5.12.2017

A Perfect Saturday Morning. OT: a swim post. Proud to be sedentary? Don't read this.


There are some things I just don't do with my camera and one of them is swimming. I suppose I could rivet a Go Pro to my head and document every stroke but I'm pretty darn sure the audience for the resulting images/video would be about one, and even I would tire of it quickly. 

We have two masters workouts on Saturday mornings. One is the serious/low conversation/high yardage workout that goes from 7:30am- 8:30am while the second is a more crowded, boisterous, engaging and eclectic workout - from 8:30am to 10am. Make no mistake though, while we have fun in the later workout we do get our yards in. 

Last Saturday I woke up early for no good reason at all and decided to go to the early workout. I had a big glass or water at home and drove the mile and a half on quiet, almost empty streets. I hopped into lane three with Ann and Tom and we followed Ann as she dragged us through each set on tight intervals that I could barely make. It was great to watch the sun come up over the hill next to the pool and send beautiful rays of light through the (almost) crystal clear water. 

I was tired at the end of the first workout but stayed for the first half hour of the second workout. I probably swam in four different lanes; just to mix things up. 

The Western Hills Athletic Club seems to be one of a fading type of club --- one almost completely dedicated to the sport of swimming instead of being a social club for upper middle class networking. Kids workouts and teams trump everything but masters workouts are still a top priority. The club has no food service, no bar, no service staff. Just lifeguards, a pool manager and a freelance tennis pro. You mostly come here to swim. And usually you come to swim hard. 

I've spent so many beautiful days here over the last twenty years. Saturday was a wonderful day of swimming and recharging. I'd write more but I'm heading over to participate in the noon masters practice today. I wonder which former gold medal winning Olympian will be our coach today? 





Camera: Panasonic G85. 12-60mm f3.5-5.6

5.11.2017

Back in the driver's seat at VSL. Had a wonderful shoot in OKC but now have to wade through the post production. What worked and what didn't?

Steve, at our lake location. A quick lighting test. 

Our trip to Oklahoma City was a fast paced affair. My client and I flew out from Austin on Monday morning, arrived in OKC mid-afternoon and immediately headed over to our primary shooting location to meet the our contacts and scout the locations. When the project started on Tuesday we shot video and stills; intertwined. I went without an assistant on this adventure and I'm happy I did. I was able to handle what needed to get done and I didn't have to keep track of anyone else. I like having my hands on all of the controls.

Lots of the photographs and video content were done in the available light of a well lit research facility. This meant that I leaned on my lighting kit less frequently than I usually do. I won't say that I over packed here because I did use all three of the lights and light stands that I packed, but the need to light was much more about getting the right aesthetic than it was just providing enough photons to operate. The two, plastic, Amaran 672W LED panels travelled well, as did the smaller LED panel I toted along. I came home with at least 50% battery power remaining for every light.

I also packed one Godox flash unit, along with its cute radio flash trigger and used it only in one sequence of shots in an exam room where I wanted total control of the light's color temperature. The lithium battery in that flash is pretty amazing and I was able to bang off a hundred perfect frames at half power without making a dent in its capacity. I love using small flashes to light "big" by bouncing them into wall and ceiling intersections. It's a fun technique. And being able to sit at camera position and control power output is always a lazy man's bonus...

I bought and used Andrew Reid's (EosHd.com) formula for setting an optimum picture profile for the Sony A7 and RX cameras. It's a method of fine tuning color and contrast in order to get nearly perfect files out of the cameras, ready to deliver. I have to say that it worked really well. The profile set-ups he suggests are clearly intended for video work with those cameras but worked for most of the outside images I created; both as photographs and video. It was a very cost effective expenditure; a whopping $15 for a big savings in post production time on many of my set ups.

Here's the way the camera use broke down: I used the A7Rii for almost all of the still shots I produced. I shot in uncompressed raw and I'm processing the 600+ images in Lightroom. About 12 of the images need some additional care (retouching out a lens that creeped into the image, dropping out a background for a social media photo request by the client, etc.) and I'll drag them into Photoshop and fix things that are either unflattering (I'm no strict journalist) or goofy mistakes on my part.

The remaining files were grouped and post processed this morning and I'm writing this as they export into folders as Tiffs with LZW compression (client mandated format....).

I know I was hesitant about buying a 28mm lens for my A7 cameras but in retrospect I am glad I did. We were working in some tight spaces and it was great to have a sharp, fast wide angle that wasn't so wide that it would cause too much perspective craziness. The 28mm f2.0 is small, light and very sharp in actual practice. I also used it to very good effect in a number of exterior shots in which the subject needed to be prominent and the background pushed away. I've given the 28mm focal length the cold shoulder too often. It can be nice. I'll be using it more often.

The other two single focal length lenses I took along feel like variations of old friends. One is the 50mm f1.8 FE and the other is the 85mm f1.8 FE; I am delighted with both of them and they each performed flawlessly. I amazed myself by finally having the discipline to limit myself to a trio of primes instead of bowing to my usual anxious overkill of having overlapping zooms, supplemented by a bag full of obscure primes for, you know, just in case stuff...

The other camera I took along was the RX10iii. I used it for all of the b-roll video and as the "A" camera for the interviews we did with our subject, Steve. The only video I took with the A7Rii was when I used it as a second angle camera for the interviews. I didn't bring a second tripod but mounted the camera onto a Leica ball head and mounted that to the 1/4 inch screw on top of a small light stand. Sure, there was some vibration and movement when I turned the camera on but it subsided before we got the interview into full swing, and, as long as no one touched the assemblage it was solid as a rock. Funny, a $50 light stand and a 50 year old ball head filling in for a $1,000+ video tripod ---- and doing a damn fine job. As long as no one tries to pan it...

I fed audio into the camera from one of the Saramonic SmartRig+ pre-amplifiers which was attached to a Rode NTG-4+ on a Gitzo boom pole. I was able to monitor the audio with headphones plugged into the camera's headphone jack. It worked well. I brought a second microphone along but didn't need to use it. I also brought along a second Saramonic SmartRig+ but we'll file that desire for redundant back-up under excess gear anxiety...

The only issue I've ever had shooting video with the RX10iii is achieving good manual focus, even when using magnification. The problem was finally solved for me by, again, Andrew Reid. In his instructions he advised that for many types of shots it was wholly unnecessary to set the camera to the little movie camera icon and then shoot. In that mode the camera only gives on 5X magnification of the frame and at a lesser resolution! If one leaved the camera in the regular "M" mode one can fine focus using magnification all the way up to 16X and will be doing so on a much higher resolution image (the still frame versus the reduced resolution video frame). The result of doing it this way is much improved focusing parameters. There are two downsides, only one of which is critical. The first downside is that you view the frame in photography 16:9 when in the "M" mode but when you push the red record button the frame shrinks a bit. This is a pain mostly if you are wedded to a very specific crop. The second issue could bite you on the ass. When you are outside the dedicated video mode (little film icon) you give up manual audio level control and the camera defaults to automatic level control. That's okay if audio is not important to the shot but for interviews it's pretty important to be able to set levels that stay....level.

I got into the habit of focusing in "M" mode and then switching to the dedicated video mode to shoot interviews. It worked well. The "M" mode focusing was a revelation for all the b-roll shots. Just a great way to shoot with manual focus.

The new Manfrotto case worked well as did the more seasoned Tenba rolling stand case (it always amazed me when it arrives someplace new with all of the bottom casters and wheels still attached).
I was able to toss in a shirt, boxers, socks and a shaving kit of the second day so I passed entirely on taking anything for "personal" luggage.

There were no direct flights to OKC from AUS so no matter how you do it you're going to spend some quality time in an airport in Dallas. I like to fly Southwest so I knew I'd be spending a couple hours each way at Love Field. It's nice. Only one terminal and only 18 gates. You won't miss a tight flight because the tram was out of order or the distance between terminals too great. A bonus is that Love field actually has a Whataburger in the terminal so that native Texans can get their burger with chopped jalapeƱos. Airport comfort food?

There is only one thing I hate about traveling these days and that's the making of calculations about when to head to the airport. I always go early. I've been burned by crazy traffic en route to the airport, to car fires shutting down the main parking garage and the human roadblocks at TSA checkpoints caused, on a regular basis, by the mass, temporary migrations of people coming to or escaping from Austin concerts, events and conventions. The check in lines in our moderately small airport can be as long as two hours. But if you choose too early you'll have an equal number of experiences where you arrive, slide into a parking place and hit the airport at a time when you are the only one standing in front of a Sky Cap and the only person going through security. At those times you might wish you had slept in another hour or wish that you hadn't splashed to for the TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry. But then you visualize that Whataburger with those spicy peppers, smile, take a seat and read that great novel you brought along... Ah.....JalapeƱos....

Two cameras was just right. The trip was just right. Now I hope to get the post production to the same level. It's good to be home. Someone has to nap on the couch with Studio Dog....

5.07.2017

A mundane post about packing gear for traveling to shoot both photographs and video.


I'll be at the Austin airport first thing Monday morning. I'm heading out of town for two days to shoot a project that requires both video and photographs. It's not an especially complicated project. We'll be shooting two separate interviews and then we'll need video that shows our main subject engaged in activities of daily life. These will include walking with his dog and fishing. We'll need close up shots of the client's product in all phases of these activities. The interviews will take place inside an office and the active shots will take place outside. The photographs need to feature the two subjects from the interviews working together (patient and clinician) as well as a few "product in use" photographs.

We travel and scout tomorrow but scouting tomorrow doesn't help much with packing today. I tend to want everything I need close at hand on assignment and I know we only have four hours with one of our subjects on Tues. If we need additional gear there's no time to run out and get more; we'll just have to figure out a way to proceed with what I've packed. 

In my main case (above) I've got: two large, 672 W Aputure Amaran LED panels, in their cases. I also have a smaller Amaran LED panel snugged in next to them. In the center, front area I have a big, sturdy Manfrotto fluid tripod head, and in the same compartment (just under the blue  case with the gray/white target) I have a Pelican case with a set of Sennheiser wireless microphones. On the right side of the case I have two different shotgun microphones, headphones, two preamplifier/phantom power devices as well as my usual Beachtek XLR to 3.5mm adapter box. There is an Ikan shoulder mount for shooting video and two 25 foot XLR cables; along with lots of connectors and adapters. 

Somewhere in the front of the case is a Leica tabletop tripod with a ball head. 

In the rear section of the case is a big set of Manfrotto video tripod legs. The legs are sharing the space with two Chimera 4x4' collapsible aluminum frames and several kinds of diffusion cloth. In a pocket in the same compartment is my Skidmore College-branded, wood paneled pocket knife; it's basically a Swiss Army knife with convenient things like a screw driver blade and a cork screw. 

The case is a Manfrotto as well. Fully loaded, in this configuration it weighs in at about 35 pounds. 




My next case is a Tenba 40 inch, rolling light stand case. I have three medium weight Manfrotto light stands and two nano-stands strapped in as well as a microphone boom pole, some grip heads, and various reflector cloths as well as two Westcott collapsible, shoot thru umbrellas. This case will also get a small shaving kit as well as a pair of pants, a pair of extra socks and a shirt for the second day. 

The case has casters on the bottom and bigger wheels at one end. Packed as spec'd it weighs in at about 30 pounds. The two big cases get me up and running for an unmanned microphone on boom pole for interviews and they also get me lighting control for the interior shots, as well as possible overhead diffusion for close up exteriors. Being able to toss in shirt/pants/socks, etc. saves me having to pack any sort of suitcase. I'm flying Southwest Airlines so I get to check both of these without hassles. The final case is the camera container. 


It's the same Amazon Basics Photo Backpack that I used when I went to shoot in Toronto in February.  I've got it packed with a Sony A7rii, an RX10iii and a complement of three prime lenses; the 28mm f2.0, the 50mm f1.8 and the 85mm f1.8. I'll lean on the A7Rii for the interviews and depend on the RX10iii for all the action/moving/dolly/handheld shots. We're shooting 4K. 

Also in this case are eight batteries for the cameras, neutral density filters for all the lenses, cleaning cloths, a Godox flash and a remote trigger for the flash. The bottom right compartment and the one just above it are stuffed with big lithium batteries for the LED panels. You are no longer allowed to include lithium batteries in checked luggage. Now the weight gets added to the carry on. Ah well, safety first... I'll add to this collection my phone and its charger along with a vintage/retro 40GB iPod that I recently re-discovered in the clutter on my desk and have been enjoying immensely. It's nice to listen to music and not be interrupted by phone calls or text notifications...

That's pretty much it. I'm overpacked and under packed as usual and, if I knew for sure in which direction I was erring I would lighten my load, but I have a duty to come home with good, useable content and it's not going to make itself. 

Why a small backpack instead of my ThinkTank Airport Security case? Hmmm. Well, on two of my recent short jaunts I had a connection delay and even though I had arranged for early check-in I was one of the last people to get on the plane. The overheads were full and my roller case had to be gate checked. I pulled the cameras out and wore them but I still fretted about the lenses. On a different flight we ended up doing one leg on a regular commercial jet and then the second leg on a much smaller regional jet and the overheads were too small for anything bigger than a backpack. Yep. Another gate check. I wanted to stop tempting fate with my gear and it seemed smarter to just pack down a bit and find something that would both fit and be portable enough to jog with all the way from one end of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport (yes, I had to do that to make a connection on the last trip..).

Travel sucks these days. If I can get to my destination in six hours or less in a car I'll do it but for anything else air travel still makes sense. That doesn't mean it's fun, it just means we (generally) save time. But traveling with gear these days always turns into a nail biter. Will it get there? Will it still work? Will our cases be held for baggage fee ransom? Are there ever enough light stands? Why do extension cords weigh so much? 

When I write something like this there is always a chorus of voices suggesting that I ship everything via Fedex. Yeah. If we were staying in a big hotel like a Four Seasons or a W I'd consider it but a lot of the time we're heading for a rural area and we're lucky to find a nearby LaQuinta or Holiday Inn Express. Not sure I trust that set up for basic gear security. And....we've had stuff lost in transit before. My take is that if you want to be assured of an item's use on arrival it must travel with you. In the cabin if possible. 

So now you know how I spent my weekend. It's a process of charging batteries, putting things in cases and then thinking better of it and taking them back out of the cases. There is no perfect way. But if you think you know of one, please share.