1.30.2017

Much maligned Rode NTG-2 microphone rehabilitated by impedance matching. Harrah!


The internet is a dangerous place to look for specific information. I bought a Rode NTG-2 super-cardioid microphone three or four years ago and used it plugged directly into my camera's 3.5mm input with the help of a plug adapter. When I started using the microphone with my cameras I found the output of the microphone to be very low. I always needed to boost the audio level in the camera. When I did that I ended up with files that were pretty noisy. 

Searching the web led me to believe that mediocre performance is just what you can expect with a $269 microphone. "Get over it. Spend a couple grand on a decent mic." Most sites that dealt with audio presumed that a smart person would get a pre-amplifier for the microphone and only then would it work well enough for professional use. Most people started using them in conjunction with external digital audio recorders, like the Tascams and Zooms, and getting much better audio so I figured the pre-amp was needed and, like a lemming, rushed to buy a Zoom (and a Tascam). And I've been using that microphone in that manner ever since. It's become a habit. A stupid habit. I hate "double sound."

About two years ago I wanted something that would interface between the cameras I use and the XLR connectors that are at the back of nearly every good microphone so I bought a passive unit for those times when I wanted to run a microphone through the box and also have the ability to pad down the levels. 

I decided that since I didn't have good results with the Rode NTG-2 I should look at the reviews for a microphone which I could both afford and get decent sound from. All reviews led me to the Sennheiser MKE 600 and I bought one. But nowadays my habit is to run everything through the little Beachtek interface. I've learned that part of the magic of that little box is internal transformers which help provide the right impedance when combining balanced, XLR microphones with DSLR/Mirror-free 3.5mm microphone inputs. I set up the system with the MKE 600 and the Beachtek and recorded a bunch of voice tests. They sounded great and the levels into the camera were ideal. No maxing out the camera gain just to get a whisper of sound...

With this success in mind I also started using the Audio Technica micrphone the same way. Success! But, of course, I had already developed a fixed prejudice against the Rode NTG-2 so I never got around to testing it with the audio interface. Until today. 

I decided to do a direct comparison between all three of my super-cardioid microphones in order to narrow down my choices for my upcoming video project. I presumed the Sennheiser and the Audio Technica would be the winners but tossed the NTG-2 into the ring just to see how badly it would suck. 

Surprise! Of the three microphones in my test I preferred the overall sound of the NTG-2 to its rivals. This was the first time I'd used the Rode with the audio adapter/interface and it cleaned up everything that seemed wrong with that microphone. Hmm. Proper matching, could it be logical and correct? 

I'm going to say, "yes." 

Funny what you can learn by stepping away from your computer and just plugging all this silly stuff in and playing with it. I'll keep the Zoom H5 and the Tascam DR60ii around for those times when I might need some portable phantom power.... 

Go microphones!


1.29.2017

Photos from the dress rehearsal of, "The Great Society." The second interesting play about LBJ's legacy. We're three cameras deep in this one....

A photograph from Zach Theatre's, "The Great Society." 

As you might know I've spent quality time over the last 28 years documenting almost every single production Zach Theatre has done in that span. I've used at least 30 different cameras and hundreds of different lenses and I've enjoyed watching somewhere between 350-450 performances. I know a lot about theater, I just don't know what I like... Just kidding. I know exactly what I like.

I like plays that challenge my view of life, make me laugh, make me cry, etc. But most of all I like plays that are fun to shoot. That doesn't always mean comedies or musicals; it means any play that is well staged, beautifully lit, powerfully acted and, in some way accessible to me. Having literally photographed thousands of hours of material (both content on the stage and set-up advertising shots in the my studio, or a temporary studio at Zach Theatre; on the stages at Live Oak Theatre, The Paramount Theater, the State Theater, The Rollins Stage at the Long Center, and the rehearsal stage at the Austin Lyric Opera) I think I finally know a thing or two about how to photograph plays and operas, and just how my photographs will be used. The photographs I share here on my blog are not necessarily the ones I, or the marketing people from the theaters, think are the perfect ones to use for mass market communications, they are the ones I like from the shows --- for one reason or another. 

You would think that, over time, I would become a bit jaded and, more or less, just photograph productions on auto pilot by now but you would be wrong. This year I decided I needed to up my game a bit, mostly for my own enjoyment and for the challenge of making better works. A constant push for me and for my clients, and especially for the actors who commit so much time and energy to make their art work.

To this end I've started going to rehearsals and digging into the look and feel of the content while trying to better understand what the artistic directors are trying to do in their interpretations of the material. 

For "The Great Society" ( a drama about the second term of LBJ's presidency) I started my research by going to an early rehearsal and mostly watching the blocking while reading over the script. I came back a week later and we set up some lighting and used an a6300 to record three video interviews with key actors. About a week before the design rehearsal (the first rehearsal with full costumes and fully finished sets) I came by just to sit for a while and look at the set on the stage. It was also a nice chance to talk with the lighting designer for the play and try to understand the way she would use lighting to help drive the drama. 

I came to the design rehearsal which pretty much gave me the run of the house for photographs. This is where I got a lot of the closer, wider shots which I like very much. It was also the first time I was able to see a production run all the way through the script. It's great to know where the action builds and when there might be "reveals" that are important. This play is in three acts with two intermissions so there is a lot of action to remember and to prepare for. 

For the design rehearsal I brought along "the twins." The RX10ii and the RX10iii. Don't know why I did it that way but I liked it. A lot. I used the 2 for most of the close stuff and

Packing always drives me a little nuts. A new backpack always seems like the right thing to try. Here's my latest....


It's obvious to everyone now that you really don't want to check your cameras and lens in as luggage when you fly. The risk of damage and/or loss is just too great, and if you have a job waiting at the other end of the trip it'll make you crazy to arrive without the tools you need to get the work done. I have to confess something here; I am a very nervous flyer when it comes to work. I routinely get to our local airport at least two and a half hours before my scheduled flight. I have anxiety about getting the gear from the car to the Skycaps. If the lines are long I am indecisive about whether I should wait at the curbside check-in or take my chances with the agents inside the terminal. When traveling I am very much like James Thurber character (nervous to a fault) and, at 61, I've given up trying to make massive changes to my own travel psychology. 

Since that is the case I just concentrate on trying to control what I usually can. My upcoming trip to the Toronto area is a classic example. I'm videotaping interviews on location there, and also taking photographs. When we did our first in this series of videos we shot here in the Austin area I had the luxury of brining along everything I even remotely thought I might need. Or want. I had one case full of cameras and lenses. All the good stuff along with back-up cameras and lenses for every possibility. We could easily have done a nice, four camera shoot. I hauled along two big video tripods as well as a shoulder mount and a monopod. 

If we needed light stands in our interior locations we had five stout Manfrotto ten footers, with a couple of C-Stands riding along as contingency support. Lights?

1.27.2017

Zany Cheap Stuff I Love to Have in My Studio (or in the car, or in the rolling case, etc.) Part 6.



Pelican organizational device. Much needed in my life.

These little waterproof cases are from Pelican. I use the one above to keep my Sennheiser wireless system safe and all together. The size is just right. I use another one that is the same size but a different color to keep all my radio triggers for studio flashes, etc. in one place. If everything has a dedicated box to live in it cues you to get your stuff back in the right container after every shoot. I need to get a couple more; one for camera batteries and one for all the small audio cables I seem to be collecting for microphones, mixers, etc.

These guys are sturdy and the clear lid is great for a quick check on what's inside. They even come with a carabiner so you can hook them to some part of your camera bag or roller case. They're less than $20 and also make a great box for the huge collection of sunglasses that seem to be building almost daily in my car....

Organization. That means I need a much bigger Pelican case so I can keep these little boxes inside.....
It never stops.

Zany Cheap Stuff I Love to Have in My Studio (or in the car, or in the rolling case, etc.) Part 5.


When I first jumped back into making videos I didn't think I'd get very serious about it so I didn't want to spend a lot of money on peripherals; like microphones and fancy tripods. I made the same mistake so many people do and instead of just buying one really adequate microphone I started down a path that began with less expensive units. My first new mic was the original Rode Videomic. It took a 9 volt battery, had pretty good, rubber band isolation and it really wasn't a stinky performer; especially if you used it as most are designed: within a couple feet of your actor or speaker. It was good but

Zany Cheap Stuff I Love to Have in My Studio (or in the car, or in the rolling case, etc.) Part 4.


A lot of us have really cool DSLRs and mirror-free cameras that have the potential to make great video files. The niggling things that seem to push people back to traditional camcorders and more expensive, dedicated video cameras are things like built-in neutral density filters and inputs that accept XLR connectors from professional microphones. 

Since most people (myself included) tend to be careful with their cash they make the presumption that the lack of XLR connectors is just an issue of cabling interfaces so they go off and buy cables that are XLR on the end that connects with the microphones and an unbalanced 3.5 mm mini-plug on the other. They use the cable as an adapter to get the microphone signal straight into camera and then discover that there is noise, that the gain on the camera needs to be turned way up and that nothing sounds the way they thought it would. At that point they dive into the complexity of using external audio recorders for their sound, shy away from microphones connected to their

Zany Cheap Stuff I Love to Have in My Studio (or in the car, or in the rolling case, etc.) Part 3.

This falls into one of those "What the Hell is This?!" categories.
It's a Boom Pole Holder. So, what the hell is that?
(The part closest to the camera is an Avenger grip head). 

Well, when you decide you are going to tumble down the rabbit hole and find out all about video, at some point you decide that for some stuff you like the way shotgun (super cardioid condenser) microphones sound better than the sound you get from your $600 set of Sennheiser wireless lavaliere microphones. You buy a good shotgun mic and determine that it needs to be about 18 inches from your subject's mouth. You research boom poles. These are poles with a microphone on one end and a sound recording crew member holding onto the other end. The goal is to aim the microphone at the talent's mouth while

Zany Cheap Stuff I Love to Have in My Studio (or in the car, or in the rolling case, etc.) Part 2.

I'm not sure what to call this thing but it's not too expensive (unless there is a Leica version...). 

This one is around $19 and it's a life saver for anyone who needs to put a microphone and a small light or mixer on to of their DSLR (or RX10iii) and still be able to look into the view finder. I bought it after a bout of extreme frustration with the way microphones have to sit on camera hot shoes. They always stick out the back, about two inches above the view finder. This means you end up

Zany Cheap Stuff I Love to Have in My Studio (or in the car, or in the rolling case, etc.) Part 1.

Leitz Table Top Tripod. Vintage. 

I am aware that there are lots and lots of table top tripods floating around in the photo-universe-inventory. I've played with a fair number of them. My favorite is the one up above. The head and the legs are two separate pieces. I don't think the basic design of the legs has changed in decades. I bought mine about 25 years ago and have found it to be indestructible and strangely friendly. 

When you loosen the wing nut on the bottom of the legs they can all be pulled around together (like the legs of a C-Stand) so you can pack the tripod flat. The head on this particular unit is not the one I got with the legs in my initial purchase. This head predates my more modern ball head by ten or twenty years. There is only one major difference between the two heads.

A portrait from Primary Packaging in NYC.



Sometimes I think photographers overthink photo assignments. I know I certainly do. I've been obsessing about packing photo gear lately and you'd think I am incapable of making even a halfway decent image without a half ton package of lighting and grip gear. Which always brings me back to photographs like this one.

I took this image of the company owner near the end of a long day shooting in his printing factory. He was ready to walk out the door when I decided the project I was working on would benefit by having him visually represented in it. We were traveling lite that day, shooting everything with a single camera, one of three lenses and one light.

The light was a small, Lowell Pro Light, which is a little, focusable, tungsten fixture with a four way barn door set on it. My favorite modifier at the time was a crusty, old, shoot-thru umbrella that had, at one time or another, been bright white but had mellowed into a soft, subtle yellow. I plugged it in pulled the assemblage toward the desk, eyeballing the relative exposure differences between the available light and the light on my subject from the hot light.

I asked his secretary to hold a piece of cardboard as a "gobo" to shield the bottom part of the light in order to pull some of the brightness off his hands, papers and shirt. Her body also blocked some of the light from my fixture that would have overlit the area behind my subject.

I leaned in and took a quick meter reading and then focused my 100mm Planar lens on the front of a weathered 500 series Hasselblad and pulled the dark slide. We shot through one 12 exposure roll of film and then unplugged and moved on. We spent maybe twenty minutes on the shot although nothing was particularly hurried.

We didn't overthink the shot. We didn't make the situation any more dramatic than it should have been. No army of assistants. No make up person. No executive entourage. Just a brief, "How is it going? Are you getting what you need?" from the owner and a quick, "Things are going well. But we need you too. Can you just stay behind the desk and work while I set up a light?" And done.

I was packing today to do a portrait and a brief interview tomorrow. I've got a rolling Tenba case full of LED panels, a case of microphones, mixers and audio recorders, a rolling stand case with five or six light stands, a tripod and some modifiers, and, of course, a camera bag filled to the brim ----- just in case. It's all too much. After seeing this image I have the strongest urge to stick an old 28-85mm lens on one body, grab one panel and one pop-up reflector and be done with it. Oh, and a microphone. And a stand for the microphone. And a mixer. And some headphones. And.........

1.26.2017

Caught between two camps. The self-inflicted war between my photography and my videography.

Not angry, Just a bad case of RPOF (resting pissed off face). 

There's something disturbing about being stuck in the middle between two disciplines. From one side I feel the comforting tug of having done something for decades, with all the security that implies; and from another side is the lure of something different and new, along with the enjoyment of mastering new information, new techniques and new hand/head skills.

I started the year out by shooting five video projects for three companies and I'm currently in the pre-production phase of another big video project for February. Things are going well and I've made only a few, non-fatal, missteps. In the realm of photography the year is off to a slower start with only a handful of portraits, along with some still photographs taken during video projects to round out a campaign.

There's a lot to love about video. The process can be much more complex. From scriptwriting to editing there are just so many details to keep straight. The projects take more time to finish but this also means more time to bill. And each facet can be a profit center for a creative content business; from the rental of my gear to the charges for auditioning music for music beds.

Photography has its own, different attractions. It's so much easier to do the pre-production. And the post production. The projects don't last as long, which plays to my attention span. Most still photography projects are shot, post processed and billed in the space of 48 hours. A nice, steady cash flow stream.

But juggling both is hard work. Harder work than just knuckling down and choosing one over the other.

I spent a quality hour and a half at our local U.S. Customs office. I was getting my form 4457 stamped. But I was waiting behind a man who was hellbent on arguing with customs about something I could not quite understand. He was angry, they were angry and by default, I was angry. I've never had to do this before. I usually just drag along a couple of camera bodies and three or four lenses when I head out of town. When we worked out of country in the 1980's and 1990's it was a time when major companies had in-house travel departments or contracts with big travel agencies and things like visas and forms were handled by brokers and third party suppliers who had accrued some expertise in working through the system. Not so now. Everyone is on their own and scrambling to get their receipts uploaded to Concur.com. Now you get your own form 4457 filled out. Part of the production.

This push and pull between photography and the moving arts isn't some new religion I picked up on my way home from Costco.com one day. I've tumbled in and out of it for a long time. It all started when I was the creative director in an ad agency. I would come up with a creative concept and write a script for a television commercial and it was expected that I'd be at the shoot to make sure the production matched the concept, and that the talent read the words in the same way I intended them.

In those days most of the commercials I worked on were filmed on 35mm film which would be timed and transferred to two inch tape which would be edited and color graded and transferred to our distribution (tape) media. It was mostly analog back then so you started big so as not to lose too much quality on the way down the stream.

Somewhere in the late eighties or early nineties I got bit hard enough by my fascination with the process to buy a Bolex Rex 5, 16mm film camera along with an Angenieux 12-120mm lens. I used it mostly to shoot black and white Tri-X movie film. We shot several commercials with that camera before I lent it to a young film maker, from whom it was stolen.

By then I was interested in Super8, which was going through a nice resurgence. We used it for anything we could. My favorite project was for a company called Tech Works. We shot a beautiful talent, (Lou Ann Lofton) in an office, being demonstrably bored waiting for her computer (which had too little memory -- remember, the client made memory) to finish rendering something. Lots of dramatic black and white clips, close ups of clocks ticking away in slow motion, beautiful girl drinking coffee with a look of angsty disgust, a mean boss who kept looking at his watch....

I shot the entire first half of the project in black and white Super 8 with the Nikon R10 and then, after the (fictive) installation of ample memory, we shot the last half in glorious color, using a Sony Betacam. You know, like the Wizard of Oz movie; we're in Kansas so it's black and white. We're now in Oz so it's all in color.... The film was a big hit at one of the annual Apple Developer Conventions they used to hold.

My next plunge down the rabbit hole came when Canon introduced the XL-1 video camera. Interchangeable (big, white) lenses. Incredible zoom ranges. And the then current rage amongst enthusiasts: Hi-8 videotape.  Had to have one. My favorite project with that camera was my Coffee film which I did in conjunction with then "nobody", Rene Zellweger.  I had her walking down a steep hill downtown in five inch heels, in a tiny black dress, along with heart shaped sunglasses and a flowing leopard print scarf. She navigated along the sidewalk, down the steep grade, toward camera, all the while carefully balancing a white coffee cup on a saucer. And every once in a while she would stop and sip coffee while amused passersby stopped to gawk.

We also did a short film with that camera for my director friend, Bruce. Very dark. Very dramatic.  We did a couple of weeks of 10 hour days and got our money's worth out of the camera. Assisted by a very battered Sony ECM-55 lavaliere microphone (along with a very eclectic assortment of other, even older, microphones).

For about a year I taught a class about cinematic lighting on a Saturday, every six weeks, for The Austin FilmWorks. Director, Steve Mims ran the school in between film projects. He liked the way I lit projects for our mutual friend, Bruce, and we had a good run. But that was back in the 1990's and I was so busy with our high technology corporate clients that I went into photography only blinders mode for years at a time. The last project that Steve and I worked on was a music video called, The Hottest Thing in Town, for country legend, Billy Joe Shaver. On that project we actually built lighting instruments that hung over a pool table to provide even, motivated light for the pool game that was central to the narrative. We  modeled the lights after the big rectangular light boxes with beer logos that normally light the tables - the difference was that ours had two different 500 watt Totalights inside with their power cords running to separate dimmers...

That's the first big project where I really practiced with moving lights as well as moving cameras. The video went on to win a Country Music TV award in the year we produced it. Our camera operator was using an Arriflex super 16mm camera along with the new Zeiss 10-100 f2.0. Juicy stuff at the time...

But all through this string of motion stuff the photography seemed like the best shot at earning a good living, and the draw toward a well practiced discipline was strong. Lately I've been feeling the gravity from the motion side of things. I presumed I might just ramp up the number of projects we would go after this year but now I think I have a new intention. I want to go all in on video and continue offering photography to existing and referral clients who are interested. It's a sudden and big change for me but it feels right. Mostly because I love the control of sometimes getting to also write the scripts.

All the gear is so good now. Doesn't really matter which field. Lights are lights and cameras are multi-lingual now. When I talked to a nice lady named, Angela, at Customs today she pulled each one of the cameras I had listed on form 4457 out of the case to confirm their serial numbers. At some point she said, "I'm kinda surprised at all the different cameras you have. Do you really feel you need them all?" I laughed and asked her if there was some sort of limit. She smiled and said, "We don't care as long as you bring em back in legally." I was already thinking about the specific things I'd be using all four cameras for....

At any rate, that's what I'm thinking about today. Out running errands before everyone else gets out of work and hits the road... KT


1.24.2017

Pre-production on a video outside the country. What's required?


Ben and I started out the year with a number of video projects. They've been well received. Unfortunately, I can't post them here as some are for an international company's in-house use while our longer, narrative project is still wending its way through approvals and final tweaks. A nice result of our success with the first flurry of work this year is that I've been booked to do the same sort of videography in early February, in Canada. While I have flown into, and worked, in many different countries over the years I have never traveled to Canada on business. So I started doing my basic research.

Various people have told me that I'll need a work visa or some other documentation to work there. According to the Canadian Customs website one does not need a temporary work visa for film or advertising projects that last fewer than 7 days. This is nice but I will proceed with my usual travel strategy of getting a letter, on company letterhead, from the U.S. company that is hiring me and will be paying me, outlining the project and the assertion that my unique skills are necessary for the project.

The second speed bump that many savvy travelers mention is that one can experience difficulties not with taking cool cameras and video gear into Canada but, rather, in the process of bringing the gear back through U.S. Customs. Since the U.S. dollar is strong, right now, against the Canadian dollar the U.S. customs people are making sure people are not bringing in camera gear purchased in Canada without paying taxes/tariffs.

The solution is very simple. One needs only to take their gear to a local U.S. Customs office and request a form #4457. Fill out the form with the models and serial numbers of the gear you will be taking out of the country. An agent will inspect the gear and confirm the serial numbers, stamp your form and wish you a bon voyage. You can show this form on your way back into the country as proof that the gear in question is already owned by you and not subject to taxes.

It's always a luxury to produce photography and video in your own town, or within 100 miles of home, because you can bring along anything you can jam into the car, or strap to the roof. When Ben and I worked on our previous projects we had a full complement of lights, along with plentiful light stands and modifiers, a Tenba case full of microphones of various types, two big tripods, sound absorbing blankets and much more crammed into the studio CRV. We also carried along multiple camera types in case we had the urge to shoot something in a different format or a different way.

Sadly, when doing streamlined travel, I'm forced to narrow down the gear list to the basics; the essentials. Otherwise I'll never make it from the front door of the airport to the car rental shuttles....

I've already selected my three cameras and my lenses but winnowing down the lights and microphones will take more discipline that I have today.

We had great success with three different cameras on the last video/photo shoot. I loved the RX10iii for a second angle camera, and for lots and lots of tele-compressed b-roll stuff. Ben wielded that camera with great alacrity. I found the a6300 to be a perfect "A" camera for me = when used with an outboard monitor to give me a headphone output. Our A7Rii was the perfect still camera and would be the perfect back-up in video for the a6300 (sounds counter intuitive but both cameras are at their best when shooting in 4K and the A7Rii makes the nicest files when used in the APS-C mode and 4K. This puts both cameras on very even footing, for video.

I'll tote along four lenses: The dynamic duo of the 24-70mm f4.0 and the 70-200mm f4.0 G lens. These two are perfect for the stills I'll need to take and can be pressed into service, if needed, for video. I'll also bring the 18-105mm f4.0 PZ G lens as it will work with either camera in the APS-C mode. Finally, I'll take along a 50mm f1.8 (probably the Zeiss Contax) for those times when I want a faster aperture along with the more limited depth of field.

If I were to pare down even more I'd just grab the RX10iii and the RX10ii and stuff them in my bag. In 4K they are very close in performance to the bigger cameras. The only downside is the limited depth of field control. Still, used wide open at a longer focal length, the model two can do a convincing job of dropping backgrounds out; provided they are far enough away....

The kludgy stuff to pack and transport are heavy, bulky things like light stands, tripods and the like. I'm contemplating getting in touch with a rental facility for the stands and tripods but I'll see just how efficiently I can pack first. The primary rule of photo logistics is to make sure every case has wheels.

With good gear, a shot list and good subjects to interview we should be able to do some really fun visual/audio content. I guess I should also pack a coat and some gloves.....


1.22.2017

It's Sunday evening here in the world of objective facts. I'm packing for a preliminary scouting and "lite" photography at the design rehearsal of, "The Great Society."



It's been an odd and disjointed weekend. I spent Friday afternoon getting to know my RX10iii more intimately. To that end I created a small, hand holdable rig with a shoulder mount, a microphone mixer/interface, a Sennheiser MK600 microphone and, of course, the camera - fitted with a variable neutral density filter. My goal was to use the political demonstrations on Congress Ave. as practice event in becoming more fluid with my handheld and spontaneous use of the RX10iii's video capabilities. 

Right off the bat I'd have to say that the bigger silhouette of the rig, et al, will take a bit of getting used to. Twenty minutes into my walking journey to downtown I was ready to jettison the shoulder rig and try my luck handheld. I'm glad I didn't because the shoulder rig proved to be a very good and very inexpensive way of holding the camera much steadier than I had been able to in my hands alone. 

I was also intent on shooting in the 4K mode all day so I could see for myself if the various active modes available for 1080p were some how equal to the improvement in quality of the more detailed files in the larger format. My observation is that, in 1080p, the active stabilization is very good but the addition of the shoulder mount, along with the regular 3 axis image stabilization that comes in the 4K setting, is pretty much equally good. 

The afternoon was bright and sunny and the shade on the shadow side of the street was "Kodak" shade. It was a great situation in which to experiment a bit more with the video profiles. I selected PP5 which is a bit flatter than most and has a "cine" (softer curve) gamma. I also went into the profile menu and turned down the sharpening for that selection. The stuff I shot in full sun was right on the money. Good clean highlights, with no burn outs, and shadows nicely open and detailed. For where I am in the colorist's learning curve right now I would not want to go for the "full Monty" of PP7 (S-Log) right now because I'm not sure I could great it back to the real world. 

One big change I've made on the RX10iii is to change the preset on the center button of the four way controller on the back of the camera. I've changed it to MF/AF toggle. I can leave the camera set in AFS-C, put a target on my subject and wait until I am certain I have good focus, and then hit the button with my right thumb which switches the system into manual focus. I know when I've gone into MF because the focus peaking indicators appear on the screen. It's a quick and convenient way to lock focus and seems to be the cousin to the "push AF" back button process beloved by DSLR shooters. 

I spent three hours walking through downtown shooting, recording, trying different focusing ideas and, occasionally, stopping to interview and interesting person. We can talk about how good various video cameras are but here are a couple takeaways from my adventure: I shot some protesters with signs under some large shade trees and I could get decent exposure on them and still preserve detail in the sky. Very cool. The 4K video is very sharp and drops into a 4K timeline effortlessly in FCP X. The files are not too large and the program can read them directly, without the need to transcode them on ingestion. Were I to edit for a client I would convert them to ProRes 4:2:2 just to squeeze the nth degree of quality out of them.

The battery in the camera lasted me for well over an hour of run time which meant: no battery change necessary during my three hours on the downtown anti-Trump parade tour. 

I know it might seem strange to people who feel compelled to archive everything they shoot but after I came home and scrubbed through the footage, examined the files at 100% (in motion) and generally digested what moves and focus strategies worked, and which did not, I pulled the card out of the card reader attached to the computer, stuck it back in the camera and reformatted it. I didn't have any use for the footage and I'd made the discoveries I was working toward. 

Tonight I'm heading over to the theatre to sit through the design rehearsal of Zach's new play. Everyone will be in costume, the lighting set and the stage fully finished. It's a chance to see the blocking and the light cues and a chance to take images from a freer range of angles. It's like reconnaissance for Tuesday's dress rehearsal with the added benefit of also being able to cover some of the images we'll need for marketing. 

Which cameras will I take? Oh, just the two RX10's. The two and the three. Another test to see just how well they do under contrasty stage lighting (again). I have some ideas based on the video profiles. We'll see how it all works out. 

I had a cold most of last week. Shook too many hands the week before. But I finally made it to swim practice yesterday in time for a burly distance set. Didn't cough to much between the 400 yard freestyle repeats but the nap on the couch in the mid-afternoon was most welcome. 

A crazy week coming up. Let's get going.


1.20.2017

Some quick thoughts on two cameras I'm pretty sure I won't be reviewing.

Will with the original Fuji 100.

This week both Fuji and Leica introduced cameras that sound sexy and cool and interesting. But the target they were aiming at when they went into development three or four years ago has evaporated; moved on. Would I like to have one or both of these cameras, along with a group of appropriate lenses? Sure, who wouldn't? But would I pay the asking price for either of them because they represent something so new and different that I feel like I have to have them? Not a chance. 

Let's start with Leica's offering: The M10 is a continuation of the rangefinder camera style that debuted in 1954 with the M3. For about $6500 you get a basic rangefinder camera with a 24 megapixel sensor, the option to add an EVF after the fact, and battery life for 210 photographs. Your basic 50mm lens will cost you another $2200. For $8700 you can go out and shoot kinda like Henri Cartier Bresson. While the lenses are probably the best one can get you are paying an awful premium to achieve that last 1.052% of potential image quality. (I say "potential" because you'll need to make sure your rangefinder is correctly calibrated and that your basic handling skills are enough to put the camera and lens in a position to excel). It's basically a camera designed to be handheld with lenses, the real value, can only be realized with the system locked down on a tripod. 

I shot with the Leica film rangefinders for decades but they were affordable and amply available used. Leica's new idea of pricing is aimed squarely at a lux market that most working photographers are not part of. If I bought an M10 and a trio of useful lenses I would still have a hard time using this system for the work I do most of the time. The longer and faster the lens you need the less optimal the system becomes. It's a camera for people who are either without the operating constraints of clients or for photographers who do a kind of art that is specific. My hat is off to the second species for finding a paying market for doing exactly what they love. 

It's funny. I write this blog as a peek into my life as a working photographer. I don't write from the presumption that my readers are doctors, lawyers and captains of industry (although I know that some are). With this being the case it seems a bit hypocritical of me to join the parade and promote cameras like this, knowing that the vast majority of my readers, and certainly the majority or working professionals, would have no interest in buying one of these cameras. It's almost like buying into mercantile conspiracy to push a market that has no logic of its own.

I have a fantasy that, when I stop paying for college tuition and expenses, sell my Austin home at an extreme profit and finally retire, that I will buy a camera like this along with one perfect lens and spend the rest of my life traveling the world taking glorious images that no one else could match. But doesn't that play right into the worm of feeling inadequate in my own skills/vision and hoping the "magic" equipment (or locations, etc.) will make me a better artist? That way lies madness......and lots of cameras bought and sold. 

At any rate, much as I like the design of the M3, as represented for the nth time in the M10. I'll take a pass on buying or reviewing this product because I could never justify the expense or the return. What was supremely useful in the film days has lost most of its relevance in the present.

Now the Fuji GFX is a slightly more alluring enticement of a camera. Behind all the advertising and marketing is the implicit message that this camera is, de facto, medium format and brings along with it all that conveys. The idea that you'll immediately see big differences in making depth of field razor thin. The suggested promise that the "massive" sensor will provide a much richer level of color and detail and so much more. But again, how true is any of this? 

While the price of the Fuji GFX is about as good as we've seen (in terms of affordablity) for a "medium format" camera I would suggest that it's just another rangefinder style, digital camera with a slightly bigger sensor (in geometric terms) but with only scant bit more resolution and perhaps color and tonality that's already being delivered by 35mm styled cameras like the Nikon D810, the Canon 5DSR and the (amazing) Sony A7Rii. 

I think Fuji will find a fair market amongst those who don't do math well or who really believe there is something magical about a Sony sensor that's just a little bigger than other Sony sensors from the same technology generation. The dimensions of the sensor are barely larger than the 24 x 36mm size of full frame sensors and the range of current lenses is....interesing in its banality.

Perhaps Fuji is reconstituting their introduction philosophy along the lines they pursued with the X-Pro_1. Create a visually covet-worthy camera with great specs and then spend the ensuing years iterating lower and lower priced versions that get better and better (performance wise) with time. So, maybe in a year and a half we'll see the GFX-10 and it will have the same sensor, minus a few features and sell for $4995. Then we'll see the GFX-20 and it will also be a nice, step down model but with an even more attractive price.

The reality is that both of these cameras will likely be good performers and there will be a (smallish) market for them. But equally, if the only difference for the Fuji is the incremental increase in sensor size, and the only difference from Leica is the promise of simple elegance and potential good imaging, I think most people will quickly understand the skewed value propositions presented and continue buying from their current brands of choice. And I think that would be a smart move. We're moving out of an era when we were happily obsessed with our hobby and into a more complex environment for arts producers. And environment that requires constant learning and re-figuring. Getting locked into the specification paradigm of a past nostalgia can be counter-productive. Both for the mind and the wallet. 

You get a lot less wear out of an expensive tuxedo that you do from a basic business suit. 

Circling back to the Leica for a second... I just flashed on why I loved the film ones so much and never warmed up to the digital Ms. It's because the mechanical bodies promised the ability to shoot anywhere at any time without ever having to worry about being sidelined by a dead battery. It's the switch from mechanical to electronic that sucked the magic out of Leica Ms for me. Never really got that before. Funny what you think about when the world changes... It was all about the self reliance of the camera. 

210 exposures? Anxiety in the middle of an event....


1.19.2017

Firing a bad client and then spending a quiet afternoon photographing a few interiors at Zach Theatre. The RX10iii is my all purpose camera of choice.

Being dorky and snapping a selfie in the Serra Lounge mirror.

During a typical day in the photography business I understand that I'll have to deal with Austin traffic, juggled schedules, last minute cancellations and lots and lots of problem solving. We all do that, but one thing we should not put up with is a client bent on manipulating a deal so that's it's totally in their favor and offers you little to no value. I had a potential client who booked me to shoot a future project over a month ago. At the time we agreed to a schedule and to a fee. It was a small fee. 

But nothing sucks the profit out of a job like a really bad client. Here's the first warning sign:

1.18.2017

An interview with Vincent Hooper who is playing the role of "Stokely Carmichael" in the Zach Theatre production of, "The Great Society."


Vincent J. Hooper reflects on "The Great Society" from ZACH Theatre on Vimeo.

Vincent is an incredible stage actor and was a wonderful interview subject. I worked with Zach's P.R. person, Lauren, to ask the right questions. With good talent and a good interviewer I sometimes feel like it's enough for me just to light scenes and run the camera.

Just thought I'd share the stuff I did and referenced in this previous post: https://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2017/01/using-sony-a6300-to-create-video.html

We were obviously shooting a noisy location but I thought the background noise from the sirens was pretty cool.


We also did an interview with Meredith McCall, the actor who will be playing "Lady Bird" Johnson in Zach Theatre's upcoming play, "The Great Society."


Meredith McCall reflects on "The Great Society" from ZACH Theatre on Vimeo.

I love Meredith's interview but I do hear some car noise outside. I guess it's a balancing act when it comes to either stopping a good interview and trying to wait for sounds to clear or just realizing that you are on a "live" location and taking whatever comes.

We shot the interview with two of the Aputure Light Storm 1/2 lights. One through big diffusion and the other as a background wash. The camera was a Sony a6300 set to shoot 1080p. In retrospect I wish I had shot in 4K and down sampled. I've been testing the 4K capture lately and it's so nice.

Hard to get the room sounding perfect when you are faced with metal ceilings, concrete floors and metal overhead doors.... Ah....location work.


The danger of being "over-prepared."



There is a process that some of us in the business of photography go through in order to be extensively prepared for potential jobs that may be in our futures. The process consists of doing relentless, voluminous research about best practices in the genre, followed by creating lists of the gear "candidates" that are best suited for the particular projects, followed by the acquisition of the gear, followed by obsessive practice with the gear, and then, after all this work, the gear and training meet the realities of the actual job and everything just pops like a soap bubble as we come to understand that we could deliver AMAZING but that the client just has the budget and inclination for GOOD ENOUGH. 

This is not intended to be a  screed against clients, per se, but a mea culpa of our own complicity in the hallucinatory process of preparation that's fostered by the stories and fabrications of (authentic???) practitioners of our craft on the web. 

Of course, the underlying reason for the existence of the web has changed from a being a portal for the democratic dissemination of information and opinions into a giant selling bazaar, hawking everything from porn to the latest camera. The selling requires the creation of the intertwined twins, need and want. In order for you to want a new camera you need to become convinced that your existing camera (or lens, or light, or tripod, or car....) is now not sufficient to do a process that will ultimately profit you. You read "articles" about how a new product enabled some likable and jocular imagined competitor provide clients with end product (the result of using the new product) that is demonstrably superior to the product from your woefully outmatched, current product. There has to be an implicit promise that the new product will generate more happiness for you by making you more competent and more proficient. The new product should also "lift" your stature in the eyes of your clients. If you have clients...

Here's an example: We get a call requesting that we shoot some video for a product that a person wears while walking over rough terrain. The video will be of a man walking over uneven ground and going up and down hills.  We immediately go into research mode and start looking at videos, done by others, for similar products. We see lots of video of incredibly smooth and stable tracking shots (shots where the camera is following alongside the moving subject) and we dive into researching this style of tracking shot. We see videos that show this shooting method using Steadicams, Dollies with track, hand held gimbals and more. We bore down to find the best of the best scenario. In a shoot on scrambly terrain it might be the use of a Steadicam. That leads us down into a thorny thicket of options, from relatively cheap to ones a dear as a house, and we spend the time trying to find that fictive divide between budget and production value. 

Then we talk budget with our client. "So, we're pretty sure we can get a SteadiCam operator and his assistant for about $3,000 a day and use this camera package at $650 a day because according to the operator it works best on his rig... And so we'll need a camera assistant to set up the camera and that's going to set us back $1,800 and we'll need some support crew in case we need to light and also a digital tech to pull the footage off the camera wirelessly and make sure it's all okay." 

And you look over at your client because they have a curiously blank, almost fearful expression on their face and they have obviously stopped listening to what you are saying. You realize that you allowed yourself to stumble into a marketing driven rabbit hole and you were unsuccessful in pulling your client in along with you. Then the client tells you that they used to shoot this stuff with the video on their iPhones but they kinda thought it would be nice to have something a bit better, you know, if the budget isn't too crazy.  

At this point it (should) dawn on you that what they really wanted (but didn't know how to describe) was for you to put your nice camera on a tripod with a fluid head and just do a paning shot while the talent walked though parts of a nice, hilly park. And, NO, they don't want the final footage in 4K because they aren't set up for that; and NO they don't need to have you arrange for craft service because it's just going to the the three of you and there's a nice Whataburger Restaurant about a half mile from the park. 

I've been through this a number of times. It's really more about listening to the actual needs of the client before anything else. 

But it is easy to drive ourselves nuts in our mania to be "ultimately" ready for anything. I remember a conversation I had with a very good sound engineer a while back. I was trying to get him to tell me exactly what wireless microphones I should get to do my video work with. He asked me what my primary use would be. I told him that I mostly do single person interviews in corporate locations or in the studio. He told me I'd get better sound with a nice supercardioid (shotgun) microphone. I told him "EVERYONE IS USING LAVS!!!" He thought that was a cute idea. 

I bought two sets of Sennheiser wireless microphones. About $1500 bucks worth of stuff. Then I listened to a really great video that the sound engineer had worked on. The audio was perfect. Rich and detailed but with no apparent noise at all. My wireless mics sounded flat. Like the equivalent of low dynamic range in audio. The sound I was getting was boring. 

I went back to the sound engineer and peppered him with questions. He suggested I get, and learn how to use, a decent shotgun microphone and a boom pole. I did. He was right. It sounded better to my ears but the microphone didn't sound nearly as good as his video had. He asked to see my microphone and I pulled out my shiny new Sennheiser. He asked me to show him how I used the microphone; how I placed it. How far from the talent?  

He suggested that we test it. I did it my way and then he did it his way. He got closer, he angled the microphone down a bit more towards the talent's mouth. He set his levels a bit lower. His test made the microphone sound so much better. His last shot was this: "A decent microphone, used with knowledge and skill, will sound so much better than a costly microphone in the hands of someone who doesn't know what the hell they are doing...!" And then he stared right at me until the exchange became a bit uncomfortable. 

My compulsive desire to be "ultimately" prepared for getting audio led me down the same path that we hate as photographers. It's that moment when someone looks at one of your images and asks, "What camera did you use to get that picture? It's great!"  Since most of us are "technically inclined" (gear nerds) we seem to love stuff that's wireless even when the people who make the big money in the business love stuff that's hard-wired. 

I'm not saying we shouldn't be prepared but that preparation starts with understanding the client's budget and needs and not by trying to be prepared to shoot the next Star Wars episode. There's a range. It's good to know where in the range your project falls and then to make it successful given your time and budget. If the camera is the magic bullet in the equation then I would say you are already starting behind the eight ball.

The bottom line is that the need that creates "over preparation" probably comes from some feeling of technical inadequacy. We're trying to compensate for our imagined (or real) shortcomings by buying our way through a job. In fact, in most cases, the gear is secondary to the skill set. 

Who needs really great gear? The guys who already know what they are doing and are doing at such a high level that the difference between a $5,000 tripod head and a $12,000 tripod head makes their job even better. I'm not there yet. Not by a long shot....







1.16.2017

The importance of "B-roll" in video production. A hard lesson for me.

super A.D., Ben, grabs for all the "B-Roll" he can find!

The hardest thing of all in creating good video is not getting the color right or the footage sharp. Some would say the hardest part is always getting good sound. But for me the hardest part of the process is the edit. And the stumbling block for me is that I have a hard time understanding the vital importance (in the edit phase) of having lots of great "B-roll" to choose from. 

First of all, What the Hell is B-roll? Most of the video work I do involves shooting interviews. The interviews can be about new products, new processes or about something that the interviewee has done that is interesting. My somewhat linear mindset leads me to want to shoot the interview the same way I'd shoot a photographic portrait. My brain was programmed by years of still photography to compose a very nice frame, get my lighting as close to perfect as I can and to pay attention to the main event; the actual interview. 

But if you are creating video that's watchable you need to understand that having a person stare into (or near) the camera lens and talk can get pretty boring pretty quickly. Also, since we seem to be culturally evolving into a new species that learns almost exclusively by seeing, we need on screen images of the things our interviewee is talking about for the audience to better understand the content. Finally, we need scenes and associated imagery to cut away to in the event that we need to make an edit to the primary footage. After all, the way video works best is to get your audience into the story. Technical glitches are a quick way to pull them right back out of your story and move on to something else. 

In the video Ben and I are currently on for a healthcare client we have an interviewee who gave us a tremendous interview session. The technical problem is that she said great stuff but it was spread across different clips. We wanted to piece one very tight and coherent program out of these little gems of content but every time you make a cut from one clip to another there is a jarring difference in the overall continuity. The person's body might be in a different posture, hands in a different place, even the expression might be much different (if the light or sound is different; that's on you!). 

So, when we want to join different clips we need something else to cut away to to keep the audience from seeing the obvious visual hiccups. That's the primary role of B-roll. It is footage that gets inserted into your program either to show something that relates to what your narrator or interviewee is saying or to provide a way to disguise cuts between clips. The best situation is that B-roll will do both. 

Since my brain seems hard-wired to go straight for the obvious I end up running the "A" camera in most projects. I have a good, linear idea of the overall outline of the project and I'm off and running from point "A" to point "B". I'm busy following the map. But I am not incapable of learning. In solo projects I set up a second camera to run during interviews which gives me a different point of view to use in my edits and I try my best (with a meticulous shot list) to get as much footage that is relevant as I can. But if push comes to shove it's the direct interview that always takes precedence. 

Recently I was beaten over the head with just how useful and necessary good B-roll could be. My assistant director on our healthcare video project spent the shooting day with a Sony RX10iii camera in his hands. We set both the primary shooting camera and his camera to the same codec, the same white balance and fps to give us a fighting chance at mixing the footage in the edit. 

Everything I shot the A.D also shot, but from a different angle and different magnifications. He also shot details and close-ups and reverse angles. In all, he shot about twice as many clips as I did but, in my defense, my camera was running all the time on interviews...

When we got back to the studio my A.D. started editing the footage based on the outline we created. We had just done a Lynda.com refresher course to learn what was new in Final Cut Pro X 10.3 and were both excited to try using the "flow" transition tool to cut together the interview (which would serve as a primary narration track) from the jigsaw box full of clips we had at hand. The flow tool is a great transition tool where audio is involved. It seems to understand that we're piecing together two different clips of audio and automatically makes the transitions almost (audibly) invisible. 

As you may guess we had dozens and dozens of clips butted together and while the audio was more or less seamless the visual cuts were obvious. That's when my A.D. started diving into his treasure chest full of B-roll. Stuff I never thought about came out. A super close up of a stream of fresh, hot coffee filling up a coffee carafe in the kitchen. An ethereal shot of a bowl of lemons. Numerous shots of the products shot in an artsy way with a moving, handheld camera. Lots of angles of our main talent athletically piloting her wheel chair in a park, at a lake, at a restaurant, getting in and out of her car, having a meeting, etc., etc. 

He seemed to have the perfect cutaway shot for every contingency and I marveled as the project grew from a barebones documentation to a full blown, visual narrative. Video is so much richer with images that bolster the "main" footage.

Since my current A.D. is "on loan" from his college I'll be looking for a new assistant director/editor to work with in February. First on my list of question for them will be, "tell me your ideas about shooting B-roll..."

It's good to figure out where my blindspots are so I can work on them. From now until it becomes second nature I'll be carrying a "B-roll" shot list with me on every assignment. Yikes. So much harder than the camera work. At least for me.


1.14.2017

Always learning.

Learn the plan. Execute to the plan. Then make a new plan.

I think there are two kinds of workers in the world. There are those that want to master the process in front of them and then keep doing the same process over and over again as long as they get a paycheck. The idea of learning new things seems threatening and difficult and is to be avoided. Then there are workers who become restless after mastering one craft and are ready to move on and learn new things all the time. Many people are incremental learners while a different group are explorers who benefit from frequent flashes of satori and then move off to try something completely new. 

From an economic point of view it would seem that people who avoid new tasks and new training would have a financial advantage because they have attained (for the moment) a tested mastery which is efficient in its regular application. It's a tested process; all that remains is to frequently activate the process and monitor it. The downfall of this approach to working life is what generally happens during periods of technological disruption. The process (and the worker) become unnecessary and retraining must occur if the paychecks are to continue. 

The slower, or more reticent a person is to embrace new training the less financially stable they become. For the second group, the people who would rather starve than do the same process over and over again are experts in retraining because they do it constantly. 

I've watched so many disruptions to the imaging business in the last twenty years. First was the move toward digital imaging and away from film. I heard countless people, who had mastered the basic steps of shooting with film, renounce digital and maintain the use of film in their businesses long after the writing was on the wall and the need to transition was obvious to everyone else. The slow to adapt perished, financially. It happened with post processing. It happened in transitions from early cameras to more capable cameras, and it's happening again as demand for video eclipses falling demand for producing photography as a commercial business.  It happened to specialized studio car photographers who saw their talents superseded by CAD experts who could take a digital wireframe and "skin" it in any flavor, color and texture. Voila, instant car... Those graphics suppliers are thriving because they've mastered a process that emerged from a previous,  disrupted discipline. 

This is scary if you were fixed on the idea that you would learn how to pose people and how to use a still camera the same way over and over and over again, getting exactly the same results and billing the same amount of money each time. Especially scary when the market for what it is you have learned to do begins an accelerating decline. It's like passing out from blood loss. By the time you realize you are losing consciousness from blood loss it is likely too late for you to put pressure on your own wound and take other lifesaving actions. The people who survive are the ones who take immediate action. Better yet, survival is most probable, at least in our industry, for the people who constantly look to the future and prepare. And continually learn.

About two years ago I looked at the general advertising and business marketplaces and did some research. Fees for photography were stagnant and demand for most photographers working in the commercial markets was down. On the other hand video had surpassed still imaging (by a good margin) on the internet and was becoming more of a mainstream advertising and marketing tool for companies large and small. On and off the internet.

When I looked at video from the point of view of a photographer I could see that there were things I could bring to the process that were desirable. I have vast experience lighting with all sorts of tools, including the constant light sources required by video. I have spent a good portion of my working life directing people who end up in front of my cameras for one reason or another. I was pretty sure the ability to direct people, and to build a rapport with them, would also be a worthwhile skill in the video production business. 

My weak spots were the nuts and bolts of audio, the aesthetics of making the camera move, or making the people in front of my camera move, and in the editing. While I love to tell stories I needed to learn how to tie visuals together, from idea to idea, in a way that would not take people attention away from the story. Finally, I needed to learn the toughest lesson for most photographers: that we are not trying to make one achingly beautiful image we are trying to tell a whole story in a believable way. And that has been the hardest thing for me to learn. 

At some point in the late Fall last year I started to set out some goals and guiding concepts for my work in 2017. I had experienced success in putting together large and small video projects in 2016 but I could see that I would have to commit to learning more and delivering more expertise if I wanted to grow the video side of my business this year. My goal for 2017 is to have 50% of my business income derive from producing video for clients. That's a big change for someone who has depended on only still photography income to provide for everything in the family budget. At times I feel like I'm walking into a long dark hall...

So, how do I retrain? I try to learn all the time. I've read dozens of books on audio and video production. I've worked through books on scriptwriting and editing and, after every bit of new knowledge comes my way I grab a camera and a microphone and practice what I've learned with a camera in my hand. I find that I have to try each step for myself and internalize it before I can really understand it. In down time, like waiting for the next person to come into the Acme conference room for a portrait, I write small scripts and map out related visuals.

My best sources for much about making good video comes from the online learning resource, Lynda.com. The depth of information about Final Cut Pro X alone was worth a year's subscription. Watching Anthony Artis hook up a mixer to his video camera and set the controls was perfect. The tutorials on composition made me re-think much of what I do as a still photographer. 

While I've spent hundreds of hours reading, watching and learning, the one black hole in the process is watching the "free" channels on Youtube and on various websites, about video. On almost every site the content is nothing more than an endless stream of product reviews. If you allow yourself to get stuck in the review sites you'll waste massive amounts of time learning about new gear and fueling your addictive desire for the latest and greatest stuff. And that sucks away the time you need to spend actually learning the basic processes and concepts. You'll become an expert in the various camera and microphone models available with little practical knowledge beyond how to turn the units on. 

I've worked hard to stay away from the gear review sites and it's paid off for me as the owner of a photography business. The last camera that I bought was a Sony RX10iii some nine or ten months ago and I slowed down my "need" to learn about new products to the point where I have bought, in 2016, and now own, far fewer cameras than I have since the days of film. It's liberating because instead of learning that the new "miracle" camera has 2 Db less noise at ISO 1250 than last year's miracle camera I am learning where and when to point the camera I have at the right subjects and to meld them together nicely in post. 

If I were to recommend a strategy to someone who wanted to learn how to shoot good video I'd tell them to put off buying anything until they read a book about writing a script. And then I'd have them watch a series of tutorials on editing. Then I would have them read Blain Brown's book on Cinematography. Only then would I suggest that they buy (or borrow) some gear and get to work on their practice. Because, forearmed with intent and basic knowledge, they would understand what it was the gear would help them to accomplish. Too often the gear is just an unused trophy. A monument to one's purchasing power and credit scores. 

Here is a lesson. Pick up your favorite video camera, zoom the lens to about the equivalent focal length of 50mm, point it at something or someone and record, handheld, for 30 seconds. Just 30 seconds. Then look at the results on a 60 inch television. Now you understand why you need a tripod. A good tripod. 

Here is a lesson. Take your camera to a crowded park, a food court at a mall, a busy coffee shop. Bring along a friend then turn on your camera and interview them in one of these environments, using the built-in microphones in your camera. Take everything home and listen to the resulting audio on a good pair of headphones. Congratulations! You now understand why you need more flexible microphone solutions. 

Here is a lesson. Go out without a script and shoot some pretty video. What ever catches your eye. Go home and watch it from beginning to end. Oh Boy!!! You just realized why a script is so important...

In each case the learning experience has nothing to do with the need for better gear, sometimes just the right gear. Or the right planning. Or the right subject matter. 

Here are some things I learned this week: Intellectually it seems  very straight forward to stand behind a camera for two hours and document a corporate conference. You will be behind a camera that has a long zoom lens and all you really need to do is follow the corporate speakers as they amble around on the stage and talk. Oh, and you'll also need to pay attention to the sound. 

But there's the initial question of just how to compose the frame. Should you be tight or loose? How can you smoothly change direction with the speaker? At 600mm will adjusting the focus with the ring on the lens cause visible camera shake? How much headroom should I leave? 

I learned to separate the monitor physically from the camera so that I can change batteries on the monitor without effecting the camera. I was unsure of what to do when I stopped to change a monitor battery because I would be unable to keep the speaker in the frame and to follow him. My solution was to slowly zoom out to a wider shot of the stage, adequately covering all of the speaker's habitual "race track," lock the camera down, change the battery and then zoom back in slowly while picking the speaker's motion up again.  It actually worked. 

I have so much to learn but learning is so much fun. I have my first video assignment out of the country at the beginning of the next month, right after yet another video project for a tech company, and I'm already deep into research about the best way to bring in the equipment I'll need. 

The upshot of all this is that I am very excited to wake up and get to work everyday. There's just so much new stuff to think about. And it certainly seems to keep the business rocking along. No complaints from the CFO; even after dropping some serious money on new lights. It's all fun. 

Trying to be a better videographer is making me a better photographer. Let's see if trying to be a better scriptwriter makes me into a better blogger....(sigh.)





1.11.2017

Momentarily fatigued writing about video. More fun today writing about portraits.

Michelle 2016.

This is a photograph of my friend, Michelle. I have photographed her off and on for about 25 years now. I feel like we were just kids when we first met and started working together. I cast Michelle in a bunch of print ad campaigns in the 1990's and she came across as the perfect (aspirational) young "soccer mom." In fact, I considered her to be the gold standard for the higher end real estate projects we were routinely called on to produce.

She got in touch recently and asked me to take portraits of her to use for public relations in her speaking career. I was more than happy to oblige as I have a beautiful black and white portrait of her on the wall, just to the right of my desk. Looking at it gives me a boost of confidence when I'm working on bids and proposals because I can look at that print and know that I have been able to produce work I love in the past, and there's a better than even chance that I can do it again. I'd say, given that I've had the print on the wall since I moved my office here 20 years ago, that Michelle has already pre-paid me a hundred times over for any new portrait I might make of her now.

This image was done with simple lighting and straightforward camera work. The lights were studio electronic flash with one head into a big, big modifier to the right of the frame and the second light in a small, 12x16 inch, softbox between Michelle and the background.

The camera was a Sony A7Rii and the lens was the (too sharp) Sony 70-200mm f4.0 G.

I did a bit of post production to soften Michelle's skin tone and retouched a few wrinkles around her eyes. You might not like retouching and you may think I've overdone it but this is more like what Michelle looks like in my mind's eye. And what I wanted to create was an honest, kind, happy, warm image of someone who embodies those qualities.

In some senses a good portrait is part of the routine nature of my business. But to me, when it comes to friends in the studio, it's more an opportunity to catch up, share good news and bad news, and bolster each other to face the future with optimism, and a sense that we are all connected to each other. Some more strongly than others.


Here is a photograph of Michelle from an earlier session (1992).
She helps me understand that beauty transcends time.