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Thursday, December 23, 2010

••◊ Time Lapse on the (semi-) cheap

Let's face it, nothing in photography is cheap. However, time lapse is still one of those things that can be done on limited resources and with software that already comes with everyones' computer.

The more expensive solution, for me at least, is the Canon TC-80N3 intervalometer shown below. As a side note...it is Christmas and it's not too late mom - just saying. These devices go for about $145 new and act as a time lapse control for your camera with a direct connection to the shutter release port. If you're serious about time lapse, you buy one of these.

Now if you're just interested in time lapse, but don't want to dole out the cash there is a cheaper method. Every Canon SLR camera comes with a piece of software called "EOS Utility." When connected to a camera there is a selection available for "Camera settings/Remote shooting."

After you select that option there is a camera control window that comes up. For night time shooting I generally set my camera to small raw output, lock the white balance to "daylight", lock the aperture, lock the lens to manual focus, and use manual mode. Despite what the window shows below, I actually shot the sequence at ISO 1600, 15 second exposure, f/2.8, and manual focus. In the middle right of the window you see a little clock icon button. Click on that.

This brings up a limited time lapse control feature; not as full featured as the intervalometer. You have to be tethered to a computer during the entire shooting sequence, but it does work as long as your laptop and camera batteries keeps going. Note that you can do bulb or interval shooting, however the interval shooting is limited to a 30 second exposure so you can't do 2+ minute deep space exposures. As recommended on timescapes.org, I set the exposure time to half the frame interval; i.e. exposure is 15 seconds so the interval is 30 seconds. This is an optimal setting for later turning your time lapse into video since video cameras typically use a 180-degree shutter angle (in normal 24p a frame is exposed for 1/48th of a second).

As for turning the pictures into video I used Premier Pro, which is slightly overkill but I'm comfortable using this program. Clarence has successfully used Windows Movie Maker ( my face grimacing in pain at the thought) with the results included in my previous post about time lapse with the Pentax K-5. iMovie works equally as well. You just need to be able to drop the pictures into a sequence with each picture representing one frame of video.

Below is just one of the frames of our setup. You can see the 5Dm2 and 7D on tripods, with my camera tethered to a laptop on the passenger seat via USB cable. No, this isn't HDR, just a long exposure at ISO 6400 on the Pentax K-5. You gotta love the lens flair from the moon on the upper left.

Finally, the short video we produced. It's not anything ground breaking - just a bit of experimental fun.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

••◊ Quality Social

I think I should preface this post by writing that I was never a party person. I was always the first one to put in ear plugs at a concert or club. Drinking was never my thing either, so chemically induced ear plugs weren't going to happen. Clarence convinced me (bad influence inferred) to go out clubbing with him at Quality Social in downtown San Diego. His friend, DJ Joey Jimenez, was spinning that evening. We, of course, brought our cameras to capture the pre-Christmas hedonistic debauchery.

The first thing you notice, not being a club-er, is that the place smells like Vegas. What exactly makes a place of alcohol guzzling and smoking (outside balcony) smell like stale popcorn, much less a casino? Maybe clubbing people have a hidden underground fetish for popcorn? Floors are sticky - check. Seating near the bar is full - check. Girls wearing impractically short (for December mind you) dresses - check. Boyfriend following girl with impractically short dress - check. DJ pumping fist - check. Glad I don't have a waiter job there - check, check, check.

It's been a while since I shot a live event, so I had to quickly remember the basics.

  1. You're going to have a mixed lighting problem. Color is gonna suck, so just go B&W. "Film grain" at ISO 3200 is supposed to be "artistic" right?
  2. Fortify any picture taking position so people won't bump into you.
  3. Use furniture and permanent structures for rigid support during long-ish exposures - sub 1/100th is a long exposure for me since my hands are as steady as a junky looking for a hit.
  4. Wear ear plugs.

First up, Mark the door man, lead 21+ ID checker, and avid snow boarder. Also a bartender gets in the mood of the season.

DJ Joey and crew...in modern terms, meaning macbook and turn tables. We thought about making a comedy short with Joey showing all the things DJ's have to put up with including, but not limited to requesting the song that the DJ just played.

Finally, the patrons. My personal favorite of the bunch was the girl with the tattoo. I saw her in line waiting for pictures with Santa (yes, even clubs have a Santa) and asked if I could take her picture. Her tattoo reads "Family, more than blood, it's love"... an unexpected sweet sentiment in a club where you anticipate people are looking for "hook ups" and to get drunk after the work week. The police paddy wagon was stationed at the end of the block for the later case.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

••◊ Thrush

I found a video on Vimeo today that won for "best narrative" of 2010 called "Thrush." I just thought I would throw it out here on my blog because the ending felt so true for we photogs - but I'll leave that for you to find on your own.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

••◊ Help Portrait 2010

The Help-Portrait 2010 event is wrapping up about now, except maybe for Hawaii and other Pacific islands. Help-Portrait is about giving people who normally couldn't afford a portrait, a printed portrait of themselves before the holidays. Our group in San Diego hit with the blinding force of a 4800 Watt-second Profoto pack this year at three locations: The Bayside Community Center, St. Clare's Home, and Solutions for Change. An unfortunate fact is that I saw some of the same families come in this year as came in last year. However, we made the families feel as good this year as last year which is what really counts.

Of course, I had to take some behinds the scenes shots just for a blog-worthy keepsake. Short descriptions follow...

Lauren was popping off a shot of one of the massive multitude of babies this year. It was like they were putting something in the water. Even Chiselda, one of our photographers, was pregnant. Chriselda lined up donations of stuffed toys for all the kids and I think her mile high supply was fairly depleted by 4pm.

Here, Renay is shooting and Graham is relegated to the position of head baby entertainer / David Blaine (holding his breath for 20 minutes trick) imitator.

Pol photographs a family using Profoto umbrellas. Unfortunately they weren't Profoto lights. Notice how I caught the lights firing too - pure luck. I guessed at the exposure settings and just happened to nail those too. Somewhere in the universe I've broken a photographic paradox.

One of our three, yeah count 'em, three(!) MUA's at the St. Clare's location. Normally we're lucky to have just one. Each one came with a small arsenal of brush and girly face gunk that I'll never comprehend. That's OK because because I show up with an arsenal of lenses that they don't comprehend (most of the time). Hell, sometimes I don't know why I need all the lenses I do...until I need them.

Finally, one of our fearless leaders Rebecca; except when you point a camera toward her. Like most photographers she has an aversion to being in front of the lens. There's a reason we buy cameras. It puts us safely behind the image sensor. Now if the industry comes up with some type of 3D panoramic lens then we're really screwed. Rebecca and Pol share the credit for pulling off the Solutions for Change location.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

••◊ Stop Motion using the Pentax K5

Time between projects typically means testing out new gear. Clarence, of course, couldn't help but indulge in a shiny new Pentax K5 as soon as it became available in the U.S. We headed out to Shelter Island on San Diego bay this afternoon to try out the low light capability and the interval shooting function of the camera. I brought my 5Dm2 along as well, but since the Canon cameras don't have built in interval shooting I wasn't able to do any stop motion photography. However...I was able to grab this frame of the sail boat in near pitch black darkness using a long exposure. When blown up to proper size you can even see the stars behind the city. Cameras now days are truly amazing.

We were able to capture the city scape at stop motion intervals using the K5, but frankly it was uncompelling except for a cruise ship leaving the terminal and a few plane taxiing in and out of Lindbergh field. So we strapped his tripod to the back seat using a series of bungee cords and set the camera on interval mode while driving through the city. One really nice feature of the Pentax cameras is the built in image stabilization, which went into full use since the San Diego city streets look like Edward James Olmos' face. At the beginning of the Flickr video you can see where we stopped because Clarence forgot to set the focus to manual and the camera was actually re-focusing every shot automatically...in interval mode!

Friday, November 26, 2010

••◊ Happy Thanksgiving

For the last few years I've been adopted into the Nasworthy family during Thanksgiving Day. So what am I grateful for at Thanksgiving besides pumpkin pie?...having friends that take me in like family...my brutha' in photographic crime, Clarence...hope for new opportunities in the new year...my one and only mother - even though I'm a bad son and don't call her enough. Gratuitous pictures of the feast follow.

Finally, a quick family portrait of the Nasworthy clan from yesterday - before dinner - had to be quick because that pumpkin pie was waiting for me! I swear I heard the pie actually say in a dark brooding voice, "Come; Eat me." Left to right: Jimmy, Berenicia, Garret, Val, G.ma Fanning, G.pa Fanning, Kelsey, Cameron, Frank, Beryl, a.k.a. Crash, Brandon, Rachel, Chase, and John. ...and yes, despite the look this is November in San Diego.

Better go call my poor mother, after all she's the one who purposely placed a refrigerator magnet that says, "Call you mother. She worries."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

••◊ Web tablets - They do have a use after all.

By way of my day job I picked up an HP eStation printer a few weeks ago, which just happens to come with an Android web pad ("Zeen") as the printer's control panel! Obviously the play here is to get people to print from the web, but as a photographer and cinematographer I'm finally finding out what all the iPad tablet religion is about since the HP device shares many of the same core capabilities. After all, who really need yet another device with a web browser and the ability to play Angry Birds? ...Yes, the HP web pad plays Angry Birds too, but it properly prints just about anything from the web.

In my particular case I was able to take the tablet to a client this week and review some example inspirational pictures before her shoot. Instead of just using words we were able to share a banter back and forth using a hundred images and she clearly told me what she wanted. I could watch her facial expression and eyes to see how she responded to each image...much more powerful than a business conversation with precariously vague descriptions flying around the room. Well known creatives such as Vincent Laforet and Stu Maschwitz have blogged in the past about using an iPad as an collaboration tool with client. I'm slow, but finally catching on.

Another useful feature is while I'm at a client's location I can say..."oh, by the way we shoot video too. Wanna see?" Normally I would have to send them to this blog and they would have to use the left navigation pane to link to the videos. Now I can just say..."oh, by the way we shoot video" and have it playing before they can give me that disdainful look of, "are you really going to make me dig for your video online when I have more important (i.e. interesting) things to do."

All the media is stored an an SD card, so it's just a matter of rendering the pictures out at 800 pixels wide. Same for the video, but the main codec seems to be MPEG-4 (no Quicktime wrappers please) at 2Mbit/s. I believe Microsoft's WMV codec is supported too up to 720p. Unless you're a techie, no one really cares what codec you render too, so I just stick with a straight-up MP4.

Battery life seems to be OK, as I left the eStation tablet (a.k.a. "Zeen") on for half a day at the shoot with Izar a couple weeks ago. It still had battery life to burn.

What's next...making me get a cell phone? Let's not get all crazy here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

••◊ Going French in Hope-wood

Clarence and I took a leave from work Friday to go visit our friend and starlet in Hollywood, Hope Rosemary. Camera gear in tow we were intending to mostly take pictures of Hope, but at the last minute her French room mate decided to join us...

This time I decided to use Patrick Demarchelier, a French fashion photographer, as an stylistic influence. His style seemed appropriate for what we were trying to do and not really have a style of my own, I'm open to new influences. Patrick seems to use wide angle lenses ( less than 50mm) and interesting perspectives. Unfortunately the apartment complex we were at only offered selective slices of photographic paradise, so I had to use tighter shots than I might have liked at first. However, I was able to review a few of his photographs on set and use stylistic elements as an influence for the shots I wanted to achieve.

First up are two shots in the same stairwell. I used a beauty dish at camera left. I also used a strobe bunched up next to the lens as an on axis fill since the shade was f/2.8 and the sun was still baking at f/16. This helped even out the contrast and avoid harsh shadows.

In these two shots I also used a beauty dish, but the pool shot used the rim of the beauty dish as a rainbow shaped framing device. In this case my friend David was my voice activated light stand at the other side of the pool. The last picture was just a beauty dish at camera right with an on axis fill since we were under a covered area pool side. Usually I like to keep the on axis fill at 2 to 3 stops below key, depending on the effect I'm after.

One last note...Hope, thank you for being a red head again!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

••◊ Last Call

Last night my musically inclined friend Ken dragged me out to his favorite watering hole; a dive bar named "Last Call." He was there recording a jam session by the group of musicians that show up as regulars on Tuesday. He came in, plopped down a field mixer the size of a 30" LCD TV, set up a couple small condenser mics in a stereo cross pattern above the bar...and away we go. The bartender didn't even look at him twice - just a "as long as you don't harsh our buzz, it's cool man" attitude. That pretty much kept with the feeling of the band. They casually filed in one by one with a smile for their Tuesday night band mates. The band picked up steam as the night progressed with more and more people joining in.

What's really cool about the place (to me) is that the walls are covered with Polaroids of their patrons having fun. Some pics are not exactly what you might show to your work colleagues on Monday. But when the bar's logo involves a mug of beer and a pair of goggles what exactly would you anticipate?

I, of course, brought my own Canon branded semi-Polaroid. Lighting was...well...bar lighting. f/2.8, ISO3200, 1/100th and still about a stop low. Thought it might be good to toss up a couple pics on the blog while I'm waiting for the new version of "Looking In On Tony Peters" uploads. I'll swap in the new link on Vimeo tomorrow. 'Till then...random pics of the band.

Monday, October 25, 2010

••◊ Looking In On Tony Peters

I would say that I have soup for brains today, but chicken stock is way too thick to describe the current state of my gray matter. Yesterday Holly came over at 11:30am to work on her 2 minute documentary video for her technology in education class. It turns out that she had made just a tad less progress on the edit than I would have hoped (i.e. nothing was really done yet). She called her husband in the early afternoon to say she would be home before sunset. I shook my head and told her she was crazy. Sure enough; at midnight we were just finishing up and uploading to Vimeo. It's quite respectable for her first go as a director and editor. Hopefully she's jazzed because I'm having trouble spelling 'chikin' today. Thank goodness for spell checker.

Holly, if you're reading this, I still want to meet the runner model...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

••◊ Best documentary win for "What is a Bgirl?"

Got word today that "What is a Bgirl?" won best documentary at the SCIFF film festival in Washington State. It's being screen this Saturday. Over 2100 views on exposureroom.com as well.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

••◊ Nuit Blanche

Out trolling for something to do on a Saturday night and ran across this amazing video on Vimeo. I definitely recommend clicking on the Vimeo logo and viewing it in HD.

...as well as the more amazing making of. This team has unbelievable skill in compositing. They composited much more than I ever expected.

Monday, October 11, 2010

••◊ Lack of sleep = fun with light

My phone rings at 7:40pm on Saturday evening. It's Clarence. Evidently things aren't going quite smoothly on the hip-hop music video shoot for a musician who goes by the moniker "Mask." The conversation goes something like this...

Clarence: Man, get down here. They only have a Home Depot tungsten light and the lighting isn't going so well.

Me: Well, they are custom white balancing, right?

Clarence: No, auto-white balance.

Me: Oh, that just means more noise in the blues and it will need adjustment in post.

Clarence: ...and they're shooting with saturation set to zero at f/4.

Me: Oh boy...where is this place?

Clarence: El Cajon.

Me: You mean I have to drive down to El Cajon (aka El Ca-bong) at night and leave my car parked?

Clarence: Yeah, but we have Miss California at the shoot.

Me: I'll be down in about an hour.

So I toss my stuff in the car and head down, hoping my car will still be there after the shoot. Clarence suggested that I over-pack, but really I only need to do the lighting. Sekonic light meter, c-stand, a 4-gang fluorescent soft box, plus a couple gobo's just in case.

Of course, we had to light more than our fair share of beautiful women, so I used my typical key, fill, hair, separation technique. We were somewhat limited in lighting fixtures to soft boxes. Man, I wish we would have had a couple HMI frenels. It would have made a huge difference in our capabilities. As you can see below, we had the obligatory hip-hop dancers randomly dancing in a parking garage, a car scene with the Angels, as well as a few office-type scenes to light with Mask holding (tightly) onto a stack of 100 dollar bills. The tungsten light was used low to the ground to give the golden glow that you see in the first picture. We used a series of fluorescents on the car to key the talent on the side away from the camera and do fill with the lesser lights. The two-tier scene was lit fairly evenly with a fluorescent on the ground just in front of the camera to light the lower tier.

Part of the music video concept was an art theft. The office was lit with tungsten balanced lights (practicals overhead in first picture), so I used the Home Depot light inside the doorway to light the "thief's" back and put a shadow on the wall. It was a homage to one of my favorite DP's, Roger Deakins. You can see the Home Depot Orange stand in the bottom left of the second picture.

It was 3am by the time the shoot was over and you know what...Clarence had already arranged another shoot with a call time of 8am on Sunday. By the time I get home I only get two hours of sparsely dozing off before my alarm goes off. I don't know where (mostly why) I mustered the mental pry bar to lift myself out of bed at 6:30am. Grrrr, grumble, some random incoherent thoughts. Each spoonful of oatmeal was taxing like curling a 50lb dumbbell underwater.

We filmed an interview for an artist named Tony Peters. His wife, Holly, is working on her master's degree in education and technology and this was her homework assignment. Tony is a painter with works in many local galleries throughout Southern California. Holly brought over her friend Pam Davis, a former CBS reporter and current NPR personality, to do the actual interview. Lucky for us, the interview was easy and laid back. Set up a couple lights, sit back, enjoy the *quiet* show, and don't start snoring. The most fun we had was convincing Holly to put on shorts and we would creatively film a scene that looks like Tony is drawing a Kate Winslet "Titanic-style" nude. In actuality Holly was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and we covered up her clothed body with Tony's back in the framing. The filming lasted until about 1pm. Time to go home and finally sleep. Yeah! Oh wait, that's too enthusiastic. It was more like...uh huh, um yeah...sssssleep.

I have to thank Clarence for these BTS photos. I was too busy doing lighting and DP'ing to take additional photos.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

••◊ Earth Sanctuary

Last Sunday I had a chance to decompress after a couple days of working on the Ironman Bodybuilding Championships just outside Seattle. My mom and I headed over to Whidbey Island to a Buddhist themed nature preserve called Earth Sanctuary. My mom had the winning auction bid for a tour by the owner of the private preserve earlier in the year.

Any trip to the Washington San Juan Islands starts via Washington State ferry. In our case we started the day at Lighthouse Park in Mukilteo while waiting for the boat to arrive. I know the resolution on the picture below isn't detailed enough to read, but the plaque at the foot of the stairs reads, "Landing Site of Captain George Vancouver." If you've been to the Pacific Northwest then you know that there is both a city on the border with Oregon named Vancouver as well as a city just north of the border in British Columbia named in his honor. For those curious about fog horns, I thought I would include a picture of one. I had never seen a fog horn before, but it makes sense why it has a massive steel baffle to project low frequencies miles across a water way. It's a subwoofer than would make Jay-Z pee his pants in awe.

I won't pretend for a second to be a nature photographer, but I thought it would be nice to take a few photographs to share. The Earth Sanctuary is approximately 77 acres that has been restored to natural habitat with nearly 1700 native species trees planted. The sanctuary allows happy frogs, beavers, and birds to just go about their business. What's really nice is that when you walk along the trails all you hear is wind and the occasional bird in the distance, which is a complete antithesis to a weekend of fire-breathing heavy metal and pop music thrusting out of a 20 kilo-Watt sound system at a bodybuilding show. Ironically, I control the volume knob.

Growing up in the pacific northwest, I had an opportunity to go exploring in the woods daily. It was our playground - something I think kids now day lack due to texting and the Xbox. Climbing trees, jumping over creeks, getting our pants and shoes muddy, finding an old rusted out tractor to hop on; those were the best times with friends. People I meet in southern California tend to not understand the color green. When I talk to native SoCal-er's they say, "it's green here," while looking at a palm tree; Never mind the pale brown dried scrub brush and rocks surrounding the tree. You want to see green? Go to a truly living, breathing rain forest. See below.

Chuck Pettis, the preserve owner, is a practicing Buddhist. When we drove into the parking area he was sitting there on a rock with prayer beads in one hand and his iPhone 4 in the other. Chuck made enough money around the turn of the century that he decided to do something philanthropic to benefit man and nature, thus the Earth Sanctuary. The first picture below is of my mom zen'd out on a bench overlooking one of the marshes.

I'm sure there's a joke about "if a bell rings in the woods and no one is around to hear it...," for the second picture, but for now I'll say that it's a nice sound when you ring it with a wooden mallet. It's sort of a random act of beauty to have a bell just hanging there in the woods.

No Buddhist preserve would be complete without a prayer wheel. I learned that the prayer wheel is traditionally turned clockwise, which is good for us conventional right-handers. Chuck has the wheel connected to a mechanical counter that is just visible at the bottom right of the wheel. I think I heard him say that the wheel has 1.2 million turns so far. That may even meet my personal classification for "oodles" of turns, but it doesn't compete with my bicycle wheels which are a two-for-one deal. Maybe I should make Buddhist themed rims? Prayer flags are, of course, everywhere on the grounds.

Chuck is also building a Stupa (not shown), which is a tall structure containing holy items. The concept is that if you walk clockwise around the Stupa it will reduce your cause of suffering. One of the people we were with on the tour had a rock in their shoe so I jokingly suggested that he walk clockwise around the Stupa foundation. He opted to remove the rock, then walk around the site.