5.11.2017

Back in the driver's seat at VSL. Had a wonderful shoot in OKC but now have to wade through the post production. What worked and what didn't?

Steve, at our lake location. A quick lighting test. 

Our trip to Oklahoma City was a fast paced affair. My client and I flew out from Austin on Monday morning, arrived in OKC mid-afternoon and immediately headed over to our primary shooting location to meet the our contacts and scout the locations. When the project started on Tuesday we shot video and stills; intertwined. I went without an assistant on this adventure and I'm happy I did. I was able to handle what needed to get done and I didn't have to keep track of anyone else. I like having my hands on all of the controls.

Lots of the photographs and video content were done in the available light of a well lit research facility. This meant that I leaned on my lighting kit less frequently than I usually do. I won't say that I over packed here because I did use all three of the lights and light stands that I packed, but the need to light was much more about getting the right aesthetic than it was just providing enough photons to operate. The two, plastic, Amaran 672W LED panels travelled well, as did the smaller LED panel I toted along. I came home with at least 50% battery power remaining for every light.

I also packed one Godox flash unit, along with its cute radio flash trigger and used it only in one sequence of shots in an exam room where I wanted total control of the light's color temperature. The lithium battery in that flash is pretty amazing and I was able to bang off a hundred perfect frames at half power without making a dent in its capacity. I love using small flashes to light "big" by bouncing them into wall and ceiling intersections. It's a fun technique. And being able to sit at camera position and control power output is always a lazy man's bonus...

I bought and used Andrew Reid's (EosHd.com) formula for setting an optimum picture profile for the Sony A7 and RX cameras. It's a method of fine tuning color and contrast in order to get nearly perfect files out of the cameras, ready to deliver. I have to say that it worked really well. The profile set-ups he suggests are clearly intended for video work with those cameras but worked for most of the outside images I created; both as photographs and video. It was a very cost effective expenditure; a whopping $15 for a big savings in post production time on many of my set ups.

Here's the way the camera use broke down: I used the A7Rii for almost all of the still shots I produced. I shot in uncompressed raw and I'm processing the 600+ images in Lightroom. About 12 of the images need some additional care (retouching out a lens that creeped into the image, dropping out a background for a social media photo request by the client, etc.) and I'll drag them into Photoshop and fix things that are either unflattering (I'm no strict journalist) or goofy mistakes on my part.

The remaining files were grouped and post processed this morning and I'm writing this as they export into folders as Tiffs with LZW compression (client mandated format....).

I know I was hesitant about buying a 28mm lens for my A7 cameras but in retrospect I am glad I did. We were working in some tight spaces and it was great to have a sharp, fast wide angle that wasn't so wide that it would cause too much perspective craziness. The 28mm f2.0 is small, light and very sharp in actual practice. I also used it to very good effect in a number of exterior shots in which the subject needed to be prominent and the background pushed away. I've given the 28mm focal length the cold shoulder too often. It can be nice. I'll be using it more often.

The other two single focal length lenses I took along feel like variations of old friends. One is the 50mm f1.8 FE and the other is the 85mm f1.8 FE; I am delighted with both of them and they each performed flawlessly. I amazed myself by finally having the discipline to limit myself to a trio of primes instead of bowing to my usual anxious overkill of having overlapping zooms, supplemented by a bag full of obscure primes for, you know, just in case stuff...

The other camera I took along was the RX10iii. I used it for all of the b-roll video and as the "A" camera for the interviews we did with our subject, Steve. The only video I took with the A7Rii was when I used it as a second angle camera for the interviews. I didn't bring a second tripod but mounted the camera onto a Leica ball head and mounted that to the 1/4 inch screw on top of a small light stand. Sure, there was some vibration and movement when I turned the camera on but it subsided before we got the interview into full swing, and, as long as no one touched the assemblage it was solid as a rock. Funny, a $50 light stand and a 50 year old ball head filling in for a $1,000+ video tripod ---- and doing a damn fine job. As long as no one tries to pan it...

I fed audio into the camera from one of the Saramonic SmartRig+ pre-amplifiers which was attached to a Rode NTG-4+ on a Gitzo boom pole. I was able to monitor the audio with headphones plugged into the camera's headphone jack. It worked well. I brought a second microphone along but didn't need to use it. I also brought along a second Saramonic SmartRig+ but we'll file that desire for redundant back-up under excess gear anxiety...

The only issue I've ever had shooting video with the RX10iii is achieving good manual focus, even when using magnification. The problem was finally solved for me by, again, Andrew Reid. In his instructions he advised that for many types of shots it was wholly unnecessary to set the camera to the little movie camera icon and then shoot. In that mode the camera only gives on 5X magnification of the frame and at a lesser resolution! If one leaved the camera in the regular "M" mode one can fine focus using magnification all the way up to 16X and will be doing so on a much higher resolution image (the still frame versus the reduced resolution video frame). The result of doing it this way is much improved focusing parameters. There are two downsides, only one of which is critical. The first downside is that you view the frame in photography 16:9 when in the "M" mode but when you push the red record button the frame shrinks a bit. This is a pain mostly if you are wedded to a very specific crop. The second issue could bite you on the ass. When you are outside the dedicated video mode (little film icon) you give up manual audio level control and the camera defaults to automatic level control. That's okay if audio is not important to the shot but for interviews it's pretty important to be able to set levels that stay....level.

I got into the habit of focusing in "M" mode and then switching to the dedicated video mode to shoot interviews. It worked well. The "M" mode focusing was a revelation for all the b-roll shots. Just a great way to shoot with manual focus.

The new Manfrotto case worked well as did the more seasoned Tenba rolling stand case (it always amazed me when it arrives someplace new with all of the bottom casters and wheels still attached).
I was able to toss in a shirt, boxers, socks and a shaving kit of the second day so I passed entirely on taking anything for "personal" luggage.

There were no direct flights to OKC from AUS so no matter how you do it you're going to spend some quality time in an airport in Dallas. I like to fly Southwest so I knew I'd be spending a couple hours each way at Love Field. It's nice. Only one terminal and only 18 gates. You won't miss a tight flight because the tram was out of order or the distance between terminals too great. A bonus is that Love field actually has a Whataburger in the terminal so that native Texans can get their burger with chopped jalapeƱos. Airport comfort food?

There is only one thing I hate about traveling these days and that's the making of calculations about when to head to the airport. I always go early. I've been burned by crazy traffic en route to the airport, to car fires shutting down the main parking garage and the human roadblocks at TSA checkpoints caused, on a regular basis, by the mass, temporary migrations of people coming to or escaping from Austin concerts, events and conventions. The check in lines in our moderately small airport can be as long as two hours. But if you choose too early you'll have an equal number of experiences where you arrive, slide into a parking place and hit the airport at a time when you are the only one standing in front of a Sky Cap and the only person going through security. At those times you might wish you had slept in another hour or wish that you hadn't splashed to for the TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry. But then you visualize that Whataburger with those spicy peppers, smile, take a seat and read that great novel you brought along... Ah.....JalapeƱos....

Two cameras was just right. The trip was just right. Now I hope to get the post production to the same level. It's good to be home. Someone has to nap on the couch with Studio Dog....