Tag Archives: video

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.

Venice in Cape Town. HDR Video excerpt.

Just over a week ago I was in Cape Town with a few hours to spare before my flight home and access to a Sony Venice. So what could I do other than go out and shoot. Here is some of the footage with a quick grade applied – in HDR.

The workflow:  I shoot X-OCN ST at 25p and 50p on the Venice camera. 25p was requested by Visual Impact South Africa, the owners of this camera as this is the most common frame rate used in productions they are involved with. The material was backed up to a small portable USB3 raid unit so I could bring it home. Then it was graded using DaVinci Resolve and it’s ACES colour managed workflow with the output set to Rec2100 ST2084. I used a Shogun Inferno and both an LCD HDR Sony Bravia TV and an OLED HDR Philips TV to get a feel for how the images would look on both LCD and OLED technologies.

The file was exported as a UHD ProRes file so that the file direct from Resolve could be uploaded to YouTube. Because I used a colour managed workflow Resolve adds the correct HDR flags to the clip when you render the timeline out. As a result YouTube knows the file is HDR and if you view with a computer or SDR TV YouTube applies it’s default HDR10 to Rec709 LUT and you see the video in SDR. Watch with a direct connection to YouTube with an HDR TV (for example using a browser or YouTube player built in to the TV) and you will get the HDR version. This is probably the simplest way to reliably get HDR clips to play properly on YouTube (which currently does not accept HEVC files).

So here’s the clip.

IMPORTANT: The clip is HDR10, designed to be watched directly on an HDR TV using the TV’s built in web browser or YouTube player application.

Those  watching on a normal computer, SDR TV or any other non HDR device  will see the HDR clip with YouTube’s SDR/Rec709 LUT applied, so it isn’t exactly optimum for SDR. The YouTube HDR to SDR LUT causes some slightly odd colours in some of the clips. If you can, watch the clip directly on YouTube with an HDR TV.

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.


Stella 1000 and Stella 2000 Camera Lights.

20161012_141332-1024x576 Stella 1000 and Stella 2000 Camera Lights.
The diminutive but incredibly bright Stella 1000 from Light & Motion.

I have been loaned a set of 4 Stella lights to test. I have the Stella 1000, 2000, 5000 Pro and 7000 Pro to play with and test. I’m going to take a quick look at the 1000/2000 now and will write up the 5000/7000 in a later article. These lamps are made by Californian company Light & Motion (www.lightandmotion.com) and I have to admit that this is a new brand to me. The portable lighting market is full of many different lights from different manufacturers, so it’s a tough market to stand out in. However these lights really do stand out from the crowd for many different reasons.

Build Quality: If you are going to stick a light on the top of a news camera it had better be tough. It’s going to get bumped, bashed, knocked and generally have a tough life. The Stella lamps are all beautifully made. The bodies are made from a very robust feeling plastic material while the lamp surround is made out of anodised aluminium that acts as a heatsink to keep the lamps cool. They have been built to withstand being dropped onto concrete from 1m multiple times without breaking and while I haven’t actually tested this, I do believe that they would survive this and the rigours of life on top of an ENG camera.

20161012_141426-1024x576 Stella 1000 and Stella 2000 Camera Lights.
The slightly larger Stella 2000 lamp.

Power: The lamps have built in high capacity batteries. You don’t need to buy batteries or run the lamps of the cameras batteries. The internal battery in the Stella 1000 will run it for an hour on full power and around 7 hours at low power. The brighter 2000 will give about 50 mins at full power and 6 hours on low power. If you want longer run times you can attach an adapter to run the lamp from an external power source. Re-charging is fast at a little under 2 hours from flat and you can pack these in the hold of an aircraft as the battery is installed internally and under the current restrictions for Li-Ion batts on aircraft.

Control: The lamps have a built in dimmer that allows you to select one of 6 different brightness levels. Being LED units there is no  color temperature change as you dim the lamps. The dimmer control can be locked in the off position to prevent accidental operation, plus the lamps have a thermal cutoff to prevent damage if left on by mistake when covered or perhaps packed in your luggage. There are 3 LED’s that indicate the batter state and dimming level.

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Dimming and power control of the Stella 2000 portable video light.

High Quality Light: Instead of the more common LED panel design with an array of a large number of small LED’s the Stella’s feature a single high power Chip 5000K LED.  This gives a beam angle of 120 degrees and the light is very uniform across this entire spread. The lamp heads are designed to take modifier lenses that can be used to reduce the beam spread to 50 degrees and 25 degrees if you need more of a spot light. I used the 25 degree fresnel adapter to turn the Stella 1000 to a mini spot light and it was very effective.

20161012_141432-1024x576 Stella 1000 and Stella 2000 Camera Lights.
The high intensity 90 CRI/90 TLCI chip LED of the Light & Motion Stella 2000

The quality of the light from these lamps is very good. The have a CRI of 90 as well as a TLCI of 90. They are also flicker free so suitable for shooting at high frame rate. In use I found the lamps gave great skin tone rendition and I didn’t see any of the green cast that is often common with lower quality LED lamps.

These are surprisingly bright lamps. The Stella 1000 is 1000 lumens and surprise, surprise, the Stella 2000 is 2000 lumens. That’s one heck of a lot of light from such a small and compact unit. Everyone that I have shown these lights to has been impressed by the intensity of the light output. The Stella 1000 is similar to a 75W tungsten lamp and the 2000 close to a 200W tungsten lamp. As the Stella’s are daylight balanced if you are using them as a fill light when shooting into the sun there is no need to gel them as you would with a tungsten light. Add to that the ability to use a clip on fresnel lens to narrow the beam angle and you are approaching the performance of 300W gelled tungsten fresnel fixture but with a compact battery operated lamp. I would consider the Stella 2000 as a replacement for an Arri 300 fresnel in many applications.

Waterproof! The Stella 1000 and 2000 are waterproof! Not just shower and splash proof, but completely waterproof. They can be operated underwater at depths of up to 100m with needing to buy any extra seals or fit any bungs or plugs. I know that when I shooting in adverse weather conditions this will be a big deal as normally the camera will have a nice fitted cover, but the top light is almost always left exposed to the elements. Now I don’t need to worry.

Light and Motion have a wide range of accessories for these lamps including all kinds of different mounts and handles.  As well as the usual barn doors there are some clever light modifiers including the clip on 25 degree fresnel lens, a clip on 50 degree lens, a clip on diffuser, gel holder and glo bulb.

So far I have been really impressed by what these small lamps can do.  They may not have variable color temperature, but the consistency and quality of the light they produce is amazing. The companies tag line is “Beyond Bright” and I’m inclined to agree.

I’ve also been loaned the Stella 5000 Pro and 7000 Pro to test. I’ll be writing about these beauties in the coming weeks!

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.

PXW-FS5 Tutorial Videos.

I was asked to prepare two tutorial videos on the PXW-FS5 for Sony. The first video covers the advanced features of the camera including super slow mo and the variable ND filter. The second video gives an overview of the picture profile settings with some suggestions for which to use and when, including the correct exposure for S-Lo2 and S-Log3.

There should be some downloadable PDF guides to go with these videos coming shortly.

Quick tips for shooting lightning – Video and Stills.

day2-frame-2-300x155 Quick tips for shooting lightning - Video and Stills.
At night we shoot lightning!

With the UK set to see a couple of days of strong and severe thunderstorms I thought I would put together a very quick guide to shooting lightning with both stills cameras and video cameras. Your first issue will be finding somewhere dry to shoot from, you don’t want rain on your camera or lens. You also do need to consider safety. Lightning is dangerous, it can strike many miles from a thunderstorm. If you can hear thunder you are in the strike risk area, so do take care. One of the safest places to be in a thunderstorm is inside a car. If the car is struck the electricity will pass through the body of the car and not through the occupants, before jumping from the underside of the car to the ground. If you are shooting from a car stay inside the car, don’t sit with your feet out of the door or any part of you touching the ground. Don’t sit in the car while holding on to a camera on a tripod outside the car. Don’t stand under trees, they can explode when struck by lightning, don’t stand on the very top of a hill. Use your common sense.

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Long exposure captures great nigh time lightning.

For either stills or video you’re really going to want to use a tripod to get the very best results. As you often get strong winds around thunderstorms you want a good stable tripod. If it is windy keep a close eye on the camera and tripod, you don’t want it blown over by a strong gust of wind.

A wide angle lens will increase your chances of getting a lightning bolt in your shot, but the wider the shot the less detail you will see in the lightning bolt. You can always crop in to a wide shot a bit if it’s too wide. I like to have something in the foreground to give some interest to the image, but try to avoid too many obstructions to the skyline as these will block your view of the lightning.


This is probably the easiest for still photos, but it has many challenges. One is focus as it’s hard to focus on a brief flash of lightning. You will need to use manual focus, autofocus will not work. Start by focussing on a very distant object, perhaps lights on the horizon, the moon, stars or any other VERY distant object, preferably a mile or more away. Then check and double check your focus. Lightning is very fine and if it’s out of focus it will ruin the shot. If you don’t have anything to focus on set the lens to infinity, the sideways “8” symbol is infinity and there will normally be a line to mark the point of infinity focus. Infinity is often NOT at the very end of the lenses focus travel so check for the proper infinity mark. By the way, take a torch/flashlight if your going out in the dark!


You will need to use a tripod. If you have a cable release or other electronic shutter release use it to trigger the camera to prevent shaking the camera as you will need to use a long exposure. As you will be using a long exposure you want to use a low ISO. I typically use 200ISO with an exposure of between 10 and 30 seconds depending on the frequency of the lightning and how bright the surrounding area is. If you are in a town or city with lots of street light you will probably need to use a shorter exposure, maybe 10 to 15 seconds. Out in the countryside you might be able to use 20 to 30 seconds. For the aperture you don’t want super shallow depth of field as this will show up any focus errors, so don’t use your lens wide open. I normally use somewhere around f4 to f8, so f5.6 is probably a good starting point. Take some test shots and check that you are not over exposed.

As a starting point try: 200ISO, f5.6, 10 second exposures, manual focus.

Once the camera is set, it simply a case of snapping away taking pictures until you get lucky and capture one in the frame. It takes a bit of luck and patience, but don’t give up too soon, just keep snapping away. You can just delete all the no good shots later.

700-lightning-sunset-close-1024x576 Quick tips for shooting lightning - Video and Stills.
Evening thunderstorm in Tucson, Arizona


If your camcorder has a CMOS sensor (as most do these days) you want to use the slowest shutter speed that you can get away with. If you can control the shutter manually turn it off or reduce it to 1/25 or 1/30. This will reduce the likelihood of you getting lightning bolts that only go half way down the screen, an effect know as “rolling shutter” or “flash band”. If shooting after dark, if you have a camera with full manual control then instead of shooting at the usual 24, 25 or 30 frames per second, consider shooting at half of this, perhaps at 12, 12.5 or 15 frames per second (S&Q motion, slow shutter etc), again with the shutter set to OFF. While this does mean that the motion in your final video will be sped up it almost guarantees that you won’t get any rolling shutter issues. You will need to have the camera on a tripod if doing this to prevent excessive image blur from movement of the camera. The slightly sped up video can also give the pleasing (but fake) impression that the lightning is more frequent than it really is making your shots more dramtic. If you don’t want this simply play the video back at half speed.


This is really tough unless you have special equipment. You can’t use a long exposure as you would at night because the bright daytime light will wash out the lightning bolts.

Very often a lightning bolt is made up of several flashes in rapid succession. If you do have fast enough reactions and a fast enough camera, you can get the secondary flashes. You will need to use manual focus and manual exposure so there isn’t a delay while the  camera thinks about focus and exposure which delays the release of the shutter. Use a tripod with a cable release or remote shutter and use a longish exposure, 1/30th or 1/15th as there can be up to 1/10th of a second delay between flashes and there could be multiple flashes, you don’t want too fast a shutter speed. Set your focus on a very distant object, use a low ISO, again I typically use 100 or 200 ISO. Shoot a couple of test images and set the aperture so that you have a very slightly underexposed shot, may -1EV to -1.5EV, the slightly darker overall image will help the bright lightning show up better. Then it’s just a case of pointing the camera at the storm on a tripod, with your finger on the trigger and try to hit that shutter release as soon as you see any lightning. I find it’s better to not look through the viewfinder, just look in the direction the camera is pointed. You may be lucky, maybe not, a lot will depend on the type of lightning in the storm and your reaction speed. A better way is to use a dedicated lightning trigger such as a Patchmaster: http://www.fotokonijnenberg.nl/patchmaster. This will trigger the camera electronically if it detects any lightning. It’s MUCH faster and can react much quicker than any human, but it still has some lag time so even a lightning trigger won’t capture every bolt.

A final daytime method is to use an adaptation of the night time DSLR method. If you add a strong ND filter a small aperture around f16 and use a low ISO you may be able to get an acceptable long exposure during daytime, perhaps a couple of seconds. Then set the camera to take photo’s continuously (so when you hold the shutter button down the camera will take one photo after another). By locking down a remote shutter release the camera will take a continuous stream of photos with only a very minimal gap between each picture taken. So you have a high likely hood of capturing any lightning bolts, but you will also end up with a lot of pictures that don’t have any lightning in them. You can either discard these empty frames or use all the frames to create a time-lapse video of the storm.

Have fun, stay safe.

If you find the guide useful, please consider buying me a beer or a coffee.


pixel Quick tips for shooting lightning - Video and Stills.


Video overview of MTF Services B4 2/3″ to super35mm adapter.

In this video I take a look at the MTF Services (http://www.lensadapter.com) B4 2/3″ to super35 mm lens adapter. This adapter allows you to use a conventional 2/3″ ENG zoom lens on most video capable cameras that have a Super35 sized sensor or APS-C sized sensor. It comes in two parts, the optical converter (the expensive bit) and a simple low cost lens mount adapter ring. Adapters are available to work with the Sony PMW-F3, Sony E-Mount (FS100, FS700, EA50, NEX5 etc) as well as Canon EF (C100, C300, C500, 7D, 550D etc). To work correctly the lens must have a 2x extender. All is explained in the video.


NEX-FS700 Slow Motion test clip.

I was lucky enough to be able to borrow a pre production Sony NEX-FS700 for an evening and of course the one thing I had to check out was the super slow motion function. So my good friend Den Lennie let me shoot from his balcony overlooking the Belagio fountains in Las Vegas. The video speaks for itself really. The slow motion function is incredibly easy to use and I was surprise how well it performed shooting at night at 240 frames per second (1/240th shutter). There are lots of other nice features on the FS700 which I’ll write more about in a later post.