I’m thrilled to share this short video, which I made in collaboration with the amazing story team at UW Medicine Advancement. I’m truly honored to work with people so profoundly dedicated to healing.
The story reveals how Mary Larson, a nurse for 23 years at UW Medicine’s Pioneer Square Clinic, has found a very special way to truly see her homeless patients.
For this project, we set 3 GoPros running over a 2-month period to capture Mary’s artwork taking shape. Everything else was shot on a Sony FS5. Nothing fancy, just SLOG0-2 8-bit 4K internal, graded with Alister Chapman’s lovely Venice Look LUT pack.
This is another in a long line of projects that uses my never shoot interviews methodology (for the primary story subject, at least). For the rest, we had an exceptional fine space to film our interviews in – the empty top floor of the Pioneer Square Clinic.
Here’s a sample frame from that interview. Looks almost naturally lit, doesn’t it?
But no! Any time you have a large window in the background of a frame, you know you need to bring a big gun to bring up your subject to match those background levels. Here’s the setup:
This technique is called “carrying the light,” which results in a very natural, almost imperceptibly lit look. We used a single Aputure 300d bounced into a 4×4 foam core, over which we draped a 1/4 grid cloth 8×8 fabric. We had to flag it off aggressively to keep the light off the background with a piece of black foam core that you can see tight against the side of the diffusion. But that’s it – one big light for one beautiful result.
It’s also another example of a framing technique I teach my students: For a pleasing frame, it’s often a good idea to frame your subject in a corner. Not literally – best to give them plenty of distance from the corner – but by lining up the corner behind them in the frame. This adds depth and dimension to the composition. And when you have a window, it’s frame naturally cuts the light off the wall, giving a pleasing light fall-off.
Big, naturally lit locations help make food pop in Nordstrom restaurant recruiting video
Nordstrom has released a restaurant recruiting video that I had the pleasure of shooting for director Kent Worthington a few months back in Seattle and LA.
For this project we shot documentary style, moving quickly. Almost all of the shots used available lighting, which in our LA locations was absolutely beautiful, north-facing window light. Whoever designed the two LA restaurants was obviously thinking about light, and it shows in the clips.
I used a Sony FS5 with Atomos Inferno to shoot in SLOG-2 at 4K DCI.
Lenses were vintage Zeiss primes, with the 100mm Planar Makro seeing a lot of action.
“Lighting is a subtle craft,” I told my students yesterday. Then we headed to a baseball field to see what that looks like. Our assignment: To shape natural light into something cinematic for an outdoor interview using only two pieces of grip. A 4×4 foam core bounce, and a Scrim Jim Cine Frame (8 x 8′).
Our first challenge was to choose a background. We placed our subject on the edge of the field, and slowly walked in a circle around him to observe how the light fell on him in relationship to the background.
People rarely look good in direct sunlight. It makes them squint. So we placed our subject with the sun behind him, as you can see from the shadows below.
By doing this, we penciled him out from the background with natural rim light. This works best when you can find a background that is at least a stop darker than your subject. In this case, we could do that very easily, because there were lots of trees. Trees absorb light. So here’s our starting frame:
This first frame shows the importance of considering how nearby objects will impact your subject. If he had been standing in the middle of the field, his face would have been evenly illuminated. But because there is a line of trees behind us and camera left, the light is wrapping in from camera right which is exposed to open field.
Our goal here is to make the most of the tools we have to create a naturally lit interview that feels organic and makes our subject look great. So let’s start playing with our toys and see what each does for our shot.
Our first setup is to bounce light on the same side as the sun, 3/4 angle camera left. This evens out the light on his face, eliminating the dark areas created by the trees in front of him. But it’s pretty flat. Let’s move the bounce a little farther to the right…
Placing the bounce directly under the lens is a pretty common sight on film sets. It’s a great way to get a nearly invisible fill up into the eye sockets of your talent. But in this case, it still feels pretty flat.
Placing the bounce on the camera right side gives us a nice dimensionality, but it doesn’t look organic, because the sun is coming from behind and to camera left. So it looks lit. No good. Let’s put down our bounce for a minute and see how the negative fill affects our shot.
The neg by itself does a nice job of evening out the light on his face, but he’s now too dark overall. If we raise our exposure to compensate, the background will get too hot, and we want to leave it alone at a stop under. So let’s bring back our bounce, on the same side as the sun (called “same-side fill”) and see what happens.
Wow! This looks pretty good. Adding the bounce wraps the light of the sun around his face very naturally, and the neg on the other side gives us the 3-dimensionality that we’re always striving for in cinematic shooting.
If anything, I’d say we could have raised the 4×4 bounce a little higher to do something about the shadow that’s forming a triangle between his camera right cheek and eye.
What techniques do you use to shape available light for cinematic outdoor interviews?
One of my students at Seattle Film Institute asked me a question the other day: “How do you choose hard drives for 4K video?”
Most beginning filmmakers are on tight budgets. So my short answer was: “Buy the cheapest drives you can afford to store your media, and the most expensive drive you can afford to edit it.”
Let’s unpack what that means in today’s technology landscape.
When I get a new 4K project, I buy two hard drives big enough to hold all project media. In my case, that’s generally 1 to 2 terabyte drives. At the end of each day of production, I’ll lay off the files to both simultaneously. I use Hedge which enables me to have two backups of the media from the get-go.
Drives I recommend
The drive I have most frequently chosen for this is the 2TB Backup Plus Slim Portable External USB 3.0 Hard Drive. It currently costs $65. Black Magic Speed Test clocks it at 75 MB/s. That’s way too slow to edit 4K video on, of course, but we only need it for storage. The nice thing about USB3 is that it’s compatible with just about any computer out there, both Windows and Mac. So if your client wants the files at any point, you can simply hand them the drive.
If you have a computer with USB-C, however, I recommend the aPrime ineo rugged waterproof IP-66 certified drives. For $95, you’re getting a drive you can drop in the water, with rubber bumpers to break its fall, and a built-in USB-C cable. These drives clock for me at around 110 MB/s read and write speeds. So for a little more money, you get drives that are a LOT more rugged and a little bit faster.
Both the above drives are about the size of a typical iPhone. And that matters to me – they will (hopefully) live out their lives in a drawer. I like that they won’t take up much space.
Small is the new big
So now let’s talk about the fun stuff – speedy editing drives. I used to rely on toaster-sized RAID drives to get the speed and reliability I needed for editing. But with SSD, that’s no longer the case. With solid state media, I have found speed, reliability AND the benefit of being able to take entire projects with me wherever I go. With this freedom, I find the only time I’m cutting at a desk is when I’m doing audio passes with studio monitors. I’ll connect my laptop to a larger monitor at various stages of the project. But even then, I tend to park myself all over the house. For example, the kitchen table, or on the coffee table in the living room.
My tried-and-true favorite 4K editing drive is currently the 1TB T5 Portable Solid-State Drive (Black). I get read-write tests to about 300 MB/s which is more than fast enough to edit 4K video. This drive is the size of a business card (and only a little thicker). It is now available in a 2TB size for under $500, which seems like a bargain to me. But the landscape is changing.
Here comes Thunderbolt 3
Most new Macs now support Thunderbolt 3. If you are one of the fortunate people who has one, I invite you to behold the 2TB X5 Portable SSD.
I hesitate to call it affordable at $1,400, but it gives wings to your 4K projects. I recently retired my late 2013 MacBook Pro and made the leap to a late 2018 MacBook Pro, so I finally have a computer than can keep up with such a beast.
I’ve been putting the X5 through its paces by editing multiple streams of ProRes RAW 4K DCI on a project that weighs in at 1.7 TB. With everything loaded on the drive, here’s how the X5 performs:
It’s interesting to note that even though this drive is lightning quick, it’s still not nearly as fast the internal drive of the 2018 MacBook Pro:
Putting it all together
What these numbers tell me is that to get the absolute best performance from Final Cut Pro X, you want to keep your FCPX Library file on your local hard drive. Then, store all of your media on the X5. Beyond speed, this has the added benefit of allowing automatic backups of your FCPX project files. To get near real-time backups, use an automatic cloud-based backup service like BackBlaze. Because it runs in the background, BackBlaze won’t slow you down at all and you won’t have to remember to back up your project. Note, however, that BackBlaze is not an efficient way to back up your media drives. But you’ve already got yourself covered there with those cheap backup drives.
For longer 4K projects like feature-length films, you’re of course still going to be living in the land of RAID when choosing hard drives for 4K video. But for the small projects, I find this 3-drive system, in which you back up your media on 2 cheap drives, and edit it on a single fast one, is a winning formula.
I saw some interesting clouds forming around sunset the other day, and thought it might be interesting to shoot a quickie timelapse. But then I considered the post-production slog required to deal with the raw files from my Canon 5dmkiii. Um, no. My Sony FS5 can shoot timelapses, but what’s the point of shooting a timelapse without raw? Then I thought, wait a minute, you haven’t yet tried shooting a timelapse with ProRes RAW.
So I popped on my Atomos Shogun Inferno, opened the timelapse menu, selected 1 frame every second, hit record, and opened a beer.
After the sun went down, I opened the 4k file on my MacBook Pro. It played back without dropping a frame as I skimmed through the file and assembled an edit. To grade it, I simply applied the excellent Venice-look LUT made by Alister Chapman. Then I made a couple of saturation and hue tweaks in the killer new FCPX hue/saturation curves. Fifteen minutes of work later, I was posting the results to Instagram.
An aside: Alister’s Venice LUT is the perfect LUT for shoot ProRes RAW with Sony FS5 and Shogun. That’s because it’s got multiple versions perfectly matched across both SLOG2 and SLOG3. Having both is essential for shooting with Sony FS5 (which monitors as SLOG2) and editing in FCPX (which opens as SLOG3). Using the appropriate LUT means you’re seeing the same thing in both places. You can download his LUT pack free, but please do tip him – for the price of a beer you can acknowledge the years of experience that Alister has put into creating those precision LUTs.
ProRes Raw is the real deal. Not just because it looks great (it does), but because it’s so easy to work with in post. If you had told me 6 months ago that I’d be editing 4K RAW files in real time on a 5-year-old MacBook Pro, I wouldn’t have believed you.
ProRes RAW is the reason why acquiring in 4K suddenly makes a whole lot of sense to me.
A side benefit: I typically would need to deflicker when shooting a timelapse on a DSLR. But there’s absolutely no deflickering needed when shooting with the Shogun’s timelapse mode.
Well, that sure was simple. Turns out the solution to fixing the infinity focus issue on vintage Contax-Zeiss with Metabones Speedbooster doesn’t involve using a Dremel tool. And no, you don’t have to recalibrate the lenses, either.
You just have to loosen a tiny set screw on the Metabones Speedbooster, and rotate its lens element (in my case, counter clockwise). Boom! Everything comes into focus.
Each of my vintage CY Zeiss lenses has a slightly different infinity focus point, however, so that means setting the infinity focus to the lens that is the farthest off. This means the rest of the lenses now focus beyond infinity, which isn’t really a problem. All of my modern AF Canon lenses do that by design. But it does mean the witness marks are off to varying degrees.
There’s one other issue with this fix that affects my Sony FS5: rotating out the rear element on the Speedbooster causes it to protrude further (see image below). As a result, when the Speedbooster is screwed into the FS5, it makes contact around the edges of the ND filter mechanism. That’s not ideal, but it’s a slight contact, and the ND filter functions normally. So I’m going to chase the shallow look to infinity and beyond.
I love the vintage look of these lenses so much that, before I discovered this solution, I’ve been shooting pretty much every interview I do with them. That hasn’t been an issue, because interviews never happen at infinity. But now that I have the full range of focus, I’m a heck of a lot more likely to shoot my b-roll with this glass now, too.
Want to see for yourself how amazing this vintage look is? You can rent my infinitely focusable 5-lens set of Contax-Zeiss cine-mod lenses on ShareGrid Seattle for $60/day. Set includes modified Speedbooster for use with Sony E-mount cameras.
UW just published a piece I shot last summer in Montana. It’s about a young woman who grew up on a ranch in a remote part of the state, who is well on her way to becoming a doctor, thanks to a UW Medicine program that helps train rural doctors.
If you’re working quickly, without much crew, there really is no substitute for image stabilized lenses. When I sat down to edit this piece, I had to reject way too many clips because they had uncontrollable jitters. I had to post-stabilize a ton of the rest, with less than perfect results in a couple of cases. Nevertheless, I’m proud of how this story came together in the edit.
For those jobs where you have the time to work from a tripod or other stabilization, I’d highly recommend the Fujinons. They make tracking and holding focus easy, even when subjects are walking directly toward camera.
As my Sony FS5 seems to grow in size every day, I’ve found that it’s getting harder to shoot handheld. And that’s a shame, because that’s what this little camera is born to do. But when you add a Shogun for recording raw, a Teradek Serve Pro for clients, and a battery plate to keep it all running, it’s a lot to bear.
Fold-away platform securely holds camera
Yet there’s still nothing like going handheld when you have to work quickly. And it turns out there’s a tool that supports that style of working. It’s called Hipshot in the LA area. It’s designed to transfer the weight of the camera to your hips, which are better suited to load bearing than your arms and back.
I find that using the Hipshot, I’m able to work for long periods without a break, with minimal effort. It takes a little practice to get used to moving, stopping, positioning the camera, and rolling, all from the hip. You can’t get traveling shots this way – not smooth at all when you start walking.
How does it compare to a shoulder rig? Since I’m a tallish guy, I find that a shoulder mounted camera is rarely a good thing. Looking down on the world just isn’t that interesting of a perspective. The Hipshot gets the camera down where I more typically want it: so I can slightly angle upward at the action, making the shots more immersive.
It’s particularly great for shooting things that are happening on a tabletop, or seated activities.
The belt is NOT cheap, nor is it cheaply made. It’s a cool $385 bucks, but my back has already thanked me for spending every penny. I look at it as a lifetime investment.
I’ve configured mine with an AC pouch that contains:
Wide-grip flat screw driver
Lumu Power color light meter (plugs into iPhone)
Focus marking pen
Pencil spirit level
If you’re in the Seattle area and want to try before you buy, you’re in luck. This belt, including AC pouch and all contents, is available for rent on ShareGrid for $35/day.
How do you support your camera when shooting b-roll handheld?
If you need to rent filmmaking equipment in the Seattle area, you’re in luck! You can now find some specialized gear that I’m pretty sure isn’t available anywhere else in the Seattle area on ShareGrid Seattle. I’ve taken the time to list most of my top-quality equipment here after noticing that I get a lot more action on ShareGrid than I do on KitSplit for some reason.
And I have a special offer for you if you’re a first-time renter to ShareGrid: Follow this link and you’ll get $20 off your first order of $100 or more.
Here’s what I’ve got for you today – and I’ll be adding more in the coming days:
For smaller documentary film productions, a client monitor is a luxury that’s rarely on the table. Not only are they expensive, but they are complicated. First, you need to set up a radio network, and then, a monitor. It’s expensive, and time consuming.
But Teradek has changed that equation with the Serve Pro, a small camera-mountable box that creates a wi-fi network that up to 10 iOS or Android devices can use to monitor video. It’s been a game-changer for me and my clients. Here’s why it’s my new favorite tool on location.
I’m often shooting projects where up to three client representatives are on location. Client reps like to have something to do when they are there, besides just watching you work. But they also need and want to stay out of my way. On larger sets, they are usually clustered around the monitor. So what Serve Pro does is give them that experience, the opportunity to see what’s going on, and provide you feedback if they want, based on an image they are seeing on their phone or tablet.
I was skeptical at first that the quality would be that good – I imagined having to spend time disclaiming the image, telling them that it would look better in post. But that turns out not to be the case. Not only is the image top-notch, but I find that it’s as good or in some cases better than the image coming to my Shogun and SmallHD monitors if you have an iPhone 7 or newer.
HD video monitoring with professional controls
Not only is the image bright and sharp, but all of the controls that you would expect to find on a SmallHD monitor are included in the free Vuer app! You read that correctly: you can apply a LUT, view peaking or zebras, even false color if you want. You can look at a vector scope, histogram, etc. But clients generally just want the image to look good. And Serv Pro has that covered, too.
I generally shoot in Slog, so I just email my clients a LUT before the project, then show them how to load it into the app on the morning of the shoot. It takes just a few clicks, and boom, the image they are seeing looks fantastic, as I send them a LUT that is designed for client viewing with slightly crushed blacks.
Shogun’s problem and solution
When I first started shooting with a Shogun Inferno, I was disappointed to find that I couldn’t get an HD signal out of the Inferno when shooting RAW. So that pretty much meant I couldn’t use the Serv Pro. But the latest firmware (version 9 that also supports ProRes Raw) has fixed this issue! So now it’s possible to record raw to Shogun Inferno AND send an HD signal out to the Serv Pro.
Serve Pro attached with velcro to the back of a battery plate.
Mounting the Serv Pro to camera
It’s possible to attach the Serve Pro to the camera using 1/4 holes that are drilled into the unit in two places. But what I’ve found works great for me is to attach two strips of velcro, and use that to mount to the flat back of a battery plate. This doesn’t cause the unit to overhead, and works great to keep a low profile on the camera while shooting.
It’s possible to power the Serve Pro from a smaller battery with a p-tap, but I find that using full-size vlock batteries is the way to go. A 98wh battery will power my camera, Serve Pro, and Shogun 2.5 hours.
The Serv Pro costs $1,800. I rent it to my productions for $105/day. My clients love it so much they call me before shoots to make sure I’m brining it. So it’s become a standard line-item in most of my productions, and I will have it paid off by the end of the year.
You can rent my Serv Pro and check it out for yourself! My kit, which includes HDMI, SDI and power cables in road case as pictured above, is available on ShareGrid for $105 for the day or weekend for productions in the Seattle area.