camera body a mere marketing meme. Not to mention the so called hybrid photography. Based on first hand experiments. Not every shoot is similar to begin with.
To do both stills and video well, you need two different cameras, and better still, two different shooting sessions. For a number of practical reasons, as well as artistic.

Like the two other other anonymouses already pointed out, I'd forget the meme and ignore the Will Crocketts propagating it. What works fine for simple headshots doesn't necessarily work for different projects.

Instead of trying to further commodify both stills and video market into some self-expiring 'e-products' in a cellphone, I'd try to choose my battles and to optimise the end results within the weapons and budget I have. I do sometimes sprinkle stills into some of my videos, but that's a different thing. It's also called with a different name.

On the other hand, I know this is nit-picking but, one could argue that the kind of thing you talked about could be done the "hybrid" way, too, sort of, -with an appropriate budget and schedule. You'd just need a number of very bright artificial suns on a pole, along with enough time and crew to handle it all, รก la Hollywood. ;-)

That's how it's being done in Hollywood and high budget TV productions, too. They may shoot some confined space sequences with dSLR gear and a few small lights these days, but for the special effects that need high speed shutter to stop the motion they use different cameras and a ridiculous amount of continuous light, usually shot in a studio against a screen screen, or outdoors.

Meanwhile, a corporate headshot with a talking head commercial may be a piece of cake with the same LED or fluorescent lights and and intern which you can pack in a trunk of a commuter. Well, maybe the intern should be packed on the back seat, but anyway.

"We're using the clean HDMI out of the camera into a digital recorder that writes 10 bit Pro-Res 4:2:2 because the editor is old school"

...Or probably because the editor knows his stuff, old or new. It's usually more about post processing workflow than being particularly 'old school.'

He's is probably concerned about editing and grading the footage, and having a standardised (for his workflow) and the least compressed raw material to work with. The 10-bit 422 with high bit rate into the external recorder is likely to grade beautifully and have the least compression/motion artefacts and banding to be smoothed out. Besides, the GH4 has been around for only a short while until now.
Again, horses for courses.

Gato said...

Unlike some others, I don't see this as any great setback for the hybrid style. To me it's just life. Every job is different, and some days you work harder than others.

Jobs like this are not going to happen very often. Were it not for needing to stop fast action in the stills it likely all could have been done with the same lights. If shooting time were really tight it could probably all be done on green screen - trading time on set for time in post.

At the first of the year I couldn't get anyone I was shooting interested in video. Now everyone is talking about it. I think things are going to shift very quickly.

Every photographer will have to work out their own version and methods, but I think some form of 'hybrid' is here to stay.

Kirk Tuck said...

Gato, Just to be very clear, I am a big proponent of photographers doing video as well as still imaging but I am finding (and it's not as rare as you'd think) that I sometimes need flash to freeze motion correctly. The image at the top of the article is just for decoration. Our actual shoot call for a person in a jacket with fringe to move and sing and fling the fringe around quite kinetically. Impossible to freeze with any but the most powerful continuous lights! I'll continue my adventures in video with gusto but I won't buy into the new religion that says every kind of job can be done just with one light source.

Just as few video shoots could ever be done with electronic flash, some still shoots can't be done (well) with fluorescent lights.

Anonymous said...

I am not a big fan on any sort of continous light, but I am curious how many stops of light were you off by to freeze the action?

What about changing the camera instead of the lights to gain those additional stops. Would your Sony A99 at say ISO 800, with a fast lens meet the shutter speed and image quality needs of the shoot?

Kirk Tuck said...

I am a big fan of all kinds of continuous light and couldn't do video without it. Even if we were shooting the A99 we'd need to be up at a thousandth of a second (minimum) to be able to freeze the images in still photography. In video we were at the equivalent of f5.6 @ 1/125th of a second at ISO 640. So we would have needed ISO 6400 to get to 1/1000th of a second with stills. While the a99 is a great camera it's not noise free at ISO 6400 in the way that almost every camera is at ISO 100 or 160.

I guess we'll be able to do clean, high ISO files with the Sony a7s but......