Exploiting Flaws in Vintage Glass

Learning to use the characteristics of vintage glass for fun and (hopefully) profit.

Modern lenses (glass) have been manufactured in an increasingly flawless way, attempting to achieve optical perfection. I’d like to delve into the potential of using older “vintage” glass specifically to exploit the inherent imperfections present in those lenses.

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Jeff

Starter Pro Cine Rig on a Budget

Putting together a first rig on a budget without sacrificing quality

Whereas it it true that gear matters much less than a good eye and a good set of camera skills, a decent rig can help that good eye translate into great output. People spend thousands of dollars on their starter rigs – but a great professional rig can be had for under $1500 if you have a few decent photography lenses laying around. It also includes a great audio capture solution.

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Jeff

Backing up Footage and Digital Negatives using Cheap Cloud Storage

Cheap backups for footage and digital negatives

If you’re like me, you churn out a pretty hefty load of both digital film negatives (camera RAW images) and film footage (RAW or ProRes for me, but you may use a different format). This has always posed an issue for backing up original footage and photographs.

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Jeff

Smoke: The Art of the Long Take

Examining 1995's Smoke and its use of the long take

“I’ll tell you what – Buy me lunch, my friend, and I’ll tell you the best Christmas story you ever heard. How’s that? And I guarantee, every word if it is true.” - Auggie

Smoke is Wayne Wang and Paul Aster’s first collaboration on a serendipitous independent film, to be followed up by the less-successful Blue in the Face. I’d like to examine an extremely long take in the third act of the film, and the way it helps tell the film’s story.

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Jeff

The Departed: Introducing Costello and Life in the Shadows

Examining the introduction of Frank Costello in The Departed

Scorsese’s The Departed netted the venerable director his second “Best Director” Academy Award and only his first “Best Picture” Academy Award in his entire 20+ year career, despite being a remake of another film.

Many film critics and scholars have examined the film’s themes and visuals, but I would like to concentrate on a single character’s introduction and early visualization on the screen: Nicholson’s Frank Costello.

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Jeff

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen: Gilliam and the Art of the Reveal

Examining Gilliam's reveal shots in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Terry Gilliam is, in my opinion, one of the great distinctive film directors of the latter part of the 20th century. Books have been written – literally – about his techniques and his rather unique style of filmmaking. I’m going to focus on one of my favorite films of his, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, to study Gilliam’s artful reveal shots.

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Jeff

Film Epistemology

Film as a self-contained universe.

I’d like to take a brief look at film epistemology. In order for that to work, I’m going to be positing that for our purposes, each film is its own self-contained universe with its own rules and knowledge both known and unknown.

(As a disclaimer, I’m no Scott Eric Kaufmann; I’m not going to be using visual illustrations, and precious few (if any) citations. There are also bound to be spoilers of every variety, so if a film is mentioned, avert your gaze if you don’t want to learn important truths about its ending.)

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Jeff

Exposure

A primer on consistent and effective exposure techniques in cinematography

This is my workup on effective exposure practices for cinematography. It’s an attempt to provide a fairly effective set of practices for ensuring the best consistent image.

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Jeff

The Fine Line Between Confidence and Hubris

The contradiction inherent in artistic self-assessment

I’ve been trying to make sense of two necessarily contrary positions in regard to skill, art, and aesthetics. This is something of which I’ve been trying to make sense for quite some time.

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Jeff

The danger of the shortcut mentality

Why you shouldn't always be looking for the easiest solution.

In “Skill in the Age of Instagram”, I had opined about the lost value of skill sets, and how the modern approach to skills is to “approximate” them with shortcuts like Instagram, Autotune, and Photoshop.

Even though these tools offer the quickest and shortest “path” to the immediate goal, being your current project, they retard your potential growth by limiting your skills and knowledge about what you’re doing. If the pseudo-magic time-saving software is taken away (or encounters a limitation), how will you continue to be able to function without it?

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Jeff

The Importance of Failure

Failures are as important, if not more important, than successes.

Failing is a terrible thing, we are taught. As a result of inherent cognitive biases and our own illusory superiority (look up the Dunning-Kruger effect, if you’re curious about this), we believe that we are right the majority of times, that we are more skilled than those around us, and that we have nothing of import to learn from not succeeding.

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Jeff

Winning a 48 Hour Film Project

Lessons learned from winning a 48 hour film project

My team, Shoot the Moon Films, won the 2014 Providence Horror Film Project’s “Best Picture” award, as well as scoring a “Best Actor” award for Nicholas Magrey, a “Best Writing” award for Natasha Darius and Nicholas Magrey, and a “Best Sound Design” award for Aaron Theodore Berton for our short film “The Carving” (IMDb).

I’m used to doing post-mortem analyses on failures, so this is a fairly unusual task ; why did “The Carving” win against other films – especially against some very strong contenders?

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Jeff

Another 48 Hours

Yet another 48 hour film festival...

Almost six months after the Boston 48 Hour Film Festival, my team (Shoot the Moon Films) is entering the 2014 Providence 48 Hour Horror Festival. Along with seventeen other teams, we’re going to try to make a 4-7 minute horror film in 48 hours.

This is pretty far out of my wheelhouse, as I haven’t made a practice of making horror films, but my team and I are excited, and I’m going to keep track of both our successes and our missteps here.

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Jeff

Ways To Keep Your Work From Appearing Cheap

Tips for cinematographers to prevent your work from appearing cheap

Okay; so you’ve got a DSLR, a RED, a Blackmagic Cinema Camera, a GoPro – what’s next? The internet is littered with all sorts of tutorials aimed at trying to reproduce the “Hollywood look”, but where to begin?

Over my time as a cinematographer, I’ve learned quite a bit about putting together things that don’t look terrible. Unfortunately, I’ve learned most of these through the painful process of trial and error. If there’s an item listed in this article, I most likely ended up screwing up in that particular way at one time or another.

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Jeff

Modifying Computar 12.5mm C-mount lens for M4/3

For whatever reason, there seems to be a serious dearth of information regarding lens modification on the C-mount Computar 12.5mm f/1.3 lens. I am going to share my experience modifying this lens, in the hope that it will prevent other people from having the same issues which I have encountered.

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Jeff

DIY $7 Film Slate

A cheap slate for seven dollars

I can’t claim credit for this one – my extremely talented and resourceful production designer got the idea to use an inexpensive slate “prop” and modify it slightly to allow the use of erasable whiteboard markers. These are usually a bit more than seven dollars, and we didn’t have the time to wait for one to arrive in the mail for the shoot in question. There are only two pieces of “hardware” which are required to make this, along with a few pieces of duct tape, a sharpie, a ruler, and whatever whiteboard markers and erasers you are planning to use on the finished slate.

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Jeff

Boom!

A quick guide to capturing boom audio

There are quite a few guides, tutorials, videos, and other resources on how to capture usable boom audio. Most of these have a few usable sections with a bunch of fluff or useless information accompanying them. This is my attempt to compile a “quick guide” to capturing usable boom audio, assuming you don’t have a competent audio engineer in your employ (which I highly recommend). Audio is half of your deliverable product, as a cinematographer, so you should make sure that you capture the highest quality audio possible.

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Jeff

BMPC4K Workflow with Premiere and Resolve

Overview of my basic Premiere/Resolve workflow

There are a number of “accepted” workflows for going between Adobe Premiere (as an NLE) and Davinci Resolve (for color correction/grading) for BMPC4K footage. I am going to detail the workflow I have been using, which should be useful both for the BMPC4K camera, as well as the BMPCC and BMCC cameras. Preparation. Make sure your camera is producing footage at the 23.98 fps frame rate, rather than 24 fps.

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Jeff

48 Hours with the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K

This year, my team (Shoot the Moon Films), entered the 2014 Boston 48 Hour Film Festival for the first time. It’s an interesting experience, going from genre and parameters to fully formed script, to planning and preproduction, to shooting and execution, to editing, scoring, grading, and full post-production in a single weekend. I’ve learned a lot about working with the BMPC4K camera in that time. I am going to iterate over some of the more important things that I learned over the weekend.

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Jeff

CAME-06 Blackmagic Cage Review

A review of the CAME-06 Blackmagic Cinema/Production Camera cage

As part of setting up the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K, I have been trying to put together a solid, fairly low-cost set of accessories for the camera body. I became aware of a low-cost Chinese cage for the BMCC/BMPC4K bodies manufactured by an outfit called “Xiamen Came Photographic Equipment Co., Ltd.”, which are available sporting both top and bottom 15mm rail mounts, along with the normal mounting options and handles present with most cage designs.

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Jeff

First look at the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K

Reviewing the BMPC 4K body

I was lucky enough to be one of the early people on the waiting list for Blackmagic Design’s new 4K “Production Camera” body, which I received last week. It boasts a global shutter, Ultra 4K resolution, ProRes/RAW recording at 1080p/4K resolutions, a super 35mm sensor, EF mount, and around 12 stops of dynamic range – among other features. I took it out for a test spin with a fellow cinematographer, just to see how far I could push the image.

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Jeff

Lens Selection for Cinematography

Choosing lenses for cinematography

The lens of your camera is arguably one of the most important parts of the camera ; it has the job of controlling light, adjusting focus (and focal length in variable focal length lenses), controlling depth-of-field through the aperture, and adding character to the shots you have lovingly framed. (It should be noted that the sensor of a digital video camera body is also very important, in terms of sensitivity, resolution, size, and other factors, but it is out of the scope of this article.

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Jeff

Dynamic range

Dynamic range, both as a literal and figurative concept.

As a photographer or cinematographer, I’m sure you’ve come into contact with limitations in dynamic range. I have run into limitations with dynamic range in both the visual and audio field, since anything that involves “real world” signals is going to potentially run up against the ability of the digital mediums on which we rely to properly store the entire gamut of available analog data that we are able to perceive with our eyes and ears.

Written By
Jeff

Signal to noise ratio

To quote the venerable Wikipedia: Signal-to-noise ratio (often abbreviated SNR or S/N) is a measure used in science and engineering that compares the level of a desired signal to the level of background noise. This has a number of applications in engineering, but it also nicely encapsulates a basic truth of dealing with equipment, people, and works – there is always a certain amount of background noise. (For more information on the concept, check out this article.

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Jeff

Preparing for and recovering from disaster

When things go wrong...

One of the greatest nightmares associated with digital cinematography and photography is that of the specter of data loss. The very notion that your carefully planned shots or footage could disappear in a single instant can be Earth-shattering, since it may not be possible to reshoot (or may be prohibitively expensive). The best defense is to be prepared, not only for the possibility that you may lose data, but also to safeguard against that possibility through preventitive measures.

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Jeff

Composing for Aspect Ratios

Making decisions about aspect ratios in cinematography

Aspect ratios, simply put (for those who are unaware), are the ratios between the width and height of a single frame of video. Television has had a 4:3 ratio (4 units of width to 3 units of height), until the popularization of “HD” television, using a “widescreen” ratio of 16:9. I’m not going to go through the entire history of aspect ratios in cinema, as there is a great retrospective available on vimeo.

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Jeff

On Documentary Filming

I recently had the pleasure of shooting for a documentary down in Birmingham, AL, about one of the people involved in the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in 1963. For those who don’t know, that event was one of the most important parts of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. The 50th anniversary of the bombing was this September (2013), so I had gone with a small film crew to cover the event, and interview some of the people involved.

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Jeff

Are you a cinematographer or a camera operator?

There’s only a slight difference in the textbook definition between a cinematographer and a camera operator. Besides the slight variance in responsibilities (a cinematographer/DP can be responsible for several camera operators), there are some additional skills and aptitudes which play into the decision to try to be a cinematographer. None of this is meant to downplay the skill and experience which make a great camera operator. Knowing your equipment, being able to choose the proper lenses and camera settings, being able to operate that equipment, being able to interpret the direction of both the director and the cinematographer, and being able to hold together a cohesive shot – these are all the hallmarks of a great camera operator.

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Jeff

Prime Lenses and Proper Depth of Field

Depth of field is a massively misunderstood “side effect” of iris size, and an ultimately useful storytelling tool (when used properly). DSLR photography has spawned a large group of cinematographers who are dealing with largely light-insensitive camera sensors (usually producing fairly unacceptable noise when used at greater sensitivies than ISO 800). This has created a need for “fast” lenses, which are lenses which have very large maximum apertures, featuring maximum f-stop ratings like f/2.

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Jeff

To post or not to post

Even though a good portion of the work has been completed when you press the shutter button, or stop rolling, since all of your planning and execution has been completed, there’s still a final step (or series of steps) to bring that artistic effort to a presentable format. Many people shoot with default (or very close to default) settings on their camera or videocamera, and do simple “post production” by simply cropping or cutting whatever comes out of their camera body.

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Jeff

Skill in the Age of Instagram

I had started a post a few months ago, which I had tentatively titled “Approximating Skill”. It was a fairly scathing indictment of what I had refered to as the “Instagram generation”. As anyone who has been following my recent posts here knows, I attach a lot of importance to the notion of “skill”, especially in relation to art forms where there are popular misconceptions regarding the ability to “buy” your way into a particular skill-set.

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Jeff

The Age of DSLR Cinematography

DSLR cinematography (the practice of cinematography using relatively inexpensive DSLR camera bodies, which were originally purposed for still photography) has been enjoying a sort of minature renaissance over the last few years. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Shane Carruth’s new movie, Upstream Color, was shot entirely on a DSLR body. The information I’ve been reading indicates that he used a Panasonic GH2 DSLR body, with a few lenses, including the Rokinon 85mm f/1.

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Jeff

Stabilization

Cinematography is, first and foremost, an artform. That being said, I’d like to also emphasize the caveat that it is a technical artform, and requires a certain degree of skill and/or technical proficiency to be able to consistently create artful work. It could be argued that no, this isn’t the case, based solely on the promulgation of iDevice and consumer-grade video device footage. This type of footage does not require a modicum of skill, or even practice.

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Jeff

Gear vs Skill

I remember a conversation I had with my brother, a few years back. He was talking about the amount of photographic equipment which he had been dumping money into purchasing, in the hopes of improving the output from his camera. After months, if not years, of ordering and collecting equipment, he thought that one more thing would make some difference. He then had an epiphany, after viewing a photo of a sunset taken with a $12 disposable camera.

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Jeff

Heading to the 2013 Boston International Film Festival

I’m heading off to the 2013 Boston International Film Festival opening ceremonies this evening, where the first short film which I directed, edited, and shot is being screened/premiered. It’s called “Heroin; A Love Story”, and centers around a friendship in the midst of addiction in South Boston, and was written by my partner in filmmaking/crime, Brian Farmer. I’m planning on posting some photos and information about the opening night and film screening as soon as I have them available.

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Jeff