Sunday, July 23, 2006

Ready to Go!

Dudley hands his cellphone to me. A woman who is helping prepare for the HVX200 class in Austin wants to speak with me.

And she keeps asking me what equipment I want. I think, "She must be trying to sell us something, so I'd better make the list very short, since we're watching our budget." Even Dudley told me just days before, "The only thing you're gonna have is a monopod."

So I only ask for a few important things. I want an external writeable drive, a 35mm lens adapter, and an wireless mic system, I said. "Do you want a matte box? Lighting kit? Anything else?" she asks in an eager voice. I wish I could ask for more, but we have a wire-thin budget. I'd love to talk about the stabilizing system, fluidhead tripod, and other goodies, but I want to be realistic. Yet I feel excited that she seems to want to be my advocate, since I can't get anymore vital gear.

Dudley finds me, and I know he needs his phone, so I give her my cell number and she promises to call me right back. But she doesn't.

Dudley asks what I requested, and he seems receptive to the short list. Are we actually getting the gear? No, he says, it's all loaner equipment that I can bring back to use when I complete the seminar. Doh! And that's when I plead for Dudley to call her back, so I can give her the WHOLE list!

I plan to fly into San Antonio instead of Austin. For whatever reason, prices for car rentals and airfare are jacked up in Austin, so always look for alternative cities to fly into. For instance, a subcompact rental for 3 days would cost $230 in Austin, while renting a midsize in San Antonio (75 miles away) would total $94. And gas doesn't cost so much that it would figure into making a difference. Yet.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I'm All but There

I've been given the OK to travel to Austin, TX for the 2-day seminar on using the HVX200 and Final Cut! Dudley called me in his office, giving me information about where to stay, so I will travel south on the day after our family reunion, and then sit in on 2 days of intensive training.

There are no other seminars about this camera, which is potentially catching the attention of many people in the web and news publishing fields. The event will cost around $500, but everyone's saying it's worth every penny. Part of my travel gear will be carrying the rig with me, plus a couple rechargeable batteries. And my brain.

So, the countdown starts, to July 30!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Ready for Training

I've given up. Well, not really. But I've thrown my arms up, because trying to learn Final Cut Pro while shooting with a new commercial-grade camcorder is simply driving me nuts.

I went online to hunt for training seminars, and the only one open in the near future is a seminar in austin, TX. It's a 2-day event, and will cost around $500, but it will immerse users in the ins and outs of shooting with the HVX200.

Meanwhile, I gave all my raw files to the editing Gods, so they can piece my first shoot together. I simply don't have the time to learn it, by the time it has to be polished for web presentation. With my clips and B-roll files, they can piece it all together, with the audio I recorded, and put together a decent clip.

For now, I'm ready to get away from yet another computer screen, so I can grab a bite to eat and look at life outside an office.

Thursday, July 6, 2006

From Digital Stills to Digifilm...

I've been racking my brain with the prospect of putting down my still cameras and picking up a high definition camcorder. I never really thought about it so much as I did when I faced the possibility of hanging up my stills, and I didn't like how it felt.

An old boss complained once, "You're taking away my photo soul," a number of years ago, when he was told that management shouldn't do the work of union workers. In a way, I felt like my photo soul was dying, as well.

But then, I came upon a PDN (Photo District News) article about high def camcorders being used as the still shooter's primary camera. At least two photographers have apparently been knocking out frame grabs (still frames saved as photo files from movie clips) and using the jpegs on newsprint. Even the Dallas Morning News, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo staff has at least one shooter doing just that, the article said.

I couldn't sleep after reading the article, because I was wound up with a fresh excitement of being one of the first to trailblaze high definition video by cross-platforming to photos. I had asked my boss about using frame grabs for the paper from the video I shot, but he nixed the idea. Now, it has viable credibility. And it's a no-brainer. Pulling me off the streets as a shooter would leave a hole in staffing. And I can shoot video and be able to use frames that can be run perhaps 10 inches in news print.

I like the idea.

But my boss is off for the week, and I have to wait to bring the suggestion to him. I've already left a copy of the article in his mail slot. Some people feel that shooting video cheapens the photographer as a way of making them look like video people with no concept of capturing images. Some feel that the art form would be removed. "I shoot for a newspaper, not a TV station," someone said once.

I understand the concerns, and I've grappled with them to understand and accept the fact that the movement to high def video frame grabs is INEVITABLE. The trend is there and will gain momentum as newspaper editors want photographers to capture two different media - photos for news print and movies for the web - as the years add up while circulation does down. Television is scrambling the same way as newspapers are, as both see their numbers dip, while online surfing explodes.

Newspapers are facing an extinction of sorts. They are morphing into something. Whatever they become, they won't ever be what they once were.

A battle exists if the news-gatherers don't want to adapt. We can adapt only if we concur that the change will take place. It's been happening for years, and we can't turn the clock back. It's simply called, "progress."

News artists were forced out as the primary eyes of history when the still photograph was finally incorporated into news print. Although the first photo was apparently printed in 1880, the consistent use of still photography took place with the launching of the New York Illustrated Daily News, according to the Library of Congress.

The cameras were huge for decades, and finally, a much lighter medium format camera was developed, making press cameras (the old speed graphics) obsolete (except for an alleged sighting of a large format camera at a Donald Rumsfeld press conference... in 2003).

After some time with the 2-1/4 format, the 35mm SLR came into play. For a while, 35mm, 2-1/4, and 4X5 cameras worked side by side, depending on the assignment. The medium format camera became the format for some as they wanted a faster and more compact alternative as photojournalism transformed into a more intimate form.

Meanwhile, telephoto Speed Graphics, known as "Big Bertha" cameras, had been used to capture sports from photo boxes after sports organizations began banning photographers from being on the playing field. The veteran Speed Graphic users squawked that the motorized 35mm camera removed the skill from the photographer. For a while, some veterans likened the young newcomers as "button pushers." (Even my father, years ago, used that exact phrase that when I told him about my decision to become a newspaper photographer.)

Another 2 decades, and the digital still camera broke ground, signalling the death of the 35mm film camera for news gathering. Those who resisted discovered the necessity to shoot digitally on September 11, 2001, when digital cameras wound up transmitting images of the terrorist attacks all over the world. Those still shooting with spools of Ilford or Kodak couldn't find an open processing lab to develop their film.

And now, high definition video has scored a direct hit right into the center of the market. This is the new wave of news-gathering around the world. The lines have been blurred between television and print, but it's now as clear as ever. When you have to option of shooting a camera at 30 frames per second, and you can shoot for two mediums in one clip, it's going to get done. Resist, and that photogrpaher may as well search for a new job. Editors want to hit print and web. They want to give people images and video to view what's unfolding in the world.

The thought was that I should shoot alongside the still shooter to capture digifilm as the photographer shoots the stills. But how long will that last in an era where companies look to streamline their workforces? I am no longer viewing myself as a photojournalist. I'm a multimedia journalist.

The interesting concept about shooting digital film is that it's easy to capture clips that look terrible.

So many videographers are out there on a daily basis, shooting video for television. But have you watched what footage they capture? It's less-than-inspiring. The problem with many local tv shooters (and a decent number of network camera operators) is that they can't think on their own. They have editors or producers speaking into their headphones, and even reporters they work with, telling the videographer how to frame the shot. That simply leaves little room for creativity, which harms the profession and the professional.

But photojournalists will capture some wonderful footage and still images through creative framing. You know, many still shooters scoff at the camcorder as something that cheapens the profession. But the challenge is actually greater to capture images and footage that is well-lit, thoughtfully composed, and creatively executed to let the viewer or reader feel as though he has been an actual eyewitness to an event or subject.

The HD camcorder is now another tool in news-gathering, just like the laptop, cellphone, pen, and paper. Anyone can be issued the gear, but the memorable images and digital film are captured by the ones who have the passion to exploit their gear to their limits.

We all have similar equipment, but only certain shooters seem to get the telling shot on a consistent basis. It has nothing to do with the equipment. It's all up to the one who uses the gear. Anyone can buy the most advanced cameras on the market, but a great photographer can make a quality image from a point -n- shoot. Many photographers blast the gear, but why don't they simply depend more on their talent? One person said they felt dirty by pulling frame grabs off a movie clip, as though it were a form of cheating. But if you shoot something in the right light and frame it, isn't it your shot? Why, then, should you feel "dirty"? Only feel dirty if you're cheating. Cheating is only done when you stage something, or when you claim something that isn't yours. Ultimately, however, our job as news gatherers is to capture images that tell the story fairly. If we are provided with HD cameras or Polaroid instant cameras, the core of our job never has changed.

I think that photographers are intimidated by high def cameras. Honestly, I am, as well. It will be a terrific challenge to capture images and movies that yield that intimate feeling like still cameras can yield. But in thinking back, the switch to digital cameras made it difficult to capture the subtle images and textures when they first were introduced. It took months for me to adjust and understand the new technology enough that I could finally master it.

I won't be able to do it overnight. But I'm learning, and I will master it some day.

Monday, July 3, 2006

The Gee Dee MXF Files!

Lots to say for now.

My first foray into shooting slow motion video with the HVX200 was so anticipated; The first day I got my sweaty hands on the camera, I shot water dripping from my father's storm gutter. Just last Friday, I stayed into the early evening, capturing clips of people enjoying carnival rides at the Havre de Grace fair. Yet I couldn't figure out how to watch what I was shooting. Dave had downloaded Final Cut Express HD onto my laptop, since we tried saving alot of money by staying away from Final Cut Pro 5, which was the native software for the camera's "MXF" files.

My storage cards had all of zero minutes remaining, so I took the camera and PowerBook home and tried all different ways to Sunday to get the software to recognize the camera. But, no luck.

I gave up (how many curse words did I fling? That gee dee camera. That effing P2 system. The maw faw software!) and figured that I would come in to work on my day off and see whether the camera would be recognized by FCP5, which is on our Macintosh G5 desktop. And that puppy has so much more power than my PowerBook. Dave was here, but by that time, I realized that FCEHD doesn't recognize MXF files! Only FCP does. I plugged the Firewire cable in, cranked on the camera, and scrolled to "Import P2 files..." and there they all were. Yay!!

But, what's this? I imported the files and eagerly viewed the files that I shot at 60 frames per second. Yet they didn't look like slow motion. What gives?

Perhaps a little more reading of the user manual might be in order. I did read it when I got it, but didn't touch the camera until we got P2-capable software to edit the files. I only know that I did it all the wrong way. All that salivating I did, trying to catch tight close-ups of faces straining under the horizontal g-force of the ride, the Scrambler, was for nothing.

Online, I found a site that explained how to overcrank and undercrank video. If only the manuals showed such concise information. Just skip over to this site:

which will give the complete scoop on making your shoots look like slow motion film or Charlie Chaplin movies.Play with Synchro Scan and move it up or down by the default 180.0d. My experiment worked, but I hate having to use myself as a subject for camera testing. But where else can you go to shoot slow motion at 1:30am Monday? At least I don't have to go to work until 2:30pm. So, make certain that you DO NOT purchase FCEHD, it will waste your money. Get FCS4 or FCS5. I think version 5 has the software that directly recognizes P2 cards, and our version did that flawlessly.

So now, I was told that I have to shoot video of a commuter on the eastern shore Thursday. I have no idea what to do, so I may bring out both the HVX200 and the Lumix DMC-FZ30, which also shoots video. The lens quality is in no way near approaching that of the HVX200.

This camera is soooo complicated. It has menus like a Windows computer. Some nerd came up with all the functions and weird menus in an awkward position beneath the handle of the camera (the buttons share that of the video preview, which I despise). And you have to run between menus to update between film and video, frame rate, and shutter speed. Somehow, they'll come up with a better, more streamlined approach. But I won't trade this camera in for any other, no matter how easy they are. This bad puppy rocks, and I see how it will be there even years later (as long as it doesn't break). It has more than a hundred different configurations, and can shoot anamorphic video, standard NTSC (your regular TV size), and high definition widescreen.

You can make the videos look all different ways, from basic video with the jaggies, to film-quality. As the next couple weeks go by, I should be shooting mainly video, if not all video. It will be difficult to switch between still photography and moving shots. Maybe the next entry I will write might touch on the bit of sadness I feel about switching. It should be fun, like going from Dell to Macintosh. But I don't know... and I'll try to write an entry about it soon.