LOW LIGHT BLUES (contrast, detail, noise and motivation)

In the weeks of per-production before we began shooting Queen of the Bees, director Joe Russell asked that I try and keep lighting for the film, to a minimum. It's easy to go over-board with lighting and in my case, it's easy to get carried away and light every shot as if it were a portrait (that's one thing I need to work on NOT doing hehe). So, this is the first time I have actively and deliberately used less light than ever before.....annnnnd it's not easy. I'm also trying to light with motivation from practicals and windows so that my wide shots match my closeups. Again, not easy. I'm generally not a fan of "low light" shoots. To be more specific, I hate reading how amazing cameras are in low light....so amazing in fact, that you don't even need to light! Kill me now. Using no lights, regardless of how sensitive a camera's sensor is, still looks un-lit. I like to call it, ISO-lighting, and I personally think that ISO-lighting is a crude short-cut to the true art of cinematography.

HOWEVER....

The past few shoot days have been very frustrating for me. I'm trying my best to use less light, less fill and still get pleasingly clean, nicely-lit, well balanced shots with good contrast. The hard part is, I know exactly how I can fix the shot with an extra light or two....but I'm not allowed hehe ;)

At the top of this post is a frame grab comparison from the film. I'm not allowed to show you the moving shot yet (which is gorgeous, even if I do say so myself hehe). But I'm pretty happy with the final look, leaving the warm tones in tact. 

From my experience shooting with the RED Scarlet-X at 4K, I get the best results lighting for 800ISO in all situations. I may have stated otherwise in earlier blog posts, but after many shoot days (and nights) since then, I still find 800ISO to be the "sweet spot". So I'll basically use ND filters to bring exposure down during outdoor shoots and conversely, open up my iris when shooting in doors, or in low light. Many suggest shooting at 320ISO in low light, and that is how I used to shoot, but I found that my dynamic range dropped too much and highlights were not as safe as they were at 800ISO. The trade-off is, 800ISO isn't super clean on the MX, especially when parts of the frame are under-exposed. So...what the hell do you do when you actually WANT underexposure? I'm still trying to figure that out. Shooting RAW on the RED MX sensor is no-where near as simple as forum masters and blog posters make it out to be.

Above is what the shot looks like in RAW (320ISO, 5000K). As you can see, it's very underexposed and has virtually no contrast. Now take a look at what 800ISO looks like with a simple white-balance and curve adjustment in RedCINE-X. 

It's looking better but, besides the fact that it's no longer warm and cosy (like my finished example at the top of the page), it's FULL OF NOISE!!! Check the 100% crop below to see what I mean.


And don't get me started on "the blue channel is starved" debate. This sort of exposure level is noisy no matter what lighting temperature you shoot at, no matter what white balance is set to and no matter how many times you black shade. It's basically a good example of how the MX sensor reacts to under exposure.....but wait...what if I WANT to under-expose?

I graded the final shot (above - or press play at the top of this page) in DaVinci Resolve. Instead of boosting my ISO to 800 using RedCine-X, I kept it at 320ISO and used Resolve's YRGB curves to push my "exposure" where I wanted it. This helped keep noise levels down. I then used power windows to help focus and de-focus certain parts of the image (eyes, face, background, etc). The result is much nicer, much cleaner and was done using no noise reduction. So, the long and convoluted point to this blog post is, I'm still learning how to light with low light, but once again, it comes back to knowing your medium.

How flexible is RED's RAW codec? What is the best way to develop RAW files? What ISO should I be monitoring with? And how can I as a cinematographer better understand lighting to confidently light for any situation?

One thing's for sure though, it IS possible to get clean, nicely lit, low light shots with good contrast (take a look at the long list of Hollywood blockbusters shot with exactly the same sensor)...but I'm not yet consistently recording those. Experience and experimentation is key, and thanks to Joe pushing me to shoot shots like this, I'm learning fast :) Would RED's new Dragon sensor fix all of my problems? Probably, yes. But I never did like short-cuts.

For a lighting setup and shot breakdown of this shot, click HERE or visit the LIGHTING section above :) 

Posted on October 8, 2013 .

DAVE DUGDALE REVIEW (awesome review of the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera)

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to meet Dave at NAB in Vegas. I was demonstrating colour correction techniques, talking about bit depths and compression formats and how important it is to understand your recording medium so as to get the best results in post.  Since then Dave has shared with me his tests and comparisons and we have discussed various nerdy camera stuff. Today he released his awesome review of the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera. Dave's website, LEARNING DSLR VIDEO is awesome and like me, I'm sure you'll quickly feel at home with his easy going, non-bias, honest and very informative approach to film-making. Check out the review HERE :)

Posted on October 8, 2013 .

QUEEN OF THE BEES (shot update: frame grabs from the RED)

Awesome location, awesome crew, amazing preparation and attention to detail....this film will be sweet! Written and Directed by Joseph Russell, Produced by Anna Russell and shot by moi, Queen Of The Bees is shaping up to be something special. Below are a few grabs Joe let me share with you. Thanks for visiting the blog! For more info on the film, visit the facebook page HERE :)

Posted on October 3, 2013 .

18 MONTHS IN (since I chose RED)

Instead of buying a car, new clothes and a finding a nice place to live, I put all of my money and hard work into purchasing a camera and focusing on what I really wanted from a career. I'll never forget the day I got my confirmation from www.RED.com that my RED Scarlet-X was coming in the mail. Before my new camera arrived (3 months later!!!!) I got batteries, a charger and an LCD screen. That package alone was enough to inspire me to try out a product shoot hehe ;)

I'm not usually one to reflect, but since I reset my life back in 2008, my story went from "I want to become a full time cinematographer" (among other VERY important things, AKA, finding and falling in love with Laura McCann), to "I am a cinematographer, I get paid to be one AND I work with amazingly talented people all of the time". It's pretty awesome to live this life and I don't say that to bloat....I'm just sharing my thoughts today as I look into the future and celebrate the rewards that hard work, dedication and trust have delivered.

Will I upgrade to a Dragon sensor? Hell no! I've not yet mastered what the MX sensor can capture, and until I do, I'll be sticking with it. Lenses on the other hand....hmmmmm. 

 

BTW, that last shot has no post effects...all done in camera!  

Posted on September 30, 2013 .

QUEEN OF THE BEES (Awesome Sci-Fi short in Melbourne)

Stills by: Justin Leijon

Principal photography began over the weekend...so good to be back with my crew and to be working with some amazing new talent. Writer/Director, Joseph Russell and Producer Anna Russell have assembled one hell of a team. We are two days down and I'm loving it! Here's a quick shot that Joe allowed me to share with you :) I thought it came up nice, even after some heavy noise reduction. I shot this at 800ISO on the RED and we really needed to be shooting at 3200ISO....luckily we have the option to change that in post, but let's not forget that ISO doesn't come for free. Noise was everywhere. Eventually, this will have a spaceship exploding behind the soldiers as soon as they exit it....awesome!

Noise reduction software  (like Neat Video) is great, but it can be more harmful than good if you're not careful. Check out this tutorial where I demonstrate how to selectively reduce noise only in under exposed areas, so as to keep things like skin tones intact :) 

For more info on the film, check it out here: http://www.facebook.com/queenofthebeesfilm

Stills by: Justin Leijon

Stills by: Justin Leijon

Posted on September 9, 2013 .

PREP WOIK (time spent leading up to a new film)

The past week has been filled with tutorial creations, reading different scripts for possible up-coming films and prepping for the biggest day of my career, day 1. I literally feel like I have the best job in the world. Today I was sitting amongst friends and crew, some new and some like family. It's the day before our first shoot day for "Queen Of The Bees", written and directed by Joseph Russell.

As an artist, I love music and emotion, communication and deeper meaning. As a technician, I love cameras, lenses, Steadicams and everything in-between.  Creating a film with a close knit crew is one of the most rewarding things you can do, especially when you immures yourself in it like I do. It's also nice to have a loving partner and family who believe in my dreams, for sure :)

Here's a short test I shot this afternoon with my awesome AC's Ben Mix and Eddie Ng. The new completely wireless Steadicam system, this is going to be awesome!!

Posted on August 31, 2013 .

DO YOU KNOW YOUR MEDIUM? (free home-brew film grain + some rambling)

Lately I've been watching interviews and reading articles about the great cinematographers of our time. Each have vastly different backgrounds and upbringings, differences in taste and style and opinions about what works and what doesn't. The one thing that was consistent throughout however, was their knowledge of the medium they worked with - in most cases, film. One of the obvious limitations of film was that you never REALLY knew what you were going to get. You had to "know" what you were going to get, based on your experiences  behind the camera and time spent in DI (digital intermediate) suites. You really had to KNOW how a certain film stock would react to the scene at hand. But take it a step further, and then you have the ones that would play around with chemical processes, experiment with flashing and other techniques....all to get a desired and deliberate finished look. The point being that today, we don't shoot with film. Today, we shoot with digital cameras that either bake in a look for us, or shoot in formats that need to be developed. This means that today's cinematographers need to learn how to process digital formats like RAW, 4:4:4 and other high fidelity flavors of digital image capture. Without an intimate knowledge of how to process your images, you are missing out on some huge potential. I've mentioned how important lighting, lensing and composition is to the art of cinematography, but let's not forget the importance of mastering your capture medium.

This post won't cover how to do that unfortunately (there's an ever-growing tutorial collection at the top of this page for that), but I'll be sure to follow up with some new material soon. I do however, have something pretty cool to share with you. Shooting digital often means capturing a super clean, grainless image which seems to be critizied by the old schooler's as looking too "digital" or "overly sharp and clinical". This is why everyone wants "the film look". What the hell is the film look anyway!!?!? Rather than go into that, I'm happy to share with you a project that allows you to create you're very own, customized, organic film grain for video....in 4K. All you need to do is find or scan your own 5000 x 3000pixel (approx 16mp) film grain image, import it and voila! 32 seconds of awesome FREE film grain, in 4KHD. I have supplied one already to go, so go ahead and download it from the downloads section at the top of the page and watch the tutorial below for more info.

If Vimeo is playing up (above), try this YouTube version :)

Posted on August 20, 2013 .

COLOUR FROM WHERE? (amazing historic photos that have been coloured)

Young boy in Baltimore slum area, July 1938

Original Photograph by John Vachon | Prints available @ Shorpy.com
Colorized by Jordan J. Lloyd (photojacker on Reddit)

I found a link on my Facebook feed today and was blown away by it. Don't you just love that feeling when all you want to do is drop everything and TRY something new? That's how I'm feeling after browsing through this collection of stills.

It's always a challenge to get skin tones right when grading your footage, but image creating them from scratch! Check out this amazing collection of colour perfection where a series of old-school black and white photographs have been completely transformed.

http://twistedsifter.com/2013/08/historic-black-white-photos-colorized/

Isn't it amazing what colour does to an image? I mean, some of these shots look like they were taken just yesterday. Do our minds instantly associate black and white with historic/vintage/yesteryear? These days the craze seems to be manipulating clean, crisp images to look older, aged and vintage...but here's the opposite, and I'm loving it :) I'm excited to give it crack myself!

Albert Einstein, Summer 1939
Nassau Point, Long Island, NY

Colorized by Edvos on Reddit | Paul Edwards

Abandoned boy holding a stuffed toy animal. London 1945  Original Photograph by  Toni Frissell  
Colorized by  HansLucifer

Abandoned boy holding a stuffed toy animal. London 1945

Original Photograph by Toni Frissell
Colorized by HansLucifer

It's also interesting to note that the artists who have coloured these images, have chosen a specific pallet. Why? Basic colour theory will explain that, but isn't it funny how that "teal & orange" look never seems to die ;) Take a look at the images below to see what I mean!

Two major complimentary colours. 

Teal and Orange anyone? Looks good to me, I'm sure Einstein would agree hehe :)

Here's a slightly different example, this time green instead of blue, but still, it's such a good example of colour contrast and effective pallet choice.

Again, two major complimentary colours.


The image below is one of my favorites....and again it utilizes two complimentary colours. That classic Hollywood grade...it will never die! Colorized by artist Sanna Dullaway, it almost looks like a movie set. What incredible work. If you click on the artist's  name it will take you to their Facebook page where you'll find more info :)

Auto Wreck in Washington D.C, 1921

Colorized by Sanna Dullaway | forrifarg.se


Posted on August 18, 2013 .

SAVING THE BACON (set design, wardrobe and colour)

Rob Lloyd get'n serious in "Saving The Bacon"

The more I shoot these days, the more realize how each and every department contribute so much to the finished product of a film or commercial. Learning how to light, shoot and grade is one thing but without careful consideration to your actors clothes, the space they occupy and colours that surround them, the end result will never be as good as it could be. Does that even make sense? I guess I'm trying to make the cliche point that you are only as good as your team...make-up included.

A couple of years ago I shot "Saving The Bacon", an awesome short written and directed by Ryan Thomas, produced by Joel Buncle. We had one location, and how perfect it was. The stale cream walls and the ghastly yellow hallway...I still remember the smell of the carpet too.....shuddder......BUT, it was perfect for the film and made my job so much easier.

John McCollouch, always a pleasure to work with.

If you Google "complimentary colours"  or "colour contrast" you'll hopefully see where I'm going with this post. Your job as a DoP is to bring the director's vision to life (among other things) but how much easier that is when you're environment is already half way there. If you take a look at the frame grabs accompanying this article you'll notice two dominant colours - Blue and Yellow. You could almost compare them to the classic Hollywood "Teal and Orange" look that we see in so many blockbusters these days.     The yellow tie, the yellow wall....complimented by the cool shadows and dark jacket. And when talented John McCollouch looks ahead, his blue eyes really shine. Good makeup also plays a huge role, thanks to Emma-Ray Stewart for the excellent work you see here :)

I made some minor tweaks to the saturation and contrast but the look you see here was almost entirely created on set and captured that way in camera.

STB_04.jpg

I got news today that the film is now on-line after its festival run :) Here it is below:

I'm really looking forward to working with Ryan again on his next film, he is a genius! 

Posted on July 19, 2013 .

NINJA LIFE! (Shooting my 4th Australian Feature Film)

A few months ago I got the awesome news that I'd be shooting one of Australia's first action packed feature films, "NINJA: IMMOVEABLE HEART" , written and directed by Rob Baard. I had grown up wanting to be a ninja, and honestly to this day I still move around the house, opening doors and draws as quickly and as quietly as I can. The film was to be shot entirely in Geelong (just out side of Melbourne) with over 30 odd days to do so. We are 20 days in and it's safe to say that this epic ninja adventure has been one of the best experiences of my life :) My love for cinematography extends far beyond the camera and lens.....for me it's all about the collaboration, the people, the problem solving and experiences I have on set. I love it!

Below are some of my favorite frame grabs from the film. When things quieten down a bit I'll be writing more about the gear I used and some technical problems I've faced. Thanks for visiting :)

Ninja_Film_d.jpg
Posted on July 5, 2013 .

SISSY BOY (Grading RAW)

The first ever film I shot with my RED Scarlet-X was Sissy Boy, written and directed by Cameron McColloch. It was a tight scheduled short film with some ambitious shots to boot. The opening shot of the film was supposed to be a wide shot of the suburbs which cranes down into a medium of the "bully" riding his bike past camera on the local bike track. With a short film, self funded indie budget, a shot like that aint easy! Or is it? Cam and I made a trip to the local hire center and jumped in the tallest most stable scissor lift they had. Perfect :) All we needed now was a jib and some balls ;)

cherry_01.jpg

I didn't grade the film (which is playing at festivals right now) but I recently pulled up some footage and had a play. There were a few shots that I thought would be good examples of how RAW footage can be transformed into almost anything you want! 

Above is the protagonist of the film, Shayne Donghi. The before and after (RAW vs graded) really shows what you can do when you understand color and start thinking about what you do and don't like about a shot. What needs fixing? What do you enhance? Where do you want your viewer to focus? These are some great questions to ask yourself when looking to grade any shot.

For an in depth tutorial on how I achieved the above grade, check out the tutorials section at the top of the page, or simply follow this link :) 

Here are a couple more frames from the film which I graded in resolve using similar techniques.... 

The opening shot of the film can be viewed at the Sissy Boy facebook fan page :) Cheers!  

Posted on June 14, 2013 .

THE SNAP FACTORY (the importance of attitude)

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a Luke asking me if I would be interested in shooting a pilot for a possible TV series that he wrote. I read the intense script and instantly fell in love with the visuals, but more than that, I fell in love with the passion that Luke had. He is by far one of the most passionate write/directors I've ever met. He values team work and family more than many, but on top of that, he openly and frequently expresses his gratitude. t's funny how you get what you ask for hehe :) t was to be a high pressure, low budget shoot with minimal crew and even less gear. We had a budget of $150/day for lights and Luke wanted...

Posted on April 23, 2013 .

SCHOOL'S OUT!!! (a brief post about my learning experiences since high school)

I HATED School. The social aspect was awesome, but the classroom setting sucked for me. The funny thing is though, I actually LOVE learning. I thrive on it! In November 1998 I quit my VCE right before the final exam....so no pass for me. Five years later I went back and did my VCE again from scratch (at the same high school with some of the same teachers!) and passed with success. But, I still hated school! I studied science and psychology. I thought about going to university but ended up deciding against it. No matter how hard I tried, it just didn't sit well with me. My point to this story is that just because school wasn't for me, I knew that I wanted to learn and grow and follow my dreams....even if I couldn't do that through a typical education system. It was scary. The key then was surrounding myself with people who were already doing what I wanted to do. I met amazing people and had awesome experiences....all of a sudden I felt excited and hungry to learn, but in a different way. I would learn through experiences and relationships. I WANTED to learn and study and test myself by growing through actual results....failure, success, whatever. I'm a harsh critic too hehe ;) Now, I actually LOVE studying....and look forward to putting in the hard yards to master my craft.

I remember a couple of years ago I said to myself "I really want to learn lighting". I already knew how to work with natural light and find beauty in every day settings, but now I wanted to learn how to CREATE beauty with my own lighting. I'm by no means where I want to be just yet, but I have learned a HELL of a lot in the past two years and I get really excited to experiment and try new things on every single shoot that gets sent my way. 

The cool thing is, recently, (this morning in fact) my brain just decided that NOW it wants to experiment with colored lights. Gels, etc. Awesome. If only school was this exciting hehe ;)

You can find somerecent results from a film I'm shooting called "The Snap Factory", Written and Directed by Luke Launer here :) I lit this with fairly low wattage Tungsten Fresnel's and some LED panels...I'll be sharing more details in my "LIGHTING" section soon :)

Posted on April 18, 2013 .

AFRAID OF HEIGHTS? (I'm not!)

As a freelancer, and a business owner, I'm doing fine :) The thing is, I want to start focusing more on my ultimate goals and attract jobs that are more in line with where I want to take my career as a DoP. I want to shoot the biggest and best Hollywood feature films....I want to shoot the next James Bond movie. I can see myself as Director of Photography for amazing television shows like Breaking Bad, or working on television commercials that are cleverly crafted and produced to the highest standards.

Ultimately, I want to work with people who place the up most importance on the craft of film-making, people who value team-work and demand the highest quality of skill sets and artistry. I want to be part of that team.

For me personally, I think about this every single day. But more importantly, I work towards it, every single day. So....the one thing I've noticed in this world is that for things to really start happening, you need to do two things.

1). Stop thinking and start doing.
2). Talk about your goals and start the conversation.

My best work has always resulted from collaborating with an amazing crew. I'm looking for people who share my values and invite you to join in on this conversation....or at least think about it to start with ;)

Posted on March 8, 2013 .

RED EXPOSURE (plus a RedCine-X tutorial)

If you're new to shooting RED, it can be frustrating. You have this camera that supposedly is the best in the world, good enough for Ridley Scott, Peter Jackson and David Fincher...but hold on a sec....my images are really noisy? My skin tones are horrible! What is going on? RED cameras capture RAW data, and soon...I'd say in a years time, nearly all professional video cameras will likely have some sort of RAW recording mode.  What does shooting RAW really mean? Why is it so good? How can it be disastrous if you jump in without looking.....

I've owned and operated my own RED camera for over a year now and I feel like I'm only JUST beginning to feel at one with it. Part of that is because I like to learn from experience, but it's also an entirely different beast compared to any camera I've ever shot with. Sure, the basics of exposure are all the same, however, it can be tricky when you look at your monitor and think to yourself, "Sweet! That looks awesome!", only to find when you get back to the edit suite, it's noisy as hell and something clearly isn't right.

If you browse the internet, looking for "what are the best exposure settings for my red camera", no doubt you'll be confronted with conflicting opinions. RED's "Mysterium-X" sensor, although beautiful, is fairly old technology. It's RED's second generation sensor. Let's think about that for a second. RED is a baby company, in terms of age. They released their very first digital cinema camera (some say THE world's first affordable digital cinema camera) back in 2006. That's not very long ago....compared to the giants like Sony and Panasonic. So, my point is, although they are literally changing the industry with ground-breaking inventions every year,  they've started from nothing, not very long ago. This brings me back to the Mysterium-X sensor, the one found in their flagship camera, the RED Epic and also the RED Scarlet.  As amazing as these cameras are, if you compare their low-light sensitivity to say, a Canon C300, well....you just can't. The Canon, in terms of light sensitivity and low-noise is absolutely jaw droppingly impressive, and it blows the Epic out of the water. But let's not forget that in every other aspect, RED wins, hands down. Resolution, compression, modularity, bit-depth, dynamic range, etc, etc, etc. Hollywood Blockbuster's are shot on RED for a reason.

However...

That sensor. It needs light, but it also needs to be understood.

Have you ever looked at RED footage and thought...."YUK! It's so brown/grey and murky!" or something similar? That's because the camera is good. Not bad. Those brown and murky, super flat images you may have seen are the result of poor post production, bad exposure or usually, a  combination of the two. As soon as you understand RAW, how to expose accordingly, and the power you have in post, you will quickly begin to see why there's so much hype about these cameras, why the greats use them on their feature films, and how YOU can tap into that awesomeness. So, if you've shot RED before and felt disappointed with the results...rest assured, it was YOU! Not the camera hehe....Now that didn't sound very nice...sorry about that. But it's true. This camera requires YOU to be great, and for me personally that was the hardest thing to swallow when I shot with the Scarlet for the first couple of months.

In the tutorial below, I talk about exposure, noise, working with RAW and how to use curves to quickly get footage looking lovely. It's nothing too deep, but there's info in there that would have given me a 6 month head start to where I am now, so I'm hoping it helps others out there. (let me know!)

Finally, below is a recipe that some will disagree with, but from my experience, I get awesome results from, time and time again.

In-Doors, Low Light:
> Light for 320-ISO
> Use Daylight (HMI's, 5600 LED's) where possible
> Monitor your exposure using the "RAW" view, keeping your histogram slightly to the left but mostly in the middle, avoid clipping at both ends.
Why? Because 320 ISO will give you SUPER CLEAN blacks and a grainless image. Is 800-ISO okay for indoor, low light? Yes, but it's not as clean as 320. For some samples of 800-ISO in doors, check out the grabs at the bottom of this blog post here, all shot at 800-ISO with tungsten lights.

Out Doors Sunny:
> 800-ISO
> Monitor your exposure at 800ISO, white balance 5500. Keep Highlights from clipping and try to fill histogram with a nice spread, dipping at the sides.
Why 800ISO? Because 800ISO gives you a stop and a half of highlight protection and at 800ISO, the noise is not an issue under scenes that are broadly exposed (outdoor daylight).

Thanks for visiting :) Let me know if this was useful, I appreciate any feedback.

Posted on March 1, 2013 .

SCENE CHANGES (music video composit shots)

It took us three days to shoot our latest music video "All The Mountains", by singer/song write Paul McSherry. The team we have assembled at HEIST Films (www.heistfilms.com.au) is really coming together well. Although it was a fairly stressful shoot in terms of time, my job as DOP on this particular shoot was made easier knowing that everything else was being looked after by specialized, skilled and passionate people. That sort of support and structure gave me the space to focus on my job, 100%. So anyway, back to the blog :)

There are three visual effects that will be in the final clip which I was really excited to get happening! Visualizing on set is an awesome experience and as I looked at the scene and knew what I had to do. There's an opening shot that the lyrics describe as "...a cold day in November", but as I looked around me, all I could see were warm golden hills on a beautiful summer's afternoon! I squinted and imagined something different.....the director also wanted a shaft of light streaming down from the heavens onto the body! Here's what I came up with :)

It's not the best composit in the world, but I think it works well for the clip. Here's a before and after shot too (below). I originally made the scene super blue and cold, but I tuned it back to a desaturated warmer look....I really like the result. What do you think?

There's a technical note to make about how I shot this too. For those of you who know about the RED Scarlet's capabilities, you'll know that shooting at 4K gives you a 1.6 x crop factor. I wanted this shot to be SUPER wide, so that meant shooting at 11mm...something I don't particularly like doing because of the distortion it gives. If I had a RED Epic, I could have shot this at 5K which would have given me a 1.3 x crop factor...much nicer. That's not possible on a RED Scarlet.....or is it!? Did you know that if you enable "Look Around" in the sub menus, switch to 4K and record the HDSDI out to an Atomos Samurai, you get the full 1.3 x crop of a 5K image down-sampled to 4:2:2 10-bit 1080P! That has totally blown my mind, and now I feel like I have an Epic...hehe....sort of ;) So, this means even higher detail, less apparent noise and sharper images. I'll be writing more about that later.....but in the mean time, check out the Atomos website, their products are awesome :)

Here's the other shot I just completed for the clip...not as dramatic or as cool looking, but it sells the effect enough and is really only a quick. The idea is that our hero is out in the wastelands, where nothing is around...but all of a sudden he sees a hotel in the distance....amongst the nothingness. I'm no composting expert but I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.

Eventually, I will be creating a tutorial that shows you how I created the first shot in post, so stay tuned and thanks for visiting my blog :)

Posted on February 26, 2013 .

AT THE END OF THE DAY... (it's not about your camera)

There's a lot to learn about cameras and post production these days. It seems like a new camera is born almost every 6 months! Along with that there's software updates, plugins and tools that give us so many choices both on set and in the edit suite, so how do we know what direction to take? Which tools are right for the job? Do the tools we choose make all the difference?


If you've read my post "There's an I in Team", you'll understand how much I value a good crew and how important it is to work with skilled and passionate people. So let's say you have a great team....what about your gear? What camera do YOU shoot on? I hate that question. Which colour correction software to you grade that with? I get asked this stuff a lot. I guess there's nothing wrong with these questions, but there's a part of me that cringes at the idea that a certain camera or certain software package will give someone an edge, or magically transform them into a better film maker. To some extent, new gear and the best of it can certainly inspire greatness. Hell, when I first got my RED Scarlet I thought to myself, NOW I finally have the tools to be great. I FINALLY have a camera that is good enough. What a load of crap that was. Yes I had an amazing camera but it did nothing to the way I looked at light. It helped none with the way I composed a shot. In actual fact it was more of a reality check.....maybe I wasn't as good as I thought I was? My first few shoots with the camera were average enough not to share hehe ;) But, in a way, it was the best thing that could have happened to me.  I now had a camera that was good enough for David Fincher's "The Social Network", but the guy behind the camera...me, needed to up his game. So what's the point to this long winded paragraph? Well, my point is that cinematography shouldn't be about cameras, or lenses, or what brand matte box you have. Of course, this is something most would agree on in casual conversation, but how many of you ACTUALLY believe that? Or practice it? 

Last week I shot a really cool music video over three days and although we had a small budget to cast, dress and set our scenes very nicely, the camera department got left in the dark. Thankfully, I own a lot of my own gear, but I don't own a dolly or crane which is what we really needed for a few shots that we had scripted.  The plan was to shoot the entire clip on RED at 4K and then down-sample the final edit to 1080p. Earlier in the week, Nikon contacted me and asked if I would like to play with a D800. "YES PLEASE!" I said. I love learning and experimenting with new cameras and had always be curious about the Nikon variety - especially since they have clean HDMI out.

With these two things in mind (1080p delivery and a tiny crane) I decided to bring the Nikon with me.

First off, let's just say I love the thing. It's tiny, the batteries last forever, the dynamic range, color and detail are beautiful and of course it loves my Nikkor prime lens collection. I shot three shots with the D800 instead of my RED and unless I told you which ones they were, you would be hard pressed to pick them...

Which is RED and which is the Nikon D800?  Click below for larger, better detailed links :)

Which is RED and which is the Nikon D800?

Click below for larger, better detailed links :)

Pic 1

Pic 2

So, am I saying that the Nikon D800, a mid-range DSLR is comparable to a RED Scarlet? Hell no I'm not. BUT! Couple that thing to an Atomos Ninja-2 and you get delish 10-bit 4:2:2 ProRes to play with. Light your scene, choose your lens and frame your shot wisely, and you can inter-cut both cameras all day long. There will always be bias towards which camera is better and which brand is going to offer you the things you need, but, at the end of the day, it's not about the camera. It's about what works for the job at hand.

Below are a collection of frame grabs from the shoot...we are almost done with the edit. Some colour and a few FX shots to go :)

Posted on February 17, 2013 .

SETTING THE SUN (keying and masks)

A few weeks ago I was out with my RED playing with the new time-lapse features that were released in a recent firmware build for both Epic and Scarlet cameras. It was a long (but awesome) day which ended at one of my favorite places on earth, "Half Moon Bay" not too far from Melbourne's CBD. The sun had set and the light was gone.....or was it? 9:15pm had rolled on and visibility was quickly fading. Shooting in this light with a DSLR or any camera that crushes the hell out of your footage with a lossy, deliverable codec, would have been pointless.  But I had an idea! You might remember my recent obsession with trying to create a believable moon composit....(here) almost there hehe ;) But, this gave me the idea....what if I could create the SUN! Using the same principals? Knowing the power I have with 16-bit RAW footage from the Scarlet, I quickly set up the tripod and grabbed a few shots.

Here's the result :)

I have always loved post production, even though I'd much rather be out there shooting. The thing is though, the more I learn about post, the more I think about and CREATE shots out in the field. It's very rewarding and extends the enjoyment of shooting all the way into the night. For a free, in-depth tutorial, visit the TUTORIAL section of my blog to the left. Enjoy!

Below is another shot from the same day...not as cool, but I tried splitting the scene so that the foreground water plays in real time, whilst the background clouds and sky play at ten times normal speed. What do you think? Never stop experimenting! It's the best way to learn and explore this wonderful craft.

Posted on February 3, 2013 .

NO SECONDARIES CHALLENGE (using redcine-x as a grading tool)

Not many people will like this grade, just as not many people liked my zombie yellow grade hehe....but lately I've been practicing with extreme looks rather than the more tasteful, "balanced" looks where contrast is added, skin tones are adjusted and the over-all tint of the image is corrected. A good colorist knows subtlety and also knows what parts of an image need attention. This is clearly not an example of that. This is me seeing what I can do with RedCine-X only...no DaVinci Resolve, no EDIUS, no masks or secondaries. With this limited (although free) "grading" software (RedCine-X) I was trying to go for a Michael Bay look.....overly saturated, crazy popping skin tones, super high contrast with a blue wash over-all.

Not using secondaries is a good way to challenge your coloring abilities. Even though I've come close to something I wanted in the below example, there are problems......the blacks aren't balanced, they have a tint (they're not black), the noise is more prominent than it was because of my extreme curves/white-balance settings, and finally, the skin tones aren't right (there's banding and a clear separation of colour - even in 16-bit!) but they're close :) These problems could easily have be avoided, or fixed in DaVinci Resolve.

Can you do this with just curves? Can you separate skin tones and the background without secondaries? It's a great way to practice and a good skill to have. Using secondaries is always going to give you more flexibility and accuracy, but getting to a decent point without them is a skill worth your learning. Thanks heaps to Phillipe Ratton for supplying us with RAW stills from his film (more info here: reduser.net/forum/showthread.php?91813-upcoming-short-shot-on-scarlet)

If you're new to grading RED footage, or want to learn a little more about curves and RedCine-X, check out my tutorial here :)

Here is much more subtle version of the same grade, again, done in RedCine-X. I'm a sucker for the teal/orange look!!

Here is much more subtle version of the same grade, again, done in RedCine-X. I'm a sucker for the teal/orange look!!

Posted on December 27, 2012 .