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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

••◊ Fun with Bokeh!

I noticed a cool technique a while back and scratched my head for a few moments on how they were getting these bokeh (the blurred stuff in the background) shaped images without post processing.  The answer was by using a cut out shape close to the lens.  Commercially they sell a Bokeh Master's Kit, but it's simple enough to create a close approximation using a sheet of paper and a printer.  In fact, I made the template shown below with Visio in a few minutes and printed it out.  I know it's difficult to see, but the four patterns are a radioactive symbol (upper left), camera (upper right), heart (lower left), and star (lower right).

The process involves cutting out the center pattern and placing the circle next to the front of the lens.  You need a large aperture (I used f/2.8) and longer lenses work better.  In the three pictures below you see city lights, city lights with the star pattern in front of the lens, city lights with the heart pattern, and city lights with the radioactive symbol.  Note that I had to focus much closer to throw the background out of focus to get the last three pictures.  I did the first picture with the longer focus just to show what was there to begin with.

Here's a creative example of it's use by the Vimeo user "Daniels" in a video called "BOKEH ART ("Who Do You Love" by Sue Scrofa)."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

••◊ Emerald Cup 2011 pictorials

This last weekend I spent at the Emerald Cup Bodybuilding, Figure, Fitness, and Bikini Championships just outside of Seattle.  Before the show the promoter, Brad Craig, asked me to take some behind the scenes photos.  Little did Brad know that this was like asking a heroin addict if he'd like some more.  I had brought along the Canon S90 point and shoot due to travel limitations of other audio equipment I had to bring, so I knew getting good images was going to be a challenge.  I was up for it.
Thursday night began with check-in for the figure and fitness competitors.  Cinzia Clapp, a national competitor, was there with her husband to help with the show.  Check out her wrist arm band by clicking on the picture.

Friday night we had the figure and fitness show.  Normally I only have to be around for the fitness show because the figure show just has some elevator music playing in the background.  These women were tough.  It was a very difficult show to judge - speaking as just an observer.  Before the evening presentation I asked some the fitness competitors if I could take their photos on stage and they gave me some amazing photo opportunities.

What can I say about this one?...To the victor go the spoils.

One of the awful, terrible, downright boring this we have to do throughout the weekend was to sit through a bikini competition (sigh).  I mean how dull can things get (yawn).  Having to just sit there and look at beautiful women showing off their bodies.  They should pay us more. ....he, he.

Throughout the weekend we had a number of guest performers including Brandon Curry and "The Flag Man" Dominic Lacasse.  Unfortunately during the bodybuilding show I'm tied up with audio duties, so my photos consist of what I can grab from the production desk at the back of the hall.  Made me yearn for my 5Dm2 with a 600mm prime (a rental item $$$$$).

Finally, just a quick shot of the trophies.  The overall bodybuilder winners get swords too.  Guess I know where to go for props next time I want to make a gladiator movie.

Feels weird to be back to reality.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

••◊ The Lenses, The Contenders

I was filming at a local television studio yesterday.  We had two 5Dm2's.  I was using my usual 24-70 L series lens ($1400) and a Sekonic meter to measure exposure.  The other provided camera had a 50mm f/1.4 ($370) consumer lens.  Being a multi-cam shoot, the first thing we needed to do was match the cameras for both exposure and color.


I asked the studio manager about the color temperature of the lights and he replied that they were 3200K.  OK, simple enough, just set the cameras to 3200K to set the white balance.  I measured the exposure with my Sekonic light meter and my camera was golden.  Typically my camera's exposure is (to quote Marissa Tomei from My Cousin Vinny) "dead-nuts on" when I use the Sekonic meter.

Then I set up the other camera.  We had a media manager on set and I asked him to review the color and exposure matching on the two cameras.  What the...?  Not only was the 50mm camera image blue, but the picture was about 1/3rd stop under exposed.  You would think that the 50mm image would be brighter, given that it's a simpler 50mm prime with fewer glass elements.  My quick lesson here is that not only does cheap glass suck in terms of color reproduction, but it also kills additional light coming through the lens.


The quick fix was to up the ISO from 320 to 400 and do a custom white balance on both cameras using a white balance card.  OK, serious problem averted.  Lesson here - don't use cheap-ass lenses.  Yes, you can make them work but I wouldn't trust them in a pinch.  

Sunday, April 3, 2011

••◊ Location Scouting

Today's post is about a location scout I went on yesterday with solar light films for an upcoming short called Zombie Man.  I thought it might be interesting to discuss some of the logistics of working with a location.

Take a look at some the pictures below and think about what you see then read below to get my thoughts on what I see.

As a DP here are some of the things I see.  First, we're outdoors, which means shifting daylight color temperature and deep nasty shadows.  White balancing will need to happen often.  We'll need fill cards and lighting with gels.  This also means hauling out a generator and finding a place to put it where we can run power cords but not cause a brush fire.  Where are the restrooms?  We have a staff of 10-20 people out there during the day and the city probably doesn't want us using the bushes, especially with mountain bike riders coming by every few minutes.  There are homes in the distance (open up the second picture and look to the far right).  This means limiting our camera angles or compositing out that part of the picture.  There was a suggestion of using a dolly, which means hauling a dolly out to the middle of nowhere as opposed to using a steadicam solution.  There's a lot of high spacial frequency content with the grass which may pose an issue for the 5Dm2 line skipping moire problems.  We have to mount a tripod out in the grasslands on unstable land!  How are we going to haul a literal ton of gear out to this area.  Wagons?  ...because no motorized vehicles are allowed in the park.  Finally, this isn't our habitat.  You can see whose habitat it is by looking closely at the last picture in the series above.  Yes, this is a safety issue for talent and crew.

This abandoned building looks benign enough, right?  However, we have a very large staff that day, so again, where are the bathrooms?  The sign on the building gives it away, so we may want to choose angles that crop out the "Cabrillo" logo or composite it out in post.  The building doesn't have power available to us, but we want to do some night time shooting there.  None of the building lighting is on, so how do we provide enough lights to make it look like the building is still active?  That's a lot of lights without a power source.  If the sky is cloudy, then it will essentially be blown out to white.  Do we want to composite in a blue sky or let it blow to white?

Again, another seemingly innocent location until you start looking at the lighting.  Notice the fluorescent lights?  Well...they are a mixture of various color temperatures.  You can't tell this from a still photo so much because the lights are blown to white, but it will make a difference to video when people starting moving from pockets of green to magenta to blue.   Cheap fluorescents also flicker, which may not show up during the day when we have daylight fill like this, but it will show up at night when the overhead lights are the main lighting.  There's also not quite enough light for lower ISO/lower noise camera settings which can be solved a number of ways, which also means matching the color temperature of the practicals.  The menu sign at the check out counter is somewhat blown out.  This may be OK, depending on how the bokeh works out.  It may be a bright blurry mess when we selectively focus on subjects in the restaurant no matter what we do.  Notice the bright colors?  Probably a good idea to turn down the in camera saturation so we don't clip a color channel or two - check those histograms.  The restaurant is not any deeper than the camera position this photo was taken at.  Key light placement is going to be difficult.  ...but there are restrooms.

So I hope that gives a little insight into what I think about when I walk into a location.