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tipping point

giulio sciorio at glazer's camera

I can tell when I'm in the middle of a tipping point when I get three major indicators within a 24 hour period. The first was last night with Giulio Scorio at Glazer's Camera. It was, for me, eye opening. The second and third came later today via the web.

I don't normally visit Luminous Landscape all that much, preferring to hit the place about once a week to scan the headlines, and then move on. But today Michael Reichmann published "The Ten Commandments of Cinematography For Still Photographers" which I will copy the core of below. I've seen bits and pieces of these commandments over the last few years (with a few going back decades to when I was attempting to shoot with Super 8, then 16mm). Here are the core commandments from the article:
  1. Don't zoom. Zooming simply looks amateurish. Yes, there may be times when it's useful or even necessary, but avoid doing it if you can.
  2. Turn off autofocus and focus manually. Even the best AF systems "hunt" during a shot and nothing looks worse than losing focus at an important moment.
  3. Turn off autoexposure. Set your camera to M and manually set the shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Exposure changes when they're not deliberate are terrible to watch.
  4. Set your camera to "Natural" or a similar low saturation look. Standard is almost always way to saturated and contrasty.
  5. If at all possible, shoot at 24FPS and with a shutter speed of 1/50 second if you want a "cinematic look". This is not ideal for sports or any type of action, but it produces the motion cadence that has the feel of motion pictures. 60 FPS with a 1/125 second shutter speed looks like video. If that's what you want, or when shooting fast action – fine.
  6. Use a variable neutral density filter (Fader) so that you can control the light entering the lens and adjust the shutter speed and aperture to the settings that you want. Shooting at f/16 because it's sunny out just looks awful. But that's what an appropriate shutter angle (a speed of double the frame rate; ie: 1/50 sec for 24 FPS) requires unless you have a Fader. Buy a good one. Cheap ones are crap.
  7. Move the camera slowly. Any panning should be at a speed much slower than you think looks right at the time. It will at the end. Experiment.
  8. A tripod, monopod, or table-top pod are all a great idea. Hand-hold as little as possible, and when you do, use wide lenses and stabilization if your camera/lens offers it.
  9. Use an outboard digital audio recorder if at all possible. The mics and pre-amps built into almost all DSLRs and camcorders are mostly terrible. Small recorders can easily mount on the camera's accessory shoe with a small ballhead. Sync the high quality audio with the ambient track recorded by the camera when editing. Good sound is 50% of what people will experience when watching your video production.
  10. Don't try and shoot stills at the same time with the same camera. You'll screw up both. Cameras setting are so wildly different for each that your best approach is to have two different cameras with you which share the same lens mount. That way you can quickly switch from one to the other and also swap lenses between them as needed.
  11. (Important bonus commandment): Before, during and after shooting, think about the story that you want to tell. Cinema has been described as "telling stories over time", and one can also describe them as, "telling stories through space". A still photograph fails or succeeds at its job of story telling in a single moment. A film spreads those moments out over time and space. Think about it. For the still photographer who wants to break out of a rut, or expand their creative or business options, making films and videos can have great appeal.
Everyone like to talk high concept with regards to hybrid photography, but high concept will only get you so far. You need nuts-and-bolts guidance, such as these commandments or from somebody like Giulio, who was enthusiastically sharing practical tools and techniques. You can tell from my bit of video from last night that violated 2, 3, 4, 5, and 8. I believe Giulio might disagree with 8 (Use a tripod...), but then Giulio has reached the point in his career where he can break them all and get away with it. Which points out a fundamental truth to rules such as this: use them as a starting point, learn them well, then learn how to creatively break then when you need to. Don't let them become a creativity-dampening cage.

The second is another blog post on Journeys of a Hybrid. "How Motion is Changing the Future of Photography" was published back in February of this year, sandwiched in between two other posts around the same story line. Once you read that post you should scan the entire blog; it's worth your time.

The one paragraph that stood out from the article was this one:
Understand that technology affects everything and will continue to do so. You may think in terms of what’s possible today and that it would be incredibly labor intensive to go through tens of thousands of motion frames to pull out still images. But advances in technology will change that as well in the future. Technology affects everything. Realize that software is changing too and that the edit process for pulling out frames will be easier and more streamlined in the future. In fact, an editor’s job description will change greatly and that may be a job that is in high demand in the future. Even now, just do a quick search on LinkedIn and you’ll see that while there are very few job listings for still photographers, there’s a lot of demand for video editors.
This meme, that technology is rapidly advancing and making what was once hard, simple, was driven home by one of Giulio's demonstrations where he showed how to achieve certain hybrid video effects with an app on his iPad. He did a task that would have taken a large fortune in hardware and software and tens of hours of work a decade ago in less than five minutes with his finger.

It also points to another scarey word, convergence. Consider two examples of convergence, Samsung's Galaxy NX (which I don't think will be quite the barn burner Samsung hopes) and Sony's NEX 6, to name but two. It's still early days, and it will take a while for the market to sort out the winners from the losers, but it is coming with all the force of an unstoppable tsunami. It's funny how I can see all this, living as I have for the past 40 years in computer technology, but it seems to be eye opening to general photography.

I'd also like to point out an unfortunate truth; if you want to use the best tools, or even find the tools Giulio and others are talking about, then you're going to have to do it on iOS. Last night I went looking on Google Play for all the tools Giulio mentioned and didn't find a one. If you want to get on this particular train then your ticket to ride is going to be iOS, not Android. The one notable exception is Google+ and Auto Awesome, but you can get Google+ on iOS as easily as Android...

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