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Thursday, January 31, 2013

••◊ 2012 Demo Reel

Yay!  I finally have a demo reel.  Most of this is stuff I shot in 2012 with some "classics" thrown in for good measure.  I can't wait to make even better images in 2013.

Monday, January 21, 2013

••◊ Using a Chinese lantern for video lighting

During one of my recent thoughts about video lighting, which happen all too often and proves that I need to get out more, I starting thinking about Chinese lanterns. Yes, you see them all the time and Chinese lanterns are one of the cheapest lighting fixtures you can buy. The local shop had two on demonstration so I decided to see what I could do with them for low key lighting - which seems to be the typical way you see them used. Like any light fixture Chinese lanterns aren't for every situation. Sometimes you want hard light, sometimes you want soft light, sometimes you just want a little twinkle of light somewhere. A Chinese lantern is very capable of producing soft light and can can occasionally substitute for more expensive lighting fixtures in certain situations. What Chinese lanterns aren't, is durable - unless you plop down the big bucks for a name brand like Chimera that comes with all the bells and whistles and a hardshell case.

We'll start with an example of a Chinese lantern being used as a soft box. You will see that I used a black piece of duvateen as a light blocker at the rear and sides of the Chinese lantern to control spill since the lantern is a 360-degree light source. You don't want to cover the top or bottom because airflow is required to keep the lantern and bulb cool. In this case I was using a 500W tungsten bulb. Unlike a soft box, there is no inner reflective silver foil so whatever light is emanating from the sides and back is simply lost. Not very efficient, but neither is a tungsten bulb. Still, as you see in the photo, it works.


Another sample is using the lantern as a lantern or space light. In this case I wanted to keep the attention on Nikita so I placed the duvateen around the circumference of the lantern and let light shine down like a ceiling light. Without the duvateen the lantern makes a good general ambient source for a party scene or an over-the-dinner-table light. Also, note in this picture that I changed the kicker to a Litepanels Sola 4 with a full CTO. In the previous example I used a Filmtools Tungsten 300 on a dimmer and the result was that the kicker went way too red. The lack of color shift seems to be one more advantage of an LED light, even when combined with tungstens.

I could have used another Chinese lantern as the key light, but the shop only had one piece of duvateen left in rental and I didn't want to waste loads of black wrap.


The last example is using the Chinese lantern as a variable soft bounce. I used a Source Four as a semi-window light to motivate a hard edge light. The light on the left of Nikita's face (the picture left) is generated not from a bounce board, but from the Chinese lantern placed low and is meant to emulate a floor/wall bounce. The advantage here is that I can use a small wattage bulb - (in this case 40W) - and even place that bulb on a dimmer to control how much bounce I want. It would be a lot more expensive to use a PAR or Fresnel and skip the light off a card. This was simple, cheap, and effective for the situation. Now if you need to battle daylight, forget it. You'll burn up the Chinese lantern before you produce enough light. That's where you need an HMI and a piece of bleached muslin fabric.


Mike Brueggemeyer stopped by while I was performing these experiments and made a great suggestion. He likes to use small Chinese lanterns with low power flicker generator bulbs they sell at Home Depot for wall sconce electric candles. When you place small lanterns in the background and out of focus it provides beautiful flickering bokeh.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

••◊ Daylight Color

I was coming in through my garage the other day when I noticed the golden yellow of sunlight on the wall. I thought about how sunlight looks throughout the day and what, in theory, it should look like if I have to re-create it.

So today I measured a neutral gray chart with my camera white balance set to 5500k. You can see the early morning blue before the sun comes up in the first two patches. This is the sun reflecting off the atmosphere. Then the golden low angle sun comes up in the morning at 8am and sets at 4:30pm. Mid-day remains more consistent than I was expecting. I thought mid-day would go more blue because mid-day sun is typically rated at 6500K.

Doing my homework, I found that the color of outdoor light depends on not only the time of day, but the latitude and the time of year - Really, it all comes down to angle of the sun in the sky. Here's the result of my little experiment from 7am to 5pm.

••◊ Behind the scenes on Skyfall

I saw these videos from behind the scenes on Skyfall and had to pass them along.  What would you do with $100 million dollars? ...Quick answer: blow some serious stuff up with really expensive cameras capturing the moment.  That poor news camera in the inquiry room.  See if you can spot it with the side cover blown off.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

••◊ Creating a Cinematography Demo Reel

Being a self-declared unseasoned professional in the film making circus means scraping my way along for new jobs.  It is what it is.  A part of that is selling yourself as a professional with the footage to prove it.  Roger Deakins, Jeff Cronenweth, or Rodrigo Prieto don't need a demo reel, but I definitely do.  Maybe the unspoken rule is that if your film wins at least one Oscar you don't need to actually apply for a job anymore.  I'm not anywhere near there yet - have no clue.

So I recently decided that I have a large enough body of work that it was time to create a cinematography demo reel.  My first attempt was a clear disaster.  It was too long, unfocused, and needed much clean up work.  Thanks to some of my friends I was steered in a much better direction.  These are some of the things I learned along the way.

1.  Length matters.  The general rule is that the reel should be from 60 seconds to 5 minutes.  Most people who saw my initial attempt agreed that it should be reduced from 3 minutes to 2 minutes.  I went online to read articles about demo reels and 2 minutes seemed to be a reasonable average from multiple sources.

2.  Focus on one job.  At first I thought I was going to show a DP/director/editor/gaffer/sound guy demo reel.  Nope; bad call.  My primary focus is to get hired as a DP, so I took out anything I didn't personally shoot and concentrated on good camera work.  I'm not interested in being an editor, director, nor sound designer.  I want to create great photography.  That's the job I'm applying for.

3.  Set your audience.  I love thrillers, action, drama, and especially documentary.  One director who reviewed my reel noticed that there were a few shots with fake blood in them and thought those were horror movie shots.  I quickly removed them.  My rules are I don't do horror, porn, or weddings - all (almost equally) bad.  I realize that it's a bit premature for me to be picky, but if your heart isn't in the art it will quickly show.

4.  Pick good but benign music.  Some people turn off the music completely while watching the demo reel.  Make the visual content count, then pick the music. 

5.  Label the demo.  My director friend also recommended that I brand the whole demo reel with text that shows my name, what I do, and what the viewer is looking at including film name and date so the reviewer knows that this is recent work.

6.  Show your contact information.  Use a clear, large font for at least 15 seconds at the end of the reel.  You don't want the reviewer going for a pencil and missing the contact info.

7.  Place your best work first.  Some reviewers only look at the first 10 seconds and make a call of which pile the reel goes into.  Place a great establishing shot and try to renew this every 30-45 seconds to keep the viewer engaged.

8.  Place like work together.  This is my personal opinion, but I find when DP's show their work scattered throughout a reel it looks like they haven't shot much and are trying to fill in the gaps with bits of the films they've already shown.  I chose to keep each project together, label it, and claim these are visual highlights from THIS particular project.  I can then clearly show that I have multiple film projects under my belt and thus a reasonably complete body of work (i.e. this isn't my first/second/third time to the rodeo).

9.  Solicit honest feedback.  Use your friends, the honest ones who aren't afraid to tell you when something sucks.  They will help you see things you'll never see.  I approached my director friends because I knew they were my primary audience.  I asked them, "would you hire me after seeing this?"  "Which parts would make you not hire me?"  The time to get your feelings hurt is NOW, BEFORE the job interview.

Other than that, here are a few links I found useful.
Hope this helps others out there.  I'm still working on my reel, awaiting footage from a director.  Hopefully it gets done in the next few weeks.