Art Adams – ProVideo Coalition http://www.provideocoalition.com A Moviola Company Tue, 21 Feb 2017 12:20:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.2 http://provideocoalition.moviola.netdna-cdn.com/app/uploads/cropped-Moviola-Favicon-2016-32x32.png Art Adams – ProVideo Coalition http://www.provideocoalition.com 32 32 TLCI vs. CRI, CQS, etc.: How do they stack up? http://www.provideocoalition.com/tlci-vs-cri-vs-cqs-stack/ http://www.provideocoalition.com/tlci-vs-cri-vs-cqs-stack/#respond Mon, 30 Jan 2017 22:50:33 +0000 http://www.provideocoalition.com/?p=44929 How does TLCI stack up against the other measures of color accuracy? I’ve argued that its testing methodologies might be suspect, but I’ve never actually looked at data to see how it stacks up against the other common measures. Recently, though, I realized the data was right in front of me. Note: This article has

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How does TLCI stack up against the other measures of color accuracy? I’ve argued that its testing methodologies might be suspect, but I’ve never actually looked at data to see how it stacks up against the other common measures.

Recently, though, I realized the data was right in front of me.

Note: This article has been updated.

I’ve written a couple of articles on TLCI. Here’s the first. I’ll post a link to the second when a bit farther down, where it is more relevant. You don’t need to read them to understand this article. I provide them only as background info.

The TLCI Color Rendering Index: Does It Really Work? Color Me Skeptical

THE SETUP

A while back, I was turned on to a database of light color index values at Indie Cine Academy. This website is pure gold. My understanding is that this project started when someone walked around NAB with an AsenseTek Lighting Passport Spectrometer, measured as many LED lights as they could, and then published the results.

This is the most comprehensive database of lighting data I’ve seen anywhere, and it’s hugely valuable—if you have some idea of what the numbers mean. That’s not terribly hard to figure out if you have access to a few of the fixtures on the list and you can build a visual baseline of what you like versus what you don’t, but numbers alone don’t tell the full story. We’d like them to, as we are occasionally forced into making lighting purchases and rental decisions on the basis of numerical data alone, but they don’t.

My question: do any of the common numerical measures of color fidelity give us more accurate information than others?

Indie Cine Academy’s public database provided all the necessary data. As I can be a bit “driven” when looking for an answer to a problem, I found myself copying all the daylight LED numerical data from the database and putting it into an Excel spreadsheet. (Why only daylight? Because, after putting the data from 140+ lights into a spreadsheet, I couldn’t be bothered with the tungsten data. I have only so much time!) I then proceeded to create a series of graphs comparing the different measures to see if any of them were more granular than the others, and whether there were any outliers or if all the measurement systems tracked each other closely. You’re going to see those graphs shortly. First, though, you should understand how these measuring systems work.

The Indie Cine Academy link above is to a page that explains all the AsenseTek readouts available. I didn’t find TM-30-15 Rg to be a very good predictor of the quality of a light, although it does indicate where a light is over- or undersaturated in a way that communicates that information quickly and intuitively. Instead I focused on CRI(ra), CRI(re), CQS, TM-30-15 Rf and TLCI.

CRI

CRI is the oldest of these measures. The classic CRI measurement, CRI(ra), compares how nine color patches appear under a test light source when compared to a standard light source. This system works very well for measuring color response for broad spectrum light sources (for example, daylight and tungsten light, or a mixture of the two), but it was never designed to measure LEDs. It is regularly used by marketing departments who want to assign a high rating to their LED fixtures in order to sell more of them, but the patches are too desaturated to measure LEDs properly.

This is because a low-saturation colored surface makes for a very large target. A pure red, for example, will reflect a narrow range of wavelengths, whereas a desaturated red will reflect a broader spectral range that incorporates wavelengths attributed to other colors.

A saturated color target is a small one, and a desaturated color target is a large one.

LED color spikes are very narrow. They require a lot of small targets across the entire spectrum to reveal where spectral spikes and gaps occur. CRI(re) targets are very large ones, and as such they are not very good at revealing the nuances of an LED light.

A variation, CRI(re), adds six more color patches, including several highly saturated hues, to improve accuracy. The shocking thing is that CRI(re) includes flesh tone… which means that the most common CRI measurement, CRI(ra), doesn’t!

CRI(re) includes a red patch, R9 (CRI targets are named “R” followed by a number), that helps indicate whether an LED light emits enough red to reproduce healthy-looking flesh tones, along with a couple of targets that resemble flesh tone hues. Once again, though, most of the targets are very broad, and LED spikes and valleys can be very narrow.

CRI(re), top row, and the additional CRI(ra) patches, bottom row. Courtesy of Konica Minolta. Click through for the full paper. It’s a great primer on CRI.

CQS

CQS is a newer system that attempts to overcome the weaknesses of CRI. In addition to working in a different color space and using different criteria for determining the final score, it uses a series of 15 highly saturated patches instead of CRI(re)’s 15 split of saturated and desaturated patches. In theory this should provide more granular information when attempting to detect an LED light’s spectral peaks and valleys, but the reality is that LED gaps and spikes are so narrow that even CQS’s narrow targets may be too large.

A comparison of CRI(re)’s eight low saturation targets to CQS’s more saturated 15 targets. See this paper for more information.

TLCI

TLCI is the newcomer. Its goals are sound: profile a number of different cameras, build a color model that represents their characteristics, and use that model to calculate how any given light will appear across a wide range of cameras without having to view each light through every camera.

It’s a good idea, but several things gave me pause. One of them was the use of a “Macbeth” chart (X-rite Color Checker) as the color reference in building the virtual camera data. While the chart is fairly well understood scientifically, it was meant as a color reference for printing transparency film in magazines. As such, it isn’t necessarily the best chart to examine the spectral output of light sources on video—I might have used a Rec 709 video chart instead—and the chart itself is printed with a matte finish, which tends to broaden the size of the targets by desaturating them. Still, I didn’t have a lot of reason to doubt that it would work—in fact, with 18 color targets, it was possibly more granular than the other measures.

My concern was with the kinds of cameras profiled. One paper notes that nine prism cameras were profiled, but neglects mentioning single sensor cameras, and another paper mentions that one single sensor camera was profiled but doesn’t say which one. (In fact, none of the cameras were named, apparently due to manufacturer requests.)

I got into a bit of an online argument with one of the developers of TLCI over whether prism cameras saw color the same as single sensor cameras. He said they did; I said they didn’t. I later showed my work in one of my TLCI articles.

TLCI and Camera Color: What a Difference a Prism Block Makes

His insistence that both types of cameras saw the world in the same way concerned me greatly. This is clearly not the case. How could an index designed primarily around one particular type of camera color technology work reliably for a completely different kind of camera? I’m still not sure how much of a difference there might be in TLCI scores between prism and single sensor cameras. It might be more accurate for one than the other. The inclusion of any camera data, though, gives it quite a lead over the other systems.

THE RESULTS

While discrepancies between camera types can’t be answered with this data, I can immediately see how well TLCI tracks with current commonly-used indicators of color. First, here’s the data set that I used, if you wish to download it for your own experiments.

Indie Cine Academy Daylight LED Results Spreadsheet

For each light there are multiple measured values, all derived from a single Asense Lighting Passport reading. I focused on CRI(ra), CRI(re), CQS, TM-30-15 Rf, and TLCI.

The first thing I did was to look at how well the main color measuring systems stacked up against each other.

CRI(ra) vs. CRI(re) vs. CQS

The first thing I see is that CRI(ra), in blue, with its 8 low saturation samples, tends to give lights mostly higher scores. CQS, in green, with its 15 high saturation samples, tends to give lights mostly lower scores. This makes sense, as CQS targets are more narrow and are more likely to reveal disparities in light sources.

CRI(re), with its fifteen samples of mixed saturations, tends to fall mostly in the middle of the other two, although there are occasions where it scores lights lower than any of the others.

CRI(ra) and CQS seem to track at the low end, which is interesting as CQS should be a much more granular measure. All three are consistent up to the point where one should never use a light anyway: below 80, although lights tend to look fairly marginal by that point already. (I have a hard time using a light that falls below 90-95 on the CRI scale.)

CRI(re) vs. TLCI

TLCI tends to score fixtures more highly than CRI(re) does when they do a good job, but punishes them with a much lower score when they fail beyond a certain point. The crossover point seems to be around 80: anything above that gets a higher score, and anything below that gets a much lower score. It’s almost as if an abrupt contrast curve was added to the data.

Otherwise, while TLCI and CRI(e) scores are similar at the high end, there are some discrepancies. TLCI may be doing what it says, and providing a more accurate measure of how a camera might see color.

CRI(ra) vs. TLCI

The more coarse CRI(ra) scores lights within a few points of TLCI at the high end but is much less responsive to light quality. It diverges greatly at the low end. The patterns are similar at the bottom of the scale, which implies that they are seeing roughly the same thing, but it’s odd that TLCI’s math results in such a sharp drop.

Maybe this is how cameras see LED lights: as progressively worse until they hit a certain point, beyond which they all look absolutely terrible—with nothing in between.

CQS vs. TLCI

Once again, CQS doesn’t dip as sharply as TLCI across the 80 boundary.

TLCI vs. CRI(ra), CRI(re), and CQS

With few exceptions, TLCI rates better lights generally higher on the scale than the other measurements do, but rates poor lights much worse than the others on the lower end.

One clue came from TM-30-15-Rf.

TM-30-15 Rf vs. TLCI

Rf, which is a measure of overall color fidelity, shows the same rough pattern that TLCI does. TLCI, once again, shows good lights with higher scores than Rf and bad lights with vastly lower scores once they cross the 80 threshold. TLCI and CRI(re) seem particularly sensitive to reduced color fidelity beyond a certain point, while CRI(ra) and CQS see the same dip but don’t score the lights as severely.

LATE UPDATE

After publishing this article, it occurred to me there must be a better way to see whether TLCI tracks the other measures or deviates significantly. After a bit of research, I learned how to normalize the data and present it in a stacked chart:

All the data values have been normalized so we can focus on the shapes of the curves and whether they agree, rather than the actual values.

The normalized chart shows TLCI mostly tracks the other systems, but has dramatically different opinions regarding a couple of the lights. The horizontal axis represents spreadsheet lines, and each line is a light: I see noticeable differences between lights 18 through 26 and 90, where TLCI reacts less strongly to differences; and lights 99 and 114, where it completely disagrees with the other measures. Otherwise, it tracks fairly well.

SUMMARY

It’s still unclear to me as to whether TLCI is visually a better indicator of how cameras see color than any of these other measurements. It doesn’t always agree with the other curves, which is good; but the other curves don’t always agree much either, so it’s hard to know whether any is truly more accurate by simply looking at data. What does seem to be true is that TLCI tracks the other measures in a similar fashion, and occasionally makes a bold statement about a light that the other systems contradict. There are certainly variations in degree, where another system might score a light significantly better or significantly worse, but TLCI still rises and falls at most of the same points that the others do.

It’s certainly true that TLCI may have a bit of an edge under certain circumstances. I think Indie Cine Academy did exactly the right thing by presenting all the numbers, so we can compare, contrast, and make educated guesses rather than relying on any one number.

Given that TLCI was designed around how camera’s respond to light, I find myself tempted to rely on it over the others. There’s certainly no reason not to rely on it, as it yields roughly the same results as the traditional measures, and it may yield better results in certain conditions (as seen in the normalized graph above).

I hope that you’ll never have the occasion to use a light that scores lower than 80 on any scale. For the others, it will be a matter of calibrating your eye by finding a light that you like on the index, finding another that you don’t, designating an arbitrary number on the scale of your choice that falls between them, and use that as your “don’t go below” reference.

This is, however, no substitute for actually looking at the light. A single number doesn’t tell us much about all the variables involved, such as saturation, fidelity, spectral gaps and spikes, etc. Keep that in mind while reading marketing materials: if a light doesn’t rate a full 100, there’s something slightly off about it. What’s missing may be something you can live with… or it might not.

Many thanks to Indie Cine Academy for their amazing public service in the creation of their LED lighting database.

Disclosure: I have worked as a paid consultant to DSC Labs, maker of color charts for video.

Art Adams
Director of Photography

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Light the background to light the foreground http://www.provideocoalition.com/light-background-light-foreground/ http://www.provideocoalition.com/light-background-light-foreground/#respond Tue, 24 Jan 2017 01:09:45 +0000 http://www.provideocoalition.com/?p=44650 Years ago, when I first lit a shot of an actor, head to toe, standing on a green screen cyc, I learned a lesson that has stayed with me to this day. I’d never done anything like this before, and I knew I needed space lights but I didn’t know in what configuration they should be

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Years ago, when I first lit a shot of an actor, head to toe, standing on a green screen cyc, I learned a lesson that has stayed with me to this day.

I’d never done anything like this before, and I knew I needed space lights but I didn’t know in what configuration they should be hung, or how many I’d need. I assumed I’d need to hang them everywhere, including over the actor, but my gaffer told me I didn’t. “Just hang them behind,” he said.

“But how does that light the floor around the actor?” I asked. “Trust me,” said my gaffer.

Sure enough, he was right: hanging the lights behind the actor lit the back wall while also spreading forward and lighting the area around the actor’s feet. It was a neat trick, as it allowed me to light the actor from the front however I wished without dealing with harsh top light.

I soon came to realize that this is a great method for lighting all kinds of sets.

Several articles that I’d read, in American Cinematographer and International Cinematographer magazines, suddenly made a lot of sense. In them, various DPs talked about how they always lit the backgrounds first. In the case of a sitcom DP, he lit the background first because there was so much of it, and he was likely to see a lot of it at any given time. In the case of a feature film DP, he lit the backgrounds for mood and then worried about where the actors landed later.

This made a lot of sense to me. The hardest thing to light in any set is the background, because it surrounds the action completely. Lighting actors is relatively easy as I know where they’re going to be, but at any given time they’re going to be photographed against a background that also has to be lit. And, while one can light actors to convey a sense of mood, that sense is conveyed much more strongly by lighting the background against which they are photographed. Actors may grow and shrink in frame, depending on the lens and closeness of the camera, but the background is ever present and will always fill the frame.

These days, where much of episodic television is shot at high ISOs and wide open lenses (with camera assistants pulling focus remotely, by eye, while watching 17″ monitors off-set), background lighting often helps to light the interior of the set as well. Practicals around the set provide edge lights for actors within the set. Light through windows reflects in shiny floors and reveals action in silhouette. When shooting a dramatic piece it is often possible to only light the background, letting the actor(s) go dark or move through pools of light. This is especially true when the set contains shiny surfaces, which catch the light and reveal shapes against which the action takes place.

This is a great way to “light” exterior sets, by the way: turn on practical lights in the background and then wet the streets with water. The background highlights reflect in the dark pavement, adding interest and depth while preventing streets from becoming black holes that need to be lit. Any time you drive through a major production hub, like Los Angeles, and you find yourself on wet streets but there’s been no rain, keep an eye out for production trucks.

The biggest barrier to this look is a director that is too literal. To them, darkness means lack of information, and directors want the audience to have information. A while back, a camera accessories company hosted a “camera shootout,” but instead of having every camera shoot the same thing, they opted to have a crew that would follow that camera around and “optimize” the image for that camera. Of course this completely invalidated the comparison, but it also had an interesting and completely unintentional psychological side effect: many directors, including some very big ones, watched the resulting footage and named a low end prosumer model as their favorite camera.

The reason for this is that this camera’s crew was very young and had recently graduated from film school. Such people are not generally comfortable taking chances, and this often equates to an aversion to darkness. The other crews were more experienced, and had no problems exposing for rich, inky shadows, but this younger crew added a considerable amount of fill light to the set and created the brightest images in the test. And that’s what the directors responded to: they weren’t as comfortable letting action play in darkness, even if the mood was right. They wanted to see faces.

To this end, I’ve decided to start talking about shadows not as the absence of information, but as shades of black. And black is not darkness or lack of information; it is simply another color, as in painting where one starts with a white canvas and has to add black in order to create mood. Black is an artistic choice, not an absence of dramatic detail.

There is probably no better movie to illustrate this point that the original Blade Runner, so I’ve hunted down some stills to show you what I mean. In each case I looked for images where the background is lighter than the foreground.

In this image, the surfaces closest to the camera are the darkest, and the background is very light and hazy. Buildings are lit somewhat, but the most striking shapes are the ones that are simply black. The police spinner is mostly black but possesses a few bright lights; still, the shape of the spinner, and what makes it stand out, is the fact that 80% of it is black against a bright background.

This still, of the interior of the Tyrel corporation, is lit almost entirely by the background reflecting in the shiny floor. This is similar to how one lights streets at night, simply by making them shiny so they pick up the background lighting. There are some edge lights picking out the desk, chairs and walls, but black is the predominant color and the light source is clearly meant to be the sun in the background.

I saw a low-tech version of this recently on the Netflix series Travelers. A short scene took place in a dark parking garage, and it was clear the DP didn’t have a long time to light it. The solution was to put an HMI light in the distant background aimed directly at the camera. This created a sharp highlight in the distance, a broad highlight in the concrete floor that extended into the foreground, and edge light on several columns, while leaving most of the garage in darkness. All that was left to do was add some side light to the actors in the foreground, and shoot.

The color that makes this cityscape so striking is—once again—black. The contrast of the street and building lights against inky darkness is wonderful, and the light hazy atmosphere perfectly separates foreground from background. This is what happens in real life anyway, as atmospheric haze reduces the contrast of distant objects and foreground contrast becomes more pronounced.

There’s very little need to light the top of the building other than to add a little extra interest, and perhaps show where the spinner is meant to land. The buildings at left aren’t front lit at all, and their blackness (with dappled highlights) makes the shot all the richer.

This is another example where the darkest object is also the closest, while the lit background shows us its size, shape and position.

My guess is the shiny wall to the left is lit entirely by the reflection of the background window. We don’t see every detail in Decker’s face, but we know it’s him, we can sense his mood, and we understand his mission—all without being able to see him clearly at all. Most importantly, the mood of the shot is preserved without sacrificing drama, because we can see enough of what’s going on that we don’t miss any of the actor’s performance.

Once again, lighting the smoke in the background creates a bright canvas against which darker elements can play, creating an abundance of mood.

It appears that practical lights in the background are spilling forward and lighting surfaces close to the camera. These sources are likely augmented by smaller lights hidden near the camera and meant to create the same effect, but modern cameras and lenses would probably allow this shot to be done without any additional hidden units.

The background isn’t dark, but this shot is certainly full of mood and drama.

Stills from the upcoming sequel, Blade Runner 2049, show the continuation of this style, and indeed Roger Deakins uses it in many of his movies:

Many of us are trained to contrast light foregrounds against dark backgrounds, as that’s the best way to light actors such that their features are visible and they pop out from the sets. The opposite, though, is often more striking, especially when the most important areas of the frame are rich black against hazy mid-tones dappled with tiny highlights. The human visual system loves contrast of all kinds—bright/dark, color, sharp/soft, patterns/solids—and the more of these kinds of contrast we can work into our visuals the more interesting they will be.

The battle, though, is convincing directors that darkness is our friend. It’s not necessary to see every thing and every one all the time, and in fact mood often dictates that we don’t. The trick is explaining that darkness is just another choice in our color palette, to be used when appropriate, and is not simply missing detail. If they can tell us when they really need to see an expression, or see eyes clearly, we can make that happen, but mood is what happens in between those moments.

There’s a difference between underexposure and improper exposure, and directors often mistake one for the other. It’s up to us to show them what they may be missing.

Art Adams
Director of Photography

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“Too Much Headroom!” The Joy of “Unconventional” Compositions http://www.provideocoalition.com/much-headroom-joy-unconventional-compositions/ http://www.provideocoalition.com/much-headroom-joy-unconventional-compositions/#comments Tue, 25 Oct 2016 21:17:31 +0000 http://www.provideocoalition.com/?p=40531 I’m a huge fan of the TV series Mr. Robot. Not only does it have one of the deepest and most intricate storylines I’ve ever seen on TV, but the photography is wonderful. I’ve been analyzing the compositions and trying to figure out why they work, and doing some of my own experimenting on Instagram. In

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I’m a huge fan of the TV series Mr. Robot. Not only does it have one of the deepest and most intricate storylines I’ve ever seen on TV, but the photography is wonderful. I’ve been analyzing the compositions and trying to figure out why they work, and doing some of my own experimenting on Instagram. In this article I’m going to look critically at a scene from Mr. Robot, and then show some images from my Instagram feed that try to replicate this style.

Here’s the scene I’m going to look at. (I tried to embed it, but Youtube embeds the wrong video.) Go take a look, and then come back.

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-2-22-34-pm

This is a style of framing that I love, and I see it a lot in David Fincher’s work: the camera is a passive observer, almost too cool to be involved, and sometimes the people within the frame seem the least important thing in it—but that only draws more attention to them. I feel some of that here: the symmetrical composition emphasizes the space, and the foreshortening of the pool leads the eye back to where the actors are… but somehow the people aren’t that important. Being humans, though, they are the most important objects within the frame to other human beings, and that dichotomy—that we want to see the actors, but they are not important to the composition—is what makes the frame interesting.

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-2-22-52-pm

I love this frame. People are nearly always framed “wrong side” on this show, but I love the look. It’s so much more interesting than the same old thing. Leaving space for the “look” is standard to the point where it has become formulaic, and such frames often require an opposing angle to complete them: they aren’t full frames in themselves, they are meant to cut with another frame with an actor on the opposite side of the composition, and the two frames together balance each other out.

This is a completely self-contained shot. It’s a still photo. The warm/cool contrast divides the two spaces scene in the wide shot, and all the lines in the composition lead us to the actress: the line of the steps, the greenish-blue foreshortened side of the steps, and the strong verticals push us toward this actress.

Painters use a lot of tricks to move the viewer’s eye around a frame, and many of them are seen here: the actress is framed by verticals, and she sits at the intersection of a number of different shapes and hues. One of my favorite books, “The Simple Secret to Better Painting,” talks about several “secrets,” but the one that comes to mind is the mantra “Never make any two intervals the same.” Placing a subject the same distance from the side and the top of frame is boring. Centering a subject can work, but otherwise repeating distances from the sides of the frame, or within the frame, can be dull. She doesn’t sit directly between two verticals, she’s slightly offset. She’s not in the middle of the horizontal frame, but slightly offset. She’s low in the frame, not quite halfway between top and bottom.

Her look, towards the short side of the frame, almost draws me in to the story more than a standard frame would, because I feel as if she’s uncomfortably close to the person speaking to her. The action feels as if it is happening just beyond the frame edge, and there’s not a lot of distance between her and that edge. We’re used to seeing some space in front of the person who is talking, so when that space is shortened it can feel as if they don’t quite have enough room to breath.

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-2-23-15-pm

In this case, this actress’s eye is almost exactly in the center of the frame. The center of frame is a position of power, and as she’s the kidnapper and the other woman the kidnappee, this makes complete sense. My eye moves in a line across the frame, from the shiny wall to her left, through her face and to the light fixture in the background. The combination of this line, and her vertical body placed dead center of frame, creates a powerful, static frame full of tension. The side view control indicates that she’s feeling detached, even though she’s in control.

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-2-23-06-pm

This frame harkens back to the first frame we saw. We could take the actress out of the frame and it would still be complete. The fact that she’s in there is important, but she’s clearly the one object that could be eliminated from this image if need be. The fact that the frame is so symmetrical otherwise, and she is placed on the very edge of frame, just makes us look at her more. The camera almost doesn’t care that she’s there.

This is an interesting example of vertical balance. Left-right balance is often taught in schools, but vertical balance plays a large part in both painting and still photography. The warm library in the background is balanced by the coolness of the steps. The light fixtures could almost be silent uncaring observers. The actress is balanced diagonally by the desk at the upper left. If I let my eye roam through the frame, it starts in the center—after the edit—and then moves to her. Then it moves down the steps, up to the desk, across the lights, down the painting on the wall, and back to her. That’s considered to be the perfect painting composition: when elements within the frame draw the eye around the painting in a circle and keep your gaze from leaving the frame. This is harder to do when a painting sits on a wall, surrounded by other beckoning paintings, so painters work very hard at keeping your attention focused on and moving around their image for as long as they possibly can, as that’s very pleasing to the eye and helps to sell paintings.

The difference is that, in paintings, corners are sometimes called “eye drains” as they lead the eye out of a painting unless there’s something to keep your attention contained. I don’t find that to be the same with motion pictures. The edges and the corners of the frame are often the most interesting places. I’m not sure why, but it could be because two strong edges—one horizontal and one vertical—come together, and objects placed there are emphasized by the complementing edge. In this case, the actress’s proximity to that right vertical edge, and her vertical posture, combine to make this a very compelling frame. Her vertical posture would still be interesting at the center of the frame, but her close proximity to the vertical edge adds something striking to this composition.

The shots bounce back and forth a bit between numbers 2, 3 and 4 above… varying size and composition on the seated woman but not on the standing woman, who at this point is in control. Then we get to…

screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-2-23-46-pm This is an odd but interesting frame. One thing that I’ve noticed about shots with a lot of headroom is that it makes us feel taller, as if we’re looking down on the action. Framing downwards can feel a bit too literal, but framing so that our natural horizon—where our head is level, our height is just taller than anyone else in the shot, and we’re looking horizontally into the distance—is just above the subject makes us feel a bit higher than if we’d simply raised the camera and tilted down. This also retains the verticalness of that support post, which would be keystoned if the camera was tilted down more. A keystoned shape would be less powerful compositionally than the perfect vertical edges seen here. Those vertical edges complement, and add strength to this actress’s vertical posture, even though we are looking down on her.

Once again, the composition only grudgingly makes room for the actress.

This next sequence is wonderful:

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That top frame seems almost normal… but it’s only purpose is to set the stage for that last frame. The editor cut out to the wide shot for the middle of the walk, either because the shot died (became less powerful) or to shorten or lengthen the timing of the actress’s move, but that first and last shot are the same frame. The only thing that changed was the position of the actress, but her movement completely changed the composition of the frame. That’s hugely powerful.

Shaky-cam has been the rage for a long time, but I think the only reason it’s stuck around is because people who aren’t terribly visually sophisticated feel that it makes dialog and action more interesting. (I have worked with a director who, on more than one occasion, has walked over to the dolly in the middle of the day and said, “Let’s start shaking the camera. This material is really boring.”) Mr. Robot employs long, lingering takes, unconventional framing, and a static camera to create mood and stir emotions in ways that a constantly vibrating camera could never do. It’s almost as if they’re saying, “You, the viewer, are powerless to affect the events you are seeing… no matter how much you may want to. You are detached, and yet you are placed helplessly in the middle of the action.”

The diagonal line of the handrail guides us right to the actress, and the negative space and vertical post at the left push us right into her.

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This shot confirms the uncomfortable closeness of the previous shot. The handrail now seems to frame their corner, but still… the camera feels detached and the composition seems as if it could care less whether there were people in it. That makes it much more compelling.

It’s interesting that the seated actress is accentuated by all the vertical lines in the frame, while the kneeling actress is accentuated by the diagonals (the stair and the top of the railing).

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There’s so much free space on the right of frame, and yet our characters are crammed into the left corner. There’s a part of me that wants this woman to flee frame right. It’s as if freedom is just on the right of frame… but she’s trapped, and danger is only a short distance away. All that space is pushing her left, exactly where she doesn’t want to be.

If this action had been framed to the right, in a more traditional manner, then most of the frame would have been the body of the person on the left, and I think that would have been less powerful. One character would be pushing the other to the right edge of frame, whereas here the camera shows one character dominating another in a frame where there’s plenty of room for both, but it’s not being used.

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Things have suddenly changed. The kidnappee is now nearly in the center of frame—a position of power—and has a lot more space around her, while the kidnapper is pushed uncomfortably close to the edge of frame, and is partly cut off.

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We’ve jumped the 180-degree line, but it works because we can see the geography: both characters are in frame in both shots and we can see their spatial relationship. If they’d been two disembodied heads in closeup then this would have been a much more jarring cut.

Notice that the frame basically puts us at the kidnappee’s head height. When we look at objects or people we put them in the center of our vision, so in a way it’s as if we’re standing right there, at her eye level, helplessly observing.

This power relationship doesn’t last long.

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Once again, the shot is all about the geometry of the pool. The fact that there’s a person floating in it is completely incidental… and that’s what makes the composition so interesting. Creating such a strong, and symmetrical frame brings more attention to the one thing within the frame that breaks that symmetry.

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I love that this emotional moment is played entirely off the character’s hand and body movement. This shot finally allows us to participate by imagining what her emotions are, rather than explicitly showing us. This shot would have been boring if she were framed to the right. It’s almost as if space in front of the character can be interpreted as moving forward in time, because there’s room for forward movement and, in theory, time and space for other characters—and perhaps the viewer—to react to sudden actions. Putting the character against the frame edge like this, where forward motion would take her out of the frame, builds tension as it’s much easier for them to move quickly and vanish outside of the frame.

Also, as our eye moves around the frame, it is forced behind her and back again, while her attention is directed the opposite direction. If she had some lead room we could almost “see” what she’s seeing, but without the lead room there’s a bit more tension. It’s as if she’s looking out a window, but we’re too far around the side to see through it as well.

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This show very rarely puts people toward the top of the frame, and the fact that she steps into this says something about how she feels about what she’s done. I’m guessing she’s shocked, but okay with it.

Once again, the camera doesn’t move and the background is fairly symmetrical. The one object that doesn’t fit in the frame is the character, and that only makes us look harder. Somehow her placement on the right side of frame, with her look going off the same direction, makes whatever is outside the frame feel just a little bit closer than it should. And when it came time to change the composition, the camera didn’t move—the actress did.

I strongly recommend you watch this series for its wonderful cinematography and its exceptionally intricate and thoughtful storytelling. Until then, though, I’m going to regale you with a few Instagram photos where I’ve been experimenting with the same kind of framing.

Home-ish.

I took this late at night after flying in to San Jose Airport after an out-of-town job. I love the texture and shape of the ceiling, the row of lights along the wall, and the shine on the floor… all of which leads me to the vanishing point at the end of the terminal. In a way I’ve simply framed for the most interesting part of the view, but there’s something powerful about all those leading lines being “above” me at the top of the frame. Everything draws my eye to the end of the terminal, but there’s enough foreground contrast, shapes and people in the frame to make my eye move around the image repeatedly.

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I photographed this dog twice: once on a tech scout, and once on a shoot day. I’m not sure what I like about the top picture, but I think it’s the juxtaposition of the dog at the bottom right, doing something in the very corner of the frame, and the leading lines either expanding, to bring my eye to the dog, or contracting, to lead them away. There’s a dichotomy here that works for my brain. My eye moves back and forth along those diagonals, and there’s satisfaction in landing on the dog.

The top picture just feels right. I like the diagonal lines that lead me to the dog, I like the curve of the leash running from the corner of the frame along the left edge, and the dog at the bottom left is diagonally balanced against the door at the top right.

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I saw this while walking my dogs after a rainstorm. I start looking at the speed bump at the bottom of the the frame and then follow the vertical center line of the road up to the highlight, before changing course and returning to the speed bump, which stops my eye from wandering out the bottom of the frame. There’s some competition between the speed bump, which is a strong compositional element, and the diagonal shafts of sunlight raking across the leaves, which create interest due to contrast and texture.

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I hate antique stores, but I get dragged into them occasionally. I do my best to find interesting photographs while I’m inside. I very much like this shot: in a way, this is how I saw the scene, standing at roughly the same height as the woman in the foreground and staring straight at her. The line of heads leads me to the right, the lamps lead me to those beautiful overhead diagonal lines raking into the distance, and then I circle back down the verticals at the left of frame and return to the center of the image, which is a very strong position within the frame. The tabletop in the foreground directs my attention back into the middle of the frame and frames the bottom of the image nicely. In a way, this frame is just the right size to capture my field of view while balancing out perfectly.1336509405293873741_522435812

This feels very much like a painting to me. And, indeed, this is how landscape or classical painters paint: they paint from their standing or sitting height, and their gaze extends horizontally to the horizon. A lot of the action falls below the horizon and the sky falls above. (I might have been standing on something when I took this photo.) I like how the bottom edge of the frame brings out the horizontal lines of the surfboards, and the (nearly) vertical sign post in the (almost) center of frame adds some interest, and keeps attracting my eye to the center of the frame. Vertical lines are very powerful, and that sign is the only strong vertical in the frame.

I feel like there’s an oval that runs from the surfer on the right, across the surfboards and surfers, up the blue umbrellas to the lifeguard station, across to the sign and then back to the surfer on the right.

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The only things that interested me in this shot where the bright red chairs, so I excluded everything else as best I could. My eye goes to the chairs, down the street to the trees, up and across the negative space at the top and back to the chairs. It’s as if the negative space is pushing my eye down toward the bottom of the frame.

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Once again, this is framed as if I put a square box around my vision as I stared directly ahead. I like the symmetry and the feeling of detachment, while catching an interesting slice of life that feels perfectly balanced. I especially like the street lamp in the center of the shot. Rather than work around it, I used it—and the result feels as if the image is visually pivoting off that strong center. I love that it falls directly between the man and the surfboard, with the dog joining the two.

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I love that the chair is level and centered, and the shapes on the back wall and the floor frame the subject perfectly. Once again, this image feels as if I captured my field of view as I looked directly ahead from my normal height… which is exactly what happened.

I feel as if the space at the top of frame is pushing my eye downwards, or at least containing it at the bottom of the frame.

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This works, but I’m not sure why. Going back to the painting analogy, there’s almost always more landscaping than sky in a painting because that’s how we see the world: when you’re close to the ground you see a lot of it but it’s flat and without a lot of dimension, while the sky is distant and all surrounding. Framing objects at the top of a frame almost seems artificial when I think of things in this way.

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I’m not sure why I like this shot. It’s another bored still from an antique store, but the high contrast and the diagonal line that leads me to the fan really appeal to me. I like that there’s a focal point, but it’s not completely contained within the frame. There’s action happening outside of the frame that I can’t see, but somehow I can feel it.

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Once again, taking a picture from head height and framing for a level horizon resulted in an image whose architecture frames the subjects beautifully. Shots dominated by architecture can yield stunning results when the composition frames a human subject or two. Extra points for the architecture being the focus of the composition, with the human subjects breaking its symmetry.

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This is a composition that is all the stronger for having a square frame. It’s easier to perform a compositional balancing act between left and right in 16:9 frames, as there’s more horizontal space to work in than vertical. Top to bottom balance is harder in such a wide format as there’s not much vertical space to balance. A square format is easier to balance in both axes, but vertical balance is still possible in wide formats.

My guess is that “traditional” headroom exists because it is easier to simply fill a wide format top to bottom than to carefully balance elements vertically in such a narrow space.

In this case, I like the way the post on the left and the bush on the right combine with the ground to create a triangle that frames the dog. I like that the dog is centered, but the rest of the composition feels a bit off center.

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I take a lot of pictures in airports, as they can be geometrically interesting to a bored person waiting for a late night flight. Here I like the blue monitors as a focal point, surrounded by strong lines that lead my eye around the frame and back again. For example, if I start at the monitors, my eye drifts right along that wide overhead barrier until it hits the post at right, which pushes me up toward the ceiling lights. The lights and the pattern on the ceiling push me back toward the blue monitors. This kind of composition, where the eye has a path it can follow repeatedly around the frame, tend to be the most interesting and pleasing. (This kind of guidance will become more important in a 4K world, where there’s so much detail in the frame that we must tell viewers where to look or they’ll become frustrated.)

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I find myself balancing images in square photographs by placing objects in opposite corners. As we saw above in the Mr. Robot samples, this is also possible in wider formats like 16:9. (It might be a bit more challenging in 2.4:1.)

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I saw this painting in an antique store and decided I liked the way it hung against that bright red wall. There’s some competition between the red border and the little girl that keeps my eye moving diagonally between the two corners. The bright red background almost pushes my eye into the little girl, and the fact that she’s also wearing a red shirt creates a sense of unity between the elements.

#artadamsdp #abstract

I shot this in a hotel room in Boston. I like that the window takes up the entire left side of frame, and the left edge of the window and the left edge of the frame complement each other. The black on the right of the frame balances the composition somehow. “Negative space” is when the shape of the space around an object becomes interesting in itself, but in this case the black is a tangible thing. It doesn’t feel like space to me.

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Another airport shot. This composition draws attention to the people because they break the otherwise perfect symmetry of the train car.

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I’m not sure why I like this photo of one of my dogs so much. Once again, the shape of the space pushes my eye to her, and I like that her eyes are centered left-to-right but the rest of her body extends into the corner in line with the top edge. The vignette also helps to contain my eye within the frame and define the shape of the space.

#artadamsdp

And, lastly, a very odd-but-interesting pseudo self portrait, taken in a restaurant in Santa Cruz. The screen is balanced diagonally by the brightly-lit column in the background, and the diagonal edge of the booth connects those two elements nicely. I really like this image, but when I shot it I didn’t have a sense of what I was creating. I framed the screen, and used some architectural elements to round out the frame top-to-bottom. I had no idea how interesting this would be until I looked at it later.

For most of my career I’ve focused on framing objects. I think what I’m learning from Mr. Robot, and from playing around on Instagram, is to let go a little and compose for space as well. I now look for opportunities to balance objects top-to-bottom and diagonally in addition to left-to-right, or use space to push my eye into a subject at the corner of a frame. I like to move my eye around the frame and see if it is comfortable sweeping around continually, or if there’s nothing to stop it from drifting away—in which case I might adjust the shot slightly to push my gaze back into the image.

In a way, this is a very left-brained way to compose, and I quite like it. I hope to do more of it. The problem is finding clients who are visually aware enough to let me. As a director of photography I tend to be a bit more advanced in that regard, which makes it hard to sell advanced or unusual concepts to clients who have a lot of money on the line and need to know that what I shoot for them will work as needed. Hopefully Mr. Robot shows that this kind of work has a place in the mainstream. It’s different (for moving images, but quite common in still images), it’s interesting, and it’s compelling. And it’s fascinating that, right now, the best storytelling—and some of the best cinematography—is on TV instead of in the cinema.

Art Adams
Director of Photography

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28 Days of Cinematography Insights Redux – Day 31 – Overthinking your job http://www.provideocoalition.com/28-days-cinematography-insights-redux-day-31-overthinking-job/ http://www.provideocoalition.com/28-days-cinematography-insights-redux-day-31-overthinking-job/#comments Wed, 31 Aug 2016 13:30:45 +0000 http://www.provideocoalition.com/?p=37176 In what was essentially a combination of Scott Simmons’ #28daysofquicktips and my own AMA, I answered questions throughout the month of September last year on a daily basis. The PVC team wanted to rerun this series for our readers, and we’re going past those 28 days with a few brand new entries. Use the hashtag

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28daysredux425In what was essentially a combination of Scott Simmons’ #28daysofquicktips and my own AMA, I answered questions throughout the month of September last year on a daily basis. The PVC team wanted to rerun this series for our readers, and we’re going past those 28 days with a few brand new entries. Use the hashtag #28daysofinsights or email us at ask@provideocoalition.com if you want to help us build up some questions for a brand new series.


When you’re in the weeds onset, do you ever step back and think to yourself, “is this too much?” And I don’t mean that in an existential way, but more in terms of forcing something to work.

Years ago I worked with a director who hired me to shoot an actor on green screen for compositing into a sunny background. This is difficult to do as the sun’s rays are parallel, and it’s hard to reproduce that effect using a fresnel on a medium-sized stage. The spread of the beam tends to give away the fact that the “sun” is just out of frame.

I spent a lot of time working out how to make the sun appear more convincing. At some point the director told me the actor would be roaming the stage at will, which made a convincing sunlight gag much more difficult as I now had to deal with feathering its brightness dramatically. When I tried to engage the director in a conversation to determine what his expectations were, he stopped me. “You are thinking about this way too hard. I’ve done this a bunch. Just light the stage and it’ll all be fine.”

So… I did. I used a bunch of space lights and a big soft source to light the entire stage, the actor roamed where he wanted and cast soft shadows, and the director comped him into a bright sunny background with hard shadows. I wasn’t convinced, but the director was thrilled and so was the client. In the end, that’s really all that matters.

I’ve been accused of overthinking things on occasion. As a job approaches I ponder all the little details, all the options we have at our disposal, and all the things that can go wrong. Filmmaking is not a straightforward art: often we are fighting against physics, and something that appears to be a small part of the creative brief can quickly become a huge headache.

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Is the film industry dying? I respond to an article that says it is

One project included a shot where the camera raced around and behind a small black security camera (the product). The product filled the frame, which then went black, and when it brightened again we were looking at the scene through the product’s camera. The agency shot a reference video of what they wanted and sent it over: “Give us this.” The problem was that they shot their reference with an iPhone, which has a tiny lens, and it’s easy to block it entirely with a small product. That’s not possible with a 35mm film lens.

I spent a lot of time on this, and ended up shooting a sequence of stills with a faux motion control rig consisting of a Canon 5D Mk3 on a 4′ slider. By blending the stills together, and giving post plenty of room to zoom in (as still images are much higher resolution than HD) we achieved the same effect.

The director was so impressed he included a bonus in my paycheck. Wow.

I like working with the latter directors more than the former, but I’m happy to work with anyone. My philosophy is that I will do the best job I’m allowed to do, and if a director tells me I’m “overthinking” my job then I know I need to lower my expectations and do whatever makes them happy. For a long time I wondered if I was the problem, but a friend who is a very successful commercial director/DP told me, “It’s your JOB to overthink things. Anyone who tells you otherwise is the problem, not you.”

On a recent project the director and I got to talking about matching primes and zooms for color. I went into a rental house and shot tests with color charts. I broke the color tests down by lens and laid them across a spreadsheet, which quickly showed me that one brand of zoom was a great color match to the set of primes we planned on using. “I really appreciate your thoroughness,” the director told me. “That’s a big part of why I hire you.”

When I was a kid I’d often be made fun of because of my geekiness. Now it lands me jobs doing exactly what I’ve always dreamed of doing. I’m good with that.

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The Future of Live-Action VR… is Still Well in the Future

 

Art Adams | Director of Photography

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Have your own insight about what I’ve mentioned here? Feel free to comment below or send in a question by using the hashtag #28daysofinsights or emailing ask@provideocoalition.com

 

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28 Days of Cinematography Insights Redux – Day 30 – White balancing to an odd light source http://www.provideocoalition.com/28-days-cinematography-insights-redux-day-30-white-balancing-odd-light-source/ http://www.provideocoalition.com/28-days-cinematography-insights-redux-day-30-white-balancing-odd-light-source/#respond Tue, 30 Aug 2016 13:30:22 +0000 http://www.provideocoalition.com/?p=37171 In what was essentially a combination of Scott Simmons’ #28daysofquicktips and my own AMA, I answered questions throughout the month of September last year on a daily basis. The PVC team wanted to rerun this series for our readers, and we’re going past those 28 days with a few brand new entries. Use the hashtag

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28daysredux425In what was essentially a combination of Scott Simmons’ #28daysofquicktips and my own AMA, I answered questions throughout the month of September last year on a daily basis. The PVC team wanted to rerun this series for our readers, and we’re going past those 28 days with a few brand new entries. Use the hashtag #28daysofinsights or email us at ask@provideocoalition.com if you want to help us build up some questions for a brand new series.


What can you do to white balance when you’re dealing with an uncooperative or difficult light source?

On Day 29 I spoke of white balancing an Alexa by hand, although this technique can be done with any camera. (Early Canon C300s auto white balanced a little on the green side, but there as there are internal gain settings for each of the red, green and blue channels I found I could trim the white balance by hand.) This also works with odd light sources.

From time to time I shoot in environments that are lit by fluorescent tubes, and I often mix in other lights as accents or fill. I’ve become a big fan of Arri’s SkyPanel fixtures as they allow me to adjust red, green and blue independently, and that makes it easy to match them to the many weird light sources I encounter in various locations.

Often the first thing I do, once the camera is set up, is white balance on a perfectly neutral white or gray reference (I use the backside of my DSC Labs OneShot Plus chart) under the existing light fixtures. I can do this automatically using the camera’s auto white balance feature, or I can do this manually using the camera’s Kelvin/CCT (red/blue) and CC/tint (green/magenta) controls and a parade RGB waveform. (See Day 29.)

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Developing an Awareness of Color

Then I light the same reference card with the light I want to balance. Let’s say I’ve white balanced under a ceiling full of warm white fluorescent tubes, and I now what to make an Arri SkyPanel appear that same color. I overpower the ambient light with the SkyPanel, stop the lens down so that the green channel appears at roughly the same level as white did on the waveform when I white balanced to the fluorescents, and then, using the parade RGB display on my on-board monitor, I adjust the red, green and blue channels on the SkyPanel until all their peaks line up on the waveform. I do this the same way I adjust cameras: use Kelvin to balance red and blue first, and then tweak plus/minus green to match green to the same level as red and blue.

This does nothing to make the overall light spectrums match—if a light is missing a portion of the visual spectrum then the colors in that missing spectrum will appear dull and lifeless—but at least the lights will appear neutral in relation to each other, and I can mix them together without worrying that one will be too warm and green and the other will be too cool and magenta. It’s very difficult to tweak mismatched mixed-color lighting in a grade.

Note: I’ve worked as a consultant for DSC Labs and designed the OneShot Plus chart.

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How I Learned Composition at 12 Years of Age

 

Art Adams | Director of Photography

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28 Days of Cinematography Insights Redux – Day 29 – Manually white balancing a camera to a light source http://www.provideocoalition.com/28-days-cinematography-insights-redux-day-29-manually-white-balancing-camera-light-source/ http://www.provideocoalition.com/28-days-cinematography-insights-redux-day-29-manually-white-balancing-camera-light-source/#respond Mon, 29 Aug 2016 13:30:44 +0000 http://www.provideocoalition.com/?p=37165 In what was essentially a combination of Scott Simmons’ #28daysofquicktips and my own AMA, I answered questions throughout the month of September last year on a daily basis. The PVC team wanted to rerun this series for our readers, and we’re going past those 28 days with a few brand new entries. Use the hashtag

The post 28 Days of Cinematography Insights Redux – Day 29 – Manually white balancing a camera to a light source appeared first on ProVideo Coalition.

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28daysredux425In what was essentially a combination of Scott Simmons’ #28daysofquicktips and my own AMA, I answered questions throughout the month of September last year on a daily basis. The PVC team wanted to rerun this series for our readers, and we’re going past those 28 days with a few brand new entries. Use the hashtag #28daysofinsights or email us at ask@provideocoalition.com if you want to help us build up some questions for a brand new series.


Any advice around manually white balancing a camera to a light source?

I love shooting with Arri’s Alexa, but it’s one flaw seems to be white balancing. The presets look green to my eye, and my DITs remove a small amount of green (CC -3) as a matter of course. Now that I have a color critical monitor on set for every shoot (the Sony A170 17″ OLED) I can see exactly what I’m doing, and when I roll through the CC (plus/minus green) setting I can always detect when a white balance is slightly too green, slightly too magenta, or just right.

On a recent job I found myself shooting in a day-lit conference room with green tinted windows. In order to keep the color of the light consistent between natural and artificial sources I placed my additional lighting outside, so all the light in the room passed through the same tinted glass. The problem, though, was getting Alexa to white balance the green hue away. White balancing to a perfectly color neutral white and gray card (the backside of a DSC Labs OneShot chart) resulted in a tobacco hue that looked similar to what I saw by eye but didn’t give me perfectly neutral whites, grays and blacks. Alexa’s auto white balance feature couldn’t do the job.

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The Secret Art of White Balancing

I own a Video Devices Pix-E7, and it has a very good parade RGB waveform display. It occurred to me that I could white balance manually, using that display and adjusting the camera color settings myself. Parade RGB splits apart the red, green and blue signals and displays them side by side, and in that order. The important thing to know about white balance is that it revolves around green: when auto white balancing, the camera looks at where green falls and then adds or subtracts from red and blue so they all line up at the same level.

It’s fairly easy to do this by hand. I aimed the camera at the white card, punched up parade RGB, and adjusted red and blue so that they fell at the same level. It wasn’t possible to align them both to green’s level at the same time, as there was too much green in the light and that wasn’t going to happen, but as CCT (correlated color temperature) only addresses warm and cool, it was enough that I started out by balancing red and blue to each other.

Next I adjusted Alexa’s CC (plus/minus green) control, which is sometimes called “tint” in other cameras and monitors. Changing this adjusted green’s level but left red and blue alone. By balancing red and blue to each other, and then subtracting green until it matched red and blue, I ended up with a perfect manual white balance.

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Things you didn’t know about color matching lenses

One additional trick: as I move color channels around I’ll adjust the lens aperture to make them fall on a waveform graticule, so I can better see when they are perfectly aligned. If red and blue fall near a graticule line I’ll adjust the aperture so they land on it exactly, which makes it easier to adjust green to the same level.

Note: I’ve worked as a paid consultant to DSC Labs and Video Devices/Sound Devices.

 

Art Adams | Director of Photography

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28 Days of Cinematography Insights Redux – Day 28 – Breaking into and making a living in the industry http://www.provideocoalition.com/day-28-28-days-of-cinematography-insights-breaking-into-and-making-a-living-in-the-industry/ http://www.provideocoalition.com/day-28-28-days-of-cinematography-insights-breaking-into-and-making-a-living-in-the-industry/#respond Sun, 28 Aug 2016 13:30:54 +0000 http://www.provideocoalition.com/day-28-28-days-of-cinematography-insights-breaking-into-and-making-a-living-in-the-industry/ In what was essentially a combination of Scott Simmons’ #28daysofquicktips and my own AMA, I answered questions throughout the month of September last year on a daily basis. The PVC team wanted to rerun this series for our readers along with some new questions and answers, so stay tuned for a few entries at the

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28daysredux425In what was essentially a combination of Scott Simmons’ #28daysofquicktips and my own AMA, I answered questions throughout the month of September last year on a daily basis. The PVC team wanted to rerun this series for our readers along with some new questions and answers, so stay tuned for a few entries at the end of the series which will take us past 28 days. Use the hashtag #28daysofinsights or email us at ask@provideocoalition.com if you want to help us build up some questions for a brand new series.


It feels like it’s tougher than ever to break into and make a living in this industry. Would you say that’s the case?

It’s getting harder to make a living, sure. There’s a huge influx of people who own their own gear and are at a point in life where they don’t need to make much money to get by. That drives prices down for everyone, including those with a lot of experience.

Also, their friends are landing in positions where they can hire those same people, and they don’t necessarily understand why it might be good to hire someone with more experience. I’ve been in several situations where I’m hired by “young” companies who allocate a LOT of time to shoot what needs to be shot, and they’re blown away by how fast my crew and get in, do the job, and get out again. They’re used to working with people who have less experience and who might cost less but they take a lot more time and do less polished work.

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What I’d tell someone who starts a job as a camera PA–tomorrow!

It’s so easy to buy gear, but no one is working their way up anymore. They buy a camera and immediately market themselves as a cinematographer. I see a lot of rookie “cinematography” reels that consist of a lot of handheld natural light photography with a heavy and overdramatic grade applied. The problem is… the reason I see so much of that stuff is because ANYONE can do it. And if anyone can do it, why would a producer pay much money for something they can get from anyone? Why should they hire you if you’re only competing on price and there’s always someone cheaper? You’re only worth something if you can walk into a situation—with lights, without lights, interior, exterior, day, night—and know what to do to create consistently pretty images that serve the story. Natural light is rarely the answer. (In fact, natural light rarely looks that great. If that’s what you need to make pretty pictures you’re going to spend more time looking for nicely lit locations rather than looking for the perfect location that you can then light.)

There’s a hundred years of film history that have gotten us where we are. That’s a hundred years of visual experimentation along with building a huge library of timesaving techniques and visual tricks to capture the kinds of images that we envision when we start a project. Without at least a few years of onset experience you have to try to replicate all that experience and knowledge from scratch. You’re starting at zero. You might as well be one of the first silent film camera people, standing in a field with a hand-cranked camera and wondering what to do next.

There’s always room for skill. Skill only comes with experience. You wouldn’t buy yourself a scalpel and call yourself a brain surgeon, so why would you buy a camera and call yourself a cinematographer? The biggest part of cinematography is learning how to go into a job and deliver the right look every single time, so matter the story or situation. That’s not a skill that comes out of a camera manual. It’s best learned by watching how other people solve problems. Over time you’ll learn enough that you can come up with your own style of solving some of those same problems, as well as solving new problems on your own.

When I started out I was told that it was impossible to break into Hollywood. I discovered that it wasn’t: I just had to be driven, willing to learn, trainable, competent and able to work well with others. I also had to admit that, even after four years of film school, I didn’t know anything that would help me survive a day on a film set. I knew a lot that would help me creatively later in my career, but I didn’t know the first thing about showing up for work and not getting fired. I started at the bottom and showed people that I that I knew nothing but I’d learn quickly. That was all it took.

Anna Akana : next Rebel With a Cause

The Fine Art of Negotiating

The biggest lesson I had to learn is that you are worth what you charge. There are jobs that I haven’t gotten because I charged too much, but others that I lost because I charged too little. You have to value yourself according to your skill level. At the same time, you have to remain within an acceptable range. The more people who work for less money the worse off we all are. I remember hearing about a classmate at film school who got a job for $100/day and thinking, “Wow, making that much money would be just fine with me.” Now I could make that much money every day for a month and never pay all my bills. Don’t cut your throat by underbidding everyone else, because the rate that you set will be the new standard against which you compete in the future.

 

 

Art Adams | Director of Photography

See all 28 Days of Cinematography Insights


Have your own insight about what I’ve mentioned here? Feel free to comment below or send in a question by using the hashtag #28daysofinsights or emailing ask@provideocoalition.com

 

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28 Days of Cinematography Insights Redux – Day 27 – Buying your own camera http://www.provideocoalition.com/day-27-28-days-of-cinematography-insights-buying-your-own-camera/ http://www.provideocoalition.com/day-27-28-days-of-cinematography-insights-buying-your-own-camera/#respond Sat, 27 Aug 2016 13:30:19 +0000 http://www.provideocoalition.com/day-27-28-days-of-cinematography-insights-buying-your-own-camera/ In what was essentially a combination of Scott Simmons’ #28daysofquicktips and my own AMA, I answered questions throughout the month of September last year on a daily basis. The PVC team wanted to rerun this series for our readers along with some new questions and answers, so stay tuned for a few entries at the

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28daysredux425In what was essentially a combination of Scott Simmons’ #28daysofquicktips and my own AMA, I answered questions throughout the month of September last year on a daily basis. The PVC team wanted to rerun this series for our readers along with some new questions and answers, so stay tuned for a few entries at the end of the series which will take us past 28 days. Use the hashtag #28daysofinsights or email us at ask@provideocoalition.com if you want to help us build up some questions for a brand new series.


Does it makes sense for a cinematographer to have their own affordable camera which they probably wouldn’t use for a job, but would work for personal projects, or could conceivably work as a “B” camera on a job? Something like a 5D or Blackmagic Pocket Camera?

Sure, why not? It’s always good to practice and play, especially when it’s not on someone else’s budget and schedule. I think it’s invaluable to experiment with movement and exposure and composition. You can learn stuff on your own clock and then apply it very quickly on someone else’s clock.

pretentiousdoucherocket

It used to be so simple: pick a film stock, pick a lens, shoot images, process and print, repeat. It wasn’t rocket science. Now, though… it’s rocket science

What I don’t like is this idea that once you buy a camera you’re a cinematographer. Or that you have to buy a camera to be a cinematographer. It reminds me of stories about silent film cameramen lining up outside the studio gates with their cameras, ready to work and hoping to be hired for the day. It was partially about their skill and partially about their gear. Some studios would only work with cameramen who owned certain cameras, even though the mechanism that moved film through the gate had almost nothing to do with the look.

Gear shouldn’t factor into the equation. It always does, at least when people are starting out, as those with gear tend to land the lower end jobs more easily, but at that level producers are more interested in saving money than they are focused on quality. At the higher levels owning a camera matters a lot less, and I always try to get the right one for the job rather than have to sell the same camera for every job.

But a camera for personal use, and for practice, makes perfect sense. And if there’s a opportunity to use it on a professional production, great!

Log vs. lin lin

Log vs. Raw: The Simple Version

 

 

Art Adams | Director of Photography

See all 28 Days of Cinematography Insights


Have your own insight about what I’ve mentioned here? Feel free to comment below or send in a question by using the hashtag #28daysofinsights or emailing ask@provideocoalition.com

 

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28 Days of Cinematography Insights Redux – Day 26 – How do you draw the line between being stylized and overdoing it? http://www.provideocoalition.com/day-26-28-days-of-cinematography-insights-how-do-you-draw-the-line-between-being-stylized-and-overdoing-it/ http://www.provideocoalition.com/day-26-28-days-of-cinematography-insights-how-do-you-draw-the-line-between-being-stylized-and-overdoing-it/#respond Fri, 26 Aug 2016 13:30:02 +0000 http://www.provideocoalition.com/day-26-28-days-of-cinematography-insights-how-do-you-draw-the-line-between-being-stylized-and-overdoing-it/ In what was essentially a combination of Scott Simmons’ #28daysofquicktips and my own AMA, I answered questions throughout the month of September last year on a daily basis. The PVC team wanted to rerun this series for our readers along with some new questions and answers, so stay tuned for a few entries at the

The post 28 Days of Cinematography Insights Redux – Day 26 – How do you draw the line between being stylized and overdoing it? appeared first on ProVideo Coalition.

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28daysredux425In what was essentially a combination of Scott Simmons’ #28daysofquicktips and my own AMA, I answered questions throughout the month of September last year on a daily basis. The PVC team wanted to rerun this series for our readers along with some new questions and answers, so stay tuned for a few entries at the end of the series which will take us past 28 days. Use the hashtag #28daysofinsights or email us at ask@provideocoalition.com if you want to help us build up some questions for a brand new series.


How do you draw the line between being stylized and overdoing it?

Experience. Also, knowing the director and their taste.

It’s difficult for me to find the freedom to shoot in a highly-stylized fashion these days. The modern aesthetic is “natural” and commercial work tends not to be very moody. It’s interesting to note that the things that used to be edgy—lens flares and soft focus—are now perfectly acceptable, but high contrast still makes people nervous.

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LUT Tricks for the Sony FS7/F5/F55

It’s a different story in the color grade. Beginning colorists go overboard on everything. They add colored grads and windows everywhere to create a really obvious look. I remember a spot I shot years ago and, for budgetary reasons, the director and I had to grade it on our own. We did a pretty good job but we worked mainly with overall color, contrast, added a couple of windows, and added a colored grad to a shot with blown out sky to give it some color.

The post house had just started offering grading services and had a rookie colorist on board. He took a pass at it for their reel, and it didn’t look like the same spot at all. Background colors were crazy saturated while people looked like china dolls… it was a completely different look and feel. The worst part is that the look was REALLY obvious. Someone wanted the image to say “Look at what I did!!!”

As one gains experience one discovers ways to create cool looks without attracting a lot of attention. One learns to serve the story instead of simply creating eye candy. I guess that applies to cinematography as well: you do what the story and the director’s vision requires. That drives the look and style more than anything else.

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Hacking Alexa’s Rec 709 LUT into a Sony FS7/F5/F55

 

Art Adams | Director of Photography

See all 28 Days of Cinematography Insights


Have your own insight about what I’ve mentioned here? Feel free to comment below or send in a question by using the hashtag #28daysofinsights or emailing ask@provideocoalition.com

 

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28 Days of Cinematography Insights Redux – Day 25 – Traveling with gear http://www.provideocoalition.com/day-25-28-days-of-cinematography-insights-traveling-with-gear/ http://www.provideocoalition.com/day-25-28-days-of-cinematography-insights-traveling-with-gear/#respond Thu, 25 Aug 2016 13:30:53 +0000 http://www.provideocoalition.com/day-25-28-days-of-cinematography-insights-traveling-with-gear/ In what was essentially a combination of Scott Simmons’ #28daysofquicktips and my own AMA, I answered questions throughout the month of September last year on a daily basis. The PVC team wanted to rerun this series for our readers along with some new questions and answers, so stay tuned for a few entries at the

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28daysredux425In what was essentially a combination of Scott Simmons’ #28daysofquicktips and my own AMA, I answered questions throughout the month of September last year on a daily basis. The PVC team wanted to rerun this series for our readers along with some new questions and answers, so stay tuned for a few entries at the end of the series which will take us past 28 days. Use the hashtag #28daysofinsights or email us at ask@provideocoalition.com if you want to help us build up some questions for a brand new series.


When traveling with gear, do you pack everything or have someone else do it? How often have you gotten burned by letting someone who end up being unqualified pack the gear?

I make my camera assistants pack gear. I don’t like to get involved in that anymore. I have people for that. 🙂

In the old days I managed to burn myself on one or two occasions. One company sent me to shoot in another state without a lens cap for the camera. We packed the wheels for the camera case inside the case, and on the flight one of them got out of its pocket and gave the front element of the lens a good nick. I managed to work around it, but I was unhappy about telling the client that their lens had been damaged on my shoot.

“Why didn’t you take a lens cap?” they asked.

“There’s none with the camera,” I said, “and the person who checked out the gear didn’t know where it was.”

“That’s because they’re all right here, dummy,” they said, opening up a drawer FULL of lens caps.

Okay… why are they in a DRAWER and not on the lens???

travelinglight

Flight…A Filmmaker’s Plight

The other tricks I remember are:

Always remove light bulbs from lamps before shipping. They’re less likely to break if they are packed on their own.

Always set a lens’s focus to infinity and the aperture to wide open. In fact, camera assistants generally do this every time a lens goes back in the case. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Setting the lens focus to infinity pushes all the elements together in a way that makes them more stable for shipping.
  2. Setting the aperture to wide open pushes the iris leaves together, where they support themselves against bumps and bangs.
  3. When you put a lens on the camera and it’s set that way you have the best chance of giving the operator a view of the action so they can frame it up faster. Sometimes I tell people that and they scoff: “Who needs to work that fast?” On big shows you have to work that fast. One operator I knew praised their assistant because they always put the lens on the camera while holding it from the side so they could see an image as soon as it was seated in the mount.

Those are the tricks. Set mechanical equipment such that its own internal settings make it most stable. Make sure glass can move on its own without being attached to a more massive object that will shake it more aggressively if attached. And make sure nothing can get out of its pocket in the case and move around on its own.

coffee article logo 476

So You Want to Work with Cameras

 

 

 

Art Adams | Director of Photography

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Have your own insight about what I’ve mentioned here? Feel free to comment below or send in a question by using the hashtag #28daysofinsights or emailing ask@provideocoalition.com

 

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