8.26.2020

What can I tell you about pre-production phone calls with directors and producers? Hmmmm. More than you want to read.... I'd conjecture.


The amazing Martin Burke. 
An Austin Theater Legend.


My left ear is sore. That's the ear that listens most to my phone. My brain tries to listen as little as possible. 

We're going to shoot a twelve hour day on Saturday. It's one part of the theater project I've been working on for the last few weeks. The first four hours will take place outside. We'll film 30 different actors on a wide pedestrian bridge. We'll film some of the more notable talents individually, some in a groups and then get shots of all of them together. Unlike still photography both the camera and the actors/dancers/singers will be moving all the time. We'll get shots of the group coming toward our side of the bridge as I move directly backwards with the camera in my hands. We'll circle around singers with the camera as they belt out the theme song chosen to open the big event. And, of course, we'll try to capture all kinds of close-up shots as well. 

Everyone will be lip syncing to the same music so our editor has a reasonable chance of cutting everything together in post. While the director is aware we're trying to make sure the final client knows that we need to do multiple takes of each part of the process to make sure we get what they need. People unused to video productions have the idea that everyone just kind of magically knows what to do, where to dance and how to move and when someone yells, "action!" everyone will just automatically fall into place. Without rehearsals. And later, in the edit,  we'll just zoom in and grab the parts we like. But it doesn't ever work that way. 

After four hours on the bridge and in the vicinity (exterior) of the theater we'll head inside where I'll light a set for a "quick" into camera welcome speech by an "important person." We'll ask over and over again if they have a speech or need a teleprompter but we'll hear over and over again about how the person in question is a consummate pro and plans to just wing it. We'll remind the client on the shoot day about our script discussion as "the important person" wings it again for the 14th or 15th take. 

Then we move to the stage for three or four hours of piecing together several creative dance and music numbers but we'll need to do it in chunks so we can limit the number of people on stage to ten or fewer to conform to local pandemic safety standards. The client is "certain" that this will work just fine and that the editor will "bring it all together and make magic". The director,  editor and I are not so sure. We're wondering where to make the edits...

After that it's been decided that we'll do a big music and dance number on the exterior plaza which, at the scheduled time, will be half in deep shade and half in full sun. But the client feels confident that we can make that work.  And yes! I could make that work with a crew of grips and some silk diffusion fabric to hang over the hundred foot by hundred foot plaza space....  if only we had a budget...

So, the director and I had an hour long phone call to discuss all the production issues today. The list of topics was nearly endless. We needed to discuss everything from access to restroom and access to drinking water. Those were the easy ones. We discussed timing and whether we would shoot multi-camera or single camera. The director came down on the side of single camera. That led to a discussion of how many takes we'd need to cover each scene. I thought four. Wide establishing shot, small group shots, MCU of the "star" of each segment and then some wild b-roll. The director agreed and then, metaphorically (because I couldn't see him) wrung his hands together and wondered where we'd find time in the schedule to cover so much. 

We discussed time of day and angle of light. We talked about camera moves. We talked about gimbals versus handheld camera work for specific shots. We talked about a "look and feel" for the interior lighting and we even dialed down and talked about who would come early the day of the shoot to rouse the homeless people who sleep on the steps of the building at night. And who would remove the trash and broken bottles from the night before. 

We discussed which kind of microphone to use on our "straight into camera" welcome shot (lavaliere/wireless) and which mic to use for our emcee to start the show (Rode Reporter Microphone/ in the frame). Who will run sound? Me, of course.

When could we schedule breaks? Will we break for lunch or do a "walking" lunch? Where are the restrooms for the actors and our meager crew? Is someone bringing water? Who is handling craft service? Can we do make-up? (no. actors to do their own...). Can someone run two extension cords to the interview site? Who's manning the board for the stage lights during the interior portion of the shoot? Where can we set up a secure location to charge batteries and store back up cameras and lenses? Do we have security at all? Do we have a rain day scheduled? Did anyone think to put said rain day on my calendar? 

We went through the schedule in 30 minute increments and talked through technical issues. We both adhere to the idea that a shoot should be fun and that we can't fall on every grenade that gets tossed nor catch every javelin thrown our way. We can only pre-plan to the best of our abilities and hope that everyone else delivers their best. 

It should be a crazy day. I'm bringing white towels to wrap cameras in between shots. Wide brim hats are mandatory. Face masks a must have. Ice gloves at the ready. Hopefully the coffee will run like water through my kitchen today.

If anyone asks why I do all those walks around town in the blazing heat it's to stay in shape for stuff like this. We probably won't get hit directly by any part of hurricane Laura but we'll get the heat (102° predicted) along with whopping humidity from the edges of the storm. It's best if you are acclimated. We'll have actors in the elements for a half hour at a time. We'll be on that bridge from 7:15 until 11:30 a.m. (more or less). And at that point our day will have just hit the one third mark. Bring your own shade. It's good to be prepared. The Boy Scouts were right.

Ah. The glorious perks of homeownership. The paralysis of turning off the water.

 

It started a couple of days ago; a tiny puddle, maybe an inch by an inch, appeared along the edge of one of the Saltillo tiles in the kitchen. At first I thought someone had just spilled or splashed some water but every time I wiped up the puddle with a paper towel it reappeared. 

I checked under the kitchen sink but everything there was dry and happy. I suspected the refrigerator. They are complicated and sometimes non-cooperative. I thought one of the valves that bring was to the ice maker or the water filter was leaking. Maybe it was the drain hole for condensation run off. I don't know, refrigeration has always seemed like magic to me. 

If the pipes under the sink were still good I decided to blame the refrigerator and call an appliance repair guy who has always done good work for us. I was sure he could minister to our KitchenAid side-by-side and bring it back to good form. In all honesty I did clean the dust off the coils so he wouldn't think we were totally unaware of the idea of maintenance. 

Patrick showed up this morning with his tool kit and usual no nonsense manner and the first thing he did was to pull the huge, heavy, massive refrigerator out of its cubby to look at the back. And there is was; a broken shut off valve on the wall. A valve which should work to protect us from leaks!

The stem of the valve was broken right off and there was no way to shut off the persistent stream of water other than to go to the shut-off valve at the stream and shut off water to the entire house. As I left the front door to go and shut off the water (so proud of myself for knowing where that is!) I heard Belinda yell through Ben's bathroom door, "Ben, finish your shower! Dad's turning the water off in two minutes." 

Patrick is not a plumber. We were clear on that. But he has a friend who is a plumber. He gave us his friend's cell phone number and suggested I attach photos of the valve in question (and a valve under the sink that's had a checkered past) and send along a text. 

Having no other expertise than photography I went into the studio and grabbed a small LED panel and used it, along with my iPhone, to get photos of both valves. I sent the pix along with an urgent message (by this point I realized that toilets work via running water...) suggesting, pleading, and cajoling that today might be much better than tomorrow for this particular act of plumbing. 

It's a little after noon now and I expect our aqueous salvation to arrive around 6-ish. I've retreated into my office to escape the task of floor mopping (which I believe should fall to the youngest in the house) and to order myself a sandwich for lunch. 

I thought I was so clever to pay off the house last year but in truth a house is never "paid off" they just continue to rack up obligations. More or less a ploy by the fates to keep us on our toes.


I hope we have water tonight. But I'm happy it wasn't the refrigerator proper. I have a nostalgic relationship with that fridge and I'd hate to lose it. 

Hope your day is less fraught with domestic aggravation. KT

Thoughts about workflow and new gear.


The gimbal for the iPhone was a good first step. That made movement with the phone smooth and sure but we needed to do something about locking in white balance, frame rates and other particulars. Two days ago I downloaded an app for the phone called, Filmic Pro. It's pretty amazing for $14.95. To take full advantage of the program you'll probably want to download an upgrade that's priced at $13,99 which unlocks Log files, shadows and highlight recovery, noise reduction and a few more goodies. You can get along for most stuff with the basic app but if you can afford it the additional upgrade adds even more control.

As many of you here probably already know Filmic Pro is a powerful software tool for making smart phones into very capable video cameras. You can work in a fully manual configuration and control most parameters just as you would in a video camera or hybrid camera. 

I shot a test roll on Monday, along with the Zhiyun Smooth 2 gimbal. Here are my ungraded results:

I still have a lot to learn about mastering iPhone video and gimbals but I'm ready to do a deep dive and find out as much as I can. My friend, James, took some time to show me how to walk forward and backward with a gimbal in a way that minimizes the up and down motion of walking. It's paying off the more I practice it. 

We won't be using the iPhone as our primary camera for the Zach video projects, mostly because my iPhone XR is limited to a wide angle vision. One other flaw of the iPhone, which was mentioned in a comment yesterday, is the tendency of the native Photo App to over sharpen videos. That seems to be much less of a problem when using Filmic Pro.

The impetus to install Filmic Pro was my realization of how much fun it is to work with gimbals. But after working with my little phone gimbal for a handful of days I'm ready to experiment with other set-ups. I've ordered an inexpensive but well reviewed intermediate gimbal; the Zhiyun Tech Crane V2 (an older generation) to use with my Lumix G9 and I'm taking time this afternoon to charge, assemble and balance the much bigger (and stronger) Ronin-S gimbal that I have on loan to use with an S1 + 24-105mm. 

My hope is that the G9 on the Crane V2 will work well and I'll be able to designate that set-up as my primary gimbal system. It makes sense since the G9 benefitted from a free firmware upgrade that handed G9 owners access to 10 bit, 4:2:2, 4K video files that look really nice. I'm getting great hand held shots from the S1+24-105mm system as long as I don't try for big moves or long traveling shots. Clearly those are the province of either gimbals, or well laid dolly track and a dolly grip. 

Moving on to the Ninja V. I've been very pleased with its basic operation; as a monitor that also records easy to edit files in the Pro Res codec. My one gripe is that the camera and Ninja don't sync up completely. The monitor doesn't automatically start recording when you push the record button on the camera. It's not a fault of the monitor it's down to Panasonic not including an HDMI trigger signal in the S1. If you splash out for the S1H the synchronization works fine. 

Monitors and digital recorders are certainly not essential if you are out shooting your own art or if you've been let off the leash to pursue footage for a client on your own. They do come in handy during those collaborations that include client hand-holding. Many clients, either new to video or just insecure, want you to play back every take to make sure they've got what they wanted before moving on to the next shot. In those instances the external monitors are so much easier to share than having one or two additional people hovering over the back of your camera trying to look at the 3.2 inch rear screen! 

The external monitors are also much more flexible in their placement. I've loved having the monitor set up so it leans away from the camera body and over the lens. It's makes for a much more stable way of holding the camera for a lot of casual shooting. I also love being able to put a camera at the end of a small crane and have the monitor at the other end of the crane where you control the operation. Finally, you can see what you are doing....

But the really interesting thing about the Ninja V is its ability to take 6.5 K information from the S1H sensor or Cinema DNG raw information from a Sigma fp (with available beta firmware in the Ninja...) and write out Pro Res Raw files from them. The implementation from the S1H looks more sophisticated and might be of more interest to fast working pros since the camera works in V-Log and the monitor can use LUTs to show that one is in the ballpark. With the Sigma fp a working videographer will need to make a series of exposure tests to see just how far into overexposure one can get away with in order to raise the shadows. (No Sigma Log file forthcoming...).

But with either camera and a Ninja V you'll be heading into the higher end of what's possible with video. 
It's good to temper expectations a bit though. The Pro Res Raw codec is still a compressed format and while it provides good exposure latitude (at least one full stop in either direction around optimum) the color is mostly baked in and isn't anywhere close to being as malleable as photographic raw files. On the other hand the Pro Res Raw will get you a lot more information on your storage before it fills up, when compared with the totally uncompressed raw files at 12 bit that you'll get directly from a Sigma fp. 

On the video project I've been working on we are still shooting directly to the camera's memory cards. Shooting bigger files would quickly become unwieldy as we're shooting between 30 minutes to an hour and 30 minutes of video per shooting day. If we shot that as uncompressed raw on the Sigma fp we'd be filling up SSD drives about every twenty minutes...and the back end of the process would become overwhelming. 

I'm gearing up for a long and varied day on Saturday. Unwanted mission creep is starting to accelerate its creep-itude. In addition to the stuff I've already seen on story boards we just added an interview style presentation with the managing director who is flying in and then out to do this. So, from gimbal work with a cast of up to 30 on the big pedestrian bridge, to music and dancers on stage we're also adding a completely different set up with different lighting and the need for full audio. Mission creep = the bane of every volunteer project. And the thing that keeps one from re-volunteering for months or years afterward.

If Hercules has been confronted with volunteer mission creep he would have walked away from his labors and changed careers... Makes cleaning stables look like fun...

 

8.23.2020

A Sunday morning spent making video and playing with new tools.

https://vimeo.com/450856968

Blogger seems to have changed the way videos are embedded. You can either upload 

a video from your computer or host it on YouTube. The link above is

where this quick sample resides = Vimeo. Thanks, KT


originally written on Sunday August 22nd. 

I've been working on a video project with Joshua (in house video producer) from Zach Theatre for the last week or so. We've headed to locations around Austin to film actors and dancers doing fun things for short clips. The places he's chosen are popular with Austinites and tourists alike. This morning we filmed a dancer in front of the Stevie Ray Vaughn statue in Zilker Park. We've filmed in front of popular murals and even in the parking lot of a big grocery store chain (one of our sponsors...). And we keep coming back to the big plaza just in front of the Theatre to catch rehearsals for our teams of dancers, for b-roll. 

I'm learning so much about being a one person crew on these shoots. Theatre people are used to working under controlled lighting conditions and are less attuned to things like: Where the sun is in the sky. The contrast of existing light. The need to stay within a dynamic range constraint. How time of day affects the look of a location. And how different focal lengths affect what may or may not be in a shot. That's it's not "okay" to spontaneously stop traffic on a busy street without permits and police (which we do not have a budget for...). 

They are also pleasantly unaware of how difficult it is to grab shots with the camera moving and the actors moving --- without lots and lots of rehearsals --- you know, so we don't crash into each other. But I guess that's half the fun. 

So, part of my job is to gently educate them about all those particulars.  

And, as with most clients, I've dropped reminders from time to time that it takes some ration of time to focus, compose, add fill light, check exposure and tweak the neutral density filters. Just because we suddenly see something fun doesn't always mean we can just turn around and grab it into our camera. 

Every time we all work together we get a tighter and more efficient collaboration. We understand each other's directions and what we need for our shots.  If we do it long enough it might actually be incredibly fun. Right now it's just normal fun. 

But I'd bet my camera could say the same thing about me. That I'm learning and getting better the more often and the longer I have the camera in my hands. A lot of things about this production feel like new stuff for me too. I'm learning to be a lot more comfortable with hand held shots. The secret (besides drinking less coffee) is finding a comfortable grip that you can maintain for a while. 

I used to hold the camera away from my body too far but it was so I could see the little screen on the back. Yesterday I started shooting all my hand held shots with the little Atomos monitor mounted on top of the camera cage and I could put the screen where I wanted it and set the brightness high enough to really, really see a great image. I had the screen tilted back over the lens instead of directly behind the camera. This meant I was looking forward instead of just down. It allows me to hold the camera much closer to my body which takes a bunch of strain off my arms. This makes for much, much steadier files.

I've been practicing my new hold for the last two days and I'm getting better at walking forward and walking backwards but I still need to work on my side-to-side moves. They are choppy. 

The Lumix S1 continues to surprise me in terms of both the quality of the tones and colors in the files generated and also the amazing, almost Olympus-like, image stabilization I get when I take advantage of the image stabilization in the lens + the I.S. in the body. With new holding techniques and the I.S. I'm able to be almost tripod-like for takes that last a couple of minutes... I never thought that would happen.

I've stopped using the auto focus for most stuff because it's easier to manual focus (the Atomos does great focusing peaking indicators!!!) and figure out a depth of field range in which the individual dancers can roam. I'm even starting to get comfortable tweaking focus on the fly with the monitor. 

I started shooting 4K video this morning at 7:15 a.m. to both the camera and the monitor (H.264 to the camera, ProRes in the Atomos) and we finished our last shot around 10 a.m. The camera recorded 28 minutes of video and it spent a lot more time with the power on, in standby. We kept the camera on and kept working on comp and focus as the dancers reset for different numbers... When I got home I was able to download the files to my computer using the last gasps of the first and only battery of the day. That's damn good performance in my book. 

The Atomos Ninja V is nowhere near as good a conservator of battery power and I was on my third Sony NP-F 750 battery when we finally called it quits. 

Would I buy the Ninja V again? In a heart beat. Just having a larger monitor live on our locations meant I could show the producer the images and forgo having to endlessly review after each take.

The video above is not from the Lumix S1 ---- but I'm betting you already guessed that. It's from my iPhone XR and the Zhiyun phone gimbal I bought on Friday. It's an uncontrolled scene when it comes to light but I included it because I am newly fascinated at how much I can move with a camera and still maintain focus while the camera provides very elegant exposure transitions as I move from open shade to full sun. I could have talked about it and described it but I thought it would be more useful to actually see it. 

In my short time with the gimbal I'm already chomping at the bit to get the iPhone 12 for some production stuff the minute it comes out. The 4K I'm seeing out of my phone is over-sharpened but I think I just need to spend some time getting up to speed with Filmic Pro or some other application for the phone. But I am amazed at the performance of the gimbal. Now I'm ready to fire up the big, loaner gimbal, put a G9 and a Panasonic/Leica lens on it and get to work. If it's any bit as fun and smooth as the smaller, cheaper phone gimbal I'll make my benefactor a deal he won't want to pass up. 

I pause for a minute to consider the resources I'm throwing into a long, pro bono job undertaken mostly outside in the heat of the Summer and then I realize how much fun I'm having and decide I just don't care. With some good editing and more great actor performances we'll go a long way toward helping support the theater. And the new toys? I consider them a self-inflicted bonus.

8.22.2020

New Light. I like it. Godox SL 150 II.

This is the heavy, rugged and highly desirable (by me) Godox
SL150 ii. It's a COB LED light with features.
Daylight balanced.

Obviously much attention was paid to cooling. Note the vents on the all metal chassis.

The back panel is straightforward and has a special button (the white one)
that changes the power ranges to turn off the fan. It also comes with a very
simple remote control that only turns the output up and down.

Much attention was paid to heat management. The fan isn't very loud.
It's only noticeable in very quiet rooms. Note also the robust yoke style 
stand connector and the umbrella connector on the bottom. 
Nice. 

I wrote a book about LED Lighting for Amherst Media. It was published in 2010. That was ten years ago. 

LED fixtures for photographers and filmmakers were pretty primitive at that time but I saw a lot of promise, even with what was on the market back then. I purchased a bunch of different LED panel lights and used them for lots and lots of projects, and I could make a good argument that LEDs were useful for nearly all studio still-life projects and for most videos.

At the infancy of the LED revolution for photographers LEDs were plagued with two major faults. First, unless you spent thousands and thousands of dollars on a single light (I didn't) you were going to get lights that had poor color rendering with spikes and deep holes across their color response. This would never have worked for people working in color with actual film but it was possible with digital cameras because you could do custom white balances to cover most of the sins of the lights. If you could measure where the biggest dips in color response occurred you could go a long way towards helping out your lights by finding/assembling filter packs that helped pump up the lost parts of the spectrum.

But that was time consuming. And expensive. And robbed you of many photons.

The other fault of most lights was the fact that their output (sheer level of lumens) was nothing to write home about. I had several big panels that each had over 1,000 individual LED bulbs set in rows up and down and across the panels. But even with several big lights I was hard pressed to get enough light on a subject to shoot, say, a portrait of an active person. If they sat stone still and I could use a tripod and drop the shutter speed way down I could manage but if the person I was photographing was animated and moving then all bets were off. 

One measure of color accuracy is called CRI (color rendering index). My earliest lights measured between 81 and 85 CRI. All of my current lights are billed at CRI 95 or higher. There are other, more exacting measures but this is a good place to start. 

Each successive generation of LEDs made for photographers and film makers has just gotten better and better. And more and more powerful.

Probably the biggest breakthrough was a technology called COB (chip on board) which moved LEDs from a collection of big, discrete lightbulbs spread out on a panel to a single, more concentrated light source that acted more like a focused light than a soft, panel light. These new LEDs generally have a light source that is flat and anywhere from an inch to an inch and a half across. All of a sudden we had lights that acted, in terms of size and beam spread, far more like our traditional, monolight, electronic flashes. 

The Bowen's flash/modifier mount quickly became the "standard" of most makers of economical COB LED units and let all of us working stiffs use the reflectors and speed rings that we were already using on a wide range of flash equipment. Now we can make use of soft boxes and umbrellas in a way that large, flat panels didn't allow. 

My first COB lights came from Fiilex. They were small and not the highest output but it was obvious that they had mastered, to a much greater extent, color accuracy. 

I have owned many other COB LEDs since then, all with Bowen's mounts on the front end. I kept selling them off as newer, more accurate and more powerful lights came to market. 

A year ago I bought three lights from Godox called SL60s. They were the same kind of design style as a monolight flash but all LED. They had 60 watts of power output which was supposed to be the equivalent of a typical tungsten light fixture with a 300 watt bulb. But reality rarely matches conjecture physics....

The SL60s are a great adjunct to four of the Aputure LightStorm LED panels I own and it's really nice to be able to use them quickly, along with modifiers like soft boxes or octabanks. I used all seven of my mix of LED lights  (not counting small, battery powered, on camera-type versions) on my recent shoot at a technology lab and I came away from the shoot wishing I'd had one more higher powered COB LED to provide a giant fill or to use through a window to mimic sunlight.

I started researching what's out in the market right now and came across the Godox SL, FV, and VL series lights. The SL is a traditional COB that runs only off A/C power and provides a fan cooled light fixture with a Bowen's mount and nice controls. It also allows you to turn off the fan and run the light in a lower power mode for close-in video work were good audio is critical. The FV is also a non-battery light but it combines LED illumination and flash (it uses the LED as a flash source so it's not quite as powerful as a much smaller hot shoe flash).  The VL series is the product line that goes toe-to-toe with the Aputure 120D and 300D lights (but at half the price). It uses a three piece power set up that also allows one to use professional video batteries instead of just A/C power. But the VL lights have the separate boxes and cables for the power supply and the control box which take up so much visual space...

There are different power levels available through the product lines. 

Most of my use of LEDs is in studio or on locations that have ready access to power. I was most interested in getting the best mix of light power, price and usability. I went with a traditional SL150 ii. I thought long and hard about the more powerful lights but you gain, in most instances, a bit less than one extra stop of light while you pay for it in dollars and weight. I'd rather have two reasonably powerful lights than one big, monster light. 

The new light arrived last week and works perfectly. It's more efficient than the generation of SL60 lights so it actually puts out more than double their output. The new, faceted reflector is also more efficient. The kit came with a longer-than-usual, and thicker, A/C cable as well as with a set of four way barn doors, complete with a grid spot attachment. Useful for many video lighting situations. 

The power output is both prodigious and accurate. In a large light bank, used five feet from a subject, I'm getting a meter reading of something like ISO  250, f5.6, 1/80th of a second. 

We'll be lighting a live broadcast show in the next month and several of these in good soft boxes will make great key lights. I'll supplement with the smaller SL60's in smaller boxes or used directly on backgrounds. 

This light even has enough output to be used as a mild/weak fill light in full sun. But just barely.....

As I add more powerful LEDs to the inventory I find less and less use for flash. We'll see how it all pans out. 

I'd love to have an even more powerful light in the toolbox but I doubt I'd get that much use out of the difference. 

Fun with lights! KT

The importance of doing fun stuff.

I saw this videographer crossing the street in Montreal. He had a great smile.

Okay. So I'm officially having a fun August. I'm learning to take things one day at a time and to do something I consider "fun" every day. 

My first choices are always to swim and take photographs. Sometimes you have to punt when you can't do your first choices. I guess the secret is not to hold on too tightly to those priorities. 

Today I woke up to booming and crashing thunder and lightning (and some very, very welcome thrashing  rain!). I watched the clock with one eye and the weather with the other and as the minutes clicked by I came to realize that I would not get to swim practice this morning. A bit of a let down since this would have been my first Saturday morning masters swim workout since the dawning of the pandemic shut down. But it's hard to argue with minute-by-minute lightning strikes...

I made a cup of coffee and walked out onto our back porch, sunk into an Adirondack chair, looked over a small forest of trees and enjoyed the smell and coolness of the rain in the early gray of the morning. Except for the occasional peel of thunder it was a soft and quiet way to wake up with the day. 

I'm booked on my video project tomorrow morning so the next swim will be on Tuesday. That's okay. I was a bit sore after four in a row...

Now it's midday and the sun is out. The temperatures are still in the 70s. What a fun afternoon this will be for a long, long walk with an eager camera. I have no plan or agenda for the walk other than to get out and feel the weather on my skin and to see what my city looks like with its ozone creatively rearranged by nature. That means I'll probably take along a less than serious camera. Probably a Canon point and shoot. 

If I get out in time I'll make sure I plan my route to slip by one of my favorite coffee shops for a toasty cappuccino. Because that's fun.

But before I head out the door Ben, Belinda and I will have our traditional Saturday lunch together. Last time I was in the house I got the distinct impression that we'll be having burgers and fries from P. Terry's. Almost healthy fast food... When we get our chow we'll sit around the dining room table and talk about all the different things we're up to and laugh and kid around with each other. Later, I'll circle back to my job/hobby. My "Jobby"?

I always couch my purchases of things like monitors and lenses as necessary for the execution of the business but the reality is that I love how some of my equipment can make photos and videos look so good. I've been making video for Zach  Theatre using the Lumix S1 with the 10bit/422 upgrade and it's been looking great. I did a cursory look at footage we shot on Wednesday right after we shot it, just to make sure we had the basics covered. 

But this morning I had time to bring it up on the 5K screen in Final Cut Pro X to see what we "really" got. I had such a contentment rush. The footage looked incredible. We shot video of a beautiful and talented Zach dancer in the parking lot of a grocery store, early in the morning. I won't go into all the details but the story line is that as she walks up to her car to stow her groceries she hears the lyrics to Dancing in the Street. Our dancer starts moving to the rhythm of the song and then breaks into a full on dance. (Sponsor's grocery bags with prominent logos in the background). 

I had such a feeling of satisfaction today when I really looked at what we'd created. The acting and the motion of the dancer was so natural. The video stuff was just about perfect and the feeling of happiness as expressed by our actor/dancer felt so genuine. I'd worked in enough video sessions in the week leading up to that scene that my camera holding looked steady and I followed my actor perfectly. The color balance (hey!!! do a custom white balance!) was on the money and the exposure was airy, open and still clinging to every last highlight (although I would have been happy to let the bright spots go, if I had to). 

So, in the moment of looking at the footage (and making sure it's backed up in three places) I felt like "fun" had come home to roost in my office once again. Now I'm looking forward with a certain giddiness to the next video shoot. 

That would be this evening. I heard the pre-professional kid actors would be rehearsing this evening for their part of our upcoming production. The rehearsal will be outdoors and I want to catch some great incidental shots that we might use in the final piece (also called: B-Roll). So I asked if I could attend with a camera. 

Since I have a new Ninja V digital recorder and monitor I'm excited about switching gears, camera-wise, and using the Sigma fp for a change. I've got it encased in a Smallrig cage so I can anchor the Ninja monitor right on top. I'll be recording the 10 bit raw files (24 fps) directly to the Atomos Ninja and bypassing the need to write the raw files to an external drive and then transcode them. I can't wait to see what kind of color I can get and also how minimal I expect motion artifacts to be. But most of all I want to capture the expressions, gestures and energy of the dancers. I want to see kids having fun making art.

Tomorrow is another early morning of video shooting with three or four locations scheduled before noon. I'll be back on the comfortable camera (familiarity brings serenity when it comes to some gear) tomorrow but I'll still be digging in to the Atomos. 

But I'll drive the director a bit nuts because I also intend to bring along my new phone gimbal to try out. 

Fun means so many different things to so many people. To me it's being able to do something extra and unencumbered to generate...satisfaction. Creating is fun. Family is fun. Projects that have a good heart and nice goals at their center are fun. And yes, of course, playing with really good gear is fun. Swimming is fun but so is watching movies on the big couch at home with Belinda. And fun is that great novel that's sitting there, bedside, patiently waiting for me to read. 

That guilty Snickers candy bar I munched on this week was fun. Getting back to work is a lot more fun that I remembered.

Being up and out and alive and engaged and surrounded by love and happiness is so much fun it almost feels dangerous. Just what I'm thinking about on a Saturday while waiting for the rest of the family to get hungry. 

note added: Ben just came out to the studio to take my lunch order. Looks like I was right. It's burgers and fries. I did make one nod to "healthy eating," I asked if they could make my burger with a whole wheat bun. That ought to make everything okay!

8.21.2020

I bought a gimbal today. I already know how to use this one. It didn't take long....

 


I don't know if you can tell in the writing but I'm really enthusiastic about video these days. The project I'm working on for Zach Theatre is allowing me to exercise all those problem solving skills that have made photography so much fun for so long. There's always something new to learn about video and I also get to play with lots of new toys. 

When my friend, James, lent me a big and complex gimbal I thought I might have trouble becoming tolerably proficient with it. It dawned on me that I've never used a modern gimbal before and always told everyone that I preferred shooting on a tripod but mostly because I was afraid that a moving stability device might outwit me and finally expose my blind spot for stuff like that. Too many buttons and options. 

But a wise video guru suggested that before I get too deep into the Ronin S I might want to pick up one of the newer gimbals that are designed to work with smart phones and spend some time getting acclimated in that way. I was leery of the advice but when I got to the camera store I found out that the cell phone gimbals are relatively cheap so the cost of a failed learning curve wasn't going to bankrupt the family and swipe food from our table. 

I opted for a Zhiyun Smooth Q2. It cost $130. I brought it home and watched two ten minute tutorials about set up and use and I charged the battery. While taking a break from my fascinating play date with the Ninja V digital recorder I finally fitted and balanced my iPhone XR and turned the little machine on. It works exactly like I thought it would. Minutes later I was swooping around the office making short but very stable videos and imagining how I'd use this device for some highly mobile shots to pepper in between the more staid and conservative shots I'm also making with the bigger cameras. 

Won't it be embarrassing if the Q2 and the iPhone blow away the S1s and the Ninja? I can't wait to get out and embarrass myself. 

If you have any good hints about gimbal use; especially with iPhones, be sure to let me know in the comments. 

I knew that phone would come in handy.....

Gearing up for better video. Five days of shooting informs some workflow tweaks. And spending money is always a guarantee of success. right....

 

On a walk with my friend, Emmett, out in Dripping Springs, Texas.

Further and further down the rabbit hole. 

Working out of the studio, on remote locations all around town, is a quick way to find out where your weaknesses are when it comes to shooting video. Sometimes it's just a lack of talent. No arguments there. But other times there are bits of gear that make jobs quicker, easier and...yes...better. 

For example, a stock Panasonic Lumix S1 offers up nice clean video right out of the box but it's a pretty pedestrian spec. It's 8 bit, 4:2:0. whether you shoot HD or UHD. I didn't think I'd see a big difference when I grudgingly shelled out the $200 for the upgrade that unlocks both V-Log and also 10 bit, 4:2:2, all of which can be written to internal memory cards. Now my skies have no banding and the camera is more tenacious at hanging on to highlights. The improvements are readily observable on a 5K Retina™ monitor. The files really aren't any bigger but the colors are clearly more nuanced. 

Once I saw the benefit of the 10 bit, 4:2:2 files and (still in the learning curve) the flexibility of shooting high contrast scenes in V-Log I had to buy the upgrade for my alternate S1 camera since we often use the pair as "A" and "B" cameras on the same shoot. I needed for both of them to have matching files.

That started me wondering about the visual difference between compressed L-GoP files and less compressed, ProRes files which are also All-I. The more I thought about it the more I became convinced that shooting directly to Pro Res was probably a preferred way to work, if the clients have the budgets and the extra time I might need for editing. 

I have a bigger, older Atomos Ninja Flame digital monitor and recorder but it's big, heavy, cumbersome and sucks batteries dry with reckless aplomb. Sad to also find out that the Flame can't be automatically triggered to start recording when you hit the record button on the camera. 

What we're doing right now in video is centered around following moving talents as they dance and sing in uncontrolled, exterior spaces. While the camera does a pretty good job with the dual I.S. Once you add a big gimbal to the mix you are right at my tolerance level for weight. Add an older, seven inch, dual battery Ninja Flame to the mix and you end up with a top heavy package that will slap down a new and shorter time limit to your hand holding tolerance. Not optimal for longer shoots, at all. 

The seven inch screen on the Flame is great and it works well on A/C power in a studio setting but it's hardly the a good part of a hand held or monopod mounted system. I recently started paying attention to the new, smaller, Ninja V which uses a five inch screen and only uses one battery, but I thought I should be a good business person and either soldier on with the gear at hand or just default to Long GoP files and the use of the camera's very good rear screen or EVF. 

Then I heard that Atomos was offering support in the Ninja V for the Sigma fp's raw files!!! That perked me right up. You can write files from Sigma's 12 bit DNG raw files directly to the Ninja V and save them as either Pro Res Raw files or garden variety Pro Res files via the digital recorder. 

I'd been looking for a way to get more daily use from the Sigma fp and this was the perfect conduit. I can shoot the big raw files and I can also shoot 1080p 120 files (in 8 bit but still with 4:2:2 color sampling). 

The Ninja V is great for use with the Lumix cameras but I'll still have to push "record" on both the camera and the recorder. With the Sigma there is an electronic HDMI trigger that syncs up the two perfectly. 

I picked up a Ninja V today from Precision Camera and I've been playing with it since lunch time (it's now after 6) and it does all the things I love about Atomos monitors. You can punch into the image to magnify for fine focusing while you are rolling! You get waveforms and a vector scope. If you are shooting V-Log in your S1 you can bring up a Rec. 709 LUT so you and your client can see what the image (might) look like after it's graded instead of showing a client a super flat file and asking them to use their imaginations.

The new, smaller Ninja V takes the Master Caddy system cartridges that house SSDs. I have a nice stack of them which I bought a year or two ago for the Flame. A bunch of 256GB SSDs that are just begging to be used. We have a lot of the Sony NP-F batteries since these seem to be universal. 

We'll start working with the new monitor tomorrow afternoon on a big dance number out in the open plaza in front of the theater. It's definitely an S1 shoot and not an fp shoot and that's cool. The one thing I don't have for the new monitor/recorder is a sun hood but I've got lots of black wrap and I think I can press some of my Boy Scout training into action to make a DIY hood that should work.

I also bought a silly gimbal. More on that next.....




8.20.2020

Just out walking around with the GX8 and the Meike 25mm t2.2 cinema lens. A lovely day. Just lovely.





















Tell me about the hat first and then tell me about those crazy gloves. Okay?

 


This is my second copy of my favorite hat. I bought the first one from REI Outfitters after one of those droll visits to the dermatologist who described some small growth on my face as an "actinic keratosis" and decided that we should eradicate it with a few stingy blasts of liquid nitrogen. The doctor gave me a stern lecture about people of Scottish and German heritage running out in the sun in Texas and pushed me hard to wear more sunscreen and wear a good hat. "Not a damn ball cap! But a hat with a wide brim all the way around." He was pretty adamant. 

That was about five years ago and I got pretty attached to the hat. It's one of the few I hadn't accidentally left somewhere or sat upon and destroyed. It's not "cool" enough to pass the millennial eye-roll test so you probably will feel a little fashion squeamishness if you are under 60 but if you are a bit over that hump you probably don't give a rat's ass about what people think of your hat as long as it prevents your doctor from slicing off parts of you down the road...

I was out walking on one of the days when the UV was hovering up near 11 on a scale of one-to-ten and I came across someone who needed the sunblock power of the hat right then and there. He liked the hat and complemented me on it so I pulled it off and handed it to him. I'm usually more selfish but I think the heat was playing with my sensibilities. I figured I had more hats at home and, what the hell?

But I misjudged my affection for the hat. I decided that I really liked it and, when out for a long walk aimed at boring readers with obvious camera observations, I really missed it and it's preventative magic. So I walked over to the local REI store to buy another. 

The hat is made by a company called, "Sunday Afternoons"™. (added after, thank you! Gordon): The model of hat is "The Havana."  It comes in a medium and a L/LG size. There is a band under the inner hat band that will allow you to adjust the size a bit. The store at 6th and Lamar only had medium sized hats and they didn't work for me. I wanted the exact hat I had before; large. 

The clerk at REI suggested I order it from their website. He checked and they had it in inventory. I came home and ordered it and the transaction details let me know that I could expect to see the hat in one week. It came to my house the next morning. That's killer service!!!!

The cost of the hat is $34.95. It's extremely comfortable and it's got a super high SPF rating. My dermatologist would be so proud, if I took the time to show him. You should get a hat just like this and then we can be twins. 

You should never get a Tilley Hat until your crest 70 and have given up caring about how you look altogether. They aren't as well ventilated for heat dispersion and they cost too "bloody" much. (See how I stuck "bloody" in there? It's because Tilley Hats are the Billingham Bags of hats and are quite pretentious in that insufferable, "I know it's expense, doesn't disperse heat and looks like I'm on a misguided safari" sort of way. Just don't do it. No matter how technically proficient they seem to you. You have to have some standards in life...  

And, by extension, do yourself a favor and don't be caught dead with a Billingham Bag. Not even the Queen of England model. People will constantly remind you that you could have bought a really useful lens for the same kind of outlay. 

Always remember that Duane Michals used to show up for five figure budget advertising shoots with his camera and lenses stuff into a shopping bag. And he turned out to be a pretty good photographer...

Also, never buy a Jaguar automobile. Ever. 

Now, on to those crazy gloves. I was rummaging around in REI looking for more cool stuff to prevent skin damage and to make my outdoor life more comfy. I found these glove-lettes (gloves minus a few parts) and they profess to both keep the backs of your hands protected from sun damage and also, because of some miracle aspect of the fabric they are made of, to keep your hands cooler. They wick moisture (sweat) and the evaporative cooling actually works. As a final benefit they have grippy little dots on the palm facing surfaces that help one hold onto a camera. The are made by a company called, Outdoor Research. 

To sum up: less sun damage. Less sweat on the camera. Grippy dots to prevent dropping the less sweaty camera. I wore them all day today and will head back to the store for a couple more pairs. And then it will get cold outside (eventually?) and I'll put them into a drawer and forget about them. And next year I'll rediscover them and be a little amazed and concerned. But mostly happy to have them. 

None of this stuff looks fashionable, chic or even un-nerdy. But if that bugs you then don't spend time outside. Just put on that tuxedo and hang out in the air conditioning. I'm sure that sounds fun............