Sunday, February 25, 2018

Why I am involved with PonF

Over the last 15-20 years there have been many attempts to merge traditional film photography with digital. The one that I remember most clearly was a company called EFilm. The idea was to have a digital sensor attached to a memory capture device that would fit into a film camera. It looked like 35mm film canister, with the sensor sitting over the image plane.There were other ideas out there like this, some turned out to be hoaxes, but the idea that we could have both digital and film in one unit really stuck with me.

I have making photographs for 30 or so years. My work has been a mix of both analogue and digital. I’ve shot nearly every film format from sub-miniature Minox, to 10x12 Glass plate negative. Over the last 3 ½  years I have been working nearly exclusively with the Wetplate Collodion process. What this has taught me is that image making is less about the process and more about the image itself.

Several months ago I contacted Rafaello Palandri on Instagram. He was creating a new camera that could combine both traditional film and digital capture into one unit. It would be a camera body that would have a 35mm back and a digital back. He also planned to make a 120 medium format back as well as a 4x5 back. Finally, this idea would become a reality.

The first time I met Rafaello, in person, we had a long conversation about what we both loved about film photography and what we both loved about camera design. The outcome of this conversation was that I was asked to be a part of his PonF project.

What I love about this project is that it embraces Photography. This isn’t a film vs. digital thing anymore, it’s about the medium of photography. It’s about the freedom of image making.

In addition to beta testing the camera,  I’m writing a series of articles about the history of photographic processes and will be producing several videos about the PonF camera as well as videos about film processing.

I believe in this project. I believe that we don’t have to choose between film and digital. I believe that we can have 2 (or 3, or even 4) camera systems in our camera bags at one time. 

I believe that we can have all of this.

If you also have this belief and would like to find out more, please check out the website for the PonF project.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Between Dreams and Wakefulness...

There is a small window of time between dreaming and wakefulness when anything can happen. The day before you is pure, untainted and full of possibilities. The worries of the previous days have not yet fallen upon you.

It is a state of bliss.

When I was young I believed that during this magical time, I could wish myself to wake anywhere.

I often wished to wake up in the small bedroom of my Grandmother’s house, the Burnt Umber curtains casting a warm glow in the morning light, giving me the hope that all could be right with the world.

Every once in a great while, I’d open my eyes and actually be there in my Grandmother’s house. The sense of relief and accomplishment was immeasurable. I would smile the biggest smile I could and close my eyes, hoping I could wake up there all over again.

Sometimes it was a dream, but sometimes it was reality.

As I got older, this magical ability seemed to move to the area just outside my vision and perception, fading into a haze of impossibility.

That magical span of time between the dreaming and the wakefulness has grown ever shorter. The worries of the previous days fall upon me quicker now, but every once in a great while, I have a brief moment of possibility that I might wake to find those curtains hanging above me, casting that glow of hope and for a brief moment I think that all might be right with the world.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Fireworks: The Process of Making a Music Video Part 12 The Big Finish

The last of the footage is now ingested and rendered.  The synch is working a little better, but the issue is the image itself. Some of the sequences are drifting in and out of focus. 

At first, I thought it might have been the scans from LomoLab, but, upon close inspection, the individual grains of the film were sharp, so it must have been the seating of the film in the camera. It could have had something to do with the speed of the hand cranking not allowing the film to seat itself properly. I was cranking pretty fast this whole project, though and this issue didn’t present itself until shortly after I switched camera backs. It’s an intermittent problem, so I may be wrong.

I’m relieved to have enough usable footage to finish the video, so its not a huge problem and the main vocal section with the affected footage is in the middle of the video, so I can cut around it and the fluttering focus becomes another part of the Lo-Fi aesthetic. After talking with Kyle about it, he was in favour of the “warts and all” approach to the footage. The aesthetic of the piece as a whole is fun and pleasingly “retro”. It definitely stands out, which is what Kyle needs.

The vocal piece at the lighthouse is synching up fairly well, with the footage being sped up, on average, 125%. This is a bit baffling to me because the calculations I made, based on the song being slowed down by 300%, then shot at (what I assume to be roughly) 6-8fps, transferred at roughly 10fps and having that footage sped up 300%. Somewhere in that fuzzy film math something happened. It worked in the end, so I’m not complaining, but still…

The vistas and other B-Roll shots are being sped up between 200% and 400% to create a time-lapse effect, which I think works quite well.

Completing the full rough cut took 4 long days in the edit suite in Edinburgh. The bed next to the computer became very handy after 12 hours of cutting footage. I emerged from the edit-cave with a very tight edit for Kyle.

There weren’t very many changes from the rough to the fine cut. The cuts were refined (with the help of a click track) and the final mix of the song slotted in perfectly.

With the edition of Kyle’s title cards (and a bit of “old film” filter on top of them), the video was pretty much finished. The “coming soon” end card can be removed after the album is released, so Kyle will have the option of including it on the CD, or even broadcast.

I’m really excited to see the general reaction to it. Lomomography is very interested to see it as well. They want to post it on their LomoKino micro site and publicise the “professional” uses of their little camera.

Jack Quick at LomoLab London was Brilliant! His hard work and willingness to go above and beyond is what made this project possible. I could not have completed this project without him!

Overall, I’m very happy with Fireworks. It was one of the most technically challenging films I’ve worked on. Of course there are things I’d do a bit differently, but hindsight is always 20/20…

Here it is, Fireworks

Here is a link to the Echo Bloom Micro Site

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fireworks: The Process of Making a Music Video... Part 11

Let the edit begin!

This is proving more challenging than I first thought.

After Jack Quick at LomoLab worked out a few issues, the footage from Day 1 is looking really great. In order to get rid of the choppy, jumpy nature of the first pass, we came up with the idea of disregarding the half-frames, losing 1 of every four frames in the end. The new workflow is working and the footage is much smoother now, so Big Thanks to Jack.

There was a roll of 160VC that was a couple of stops underexposed. The semi-automated process at LomoLab just couldn’t find the frames. I ended up re-rendering the MP4 from the film scans myself, using (of all things) Canon’s DPP RAW converter software. It has a trimming function that made this tedious process a bit more streamlined. There were a few other rolls that I re-rendered to get rid of jumps when the camera would skip a frame or two.

The first attempt with this was a couple of macro shots of the costume. I had taped a +10 diptor to the LomoKino lens and hoped for the best. The focus was surprisingly sharp. The underexposure, however, rendered the footage unusable, even after the re-render and colour correction in Final Cut. Bummer, but great proof of concept for later.

Another experiment that has proved to be really interesting was a sequence where I had Kyle walk backwards down a set of stone steps. We did 2 takes of this. I reversed the footage, superimposed the shots over each other and synched up the motion. The result is a trippy little shot that will be great in the final edit.

The Portra 400 has (so far) really held up well. The first day’s footage looks great. The film handles over exposure very well. I’m able to dial back the couple of shots that were 2-3 stops over and they still look good.

Day 1 started with the end of the song. No vocals here, just Kyle playing the guitar in a Chapel ruin. The plan of the ever-widening shot is looking great, but the issue is (as I thought it would be) the synch.

The first thought was synching the footage as it came back with the slowed down audio tracks that we shot with. The speed is, unsurprisingly, off. I got the slowed down tracks sped back up to normal speed and onto the timeline. The LomoKino films are rendered at 4fps and around 19 seconds long. I’ve been experimenting with speeding up the films to match the real time audio. 300% proved to be way too fast. I worked my way down to 200% at 25% increments. 200% seems to work, but since there aren’t any vocals to synch to and the instrumentation in the tracks makes the individual guitar strums difficult to discern, it has been a challenge.

The next batch of footage will contain vocal tracks. Then we’ll solve the speed issue.

I still contend that this can work. (Although I’m reminded of a line from The Ghost and The Darkness where Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer are talking about a lion trap… “Did it work?” “No, in point of fact, it did not. But I’m convinced the theory is sound…”)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Fireworks: The Process of Making a Music Video... Part 10

Day 5:

41 Rolls shot today.

On our last day we ventured out to The Lighthouse. The walk was great. The location was amazing. It was a great way to end the shoot.

The sky was bright blue and nearly cloudless. The remaining rolls of Portra 400 would more than likely have been overwhelmed with a 3-stop overexposure if not for the Polarizer filter that I taped on the front of the LomoKino. 1 2/3 stop worth of light that I didn’t have to worry about.

I grabbed a couple of wide shots while Kyle and Lesley-Anne got ready. The barnacle covered volcanic rock is going to look amazing on film. The small patches of grass and little purple flowers that carved out an existence in the little hollows of the rock added some unexpected color to the scene.

The Sun gave us a nearly perfect side light. Kyle sat on a set of concrete steps in front of the lighthouse. The names of several kids who’d made the journey before us littered the wall behind him. Brilliant.

We opted for a nonlinear shot sequence instead of the ordered moves that we had done previously. Starting on a medium wide, moving to a medium close, back to a medium wide, to a close up, then a close up of the guitar, and so on.

The vocal sequence went very well. The sun remained, but the temperature dropped dramatically and a bracing wind came in from nowhere. All of us were chilled to the bone. We finished the vocal sequence and Kyle quickly changed into warmer clothes.

We grabbed a couple shots of the patches of flowers before we began the walk back.

For our last bits of B-Roll, we opted for some pieces of rocky shoreline and close-ups of the bits of the costume. We laid the main neckpiece of the costume along the edge of a bit of exposed rock and shot the length of it. It fluttered in the breeze and will look great. This was a great project that I'm happy to say was shot on film.

The film will be shipped to LomoLab in London for procession and scanning. we'll get it back in about 6 weeks. Then the mind-bending edit will begin...


That’s a wrap! 5 days, a dozen locations, 2 LomoKino cameras, 168 rolls of Kodak Portra film, a LOT of work and a great collaborative experience!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Fireworks: The Process of Making a Music Video... Part 9

Day 4:

Shot 30 rolls of Portra 160. Today.

A bit cold, a bit windy and a bit awesome! We began the day at a rocky outcrop overlooking Scalpsie Bay. This particular vocal piece was the crest of the song. The shot started low and progressed up the hill, past Kyle to the wide vista behind him.

Lesley-Anne set up her "office" with the computer, speakers and camera log a short ways down the hill. She's been great, pulling triple-duty as Production Coordinator, 2nd Assistant Camera and Chauffeur.  She's been indispensable. This shoot wouldn't have been possible without her.

Kyle was a trooper, barefoot for the first 2/3 of the morning, freezing and covered in fluttering feathers. He pulled it off brilliantly.  

As he and Lesley-Anne packed up our kit,  I cranked out a few more wide shots for the open.

We warmed back up in the car on the way to The Musiker Café’.  By the end of lunch Kyle was able to feel his toes again.

After lunch we went back to Scalpsie. The seldom seen strange burning orb in the sky had decided come out. It was getting warmer and it looked like a completely different location.  I'm constantly amazed by the ever changing weather here. We can have all four seasons in one day. It makes shooting a bit of a challenge, but at least it's never boring.

We went to the gully nearby to where we had shot in the morning. Kyle was in costume and walking through a cut in the hillside. I shot the first bit through a knurled tree, cranking very slowly as he also walked very slowly. Next shot was the same setup, cranking much faster. (I’ll blend the two together in post.) I also caught a lower angle of the same as Kyle passed the camera. Next up was an extreme low angle of his walking bare feet. 

We also captured another shot looking up through trees to open sky. I used the +10 diopter this time to really mess with the focus. The sun poked through and would occasionally blow out the scene completely. I can’t wait to see how much of that the film can take.

We walked down to the beach to grab a wide shot of the amazing panorama there. The textured sand and calmly lapping waves, combined with the blue sky and the amazing snowcapped mountains in the distance made for a great addition to the opening sequence. I also grabbed a shot of Kyle walking through this scene both forward and backwards. (I’ll reverse the backward shot in post and blend the two together.)

Since I had 1 more roll of Portra 160 in my pouch, we did a shot of Kyle’s feet in the sand with the water lapping over them. The sun shimmered on the water at 3, maybe 4 stops over key. It’s going to be beautiful.

We declared victory on the day and went home early.

Film count feels comfortable heading into the end of the shoot. 46 rolls of Portra 400 and 5 rolls of Portra 160 remain.

Tomorrow is the trek to The Lighthouse.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Fireworks: The Process of Making a Music Video... Part 8

Day 3.

Cut short by rain.

We started the day with a B-Roll shot of this huge amazing tree in the middle of this empty field. (I say empty, but for the herd of grazing cattle who were kindly keeping completely out of the shot) The tree is surrounded by a stone circle and an old wooden fence. The grey clouds and misty rain made for an amazing shot. The wind was moving the bare branches of the tree slightly, so I cranked the LomoKino as slowly as I could and then varied the speed to slow down the movement of the branches slightly.

Onto The Lighthouse?

The trek to the Lighthouse is no mean feat on the best of days. It's about an hour along the coastal cliffside trail. The wind and spitting rain would make the walk (let alone the shooting of an important vocal piece) difficult, if not dangerous. We decided that we would go back to the house to see if this weather would pass and make a decision later.

On the way back to the house, we stopped at Kerrycroy to grab a shot of the storm surge moving onto the beach. The camera was as low as it could go on the tripod and the stone pier was coming into the right of frame. The waves will look frenetic and angry as the cloud in the background sail through the top of the frame.

The weather didn't pass like we'd hoped. We shot 2 rolls today. The rocky hill overlooking Scalpsie Bay is scheduled for tomorrow and The Lighthouse has been pushed back to Saturday.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fireworks: The Process of Making a Music Video... Part 7

Day 2 was a real treat.

We shot the first vocal synch segment and several B-Roll shots.

We started at the Cement House. While Kyle was getting ready, I took some wide vistas and establishing shots. The 2-Perf Super 35mm format really makes these wide shots much more stunning.

The first shot in the vocal sequence had Kyle, sitting on a rocky outcrop on the extreme right, the Cement House in the background and a huge rusty old winch in the foreground on the extreme left. As the shots progressed I moved Kyle across the frame, ending up on the extreme right. The results will be very dreamy as each shot dissolves into the next.

I’ve been asking a lot of the Portra 400. It’s latitude for underexposure is legendary, but I’m asking it for 2 stops over exposure in some instances. Negative Filmic emulsions have always handled highlights better than any digital format ever could. I’ve always put a tremendous amount of faith in Kodak films and have only seldom been disappointed. That and the esthetic of the sun coming in and out of clouds will add to the look of the film. I can also cut around it with B-Roll if the results are too egregious.

My ear is slowly tuning itself to the slowed down version of the song. I can hear the lyrics and the slowed down guitar strumming. I think when it comes time to listen to the regular version in the edit I may not recognize it.

Also, I discovered that the lifespan of a LomoKino camera is 82 rolls. The crank has a tiny plastic tooth that engages the spindle. this tooth slowly gets chewed up as the crank turns and occasionally skips frames. Kyle brought his LomoKino as a back-up. I used the front of our Kino and the back of Kyle's. 
So. Just so you you know... 82 rolls.

The B-Roll shots were next. Lesley-Anne stayed at the Cement House with the gear while Kyle and I trekked up the rocky coastline, past several very confused sheep and lambs, up the hill to the cliff side. The view was epic. Kyle stood at the edge of the cliff with the feathery bits of the costume blowing in the slight breeze. Arran was in the background; it’s peaks barely visible through the clouds. I cranked the LomoKino slowly to make the most of the movement of the clouds and the feathers while Kyle stood stock-still and barefoot.

There was a nice close-up of Kyle, followed by a great shot of just one of the feathery bits of costume on the edge of the cliff, fluttering in the breeze.

We trundled back down the cliff and had lunch at The Musiker, a vegetarian café in Rothesay.

We scouted some possible B-Roll shots in Ascog with little joy. I suggested we take the coastal trail from Kerrycroy to Mount Stewart. There were some locations that might be of interest. There’s an old concrete boathouse and a very old stone barn that has been taken over by a huge tree.

It was a great walk. We shot a stand of prehistoric looking ferns. The other shot of potential interest to me was looking up through some tree cover into the open sky. At f11 it was going to be difficult to get the shot sufficiently out of focus to make it interesting, so I placed the +4 diopter over the lens. I think the result will be a nice element to cut around or to use between dissolves.

On the way back, we shot some coastline and a great ECU of a tiny waterfall, varying the crank speed to make the water movement change in shot.

It was a great day. Tomorrow will be the big Lighthouse Trek.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Fireworks: The Process of Making a Music Video... Part 6

A couple of days before Kyle arrived; we had been talking over Skype about changing the song for the video. He felt that “Fireworks” was more representative of the album as a whole. This really wasn’t a problem, since the video had no narrative element. His costume had been created by a local costume designer and ready to be picked up the next day.

Monday Shoot T Minus 1:

My prep has been done. Lists were made and gear gathered.

Kyle got into Glasgow today with no problems. He showed us the costume. It looks amazing, consisting of several pieces of fabric, feathers, tassels and dangly bits. It’s brilliantly coloured and will look amazing on film.

We talked a bit about the scheduling. We think that 2 locations per day will be a nice easy pace. Kyle has broken the song down into 113 pieces. It’s a few more tracks than the previous song, but about half the song is instrumental, so we don’t have to worry about syncing as many vocals and therefore won’t have to use as much film. That being said, the amount of B-Roll that will be needed will take care of any film that would have been used otherwise.

There are 3 vocal pieces and 3 instrumentals.

The final instrumental piece that ends the song is 33 segments long. We’ve decided to get that out of the way first. This is by far the biggest bit of the song. If we can get this done earlier, then I won’t have to worry about having enough film for it later.

The shot starts on a medium close up (MCU) of Kyle in full costume. With each segment, the camera moves back, ending in an extreme wide shot (EWS) that reveals him standing the ruin of a 12th century chapel.

After lunch, we’ll move on to the Cement house to do a B-Roll shot and one of the vocal pieces.

The other major locations have been decided as well. The 2 locations at Scalpsie Bay will be Wednesday. The Lighthouse location will be Thursday (it will be the only location on that day due to the 1 hour hike there and back). Friday and Saturday are scheduled as B-Roll for the montage sequence (yes, we ARE going to need a Montage!)

Shoot Day One:

The weather was spectacular. Not terribly sunny. The costume looked great. The contrast between the bright colours and the grey brickwork of the Chapel really worked. In between takes Kyle was writing a song about the video shoot. The slowed down song sounds very trippy. Kyle added a metronome click track to the song as well so that we can all keep the lethargic beat. (I'm amazed that he can keep this song straight in his head, broken up this way.) 

As we were shooting, I realised that the way Kyle had sequenced the tracks (3 measures of the previous track, then the 3 measures of the current track, then I keep cranking for another 3 measures) I could dissolve the segments together in post for a dreamy, less jarring feel.

Leslie-Anne was doing playback, slating, and camera logs. The computer was set up with some USB powered speakers and the tracks were played through iTunes.

The slating was simple: Track number and Take number. We only did second takes of this sequence 3 or 4 times, when I felt that the camera wasn’t feeling right. There were instances where the camera started to skip frames, or the crank became hard to turn because of a feeding issue.

The Sequence ended up taking a bit longer than expected and with the B-Roll shots we did of the costume and the vistas surrounding the stunning location, we shot 47 rolls of film (including 3 rolls of Portra 400VC I had sitting around waiting for a chance to be useful). I knew it was going to be our biggest film use day. 

Some of the B-Roll shots became interesting experiments. I pulled out my Lens Baby Diopters and taped them to the front of the LomoKino lens. I have no idea if it'll work, but why not, right? If nothing else, it'll be colourful out of focus stuff to dissolve in and out of. The +4 diopter worked around the neck of the guitar and the +10 did some extreme closeups of some of the feathers and what I hope to be a full frame shot of Kyle's eye half covered by feathers. Macro is such a tricky thing. If it works I'll be very pleased, if it doesn't, I won't be too fussed.

We did another shot of the neck and head of the decorated guitar in the foreground and the beautiful vista in the background. I wanted to see just how accurate the "close-up" button was. I shot it at infinity and with the close-up button engaged. 

Kyle was great today. he stood barefoot on gravel for nearly 3 hours with no complaints. He's really committed to the process and is very excited to try anything we throw at him. He's a great collaborator. This is going to be an amazing film.

We wrapped the Chapel location at 3PM and went to lunch. After lunch, we decided that the Cement house location should be pushed back, since Lesley-Anne would have to leave us and we didn’t want to try to do vocals with only me working camera, slating and audio. Instead, Kyle and I went on a tech scout to the Cement House and also found a cliff top location for one of the B-Roll shots.

The current schedule stands as such:

Wednesday: Cement House and Cliff Top B-Roll and other B-roll Locations

Thursday: Lighthouse

Friday: Scalpsie Bay Locations

Saturday: B-Roll Several Locations

I feel that today went very well, considering it was the first day. We got a great deal accomplished. I’m looking forward to tomorrow and the rest of the week.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Seeds: The process of making a music video Part 5...

Returning from a weeklong time-lapse shoot in Edinburgh to find the film shipment had arrived. Excellent.

I was wondering how that might turn out. Morco didn’t have as much stock as they thought they would. I thought I might have to scrounge the whole of the UK to come up with 150 rolls, but as it happens, Silverprint in London (my new best friends) had a ridiculous amount of Kodak stock to sell. I grabbed 100 rolls of Portra 400 and 50 rolls of Portra 160. (The unpredictable nature of the weather here had made me reconsider the idea of shooting all 400. There is a chance of being in full, raging sun with a couple of our locations, so I opted to be safe and cover myself with a bit of 160.) As long as I stick to a single stock per location, there shouldn’t be a problem.

Jack Quick from LomoLab, UK, has been most helpful in determining the post options that are best for the project. It turns out that their semi-automated process will produce a bigger, beefier file size and is also a bit less expensive. We’ll be getting DVD’s of the quicktime movies to edit with. I’m hoping to juice up my Macbook Pro before then, so I can handle the off-line edit myself. We may move the on-line edit to a post house in Glasgow for finishing and tweaks.

Kyle is currently working on the costume he’ll use for the film and getting the song ready. The slowed down broken up version will be on CD and played from a bog-standard portable CD player. Each take will be slated with the track number and take. Once in the edit, the tracks will be cut together with the slowed down version of the song, then the whole thing will be “brought up to speed” and further tweaked. (This is how it works in the perfect little fantasy world inside my brain, anyway…)

I’m working on trimming down the number of locations, as well as scheduling. We’ll shoot 2-3 locations per day (weather permitting), starting each day on the east side of the island and moving to the west side after lunch, to maximize our daylight.

We’re still considering several locations. The lighthouse is definitely going to be a prime location, as well as the St. Blanes Chapel ruin. There are a couple of locations above Scalpsie Bay that will be amazing as well.

We’ll be asking a favour of a boat owning friend of ours to shuttle us to the remote lighthouse location. That’ll save an hour-long cliffside hike. (Although, I’ve been considering certain points along the ciff-hike for locations, so maybe the boat takes us to the Lighthouse and we “shoot” our way back along the cliff…)

This is going to be exciting…