Category Archives: shoots

Warning – it’s Sunburn Season (Northern Hemisphere at least).

Just a reminder to anyone using a viewfinder fitted with an eyepiece, magnifier or loupe not to leave it pointing up at the sun. Every year I see dozens of examples of burnt  and damaged LCD screens and OLED displays caused by sunlight entering the viewfinder eyepiece and getting focussed onto the screen and burning or melting it.

It can only take a few seconds for the damage to occur and it’s normally irreversible. Even walking from shot to shot with the camera viewfinder pointed towards the sky can be enough to do damage if the sun is out.

So be careful, cover or cap the viewfinder when you are not using it. Tilt it down when carrying the camera between locations or shots. Don’t turn to chat to someone else on set and leave the VF pointing at the sun. If you are shooting outside on a bright sunny day consider using a comfort shade such as an umbrella or large flag above your shooting position to keep both you and the camera out of the sun.

Damage to the viewfinder can appear as a smudge or dark patch on the screen that does not wipe off. If the cameras was left for a long period it may appear as a dark line across the image. You can also sometimes melt the surround to the LCD or OLED screen.

As well as the viewfinder don’t point your camera directly into the sun. Even an ND filter may not protect the sensor from damage as most regular ND filters allow the infra red wavelengths that do much of the damage straight through.  Shutter speed makes no difference to the amount of light hitting the sensor in a video camera, so even at a high shutter speed damage to the cameras sensor or internal ND’s can occur. So be careful when shooting into the sun. Use an IR ND filter and avoid shooting with the aperture wide open, especially with static shots such as time-lapse.

 

The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.

Having done a fair bit of shooting with the new and very nice Fujinon MK 18-55mm E-Mount lens I decided to take a much closer look at the Fujinon Cabrio XK6x20 20 to 120mm T3.5 lens with the servo hand grip.

AJC05580-1024x681 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
The Fujinon XK6X20 20 to 120mm lens on my PMW-F5. The lens was loaned to me by Fujinon at my request as I wanted to test it for myself.

The price of this lens is very competitive and it can now be found as low as £11K/$16K. Lets not try to pretend that good quality PL mount zooms are cheap, but this is a great price for what is very high quality glass. The 20 to 120mm zoom range is nice and of course it’s truly parfocal there is a back focus adjuster along with macro function.

AJC05581-1024x681 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
The XK6X20 viewed from the top.

Like the other similar ENG style PL zooms this lens is quite heavy. The front element of the lens is huge and I’m sure a lot of the weight comes from this big lump of glass. One of the nice things about this lenses baby brother the MK 18-55, is that the 18-55 is really very light, which is great on the smaller cameras like the FS5 or FS7.

AJC05591-1024x681 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
The XK6X20 and it huge front element on the left and the smaller and lighter MK18-55 on the right.

The 20-120mm Cabrio exudes quality. The build quality of the lens is wonderful, the witness marks are crisp and well engraved, the servo zoom is silky smooth. The large servo module acts as a handgrip just like traditional ENG lenses and it really comfortable to hold and use this way. But if you don’t need it it can be easily removed leaving the bare bones lens body and saving a little bit of weight. There are the usual 0.8 mod pitch gears on each of the focus zoom and iris rings. Focus ring travel is huge at about 200 degrees and due to the physical size of the lens this is as much as I’d ever want. Even towards infinity there is still a nice range of travel so focussing accurately on distant objects is easy.

But what about the image quality, how does the lens perform in real world situations?

To find out I used it for a shoot in Norway. The shoot was for TV manufacturer Philips. We wanted to obtain some high quality 4K HDR footage to show off the capabilities of a new 4K OLED Ambilight TV. Unfortunately the weather conditions on the shoot were pretty grim most of the time and this made it all the more challenging. But I’m pleased to say that both lenses performed very well despite snow, ice and cold.

AJC05587-1024x681 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
You can see the size difference here – XK6X20 on the left and MK18-55 on the right.

One of the great things about having both the high end Cabrio 20-120mm and the budget friendly 18-55mm for the shoot was that the overall look of the images from the FS5 and F5 was the same. Often mixing lenses from different manufacturers results in different looking images giving the colourist more work to do in post. Fujinon now have a range of lenses to suit most budgets from the high end Cabrio 19-90mm T2.9 down through the Cabrio 20-120 T3.5 to the MK 18-55 T2.9.

So what do the images from these lenses look like? I’m afraid I can’t show any of the footage from the Philips shoot yet, I should be able to show it later in the year. Below are a couple of frame grabs to give you an idea of the kind of images you can get. We didn’t shoot the same shots with the F5/XK6x20 and FS5/MK18-55 at the same time, I was the only cinematographer. So I don’t have a side by side comparison from the shoot, but the different scenes shot with each lens/camera combo match really well.

sami1-1024x540 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
Sami woman feeding reindeer shot with the XK6X20 in Norway. Click on the image for a hi res version.
sami2-1024x540 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
Wide of Sami woman feeding reindeer shot with the XK6X20 in Norway. Click on the image for a hi res version.
trmso1-1024x540 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
Annika Summerson filmed in Tromso with the Fujinon XK6X20.
Tromso2-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
Boats in the harbour on a cold but bright morning (the only one we had).
social-1024x540 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
Icicles on the window. Shot with the Fujinon XK6X20 with my PMW-F5.

TESTING BOTH LENSES:

In order to better directly compare the two lenses I shot some test shots. The XK6x20 on my F5 and the MK18-55 on my FS7. Both cameras were set to the same settings and hypergamma 3 with the cinema matrix used. The images you will see below have not been touched, this is how they looked straight from the camera. If you click on the picture you should get a link to the full frame 4K image, but do remember this are Jpegs.

AJC05593-1024x681 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
Testing the Fujinon MK18-55 and XK6X20 with my PMW-F5 and PXW-FS7.

I tried to get the same shots with both combinations but you will see some small variations. I apologise for that. To give as fair a comparison as possible I did most of the shots at 20mm and 55mm, but then in addition shot at 18mm on the MK18-55 and 120mm on the XK6X20 so you can see the additional range each lens offers.

First test was of a neighbours Cherry tree in blossom.

FS7-Blossom-55mm2-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
The FS7 with XF 18-55mm at 55mm. Click on the image for the full size 4K frame.
F5-20-120-55-blossom-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PMW-F5 with XK20X6 at approx 55mm (sorry about the different framing). Click on the image for the size 4K full frame.
FS7-18-55-20mm-blossom2-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
The FS7 with XF 18-55mm at approx 20mm. Click on the image for the full size 4K frame.
F5-20-120-20-blossom-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PMW-F5 with XK20X6 at 20mm. Click on the image for the size 4K full frame.
F5-20-120-120-blossom-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PMW-F5 with the Cabrio XK6X20 at 120mm showing the extra reach of the 20-120mm zoom.

The next test was a simple setup shot of a couple of beer bottles on a table with strong sunlight from above and behind to create deep contrast. I wanted to see if either lens showed signs of loosing shadow detail due to the very large, very bright table top introducing flare into the shadows.

FS7-18-55-20-Beer-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PXW-FS7 with XF18-55mm at approx 20mm, high contrast scene.
F5-20-120-20-beer-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PMW-F5 with XK20X6 at 20mm. High Contrast scene. Click on the image for the size 4K full frame.
FS7-18-55-55-beer-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PXW-FS7 with XF18-55mm at 55mm, high contrast scene.
F5-20-120-55-beer-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PMW-F5 with XK20X6 at approx 55mm. High contrast scene. Click on the image for the size 4K full frame.
FS7-18-55-18-beer-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
The FS7 with the XF18-55 at 18mm showing the extra “width” that 18mm gives over 20mm.

My conclusion with the above shots is that there is remarkably little difference between these two lenses. Both perform extremely well. I think the XK6X20 might be marginally sharper at the wide end than the 18-55mm, either that or the slightly better viewfinder of the F5 is allowing me to focus more precisely. In addition I think the bokeh of the more expensive Cabrio is marginally smoother than the 18-55, but again it’s a tiny difference (not as big as the difference in white balance of the two cameras).

Finally a shot of my ugly mug just so you can take a look at some skin tones.

FS7-18-55-me-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PXW-FS7 with Fujinon XF 18-55 at approx 30mm. Click on the image for full size 4K frame.
F5-20-120-me-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PMW-F5 with Fujinon Cabrio XK6X20 at approx 30mm. Click on the image for the full size frame.

Again very little difference between these lenses which is a good thing. Both perform very well, both produce pleasing images. Sure the XK6X20 20-120mm is more than twice the price of the MK18-55 but then it does offer twice the zoom range and it’s very hard to make fast parfocal lenses with big zoom ranges for large sensors. There will be a companion MK50-135mm lens coming later in the year, so with both the MK lenses you will be able to get the full range of the XK6X20 and a bit more, provided you don’t mind swapping lenses. It’s a tough choice if you have an E-mount Sony camera, which to get? For E-Mount I think the pair of MK lenses will be the way to go. If you have a PL mount camera the XK6X20 has to be a very serious contender. It’s a great all-round cinema zoom lens and a realistic price. Whichever way you do go you won’t be disappointed, these are proper cinema lenses.

Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway – Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.

I have just return from one of the most challenging shoots I have been involved in. The shoot took place over 5 days in and around Tromso in Norway. The aim was to gather footage to show off the capabilities of a new type of 4K TV from Phillips.

We shot the Northern Lights, we shot dog sledding , snow mobiles, shots of the city and sailing on the fjords. Each part of the shoot had many challenges and a lot of the shoot took place at night and at night the crew slept in cabins, tents and on the yachts. Shooting from the ice and snow covered deck of a yacht in temperatures well below zero is not something I enjoyed. And to top it all off the weather was pretty grim fro most of the shoot. Heavy snow showers, freezing temperatures and towards the end strong winds.

Because image quality is paramount for this project I choses to use the best lenses I could, but at the same time space and time constraints dictated that zoom lenses would be desirable. We were shooting 16 bit raw as well as XAVC class 480 on my PMW-F5 and some pick-up shots in UHD XAVC-L on a PXW-FS5. For the PMW-F5 the primary lens was the Fujinon Cabrio XK6x20, 20-120mm PL zoom and to ensure we had similar looking images from the FS5 I used the new Fujinon XF 18-55mm. I have to say that I’m quite in love with both of these lenses.

fujinon-xk6x20-20-120mm-t3-5-pl-mount-lens-cc1-e1490981959479 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
Fujinon Cabrio XK6x20 PL mount cinema zoom. A beautiful lens!

The Cabrio 20-120 is a beautiful lens and it’s really nice to have a servo zoom that is truly parfocal. The 20-120 produces really nice images even in the most challenging of conditions and at T3.5 it’s reasonably fast throughout the entire zoom range. This was the lens that I used for the majority of the shoot, in particular for the many night scenes we shot. The E-Mount 18-55 on the FS5 produces images that matched really well with the bigger lens and camera. This is a combination I would love to use on more shoots where the budget will allow.

One particular scene that we had to shoot was particularly challenging. It was a set up shot of a night time arrival of a couple of snowmobiles at a Sami camp site. The Sami people are the indigenous people of Northern Norway and they have a particular style of tent know as a Laavu which is similar to a teepee or wigwam. The idea behind the shot was to have the snow scooters arriving with headlights blazing and for the drivers to then enter the tent lit only by the light of a campfire inside the tent. At the time of the shoot it was snowing heavily and was totally dark. Turn off the lights of the snowmobiles and you could not see a thing.

A007C001_170317I9snwscter-wide-1.-e1490980652498 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
Wide shot of the snowmobiles arriving at the camp in the dark.

While modern cameras like the F5 are very sensitive, the light of a campfire inside a tent will not adequately light a scene like this on it’s own. I didn’t want a totally dark background, so I decided that I would subtly light the trees of the forest that we were in to add some drama and give some depth to the background and a sense of being in a forest.

In-tent-wide-e1490980747645 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
A slightly closer shot of the tent with backlit trees behind it.

As we were travelling continuously on this shoot there was no space for a large or complex lighting kit and the remote location meant we needed battery powered lights. In addition I knew before we left that there was a chance of bad weather so I needed lights that would work whatever mother nature decided to throw at us.

snw-scter-start-e1490980892561 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
A snow scooter comes into the shot. You can see just how heavily it was snowing in this shot.

I decided to take a set of 3 Light & Motion Stella battery powered LED lights. It’s just as well I had the Stella lamps as on top of all the other difficulties of the shoot the weather decided it was not going to play ball. We had to shoot the scene (and much of the shoot) in the middle of a snow storm. Fortunately the Stella lights are completely waterproof, so I didn’t need to worry about rain or snow protection. Just set them up turn them on and use the built in dimmer to set the light output.

To light the scene I set up a Stella Pro 5000 in the woods behind the Sami tent, aimed through the trees and pointed directly towards the camera. I chose to backlight the trees to provide a sense of there being trees rather than lighting them. I felt this would look less lit than throwing a ton of light into the forest from the front and I’m pleased with the result.

20170317_201335-e1490980965481 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
A Light & Motion Stella Pro 5000 was used to back light the trees and tent. The heavy snow was no problem as the light is totally waterproof.

The Stella Pro 5000 is very bright for a compact battery operated light, it’s 5000 lumen 120 degree output that is pretty close to what you would get from a 200W HMI, it’s very bright. It has a very high CRI and gives out great quality daylight balanced light.  It was positioned so that the light itself was behind the tent on a small bank, about 20m back in the woods. You couldn’t see it in the shot, but the light coming through the trees created shafts of light in the snow and the trees appeared as silhouettes. It added depth and interest to what would have otherwise been a near totally black background.

20170317_203855-e1490981224538 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
Light & Motion Stella 2000 used to light the forground, again the lamp is waterproof so bad weather is no problem.

Then to provide a small amount of light so that we could see the riders of the snow scooters as they walked to the tent I used a Stella 2000. I didn’t really want the light from this lamp to be too obvious as this would really make the scene look “lit”. I didn’t need the full 2000 lumen output so I used the built in dimmer to reduce the output to around 70%.

The third light was a small Stella 1000 and this was placed inside the tent with a scrunched up orange gel. The Stella 1000 would typically be used as a camera top light, but it’s full dimmable and produces a very high light quality, making it suitable for many applications. The creases and folds in the orange gel helped break up the light a little creating a less lit look sympathetic to the fire inside the tent.

in-tent-mid-e1490981340247 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
A Stella 1000 with orange gel was used inside the tent to give the light from the fire a small boost.

It allowed me to increase the illumination in the tent, adding to the light from the fire without it being obvious that the tent interior was lit. For some of the shots I had an assistant sit in the tent, out of shot and slowly move the gel in front of the light to add a little movement to the light to mimic the firelight even better.

sihuette-e1490981444887 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
One particular shot on the storyboard was the silhouette of the drivers entering the tent. The Stella 1000 really helped punch trough the canvas sides of the tent.

At the moment I can’t show you the footage. That will have to wait until after the launch of the TV. But I’m really pleased with the way this scene came out. It’s challenging trying to shoot in the dark, in a blizzard, in temperatures well below freezing. Every aspect of getting this scene was hard. Opening a flight case to get out some kit meant getting snow on everything inside it. Just positioning the light up the woods was tough, the snow was up above my knees as I waded through it. Operating the camera is so much harder when it has a rain cover on it. The viewfinder was constantly misting up as snow fell on it non stop. Seeing the witness marks on the lens is difficult (although thankfully the marks on the Fujinon 20-120 are huge and easy to see).

20170317_205922-e1490981701785 Anatomy of a shot. Night Scene in Arctic Norway - Fujinon lenses, Stella Lights.
The Fujinon Cabrio XK6X20 lens all iced up at the end of the day. After shooting out in sub zero temperatures don’t take the camera inside until you are sure you have wrapped for the day!

But sometimes it’s challenges like these that make the job interesting. I know I was cursing and swearing at times trying to make these shots work, but seeing the scene come to life in the grade is all the more rewarding.

I’ll be writing more about the Fujinon 20-120 very soon, so why not subscribe to my blog using the subscribe bottom on the left.

Camrade PXW-FS7 and PXW-FS7 II rain covers.

I was recently sent a new rain cover by Camrade for my FS7 (there is also one for the FS7 II). I’ve used Camrade “wet suits” as they call them for years. They are great covers made from a low noise fabric. That means that if you need to fiddle with the cover while shooting it makes very little noise. The fabric is high quality, soft and supple but also completely waterproof.

AJC03783-1024x683 Camrade PXW-FS7 and PXW-FS7 II rain covers.
Camrade “wet suit” rain cover for the PXW-FS7

The FS7 cover set covers the whole camera and lens and also has a separate cover for the viewfinder that can be used either with the extension tube attached or thanks to a large clear panel that allows you to clearly see the LCD screen it can be used without the extension tube. There is also a cover for the arm and handgrip.

AJC03793-1024x683 Camrade PXW-FS7 and PXW-FS7 II rain covers.
The Camrade FS7 rain cover kit includes a cover for the viewfinder.
AJC03794-1024x683 Camrade PXW-FS7 and PXW-FS7 II rain covers.
The Camrade cover can be used with or without the viewfinder extension tube.

The main camera body cover has clear panels that allow you to see all the major controls and switches on both sides. In addition the clear panels can be opened and rolled up and secured open by velcro  if you want easy access to the camera while it’s not raining.

AJC03789-1024x683 Camrade PXW-FS7 and PXW-FS7 II rain covers.
Clear panels can be rolled up and secured for easy access to the camera on the Camrade rain cover.

Along the top of the cover there is a long velcro opening that allows the mount for the viewfinder to exit the cover as well as an elasticated opening for a shot gun mic. There are further openings for the front MI shoe as well as the cameras top handle.

AJC03792-1024x683 Camrade PXW-FS7 and PXW-FS7 II rain covers.
The Camrade FS7 rain cover has an elasticated sleeve for a shotgun mic there plus opening for the front shoe of the FS7.

Overall the cover is quite large and the fit is quite baggy on a bare bones FS7. But this does mean that you can attach radio mic receivers or timecode sync boxes etc to the camera and keep them protected from the elements under the cover.  The bagginess also allows you to grip the top handle through the rain cover, so even when carrying the camera from location to location it remains protected from the elements.

The length of the cover means that there is space at the back for the XDCA extension unit and/or an external battery system. There’s even a little flap at the back that allows you to see the top of the battery to check the batter status. This is great with my PAG-Link batteries (love my PAG-Links).

AJC03784-1024x683 Camrade PXW-FS7 and PXW-FS7 II rain covers.
There are access panels and flaps just where you need them on the Camrade FS7 rain cover.

If you are using a long lens then you can add an included extension section to the front of the cover that will protect most lenses. Underneath the main cover there is a zip that allows you to almost completely close the rain cover so that when using the camera on your shoulder it doesn’t flap about.

Cameras like the FS7 are expensive. While the FS7 does have a degree of built in protection against a splash of water it really isn’t designed to survive a heavy rain shower. The Camrade covers are not expensive and much better than wrapping the camera in a bin bag. When not in use the cover slips into a nice soft pouch that you can keep in your camera bag until the next time you need it.

Sony FDR-X3000 4K Action Cam – built in gimbal.

One of the cameras I used a lot in Norway is the new Sony FDR-X3000 action cam. What’s different about this POV camera is that the lens and sensor are actually mounted in an internal miniaturised gimbal. This really does work and helps stabilise the image.

There is also a tiny bluetooth monitor that you can wear on your wrist to view the pictures and control the camera. The image quality you get from these tiny cameras really is quite amazing. Take a look at the video to find out more and see some sample footage.

Northern Colour – new Northern Lights video.

It’s that time of year again. After another simply amazing trip to northern Norway I am pleased to be able to share with you my latest Aurora video. It was shot with a Sony A7s and a Sony A6300. The lenses used were a Sigma 20mm f1.4 art lens. An older Sigma 20mm f1.8, a samyang 14mm f2.8 and a Sony 16mm f2.8 pancake lens. A Metabones Speedbooster Ultra was used on the A6300. For the slider shots I used a home built track (made so it fits my suitcase perfectly) and a Cinetics Cinemoco controller. Hope you enjoy it.

Camrade CB-HD camera bag.

CAM_CAM-CB-HD-MEDIUM_3_26109 Camrade CB-HD camera bag.I’ve been using Camrade bags for years. They are tough, protect my gear well without being heavy and clunky like pelicases and other hard shell cases. In addition they don’t scream “expensive equipment here”. They just look like large holdalls.  One of the best features is the use of dividers, pads and inserts that are attached with velcro that allow you to reconfigure the bags for different applications.

CAM_CAM-CB-HD-MEDIUM_4_26110 Camrade CB-HD camera bag.
Camrade CB-HD equipment bag with reconfigurable velcro dividers and pads.

One thing I often do is carry my camera in a standard carry-on bag when I’m flying. Meanwhile my tripod goes in the camera bag in the hold. When I get to my destination the tripod comes out of the camera bag, I re-arrange the dividers and the camera then lives in the camera bag until I need to fly again. This is so easy to do with the Camrade bags. Although the bags look like soft bags they are extremely ridged. The sides, top and bottom have hard inserts in them that can withstand very large loads, they are strong enough for you to sit on them without collapsing. The bags have strong carry straps and come with a high quality, removable camera strap. There are mesh pockets on the outside as well as on the inside of the lid for those little accessories and bits and pieces that would otherwise get lost. Another bonus is a 90% white card for white balance and use as an exposure reference.

Here’s a video of the medium size Camrade CB-HD bag, designed to take the PXW-FS7 or other similar digital cinema cameras. It’s a bit taller than some of their other bags so perfect for cameras rigged up with base plates and matte boxes.

 

Norway and the Northern Lights Video Blogs.

I produced 3 video blogs during my trip to Norway to shoot the northern lights. These blogs are now on youtube for you to watch. In the first video I take a look at some of the equipment that I took to Norway for the trip. I also look at how I like to lay everything out before I pack it and give some insight into some of the accessories that I like to take.

The second video looks back at the first week of the trip. You will see examples of the weather we had to deal with as well as some information on how some of the time lapse sequences of the aurora were shot.

The third video is about shooting a sunrise with 3 different cameras. The Sony a6300, FDR-AX3000 Action Cam and the PXW-FS5.
Packing for the shoot.

At the bottom of the page you’ll find a quick cut of a small selection of some of the Aurora footage shot on this trip.

Review of the first week in Norway.

Shooting a sunrise with 3 different cameras.

Quick sample of some of the Aurora footage:

Norway here I come!

Today I leave for my annual Northern Lights expeditions. So, I am off to the very north of Norway to shoot in the cold, long nights of the arctic winter. Currently sunrise is at 11am and sunset at about 12:30. You get golden hour all day and then a very long night (fully dark from about 3:30pm). If the weather gods are kind we will get clear skies and lots of opportunities to photograph and video the Northern Lights.

Over the next 3 weeks I will be releasing a number of video blogs about this adventure. They won’t be every day as I won’t always have internet access and the picture quality of the blogs may not be the best. But what I hope to cover are some of the practical aspects of a project like this. The first blog is about the equipment I’m taking, why I’ve chosen it and how I like to check what I’m packing.

There will be videos on shooting time-lapse, tips for shooting in the cold and more about the gear I’m using.

Here’s the first video: Packing.

 

Shooting in cold weather and shooting snow scenes. Updated.

A couple of years ago I wrote a guide to help people that might have to shoot in the cold.  I’ve recently updated this article and as I know many of you won’t have seen it before I’ve provided a link to the page below

LINK: This article deals with shooting in the cold and how that might effect your camera.

LINK: Some ideas and suggestions for clothing in very cold conditions.

Here also are some tips for shooting snow scenes with conventional gammas. Of course you can also shoot with log or raw, if you do just make sure your exposure is nice and bright for the best results (I’d expose white at around 75% with S-Log2 or S-Log3).

With conventional gammas such as Rec-709 exposing for snow is tricky. You want it to look bright, but you don’t want to overexpose and it’s very easy to end up with a lot of the bright snow in your scene up in the knee or highlights where it will be compressed and loose contrast. This makes the snow look odd as it will have no texture, it can all too easily look over exposed when in fact it is not. In reality, although we often think of snow as bright and white, often you really don’t want to expose it too high.  With Rec-709 if your camera has a high level zebra set them to 90% (Zebra 2 on most Sony cameras). This way you will get a zebra pattern on the snow as it starts to enter the compressed knee or highlight area. If you are using Sony’s cinegammas or hypergammas I would lower the highlight zebras to 80% -85%.

On overcast or flat light snow days I prefer not to use Hypergammas/Cinegammas  as the highlight roll off can make the snow look very flat unless you grade the images a little and boost the contrast in post. However on bright high contrast snow days with clear skies and strong shadows the Hyoegammas/Cinegammas work very well. You may want to consider using a little bit of negative black gamma to put a bit more contrast into the image.

You also want your snow to look white, so do a manual white balance using a proper white card or better still a grey card. Don’t try to white balance off the snow itself as snow can reflect a lot of blue light and skew the white balance a bit.  If you are shooting during golden hour at the beginning or end of the day and want to retain that warm look you might want to use a 5600K preset rather than a manual white balance.

If the overall scene is very bright you may need to watch your aperture. In most cases you don’t want to have the camera stopped down to an aperture of f11 or smaller.  Due to an effect called diffraction limiting, in HD, at f11 a 2/3″ camera will start to show a slightly soft image.  A 1/2″ sensor camera will be just starting to get slightly soft at f8.  In 4K/UHD a super 35mm camera will start to show a slightly softer image from f11 – f16. So use you ND filters to control you light levels so you do not have too small an aperture. You may need to add additional ND in very bright scenes to avoid diffraction limiting.

One last tip. If you are standing around in the cold and get cold feet you should find something to stand on. Small twigs and branches, a rubber car mat anything like that will help insulate your feet from the cold ground helping keep them warm.