A Showcase for Technology

Discovery HD Theater’s new TV program LIGHTSCAPES, premiering this coming Monday, June 21st, is a showcase for some of the newest and most advanced image capture technologies.
Shot with the Canon 5D Mark II and the Red One, the premiere episode reveals in an entirely new light the 2000 year-old Grand Ise Shrine, Japan’s most sacred of all Shinto sites. LIGHTSCAPES features the work of renowned Japanese media artist, Akira Hasegawa, and his unique “D-K” (Digital-Kakejiku) art form that projects large-scale, abstract-painting-like images onto famous architectural structures and natural landscapes to create familiar yet entirely new visual experiences.
To produce LIGHTSCAPES, which consists largely of time lapse photography, series co-creators Peter H. Chang and Christopher Frey turned to the Canon 5D Mark II DSLR.
“Coupled with fast Canon prime lenses, the camera’s huge full-frame sensor excelled in capturing Akira Hasegawa’s kaleidoscopic light displays at night,” said the director Peter H. Chang. “The timelapse sequences were captured at 5.6K resolution RAW, which is more than ten times the resolution of standard 1920×1080 HD – near IMAX quality.”
Executive Producer Christopher Frey added, “I honestly didn’t think filming Akira’s artwork would be possible before learning about the 5D Mark II’s low-light capabilities, but after hearing what the camera could do, I knew we had a television program in the making.”
Tim Smith at Canon USA said, “Lightscapes is a ground-breaking production. The use of Canon HDSLR’s for timelapse was breathtaking and the incorporation of Canon optics on other footage yielded some amazing images. Paul Leeming and Peter Chang have taken Digital Cinema to the next level.”
Another camera, the Red One, was used for capturing real-time footage at 4K resolution. On shooting with the Red, Paul Leeming said, “To match the Canon still photo timelapse portion of Lightscapes on the real-time motion side we needed to use a camera with an extremely high quality sensor. We were able to interchange the Canon still lenses with the Red camera, thanks to an electronic EF lens mount built by Birger Engineering, taking advantage of the fast Canon L lenses and maintaining a consistent look across stills and motion.”
Ted Schilowitz of RED Digital Cinema said, “RED Digital Cinema is thrilled to have been the 4K digital motion picture camera chosen to shoot the LIGHTSCAPES program. The RED ONE camera, with its ultra high resolution sensor, made it a very good fit for the style of Cinematography that Paul and Peter chose to shoot for the show. It’s great that forward thinking networks like Discovery HD Theater are realizing the value of shooting 4k, to deliver the highest quality HD content today, and future proof their master footage to deliver in 4k in the future, as we at RED see moving to even higher resolution delivery for both theatrical and home viewing is in our near future.”
“Lightscapes Episode 1: Grand Ise Shrine” Premieres Monday, June 21st at 7:30am ET/PT on Discovery’s HD Theater.

Lance Armstrong Rips Magazine for Altered Photo

A tweet from Lance Armstrong yesterday :

“Just saw the cover of the new Outside mag w/ yours truly on it. Nice photoshop on a plain t-shirt guys. That’s some lame bull****. #weak” (expletive altered)
The seven-time Tour de France champion was referring to the July issue cover of Outside magazine featuring him wearing a t-shirt bearing a profane slogan.
The blue t-shirt reads “38. BFD.” The number refers to Armstrong’s age and the letters are an acronym for “big [expletive] deal”. Only problem is, Lance was wearing a plain t-shirt.
This is Armstrong’s 8th time appearing on the cover of the magazine. Why the editors would choose to alter the cover photo and upset their favorite athlete is baffling.
There’s a note on the bottom left side of the cover in small print stating that the t-shirt isn’t real. So what was the point of the profane acronym in the first place?
Sadly, this happens much more than the public realizes and it just blurs the line between what is real and what is not.
Even National Geographic magazine has been guilty of such manipulation with their cover photo. In the February 1982 issue, the Great Pyramid of Giza was digitally moved to fit the magazine’s vertical format. Tom Kennedy, who became the director of photography at National Geographic after the cover was manipulated, stated that “We no longer use that technology to manipulate elements in a photo simply to achieve a more compelling graphic effect. We regarded that afterwards as a mistake, and we wouldn’t repeat that mistake today”.
Twenty years ago, acclaimed photo critic Andy Grundberg predicted, “In the future, readers of newspapers and magazines will probably view news pictures more as illustrations than as reportage, since they will be aware that they can no longer distinguish between a genuine image and one that has been manipulated.” History has given weight to his prophecy.
“The public is losing faith in us. Without credibility, we have nothing; we cannot survive,” … John Long, chairman of the ethics and standards committee of the National Press Photographers Association.

Four ‘Must Haves’ for Better Video

For those of you who have been reading along with these video DSLR posts and thinking about getting better with your videos, I’m going to suggest your basic kit. Keep in mind all you really need is the body and lens and you can shoot a video with sound but you can raise the quality of your video with just a few extra accessories.
To produce a video you’ll be proud to share with your family and friends, you need 4 basic things…a tripod with a fluid head, a neutral density filter, a focusing loupe and a way to collect good, clean audio.
Nothing shouts out “amateur” in a video quicker than a shaky camera. It’s so distracting and something that photographers going from a still background to video have the most difficulty with. The only time a still shooter needs to worry about camera shake is when the shutter speeds go lower. With video however it’s a different story. Doesn’t matter what shutter speed you use…the video will be shaky if you don’t support the camera.
A tripod with a good fluid head will give you the stability you need and also the ability to pan in a smooth and controlled way. If you never plan to pan, then of course just your standard stills tripod will work but by not panning, you are really limiting the potential you have with moving pictures. Adding camera movement especially to a static scene does wonders using a good fluid head.
There are many different tripods and fluid heads to choose from. They can be very expensive but generally worth the extra cost. Buy the most expensive tripod/fluid head you can afford because eventually you will upgrade to the more expensive one.
Neutral Density filters
As still photographers, you are probably aware of these. You may even have a few around especially if you’re a landscape photographer. They come in handy to give you the ability to use super slow shutter speeds at high noon on a sunny day to add movement to that waterfall you’re shooting.
Anyway, with video, if you want smooth flowing moving images, you need to set your shutter with what is called the 180 Rule. Your shutter speed should be twice the frame rate you are shooting. If you choose 24p as your frame rate, then you should set your shutter speed to twice that or 1/50th sec since 1/48th is not available. So, if you are shooting video outdoors, you need a ND filter to block some light to prevent overexposure. Indoors, it’s rarely a problem but outdoors on a sunny day, it’s essential. Standard ND filters work but the best for video are variable ND filters. These allow you to dial in the ND power which is much more convenient than changing filters all the time or apertures as the light changes. What you end up doing is setting your aperture and as the light changes, you simply adjust the ND filter.
Two companies make the variable density filters : Singh Ray and LightCraft Workshop. If you have an unlimited budget, get the Singh Ray however the LightCraft Fader ND is almost as good and way, way cheaper. I own one and I’m very happy with it for video. For stills, not so great as it can produce some irregular shifting of color and sharpness which can show in stills but you’ll never notice in video.
With one of these ND filters, you can shoot with wide open apertures on a sunny day and get that shallow depth of field that can be so effective in a film.
Focusing Loupe
This is essentual if you are shooting a moving subject outdoors and especially at wide open apertures. If all of your shooting is indoors and with static subjects, you can get along fine without one. Outdoors, however it is difficult to see the LCD due to glare. Another thing I like about the focusing loupes is that off the tripod, the loupe becomes another point of contact offering more stability.
Zacuto, Hoodman, Cavision, LCDVF and Letus now make magnifying loupes for the lcd. They start at a little more than $100. on up to nearly $400. When making a decision on which one to buy, pay careful attention to how it is attached. They all use different methods for attachment.
External Audio
The onboard mics in all the DSLR’s are nearly worthless. Add to that, most of the cameras still do not allow manual audio control – not good. Good clean audio is essentual in video. The best way to do this is by recording sound separately to a recording device with a high quality mic. The Tascam DR-100 and Zoom H4n are the current favorite recorders for DSLR filmmakers. They give you the ability to use xlr mics, have audio meters and a headphone jack. All must haves for audio collecting. They also have their own built in stereo mics that you can use if you are on a strict budget. The main drawback – actually 2 drawbacks of using separate audio is that it takes time in post to sync the audio to the video clips and most importantly, you need to remember to turn them on when shooting!
There is one other way to collect good audio and that is by using a Beachtek or JuicedLink preamp box made specifically for the DSLR, which allows you to keep the audio and video intact, eliminating syncing in post hassles. But that’s a topic for another post. Collecting good audio is worth a book but for this post, I need to keep it short.
So there you go…my view of the very minimum equipment you need. It will probably run you at least $800. or more but if this is a serious hobby or you want to make money with your video then consider it an investment in great moving images.

Starting Out

So, how does one get a job as a photojournalist? It’s a tough career to get into, especially these days with newspapers making drastic cuts in staff or outright shutting down. But for the talented, persistent photographer, a job is out there. Patience and luck also help. I know, I was lucky to get my start!

Here’s how it happened.

I was self taught in photography. Never took a class. I was actually studying to become a marine biologist because of my love of the ocean. I was living in Monterey, California going to school and just hating it…the school part that is. But I loved photography. I loved taking photos, especially landscapes thanks to the beautiful Monterey Peninsula.

I had a friend in Livermore, California who was interviewed by the local paper, the Tri-Valley Herald. During the interview, while she was being photographed, she learned that the photographer taking her picture was quitting and that there was going to be an opening at the small 13,000 circulation paper. She thought of me right away and told me about the opening.

I thought, why not apply? What did I have to lose? I love photography and to get paid for it would be sweet! So, I grabbed a few of the landscapes I had and made the drive up to Livermore.

A portfolio of landscapes is not what a photo editor of a newspaper wants to see, but that’s all I had! Fortunately Gordon Clark, the man who interviewed me saw a glimmer of promise in those photos, but more importantly he told me later, he saw the enthusiasm and passion for photography that was in me.

But rather than out-right hire me, since I really had no experience shooting the kinds of photos you see daily in newspapers, I was given a test, a trial assignment. If I passed, I was hired…talk about pressure!

I was told to shoot a Friday night high school football game for the paper. A tough 1st assignment on so many counts. First of all, it’s on a tight deadline giving me just 30 minutes to come up with a photo, secondly it’s at night in a dimly light stadium meaning I needed to shoot with a strobe which meant no motordrive. And, because of the strobe, the action needed to be somewhat close to me. And as if all of that wasn’t enough, I needed to have a sharp image! Remember, this was 1973…we’re talking ancient history here – no auto focus whatsoever. Fast action, on deadline, at night…this was all so very different than the comfort of my landscape photography. Was I nervous? Just a bit. Oh yes, I wasn’t even a football fan…I had no idea what 3rd down and 4 meant!

I had to use my own equipment which consisted of 3 lenses; a 28mm 3.5 I think it was, a 50mm 1.8 and a 100-200mm 5.6 push pull zoom all on a non-motorized Canon FTb. I didn’t even own a strobe so Gordon loaned me one of his, a Honeywell Strobonar and told me how to shoot with it. I was to set my camera at 1/60th sec at f5.6, put the strobe on full power, set my zoom lens at 100mm and the focus at 50 feet and wait for the action to happen…at 50 feet away. In other words, pray! Gordon told me with such a slow lens, shooting fast action and without a motordrive, my odds were better to set zone focus than trying to follow focus.

He was right…I made deadline and came up with a sharp well exposed photo. Just so-so action but let’s not be so picky here. I also in my first assignment nervousness happened to forget where I parked my car that night so rather than waste time looking for it and possibly missing deadline, I ran to the office which fortunately was only 4 or 5 blocks away.

The next day…seeing my photo on page 4 of the Sports section with my byline under it…needless to say…I was hooked!
Seven years and many Friday night football games later, I got hired at the SF Chronicle where I worked for 30 years. We’ll look at what that was like in upcoming posts and also discuss further what you need these days to get hired.

A More User Friendly Camera

So, last week we looked at some of the advantages and disadvantages of shooting video with the DSLR. Here’s another look at the disadvantages and what we can do to make these cameras a bit more user – friendly.

Ergonomics not suited for video
These cameras are designed for stills and work great for that but trying to hold them steady for video is another matter. The camera is just too small and even too light. Some sort of support is needed. A tripod helps of course but you need support off the tripod at times and that’s where a shoulder rig comes in handy. There are all kinds of companies now offering shoulder rigs specifically for these DSLRs. Zacuto, Redrock, IndiSYSTEM, Jag35, just to name a few of the more popular ones. Most come with a hefty price tag.

No auto focus while shooting
No solution to this right now. Although pro film makers rarely rely on auto focus, there are times when it comes in handy and with the DSLR, you can’t auto focus due to the mirror. The mirror blocks the viewfinder.

Difficult to manually focus
Since the mirror blocks the viewfinder, you need to compose and focus with the lcd screen – not ideal, but it works. Outdoors or when critical focus is needed it helps greatly to have a magnifying loupe over the lcd. This magnifies the image, blocks any possible glare and adds another point of contact to minimize camera shake. A must have accessory in my opinion. Zacuto, Hoodman, Cavision, LCDVF and Letus now make loupes for the lcd.

Poor audio : no balanced xlr, no audio meters, no headphone jack
Audio in a film is as important or some will say more important that the visuals. The DSLR has a very poor quality mic which picks up all the camera handling noises. Most also have evil AGC (auto gain control) with no way of turning it off. And without a headphone jack or visible audio meters, you have no idea what the camera is recording. The best way around all of these issues is to record on a separate device with high quality mics. The Zoom H4N and The Tascam DR-100 are two popular compact recorders that take xlr mics, show levels and have headphone jacks. Only disadvantage to recording to a separate device is that it requires extra time in post (editing) syncing the video to the audio. Another solution to poor audio is using a high quality preamp along with an external mic. JuicedLink and Beachtek make great somewhat compact amps which eliminate the AGC in some of the DSLRs.

No auto zoom
No solution here although this is not a huge disadvantage in my opinion. It’s rarely used by the pro shooters and way overused by the amateur. You can do some zoom in post if you really need to.

No image stabilization built into the body – need to rely on noisy lens stabilizers
The image stabilization even on the cheap consumer cams work much better than the ones on these DSLRs however that said, anything helps so when looking at purchasing a lens for video, look for those that have the IS feature. Every little bit helps. Just be aware that the IS motors in the lens makes noise that your mic can pick up.

No built in ND filter
When shooting in video mode, you are usually shooting at shutter speeds of 1/50 sec – 1/125 sec so you need neutral density filters to cut light when shooting outdoors. Also, one of the great advantages of shooting video with these DSLRs is the ability to shoot with fast lenses that allow you to produce very shallow depth of field. To do so outdoors, you need a very strong ND filter.

Records only 12 minutes at a time
The 12 minute limit is because that’s roughly 4GB at full res HD… 4GB is relevant because that’s the maximum file size on the FAT32 file format used with these compact flash cards. If you drop down to standard definition you can record about 24 minutes of video. After that, you just need to power the camera off, then on again to resume shooting.

Can produce rolling shutter and aliasing
Rolling shutter is an issue because of the CMOS chip and how the camera records the image. Only way to prevent or reduce it is to try and keep the camera movement to a minimum. Aliasing is an issue for any camera thanks to the great lenses we have these days. Best way to avoid or reduce aliasing is to watch for it and change angles or focus. Also, turning down the sharpness of your lens can help.

Overheating issues
The DSLRs in video mode can really tax the camera’s processor – especially if left running to the 4 gig limit when shooting in heat. The camera will warn you that it’s over heating so all you can do is turn the camera off to let it cool.

Highly-compressed codec
The files coming from these DSLR’s look beautiful on the computer screen but unfortunately are highly compressed and not so great for editing. Canon uses the superior H.264-based codec which is of higher quality than the MJPEG codec of Nikon and Pentax and the lower-bitrate AVCHD offering from Panasonic. But, we’ll see better codecs from all in the near future.

No raw format
This is a huge drawback. Your post production work suffers without the image control raw offers. Just like not having raw format for your stills. When will we see it for DSLRs? Not soon enough!

So, that’s a look at the drawbacks of shooting video with a DSLR. Some are certainly a hassle but the image quality these cameras produce makes it all worthwhile.

In later posts, we’ll look in more detail at some of these issues and solutions.