Archive for the ‘Techniques’ Category

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Great Behind The Scenes Look At How GoPro Videos Are Made

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

GoPro’s marketing videos are awesome. We all love them. They show incredible people doing incredible things in incredible locations, with incredible camera angles (and incredible editing).

What the official GoPro videos DON’T show you is what goes in to making those videos, and personally I’ve been somewhat disappointed that GoPro seems to actively try to hide the details, tactics, equipment and (most importantly) talent that makes them so incredible. This isn’t surprising: the goal of those videos is to sell cameras to consumers by giving them the illusion that by buying the camera they too can create videos as mind-blowing as GoPro’s official marketing videos. Showing the consumer all of the professional-level (and often big-budget) production that goes into those videos would shatter that illusion of attainability.

For people who use the cameras though, it is incredibly helpful to see how some of those incredible shots are captured. This morning I stumbled on a video on the New Yorker’s website (thanks to Cameron Davidson for the find!) interviewing one of GoPro’s sponsored professional athletes and showing some of the tricks and gadgets that allow some of those incredible shots to be captured (the video doesn’t go into any of the extensive editing and post-production that makes GoPro’s official marketing videos sparkle, but it does pull the curtain back on a bit of the filming process).

If you like (or want) to shoot point-of-view action video, this is a good thing to watch.
(click the preview below to go to the New Yorker website)

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How To Color Balance Mixed Lighting Sources

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

I just finished a series of four blog posts talking about the various advantages and disadvantages of different types of lighting for photo and video work (the first post, with links to the others, is here), and why I’ve decided, for the time being, to use a mixed kit of fluorescent and LED lights. This kit is great and should serve my needs very well, but there is one hurdle that needs to be overcome first: while these lights are all advertised as “full spectrum” and “daylight balanced” at 5600K, in reality they all have visibly different color temperatures, so they need to be balanced with each other in order to work well being used together to light the same scene. In this post, I’m going to give step-by-step instructions on how I took three different lights with radically different white balances and balanced them to work together beautifully.

Before: Unbalanced

Before: Yuck. When white balancing for the mini LED panel on the left, the fluorescent softbox in the center is very green and the LED 1x1 on the right is slightly magenta.

In the image above, which I designed intentionally to exaggerate the color balance differences of the three lights, I placed (from left) a miniature LED panel, a fluorescent softbox and a 1×1 LED panel next to each other and aimed them at a uniformly white ceiling. The difference is striking (and awful).

Before: Yuck

Alternately, the same image above, only this time white balanced for the fluorescent soft box in the center, the LEDs on the sides are both overly magenta and orange.

As is, it would be very difficult to use these lights in a scene together without them appearing different colors. So they need to be balanced together. How to do this? Gels! Pulling out my collection of gels, I got to work.

I keep an assortment of gels to color balance pretty much anything (from left to right): CTOs, CTBs, Plus Greens and Minus Greens each in 1/8th, 1/4 and 1/2 densities. With this assortment, no matter which way a light is off balance, I can balance it.

Gels Gels Gels!

Gels Gels Gels!

In order to balance the three different lights (from three different manufacturers!) I started with the one that is most difficult to gel: the fluorescent (this is one of the biggest weaknesses of fluorescent lights in my opinion… they’re a pain to gel). I used that as my basis and then adjusted the other lights to match it.

It is possible to simply judge the color of a light visually in comparison to others next to it, like in the photos above, and to experiment with different gel combinations to get the lights to the point where they visually look the same to the eye, but “eyeballing” it like that is extremely difficult to do accurately; I have a very good eye for color (I scored a 19 on the X-Rite Online Color Acuity test! Take the test yourself, it’s fun!), and even I can’t achieve the level of precision that I want by eyeballing it. So to measure the color balance precisely I decided to use a couple of precision instruments: my camera and computer.

To start with, I set up a simple 18% neutral gray card on a light stand (I use this one from Amazon… it’s cheap and does the job well), along with a color chart. I lit the gray card and color chart with the fluorescent light (placing the light at an angle so that the light is illuminating the card but not reflecting glare). I then blacked out the windows in my office and shut off all the other light sources (overhead lights, computer monitors, etc.) so there was no “contamination” and I knew all the light hitting the gray card was from the light in question, and I took a still photo of the gray card and color chart with my Canon 5D Mark II camera in RAW format.

Gray Card and Color Chart

Gray card and color chart on stand for determining exact white balance of a particular light

I downloaded the photo onto my computer, and opened the file in Photoshop (you could also use Lightroom or any other application that can work with RAW files, I just happened to choose Photoshop). Using the White Balance Picker / eyedropper tool in the Adobe Camera Raw conversion screen (the same tool is in the Develop tab in Lightroom in the White Balance box), I sampled the 18% neutral gray card to set the proper white balance for the image, the values of which are then displayed in the white balance section on the right (it is a good idea to click a bunch of times in a few places on the gray card as the individual measurements will vary slightly, then average the values).

Sampling White Balance in Adobe Camera Raw

The White Balance Picker tool is the eyedropper icon near the top left. I sampled a spot on the neutral gray card, which gave me the white balance values shown in the white balance box at the top right.

Sure enough, I now saw numerically what I had seen visually on the wall: that fluorescent light was very, very green (+28 tint!). Since that is the light that was most off balance, ideally I would have gelled it to match the other lights, but since this light is so difficult to gel and the other are so much easier, I instead went the other way around and gelled the others to match this one.

With the temperature and tint white balance values for the fluorescent light in hand, I then repeated the process (blacking out the room, lighting the neutral gray card with a single light source, and shooting a photo) for each of my other lights and then found the white balance values for them as well (I found that my miniature panel has white balance values of 5100K temperature and -3 tint, and my 1×1 LED panel is 5050K temperature and +5 tint).

With that information, I then knew precisely how off balance my lights were from each other. I then added a gel to one of the lights, repeated the process of measuring the white balance values, and noted the numerical effect of a particular gel (bear in mind that as much as the gel manufacturers try to keep the color of their gels as pure as possible, a Plus Green gel will never be purely plus green…for example, my Rosco 1/4 Plus Green gels turned out to add +28 points of green tint, but also knocked off 300 degrees of temperature. But after measuring the color balance values of each light and the color effect of each gel, it was very straightforward to figure out which gels to add to each light to balance them together.

In the end, to balance my LED panels to my fluorescent lights, I needed to add 1/4 CTB and 3/8 Plus Green (one 1/4 and one 1/8) to my mini LED, and 1/8 CTB and 1/4 Plus Green to my 1×1 LED, which, while not numerically perfect, got my lights as closely balanced as possible with 1/8th-increment gels. Now I can comfortably use all of my lights in the same scene together and be confident that their colors will be balanced and visually indistinguishable.

After: I've Brought Balance to the Force

After: I've Brought Balance to the Force. While I can still see differences on this uniform white wall, in practical use these lights will never appear unbalanced.


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Choosing Lights: Tungsten vs. Fluorescent vs. LED (Post #1 of 4)

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

(Note: I originally started writing this as a single post, but it turns out there is so much to say on the topic that I’m going to break it into several posts. Links to the others will be at the bottom.)

I recently found myself in the same situation that every photographer and videographer occasionally faces. I’m currently expanding my arsenal of photo and video lights, so I’ve had to tackle the question of which type of lights to buy. Since my work includes both still and video (and since I already have a selection of strobe lights that I’m happy with), I’m focusing now on continuous lights that can be used for either still or motion work.

First, some background. As photographers and videographers know, the most commonly used lights have traditionally been xenon gas flash tubes for still photography and tungsten incandescent bulbs for video and film (HMIs are also somewhat common for motion as well, but less so than tungsten). These traditional kinds of lights work very well and they definitely still have value in the right application (in fact, in certain types of applications they’re still the best type of light there is), but they do have significant weaknesses and disadvantages, and recent technological advances have improved other light sources such as LEDs and compact fluorescent bulbs to the point where they too are now practical for photo and video use.

Choices choices choices!!!

Choices choices choices!!!

So we now have this whole range of light sources available to us that includes the traditional tungsten and HMI (such as those made by Arri, Mole-Richardson and many others), fluorescent (in both tube format like Kino-Flos and CFL format like Westcott Spiderlites) and LED (like Litepanels) as well as some even newer and more exotic technologies that are still coming to market like organic and plasma panels (the Zacuto “PlaZma light” will be very interesting to keep an eye on once it is introduced, hopefully later this year).

Among all of these options, how do we choose the right light? Every type has advantages and disadvantages, and as with most things, which is best comes down to your individual needs and what type of work you do. Personally, the vast majority of my work is done on location instead of in a studio, so the factors that are important to me are 1) efficiency (i.e., power use), 2) heat generation, 3) portability, 4) speed of setup and ease of use, and most importantly, 5) light quality (CRI). (Cost is of course also a factor, but with each type light there are expensive options and cheaper options, so that’s less relevant). So for my current round of equipment purchases, I evaluated each of the light types on each of the criteria above. In the next couple of posts I’ll talk about how the various types of lights compare when it comes to efficiency, heat generation, portability, speed of setup and ease of use, and light quality, finally ending with my conclusions and my purchases.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about the efficiency and heat generation of each types of light heads.

(Update: Links to the subsequent posts in this series are here:
Post #2: Efficiency (i.e., power usage) and Heat Generation
Post #3: Portability and Speed of Setup & Ease of Use

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Two New Portfolio Additions

Friday, December 21st, 2012

On this last rainy weekday before everyone takes off for the holidays, I had a few free minutes and decided to add a couple of images to the website that I really like, but until now very few people had seen. The first image, “Dave,” was shot several months ago during the summer, and the second image , “Kaylee 2″ was shot just last week. Here they are.

"Dave": Canon 7D, Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM @ 70mm, ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/1000 sec. ©Chris Conti Photography All Rights Reserved.

Dave is a master craftsman who works for a large marine services company in Portland, Maine called Portland Yacht Services. This summer I was in Portland on a commercial shoot for PYS on a dry dock in Portland harbor producing a timelapse video of PYS’s employees using the drydock to service a large yacht that had been damaged. The drydocking process is fascinating (the entire structure lowers itself under water, the vessel to be serviced maneuvers inside, and the structure rises back up, lifting the entire vessel out of the water). It was a great shoot in a totally unique setting, and I also just happened to catch this candid shot of Dave on the dock. To me, guys like Dave epitomize the Maine maritime economy and culture.

"Kaylee 2": Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II @ 200mm, ISO 800, f/2.8, 1/250 sec. ©Chris Conti Photography All Rights Reserved.

Kaylee is a musician and music therapist from Seattle in the final stage of her training. Last week I was shooting a music therapy session at a senior housing community called Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly in Framingham, Massachusetts shooting marketing photos. I was severely limited in the amount of equipment I was allowed to bring into the facility and was limited to a single strobe and reflector, so I had to get a bit creative with my lighting. In order to create the image above I decided to take advantage of large windows that were in the room, and use the natural light as my key light and instead use the strobe only for fill. Given the limitations I really like how the image turned out.

That’s it for me, now it’s time to pack up and get on the road to my parents’ house for the holiday.

Happy holidays!

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Warehouses Are Big (And Dark).

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

iPhone pic of yesterday's shoot location

Yesterday’s shoot location was a warehouse in Sudbury, MA. The shoot involved a wide shot down one of the long aisles and since the warehouse’s lights were pretty dim (even though it may not look that way from the iPhone image above), we ended up needing to light the entire length of the aisle.


By the time we were done we were using nine studio strobe heads.

We ended up with nine Profoto studio strobe heads arrayed down the length of the aisle, powered by five packs.

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