A Few Thoughts About Shooting Green Screen.

West Texas Rest Stop. 

I'm resistant to shooting "off the cuff" green screen for clients. Like anyone not directly in our business clients tend to have a simplified view of the technique required to do it well. We use green screens in order to easily drop out the green background behind a subject and replace the background with a different image. Compositing is so easy in still photography now that one rarely even needs to bother with a green (or blue) screen but video comes at you at 30 frames a second and it would be more than a little time consuming to go into each frame and do selections, etc. so green screen is still standard if you want to layer in a different background behind a person or object in video. 

Like everything there is a right way to shoot green screen and a wrong way. The wrong way is to set up a green background without lighting and hope that available light and luck will get you a clean enough background to composite. It kinda works but requires a lot of post production masking to deal with variations in tone and color that make automated background drop outs tough.

I've done half-assed green screen in the past with reasonable results but I'm shooting a big video project tomorrow for a larger ad agency. It's mostly green screen and I wanted to understand the best way to do the work and what kinds of things to watch out for. Nobody likes having to make excuses

A Short, Celebratory Note: Another Mile Stone.

Barton Springs Pool. My new Monday morning habit.
1/8th mile long. Temperature +/- 70 degrees.
A great training pool for distance swimming.
Not too crowded at 6 am. 

The counter on the VSL blog just clicked over the 23,000,000 mark. That's a count of page views which happen here on the site. The Google counter for all reads (RSS, etc.) now exceeds 90,000,000. I'm pretty happy with either metric. I use the 23,000,000 for analytical purposes. 

We've shared over 3,000 posts in the last eight years. We're in the middle of a slow motion embrace of video but I still consider myself a photographer. The core audience I write for is fellow photographers.

I appreciate all the loyal readers I've gotten comments and e-mails from over the years and look forward to many more. 

Occasionally I put up little Amazon ads but I've made it a rule not to ask for donations, not to do Kickstarter campaigns and not to work as a shill for any manufacturers. I hope you know that the writing comes from my honest opinions about trends and photo-philosophy, and my discussions about gear derive from my having purchased said gear and pressed it into use for my own commercial enterprise. Although I do reserve the right to discuss new gear that I don't own but find interesting enough to consider.....

Your only responsibilities as a reader are: To enjoy the writing. To share your knowledge and opinions in the comments. To comment with compassion to the author and to fellow readers. To disagree with me when I've run off course (but gently, gently). To share the blog with like minded friends. That's it. 

I hope you'll stick around for the next 3,000 posts and be part of the next 23,000,000 views. It's been a fun ride so far...


An Audio and Video Sample from Sunday's Interview Sessions. How does it sound? How does it look?

So often reviewers will write about products without having any real skin in the game. They use the  cameras to shoot "real world tests" which generally involve pointing the handheld camera at a cute person across a table from them in a murky coffee shop, shooting with no thought for the lighting, and then posting the brutally compressed results as "samples." Occasionally they'll present the raw version of the file to allow readers to download and play on their own.

I sometimes do something similar in that I spend a lot of time walking around downtown Austin taking snapshots and then using them to illustrate what I write about here. But generally I try my best to present work we've actually done for clients to showcase the performance of certain pieces of gear. It's better to do it this way you, as a reviewer, are trying to use the equipment exactly as you would use it for a paying job, because.... you are using it for a paying job. Or a real and ongoing personal project.

I've recently been writing a lot about the Panasonic fz2500 camera and how much I like shooting it as a production video camera. I've done a few projects with it that I've posted here including my Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill  video. In this article I'm posting a small clip from a new series of interviews that Ben and I shot last Sunday. There will be a series of five interviews and my edits will become social media content to help sell the play. The material will also be repurposed for television commercials and public service announcements. In other words, real "real world stuff. "

 While the clip above has been compressed by Vimeo.com this too is part of the "real world" scenario. This is how clients will use it. We'll test and tweak and load and re-load until we find the best exposure for the compression....after making all the edits.

What I am attempting to show here is the quality of video I am getting from the Panasonic running into an external digital recorder. We filmed in 1080p, 10 bit, 4:2:2 and brought the files from the recorder into the Final Cut Pro X timeline. The compression makes the video just a bit darker than our reference monitor and just a bit more yellow...we hope to compensate for this in our finals.

Of special interest to Ben and me is the quality of the audio. You have to understand that we were filming this in a room with metal walls on one side (which you can see in the video) and a full wall of glass windows with no window treatments on the opposite side. I'm using one Samson C02 microphone on a boom about two and a half feet above my subject's head. There are industrial bar refrigerators operating in the background that could not be turned off. In spite of any of these obstacles it's my opinion that the audio is very good; very listenable.

I've tweaked the video slightly. I dropped the saturation a bit and pulled 2 small points of green out of the mid-range area. Nothing else has been done to it.

The audio is absolutely straight out of the camera. No E.Q. No sweetening. Not even a touch of level control or loudness normalization. The thing that impresses me is that this is audio from the shooting camera, our microphone runs into the pre-amplifier and then into the microphone jack and is finally written to the SSD in the Atomos recorder. The sound is not from an external audio recorder.

The combination of the different microphone, the introduction of the Saramonic SmartRig+ preamplifier to our tools, and a better understanding of audio level settings seems to be delivering very clear and detailed sound with no hiss or noise (other than room noise...).  It's performance that I am happy to be able to achieve with such an inexpensive camera combined with an even more inexpensive microphone.  Curious to know if you are seeing and hearing what I am here.

At any rate, this is authentically a "Kirk Tuck" real world sample ---- from the world of commercial content creation.


Follow up to previous post... One made with electronic flash instead...

This looks totally different to me than the image I posted on the previous blog. I like both of them but this seems like a more substantial portrait. I'm not sure if I am mostly responding to the pose and the expression or if I like seeing all the detail in Sara's hair and wardrobe.

Curious which one you prefer.

This was done with the same A7ii camera but with the Sony 70-200mm f4.0. It's really a delightful combination for portraits. I wonder why I ever stray to other set ups....

A portrait made with a 135mm f2.3 lens, shot wide open. Always wondered what that looked like.

Sara and I had just mostly finished up our portrait session. We'd been shooting with flash and the Sony A7ii with a 70-200mm f4.0. I noticed that the afternoon light looked really nice coming through the diffusion I had up over the window so I asked her to be patient while I found my 135mm lens in a drawer. It's a manual focus lens so I was depending on the focus peaking feature in my camera to help nail focus. I'd pretty much given up shooting wide open with long fast lenses when using traditional DSLRs because I had so much trouble with front and back focusing at various distances with that style of camera. With the Sony cameras I am getting my close focusing, wide open confidence back again.

I shot a selection of images with the camera on a tripod and then we called it a day. 

Today I noticed that Sara had selected several of the wide open images. I retouched them in my usual way and sent them along. I really liked the feel of this one so I wanted to share it here. 

The long, fast lenses are why I am loathe to consider changing systems from Sony.....

Here's the lens I was using: 

A mind blowing microphone revelation makes my day. Talking video production here...

Samson C02 Microphones.

Like nearly everyone who enters the field of video as a generalist I always thought that the choice for on camera interview microphone was either between different brands of shotgun (hypercardioid pick up pattern) microphones or between different brands and models of lavaliere microphones. Then one day I stumbled across a person on the web named, Curtis Judd. He's got a terrific YouTube channel that's all about professional, production audio for video. The information there is pretty amazing and the bonus is that he has a thoroughly professional, on camera-demeanor which makes his video programs a joy to watch. 

Here's the latest video that tweaked my thinking about recording dialog: Curtis Judd/Mics

It was here I discovered the Samson C02 supercardioid (and super cheap) microphone and came to understand it's usefulness and high quality as an indoor dialog microphone. Here's that article: Curtis Judd/Samson C02. But first let me back up and explain what I learned....

When I started getting back into video it seemed  that every article I read and every magazine that discussed video production recommended getting a good "shotgun" microphone. These are microphones that have strong


Sony A6500 and the Panasonic GH5 are locked in a struggle for my attention. And my cash.

Portrait of Jennifer. Triathlete.

The Summer months are interesting. Everyone in Austin tries to escape from the heat and business slows to a crawl. We've kept our heads above water at VSL with a series of portraits and some nice corporate day jobs but in all honesty the second half of June and the first half of July gave me plenty of extra time for swimming and thinking (dangerously) about the state of camera offerings and the shifts in my business that might call for the adoption of new gear. I know that this is all a silly rationalization that stems form having too much time on my hands and an avid appetite for change but it feels real to me all the same.

I'll start out by admitting that there's no rational reason for me to buy yet another camera. I think the Panasonic FZ 2500 is an exemplary camera for the style of video I like to do. I think the Sony A7 series cameras and lenses are great for portrait work. I think all the cameras I own (with the exception of the A7ii) do really nice 4K video and I think they all do great still photography when used in situations where their strengths fit the parameters of the photographs. I hope I come to my senses and keep my cash in the bank. It would be the smart thing to do with the kid heading into his last (and most expensive) year of college. But I'm not always the most practical person when it comes to good planning versus instant gratification, and in this regard my fellow photographer friends are no big help. Two of them actively encourage me to buy, buy, buy and there's no paucity of targets of photographic allure at which to aim.

There is the old saying, "the grass is always greener on the other side." I'll add my favorite variation: "The water is always faster and bluer in the next lane." I think it is human nature that no matter how good or well researched is the equipment in your camera bag you will always suspect that there's a different system or camera that may be a better fit for you or for the imaging tasks you currently have in mind. 

When I bought the majority of the nuts and bolts of my Sony system I envisioned that photography would roll along at a merry pace with only a few transient dips in what would be a long and graceful decline from relevance. I knew I needed cameras that would crank out decent video but conjectured that moving pictures might constitute only 20 or 25% of my total income; the rest being derived from my traditional, commercial pursuit of still photography. And yet, here I sit a year and a half later contemplating the reality of my individual market --- that in 2017 over half of our income has been generated by video productions. 

If I really dig down deep and think without emotions clouding the metrics I would have to admit that all the work that generated this income was done with the cameras we already had in hand. The majority being done with an RX10iii and the A7Rii. I should take a deep breath and slide that hot and sticky credit card into the bottom of an ice cube tray and let the water freeze around it. At least that would slow me down on those days when I "decide" to rush out and change everything..... But maybe not. It would probably just entail the additional expenses of a Billingham, gold plated and leather bound ice pick and the heath insurance co-pay for having my hand stitched up after using poor technique in attacking the ice cube tray with the Billingham "Estate" model ice pick. I'd still be rushing off to the store but would be nursing the stitches spawned from the treacheries of gear avarice.

So, after thinking long and hard about how I might want to use cameras in the near future I started with the baseline of my Panasonic FZ2500 and thought about how impressed I have been with the files coming out of that camera and how well set up it is for video. Even in 1080p which seems to be considered already old hat by some, it is capable of generating, in camera, 200 mbs All-I files which edit beautifully. How can I get more of that action? What could my cameras be doing better?

That's when I start looking at the GH5. The brilliant and logical amongst you will just ask, "What is it in the GH5 that the current FZ2500 can't deliver? What feature/file set are you looking for that will improve your work?" If I am realistic I admit that running the current cameras into an Atomos Ninja Flame video recorder and getting lightly compressed, 10 bit 4:2:2 files written to fast memory in ProRes 422 gives me everything I ever wanted out of a video camera ---- and then some. But the GH5 is the current star of the under $5,000 scene and one imagines that those files, from the optimized processor, will be just a bit meatier and yet smooth. Just a bit more noise free and detailed. It's twice the price so it must be better, right?

I start imagining just how good those GH5 files are going to look when they go through the same process and into the Atomos miracle machine and I convince myself that even the vision impaired will instantly recognize and marvel over the difference in image quality (never stopping to remember that my paying clients were more than happy with the video files squirting off the SD cards from various Sony cameras). I also rationalize that the GH5 will write the 4K, 10 bit, 4:2:2 files directly to the cards so I wouldn't need to be encumbered by an external recorder for all those times I want to come off the tripod and handhold my camera rig. 

Then I stop for a while and consider that a wiser person would take some time to see if there are new alternatives to a massive and highly disruptive system change. In re-reading several reviews of the GH5 I noted that everyone was comparing it with the Sony A6500 and the consensus was that their video performance in 4K was very similar. The A6500 was judged to be better in handling high ISO noise and it also has more detailed as a result of the 6K to 4K downsampling from the bigger sensor. 

My brain switched gears and started contemplating adding an A6500. On paper it would make for sense. I can use all of my current lenses and I would be getting wonderfully sharp 4K video files. A plus for that choice would also be more detail and lower noise APS-C generated files. Did anyone notice that A6500s are currently selling for about $1300 which is $200 off the intro pricing? A whopping $700 less than the going price for the Panasonic...

I started going back and forth comparing featuring and examining the pluses and minuses of either choice. With the Sony I get more detailed files but I also gain moire and aliasing, along with more rolling shutter. With the Sony I give up the dream of delivering real 10 bit files even though I would gain 4:2:2 color  ---- but only into an external video recorder.

With the GH5 I get the video files I think I want along with the video niceties that make location production so much easier. Things like waveforms, a vector scope, a large battery with a long run time, unlimited recording time (limited only by internal cards and battery), as well as a handheld shooting package that give me state of the art image stabilization (when used with certain Panasonic lenses).

There are trade-offs all over the place. I'd like to stay in one system. But I've already screwed that up by adopting the FZ2500 (and really liking the handling and the output). If I stay with the Sony cameras I get to continue in the basic methodologies I grew up with: full frame sensor, fast lenses, etc. But I don't get the full video capabilities I really want. If I go with Panasonic I'll have to dump an accumulation of Sony gear which, emotionally, feels like tossing away a life preserver from my traditional career path.

And we have not even begun to think about lenses yet.

If I felt wealthy instead of feeling uncertain I would just buy a GH5 and add it to the mix. I could call it my video system and have some sort of fictive separation between the systems. But I feel a change in the market so profoundly that I'm not sure how relevant any traditional equipment will be going forward.

(Note: everything above was written yesterday. Below is what I finally decided today....):

So, contrary to my typical practice I did not rush out with boxes of my Sony gear and trade it in for a handful of (magic beans) Panasonic gear yesterday. I actually decided to take time worn advice and just sleep on the whole thing. I talked to two of my friends who have both had long careers in video production. In short, I waited for excitement to subside and logic to finally kick in.

Coincidental to my momentary camera lust was a last minute approval for a series of interviews of actors and a director at Zach Theatre for Saturday afternoon. Finally, more fun stuff to do with cameras. With the A6500 versus GH5 stand off fresh in my mind I decided to set up the camera I own that I trust most to shoot high value video; the FZ2500.

I wanted to see exactly what I could expect if I lit the interviews optimally, worked around an low noise ISO (200,400) and ran the signal from the camera into the Atomos Ninja Flame, recording the HDMI signal as a ProRes 422 file at 10 bits with 4:2:2 color. I also wanted to re-familiarize myself with the whole set-up to make sure there would be no confusion during actual production tomorrow afternoon.

The Atomos changes everything. The color and detail out of this $1200 camera is amazing. I pixel peeped the heck out of the files from the recorder on my 27 inch monitor and can't think of what I would change. Sometimes it's reasonable just to hook all the stuff up exactly the way you'll use it and actually test it for yourself before becoming hypnotized by all the stuff you can read on the web.

Of course this is bad new for both Sony and Panasonic as I have no motivation to rush out and buy either of their new cameras. Well, that's not entirely true. There's a thread of an idea that it might be nice to have a second FZ2500 for those (almost every assignment) times when you need two cameras with which to shoot simultaneously. An A camera and a B camera. It would be nice to having matching profiles and a matching look. Continuity in editing is important.

I've done a very thorough pre-production run through. I've experimented with all the controls on both the camera and the monitor/recorder. I've recharged the lithium battery in the NTG-4+ microphone. I've replaced the battery in the Saramonic SmartRig+ pre-amplifier. And now I'm packing with a check list in hand.

We're shooting five interviews tomorrow in several different locations. I've got Ben Tuck as my assistant and b-camera operator. Hopefully someone will bring snacks.

For the moment we've got the "new camera lust" under control. It's good to see just how great your current stuff can be when you start getting the itch to move on. July is a good month to go slow on new purchases.... Who knows what will be announced in September. Good to keep the fiscal powder dry. 


Another Nikon D750 Recall. Here's a little something we put together for the last batch of Nikon recalls.....


One of the preemptively recalled Nikon D500s.

Note: this was written before the actual shipping of the D5 and D500 and as far as I know there is no recall out for those cameras. The D750, on the other hand, is a veteran of recalls. Hence my satiric piece above...


It's fun to create many portraits over several weeks for one client. They want a consistent look and feel while you get the bonus of.....

...having to straighten up the studio and do the lighting design only once. We've been working on making portraits of new doctors for a medical practice here in Austin. As the new doctors come into town they go through their indoctrination and get up to speed while the marketing staff at the practice get to work putting together their bios, speaker packets, web pages, etc. To do so they want good portraits that can all work well together with the 100+ portraits of practice partners we've already taken over the years. Everyone's schedule is different, and in flux, so there's no chance to do a series of portraits in one long day. We set up individual appointments for the convenience of the physicians.

As luck would have it there was a nice and almost constant stream of new doctors so far this month. Five in the last week. I was able to do a big clean and organize before the first session and I also had time to really fine tune the lighting I've been using. When it's time to do a new session all I need to do is to go around the studio and turn on flashes. I pop a fresh memory card in the camera and format, double check the settings and the meet the subject at the door with a smile and cold bottle of water. 

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I was going to work with small flashes for a while and see just how much I could do with them before making a final decision about whether or not to get rid of the final "dinosaur" mono-lights I still have lurking about in big, black cases. I've wound up using a total of four battery powered speed lights to do my latest batch of portraits. It's a comfortable way to work and I never realized what a big relief it can be to get all the power cords up off the floor. Now there's a lot less to trip over and the studio space looks neater. 

I chose the A7ii as my camera for this series because it has the an optimized file size. The raw file is 24 megapixels, I shoot the files as compressed raws and I find there's tons of detail information of which to take advantage. The lens I chose is the Rokinon 100mm macro lens because it's exactly the right focal length for this project. The combo works well together and the focus peaking has helped me to nail sharp focus on every single shot. 

I had this 4x6 foot Lastolite diffusion panel laying around the studio and I could never figure out where to store it. I noticed that this bank of window (usually right behind camera position) gets direct sun in the afternoon so I finally decided to just put the panel up so the bottom is about six feet from the floor. It diffused the sunlight nicely but it also works, in conjunction with a dialed down flash, as a nice fill panel for commercial portraits. I'm leaving it in place permanently...

I've been using the fill panel just above as a fill light for every single portrait. I have the flash dialed down to 1/32 power so the effect is very small but it's enough light to ensure that we don't drop shadows to pure (no detail) black. I leave it set up in the studio for those times when I want to grab it and take it outside and diffuse sunlight for environmental portraits. It's a pain in the ass to set up so I now consider it permanently constructed. 

I'm using Godox flashes as my main light sources so it just makes sense to use their nifty (and cheap) little remote trigger in the hot shoe of the A7ii to make the lights go "pop." The remote can do so much; sad that I only use it as a trigger... But our mantra is to keep things as simple as we can.
This is a side view of my shooting table in the foreground and the 50 inch diffusion disk I am currently using as a nice, soft, passive fill opposite the main light. The diffusion disk was about $30 and gets used almost daily. That's a good value in my book.

This flash is my current hair light / back light. It's bouncing into a Rogue flash reflector and it's sitting on the grip arm of a black C-Stand. I check before each portrait session to make sure it's not flaring into the lens. I use it at something like 1/16th power. 

This old, battered Chimera 12x16 inch softbox has been around the block. I think we picked this up in 1993 and have used it, on and off,  as a light for the backgrounds since then. Yep. Another Godox but this one is set to 1/2 power because we use a diffusion dome over the front of the unit and the softbox itself soaks up some lumens. 

This is the view from the back of the set. You can see the big, 47 inch softbox I'm using for my main light source. It's also from Godox. (No. I have never met or talked to anyone at Godox. Nor do they pay me, say nice things about me, or send me personal notes of thanks for testing and writing about their products. I don't really need their sponsorship since this nicely built lighting modifier set me back only about $40. And that included free shipping...). 

You can see that my shooting space is not very large. It's 24x24 feet and the ceiling peaks at 12 feet.  It may be the best investment I've made in the field of photography. We've produced thousands of portraits in this space along with hundreds and hundreds of product shots. It's also been the lab for the creation of five books about photography as well as one very self-indulgent novel. Also tangentially about photography. The studio space also has a 24 by 4 foot closet across the south wall. An efficient window unit AC keeps the space nice and cool in the Summer while our little radiator heater keeps it warm enough in the winter. 

The studio is located on about a third of an acre of prime, west Austin real estate which it shares with our house. Most of our clients live nearby and the wide, safe streets provide abundant free parking. 
Nice to be able to finish up with a client and then walk the twelve feet into the house for coffee or a fresh croissant. 

Platinum VSL member, Frank, brought these Godox umbrella style softboxes to my attention.  They are great. Quick to set up and with very nice light quality. They work especially well with bare bulb flashes. I have made one minor addition to the product. I added a small LED panel inside the diffusion cloth to serve as reasonable modeling light. There's a detail just below...

I mentioned that I have a shooting table in the room. It works great to "anchor" portrait subjects to a small envelope of space. It also gives them something to put their hands on for support and stability. Just below the shooting table is an orange X on the floor, made of orange gaffer's tape. It's a mark that makes set up quick and easy to restore should stuff get moved around during a shoot. 

Once our session is over and we've sent our subjects on their way I import the raw images into Lightroom and edit them. Editing means I choose which images stay and which ones go. It's good not to confuse the act of "editing" with the idea of post processing, color correction or retouching as these are different actions. After I have edited the take down to a reasonable number I then proceed to post processing by making global color corrections and then fine tuning exposure on the images that fall outside the optimum levels.

At that point I upload full size, low compression Jpeg files to Smugmug.com. Two reasons for this: Unlimited storage! the large file is big enough to use if all my other back-ups fail. I currently have 320,000 stored in galleries on Smugmug. The idea of this additional offsite storage is anxiety reducing. The second reason is more prosaic; I present the images in their galleries to the marketing team at the medical practice. In conjunction with the doctors, they select the frame they want to use. I retouch the finals and send them back as a collection of Jpegs and Tiffs in different sizes as well as one large Jpeg profiled for their color printing house. They make a large portrait of each doctor to use in the clinic where the doctor practices. 

I love being able to leave the studio set up and ready to go. The big, blocky, lithium batteries in the flashes seem to last forever and it's nice not to have to reset over and over again. 

As I was writing this one of my friends from swim practice called. He needs a photo for his board of director's role at a banking company. Since the studio is set up and ready I invited him to come over after swim practice tomorrow morning. I'll set up a different background but everything else is ready to go. Nice when it works this way. 


A follow up to last night's post about the one inch professional cameras from Sony and Panasonic.

I spent an hour at midday walking the four mile loop on the high and bike trail and finished up with a detour over to the downtown area. My goal was to get some weight bearing exercise (cross training from swimming) but to also put my money where my keyboard is as relates to my recent, lavish praise of three different one inch sensor cameras. Today I chose the most basic of the three cameras to get covered with sweat and to share the near 100 degree (farenheit) temperatures with me. It's the Sony RX10ii. At this point I consider it to be one of the most under-rated cameras on the market today. Why? Because I know that it punches so far above it's price and sensor size but most people disregard it believing it's been replaced by the RX10iii. Not true. It's still in stock at most dealers and has not been removed (in any public way) from Sony's inventory. 

Yesterday I wrote a post extolling this kind of super-zoom, bridge camera and, after my use of it today I am even more certain that many people would be much better off with a device like this one than the myriad of boring, homogenous mid-level DSLRs that plague the market. I may be wrong. I may be blinded by my own circumstances and experiences with this camera and the one inch sensor brotherhood, but I'll be darned if I can see many shortcomings in the files. You can, of course, vociferously disagree but we're all entitled to our opinions. Since yesterday's blog post just used existing one inch images I'd previously shot I thought I use today's bandwidth to show shots taken with the intention to use the camera as I think it was designed; as a ready tool for quick and quirky shots. Video to follow? Click on the images and go into "big gallery" mode. See them at 2198 pixels on your bigger screens. Believe me when I tell you that the 5472x3648 pixel files are filled with luscious detail....