Wednesday 30 May 2012

The Photo Tour Experience

One of the best ways to learn the art of taking great pictures is to travel with a group of other like-minded people. That way you learn new photo taking techniques, plus you get to visit some of the most photographic locations in the world with a host that not only knows the region but an organisation that plans tours meticulously. The way these trips are organised is straight forward: I pick a location that's visually strong while being slightly off the beaten track. Photography always comes first. Followed by a desire to visit as many great locations as possible. Followed by an appreciation of good food, while packing in as many cultural experiences as possible...

Ola! My photo group together in the bar (where else) of the Hotel Nacional, Havana, Cuba, April 2012

More often than not I've already visited the locations we travel to so I add in as much time as I think is needed to get the shot in the 'right light'. There's never any pressure to 'head off to the next place' or to 'get to lunch' unless everyone agrees... We are there to shoot images to the best of our abilities.
You could spend two weeks just photographing old Detroit steel. Cool American cars from the pre-revolutionary period are still very much in evidence throughout the island

Along the way participants get one-on-one tuition with whatever their favourite photo-editing software might be (usually this is Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, Photoshop Elements or Photomatix Pro). I help participants where possible to start thinking about the edit process in the context of making a photo book - the cost of which is included in the tour price. Once back home I continue to support the students with whatever help they might need in getting to grips with the picture editing process - I now add video post production to this list as many are now shooting video clips along with their stills.

Japan is one of my all-time favourite photographic locations. Fantastic colour, incredible food, dynamic cities, amazingly efficient transport and helpful people with impeccable manners!

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Controlling Dynamic Range Shooting Video

One of the oddities involved in shooting video with a DSLR is that there's no obvious RAW file format. For this reason, shooting using a 'default' video mode creates all sorts of contrast and dynamic range problems - highlights blow out, and often digital noise plagues the shadows.

For the best results you can load a special colour profile that drops the contrast, sharpness and colour values captured in the raw clip dramatically. This profile produces what initially appears to be a fairly useless looking result - the contrast is dead flat and colour almost non-existent. BUT, it gives you nearly two added stops in dynamic range, and because of this, there's less need to crank the ISO values through the roof. And less need to worry unduly about contrast (although this is always relevant when shooting video).

So this is what the Cinestyle profile looks link once loaded into the Canon's firmware. You can have up to three different shooting styles should you wish. You can also reduce the sharpenss, colour and contrast in the settings - as seen here, to give an even flatter looking tonal response. This then requires the addition of an S-Curve in post-production to add contrast and brightness to bring the visuals back into line with what we want from the image file.

Where do I get one of these special profiles? From the Technicolor website.

Although this is not a true RAW file for video, it's close to it. Cinestyle is a colour profile designed for Canon DSLR cameras. To use this profile, first download off the Technicolor Site then follow the online instructions (This has to be copied onto a memory card and uploaded into the DSLR). Once done it appears in one of the free User Defined Picture Style slots (Canon DSLRs have three spare slots). From this point you can further adjust the contrast and sharpness and colour settings to produce a truly flat looking result. This is then edited in the normal way using any of the video editing applications on the market. I use Adobe Premiere Pro a lot as it seems to do everything - the clips have to be graded - the is a video term meaning editing - we use tools such as Curves to add a slight S-Curve back into the clip to boost the highlights and shadows. Doing this turns your not-so-interesting-looking clips ito something a lot more visual.