Monday, August 28, 2006

HVX200 Observations: Merging Technologies, Merging Jobs...

It's bound to happen.

These HD cameras will jump to 4K and higher definition, bringing the image quality on-par with the current crop of digital 35mm cameras. With this blurring of technology, you know that the job description will blur as well.

Ultimately, that will result in a loss of many jobs in the journalism field. Newspapers and local television will merge. If the FCC doesn't allow it, they most certainly will relax their regulations to allow such things to happen. The weight of power is on the side of the large business, not the individual. As newpapers work feverishly to generate some kind of revenue to offset what they have yielded, they would look to getting into true multimedia, by purchasing radio and local stations. If they don't have the money, television will look at this as an option, and the merger will slowly mean the merging of office space, editors (although, there will be some distinction between online, newspaper, TV and radio eds), and field workers.

Reporters will have to know how to work in front of the camera, as well as write stroies for TV and radio. Television camera operators will be merged with photographers. The camera operator of tomorrow will be able to grab high resolution frames, capable of being enlarged ten-fold and more, and then edit the footage for broadcast use.

And the upper management will make more money, while finding more ways to trim their bottom line and save more money. Streamlining, they call it. The only problem is that the stream is already too shallow. If this is the way the future will shape up in the 21st century digital age of news-gathering, they should get some seasoned talent and round the newsroom with some promising raw employees, and give them a good working environment, free of pressure-deadlines that encumber the media workplace.

These HD cameras are simply stepping stones to the 2K, 4K, and higher rez cameras. But they can only be used effectively with people who have an eye for color and composition. Those who make for effective story-telling further enhance the story by knowing how to piece it together to create a story, whether it's one with an ending or not.

Grab a camera and start shooting, people. Learn your craft well, because the time will come when you have to truly put up some well-shot and edited stories for your portfolio. Those shooting Canons and Nikons? Our days as still photojournalists are numbered. It won't be within the next year or two. But in a number of years -- perhaps within the next 5-7 years -- the mergers will start and soon sweep over the lay of the land of media.

No one expected that LP's would become antiques, but they are. Audio tapes, sold just a few years ago, and supported with automobile head units (aka radios) and home audio decks, now gather dust. But now, the CD is an elderly medium, and DVD's will follow suit in a few years, as HD-DVDs and Blu Ray disks expand the storage space. They really are opening the doorway to the UHD formats.

Ultra High definition. And we haven't even formally switched to the HD format, which is a couple years off. Even the HD_DVD's and BluRay disks are a temporary format, as the holographic DVD is being developed, to burn a multitude of layers onto a disk. These are said to hold 1.6 terabytes per disk, which equals 1600 gigabytes. See how the format is actually keeping pace with the storage media? You'll need a 1.6TB disk to hold footage from a 4K camcorder.

Learn your craft now. Hone your skills, and stay ahead of the curve, still shooters and indie videomakers. The ones who have little imagination won't last. Stand-up grab-shots won't cut it. Not with these UHD cameras. The HVX200 is only a mule. It's a playtoy compared to what's about to emerge in digital filming technology, in my honest opinion.

Friday, August 25, 2006

HVX200 Tip: Crush Big Black

I'm not sure if I'll be posting before sometime next week, but I've read about a little tweak inside the camera that can give you a richer black level, and that will be first priority for my next shoot.

The setting is the Master Ped, which is another way to set the black levels for shooting. I've always shot my stuff with MP at zero, but I have read that a better yield for richer tones (beyond setting some good color settings including white balance) would result if you notch the MP level down to around "minus one" or -2. I would have wanted to shoot some footage today, but I needed to shoot the first of a recurring project on a basketball player. Since I want to be able to shoot video and grab frames at the same time, I will want to wait until we get that 100GB writeable drive, otherwise my HD shooting in 1080 or even 720 will yield me only around 8 minutes shoot time.

I've also created a cheat sheet, because I've been setting my camera on different resolutions that wind up resulting in some jaggies (those frames that look like they've been shot with a video camera). The blur looks like a bunch of jagged lines, not simple motion blur. I will keep it right near the front seat so that I can quickly thumb through and see which settings yield film-like qualities (those settings are highlighted green) and which ones yield the jaggies (they're in red).

If someone wants me to post the color cheat sheet, or simply rewrite the info down, I'll try to get to it next week. Right now, I need a haircut, and I'm exhausted. I normally am sleeping at 8am, not shooting, like I did this morning!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

HVX200 Shoots: Baltimuda Triangle (sports and features)

It's been a couple weeks, and I've been farting around with the HVX200 (not really ... I've really been working like a mutha mutha) in my attempt to find the right settings for the camera to use it as a still camera. I've not been shooting film stories lately; there's simply not enough space to do it effectively, until we order a 100-GB Firestore drive. So far, the Panasonic has blessed the front page as well as section fronts for the local section and inside of sports. I'm working on the sports and features section fronts as well, and I may have shot just what I needed today.

My first shoot was in Washington, covering Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (is "The" in caps or not??), who made an appearance for the local media for an upcoming feature film, Gridiron Gang. I was pressed for time since I had to run to Annapolis for another shoot, at the Naval Academy. The problem: Any time you have to travel the route between Baltimore, Washington, and Annapolis, you're flirting with possible failure. I call it the Baltimuda Triangle, because somewhere along the line, you're gonna sink. Either the timing between shoots will be off, or you'll get nailed with the traffic issue somewhere along the way.

I did get to the hotel in plenty of time, but the PR flaks said that we wouldn't get to have Rock until 2:40pm. And the Navy PR said they wanted me to be in Annapolis by 3:30pm. You ain't gonna get to Annapolis from DC in anywhere less than an hour or so, and I started the protest. Finally, the Rock crew relented and gave me a couple minutes with Rock, so they hustled me to a room and told me to ready it for him. Opening a shade for the main light, I moved two room lamps a little to get some warmth as a key light and give the room some ambiance. After sitting an assistant down for a test shoot, I was ready.

We had to leave so Rock could come in, and then we were called back in. Asking one of his assistants to sit across from Rock to chat with him, I started shooting some horizontal and vertical stuff as he listened to the lady talk about how she fell and hurt herself. I only shot perhaps 3 minutes worth of 1080i-HD clips, shot at 1/30th second, with a wide open f-stop. I will post a couple shots of it, once the shots run. The color rendition looked great!

The PR guy waited for me to arrive at 4pm in Annapolis (after I misplaced my phone), and escorted me to the practice field to capture some stuff of the players. One camera operator for WBAL-TV told me that I couldn't shoot video after the 6th period (they were in the 8th period), but I scoffed at the notion, saying that it didn't apply to still shooters. Hey, we aren't gonna post video on the net of this, anyway.

Two frames in particular interested me: one of a player who was backlit like crazy - His sweat just jumped in the frame I shot. The other was of a cornerback busting through the offensive line - I opened the video screen, holding the camera low and stood near the two players during the drill. The angle looked somewhat unusual, one shot you rarely see during game action. I'll post these once they get published, as well, which should be within the next several days, I hope. Most of the shoot of the practice was around f/2.8 @ 1/1000th second, using the built-in ND filter.

I saw a shot I lifted from a clip of James Kinstle, who did a piece about Shakespeare downtown. The shot, which ran 2 columns, below a photo shot with a digital still Nikon, held up so well, you simply couldn't tell which one was a still frame and which one was a movie frame! It's posted in the pictures section. I may start posting some video once I learn about downsizing to post here, as well.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

HVX200 Shoot: Another Section Front for the HD Camcorder

Well, it's done again. The local section front for the paper now has an HD movie frame from the HVX200. Here it is, children taking part in a clown school. Yes, I had my doubts, but I got what I needed. I shot strictly with the Panasonic, only using the Nikon camera to shoot still images for ID's of the children I captured on the Panasonic. Bob needed the images for the section because he had nothing else to run. Between this job and the one of the football field being dedicated, I wanted to shoot everything with the movie stills. Only the ultra-wide angle of the Nikon was enough for me to use the digital 35mm for the field dedication, but the secondary image of the players' legs standing on the turf (thanks for the shooting idea, Chris Detrick) completed the publishing of the images inside sports.

I didn't even check to see whether any other images were used of the clown school; I wound up going crazy when I scrambled to shoot the rowhouse fire that destroyed a dozen beautiful homes in East Baltimore. And I was ANGRY. I have been waiting to get the 100gb Citidisk HD recording drive to mount on the camera, which shoots HD files at 1 gig per minute, but with my clown stuff already filling the 2- 4gb P2 disks, I'd have to wait for around 16 minutes while the files transferred from the drives to the slow laptop of mine.

I called Dudley and left an angry message: "I need that hard drive NOW. I have a spot news assignment and my disks are filled. This needs to be changed!" I yelled on his voice mail as I booted up my PowerBook to transfer the first 4gb drive. I wound up not even shooting with the camera, but it highlights the need to have a large drive to write on.

I took the HVX200 to the Orioles game this evening, and another batch of journalists -- this time, the photographers -- stared at my new gear. And Bill, with the Orioles PR, was shocked. He simply didn't know what to say, so I told him that this is the future of the still photographer. And I agreed that we couldn't use any of the footage online. The photographers shook their heads, and some of them are clearly upset about the new equipment, saying that there will be lost jobs because of the merging of formats.

Honestly, I see this on the horizon. The downsizing will come into the field visual journalist as it has in other aspects of reportage. There will perhaps be mergers between papers and TV stations, if that's okay by law, and there could be double duty for the photographer to shoot for the local TV station. People will be canned to make way for another wave of journalistic streamlining. And another realm of pure local journalism may very well be hurt.

Monday, August 21, 2006

HVX200 Musings: From Bottom of Barrel to Next Generation

Walking into work today, and I can't believe my eyes. There it is, just like that, on the front page. An image of a man squrting water onto the rubble as a bucket scoops out debris from demolished homes for removal in front of Johns Hopkins Hospital. Opening up the paper, I see 3 more images that I shot with the Panasonic, all printed in color. This was the milestone.

We're now only one of a handful of papers working with HD cameras to do double duty, shooting video and still with one camera. Here we are, with a 30fps (or, 60fps, in slow motion) camera that can capture images up to 4 megapixels for print use, and also use the footage for web or broadcast use.

Only an hour after I made it to work, and my boss Dudley calls me from home. "Is that your still camera, or the video camera?" he asks. It's the video camera. I decided to ramp back the sharpness and shoot all video files, grabbing HD-1080 frames and setting them as Photoshop images, dropping them into the system with a tagline of "HD MOVIE FRAME," instead of "DIGITAL IMAGE," which we tag onto digital still photos. The file number now reads, "," instead of "DSC0182.jpg."

The picture ran 4 columns wide, and Dudley was ecstatic, like I was last week, when I thought I had my first front page high definition frame. "The only reason I asked was because I knew you'd be gunning for a front page photo," Dudley said, adding, "You'd better grab some extra copies, because we've moved to the next level."

So, it's now official, that we've gone to the next generation of news-gathering. It's time to start considering whether to dump your stills for the high definition camera, and as the newer generations are released with 2K and 4K capabilities, you'll be able to shoot raw images and project them onto a movie theater screen. It's coming. It will soon be here.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

HVX200 Musings: Run and Gun

I couldn't sleep. Even though I knew it would be a cloudy morning, I still wanted to take the camera out and shoot some morning scenes on my day off. My first stop would be the courthouse, where I recalled months ago that a homeless man would spend the night at the front doorsteps, sleeping. Walking along Calvert Street, I saw him. Wrapped in a greenish blanket with empty cups of McDonald's drinks and a water bottle around him, he lay outstretched in the still morning air. His shoes sat on the step beneath him, beside some newspapers folded next to them.

My camera was set on B.Press (deep black gamma), with it on Low, for more tonal range. Shooting 1920x720 (HD, 720p) at 60 FPS (called super slow motion, double the frame rate of film cameras), I set my tripod across the street and waited for some gusts of wind to blow the newsprint up. People walked by as he rested, never checking to see what his condition was. But don't judge; would you check on a stranger when you can't see what's in his hands?

I drove out to south Baltimore, setting up beneath a statue to capture some time lapse, at 1 frame per second. Ran out to Tide Point and did some more time lapse, stoked at the way the clouds floated above.

Then I stopped on Charles Street to capture a traffic light and a street lamp. There weren't enough people to shoot street scenes like I had wanted. I even rolled up to the mirror building to shoot some time lapse there. I had only gotten 2 hours sleep, but I just wanted to shoot some footage as the clouds mingled with the sun and sky. And I resized them to post in the images here.

The shots have no post-production toning to them at all, they are raw frames from the shoots I did. I plan on shooting perhaps everything in 720p, since you can't do time lapse or slow motion in 1080, I think. 720p has the most wide ranging shooting styles one can manage.Soon, I'll have to really fart around with the sharpness.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

HVX200/D2H Shoot: Ouch, That Hurts.

My first shot at posting a photo for the front of the newspaper. And I'm ready for it, I think.

The job: Grab a shot of the Bromo-Seltzer Tower, which was requested by the managing editor, since we hadn't had any recent images of the building.
The story: Apartment lofts are being created inside the tower, which was built in the early 1900's, which is part of the big rebirth of Baltimore.
The image: A scene of the tower from the eastern side as the sun sets.
The feeling: Elation and pressure. It's got to be done right. It's for show on page one of the largest newspaper in Maryland. The image must be captured at dusk (after 8pm) and dropped into the live system (by 9pm).

Off I go with the HVX200 and my Nikon D2H, for back-up. When you're about to shoot a job in which you're learning your camera's limitations, you don't want mistakes. I reach the inner harbor area right around 8pm, but the sun isn't quite at the right location, since the tower is still too back-lit. So I move about the area on Lombard Street, looking for a clean image where I can capture traffic, the downtown area, and the tower, with room on the left side so the editors can drop some copy.

Finding my spot on Light Street, I wait for the right moment, which comes within the next few minutes. My camera's set on 1920x1080 (1080i), and I wait for Lombard's light to go red, so I can get into the street and shoot. My camera's hoisted on the monopod in the vertical setting, to preserve as much of the resolution as I can. The image looks more saturated as each red light hits, and I start backing up my shots with my D2H.

With my images written on disks, I head back to the photo department and grab frames off the Panasonic. The image looks stellar. And I'm just tickling inside, anticipating a nice display on A-1. Dropping the images into the live system, I walk over to the production desk, where Julie is readying the images for the page front. And she likes what she sees.

"Great job," she says, as does Swag. I feel tremendously confident as I walk back to the photo department. I can see myself driving into work, past newspaper boxes, glancing at box after box with the image that has officially taken us into the next format of camera.

Barely able to control my elation, I answer the in-house phone. "We have a problem," Swag says. "Can you drop the image from your still camera, instead?"

Oh... my... God.... What's wrong? "There's some kind of halo around the buildings, and it's noticeable on the page printer," I'm told. I simply got the backup shot into the system, since we had our backs to the wall for deadline. There was a sinking feeling. A sense of defeat. What the F---? Curse words coursed through my head and out my mouth as I opened the Photoshop files, searching for the halo effect.

I returned to the production desk, and Julie and Swag both apologized, knowing that I had my heart set on the image running. I looked at the page print, and I saw it. A clean, barely-noticeable but definite white edge around the tower. Swag asked what it could have been, and my mind set my sights on the sharpness, which I had cranked up to 7 throughout the camera's settings. Once you set it inside, you can't undo the sharpness.

So, the moment was gone. Talk about depression. If only I could have gone back there, but it's too late. If only I hadn't cranked up the sharpness as much as I had done. The images look so terrific on the Apple monitors. The blue sky, turning to orange closer to the horizon, with the city street bustling beneath the Bromo tower. It would never be used, this time. And I felt responsible.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Austin, TX's HVX Bootcamp? Hot as Blazes!

I can only be brief, as I'm being called out early on assignment, to shoot some footage of the long lines at BWI/Thurgood Marshall Airport, since the U.S. has ramped up the security alert to code red...

The camp was hot on the first day (A/C was broken!) as temps outside flirted around 100 degrees. But I didn't absorb the info as much as I typed away, pounding on my PowerBook as information I thought was worthwhile transferred into a TextEdit file. The second day was better than the first, as I grabbed my camera and shot some footage in time lapse and slow motion. I'm learning how to tweak the settings as well, in exposing the shots.

A BIG important factor in getting good footage is having a good subject. That means, the TOD (time of day) and lighting should be prime. Good clips are watched more when the viewer is mesmerized. Watch for saturated scenes, and you might want to try shooting more at the "golden hour," which is late afternoon/early morning. When that light hits from the front/side/back of a subject, it can make for a prime setting. I like afternoon, because the built-up haze in the atmosphere makes for a great warming filter as the Sun hits the thick part of the atmosphere while setting. Early morning's okay, but you tend to see clouds that block the sunrise in the morning. If you don't, the air tends to be cleaner, resulting in sterile light. Just too white for my tastes.

Anyway, I think I got my first clip for the budding personal film project! It was a shot between two buildings downtown... several people at work were transfixed at the screen as I reviewed my footage. Promising!

Oh, I want to get AppleCare ($99), as that gets the user a 52-week course in whatever Macintosh software they choose to want to learn. Can we say, "Final Cut Pro, please?" That FCP software is powerful, and I have alot to learn.