4.22.2017

OT: Saturday morning swim practice.



We had a cold front move through this morning. It dropped the temperature to 61 degrees. There was a slight breeze and the sky was overcast. Not gloomy grey but a sky bordering on a bald white. I drank a cup of hot tea with a half teaspoon of sugar and a little bit of milk in it, grabbed a towel, and headed to the Western Hills Athletic Club pool to join 25 or so like-minded swimmers for our usual Saturday morning masters workout. (For more information about Masters Swimming see the USMS website).

Most of us swim five or six days a week but some of the members alternate running days, biking day and swimming days. Whatever their schedule Saturday mornings are usually a priority. On Saturday and Sunday the workouts are an hour and a half and we try to get in a lot of good, hard yards. There's an early workout of the truly dedicated swimmers and they were exiting as I trudged up to the pool deck with my swim gear in hand. They looked tired, beat up and happy.

I've been trying to get back to a regular five day a week schedule lately and I can see the rewards; I'm swimming better and faster and the waists on my collection of pants feels looser... The benefit is being able to eat almost anything without tipping the bathroom scale in the wrong direction.

I swam in lane four today with Ed and Shannon. They are both a little bit faster than me but I'm able to hang with them on anything shorter than 400 yards. After a bunch of warm up sets our coach, Cheryl, concocted a brutal little set for us as the main entree. The set consisted of three X 50 yards on a forty second interval followed immediately by 4 x 25 yard sprints; halfway under water in each direction. We repeated that set four times. It's basically three fast sprints in a row with little to no rest. We call them, "touch and goes" because, unless you are really fast, you are hitting the wall at the 50, looking at the clock and then going again.

As a warm down after that fun set we did: 2x200's, 2x150s, 2x100's freestyle before starting the next set. It was an ambitious day in the pool. We did a bit more than 4,000 yards in our hour and a half and that seemed to satisfy even the most masochistic and compulsive exercisers in the group.

Following the workout a group of us did what we have done on most Saturdays for the last twenty years. We headed to a local coffee shop to drink coffee, talk about the workout, talk about swimming and just catch up in general. There is a core of swimmers who've been at coffee since the beginning and new ones who cycle in and out. But it's so good to have time to maintain the bonds. As we all grow older we have to make concessions in our training but if we are growing older together it's not as obvious, or as emotionally painful to deal with the toll of time.

I've been swimming with the same masters team five or six days a week since 1996. I love being in the water and have often thought that the five or six seconds after a swimmer pushes off the wall, in a good streamline position, is the closest most humans will ever come to flying without an aircraft. The aerobic fitness that a disciplined group workout conveys is vital to me as a working photographer. With the combination of swimming, walking, running and resistance training I've been able to work at the same physical levels I did in my 30's; with no back or shoulder issues. Staying in good physical shape may, in fact, be the most valuable investment I've made in my career as a working artist.

The wonderful thing about playing within a group of swimmers is the example set by everyone around you. They may be recovering from something dire, like cancer; they may have lost a loved one or had a misfire in their career, but they show up, put on their goggles and push aside the worries of life for an hour spent relishing their fitness and their ability to apply discipline to this part of their lives. And everyone in the pool is there to support them and push them forward.

In every set back I've had in my own life the medicine that worked best to get me back on track was the time I've spent in the water. I think I've always known that using a particular camera is far less important than having the fitness and discipline to use whatever camera you have with you to make your work.

We caught up with the group news while we swilled coffee. One of our group brought along a bag of hazelnuts. the chef in our ranks brought along some banana-chocolate bundt cake, we snacked and re-energized ourselves. An hour later we headed our separate ways. Some heading home to do chores, others heading in to tend to the businesses they own, and still others heading home for a quick nap or lunch with family. We only have coffee together once a week but it's a good bet we'll see most of the same characters at tomorrow morning's swim.


4.19.2017

An interview with Michael Rader, the director of ZACH Theatre's, "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill"


Michael Rader directs "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" at ZACH Theatre from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

Please click through to Vimeo to see the video in a higher quality format.

This is my second video for the show at ZACH Theatre. The first was the interview of Chanel that I put up earlier this week. This video is an interview with the play's director. The same hardware was used to produce it.

I shot with the Panasonic fz2500 in the 4K mode and edited on a 1080p timeline in Final Cut Pro X. The lighting was a combination of LED panels from Aputure; both the Amaran and the LightStorm lines. The audio was recorded with an Aputure Diety microphone (and I was delighted with the sound on Michael's interview...).

While some of the still images may look familiar I tried my best to find photographs that I had not used before.

The extensive crew for this production consisted of: me.


4.17.2017

The CHANEL interview has been reposted with an accompanying technical note. Please check it out.

https://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2017/04/my-interview-with-chanel-as-billie.html

A still of CHANEL from the tech reshearsal of "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill. 
Zach Theatre. ©2017 by Kirk Tuck

Stills and video from the fz2500 camera. 
Amazing performance for the price. 
Oh heck, it's just amazing performance!

4.16.2017

My Interview with Chanel as Billie Holiday in Zach Theatre's, "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill."

Chanel's Interview at Zach Theatre. Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill. from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

I recorded this interview at Zach Theatre on April 5th. The still images I used as b-roll as from our dress rehearsal documentation on April 4th. The video footage of rehearsal was recorded on April 2nd. 

Tech notes: The still photographs were taken with a Sony RX10iii camera while all the video content was recorded with the Panasonic FZ2500 camera using its 4K video setting. I lit Chanel's interview with two large, Aputure Amaran 672W LED panels plus two smaller panels from the same company. 

Audio was recorded with an Aputure Diety shotgun microphone. 

My next video is an interview of the production's director. 

(please click through to Vimeo and choose the 1080p, HD version of the video for best quality). 


I decided to film Chanel's interview at Zach Theatre with the fz2500 because my early tests showed me that the color in video was rich and accurate, with little of the overly sharp renditions I'd seen in other, similar cameras. It's incumbent on a videographer to take the time to test the equipment ahead of time to see, personally, how the settings on the camera affect the final results. I was able to see a kinder skin tone rendition with the Panasonic.

I set the camera up to shoot UHD 4K with the idea of downsampling. But, rather than downsample by transcoding on the import of the material I decided to actually work with the original 4K footage in the edit and only apply the transcoding when making the output version into h.264. I thought I would see improvements in overall quality when done in this fashion. When I output the video to the h.264 codec I saw two things: The compression of h.264 exacerbates the noise by a bit (not too troublesome) and it also compresses the tonal range of the middle tones enough to make the overall files slightly darker than they are in Final Cut Pro X, or when played in their native format via QuickTime Pro.

Just to test a bit further and to see where the limitations really hit I also output the file to a Pro Res 422 HQ file. This file had 10 times less compression. The h.264 files weighed in at 695 megabytes while the HQ files tipped the scales at 10 gigabytes. Viewing them side by side makes on more aware of the destruction wrought by compression. The bigger file is much more tonally detailed; the tones are well separated and the tonal transitions are as smooth as they seem in real life. The bigger file also shows less noise in comparison. It's really a moot point for a project like this one which will be used on YouTube by my client. The amount of compression in YouTube's process is at least a whole order of magnitude more destructive than the conversion to h.264 out of Final Cut Pro X. I wish I could show clients, family and friends (and Chanel) just how good the high quality file looks on a calibrated screen in a viewing appropriate room.

I think the secret to getting good video from an $1100 cameras is to pay strict attention to fundamentals. There can be no slop in exposure calculation. If you need to bring up exposure from an underexposed file you'll end up losing precious detail and it will degrade image quality. Don't plan on boosting shadows after the fact; take the time (and light) to fill the shadows to the level you'll want them in the edit before you push the record button. Controlling the range of tones, and the overall dynamic range, is an artistic step as well as a technical process. They are intertwined.

The same applies to color correction. If you've worked with smaller Jpeg files in photography you'll know that they can't be totally corrected if you didn't get it right in camera. Push the blues and you kill the yellows; push the magenta and kill the greens. It's all as interrelated as the Buddhist view of the universe. If you are working with an inexpensive camera you don't have the luxury of endless latitude but, guess what? the DPs I talk to don't believe that their twenty and thirty thousand dollar cameras have latitude to spare either. They get color balance correct in camera. A quick custom white balance at the head of the interview prevents hours of slider jockeying and teeth gnashing later in the process.

If you have the color and exposure nailed into place then the next thing to worry about is shadow and highlight mapping. I use the shadow/highlight tool in FCPX a lot. For this I had a one notch increase in shadow exposure and a one notch decrease in shadow exposure (on an S curve) which helped to open up the shadows and keep highlights from burning out. In the CineLike D profile I used I changed several parameters. I upped the contrast by one notch, upped the sharpness control by one notch and decreased the noise reduced by three notches. In retrospect I should have also reduced saturation by a small amount.

I took the time to light everything. There is a big, soft main light and a big, soft counter-balancing fill light on the opposite side. I have lights on the background and a weak backlight on Chanel. The lights establish the highlight and shadow range and are critical to the way I see video.

The one place I wish I had more control was over the ambient noise in the theater. The theater is a large space and we were just a couple hours away from a full audience show. In Texas it is critical to keep the house at the right temperature and we were unable to turn off the air conditioning. You can hear as a low frequency noise bed. I was torn because a lavaliere microphone might have gotten me a bit less noise but the lower noise would have come at the price of really clean high frequency response and also clarity in the mid-tones. I made the choice and I'll have to live with it when I listen to the final result in a quiet room.

I hope you enjoy the interview. Chanel is a world class singer and actor and, I find, an interview subject who makes her interviewers look more competent. I appreciate the time and expertise she put into helping me tell this story about the her show; and about Billie Holiday.


Read this book and save your creative life.

3.28.2017

One More Video Project From Our Assignment in February.


Marty Robinson, Clinician. Discusses the Ottobock C-Leg. from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

In this video we interview Marty Robinson who is a clinician with expertise in fitting prosthetics. He discussed the evolution from mechanical knee/leg devices to microprocessor controlled ones.

Our primary footage of Marty was shot in 4K with the Sony A7Rii but the video was created in the 1080p space. All of the b-roll footage was shot with the Sony RX10iii camera. The microphone was a Sennheiser MKE600 suspended on a boom pole, attached to a cart.

Processed in Final Cut Pro X. Music from PremiumBeat.com


3.27.2017

A Minimalist's Approach to Video Production in The Present Moment.


The first moving pictures project in which I played a significant role was a television commercial for BookStop, Inc. (the first "category killer" book store chain) in 1985. I was the advertising agency creative director for the project which used: a television commercial, a multi-page, four color printed mailer (magazine style), radio commercials, and newspaper advertising, to open three, 100,000 square foot, retail stores in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. With my creative team we concepted the commercial and the campaign materials. I wrote the direct mail as well as the TV, radio and newspaper ads. We hired producer/director, Bruce Maness, to handle the television commercial production. 

As creative director for a big advertising campaign you should be involved in all the major steps and creative decisions. You are responsible for maintaining a consistent "look and feel" throughout. The TV commercials were the big chunk of the media buy and, since my print production team in the agency were all consummate professionals, I paid the bulk of my day-to-day attention to the TV commercial production. 

For the spots we created an 18 foot tall replica of the monolith from the Stanley Kubrick movie, "2001, A Space Odyssey." The monolith was created almost entirely of hard cover books. We hired animators to animate a comet flying through a star field which then exploded and coalesced into a our client's logo (with a bit of shimmer added in...).  The bulk of the footage was shot at night in a rock quarry (our "surface of the moon"). It was my first experience with huge, manned, cinema cranes and also with giant generators, and enormous 18K lighting fixtures. 

The entire production was shot on 35mm film stock with an Arriflex camera and then mastered on two inch tape. It was a time consuming process and presented an almost logarithmic learning curve for me. It was my very first TV project and we were out of the gate with a $100,000+ budget. It was highly successful. The campaign generated results that far exceeded our client's sales goals; the TV, radio, and direct mail each won gold ADDY awards that year, and the most exciting thing for me

3.13.2017

A Third Installment of my Video Project from Canada. David's Story.


David Sims C-Leg Video. Rev. 1.2Z March 13, 2017 from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

I'm not sure there's ever a point at which video producers feel their editing is done. I could wake up every morning and change something on every video I've ever done. There are two things that bring projects to completion. One is budget; but if you enjoy a project budgets prove to be weak firewalls against spending more time fine tuning, or trying different approaches.

The other thing that serves as a giant stop sign in the editing process is a deadline. Hitting the deadline nearly always trumps one more set of tweaks.

As in the previous videos we used a Sony A7Rii, shooting in 4K (APS-C) mode to record the main interview footage and used a Sony RX10iii in 1080p mode to shoot our b-roll "footage."

The word, "footage" sounds a little zany to me given that there are no longer linear feet of film dragging through a film gate. We may have to revise our language around motion pictures as we head toward the future....

Everything that was lit was lit with Aputure LightStorm LED panels. Our primary microphone (into the Sony A7Rii) was a Sennheiser MKE600. We were working in the middle of an ongoing business and we could not always control background sounds but we did the best we could.

The main target for these videos is our client's website. They were not shot with theatrical distribution in mind and, in all likelihood, they will never be broadcast. The switch between black and white and color (which I also like) is part of the client's style guide.

I like David's interview because it was so personal and honest. This was a very rewarding project that put me in touch with some wonderful people. People with great stories about overcoming trauma and setbacks.

I want to do more like this.

3.07.2017

Strange Name. Nice Microphone.

Aputure Diety Shotgun Microphone. 

Lots of microphones out in the world. Picking the right one seems to be a mystery. The ultimate in subjective auditioning and shopping. In the projects that I've done in video I've found shotgun style microphones to be better solutions for most of the situations in which I've been filming. There's something about the universal lavaliere microphone that just seems acoustically "flat" to me. Used correctly I'm pretty sure that a good hyper-cardioid microphone has richer tones and better dynamic range than the tie-clip minis. 

On previous projects I've used a Rode NTG-2, an Audio Technica 835b, and, most recently, a Sennheiser MKE600, with mostly good results. If I put on the good headphones and really listen I'll have to admit that the AT has a bit of coloration that makes things sound...different. The Rode seems a bit insensitive and requires more amplification, which, in turn, adds more hiss or noise to the recordings. The Sennheiser is pretty neutral and has a lower quantity of noise in the files. It's a good, inexpensive choice. But far be it for me to leave "well enough" alone. 

I made the mistake of visiting Curtiss Judd's YouTube channel recently and watched his reviews of a number of different microphones. One that seemed particularly interesting was a microphone from an unlikely source --- the people at Aputure. 

Aputure is the same company from which I've recently sourced five great LED fixtures that I've been very happy with. Continued use has proven to me that the company's claims that the lights are in the CRI range of 96 and 98 are accurate. They are full spectrum and deliver what I need for the work I do. After working with their lights for a while I gravitated in Aputure's direction when I started looking for a replacement, 7 inch, field monitor. I've been happy with their VS-2 FineHD in every regard. I also appreciated that they came out with a firmware upgrade that allows the monitor to be used with 4k video streams now. A wonderful, after-the-sale upgrade that makes the monitor a great support tool for 4K shooters. 

When I saw the Aputure Diety microphone, watched the reviews, and saw the price ($359) I decided to try one and see if the rumors were true; would it go toe-to-toe with the standard of the industry, the Sennheiser MKH 416? Could the Diety match the quality of a $1,000 microphone? I'll probably never make the direct comparison but I keep seeing the comparison pop up on the web. Owners of the 416 usually end their reviews with a grudging approval of the Diety but with the insistence that the 416 still rules. Reviewers who own both usually find them to be very close, and reviewers who own neither seem to find them evenly matched. 

Mine came via Amazon delivery today. I unpacked it, plugged it into the Tascam 60DRii audio recorder and started listening to everything I could. The new microphone is handily better than my Rode, and my Audio Technica, and quieter and clearer than my second place contender, the MKE 600. Noise is almost non-existent and, if there is a visual analogy for  its performance, I would say that the difference between the Diety and the other microphones in my collection is similar to first looking through a dirty window or a lens with a smeared filter, then cleaning the window or filter and looking again. Everything is just...clearer. 

I tried the microphone in the Zoom H5 recorder with the same results and also with a Saramonic SmartRig+ audio pre-amp and phantom power interface, into a Sony RX10iii and loved the performance of the combination. I think we've got an audio winner!

Bizarre Coincidence: So, I usually swim in the early morning but today I decided to go to the noon swim. I can count the times I've ordered microphones from Amazon on one finger. The manager at our swim club is not in the audio visual business, nor does he make video. But all of this made a lunch time coincidence eerily strange...

The Amazon delivery guy hit my house just as I was getting ready to go to the pool. He handed me a brown box with the distinctive Amazon packing tape on it and I brought it into the studio, opened it to look for shipping damage and, finding none, headed over to the club for our masters swim. I dropped by the manager's office to ask about some paperwork. As we were chatting there was a knock on his office door and when we opened it there was an Amazon delivery person. He had a box the same size as the box I'd just received back at the studio.  He handed it to the manager who said, "Ah, good. My microphone came!" 

I was shocked and stood around while he opened the box and revealed a brand new, Shure, dynamic microphone. I backed out of the office cautiously and headed to the pool. Random coincidence? 

Not what I expected to see at swim practice. 


3.06.2017

The second video in a series I shot earlier this year, in Toronto, Canada.


John Mitchell C-Leg Story Rev. 1.1 from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

Many readers have asked to see the video productions I've been writing about. We have to wait until our clients publish the work we create for them, in a public forum, before we can share them. Fortunately, the client we worked for in Canada, Ottobock Healthcare, is happy to get the videos posted to their public Facebook page as soon as we get them edited and they are approved.

Here is the second video from our time in the great North.

I thought I would quickly rehash how I shot them so that the gear specs will be fresh in your mind while you watch the video.

I took along four cameras but ended up using the same two cameras every day. The "A" camera; used for each interview, was the Sony A7Rii. I shot it using a modified version of picture profile #4, in the 4K setting, and in the APS-C format. The APS-C crop is higher quality than the full frame, although most of us would not know the difference. The second cameras, used for every shred of "B" camera work --- interior and exterior --- was the Sony RX10iii. It was also set up using the same profile but I used it mostly in the full frame, 1080p mode.

My standard fps setting was 30 but I did go to 120 fps for the scenes where I was pretty sure I would like to slow down the action in post processing and would appreciate the smooth, detailed content.

The Sennheiser MKE 600 shotgun microphone was my mic of choice for all interviews. I ran that microphone into a Beachtek interface and took the audio from the Beachtek directly into the interview camera.

The editing was done on a recent iMac computer in Final Cut Pro X. I added Nattress Curves and Levels to the program as a plug-in so I'd have more control over the tonality of the parts that we converted to black and white.

The project parameters in FCPX were 1080p with a ProRes 4:2:2 rendering, sound at 48k 16 bit.

I like the Sony cameras very much and have backed away from my initial bedazzlement with dedicated video cameras. I like being able to toss super fast 85mm lenses on the front of a full frame sensor to get that razor thin depth of field look from time to time. I also like being able to grab stuff from far away with a 600mm equivalent lens. Mostly though, I've found the image quality from the conventional Sony cameras I am using to be exemplary and I'd rather fully fund my SEP every year (yes, it is tax season) that buy more cameras.

One more thing... the Sony RX10iii running with an external monitor delivers nearly 2 full hours of run time. Far exceeding the video run time I was able to get in conventional mirrored cameras I'd previously used.

3.03.2017

One of the four videos we're producing for a healthcare client.




I came back from Canada last month with hours of good video material that we're weaving into various programs. One of the first priorities was a short video message from the Canadian CEO about the 20th anniversary, in Canada, of one of their prosthetic leg products, the C-Leg.

More videos to come.

2.27.2017

For smaller cameras pressed into producing video the Cage is all the Rage. Here's a great, cheap one.


Sony RX10-3 show in a Camvate Cage Rig. Providing vital mounting points for all the crap you need to make small camera video production workable. Photo:  ©2017 Kirk Tuck, courtesy: The Visual Science Lab.

What is a "cage" and why might I need one? Still cameras don't need cages...unless you are laboring under the idea that your still camera is also a potent video production camera which you can use to create video art and also to produce video programs for which you get paid. Then... you might start considering a camera cage. Basically, a cage provides a metal "exo-skeleton" for your camera which protects it from some knocks and scratches but mostly (and most importantly) provides mounting points for all the junk that you are going to want to buy and hang off your camera in order to make nice video. 

The cage I'm looking at in this blog post also provides a basic rail system that, in addition to a bare bones cage, also gives you mounting points for follow focus attachments and a compendium shade or matte box. The distilled down cage is an assemblage of metal parts that fit around your camera and provide 1/4 inch and 3/8ths inch threaded mounting points. You use these to attach: external audio recorders, external microphones (though you are better off getting the microphone off the camera and closer to your subject...). monitors, pre-amplifiers and mixers. Or some combination thereof. 

If you take a Sony RX10iii as an example there are only two mounting points on the camera itself. One is the tripod mount on the bottom of the camera and the second is the hot shoe on top of the camera. But the hot shoe is right above the EVF and anything that sticks out over the EVF is going to get in your way, if you use the EVF to focus and compose. The hot shoe might also put the piece of external equipment that you need to use in just the wrong position to be helpful... The cage provides a better solution. (more below). >

Photo:  ©2017 Kirk Tuck, courtesy: The Visual Science Lab.

I recently bought SmallRig (brand) cages for both the Sony A7Rii and the a6300. Both of those cages were custom designed for those specific cameras and they fit snugly around the cameras giving you a very discreet visual profile. Adding a cage to the a6300 transformed that camera from a pain-in-the-ass (handling) camera, with great image quality and super video, into a much more ergonomic shooting package. The naked a6300 is too small to hold well and, if mounted on a tripod the only place to put stuff is in the hot shoe. Seems dicey to me to add much weight to such a small connection point, especially since there is so little "real estate" on top of that camera to play with. The SmallRig cage allowed me to put a Beachtek audio interface on one side while attaching  a monitor to the top area of the camera. The monitor allows a much better viewing experience than the smaller screen or poorly light shielded EVF while also giving us a headphone jack with which to monitor our audio. Even with both of those devices connected there is still at least one more available mounting point which I could use to attach a stereo microphone for ambiance. 

The A7Rii is a much bigger camera (it's all relative) so the cage for it is more spacious and gives me lots of room to make attachments. In addition to a digital audio recorder and external monitor is seems to me to be a good idea to also attach a big, lithium ion phone charger battery which could power the camera through the USB port for many hours. 

After many good experiences using cages on both of the above cameras I knew I wanted to find a good one for the RX10iii but I couldn't find one made specifically for that model. Bummer. I was going to order a generic model meant for a wide range of medium-sized cameras when I came across this one (see all photos) from a different company. The products looked similar to the ones from SmallRig but offered the rail system, in addition to the basic cage, for a price of around $120. I read the reviews on Amazon.com and ordered one, knowing that if it wasn't up to my standards I could easily return it. 

(more below). >

 Photo:  ©2017 Kirk Tuck, courtesy: The Visual Science Lab.

The product camera yesterday and I couldn't be happier with the flexibility and quality of the system. It came well packaged and the maker provided some extras that were most appreciated. The system is meant to be adapted to many different consumer camera models so it stands to reason that one can do a fair bit of customization. 

For instance, there is a bar that attaches the top plate to the plate on which the camera sits. You can adjust the bar at either end to fine tune the height of the top plate to the top of the camera. Some people might want a snug fit while others might want more space in which to get their fingers on the camera to operate controls. If the bar is too short, fear not! the package comes with a second bar that is about .75 inches taller.  I ended up using the shorter bar with the RX10iii (which is not a very small camera) but I would need to use the longer bar if I were to use the rig with something like a Nikon D5 or a Fuji XT(xx) with a battery grip. Nice to have it included in the package. ..

(more below). >
Photo:  ©2017 Kirk Tuck, courtesy: The Visual Science Lab.

While the "fly-by-wire" focusing system of the RX10iii doesn't lend itself to the use of a follow focus the rail system is great to have anyway. It creates several more attachment points for things like bellows shades and matte boxes which can help with some tricky film making. It can be used to balance the weight distribution on a tripod.  It also looks pretty cool...

(yes, more below). >
Photo:  ©2017 Kirk Tuck, courtesy: The Visual Science Lab.

I am happy with the products from both companies and I'm happy to leave the cages on the cameras. In this way I can outfit the cages with the gear I need for specific  video shoots before I leave the studio and then dump them into a Manfrotto video bag for safe keeping. Once I get to my location I can put my rig up on a tripod, connect the cables, and be ready to shoot. Even the best rigs won't be as fast and carefree to use as a dedicated video camera but even in that arena (ENG) I see many operators festoon FS-7 and FS-5 cameras with so much junk that you'd be hard pressed to use the cameras quickly, or even handheld. 

Photo:  ©2017 Kirk Tuck, courtesy: The Visual Science Lab.

Photo:  ©2017 Kirk Tuck, courtesy: The Visual Science Lab.

On every shoot I've ever done I learn something new. I learn some way to do something better or more efficiently. What I learned on recent assignments, which skewed heavily to video, is that having the audio recorder or other tool in the right place in order to reach the controls easily (and without adding unwanted vibration to the overall rig) is critical, and that a good cage, with lots of attachment points, can make a big difference in your overall effectiveness as a camera operator.  A bit of customization can go a long way. Now to see how the rig works on a shoulder mount for an upcoming documentary. More learning to come. I just hope it's not too painful...



2.22.2017

The purchase of a "bargain priced" video tripod. For no good reason at all.

75mm ball socket for quick leveling of the tripod head. 

Some people love camera bodies, some love lenses and others are hellbent on collecting small flashes and radio triggers. Me? I'm partial to tripods. And tripod heads. I've owned enough tripods to outfit an entire workshop full of handholding camera buffs with their own "sticks." But somehow there always seems to be one that I "need" for some specific photo or video adventure. 

When I headed up to Canada to shoot video I bought a smaller set of Benro "legs" that would pack into one of my duffle cases. I wrapped a big Manfrotto head separately from the tripod, and I was impressed with my ability to pack so efficiently. I was less impressed when I actually got on site, put a camera, the heavy head and a weighty monitor on top of the new legs. When I panned the tripod you could see s little flex at the beginning and end of the move. You could also see that the top-heavy nature of the camera, combined with the seven inch monitor, created some vibrations when touching the camera that a heavier rig might have done a better job cancelling out. Next time, I vowed,

2.16.2017

For photography or videography I really like using the Aputure VS-2 FineHD monitor. It just got 4X better.

Aputure VS-2 FineHD.

I was very happy with my purchase and subsequent uses of the the Aputure VS-2 HD monitor. It did everything I expected a seven inch, 1080P monitor to do, and a lot more. It was a screaming bargain. But, it was only a 2K monitor. It was not designed to accept and display a 4K signal. If I plugged it into the HDMI output of my 4K cameras I could see my composition while in "standby" but the second I hit the red record button the image on the screen would go black and the screen on the back of the camera lit up and became my display screen for UHD video. 

I was okay with that. No one promised me a 4K monitor for the princely sum of around $250. When I came back from my recent assignment I happened to read something on RedShark or Cinema5D (can never remember which) that indicated there had been a firmware update for the monitor. How wild!! A firmware update for a bargain monitor. I was impressed just by that. A few minutes later I went to the Aputure site and was impressed to find that the firmware update would give me monitoring capability for 4K. Very exciting, and just in time. 

I tried to download and expand (unzip) the file on three different machines and three different browsers but something kept tossing the download into a loop and it just kept making more zipped files when I clicked on it to expand. 

That's when I called in an expert. Enter Frank. A few deft keystrokes later and he sent me the .bin file like it was no big deal. I hooked up the download cable supplied originally with the monitor and carefully followed the instructions. Three minutes later I restarted the monitor, hooked it to a Sony A7Rii, and monitored me up some 4K. 

Of course, the screen resolution hasn't changed, it's just that now the monitor can handle the bigger video stream and downsize it on the fly for me to see. 

That's some pretty cool customer service. Some of the big boys could learn from that. I've bought six Aputure products in the last two months and so far not a single one has disappointed. Happy to have discovered this brand of photo stuff. 

Disclaimer: I'm happy with the stuff I've bought and used from Aputure. I paid for all of it with my own money. All bought directly from Precision Camera in Austin, Texas. Nice folks. They also don't pay me squat for saying nice things about them. I go there for the service, the great prices and a mix of products that work well for me. Sometimes I just call them and they deliver. It's so (nicely) last century.  Next product from Aputure for me? Might just be their new "Diety" microphone. Looks interesting and it's getting some great reviews.

2.15.2017

Quick Turnaround Video. Substituting for a colleague waylaid by the flu.


Elephant+Piggy from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

I spent last week up in Canada, working on a video project for a healthcare client. I got back to Austin, Texas around 7pm and I was pretty wiped out from two days of travel and three days of non-stop shooting and interviewing. But the freelancer's credo is to make hay while the sun shines so instead of taking Sunday off I recharged my batteries, unpacked the video stuff and repacked the photography gear so I could do a Sunday afternoon assignment at Zach Theatre. We were booked to do marketing photographs for a children's play called, "Elephant and Piggy go to a Play."

This production was done on one of the theater's smaller stages; in fact, my favorite stage and one I've made photographs on for nearly 30 years. I packed a motley collection of cameras but I used only one for the entire performance. The shoot started at 3pm and I was on my way back home by 5:00 to post process the images I'd taken for the marketing staff.

I used the Sony A7Rii to shoot the entire performance; along with the 18-105mm f4.0 G lens. It's a bit counterintuitive since this is an APS-C lens and the A7Rii is a full frame camera but let me explain. We love the performance of the sensor in the A7Rii but don't always need to use the full, 42 megapixel potential of that sensor. Many times our clients' needs are such that 16 to 18 megapixels is the sweet spot between capture, storage and online transfer. Most of the marketing for the kid's shows is done on the web and via post cards. Neither application demands the highest levels of resolution.

Sadly, the big Sony camera doesn't give you the ability to photograph at a reduced raw size but I am more than happy, in many situations, to shoot with the camera set to the APS-C crop mode and make use of the 18 megapixel files that configuration creates. But rather than shoot raw I end up shooting in the Jpeg extra fine mode. With good attention paid to color balance and exposure I just don't think the photographer is giving up much quality in the final files....if any.

With the camera set to the APS-C mode the 18-105mm f4.0 G lens becomes, effectively, a 27mm to about a 158mm zoom lens. In the smaller theater this is the perfect lens with which to capture both near and far action.

One more thing I do to ready my camera these days is to select a picture profile instead of using the canned looks. I've come to like the look of PP3 which rolls off the highlights more quickly than the still camera profiles. I've changed the "knee" just a bit to roll off highlights even a bit more aggressively which means I rarely end up with burned highlights. My last customizing step is to turn down the "detail" setting in the picture profile's sub-menus from zero to minus 4 (out of a range of +7 to -7). I can always add a bit of sharpening in post but it sure is harder to subtract over sharpening that is already baked into a camera file.

The images got delivered on Monday morning and the marketing staff was happy. So was I. The new PP3 picture profile method is giving me smoother skin tones and nicer highlights. The shadows are slightly more open as well.

With this small assignment done I got to work on Monday logging my video content from the previous week. It's not fun listening to the same interview over and over but it's necessary if you want to put your project together correctly in the edits.

I was about to call it a day on Tuesday and head into the house to grab a snack when I got a phone call from my favorite marketing expert at Zach Theatre. Seems they had booked one of their regular videographers to videotape a performance of the same kid's play on Weds. (the next day) and the videographer had come down with the flu. He thought he might be able to come shoot at the midday performance but the theater was hesitant about not having someone with full blown flu in the middle of a performance for a packed house of first graders.

Was there any way I could make it over and record the show? A client in need is somewhat like a friend in need except the client also pays you. Even though I was busy with my project at hand I decided to help out. After all, a client of 30 years is generally always worth it.

I asked how they usually record the shows. Some people do it with one camera and then ask the actors to come back and run through some of the performance after the audience leaves in order to get usable b-roll for their edit. Some people shoot single camera and call it a day.

I decided we should use one camera in a stationary mode to capture a wide shot of the stage and then use another camera throughout the show as to capture closer action, to get tight shots of the characters and to follow the action around the stage. I set up on the top row of the house, dead center to the stage. My stationary camera was the RX10ii set almost to its widest focal length and stopped down to f5.6. It gave me ample depth of field, given the relative distance from my position to the stage, and the effective f-stop. That camera was matched with the Beachtek XLR interface so I could get a balanced feed from the mixing board of the sound engineer. With the help of the sound engineer we were able to fine tune the levels in camera for great sound. That camera was set up on a big, wooden, Berlebach tripod equipped with a Manfrotto hybrid video/photo fluid head.

The second camera was the RX10iii set up on a big Manfrotto tripod with an enormous Manfrotto video fluid head. The Aputure monitor was attached to the hot shoe of that camera. The bigger monitor and the much more define focus peaking made following actors upstage and downstage, with good focus, much easier. I didn't bring cages for the cameras but I did want a microphone on the roving camera just to catch sound if I needed to sync up any frames with the other camera but I'd run out of hotshoe space by mounting the monitor there. Instead I dropped the microphone onto the hotshoe of the stationary camera and ran a cable back to the roving camera's input. Problem solved.

With both cameras set to ISO 640, and the white balance set to 4100K, I spent the next full hour operating the moving camera; following the actors, trying to decide who to keep in the frame when they split up across the frame, and trying to smoothly change the apertures on both cameras when I sensed changes in the light levels.

I knew the client was in a rush to get something they could use for distribution to media outlets so I had a quick lunch and headed back to the office to edit. At 5:00 pm I sent off a finished 1:30 minute edit to my client. We'll probably have a few little changes to make; that just goes with the territory, but she did e-mail me within minutes of downloading the video to tell me she "LOVED THE VIDEO!!!"

Starting tomorrow morning it's nose to the grindstone on the Canada job. Well, maybe after swim practice...

2.10.2017

My Wonderful Video and Photo Adventure in Canada. Images Courtesy Abraham at ODL-Designs.

VSL Baby Wrangler, Kirk Tuck, calms the talents' two  month old daughter.
Photo Courtesy: ODL-Designs

My time in Canada is coming to an end and it's a crying shame. Everyone I met here, and everyone I worked with here, was kind, happy, helpful and just flat out wonderful. I've spent the last three days just consumed with making video and I'm heading back home tomorrow with well over 100 gigabytes of 2K and 4K video content. I could not have asked for a more fun work project. 

I landed in Toronto on Tues. evening in the middle of a big ice storm, grabbed my rental car, and headed slowly down the QEW to Burlington where I checked into one of the Hilton suites hotels. It was situated about 500 yards from my client's offices. About a thirty second commute every morning. 

All the lights and the audio gear arrived without incident. The only injury was to one of the locking screws on the fluid tripod head but it was still usable. I checked out the gear, repacked and then hit the bed in anticipation of a fun day ahead. 

The next morning I donned on my long underwear, a couple shirt layers, my warmest shoes and biggest gloves and made the 30 second commute. I was warmly greeted, given a tour, given my own "all access" key card and left to my own devices (in a good way). I'd planned for this day to be a combination scouting and B-roll harvesting day. I walked around, from lab to lab with my Sony RX10 iii, a Lastolite white balance target disk and sometimes, a tripod. I shot at least one hundred B-roll clips with one break to go and grab a couple fresh and tasty slices of pizza from Longo's grocery store. In the late afternoon one of my clients took me on a scouting trip of local parks. It was 12 degrees Fahrenheit outside but my haberdashery was more that adequate. 

On Wednesday evening the CEO of the company took me to dinner at an amazing restaurant where we enjoyed a great meal and discussed everything; from the attributes that made (make) the Leica M3 such a desirable camera to the intricacies of his industry. And lots more in between. 

On Thurs. morning we started in earnest, interviewing a user of one of my client's products, documenting the alignment and adjustment of a CPU powered prosthetic, and then going to a nearby park to document the user's incredibly good mobility. I shot the interview with the A7Rii and kept myself efficient and entertained by again shooting buckets and buckets of B-roll with the RX10iii, along with lots of stills on the RX10ii.

It's hard to find quiet spots in busy offices to record interviews but we did our best. The Sennheiser MKE 600 was my microphone of choice and I was again impressed by its detailed reproduction of human voice. I dislike using lavaliere microphones as most non-pro talent moves around, touches their clothing and creates a lot of random noise. That's one thing hyper cardioid and super cardioid microphones are relatively immune to.....clothing rustle.

The 600 was routed through the BeachTek XLR interface on the way to the camera. I monitored the audio with headphones but couldn't use the Aputure video monitor with the "A" camera because it is only a 1080p monitor and our "A" camera was set up to shoot in 4K (UHD).

We had a relatively big group from the client side. Product managers, marketing managers, a make-up person, the talent and the talent's wife and then, of course, there's me. After a nice, catered lunch in our main shooting area we all suited up and headed to one of the local parks. Our talent, who is walking on a high tech prosthetic leg, navigated a long, gravel path,  stepping over lots of tree roots and tackling inclines galore. I shot wide, medium, tight and extra tight shots of everything. I figured out that the "active" setting worked best for image stabilization but we don't have that setting available for 4K (only standard in 4K) so I dropped down and shot in 1080p, but at 60 fps so we can slow down the footage in post and do a "half speed" slo-mo. 

The active I.S. worked well and, after inspecting the footage on my laptop back in the hotel, I am impressed. The I.S. is not as good as the Olympus I.S. but then, what is?

The weather on Weds. was cold but no rain or snow. That came later....

After a long day of shooting and getting my bearings at my client's facility I had the pleasure of meeting a Toronto-based VSL blog reader for a wonderful dinner. We ate and talked for three hours and I'm sure I bored him to tears but he proved to be a wonderful host, and quite resilient since he volunteered to come back this morning and assist me on the busiest day of our three day project.  He also shot these great behind the scenes images. 

Today we interviewed two different people, one product user and one clinician. We also got action shots of the technical experts calibrating and testing a prosthetic for that user. I'm sure I came across as unorganized to my fellow photographer/assist as I tried to juggle an RX10iii on a Leica table top tripod at one shooting angle, the A7Riii as a primary camera and also carry an RX10ii for still photos in between monitoring audio and video. It wasn't too big of a stretch as we had a person from the client side actually conducting the interviews. 

I'm always nervous about video content until I get back to the studio and back up the memory cards to my little laptop. 

I was exhausted by the time we wrapped up, what with baby bouncing duties and keeping track of all the details, but my VSL reader/volunteer, Abraham, helped lighten my load by assisting me in disassembling all the gear and helping to pack it out to the car. I am so thankful that he came along with me instead of me muddling my way through the busiest day solo. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

More below.....

Stepping away from the video camera to take some silent still photographs with the "C" camera.
Photo Courtesy: ODL-Designs.

Do you see the Metro cart in the foreground (above)? Do you see the conduit taped to the 5/8ths inch metal pipe at the top, where it connects with the grip head? Yeah. Well, I only brought along four light stands and in this one particular set up I wanted to use three lights as well as a big diffusion for the main light. That used up all four of my stands and left me bereft of support for the microphone boom. I hijacked the cart and built this "Rube Goldberg" rig the day before; after I tidied up for the day. It actually worked well as it's a wheeled cart and could be easily adjusted. That, and the fact that it was amazingly stable. No sandbag needed there...

Monitoring the audio and the "A" camera for David's interview.
Photo Courtesy: ODL-Designs.

Here's a good view of the main light for this interview. Notice how far it is from the diffuser. The Aputure LightStorm LS-1 LED panels have a pretty narrow angle to their illumination. It's a tight beam. I pulled the light back from the diffuser for a softer, more even spread across the diffuser. Our standard ISO was 640 and I was using a 1/60th of a second shutter speed to get a nice, smooth 30 fps. All cameras were set to the same picture profile and all were color balanced with the Lastolite WB target. Hope it makes the edit that much easier...

Canadian clients head to the car while the video team keeps shooting the Lake Ontario shoreline in a valiant attempt to log enough b-roll. 
Photo Courtesy: ODL-Designs.

Around the time we headed for our exterior location the wind began to blow and the snow began to fall. It was exciting for me. I'm from central Texas, we don't see this kind of weather much. Not so exciting for the natives who seem to have lost their sense of amazement concerning frozen precipitation.

The big gloves are from REI and the thinner "camera control friendly" gloves are also from REI. So is the hat you see and the little Polartec skull cap underneath. I was toasty warm but the best part is that I found the jacket at Costco for about $29 and it seemed as warm as anything my Canadians were wearing. Never a shiver, even after 30 minutes shooting in the wind, and standing adjacent to Lake Ontario.

I guess we Texans aren't that slow on the uptake, when it comes to personal comfort. 

A naysayer suggested that I did not have good cold weather gear; or the world's warmest gloves. Au Contraire. Here's proof. Tossed in the Sherpa hat for good measure. Me cold? Not likely.
Photo Courtesy: ODL-Designs.

Early to bed tonight as I've heard the U.S. Custom in the Toronto airport is notorious for long lines and big delays. I'd rather be five hours early than five minutes late. Besides, the family moved our traditional Thursday pizza night to Saturday evening just so I could share in the fun. I wouldn't want to miss my flight and disappoint them.

Canada Rocks! The people are great. The food was great. I give the whole experience five stars. 

Now comes the hard part, reviewing and editing all that footage.  Good night!

2.09.2017

Useful feature in Sony A7Rii and RX10iii, for videographers.

Belinda, looking at slides. 1980.

I never thought much about file sizes and HD video. My office computer, running Final Cut Pro X seems to handle 4K video without breaking a sweat. This being the case I never looked at one of the options in the Sony camera menu that allows one to record both a big, husky 4K video file and also makes a simultaneous, much smaller MP4 file. I enabled this feature before I shot my first interview yesterday because I had the idea that I would be able to send along a bunch of the smaller files to the client for review. The setting, and the duplicate files didn't have any deleterious effect on the camera performance, and the additional files aren't big enough to take up too much space, so, what the heck?

I came to realize the value of the duplicate files when I downloaded the two days of shooting into my 2011 vintage, MacPro laptop. It's got 8 gigs of memory, and a small Intel HD Graphics 3000 card with 512mb on board. No! It can't run 4K video without a very slow, three to four second per visual frame, screen refresh. It's like watching a slow slide show while listening to a continuous audio track. 

I searched and found the much, much smaller, 1080p MP4 files and clicked on one. It plays just fine. No big hit on systems resources. So, the 4K content is safely backed up but I also have duplicate content I can play, without penalty, for my clients. It's a pretty nice deal. It's like making your own "all purpose" proxy files in camera. In fact, that's exactly what it is.

The more I work with the cameras the more fluid I'm getting with both handheld camera movement and decent, on tripod, panning technique. 

We worked outside for about an hour and a half today. The RX10iii took it all in stride. With my GoreTex lined Ahnu hiking shoes, my Merino wool socks and my long underwear, along with my toasty Sherpa hat and amazing gloves, I stayed perfectly warm and was amazed to see Canadians in down outwear shivering and stamping their feet to stay warm. 

I'm heading out to meet a new friend for dinner but wanted to share this largely overlooked feature for other Sony videographers. I'm happy when I realize that a feature is not worthless...it's just sitting there on the camera waiting for me to get smarter...

A short report from the Toronto area.


I had a good flight from Austin all the way through to Toronto on Delta Airlines. Right on time every step of the way. The baggage handlers seem to have done only minimal damage to the gear. There is one set screw on my fluid tripod head that is bent but the device is still fully usable. The Amazon Basics backpack was perfect for the camera  carry on task and easily held everything I wanted to toss into it. It was even able to fit under the seat in front of me, if necessary.

When I hit the Toronto area the weather service had just announced a "freezing rain" warning. Liquid rain coming down in sub-freezing temperatures. Man, do they do a great job treating the roads! Even as a Texan with little to no experience navigating weather I was able to travel all the way to Burlington, CA. with no issues --- pretty cool.

Yesterday I spent at my client's HQ. I got a good tour of the labs, the warehouse, the training areas, etc. Unlike my more paranoid tech clients these folks were happy to hand me a badge that allowed me all facility access and then the let me do my work unencumbered. (Yes, I have worked in some facilities where non-employees are so supervised that they are escorted to the restrooms when nature calls....

I spent most of the morning and a good part of the afternoon shooting an assortment of video clips that I'll use to flesh out the stories that our interview subjects tell. At Ben's suggestion I've covered ten times more content than I think I'll need in the edits and have tight, medium and wide shots of almost everything.

For this kind of work; a mix of video clips and stills, I used the RX10iii exclusively. Someone asked me to list an important thing I learned from Alexander White's book about the RX10iii and I would immediately say that it was being able to set the focus to toggle between continuous and manual by assigning this the the center button in the four way array on the back of the camera. I set the AF to center focus and place the square over the subject. Once the camera hits focus I push the button and lock focus via manual focus mode. I have a constant indicator as to whether I am in AF or MF mode because in the AF mode the focus peaking indicators appear in the finder. Wonderful.

I am using the RX10 in 1080p for these "b-roll" shots instead of 4K because they will be ancillary to the interviews and will be on screen for seconds at a time. I would go ahead and shoot them in 4K but that limits me to the basic level of image stabilization while staying in 1080p gets me the choice of active stabilization and intelligent active stabilization. These settings make the camera very hand holdable; even at fairly long focal lengths.

The camera is amazing in this kind of work.

The other operational step I'm trying to be very consistent with is the use of a small, Lastolite white balance disk for custom white balancing as I move from area to area. One large room is used for discerning color analysis and it's almost perfect daylight while other areas use various lesser florescent tubes that can range from 3100 to 4300 with various hue shifts. The camera doesn't allow me to set a custom white balance in video mode so I switch to manual mode, do my CWB and move back to movie mode. One extra step but quickly done and well worth it.

I did my first interview yesterday. It was of the CEO. He was great. I had some noisy audio but I tracked down which bad cable was causing it and replaced it. Then I just had to contend with the HVAC cycling on an off for the whole building, as well as the occasional, loud door closure off in the distance. This was definitely a location that begged me to shoot "room tone" for later...

At the end of a long day of work the CEO invited me out for a great dinner at one of his favorite restaurants where we shared stories about photography and business. It was a wonderful way to end the first day of shooting.

I am typing this over breakfast at 6 am and I need to finish up and get back to checking batteries and packing up to go over to Client HQ for our first in a series of "product user" interviews. That, and a lot more of those texture shots  we use for cutaways, etc.  This is a fun project. I only hope the blizzard doesn't slow us down. You can make ice cubes here without even owning a refrigerator....

But I guess all you people who live in the north know this...

P.S. The thermal underwear really works! And my new, thick and furry gloves. And my monster good hat. And my Polartech scarf. And.....  All bundled up for the outdoor shots we'll be doing this afternoon. Projected temp? 12-15 degrees (f). All good. KT

Tim Hortons' Donuts? Discuss!

2.06.2017

Shooting across two disciplines. A few thoughts about using Sony cameras to bridge the gap.

Ben uses a Sony rx10 iii and an Aputure LightStorm 1/2 to harvest "texture" shots.

A commercial photography changes we are doing more and more video projects and also projects that call for a mixture of both video programming and good photographs from the same engagement. On our previous project for one of our healthcare clients Ben and I wore multiple hats. For scenes with our main subject I did the important, direct to the camera, shots with a Sony a6300 while Ben shot different angles and different magnifications with a Sony RX10 iii. We used his shots in the final edit when we wanted to cut away and keep from hanging on one view for too long. 

Throughout the project we also shot still images. The Sony RX10iii allows me to shoot 1080p video and, while rolling video, hit the shutter button to capture full res, Jpeg photographs (at the highest image quality setting) at the same time. There were no glitches or breaks in the video and, as long as my shutter button pushing was gentle there was not discernible camera movement. This is a very powerful tool. There are times between video takes when we talk to the subject and prep them for a different question. This is also a good time to grab still frames.  

There is also an automatic setting that I've been experimenting with after reading Alexander White's wonderful book on the RX10iii. It allows you to set the camera so that it automatically shoots frames when the A.I. in the camera determines that a shot with people is good. So, in the video we just finished I had some longer lens shots that featured a woman in a wheel chair, and her friend, walking and rolling up a long, curved sidewalk, toward camera. Following them with the camera while adjusting focal length and making sure they were in sharp focus took all my attention. With the automatic setting engaged I can relegate the timing and the shooting of the stills to the camera and not have to think about yet another production detail. Since the stills use the same color settings, exposure and white balance as the video everything works well. 

It's still early times for this sort of automation and you may have to intercede to get the shots you want when you want them but it's a much more powerful way to capture concurrent stills than trying to "grab" them from 4K footage. Capturing from 4K with most other camera brands gives one an 8 megapixel file while the capture during video with the Sony gives me a full 17 megapixel image (cropped from the 20 meg image by the 16:9 video crop). 

At the end of the shooting process our clients get a video time line with all the good footage distilled into a H.264 file along with a folder full of high res still images that are ready for immediate use in social marketing, on websites and even for print. 

This week I'm shooting in Canada and I'm planning on making much greater use of the ability to create still frames while shooting video. If the camera can effectively take over the actual shooting task for me then so much the better. 

I need to do a bit of research and see if this feature is also available on the A7Rii as it will be my main "interview" camera. 

The only restriction I've come across when using the automatic still shot feature is that it cannot be used in conjunction with 4K shooting or shooting a 120 fps (for slow motion). I can live with that.

Shooting double is so efficient, both for me and the client. When I work with Ben and we use RX cameras we greatly increase the amount of content we are able to capture for our projects. We both set our cameras to the same profiles, make custom white balances from the same targets and have the same exposure aim points via zebras. This makes editing a lot more effective because everything we shoot cuts together very well. The added bonus, with "auto shot" enabled is that we'll both be generating still images simultaneously. 

It's not a catchall though, we still need to stop from time to time and set up and shoot important still shots. The nice thing is that we already know our settings are nailed because we've just seen the results on an HD monitor. Most times were just shooting vertical and horizontal of the same set up but with the talent holding a pose or pausing their action. It sounds daunting at first but with a little practice it becomes second nature. Double shooting adds value for our clients. They like that. It keeps our wheels of industry turning...

Packed and ready. Flying out in the morning. 


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