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.