7.23.2019

OT: Shoes. Well dressed and comfortable. Nothing at all to do with photography; tangentially related to business.

Yes. We were using medium format digital cameras way back in 2009.
And, yes. Shoes are part of a complete look. 

For a photographer I seem to have a bipolar personality when it comes to clothing and sartorial competency. When I walk around in downtown areas to take photographs in the Summer I dress for the heat. An old, worn pair of shorts, a thin, cool and UV blocking short sleeve shirt, a light toned baseball cap and a comfortable pair of sandals or rugged hiking shoes (Never hiking boots with shorts. Never!). 

On casual days around the house; when I'm working on a book or post processing some files I'll probably be in a comfortable pair of khakis or jeans, and a well laundered polo shirt, along with a pair of loafers or running shoes. 

But when it's time to meet with clients and professionals I like to dress well enough to play on their turf.  I am, by nature and nature, a fashion traditionalist. I have a section of my closet filled with suits and jackets and nice trousers. If I buy "off the rack" I do like to spend a bit more money to have each suit well tailored. I think a suit coat should be long enough to cover one's bottom and am aghast at the new fashion of much shorter cut suit coats. I like shirts with button down collars but I also like well made dress shirts without collar buttons (I'm getting more relaxed in my dotage...). I don't like "blouse-y" shirts that form a loose tent over one's torso. A shirt should be fitted but not so snug that one's belly pushes at the fabric or gaps the front placket either.  Also, a necktie should reach to the belt, maybe an inch below, but a long tie is surely the sign of a small mind or a total lack of couth. Or an embarrassing inability to tie a tie...

But shoes are the make it or break it accessory for a well dressed person. I prefer oxfords or derbys and I prefer them with as little decoration as possible. A cap toe is fine but brogues (wingtips) are dicey... I have six or seven pairs of really nice dress shoes and I rotate them instead of wearing the same pair over and over again. 

In my mind a lace up shoe always beats a loafer, and a plain loafer always trumps a pair of loafers with tassels on them (which never look right). And always leather, never any other material.

Just as with cameras there is a certain brand loyalty which is different, person by person. I'm partial to two shoe makers. My feet seem to be made for Cole Hahn shoes and their traditional oxfords are incredibly comfortable and very presentable. But my favorite shoes are the pairs I've gotten from shoemaker, Allen Edmonds. After a few days of breaking them in they are incredibly comfortable and seem to have been designed so nicely that they make any ensemble of clothing look great. As the shoes get older and more worn, and broken in, I buy a new pair and make the older, worn pair into a casual wear choice. A pair of deep burgundy or cordovan Allen Edmond's cap toe oxfords, even after being well  bit worn, can upgrade jeans or khakis, with sport shirts, almost to business casual. 

I don't know why, maybe it's because my father was a military officer and kept every pair of shoes he owned perfectly polished and in good repair, but I tend to subconsciously judge people in my professional sphere partly by how well they keep up their shoes. If I'm hiring an accountant or a lawyer or even a second photographer I'm never really happy to see scuffed toes or worn heels. We can all be "well heeled." It's not prohibitively pricey to take care of our stuff. 

If you are shooting on a remote location, or out in the elements then all bets are off when it comes to "proper" footwear and you should take advantage of the right stuff. Hiking boots for rough terrain, insulated boots for walking on glaciers, etc. If you'll be walking for miles with your gear you'll need the right shoes for that as well. 

But looking back I find that most of my work takes place in executive office suites, convention hotels, convention centers, law offices, medical practices and in many other interior locations, all of which are air conditioned and not very challenging (technically) for quality footwear. 

In these workplaces dressing well has distinct advantages. Dress down and people will slot you into a workplace hierarchy that works to your disadvantage. Presumptions about your expertise, your taste and your competency surface. Dress down too hard and you'll be relegated to the same level as the guy who comes in to fix the copy machine or to run cable for the telephones. Dressing well elevates one to "peer" or near peer status in many businesses and profession; offices where a certain level of privilege and deference is extended (in both directions). Dress well and people will take you more seriously, they'll be more inclined to accept your suggestions and to value your expertise. And they will be less reticent to pay you well. And quickly. 

Funny to think that spending a few hundred dollars more on a pair of shoes can have such a positive affect but you'll know when you get it right. That's when the fashionable partner in a practice says, "Nice shoes. Who made them?" And buying good shoes is a lot more cost effective than trying the same level of parity with automatic wristwatches or sports cars. I can afford the shoes but a Panerai watch or a Ferrari is too big a stretch. At least the cars are mostly parked out of sight... A well tailored suit sleeve usually obscures a fine dress watch, but your shoes are always out there in the open for everyone to see. 

Every photographer should have one nicely cut, navy sport coat. At least one dark gray suit. A few nicely fitted shirts. Several good, leather belts and the right shoes for each ensemble. In the long run good sartorial "hygiene" will almost surely return more profit to your business than the newest camera or the most highly populated sensor. And if you buy them intelligently (and take care of them) the shoes will last a lot longer as well. 

Oh. Also. Buy some socks. No one wants to see you actually wear your tasseled loafers without socks. It just wreaks of drunken frat boy.





7.21.2019

B.T.S. shots of our video set up this afternoon. Six lights, three cameras, three soft boxes, two different microphones and three tripods. So, how did it all work out?

Production photos courtesy: Nicole Shiro.
Production commissioned by Zach Theatre.
For the play, "Ann." (About Gov. Ann Richards). 

top left of frame is an Aputure LightStorm LS-1 pointed up toward the reflective insulation on the ceiling; same on the top right hand of the frame. Bottom left: from left to right: Actress, Holland Taylor, watches our interview with Ben and waits for her interview. Just to the right of her is a Manfrotto case that's positioned to work as a flag to keep spill light from an Aputure Lightstorm LS-1/2 light (used to the light the background) from hitting the interviewee. To the right of that is a light stand with a Godox SL60W in a Godox collapsible soft box aimed as the fill light for Broadway director, Benjamin Endsley Klein's interview. Just to the right of that is a C-Stand with a Gitzo microphone boom arm holding a Rode NTG-4+ about 24 inches above and in front of Ben (being interviewed). The camera directly in front of Ben is an X-H1 being used as a wide, establishing point of view cameras. It's got a 16-55mm f2.8 on the front and it's accepting a feed from the Rode microphone, through a Beachtek audio interface/pre-amp. You can see the Rode mic over Ben's head. To the right of that is me at the "A" camera shooting mid-chest and up with the 56mm f1.2 APD lens on a second X-H1. I'm using a dual channel Saramonic UHF microphone receiver in the hot shoe of the camera and I have a Saramonic lavaliere mic on the front plaquet of Ben's shirt. I am monitoring the audio, in a very general way, with a set of Apple ear buds (not the absolute best way but there it is....). The person to the right of me is Joshua, the director, and he's interviewing Ben. Just above Joshua, and over to his right, are two more Godox SL60W lights in soft boxes. To the right of them is a second Aputure LightStorm LED panel, also bouncing off the reflective (silvered) ceiling. Just in front of that light stand is my second camera operator, Ben Tuck, and a third Fuji X-H1 complete with a 90mm f2.0 lens and sporting a smaller Saramonic shotgun microphone to grab scratch audio (which is a must for syncing all three cameras together in order to do multi-cam editing in Final Cut Pro X).

Note the four sound blankets on the floor around our interviewee. I used these to control room noise. And the thick, black drape which ran nearly 100 feet along the back wall helped as well. 


Not shown but waiting in the wings for her interview was actor, Libby Villari.


We ended up not using the Atomos monitor because everyone was comfortable judging composition on the rear screens of the three cameras.


Were our interviews with one famous director and two nationally well known actors a success? Let me tell you that after we get all the editing done. The files look and sound great but who really knows how it will all cut together until we get into the process? 


Libby Villari, who will play, "Ann" in the Zach Production. 

On the right: Joshua is our video program director. 



Holland Taylor. Discussing her hit play, "Ann." 


We switched Ben, on the "B" camera to the opposite side for Taylor Holland's interview. 


Advice: on a multi-camera set up it's crucial to make sure your cameras match up. Same color settings, same exposure settings and ISO (so the noise matches) and, most importantly, all cameras should be set to exactly the same frame rate....

sound from both the lav and the shotgun were good even though we were unable to turn off the (noisy) air conditioning unit. 

Camera settings: All cameras set at 29.97 fps. Shutter speed = 1/60th. All apertures set to f2.8. White balance = 5300K. Profile = Eterna. Sharpening = minus 2. Audio optimized for -12 db to -6 db. 

Cameras: 3 x Fuji X-H1s with battery grips. Lenses: All Fuji: 16-55mmm f2.8, 56mm f1.2 APD, and 90mm f2.0. Manually focused with focus peaking and attendant punch-in. 



7.20.2019

Every once in a while people still send me stuff to test. Right now it's the Viltrox 85mm f1.8 AF lens for the Fuji X system. It's really nice.

cloud tonality.

Disclosure: I got an e-mail a week ago asking if I wanted to test out a lens. It was from someone at Viltrox which is a Chinese manufacturer of lenses and adapters. I think their most popular product for Fuji to date is an adapter that allows one to use Canon EOS lenses on the Fuji cameras. Not sure though, I've never needed one of those... At any rate, the person writing to me wanted to know if I'd like to test their new 85mm lens. It's an autofocus model and they make two variants: one for Sony E mount and the other for Fuji X mount. 

Before I replied I went to the web to do a bit of research. There were a number of YouTube videos about the lens and most implied that it was, "Almost but not quite as good as the Fuji 90mm f2.0." Since I own a copy of the 90mm and am occasionally mesmerized by the sharpness and beauty of its rendering I was intrigued. I wrote back and said I would be interested. They asked for my address and phone number, told me it would be shipped out soon and that I "should keep it around in case it should come in handy at my lectures and public appearances." I interpret that to mean that I am welcome to keep the lens on loan for eternity. Hence my need to make a top-of-the-blog disclosure statement alerting you to the possibility that I am subconsciously less than objective because I have been... "bought." I'd like to assure you that I will always try to be honest and objective but the human mind is a special place and logic rarely applies absolutely in those gray and marbled recesses. You have been warned to proceed with appropriate caution.... test everything for yourself!!!

The one thing I can tell you with emphatic sureness is that it is a very well made lens, if the exterior finish and heft are any indication. It's solid, seems to be all metal and is actually very attractive (once you paint over the much too big logo with a Sharpie (permanent marker)). In fact, it reminds me almost exactly of the Sony/Zeiss 24-70mm f4.0 that I owned a few years back.....only the Viltrox lens has a bit more heft to it. 

The lens hood is pretty much the standard, plastic, round hood which bayonets onto the lens but it does fit securely and without any loose wobbling. The lens came well packed and also included a nice little gray, fabric sack or pouch. While my interest was piqued I didn't have time to really go out and shoot with it until today. Oh sure, I've shot photos around the house, shot some fabric wide open, documented an Indian Pale Ale in a frosty glass on the living room table as the last rays of the sun shone through the light amber liquid; the standard sort of non-test test shots. Today was f4.0 day. I set the camera to ISO 200, the shutter speed on auto and the lens at f4.0 and let me feet and eyes do the walking. 

Before I go any further I have to mention one thing that might give some Fuji users some pause (the Sony horde won't care because their cameras are bereft of aperture rings by design). The lens has no external aperture ring, unlike Fuji's most fun lenses. You'll have to use the front or rear dial (you can choose in the menu) to change the aperture. Seems like a small thing but muscle memory can be a bitch.

The lens is heavy. It was made to cover full frame, 135 style image circles and so the elements are bigger than they would need to be if the lens had been designed for APS-C only. I found the lens a bit ungainly on the X-Pro2 and uncomfortable to use, handheld, on the X-E3. It does feel right at home on one of the X-H1 cameras that seem to be absolutely infesting the studio these days. I think the battery grips are a nice balance to the mass of the lens. 

While the Vitrox 85mm autofocuses the lens does not feature image stabilization so if you are convinced that I.S. is of tantamount importance in all endeavors you'll probable want to stick to the X-H1 for all your work or, if you are not a fan of the bigger cameras, just take a pass on this altogether. 

If, on the other hand, you are comfortable with a 1.5 pound lens and the accompanying camera body then you'll probably want to know how I found the image quality. So, let's proceed:

Used at f1.8 or 2.0 it's in the sharpness ballpark with other f1.8 lenses I've owned, like the current Nikon 85mm f1.8. When you stop down to 2.8 and then 4.0 and 5.6 it's competitive with just about any of the current 85mms on the market. Not better, but not worse either. I shot both in bright light outside and also at lower light levels in the house and found the AF to be as fast as any of the newer Fuji lenses such as the 90mm f2.0. I didn't make any scientific tests but I had the feeling that the 90mm locked on a bit better in lower light but the difference wasn't big enough to worry about. With Fuji it seems the newer the camera the faster the lenses focus; with the exception of the 60mm f2.4 macro which I think is always destined to be a slow poke when it comes to getting around to focusing... Pair the Viltrox with the X-T3 and the focusing is snappy even down to moderately low light levels. 

Once you hit f5.6 it's kind of silly to keep comparing between lenses. Even inexpensive Rokinon/Samyang MF 85mm f1.4 lenses are nicely sharp at middle apertures. As far as other issues with the lens I did notice a bit more flare in a direct comparison with the 90mm f2.0 but in fairness it's a situation which only occurs if there is a bright light source in the frame. 

One thing that Viltrox has done that I feel like giving them points on is to include a USB port inside the back of the lens which allows one to directly update the firmware in the lens. I haven't done it but people at various review sites who got early copies of the lens back in March of this year all say that it's a quick and easy process and that they noted positive improvements to the performance of the lens after the upgrade. Improvements in focusing accuracy (which has not be problematic for me....) and also speed of acquisition. That's a nice touch. Of course you can always update the Fuji lenses but the process is a bit more complex and requires a ready camera body with its own firmware at the current version. 

If you are a Fuji user on a budget and you (like me) want to work at longer focal lengths for portraiture with an APS-C camera you'll likely compare the Viltrox with the Fuji 90mm f2.0. I know I would. The 90mm is a fantastic lens and very, very sharp at all apertures. Several test sites routinely state that the 90mm is the sharpest Fuji lens they've ever tested and I think I can agree with them based on my own experiences. But the 90mm is something like twice the price of the Viltrox. If I were doing this on a budget I think I'd be happy enough with the Viltrox and would not miss any small sharpness advantage of the Fuji lens. I chose to buy the 90mm because that was the lens in this range that was available to me when I started shopping. I'd still probably go with the Fuji even if offered the choice of the Viltrox at half the price because there are times when (psychologically) I just want to be sure I've got the very best solution possible. Take my insecurity out of the mix and I'm sure I'd be just as happy with the lower priced lens. 

It's a pretty awesome package for the price. In fact, I like everything about this lens except for the oversized logos emblazoned on the side. But that's an easy enough thing to fix......... 

My advice? If you think you might want one then buy a copy from one of the big stores that has a liberal return policy. Test the crap out of the lens. If you like it then keep it. If you aren't pleased then just send it back and get a refund. Either way you come out ahead. Weird, yeah?

Close focus limit. 

What a nice frame for a cloud.

Industrial enthusiasm. 



Precursor to invasion of the giant cranes. 






7.19.2019

Can we talk about medium format? Why am I in no big hurry to grab a new Hasselblad or Fuji MF camera?

On a train to somewhere. 

There is an allure to the idea of medium format photography that a lot of us find pretty captivating. Sometimes we have trouble separating aspirational avarice from actual, technical benefits. I know that a fair number of photographers are thinking that moving to medium format will give their images more resolution and more dynamic range. Others (like myself) remember photos we took with larger surface area film medium format cameras and loved the way the sharpness fell off from our main point of focus to the foregrounds and backgrounds and we think moving to the new cameras will help us recapture that look. Some, raised in the days when most cameras had APS-C sensors, are hoping for a combination of all the above. But somehow, I'm not very excited about the whole idea. 

When we shot with medium format film we were shooting a 6 cm X 6 cm film size which is roughly 2.5 times bigger than the "pixie" medium format Sony sensors everyone is rushing into cameras the makers are aiming at a new consumer cohort that's flirting with a move up from the 24 by 36 mm "full frame" cameras most are presently using. It's not a particularly big jump. The thing that made 6X6 cameras seem like a huge jump from 35mm film was the fact that the MF film size was 4X bigger instead of just 70% bigger. You could immediately see the affects of "focus ramping" and subject isolation (comparing the same angles of view) between the two formats. Now, with pixie MF, not so much. 

Also, in the film days (and marketers are really using this nostalgia almost dishonestly here), if one was shooting Tri-X across formats there really was a 4X increase in overall potential resolution when moving from a 35mm camera to a 6X6 cm camera. That's quite different than today's situation in which the affordable MF cameras, at 50 megapixels, have no more real, observable, resolution than any number of high resolution 35mm style cameras. Sony, Nikon, Canon and Panasonic all have current cameras in the same resolution ballpark and Sony has just introduced a camera that pushes past the Fuji and Hasselblad 50 megapixel cameras; at least on paper. So it's nowhere near the same comparison as that of resolution advantages in the film days. No where close. 

If I compare cameras that I might buy with, say, the Fuji GFX 50R, I come up with a box of compromises in both directions. My choice for full frame (35mm style) would probably be the Panasonic S1R fitted out with the 24-104mm zoom lens. With the Fuji I'd be better served picking three unique focal lengths as there is no "universal" zoom for that system yet. 

The difference in resolution would be negligible. The difference in usable dynamic range would be nil. But the difference in handling would be tremendously tilted in favor of the "smaller" camera. From the body ergonomics all the way through to the EVFs. Add in the need for at least one back up camera and the system economics fall firmly into the Panasonic full frame camp. 

The only current lens choice that tempts me in the Fuji MF system is the 110mm f2.0 and that's because of my nostalgia for the fast Zeiss lenses that we used to have for the focal plane Hasselblads. Lenses like the 110 f2.0 Planar and the 150mm f2.8 Sonnar. Couple those with at about double the effective surface area of the film gate and you could get some amazing subject isolation with a glorious "focus ramp" that flowed gracefully from needle sharp to wonderfully soft. And with happy bokeh.

There will be photographers who can justify getting one of the new cameras but they'll be focused on the GFX 100S and not one of the lower res cameras. The use will probably be mostly studio work and big production imaging. I've walked around with a GFX 50S and a big lens and I'm pretty sure my favorite travel photographers (like James Popsys) aren't going to try shoving a full MF system into their travel backpacks and hike across glaciers with the added weight and size. 

So, if the logical choice for those who do need MF digital is the GFX 100 one then has to come to grips with a radically changed marketplace for providing imaging services. It's good to keep in mind that rates paid for imaging and licensing of images have been flat for years. A new camera; even in a new format, is not going to change the budgets of clients. The move up from ubiquitous APS-C camera to full frame cameras over the last decade barely budged the needle for increased $$$ when that evolution occurred, no reason to think that the evolution to a slightly bigger frame size will do it either. 

Most people in the business; including those shooting with Nikon, Sony, Canon and others, will already have an investment in their chosen camera ecosystems and the acquisition of a MF camera system will certainly be an augmentation of the existing inventory instead of a full on replacement. From an economic point of view it's a doubling of costs to service what will likely continue to be a flat market. Since I'm getting great feedback about the images we generate with Fuji APS-C cameras and lenses, and since 90% of our engagements these days are projects that go straight to the internet, you can count me out of the current MF feeding frenzy. Call me when we get back out 6x6 cm formats!

And with sharp, fast lenses from Fuji, like the 56mm f1.2 and the 90mm f2.0, as well as third party choices like the Viltrox 85mm f1.8 (currently being evaluated) you can count me out of the rush toward even full frame mania. 

This is being written from the point of view of a commercial photographer, not a well-heeled amateur. If I was an investment banker, an arbitrager, or a trust fund recipient I'd probably already have one of the Fujis. If I also had a nice sense of design and also a modicum of good taste I might select the Hasselblad instead. But since I earn money using the cameras to make videos, to shoot headshots, to make images of live stage performances, and to shoot on remote locations for large companies, I find the "all-arounder" cameras to be a much more efficient and cost effective proposition. 

To be clear, I can financially afford to snap up a MF camera but I refuse to do so because I can't see any clear benefit, currently, to doing so. YMMV. 

As to the new 60+ megapixel Sony, well that's a subject for another blog post. I won't be buying that one either but for totally different reasons.... 

Hope your day is going well and that all of you in the "heat zone" are finding ways to stay cool, and undamaged by UV. 

(please forgive any typos. I wrote this one in something like 23 minutes. I'll circle back to read more closely a bit later. I've got stuff to do right now...)

7.18.2019

A busy day working out audio strategies but not too busy to do a quick post processing on an image I made of my friend, Anne, at dusk yesterday.

Anne now.

Anne needed a casual image for a work project, she asked if I would photograph her. One of my favorite portraits I have ever taken was of Anne a number of years ago so of course I said "yes."

She didn't want anything fancy so I set up a flash in a soft box on a C-stand in the front yard, put a 90mm f2.0 lens on an X-H1 and we blazed away, mixing flash with the fading last light of day.

We stopped when the mosquitos (which were bigger than hummingbirds) started swarming around our ankles, intent on inflicting maximum damage. It was great to see Anne again and our quick session has given me the inspiration to go back and photograph the most interesting people I've photographed over the years, to see how much more beautiful they have become...

Now, back to figuring out how I'm going to handle the audio for Sunday's video project....

Anne then.

7.17.2019

I spent some quality time talking to a real, working, audio engineer about my upcoming video shoot. Here's what he told me about microphone technique. Here's how I'll proceed....

Here's the situation: We're scheduled for a video project that requires us to videograph three people interviewing each other in a very large, bright room that has very high ceilings and hard floors. My first impulse was to use lavaliere microphones (either wired or wireless, no difference to me...) and run two of the channels into one "A" camera and the third microphone output into a "B" camera. That would require two of us to monitor audio levels while operating the cameras. That would also create three different sound tracks, two of which would require syncing in post production editing.

My audio expert works on huge stages and with multiple actors all the time; every day. Years and years.  Keeping track of up to 40 actors, all wearing lavaliere microphones and set to independent channels, in many live shows. When he offers advice about audio I listen.

His suggestion was that I get the interviewees grouped fairly close together for my spot and then mic them with two shotgun microphones. He suggested that there is a sweet spot that's just far enough back to allow two mics to overlap their pickup patterns to effectively cover all three actors.

I asked about using lavalieres for this and he educated me about possible phase issues that could arise and be a bear to fix in post. Better, in his opinion, to stick with a two channel only option and perfect that. Another suggestion (for dealing with the live-ness of the room) was to put sound blankets under the chairs, on the floor behind the chairs and on the floor in front of the chairs. While I won't have each interviewee on a discrete channel I would dodge the dreaded affects of phase issues and also issues of people touching their microphones or having clothing rustle ruin a great quote.

I think that he and I  mostly agree that while well placed lavalieres do a great job at giving one super clean audio and good isolation they can sound quite flat. Think "low dynamic" range, but in audio. A really good shotgun microphone gives a more convincing combination of voice and room tone and, if the actors are a set up linearly then you get actual left to right stereo effect wherein the audio has spatial cues.

One of the other reasons to use wired shotgun microphones is their very low latency effect. Especially versus the newer, mid priced "auto frequency scan" wireless systems. These introduce a bit of delay that can become noticeable as frame rates go up. Wired mics are not affected at anywhere near the same degree.

I'm planning on using two Rode NTG4+ microphones grouped at the end of a Gitzo boom pole, just out of frame. I run them into a passive Beachtek mixer/interface so I can have physical knobs to turn if I want to pull down one channel or the other. Now the only other big thing I need to keep in mind for audio is to bring enough XLR cabling.....

Listening to professionals in the field (at the tops of their games) sure beats the hell out of sourcing information on the gear blogs on the web. And, yes, I get the irony of having just written that.....




What a great swim practice this morning!!! Getting back into shape and watching stress recede in the rear view mirror of life...

Backstroke race. From a USMS national meet a few years back.

It won't come as a surprise to anyone in the "sandwich" generation (the people wedged in on one hand paying for their kid's college and on the other, taking care of declining parents) that life can get stressful. In the last couple of years I've handled my mother's decline and passing and then, eighteen months later I am doing the same for my father. During the same few years Belinda and I worked hard to make sure Ben got the college education we all wanted for him; with the attendant costs for private college and a semester abroad. At the same time we tried to be disciplined about saving for retirement. 
Altogether it's a big "ask." 

If anything went missing over the last two years it was my peace of mind and my swimming fitness. After spending a few days and nights on a chair-bed in intensive care it's hard to summon the energy to get to the pool and work hard at seven in the morning. Repeat this over time and watch your fitness levels drop precipitously. Before 2017 I swam six days a week. Sometimes I'd hit practice early in the morning and then I'd head back to the pool after work to get in another mile or so. With my dad's care I dropped Sundays and headed to San Antonio every week to spend more time with him. 

With Ben in college I turned down fewer jobs and had more early morning calls than I had before and I lost a number of opportunities to swim as a result. 

That's all behind me now and I'm in the pool with a renewed commitment to getting back into competitive swim shape. I just finished my 13th workout in twelve days and I haven't felt this good and this fast in years. In fact, if someone would pay me to swim I'd sell my cameras (except maybe one or two....) do do nothing but swim for as long as the direct deposits remained active. 

We had a great practice this morning. Ian Crocker was the coach on deck. Usually our coaches start practice with a warm-up that's a long, slow distance; like a 400 yard freestyle. They might follow that with a kick set, another 300 yard freestyle, another kick set, and then some warm up sprints before the main sets. Today was totally different. The workout on the board started with a set that looked like this:

5 X 100's on 1:30
Active recovery with a 100 I.M. 
4 X 100's on 1:25
Active recovery with a 100 I.M. 
3 X100's on 1:20 
Active recovery with a 100 I.M.
2 X 100's on 1:15
Active recovery with a 100 I.M.
1 X 100 on a 1:10 pace. 

That was the warmup. 1900 yards. Nice. 

Then we headed into the main set of mixed distance sprints and medium distance pull sets. 

We capped out at about 3,000 yards for our hour of swimming this morning and we hung around in the pool just to see the reaction from the 8 am swimmers as they looked at the white board and came to grips with the enormity of the warm-up. 

Earlier in the week I did a workout with my swimmer friend, Emmett, at Deep Eddy Pool. It's a wonderful, spring fed pool, adjacent to the Colorado River, in the middle of Austin. It's a very "old school" pool as it is 33.3 yards long in the lap swimming section. You definitely get some extra strokes in between the turns. But the lure is the 70 degree water! You can go faster in colder water. There's less heat build up and less fluid loss. But going faster than one's usual pace is a good recipe for being sore and tired by the end of the day. 

My goal right now is 30 great swims in 30 days with no breaks. I'd like to get back into good enough shape to swim some of the events at this year's USMS Short Course Nationals. We'll see how it goes. 
And yes, at this point in my career I am more than happy to turn down photographic assignments if they would interfere with my swim practice. Selfish? Naw, just setting better priorities. 

Speaking of priorities, the people at Viltrox got in touch with me and asked me if I'd like to test out their new lens. It's an 85mm f1.8 autofocus lens that's available in the Fuji and Sony mounts. I opted, of course, for the Fuji version. It arrived the day before yesterday and I'm looking forward to heading out the door to give it an inaugural breaking in. I hope to have more to write about it later this week. I can tell you it feels very nicely made and very solid. Only downside so far? You lose the aperture ring on the lens..... definitely not a "deal killer." 

7.16.2019

Ramping up to shoot more video. Three projects for the Theatre and one potential project for U.T.


Oh Boy! We're going to shoot a video on Sunday and I know how much my VSL readers love to read about video production!!! Ah well, the paucity of comments probably can't get much worse so full speed ahead. 

I like to plan. I met with the producer from the theater to discuss the overall creative strategy last week and we ended the meeting with the following consensus: We'd be videographing (sounds more accurate than videotaping...) an actor and a director together. They would be interviewing each other. We'd use the main stage at the Topfer Theatre because the show decor would already be installed and it would make a great background. So....I'd be lighting for two people, doing a seated interview. Good! I know how to do that pretty much in my sleep; in fact, that's easily the majority of the kinds of video projects I've been doing over the years. 

We were going to get fancy and use three identical cameras. One for a fairly tight shot on each of the two people and a third camera to get a wide shot of both. We'd have an "establishing" shot camera and each interviewee would be covered by their own camera. Since the wide camera would be static I only needed to coerce one person to join my crew. As it turned out Ben had the day free and agreed to help out. I have two Sennheiser wireless lavaliere microphone sets that are getting long in the tooth but I figured I could press them into service on this job. And lights? We've got plenty of lights and I'll be immodest and say I'm pretty qualified to use them. 

And that's how we left it at the meeting but by Monday morning the changes started rolling in.... First off, the stage crew at the main theatre didn't think they could spare the downtime (11-4 pm on a Sunday) and denied our request to use the space for the interviews. It was decided that we'd be moved over to the older rehearsal space which is a huge, poorly lit box with some uncontrolled daylight coming in on one end, a long wall of mirrors on one side and absolutely nothing attractive on the only wall we could use as a background. That engendered the first question from the client: "Do you happen to have a background that's wide enough for two three people in an interview setting that requires a wide shot?" Um, no. "But there is a rental house that will have one." No budget for that. 

The day proceeded as did the e-mails. "Hey! High excitement over here. The producer of the show (famous actor) will be in town and the powers that be want to incorporate her into the interview set-up with the director and the actor (one person play). Will that be an issue?"

And then I got the next e-mail. "The executive team would like to add an interview just with the producer, after the main interview video session. That won't be a problem will it?"

I don't know what to say because I'm still grappling with the very first issue; what to use as a background. I'm thinking we'll position the three people about 20-25 feet in front of the back wall and spray the back wall with a colored light wash. I make a note to bring there more lighting fixtures, gel filter holders, and barn doors to hold the filter holders. 

Two people and three cameras is good math but three people and three cameras is bad math. Sure, you can give each person a camera framed for their own position but you lose the wide shot which establishes the interviewees' geography in relation to the house, to each other, etc. I'm still working on that as adding a forth camera would also entail bringing in a third operator (one for each camera dedicated to an actor, director or producer....) but I'm pretty sure there's not a budget for that...

But even if we go with three cameras and figure out how to make it work (one camera being an active close up camera, probably) we also have the issue of how to do the audio. And this is the most vexing of all my considerations. I'd like to isolate each speaker to their own audio channel. If I mike each one with a lavaliere microphone I can use a dual channel, wireless receiver and two lavalieres but that's only two people, not three, and my "A" camera (all my cameras...) only has a two channel input. How do I mike and control the audio of the third person? 

I could call "sound guy" but... there's no budget. I worked on this issue for a couple of days and decided that I'll use my (brand new) dual channel receiver/transmitter set for the two original talents and run their audio into the two channels of camera "A". Then I'll use one of the Sennheiser wireless rigs to record audio from the newly added, third person and run that mic into whichever camera we designate for the added person. That means my second camera operator (Ben) will have to have headphones on and deal with any audio levels changes on the third mic; and whoever ends up editing this stuff will have to be informed about where to look for person three's best audio tracks and then incorporate that audio into the final edits.

I toyed with the idea of using two cardioid mics suspended over the set instead but the room is bright and bouncy and it'll be 100 degrees (f) on the shoot day and no one will allow the (noisy, industrial) air conditioning to be silenced. Not even for Art. This is Texas after all. 

Really Old School. Yes, Nikon used to make movie cameras. Really good ones. 

Part of planning is making sure you have all the stuff you need to do the job at hand. The fifth or sixth thing I thought of was: "What are we going to have the interviewees sit on?" I figured we'd use high/tall director's chairs and asked if the theater had any. That's now become a bureaucratic task/question so I imagine that at some point on Sunday someone will show up with three old, metal folding chairs and will ask me, sincerely, "Will these do?" At which point we'll call someone and send them out to find the right chairs and deliver them. Except that there's no budget for that...

Tomorrow (shoot date minus three) we'll have an extended e-mail conversation about "craft service" and after four or five back and forths I'm pretty sure I'll convince them that hot coffee and something edible is the bare minimum. If we can't get that then I'll invoke the "deal killer" clause. 

So, in my usual impractical and spendy fashion I've picked up a few things to make the shoot go more smoothly for me. I bought a  Saramonic UWMIC9 RX9 + TX9 + TX9, 96-Channel Digital UHF Wireless Dual Lavalier Microphone System. It's a system that is comprised of a dual channel receiver and two wireless transmitters plus two lavaliere microphones. This assemblage will go on my "A" camera. I set it up and practiced with it today and I'm happy to report that it sounds good, works well with my Fuji X-H1, and is very easy to handle. That's two people taken care of. The kit cost me $399 at Precision Camera, here in Austin. I looked at Rode and Sennheiser rigs that offer automatic channel switching if there is interference but I was daunted and ultimately rejected them because they have a very long latency. They can up up to a frame off (the sync between visual and audio) depending on the frame rate in use. The higher the frame rate the bigger the discrepancy. 

At this point I'm going to mic the third person with one of our Sennheiser EW100 G3 units and run that feed into the "B" camera. We'll keep the second set of Sennheiser gear handy as a backup. 

Then it dawned on me that on the "A" camera rig, in order to change levels between the two microphones I'd have to go into the wireless receiver menu and change the output level of one channel in relation to the other channel. This is hardly something I can do on the fly and I started to panic a bit since one interviewee could have a loud voice and the other quite soft. The levels need to be matched at the outset and worked with over the duration of the recording. 

I have a Tascam 60Dii digital audio recorder that I could run the audio from the two microphones into and then use the recorder as a mixer to ride levels but it's a battery hog and it's got complex and sometimes confusing menus. I decided to buy something different and decided on the Beachtek DXA-MICRO PRO Audio Adapter which is basically a microphone pre-amplifier which provides phantom power to one XLR input and also has a 3.5mm stereo input or can accept two mono 3.5mm channels (L/R). Since it's a powered box it can provide some amplification so I don't need to push the preamplifiers in the camera too hard (less noise that way). And the main reason for the unit's existence in my camera bag will be the added ability to use physical knobs to control the output levels of the wireless microphones going into the camera. 

If this all sounds confusing to you then count me in because it's confusing for me as well. In the best of all possible worlds I'd have a sound guy there with a four or eight channel mixer/pre-amplifier and he or she would mic everyone, ride levels, signal me if we had an audio issue, and then present me with a nice file; with perfect sound. But we don't have the budget for that. 

I may yet default to the two cardioid mics but if I do that then I'll also have to lug in a rolling case full of sound blankets to kill some of the sound reflection around the shooting area. Sound is truly the nemesis for lightweight video professionals. Best left to the real audio pros. But...there's no budget for that. 

Five years ago with a Nikon D810.

I do have three good tripods; two with nice, fluid heads. We'll be using three identically set Fuji XH-1 cameras but since all this effort will end up in social media and nowhere near broadcast TV the producer and I have elected to shoot in 1080p and I'll set the cameras to a very ample 100 mb/s data rate. I want to shoot at 29.97 fps but I'm flexible, I'd be happy to shoot at 24 as well. Since there won't be much big movement it doesn't seem to make sense to shoot at 60 fps; that would just make lighting one stop harder... I'll use a 23mm f1.4 Fuji lens on the wide camera and depend on two zooms (the 18-55mm and the 16-55mm) for the tighter shots. We'll do a "walk through" tomorrow and I'll see if there's enough room to use something longer. If there is I'll use the 90mm f2.8 and a new lens I'm trying out; the Viltrox 85mm f1.8 AF for Fuji as my two tight lenses. V60 cards in all cameras; just for a bit of overkill. 
As far as lighting goes I think I'll light each person with their own Godox SL60W LED light modified with 32 inch by 32 inch soft boxes. I'll add a hair light for each person with a few Aputure Lightstorm LS-1/2's and then pump up the entire set with fill light from Lightstorm LS-1 lights bounced into big flats. Anything to overpower the eerie, ceiling mounted florescent tube lighting, circa 1985...
A good fluid head needs it's own cowboy hat to protect it from the elements. 
This one is a genuine Stetson I've had for nearly 30 years. 

 There is one other thing I just bought in the service of this shoot and that's a new supply of batteries. I ordered 48 double "A's" for the wireless gear and a box of 12 nine volt batteries for the new Beachtek. I'd hate to run out of juice halfway through my project. 

A lot could change between now and Sunday. We could be moved into an even weirder shooting environment. The theater execs could decide to add a few more people to the mix. They will almost certainly come back to me on Friday or Saturday to radically shrink the schedule but we'll handle it. Because we're prepared and also because we're a bit crazy. And yes....that's the royal "we." 

Saratoga Springs. 

We've got two cheap monitors and one really good one. We'll use the good one to set color and levels. We'd buy two more really good ones but there's no budget on this job. We'll pick them up next time.

This is not a bowl of pasta. This is a shotgun microphone and camouflage cabling. 
Notice the little red wind shields.

The outflow area from the Barton Springs Pool. It's a 1/8th mile, spring fed pool that's open year round and absolutely worshipped in the Summer. The water is usually around 70 degrees. 
We'll try to end up here after the shoot.

At Least We're Not Doing This Production Outdoors!!!!

Portrait included solely for fun.

Ditto.

Hey. We might need this guy on Sunday.

Actual. Not a painted background.

Wouldn't it be nice if these Lectrosonics belonged in my gear bag?
Along with some Sanken microphones and a Sound Devices audio mixer....?
However.....they don't.

Wouldn't it be nice if I had this guy off to one side switching between cameras and editing on the fly?
I won't. Not even close.


But I can pretty much guarantee that doing this video project will be a hell of a lot more fun than 99% of routine office work. 


Would it be too OCD to put lavalieres on everyone and then run a second sound system of two 
carioid microphones just overhead running into a recorder?
Just for back up?
Maybe? 

Many good swims this week but I think you've endured enough by having to wade through this article about video. Go Fuji.