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Monday, April 28, 2014

••◊ Pictures from the 2014 Emerald Cup Bodybuilding Championships

I just got back from a long weekend working at the 2014 Emerald Cup Bodybuilding Championships.  This year was the biggest I've ever seen the show.  Two full, packed, intense days of production with standing room only crowds. 

That said, walking into the venue I thought that I probably wouldn't take any photos this year.  I've photographed behind the scenes at this show so many times that I felt like, "been there, done that."  I already know the angles I'm limited to.  I know what to expect from the athletes.  I know what sort-of works and what doesn't.  So I set a goal this year to look for reflections, but that quickly went out the door when I remembered that everything backstage is matte black.

Then I was reminded of a blog post or two from Chase Jarvis.  He's consistently mentored that a true artist doesn't wait for inspiration.  They do the hard work of pushing through uninspired times.  That's where I was at this year - uninspired.  There was no loss in failure.  After all, no one was paying me to capture photojournalist worthy moments.  I was doing this for me.  So the challenge to myself was pushing though.

There are a couple pictures I really like below and a few that I feel captured a photojournalism zeitgeist, but aren't necessarily my most beautifully crafted work.  Without words, sometimes I like to let the photos fill in the gaps in the story.  So let's start with the men's competition...



The Atlas Brothers, Sam and Steve, were back this year to do their tandem acts of strength.  While I was playing back their music during rehearsal I went up on stage and captured a few moments.


Of course, the women's competitions were intense and we even had a pro physique class this year.  Ten years ago who would have guessed that women would have dominated physique competitions?  The promoters had to add an extra day onto the show just to handle all of them!



...and then it was all over.  This shot was obligatory to show my film poster, nothing more.  I should have made the poster bigger, after all this is a bodybuilding competition.  Bigger is better, right?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

••◊ Work Versus Sharing

I attended a screening of Finding Vivian Maier with Co-Director Charlie Siskel last night.  Not to give away too much of the story, but I think it's evident from the trailer that Vivian didn't really share her work before her death in 2007.  All that was left was boxes, and boxes, and I mean BOXES of photos.  Her life's work went unrecognized until someone else happened upon it.

This morning I was out for a bike ride and thought that is the opposite of modern society.  Now days everyone is counting views on Facebook, Flickr, Google+, Instagram, Twitter, 500px, YouTube, Vimeo, Blogger, and whatever else I don't know about; Gathering up those page counts..."My preciousssssss."  We spend so much of our time trying to chase the elusive "viral" demarcation.

Charlie made a point during a hallway post screening informal Q&A to say that if Vivian had spent her time promoting her work, like a successful working artist has to, she wouldn't have produced the volume of work she had to in order to show the mastery she did.

That begs the question, how do you balance work with the necessary evils self promotion?  In an ideal world we would create great work and it would get recognized, even promoted by word of mouth.  We all know that's just a dream.  I see beautiful videos and photos done by semi-anonymous artists all the time on social media.  There's just such a huge volume of media that there's little to no chance of winning the viral lottery.  Three minutes later and we're already on the next big thing (actually it's 3 minutes and 45 seconds in studies on Internet attention span).

I wish I knew the magic balance, but with the pathetically low number of followers on my blog obviously I haven't found it (do appreciate each one of you though).  In May I need to add to my year's pledge to "fail harder" and "fail harder more often," which means purposely producing more work.  I gathered some ideas this morning.  More to come.   

Sunday, April 13, 2014

••◊ Back To My Roots

In terms of cinematography I'm now "between jobs."  "Undefinable" has been well received.  It played at the Tiffen booth this last week at NAB 2014.  We received a nod from nofilmschool.com yesterday, which greatly increased the view rate.  Now if only we could get that elusive Vimeo Staff Pick!

Being sort of bored on weekends I decided to try my hand at audio design once again.  So right now I'm working on a microphone pre-amp that can be powered over USB and I can plug into my laptop or any other device that can record with 1/8" stereo jack input.  This design started because I don't want to lug around my MOTU Traveler pro audio interface whenever I need to record audio.  Most of the time I have a laptop with me, so I wanted to make something that would be compatible with standard professional microphones and my laptop...and it has to be as small/light as possible.  I do own a Marantz field recorder, which is an excellent bit of gear, but it doesn't have a user interface that shows clipping problems and the audio levels can be kind of guess and check with their slow metering.  That's why a laptop is more idea.  You can see when audio clips and know the average level by looking at the recorded waveform in real time.  When I'm one-man-banding-it I want to know that my audio is good before I leave.

When I first came out of college I worked for two audio start ups.  One experience taught me that I don't want to live in San Francisco.  The other experience taught me that consumer "high end" audio is mostly snake oil...and when agreeing to work with a start up do a background search on the management's integrity.  That said, I still do audio design from time to time.  Now days it's more often for utility than any other frivolous reason, like reaching some sort of audio "nirvana" with supposedly exotic speaker wire. 

I'm trying to keep this project as low cost as possible, however the prototype PCB cost is a bit steep at $200 for 3 boards.  Then I have to order about $40 of electronics parts to make it work.  The good news is that I was able to figure out the gain stages yesterday and it used lower cost parts!  That's part of the power of doing engineering projects on my own time.  The flip side being it's on my own dime!

One feature I did include in this design is generation of +48V for phantom power.  I didn't always want to carry around fresh AA batteries for my shotgun microphone.  It's better to have the option of just powering the microphone from the pre-amp.

Hopefully I'll have something to show in about a month.  The case is going to be a whole other endeavor.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

••◊ More BTS Info On "Undefinable"

I thought I might share a few more bits of information about the back story on "Undefinable."  This project was really the brain-child of Tom Friedman.  I told him that I had the opportunity to play with a helicopter and handheld gimbal.  He found Danielle and developed the concept of the shoot.  I think you might find Danielle's story pretty compelling, so here's her TED talk.

Also, Tom made a BTS video showing how we accomplished the individual shots using both the copter and MOBCAM...which is making the rounds at NAB this coming week.  The folks at Aerial Mob have a Kickstarter going on to fund the deployment of their much lower cost MoVI-type handheld stabilizer.  So, if you want in on the action, here's a link.  Yes, those are my lovely blue and gray shoes in the first picture.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

••◊ Campaign "Undefinable"

As mentioned in my previous post, Tom Friedman and I spent the last few weeks working on a yoga based project with inspirational speaker and yogini Danielle Orner.  The shoot happened out in the Anza-Borrego desert at Stag Cove, just south of Borrego Springs and about half way between Julian, CA and the Salton Sea.  It was a long day of shooting that lasted until the sun went down, somewhat because the octo-copter couldn't fly in the 20-30mph afternoon wind gusts; making us wait until 5pm to start flying. 

The last shots were with the sun over the hills with Danielle left in shadow.  Lucky for us, we were shooting the aerial photography on a Red Epic.  This meant I could change the shadow color temperature to 9300K in post and just make the shot look overcast instead of blue.  I also had to do a bit of compositing in the background so the sunny background fit with the flatly lit foreground.

The ground photography was done with a prototype Panasonic GH4 camera; one of only five available in the U.S. currently.  We couldn't get the new underbelly grip with SDI outputs because there's only one in the U.S. right now!  Needless to say, the camera behaved like you would think a prototype camera would behave.  However, we did make it through the shoot since the hiccups were minor and I shot most of the 4k footage to an internal SD card.  That allowed a bit of cropping in post.  We used the over cranking feature on one shot to get Danielle's hand digging into the dirt at 96fps.  I directed her to "smack the dirt like an ex-boyfriend."  That seemed to work.  Hmmm...

At first we were a bit panicked when the camera arrived without media.  The Panasonic rep told us that the camera required hard to find UHS-3 SD cards, which are incredibly expensive.  On Friday, after my inbox was full of desperate messages on ideas of how to get these elite SD cards by Sunday, we found out that the requirement is actually UHS-1, class 3 or higher cards.  That lowered the pressure a bit and we were back on track to shoot in 4k.  Testing proved we were ready to go.

My experience with the new auto-focus was hit and miss.  It was fast, as promised, however the focus tracking would often get lost and focus out to infinity with quick camera moves.  This *may* have been related to the prototype firmware we were using, but this behavior is pretty much what you expect from contrast auto-focus.  That's why Sony and Canon have moved to hybrid contrast/phase detect auto-focus systems.  Why weren't we using a radio follow focus system when we had one available?  Well, there wasn't time to properly rig and test such a system.  That, and I didn't have a way of remotely monitoring the video in HD back to my AC to pull focus.  We had what we had and I just had to make it work.

Just to add to my proclamation earlier this year to "fail harder" I was shooting on a prototype Aerial Mob handheld stabilization system - pretty much the same design as a MoVI.  I had never really used one of these stabilization systems before.  People think it's as easy as handheld, but it's not.  Just like a Steadicam, the stabilizer has a certain kinetic time constant that you have to have a feel for.  The stabilizer has to be programmed with certain fast/slow response characteristics.  For certain moves the response was too slow and others it was too fast.  Each time the stabilizer gets "re-programmed" it takes 10 minutes, so we opted to change some of the shots to fit the stabilizer rather than waste precious sunshine.  The MoVI is no different according to others I've talked to who have used it.

What I found out last week is that Aerial Mob will be sharing some space at the Tiffen booth at NAB late this week and they will be taking our video as a demo piece!  Makes me wish I could go this year.  NAB is the pinnacle show for film makers, so that's a big deal for everyone involved.

The audio mix was done at my house with Danielle speaking into a Pearlman TM-1 large diaphragm condenser mic.  Tom licensed the music from somewhere and stitched it together.  After a 3 hour mix sessions I got it to sound clear as a bell.

Hope you enjoy the video and find it inspirational.