Tag Archives: training

Learning to be a film maker? Don’t shoot short pretty videos – shoot documentaries.

Over the years I’ve met many well known high end cinematographers. Most of them are really no different to you or I. Most of them are passionate about their craft and almost always willing to chat about ideas or techniques. But one thing that at first surprised me  was how many of these high end movie makers cut their teeth shooting documentaries. I guess I had imagined them to have all been film school graduates that shot nothing but drama, but no, a very large percentage started out in the world of documentary production.
Documentary production is full of challenges. Location shooting, interviews, beauty shots, challenging lighting etc. But one of the big things with documentary production is that you very often don’t have a choice about what, where or when you shoot. You are faced with a scene or location needed for the story and you have to make it look good. So you have to think about how best to approach it, how to frame it, light it or how to use the available light in the best way.
A lot of todays aspiring film makers like to hone their skills by shooting beautiful people in beautiful locations when the light is at it’s best. These short beauty films very often do come out looking very nice. But, if you have a pretty girl, a pretty scene, and good light then really there is no excuse for it not to look good and the problem is you don’t learn much through doing this.
When you are shooting a typical TV documentary you will be faced with all kinds of locations, all kinds of people and the challenge is to make it all look good, no matter what your presented with. Having to take sometimes ugly scenes and make them look good you learn how to be creative. You have to think about camera angles, perhaps to hide something or to emphasise something important to the story the programme tells. And, like a feature film it is normally also story telling, most documentaries have a story with a beginning middle and end.
If you can master the art of documentary production it will give you a great set of skills that will serve you well elsewhere. If you move on from documentaries to drama, then when the director asks you to shoot a scene that takes place in a specific location you may well have already done something similar in a documentary so you may already have some ideas about how to light it, what focal lengths to use. Plus now you will probably have a more time to light and a much more control over the scene, so it should actually be easier.
 
In an ideal world I guess the best way to learn how to shoot movies is…. to shoot movies. But very often it’s hard to get the people, locations and good script that you need. So very often aspiring film makers will fall back on shooting 90 second vignettes of pretty people in pretty places as it’s easy and simple to do.
But instead I would suggest that you would be much better off shooting a documentary. Perhaps about something that happened near where you live or an issue you are interested in.
Go out and shoot  documentaries in less than perfect locations with all the challenges they present. I bet the resulting videos won’t look nearly as perfectly pretty as all those slow-mo pretty girl on a beach/forest/field of flowers videos. But it will teach you how to deal with different types locations, people, lighting, weather and many of the other things that can be challenges when shooting features. It will make you a better camera operator. Making something that’s already pretty look pretty – that’s easy. Making what would otherwise be an un-interesting living room, factory or city street look interesting, that’s a much tougher challenge that will help bring out the creativity in you.
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Skills and knowledge in TV and video production are not keeping up with the technology.

TV and video production, including digital cinema is a highly technical area. Anyone that tells you otherwise is in my opinion mistaken. Many of the key jobs in the industry require an in depth knowledge of not just the artistic aspects but also the technical aspects.
Almost everyone in the camera department, almost everyone in post production and a large portion of the planning and pre-production crew need to know how the kit we use works.
A key area where there is a big knowledge gap is gamma and color. When I was starting out in this business I had a rough idea of what gamma and gamut was all about. But then 10 years or more ago you didn’t really need to know or understand it because up to then we only ever had variations on 2.2/2.4 gamma. There were very few adjustments you could make to a camera yourself and if you did fiddle, generally you would often create more problems than you solved. So those things were just best left alone.
But now it’s vital that you fully understand gamma, what it does, how it works and what happens if you have a gamma miss-match. But sadly so many camera operators (and post people) like to bury their heads in the sand using the excuse “I’m an artist – I don’t need to understand the technology”. Worse still are those that think they understand it, but in reality do not, mainly I think, due to the spread of miss-information and bad practices that become normal. As an example shooting flat seems to mean something very different today to what it meant 10 years ago. 10 years ago it meant shooting with flat lighting so the editor or color grader could adjust the contrast in post production. Now though, shooting flat is often incorrectly used to describe shooting with log gamma (shooting with log isn’t flat, it’s a gamma miss-match that might fool the operator into thinking it’s flat). The whole “shooting flat” miss-conception comes from the overuse and incorrect use of the term on the internet until it eventually became the accepted term for shooting with log.
 
As only a very small portion of film makers actually have any formal training and even fewer go back to school to learn about new techniques or technologies properly this is a situation that isn’t going to get any better. As we move into an era where, in the short term at least, we will need to start delivering multiple versions of productions in both standard dynamic range as well as several different HDR versions, additionally saving the programme master in another intermediate format. Things are only going to get more complicated and more and more mistakes will be made, technology will be applied and used incorrectly.
Most people are quite happy to spend thousands on a new camera, new recorder or new edit computer. But then they won’t spend any money on training to learn how to get the very best from it. Instead they will surf the net for information and guides of unknown quality and accuracy.
When you hire a crew member you have no idea how good their knowledge is. As it’s normal for most not to have attended any formal courses we don’t ask for certificates and we don’t expect them. But they could be very useful. Most other industries that benefit from a skilled labour force have some form of formal certification process, but our industry does not, so hiring crew, booking an editor etc becomes a bit of a lottery.
Of course it’s not all about technical skills. Creative skills are equally important. But again it’s hard to prove that you do have such skills to a new client. Showreels are all to easy to fake.
Guilds and associations are a start. But many of these can be joined simply by paying the joining or membership fee. You could be a member of one of the highly exclusive associations such as the ASC or BSC, but even that doesn’t mean you know about technology “A” or technique “Z”.
We should all take a close look at our current skill sets. What is lacking, where do I have holes, what could I do better. I’ve been in this business for 30 years and I’m still learning new stuff almost every day. It’s one of the things that keeps life interesting. Workshops and training events can be hugely beneficial and they really can lead to you getting better results. Or it may simply be that a day of training helps give you the confidence that you are doing it right. They are also great opportunities to meet other similar people and network.
Whatever you do, don’t stop learning, but beware the internet, not everything you read is right. The key is to not just read and then do, but to read, understand why, ask questions if necessary, then do. If you don’t understand why, you’ll never be able to adapt the “do” to fit your exact needs.

Norway and the Northern Lights 2018.

Over-barn-vibrant-1024x665 Norway and the Northern Lights 2018.After a test run starting and finishing in Alta last year I have decided to run the trips from Alta again next year. The hotel is nicer and the itinerary more relaxed. Starting and finishing at Alta gives us more time at the cabins.

2017/2018 Northern Lights Expeditions to Norway, travelling by road and snow scooter, staying in mountain cabins. Including food for 4 days, ice fishing, snow scooter use and optional photo/video tuition. You must book your own flights to Alta, Norway.

2018 Tour 1: Arctic Dawn. On this tour we will see the very first sunrise of the year. The moon will be absent during the night, so best suited for shooting and viewing faint Aurora.  Arrive Friday 12th January 2018, depart Thursday 18th January 2018.   £1,350 per person. Max 8 people. (cost of flights NOT included).  You must arrange your own transport to and from Alta, Norway.

2018 Tour 2: Moonrise Tour. On this tour we will have a rising moon (after new moon) The moon will start at 18% illumination and increase to 53% illumination over the course of the tour. This will provide interesting possibilities for moonlit landscapes, but if the Aurora is very, very faint it will be harder to see. The days will be longer during this tour than the first tour. Arrive Thursday 18th of January 2018, Depart Wednesday 24th of January 2018. £1350 per person max 8 guests.

These really are amazing adventures. Not just a chance to see the Northern Lights but also a chance to experience some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet. Full details can be found by clicking here.

Upcoming workshops.

A busy couple of weeks coming up with several FS7 and FS7 II workshops in the USA. I’ll be covering all the essential stuff including gamma curves, log, CineEI, Rec2020 and HDR.

Austin Texas, Omega Broadcast, Tuesday 28th Feb. http://www.omegabroadcast.com/product-p/event-sonyfs7iimasterclass.htm

Dallas Texas – VideoTex systems, Wednesday 1st March. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sony-fs7-m2-master-class-with-alister-chapman-tickets-31938387577

Minneapolis – Z-Systems. Thursday 2nd March. http://zsyst.com/2017/02/event-alister-chapman-3-2-17/

San Francisco/Bay Area private full day workshop Saturday 4th March. Use the contact form for full details.

Boston – Rule Camera. Tuesday 7th March. http://www.rule.com/

At the end of March I’ll be in Dublin for the Camerakit event.

Creative Composition and Digital Cinematography Workshops – Singapore.

965437_547020298723068_486905373_o-300x168 Creative Composition and Digital Cinematography Workshops - Singapore.
Alister Chapman providing a workshop.

I’m running some workshops for Singapore Media Academy in September. Spaces are limited and I don’t get to visit Asia as much as I used to. So if you are interested in attending one of my highly regarded and popular workshops here is a great opportunity.

CREATIVE COMPOSITION:
The first is on Creative Composition. Good shot composition can make or break a production. In the workshop I will guide you through ways to achieve images that will draw the audience in, focus the viewers attention or create different emotional reactions.  I will show you how to deal with composition in moving shots, something that can be difficult. We will use case studies of well known movies to see clever use of classic techniques such as the rule of thirds, vanishing lines or Fibonacci curves. We will see how subtle lighting changes can be used to direct the audiences gaze. From the framing of a simple interview to the staging of a complex scene the workshop will help you develop engaging and interesting images. Understanding basic composition is one of the keys to great productions whether it’s for TV news or the cinema.
DIGITAL CINEMATOGRAPHY, LOG AND RAW (Plus HDR).
The second workshop is on Digital Cinematography, Log and Raw. This is an essential workshop for those serious about obtaining the best possible images with a modern electronic video camera. I will explain the differences between standard gammas, log and raw in a way that’s easy to understand but will give you all the information you need to be able to make informed decisions about which to use and when. Next I will teach you how to expose Log and Raw looking closely at how to use exposure offsets for the best results in differing lighting conditions. Then we will look at Look Up Tables. I’ll show you how and when to use them and how to easily create your own. We will finish with some practical end to end workflow sessions where you will develop your own LUT’s, shoot with log or raw and then perform a basic grade on your content. This will include how to use color managed grading tools such as the Academy of Motion Pictures workflow “ACES”. There’s no hard to understand mathematics, no complex formula’s, just easy to understand explanations and great practical tips and advice that will make log and raw easy to understand and use. I will also include how to expose and shoot for HDR and what you need to consider for HDR productions. More details can be found with the links below:
 
 

Webinar Recordings.

In case you missed the webinars I presented yesterday here are recordings of the 2 afternoon sessions. The first one on HDR, what is it and what does it mean for you. The second is a question and answers session on Sony’s large sensor cameras, from the FS5 to the F55. There were quite a few a6300 and A7s questions thrown in there too!

Hopefully I will be able to find a sponsor that will be able to make these a regular event.

 

How much technology does a modern cinematographer need to know?

This post might be a little controversial, I am often told “you don’t need to know the technical stuff to be a cinematographer” or “I don’t need to know about log and gamma, I just want to shoot”.

I would argue that unless you are working closely with a good DIT a modern DP/Cinematographer really does need to understand many of the technical aspects of the equipment being used, in particular the settings that alter the way the camera captures the images. Not just things like “set it to gamma x for bright scenes” but why you would want to do that.

Now I’m not saying that you have to be a full blown electronics engineer, but if you really want to capture the best possible images it really is very important that you truly understand what the camera is doing. It’s also a huge help to understand how your footage will behave in post production. Any craftsman should understand the correct way to use his tools and not only know how to use them but how they work.

Part of the understanding of how your chosen camera behaves comes from testing and experimentation. Shooting test clips across a range of exposures, trying different gamma or log curves and then taking the footage into post production and seeing how it behaves.

Film cinematographers will shoot tests with different film stocks before a large production under the kinds of lighting conditions that will be encountered during the film. Then the film would be processed in different ways to find the best match to the look the cinematographer is trying to achieve. Digital cinematographers should be doing the same and importantly understanding what the end results are telling them.

Most of the great painters didn’t just pick up a paint brush and slap paint on a canvas. Many artists from  Da Vinci to Turner studied chemistry so they could develop new paints and painting techniques. DaVinci was a pioneer of oil painting, Turner used to make his own paints from base pigments and chemicals and patented some of the unique colors he created.

This doesn’t take anything away from the traditional skills of lighting and composition etc, those are just as important as ever and always will be. But modern electronic cameras are sophisticated devices that need to be used correctly to get the best out of them.  I believe that you need to understand the way your camera responds to light. Understands it’s limitations, understand it’s strengths and learn how to use those strengths and avoid the weaknesses.

And that’s a really important consideration. Today the majority of the cameras on the market are capable of making great images…… Provided you know how to get the best from them. One may be stronger in low light, one may be better in bright light. It may be that one camera will suit one job or one scene better than another. You need to learn about these differences and understanding the underlying technologies will help you figure out which cameras may be candidates for your next project.

It’s not just the camera tech that’s important to understand but also how to manage the footage all the way from the camera to delivery. While you don’t need to be an expert colorist, it certainly helps if you know the process, just as film cameramen know about color timing and film processing. A trend that is growing in the US is high end cinematographers that also grade.

This has come about because in the days of film the cinematographer could determine the look of the finished production through a combination of lighting, the choice of film stock and how it was to be processed. Today a cinematographer may have much less control  over the final image as it passes through the post production and grading process. Often the final look is determined by the colorist as much as the cinematographer. By also becoming colorists and staying with their material all the way through post production, cinematographers can retain control of the final look of the production.

As HDR (High Dynamic Range) delivery becomes more important along with the need to deliver SDR content at the same time, a good understanding of the differences between and limitations of both systems will be needed as you may need to alter the way you expose to suit one or the other.

So, there is lots that you need to know about the technology used in todays world of digital cinematography. Where there is a big enough budget DIT’s (Digital Imaging Technicians) can help cinematographers with guidance on camera setups, gamma, color science, LUT’s and workflows. But at the low budget end of the market, as a cinematographer you need at the very least a firm grasp of how a modern camera works, how to correctly mange the dat it produces (you would be amazed how many people get this wrong). Finally how the material handles in post production, if you really want to get the best from it.

It isn’t simple, it isn’t always easy, it takes time and effort. But it’s incredibly rewarding when it all comes together and results in beautiful images.

If you disagree or have your own take on this please post a comment. I’d love to hear other views.

Training Videos for the PXW-FS5 and PXW-FS7

Just a reminder that the full sets of traing films for the PXW-FS5 and the PXW-FS7 are available for viewing for free on YouTube.

The FS7 videos can be found by following this playlist link.

There are 10 videos taking you from basic setup all the way through scene files, cine EI and the effects shooting modes.

There are currently 2 PXW-FS5 videos.

The first on picture profiles and picture settings is here.

The second on the advanced shooting modes is here.

I am currently working on a further video on using the FS5’s raw output and this should be available in the next couple of weeks.

Don’t forget if you have any questions I have my Webinar day coming next week.

 

Free Webinar Day – July 26th 2016.

Free Webinar Day – July 26th 2016.

On Tuesday the 26th of July I will be hosting a series of free live webinars giving you the chance to ask me questions about many of the things I write about here. This is a trial run, I’ve done webinars for many people in the past and they have always gone down well, but these webinars are going to come live from xdcam-user HQ.

If they are a success I will make this a regular event with a webinar day once a month with new subjects covered each time as well as an open Q&A session.  This will give you the chance to ask questions on any aspect of video production, so start thinking about what you want to ask.

If you haven’t attended a webinar before here is how it works: You log in online to the webinar using the link provided. You will hear me and any guest presenters and see any pre-prepared information slides that I have on your computer/tablet/phone screen.  You ask questions by typing them into a question box, nobody will see or hear you. I will try to respond to as many questions as I can within the one hour time limit. The session will also be recorded and can be downloaded later if you wish. There are dedicated online versions of the webinar page for computers, tablets and smart phones, so you should be able to log in almost anywhere where you have an internet connection.

There will be 2 webinars where I will take questions on any of the Sony large sensor cameras, including the FS5, FS7, F5 and F55.  If you want to know about settings, exposure, LUT’s, slow mo, lenses or anything else you can ask me on the 26th. These are timed so that there is an opportunity for people in most countries around the world  to join one or the other at a sensible time of day.

Click on the appropriate link below to register.  Please only register for sessions you will actually attend as numbers are restricted.

Session 1: Ask anything about the FS5, FS7, F5 and F55. Tuesday July 26th, 8am – 9am GMT. (9:00 BST, 10:00 CET,  12:00 Dubai, 13:30 Delhi, 16:00 Singapore, 18:00 Sydney).

Session 2: Ask anything about the FS5, FS7, F5 and F55. Tuesday July 26th, 18:00 – 19:00 GMT. (19:00 BST, 20:00 CET, 14:00 NYC, 11:00 LA).

HDR Session 1: What is HDR and what do I need to know? Tuesday July 26th,  10am – 11am GMT. (11:00 BST, 12:00 CET,  14:00 Dubai, 15:30 Delhi, 18:00 Singapore, 20:00 Sydney).

HDR Session 2: What is HDR and what do I need to know? Tuesday July 26th,  16:00 – 17:00 GMT. (17:00 BST, 18:00 CET, 12:00 NYC, 09:00 LA).

If you can’t attend I will make the recordings available after the day. If you think this is a good idea then please share this page so others can also join in.

One Week Intensive Workshop. 21st – 27th August, Arizona, USA.

I will be running a one week, limited numbers, intensive workshop in Arizona between August 21st and August 28th.

alister-tucson-lightning-233x300 One Week Intensive Workshop. 21st - 27th August, Arizona, USA.
Lightning over Tucson

This workshop is timed to coincide with the Arizona monsoon season which will should give us some really exciting opportunities to put into practice many of the things that will be taught during the week.

Each day will begin with a  2  to 3 hour workshop on different aspects of modern video production including such things as log, raw and high dynamic range. We will also cover timelapse photography, lightning photography and include some basic motion control methods. So the workshop will be suitable for both still photographers as well as video camera operators. Below is an idea of the topics that will be covered:

Sunday 21st: Arrival day. Social evening, time to meet everyone.

Day 1: An introduction to lightning photography and video, including basic time lapse and slow motion techniques.

Day 2: An introduction to scene files, picture profiles, log and raw.

Day 3: CineEI, exposure index, gain and ISO and offsetting your exposure for the best results.

Day 4: Post production grading with DaVinci Resolve including the use and creation of LUT’s. How to use ACES to streamline your workflow.

Day 5: HDR, high dynamic range and Rec 2020.

Saturday 27th: Putting it all together, editing, grading and viewing your footage before social evening and diner.

Sunday 28th: departure day.

Lightning03-300x169 One Week Intensive Workshop. 21st - 27th August, Arizona, USA.
Night time thunderstorm in Arizona.

This schedule is subject to change as we will want to maximise opportunities to get out and shoot any interesting weather and storms. Most afternoons and evenings we will be out and about putting the things taught in the workshops into practice. For one half of the week we will likely be based in Tucson, Arizona and the other half Flagstaff. This will give us opportunities to shoot the incredible lighting storms that are common at this time of year as well as spectacular scenery such as the Grand Canyon or old western towns such as Tombstone (the location of the OK Coral). We will shoot conventional video clips as well as time lapse, so expect some early starts or late finishes as we shoot sunsets and possibly sunrises.

The minimum number of participants for this workshop is 4 and the maximum is 8. Ideally you should bring your own camera equipment and a laptop to edit with, but this is not a requirement.

The course fee is $1,500 USD per person. This does not include accommodation, food or your transport to Tucson, Arizona. It does include transportation each day of the course. We will be staying in a mid-priced motel (Holiday Inn Express, Hilton, Hampton Inn or similar), and you should budget around $110-$150 per night for accommodation.

Please use the contact form if you are interested in joining this exciting workshop.