Random Sunday Posts: Packing for a shoot tomorrow, Editing video today. And, as always, buying stuff.

Planning stuff in Abilene. 

I've neglected the blog recently because I've been almost overwhelmed by the amount of editing work in house. Seems like every project starts out as "one" three-to-five minute video and, after the fact, turns into three or four separate videos. Like a video Hydra. Chop off one head (get one project done) and three more pop up to take its place. I'm starting to settle in and get my editing chops down but it's all about getting the details right and that's very much a different mindset for me.

Tomorrow morning I have a photography assignment at the theater (ZachTheatre.org) and I've spent some time packing up for it. The choice of camera is very straightforward; I'll take the Sony A7Rii because the images we'll be taking will have multiple uses. Might be used as a large, exterior building wrap graphic, a large, backlit sign and then various direct mail pieces. It's a given that anything we can blow up well to four by six feet (or larger) should be easily repurposed into web applications...

Since this will be a "set up" shot over which we'll have complete control I'm only bringing along two lenses. The 70-200mm f4.0 G lens and the Zeiss 24-70mm f4.0 lens. We're shooting against white seamless paper so anything longer than 24mm is just meaningless and anything longer than 200mm is just wretched overkill. Big graphics mean getting the main subject sharp so fast aperture lenses are also just a burden.

I'll be lighting the white background with two of the Aputure LS-1/2 lights (high CRI LED panels), oriented vertically. This gives me a nice, even wash of light behind my main subject (an actor). My main light will consist of two Aputure LS-1S lights (also high CRI LED panels but with a much more narrow beam angle) shining through a 48 by 48 inch, 1.25 stop diffusion cloth on a Chimera ENG panel. Fill light to consist of a the silver side of a large, collapsible reflector on the opposite side of the main light. Might also use a very small LED panel right above the camera as an "eye" light.

The bane of location work using LED panels is the need for so many light stands. We'll have the background stands, two background light stands, two main light stands, a stand for the diffuser and a stand for the fill reflector. At this point we're already up to seven stands and I may want to add a few stands for flags and other light control modifiers.

I'll also be taking along two long extension cords as well as the detachable cords for each of the lights. There are many...

The sad thing is that the set up will take the better part of an hour. The teardown will take about 45 minutes and the actual shoot may take 15 minutes. It's with a professional actor who knows how to hit a mark and how to turn on his character, on demand. That's about an eight-to-one ratio, time wise.

I will be taking along a Sony A7ii as a back-up camera but it's been years since I've had a camera failure. We're working just by habit at this point.

As I mentioned, I've been spending a lot of time in front of my computer editing video files. Nearly every job comes in these days either as a combination job: photos and videos from the outset; or they come in as one or the other along with a tentative toe-dipping into the other camp. A "by the way, if we set up and shoot this video could you also shoot some high resolution stills after each take?" Or, "We've got six portraits to shoot and were wondering how hard it would be to bring along the gear to be able to shoot a quick interview of the CEO. He'll be the last person of the six you'll be shooting..."

The days of just shooting one or the other as discrete jobs, separated by time and intention, seems to be waning quickly.

So, as I've been editing I've been asking friends with long tenure in the film industry to spot check my work and advise me to make sure I don't make too many career ending mistakes. This pushes me to really up my game and try to be as picky and detail oriented as I can be in order not to look like a moron to my close friends. It seems like as good a motivated learning strategy as any other....

Luck has been with me so far. I haven't had any production catastrophes; no out of focus A camera footage, no unmanageable noise in the tracks. But I'm getting more and more sensitive to the sound profiles of specific microphones and their "noise floors."  It's that part of the new learning curve wherein one finally realizes that there is a certain logic in getting the best one can afford going into the real production phase. Dollars on the table and that sort of thing.

I feel as though I have several aspects of videography down well enough. The lighting is no mystery and my years of research and use of LED lights works to my advantage here. In much the same way my understanding of the visual parts of the projects is also fairly well fleshed out. Moving the cameras in a transparent way is always a challenge but I think it's a lifelong learning practice in most regards. No, the wild card is the audio. Every room has a sound, every building's electrical grid adds something to the mix and every microphone has a sweet spot.

I've been buying several audio components and, for the first time in a while, returning a number of them that I find to be unsatisfactory. I recently bought a Tascam DR-70 with the idea of using it in field production as a pre-amp and mixer, sending the final signal directly into the camera for recording. The microphones hooked to the unit sounded good and the unit has very little noise until I connected the "camera out" port to my camera. Listening to headphones from the camera shocked me. Here's recently launched unit with a camera port that doesn't do proper signal matching. The hiss coming into the camera was overwhelming at any level. A quick check on the web reveals that this is a "known issue" and can be fixed with a special cable. No thanks. Don't need to be dependent on special cables dedicated for one particular use. Back in the box. Back to the store.

A bit later I was searching for something on Amazon.com and came across a simple device from Saramonic called a SmartRig+. It's a small pre-amplifier which also provides 48V power to microphones that require phantom power. It comes with a dedicated cord and a switch. You can plug the cord into your camera or your smartphone. Voila! A simple solution to putting professional microphone feeds into your Sony RX10iii camera. I bought one. It came. I listened to it and found it to be astoundingly quiet and clean; especially when considering the price tag of less than $100. I should by a couple. It runs for about 12 hours on one 9V battery and fastens to the side of the camera cage. The device even has its own headphone jack for camera that don't offer such (Panasonic FZ1000, Sony a6300). You'll want to use the camera headphone jack to make sure the signal actually got to the right spot.

At this point I want to tell you about a great resource I found on the web. It's the site of an audio guy named, Curtiss Judd. Just as photographers have a manic focus on reviewing and pixel peeping various cameras, Mr. Judd is afflicted with the same addiction when it comes to audio gear. He's constantly testing microphones, mixers, recorders, sound blankets, and anything else in the signal path. He's also very clear about his testing methods and provides actual recordings in each episode in order to prove his points and nail down his credibility. His videos are very well done and; unlike most of the rest of the web, the audio never sucks (unless he is intentionally making a point or comparison).  I found validation about my purchase of the little Saramonic on his site and I've stayed and read many other articles that have proved sticky in my brain.

One of the things he did a segment on was a new microphone from one of my favorite video oriented companies, Aputure. Apparently they've more or less copied (and improved upon) the classic (and much loved) Sennheiser MKH 416 hyper-cardioid microphone. The Sennheiser is about $1200 and has been on the market for well over a decade. It owes its longevity to the fact that it is very, very good and has earned a reputation among sound people as the microphone to demand in the sound package for many movies and cinematic style projects.

The new Aputure microphone is called, "The Diety" and promises a similar sound profile, a bit more efficiency and ..... serious weatherproofing. Curtiss Judd's review suggested that the new microphone was a worthy competitor to the legendary Sennheiser mic, but at about 1/3rd the price. I have purchased one and will start testing it after a shoot we have booked on Tues. I'm hoping for clean vocals and a very low noise floor. The microphone is strictly phantom powered but now I have three options that provide phantom power and very low noise pre-amps as well.

On my next project I may just break down and record sound to both an external recorder as well as the camera and test from there. I must say that the pre-amplifiers in both the Tascam DR60ii and the Zoom H5 are very clean and uncolored. I'm also auditioning sound people with the idea of putting together a core crew for future work. I'm hoping to enlist a second camera operator who can also run first camera if I want to fully dedicate myself to interviewing. The second position is the sound "guy." I need someone who understands microphone placement and can work with my idiosyncrasies in areas like sending an audio signal to the recording camera.

One interesting facet of each video project is the necessary purchase of two four Terabyte hard drives at the outset of each assignment. One to work from in post and one as a secondary back-up to our main drive back-ups. At the end of the assignment; once the edits have been approved and delivered, the both get labelled and go into the filing cabinet, in a job jacket for that client. Adds about $160 to each job but helps ensure good sleep.

At this juncture I am waiting patiently for the Sony RX10iv and the Sony A7iii. I have a little piggy bank sitting on the edge of the desk just waiting to be smacked with a hammer.

Happy clients. Happy creative person. Two more edits to go on the Canada project. I'm actually having fun editing --- who would have thought?

Ben is doing well in Korea. He's been everywhere already, including a visit to the DMZ. He started classes last week. No foisting the edits off on him until the middle of the Summer. Drat.