9.14.2020

_____ Theatre's "Red, Hot and Soul" coming via live stream on September 26th.


Chanel singing a medley of ________________ songs. Freeze frame from 4K video shot on a Panasonic G9+Pan/Leica 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 mounted on a DJI Ronin-S gimbal. Filmed on the stage at the ______ Theatre. 

More event info: Zach Event

Video production: Joshua Cummins, Producer/Director

Kirk Tuck, Cinematographer, camera operator

Volunteering? Just remember: "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished." 

9.02.2020

Thinking I'll take a break from blogging about photography. It's hard to justify the time required. Photography has changed so much in the last 11 years. And so has the internet.

Studio Dog instructed my family in "how to leave on a high note." 

Boy, blogging sure has changed over the last eleven years. We used to talk as much about gear back then as we do now but it seemed more important at the beginning. People were still transitioning to digital from their filmic pasts. Gear was improving by leaps and bounds. Mirrorless cameras were in their infancy and it seemed that DSLRs would rule forever. LED lighting was on very few peoples' radars. Portable flashes were the hot photo topic - that, and full frame cameras. 

Now writing a photography blog seems like a "boomer" activity only. My audience has steadily declined except for those days when I write something about micro four thirds cameras. Comments, which I always take as indicators of interest, have also declined. I liked sharing my knowledge about photography and how I practiced it but our way of life has evolved into something quite different and our need to know trivia and details about the craft have faded significantly as everyone's post production skills have improved.

I'm more interested now, commercially, in video and I fully understand that for many of you who visit here that video is way down on the list of your interests. I think the deepest plunges in readership come on the days when I write something about making movies or the foibles of recording audio. As I fall deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of video I see myself writing less and less about new photography gear and new picture making practices. And spending less and less time waxing nostalgic about how we "used to do it in the old days." 

I have recently (finally) come to grips with the whole concept that, in what's left of the commercial imaging world, you can do quite well with a smart phone and a suite of programs to enhance your smartphone photos, with less hassle and less time spent than "doing them the right way." 

When commercial photography was thriving the blog seemed like an important way to keep connected. When I had books to share it seemed like a good way to point toward the books' mini-sites on Amazon.com. But now I have nothing to sell, little to share that I haven't already shared, and little reason to continue on in the current milieu. A break is in order.

Belinda and I are looking forward, after the vaccine or some other future miracle, to doing a lot of traveling while my deepest interests lie in shooting photographs just for myself and also making little black and white movies with my ever-changing collection of cameras.

Most of the people that I know are now more comfortable sitting back and watching someone entertain and (mildly) educate them via "internet television" than they are sitting down with a cup of coffee and (God Forbid!) reading a longer form blog post. 

Funny, I've shut down the blog before after particularly harsh and confrontational encounters with trolls on the web but this time there is no antipathy, no vendetta and no awkward push. Just a sad realization that we've run our course here (for now) and have both run out of topical things to talk about and also run out of opportunities, in the moment, to do the kind of work I love sharing. I think we've all had enough graffiti and isolated walks through a shopworn and empty Austin downtown landscape, and the photographic souvenirs from such walks.

I've met a couple of dozen of you over the last decade and enjoyed every encounter. Some of you have become good friends. Some of you were loyal and valuable commenters and, even cheerleaders. 

I think I need a spell of rejuvenation and rediscovery. I'm not interested any longer in writing books. I'm not particularly interested in the nuanced mechanics of blog writing. Or inadvertently serving as a unwitting marketing resource for camera and photo product companies.  I'm not anxious to watch my writing devolve into some personal pathos about lost life opportunities, bad decision making, therapy or diets. Or "how we did things in the golden age of photography."

Finding myself straying from the core mission of pursuing Visual Science is in itself disturbing. But I'm sure we'll all get over it and move on to enjoying other pursuits. If you need more information about swimming you'll find wonderful tutorials at: the YouTube channel: "Effortless Swimming." 

Ming Thein wrote his farewell last week. I'm not so final. I'm just going to say: "See You Around." 

I'll leave the comments open for a week or so in case anyone has questions or comments they'd like to share.
We'll also leave the 4,653 existing posts up in case any particular article resonated with you and you'd like to copy and paste it into your own archive. I'll be back when I'm smarter and more experienced. And hopefully more interesting.

I would say that Michael Johnston might see his readership bump up a bit but the truth is that most people here are already visiting theonlinephotographer as well so there's probably little outside our cozy Venn diagram of readers to harvest. 

I am not retiring from my profession. I am not angry or aggrieved. I am not physically unwell. I am not mentally distressed. It's safe to say that I've just run out of anything interesting (to anyone but me) to write about for now. I'll be back when I've rediscovered my "north star." 

Here are a few of my favorite images posted over the years. Take care of yourselves and enjoy photography however you choose to practice it. My website is: kirktuck.com 















"Give him a week or two and we'll be right back in the mix..." -anonymous commenter.

 

Having Spent the last three weeks filming moving pictures I decided to buy an appropriate camera. So much more interesting. S1H.


After spending a serious chunk of time making video over the last three weeks I've learned more about what I really want in a video camera. I do want a camera that is big and robust so I never have to worry about it overheating and shutting down. I made frequent use of the waveform feature so that's a must. The camera should not only record nice, Long-GOP files but should also be capable of shooting ALL-I files for those times when I want to keep motion artifacts to a minimum. Or make post production faster and easier.  It has to be able to write 4K, 10 bit, 4:2:2 files, even ALL-I files, directly to internal cards. It needs to have great color profiles; and enough of them for any use imaginable. It has to have good audio capabilities and an easy-to-use audio interface for all those times when I'm doing the one man crew style of shooting. It has to have a great EVF. It has to have a full size HDMI port. And it has to fit in with all my existing cameras and lenses.....because....batteries. 

Nice stuff to have but not absolutely essential for most of the stuff I currently shoot would include: A luminance spot meter, a fan to keep the sensor from getting too hot, big, dedicated buttons to start the video. The ability to output and record color bars and tone. The ability to set video exposures with shutter angle instead of shutter speed menus, the ability to work seamlessly with an Atomos Ninja V monitor/digital recorder and finally, the potential to output crazy, intense, detail rich, and highly malleable ProRes Raw files. For those times when you have to try for the next rung on the ladder. 

I had few complaints about my long day spent with a stock Lumix S1 shooting video last week. The camera, and a smaller, less expensive model (G9) in the Lumix line up, were both sterling performers. I did wish I could have shot some of the scenes that contained lots and lots of movement with ALL-I files but I doubt more than a handful of people would notice the difference in the final mix. I could have shot to the Ninja V and the resulting Pro Res 422 files would be ALL-I but the S1 and the Atomos V don't automatically sync their stops and starts and the last thing I needed was one more thing to think about. Plus our editor works in Premiere and I'm not sure how that program handles Apple's Pro Res files...

Having an S1H wouldn't necessarily make everything "better" image wise but there are enough features in the camera that it would make everything I do with video easier, smoother and in some situations, more self-contained. For example, when shooting ALL-I files I would not have to bring along an external monitor/recorder if I wanted to travel light. 

While an S1H and a bigger lens isn't ever going to be a preferred solution for drone work or use on consumer gimbals it's the perfect camera (when used with dual I.S.) to handhold (nice mass), put on a monopod or use on a tripod. That makes it a great solution for all the interviews we end up doing and just about any narrative project I want to do. 

I was sitting in front of my computer going through last week's files yesterday when I got e-mails from two different P.R. companies; both of which were looking for bids/estimates for video projects that are very similar to the project I'm working on now. The timing seemed fortuitous. I looked forward in time and ruminated on how I'd like to handle those projects and I kept coming back to the S1H. So I hopped into the Subaru and headed to Precision Camera. I walked out with a brand new S1H, sealed in the box.

Of course, I spent a couple of hours messing around with it last night and I'm very impressed. The shutter has a wonderful sound to it. It's big and husky. The menus seem rich but familiar. It's just what I thought I was looking for. 

We've got a few smaller projects to get through this week and I'll use it for video on those. Then, on Sunday, I'm going to be on location on a river photographing a doctor fly fishing. I'll use the S1H as a photo camera then; just to see how well it fills that role. 

I'm happy with the collection of S1x cameras I have in house. With the addition of the S1H I now have representatives of the high res version (S1R), the all-arounder (S1) and the video-centric body (S1H). Each fills a good, functional niche for me. 

Weather: Finally, the heat wave is abating. We've got rain outside for the first time in a good, long while and that's great since we were heading for drought territory. The frog who lives in my French drain will be so happy. The temperatures are supposed to be moderate ( highs in the low 90's) into next week along with ample chances for rain. I even saw a prediction for one day with a high in the 80's and a low around 60°. We'll all be euphoric. 

Swimming: Two good days in a row and looking forward to a noon swim tomorrow. I found a shampoo and body wash that's the first really effective anti-chlorine solution for swimmers. I've been testing it in my outside shower and after a week of having skin that doesn't itch, hair that doesn't feel like burnt grass, and no chlorine cologne smell I went back to Austin TriCyclist and bought out their stock. It's called, Thinksport.

The project is "Shampoo & Body Wash". And their tagline is: Safer Products for Healthier Athletes.
A subtitle on the tube reads: "chlorine remover." It's little stuff like this that makes me happier while the world around us falls apart....

Nothing exciting in the workout today. The main set was 10 x100's where you sprint a fast 25 that progresses through the distance as you progress through the set. So, on the first 100 yard swim you go fast on the first 25 yards and then cruise through the next 75. The next 100 starts with a 25 cruise, ramps up to a sprint 25 and then ends with a 50 just cruising at 85-90 % effort. And the progression continues in the same way, rotating through for a total of 1,000 yards. We had other stuff in the workout but that was the set that stood out for me. 

Today: I'm slowing down today to try to clean and organize my studio space. After weeks of messing around with video gear my office is a mess. A cooler, rainy day seems like just the right time to do some office work. I'm sure I'll get bored at some point and head out for a walk. We'll see how much discipline I have left. 

Work seems to be flowing back. We had planned to be able to retire from working for $$$ now and we've planned well but all of a sudden good, fun clients seem to be bouncing back and offering projects to work on. Seems like too much fun (and optimism) to pass up. Maybe I'll retire next year....

Biggest announcement: As I am turning 65 at the end of October I have just received my Medicare Card in the mail. I hope we can vote the wannabe tyrant out of office in November so my benefits don't get "privatized" (Latin for financial rape) out of existence. Should be fun though to stop paying for private health insurance after 35 years of freelancing. I'll feel stinking rich. Well, relatively speaking. 

Anyway....new camera. New fun stuff to think about.


8.31.2020

In defense of big, fat, heavy cameras...at least where video is concerned.

 

Lumix S1 with SmallRig cage and the 24-105mm lens.

I suppose that the majority of cameras buyers now consider smaller and smaller sized cameras to be the most desirable to buy and use but I strongly disagree about this based on practical matters and actual use in my region.

The rush to making mirrorless interchangeable cameras as light and compact as possible seemed like a good goal when our number 1 use of cameras was to go out all day and shoot "street" photos and other casual work for pleasure. Hence the success of smaller, lighter full frame cameras like the Sony A7 series (which is now experiencing a growth spurt..) the Canon R series cameras and the Lilliputian Nikon Z cameras. Of course all these cameras are glamorously small and especially so if you choose to use a small, slow zoom or a pancake prime lens on the front of them. Much of any advantage there is to "smallness" is, of course, lost when the owners pursue a divergent philosophy when it comes to buying and using lenses with them. 

People go on and on about the advantages of smaller camera bodies and then insist on buying big, heavy and cumbersome "pro" zoom lenses the size and weight of a large can of cling peaches. Then the combination becomes a bit unweildy and tougher to handle.

But the real choke point in usability is down to the body size affecting reliability and performance more than anything else. At least when it comes to using these "hybrid" cameras as video cameras. 

Canon brought out two cameras (R5, R6) which have been immediately savaged for their shortcomings when it comes to thermal management. Seems the sensors and processor throw off tons of heat (and not just at exotic video resolutions) but the cameras aren't built to wick heat away efficiently and that's mostly down to the fact that the electronics are air gapped instead of being anchored to heat sinks and in a tiny body crammed full of non-moving parts there's just no where for the trapped heat to go. Also a smaller body means less magnesium alloy understructure so what heat sinking exists is reduced proportionately. 

After experience a deluge of posts and videos about the Canon overheating dilemma videographers seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when Sony brought out their newest A7SIII. Seems the majority of reviewers didn't experience overheating problems...until some did. Both Hugh Brownstone and Dan Watson experienced shutdowns in ambient temperatures I would consider....cool, or pleasant. Well under 90° f. 

Hugh Brownstone conjectured that it might have something to do with the size and construction of the lens mounted on the body with the idea that bigger lenses with more metal construction tend to reduce the heat load by somehow wicking the heat out of the body. Sounds a bit dubious to me but odder things have happened in the universe.

But in the same video Hugh does state that his primary video camera for the last three years, the Panasonic GH5 (which many poo-poo as being too large "for an M4:3 camera) has never experienced an overheating issue or even the signaling of a heat issue in all the years he's used it and in all the hot Summers the camera has lived through. 

My experience with the S1 and the G9 cameras from Panasonic bears out my understanding of camera construction, size and heat management. My G9 spent four and a half hours of relentless on time in direct sun in high temperatures and high humidity. Much worse conditions than the tests that reviewers have used in the getting both Sony and Canon cameras to quickly hit their limits and to, in fact, shut down completely. In fact, the G9 logged nearly 75 GB of high data rate, 4K footage without a hiccup or complaint. 

In the weeks leading up to my Saturday (camera torture test) I used the Lumix S1 extensively in even higher heat (some days with temperatures reaching 105°) and never experienced even a hint of thermally motivated recalcitrance. 

It seems that there is a body size that is optimized for the actual production of video rather than the implementation of gear fashion. Sony, et al have stepped over (under?) that line and are now taking public lashes for their flawed and (commercially) dangerous camera design flaws. But I guess they'll get away with it because both cameras focus so fast for the five or ten minutes in which they are usable. Not sure if that's a trade off I'd be comfortable making. Or explaining to clients on a tight time schedule...

While the smaller, lighter cameras might be the perfect solution for "stills only" photographers or people who are recreational users of video we're still in an era where there are technical tradeoffs between popular design choices and actual, functional reliability. 

The benefits of a larger body also extend to a less crowded disposition of external controls, better handling with larger and heavier lenses and the ability to take larger batteries. There is also an argument to be made that the larger cameras deliver, along with heat management, a more robust build that should stand up to daily, professional wear and tear better. 

In nearly every consumer product category that depends on people handling the product (as opposed to just listening to or watching the product) there is a variability to choice. Some people value size differences more acutely while others are more drawn to implied or actual reliability. To each their own but I voted with my dollars to opt for reliability in use over cosmetics. 

And, if there is a perception that some cameras are too heavy for some people with limitations...well, I certainly understand that. But if I am shooting video for money (or passion) I'll probably pick an older and much more (heat) reliable GH5 over a small, light full frame recent Sony or Canon any day of the week. 

Just my two cents. 

Bidding Adieu to a valuable and always interesting blog. Ming Thein moves on...


I've never met photographer/writer/watch designer Ming Thein but we have corresponded. Inspite of never having engaged face-to-face I've always enjoyed reading his take on photography, gear and life. He's one of the few photographers I've come across who can think, write and present at a velocity that I find correct. I always felt like he and I approached writing on our photographic blogs from the same perspective: write fast, post now and don't look back. Where Ming's energy far exceeded mine was in his ability to answer every comment attached to a post. He might, on a busy day, have posted dozens and dozens of polite and considered replies, and the answers he provided were either based on his hands-on experiences with gear or a process, or they were just smart. I'll take either. 

I am not writing this as a eulogy because Ming (the actual person) is not on his way out; existentially or otherwise. I am writing this as an appreciation of all the hard work, knowledge and insight into our field he shared and the sheer entertainment of following someone whose life is so different from mine and yet has so many intersections. My perception is that with the collapse of travel, and the lack of opportunities to flex his photographic muscle, he's turned to other pursuits and feels that this is a good time to leave. And to leave on a high note. It also looks like his horological business is taking off.

While Ming has announced that he's finished writing about photography on his blog he leaves for us a rich lode of really interesting reviews, ruminations, photos and opinions. And, he's written that he'll be leaving the blog and website up for the time being (no longer accepting comments...). I don't know how long "the time being" might be but if you have an interest in reading his posts and diving into another photographer's brain then here's the link: 

https://blog.mingthein.com

I highly recommend it as a source of great information, interesting opinions and, for me, an insight into a man from the other side of the world. 

Thank you, Ming Thein for all the joy, fun and insight you provided on your site. I will miss this valuable resource!!!

8.30.2020

An after action report of the outdoor/indoor, 13.5 hour, video shoot with a cast of 60+ in the heart of Austin. A surprise camera emerges as the ultimate workhorse...

This is the S1 fitted with a Ninja V and a Beachtek audio interface. 

I packed the night before. There were too many variables for me not to bring too much gear. And the schedule for Saturday was ambitious; to say the least. I packed three different cameras, five lenses, twenty different batteries, a rolling case of LED lights (and we used everything in the case) as well as an audio kit that contained lav mics, reporter mics, and a couple of shotguns with furry, wind covers. I also brought along both the Zhiyun Crane gimbal (used on the vast majority of shots) and the gimbal for the phone (which never left the car). 

I crawled out of bed at 6 a.m. and made a breakfast of coffee and peanut butter and jelly on toasted sourdough bread. I wore a Cool 32 white undershirt under a Sportif long sleeve technical shirt. A well broken in pair of English Laundry short pants, Merrill hiking shoes and, of course, my wide brimmed hat. 

With so many cameras and valuable other stuff in the cases I didn't load up the car the night before. I hoisted all the cases into the Forester by 6:45 and drove over to Zach Theatre in the dark. I checked in, met up with the producer/director, got my temperature checked (97.3°) and immediately got to work setting up for an interior shot we were scheduled to do at 12:30 pm. It was a standard interview style shot with three lights and a teleprompter. I'm a bit "old school" when it comes to audio so if I have the choice between wireless mics and wired mics I still prefer to go with the latter. With the prevalence of phones and the generated interference everywhere it always seems less tedious and fraught with peril if I just hard wire stuff together.

Lighting consisted of a Godox SL150ii LED in a collapsible soft box as the key along with a Godox SL60 in the same kind of box from the back/opposite corner and then one SL60 with a grid spot, barn doors and a blue filter to hit the background with. Once I had everything set up and tested the producer and I moved on to a quick discussion of the morning's shots. He wanted to use a gimbal and do a lot of moving shots. I'd tested various camera loads on the gimbal and found the day before that the smaller and lighter G9 with the 12-60mm lens was the "just right" option for that kind of work. There are a few caveats but for the most part it was a good decision. 

Ben and I also ran a few tests on color profiles the day before since we knew we'd be in hard sun for most of the morning and, because of intransigence on the part of the owner of the project, our schedule would put us in a situation where there was heavy side lighting and back lighting to contend with. I'm sure our ultimate client's real concern was getting actors filmed before we got to the high temperatures for the day. Scheduling 60+ actors, singers and dancers has to be a struggle... And with different levels of fitness it can be dangerous for some.

At any rate Ben and I played around with the HLG color profile in the G9. It's real name is Hybrid Log Gamma but I think HLG is just fine. It's a file type that was created for HDR TV but it works like most Log files to compress tones in the highlights so they don't burn out. It takes a little bit of work in post to get a pretty file out of it but you'd be amazed how powerfully a well exposed HLG file holds onto highlights. 

The G9 has HLG as an option and it also has an HLG View Assist which basically uses an in-camera LUT to show a normalized view of what the file will (might?) look like once it's processed into a REC 709 color space. I found, when processing, that the profile keeps color accurate, requires a bump in overall exposure, and a curve to push up the contrast. Add more saturation to taste. 

But since I am not editing the project I sent along some HLG test files to the producer/director/editor and asked him to evaluate the files within his workflow (Adobe Premiere). On the morning of the shoot he gave me an enthusiastic approval of that color profile. All good so far. 

At 7:45 a.m., with face masks on and the ambient temperature already 86° with high humidity, I grabbed the gimbal with the Panasonic Lumix G9 and the 12-60mm f2.8/4.0 and we headed over (200 yards) to the wide pedestrian bridge over the river that separates Austin's downtown from the residential neighborhoods of South Austin. We had our favorite stage manager in tow. She would serve as the talent herder and all around facilitator for the entire day. We could not have done what we were able to without her! Creative talent can be unruly and keeping them all in one spot and listening to direction is a major challenge by itself. Fortunately our stage manager has worked many live shows with most of the talent assembled and knows how to nicely but firmly get everyone on the same path.

Our first shots were of individual actors who would walk, dance or sing (all the same song. all lip sync'd throughout for editing purposes) while I handled the camera and gimbal. I have now thoroughly mastered the art of walking backwards (at any speed), walking forwards, crab-walking sideways, and doing 180° walkarounds while keeping an eye on the camera's monitor (adding an external monitor = too much weight on the gimbal and in a configuration that requires too much re-balancing) and not falling on my ass. 

We used as low an ISO as the camera would allow. That's ISO 400 with HLG engaged. That meant we had to use neutral density over the lens for all the shots. Even with strong neutral density over the lens I was impressed at how well the G9 held on with continuous AF. I rarely lost AF connection with the subject, even with lots of camera and subject movements and lots of pushing in and out (walking toward the subject and walking away from the subject). 

Our first few individual shots weren't too tough as far as lighting went. We still could find suitable locations with a bit of open shade and foliage in the background but by 8:45 we were in for the roasting. As the morning went on we went from single talent scenes to groups of five to seven actors and dancers executing well rehearsed choreography, moving towards and away from camera. Some scenes required moving from a tight shot on a "star" singer in a group and taking the camera backwards to reveal the entire group as they then came, briskly, toward camera. I quickly learned how to "reverse pace" them and move backwards at a matching speed. 

By about 9:30 the "mercury" (old school term for thermometer) was heading towards 95 and the heat index was over 100. Actors showed up already covered with a sheen of sweat generated by the 200 yard walk from the air conditioned theater. Our support crew supplied ample face towels and folks would swab off their faces just before we'd start rolling on a scene. 

All the way through we needed to stop and review footage to make sure we were getting what the producer needs for the upcoming broadcast. I'd fashioned an LCD hood out of Black Wrap (heavy duty, black aluminum foil) and gaffer's tape. It was still hard to see if we were in full sun but, fortunately, anytime we stopped for reviews someone on the support crew was right there holding big umbrellas over the producer and me to shade us (and the monitor) from the harsh light. Crew members also delivered ice cold bottles of water throughout. 

We worked our way through dozens of groups and at least as many individual shots up on the bridge. The most complex was a shot that started with a singer on a park bench at one side of the bridge. He looks out over the lake and then, as if having heard a call from beyond ( the music) he gets up from the bench and walks toward the middle of the walk way and starts traveling across the bridge. I am moving backwards in front of him trying to carefully maintain the same distance throughout. As he moves towards me pairs of actors from either side fall into step behind and to the sides of the principal actor until we have a delta of performers all dancing as they move right toward camera --- which is constantly backing up to maintain distance and composition. We end that shot with the principal pointing at the lens and smiling into camera. 

This was one scene that hadn't be rehearsed in advance but everyone fell into place pretty quickly. Since we did not have the bridge to ourselves a couple of takes got blown because of a runner or family ending up in the shot but when I review our final take I feel like a SteadyCam operator on a Jason Bourne movie. It just worked so well.

Our last shot in the morning took us to noon. The producer/director and I had been on that exterior location for nearly four hours. We were hot, tired and suddenly realizing that we'd only gotten through the first third of a long day. By the time we left the bridge location we'd filmed over 60 actors in various groups and single shots. Our tally of takes was over 100 for the morning --- about 75 gigabytes of 10 bit, 4:2:2 H.264 video. 

I guess I don't have to tell most of you that gimbals are pretty amazing. The Zhiyun Crane gimbal I was using never missed a step or acted up. The better I got the balance the better it performed so I rebalanced whenever we changed focal lengths or did anything to disturb the original balance. We used that gimbal to shoot all day long and never saw the battery indicator drop below 60%. And for a lot of the time that was in temperatures over 95° coupled with high humidity. I'll never go on a video shoot without one again!

With a long sleeve shirt, a cooling, evaporative neck scarf, a wide brimmed hat, "ice" gloves and sunscreen on my legs the only complaint I have from the morning's shoot was that I couldn't wear my polarized sunglasses and still see the comp on the screen (which is critical to operating a gimbal mounted camera). I had to either wear reading glasses or my bi-focals. The bright light and, I guess, the need to concentrate second-by-second on the screen as well as my surroundings, left me with a bit of a "optical" headache for the rest of the day. I don't know how I could have prevented that...

Over the course of four hours of shooting, chimping and client reviews we ran through two batteries with the G9. I tried, whenever I was not shooting to either keep the camera and gimbal in whatever small shade I could find or to cover them both with the small, white shop towel I kept hanging from my back pocket. The camera, shooting at its highest res and highest bit rate (4K, 150 megabits per second) never overheated or showed an overheat warning. Sure, it's three year old technology but it's running rings around the dreck Canon delivered a few weeks ago. The Canon might have a nicer overall image quality but it hardly matters if you're keeping a cast of 60+ waiting around in full, tropical sun while your camera cools off so you can shoot another five minutes before you need to cool it off for another half hour.... you'd be out of business by that time..).

Using a Delkin Steel USH-11 128 GB card in the camera we had no card or write issues at all. It just worked perfectly every step of the way. 

A little after noon we headed back to the theater and the wonderful cool of the air conditioned space. I walked in the door and headed straight back to the area in which I'd set up an interview scene earlier that morning. With a bottle of Gatorade on hand I finished the set by adding in an S1 camera on a tripod and wiring a lavaliere microphone to the Panasonic DMW audio interface sitting on top of the S1 (that S1 was the one without a cage and brought along specifically so we could get this shot with the audio adapter in place rather than messing with rearranging the cage and monitor clamp on the other S1. Good to have multiples...). 

We tweaked the sound, made the rounds to ask everyone to be quiet and then miked the managing director for the theater and walked her through her performance a few times. She read the teleprompter, gave an adequate speech (plea for money) and by her third run through we felt like she had warmed up and given a very nice and authentic presentation. She smiled and thanked me and was off to the next fund-raising opportunity. 

At 1:15 p.m. the producer/director and I had our first actual break of the day. We sucked down liquids, ate lukewarm tacos from Torchy's Tacos and checked for messages on our phones. We were both wiped out at that point. But we rallied. I credit the massive influx of water and coffee. 

After a quick lunch and a thorough hand-washing I spent the next half hour breaking down the gear from the "interview" set and re-packing it all in the cases. I spent most of that half hour admonishing myself for not hiring a good assistant; even though it would have been out of my own pocket. It would have been nice to have someone I could trust to re-pack and take care of the gear. Over and over again. 

After stowing the lighting and sound gear I moved the remaining camera cases into the theater auditorium and got everything set and balanced for the afternoon shoots. We'd have groups of the same actors and dancers executing the choreography for each of their numbers; again, in sync with the soundtrack that our audio team had pre-recorded in the weeks leading up. I brought in our "A" camera case with the G9, and S1 in a cage. I also brought in the gimbal, a tripod and a monopod with a fluid head ( which I like very much as a quick production tool). 

This was a fun part of the shoot since we didn't have to worry about getting absolutely fried by the sun and also because I got to collaborate with my favorite lighting designer who, with iPod in hand, worked with me to make light that both looked dramatic and fun enough but also stayed within the exposure parameters of my cameras. A benefit I almost never have when shooting live shows. We also worked almost exclusively up on the stage apron which is something I never get to do in rehearsals and live shows. 

I used the Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm during most of the dance numbers with the G9 on the gimbal. I'd start with a wide establishing shot and then move in and circulate through the dancers getting close enough to isolate them individually. It's important to watch one run through of each number and try to memorize where each person is through the piece so you can plot a course through that doesn't end with you and your camera crashing into a pirouetting dancer. Always bad form. 

Since the stage show is still a work in progress we had a lot of "hurry up and wait" times as the choreographer and the show director (different from my producer/director) tried variations which we would then film--- only to have them modified and ready to be filmed again....and again....

There were a number of set-ups with actors and dancers on stage in which we wanted the lead performer to come downstage and end at a specific mark in front of the camera. We'd put a flourescent tape mark on the floor and then have a stand-in take the position so we could carefully focus and frame. Using the 24-70mm f2.4 S-Pro allowed me to use manual focus settings that were repeatable so I could mark a position on the lens that gave use a good focus on the ensemble and a different focus point that was our pinpoint end stop and I could accurately "rack" focus between them to get the best effect. It's more certain and repeatable than depending on continuous AF; especially when dancers are crossing in front of each other--- which is confusing even for the finest auto focus systems. The other part of shooting like this is making sure you rehearse the moves and make sure the actor can actually hit their marks...

After hours and hours of stage work we changed batteries in the primary cameras and took a fifteen minute break for receiving and re-distributing fluids. We also took a moment to breeze through a bunch of our takes on the stage to make sure we nailed what we needed to nail. It looks like we did. 

Our final shoots were back outside. It was nearly 7:15 p.m. and the cast was dragging. (No dinner...). We needed to shoot a legendary singer lip syncing to the music she'd recorded with our audio team earlier in the month. We wanted to film her alone first, on the big plaza in front of the theater, moving the gimbal mounted camera around her in a 180° half circle as she performed. At that point some delays (not on our part) started creeping in to the schedule. When we finally had the actor our daylight was on the way out and we had a split lighting situation where our actor was in open shade but there was still weak day light on the face of the building. Also, the open shade had no contrast to the light. It was flat as a pancake. I ran inside and grabbed my most powerful LED light (SL150ii) and an open faced soft box (diffuser removed) and rushed out to set it up. It was just the punch we needed for that shot. 

Then we needed to do the actor/singer's performance again but with a crowd "arriving" at the theater and stopping to marvel at the open air singing. And to dance. It took forever to assemble and rehearse the crowd (totally out of my control) but we grabbed the scene with the last few photons of the day. At that point we had two more quick but important shots to do and our daylight was on fumes. The scenes were way too wide and encompassing to light (and we didn't have any time) so I switched from the G9 to the S1 on a monopod and moved all the way up to ISO 4000. We got the last two shots by the skin of our teeth... but we did get them. 

At 9:00 p.m. we started packing and wrapping. You'd think it would have been cooler after the sun went down but according to my phone it was still 97 degrees. I dragged my gear back into the office at home base around 9:30pm and went into the house looking for food and wine....and water, sure. When I woke up this morning I felt like I'd been hit by a truck. I guess eight or so hours with a gimbal in your hands adds up to a decent workout.

I was looking across the web today while eating breakfast and came across a video by Jared Polin (Fro Knows Photos) where he talks about having shot a bunch of non-repeatable video in London and having his memory card go tits up. The card manufacturer tried to recover the data but was unsuccessful. I thought, for half a second, about all the set ups, all the actors, and all the behind-the-scenes efforts that went into making yesterday work and I stood up from the table and almost ran into the studio. I grabbed the G9, the camera with 80 % of our work on it from yesterday, took a deep breath and started the transfer from the memory card to the big 10 GB HD I'm using as the primary back-up. I held my breath for the next 18 minutes as I watched the progress bar slowly wend its way from left to right. On completion I spot checked some of the 200+ .MOV files and sighed a big exhale of utter relief. 

Then I downloaded the work from the other two cameras onto the same hard drive. I hooked up the SSD I'm using to shuttle work to the client and also the HD I'm using as a secondary back up and put the files on these drives as well. So, we've now got the files backed up in three places and as soon as the producer/director gets the shuttle drive he'll do back-ups on the theater's servers as well.  Now I can go in search of a peaceful cup of coffee and curse Jared Polin for temporarily scaring the crap out of me. 

The project isn't finished (we've got a couple more shoots scheduled in the next two weeks) yet but this was the hugest and most nerve racking single day for everyone. We have one or two high profiles performers to go but nothing like the time commitment and sheer size of cast as yesterday's shoot. I learned so much about moving the camera all through the video. I'm coming from a different background where we mostly were concerning with static interviews and complacent b-roll. I feel like I'm starting from scratch and that's both scary and fun. Fortunately, at this point in life, no one is really depending on my photo/video income for....anything. And the price of failure will be measured only by the wounds to my ego and not to my actual survival. Not a bad way to work.
 

8.27.2020

Heading out again today to shoot some b-roll and to test a new gimbal. After today it's all battery charging and judicious packing...


 I had so much fun with my phone gimbal I decided to buy a gimbal for my m4:3 cameras. Specifically the G9 with the Pan/Leica 12-60mm on the front. I chose the Zhiyun Crane V2 because it was well reviewed and cheap. Really cheap. But I guess that's typically the case on past tense products. I know that newer gimbals have more options, can be driven to do more things with smart phones, and have programmable modes but for right now my gimbal needs are simple and I'd rather learn a few things in depth than tons of things in a shallow way. If my needs change I'm pretty sure there's always going to be gimbals out there to upgrade to. 

I'm shooting easy stuff today. The road up to the state capitol building. Some static shots of the lake with the sky in the background. Some landmarks. Joggers on the train. Signage at Barton Springs. And anything else that catches my eye. My real mission is to understand and comfortable with shooting the G9 + gimbal combo and learning the basics. I always think of things in terms of swimming so in my terminology this is doing drills. Drilling the basic moves into my brain. 

Swimming. It's nice to be back on a later schedule. There's something disturbing about getting up super early in the morning and hitting the water while the sky is still deep black. I did the 8:00 a.m. workout today and to be honest I really dogged the whole thing. I worked on technique. I reveled in slow flip turns. I did a lot of backstroke so I could watch flocks of birds fly over head. I doubt I got in more than 2800 yards but it all felt so good. The water (amazingly!!!) is right at 80 degrees, which is five degrees cooler than the water coming out of my garden hose. Perfect to swim in and a very, very refreshing way to start a day that's destined for heat indexes that are scary. I need one more workout like this before Saturday's shoot...

Hurricane news. It sure looks like Louisiana got hammered today by Hurricane Laura. All our hotels are full of weather refuges and the city has also opened the Circuit of the Americas (F1) racing compound to temporarily house the flood of people who fled the storms. It's a good time to make donations to the Capitol Area Food Bank and any other helpful charity you might like.

Kitchen news. Our leak was fixed by an incredible plumber named, Herman. He dropped by and replaced two 25 year old valves with better, brand new ones and the total cost for his house call and same day service, including parts was $120. I went out to the studio, rounded up all the rest of my (non-camera essential) tools and put them on the front curb with a sign that reads, "free tools." I'll never bust a knuckle again. 

Camera news. You know that Canon must have received an overwhelming flood of criticism about the overheating issues with their two new cameras because they've already gotten out the fastest firmware upgrade in the history of camera marketing. I think most of it just resets the clock in the cameras that timed out the unit and blamed it on temperature regardless of actual temperature readings. I hope people who review cameras will take the new firmware into consideration. 

I'm patiently (?) waiting to see if Panasonic will introduce the three lenses I've been waiting on along with the upcoming S5 camera body. The lenses are supposed to be the 24, 50 and 85mm f1.8s. My hope is that they'll be small, sharp and less than half the price of the current S-Pro juggernauts. I love the results of the current lenses but would love lighter lenses for those times when you just want to include a camera on a lighthearted hike.

Tomorrow will be a day of mellowness in preparation for Saturday's marathon movie-making. More to follow....

Hoping your studio is A Clean, Well Lighted Place. 

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...