Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I'm Still Here

I haven't posted anything in an eternity, but wanted to let you know I am still here.

Friday, March 4, 2011

What's The Bright Idea?

I like experimenting with my camera in an attempt to get the best Straight-out-of-camera (SOOC) shots I can. A lot of my motivation behind pursuing good SOOC pictures is to avoid so much time editing them to my satisfaction. Unfortunately my pictures almost always require at least a little bit of editing. I do have to say though, when time is available for it, editing pictures is a fun way to experiment with your creativity.
Spending many hours 'gimping' my pictures in not uncommon. When that much time is invested in creating a visual 'masterpiece' (granted "eye of the beholder"), nothing blows the wind out of your sail like finding out bad your picture looks on another computer.
Case in point, below are some pictures I edited to have a visually-pleasing contrast to brightness ratio...not too bright, not too dark and not too washed out. I originally edited the pictures on my LCD laptop screen.
Feeling pretty satisfied with how the pictures looked, I was disappointed when I saw them on my CRT desktop monitor.
So I decided to edit them on my CRT monitor, compare them side by side.

Which edit looks better on your screen and what type of screen do you have?

If the pictures look so much different of different computers, how can I be sure they look the same when I get them printed on photo paper? My wallet certainly isn't willing to find out the answer.

CRT monitors, my preference, probably have a more consistent picture, but are often dark. LCD screens are nice and bright; maybe even too bright causing whites to glare and textures to disappear--even if they are high definition screens. One of my pet peeves with LCD monitors is that their picture quality varies depending on one's view-angle to the screen.

So here is the picture editor's dilemma: how can you guarantee a good-looking picture on various viewer's computer screens? More importantly, how can you know your edits will look good when the picture is developed?

I'm not sure there is a guarantee, but I have learned a few tricks.

1. Trust the photo-editing software's 'judgment' of a good edit as a reference point. More than likely your picture-editing software has buttons that automatically balance the contrast/brightness and colors. I also use the histogram to help me know how to trim the brightness and the contrast. Sometimes I use Gimp's Levels eye-droppers to make whites white or grays gray. Unfortunately, relying on the software is no guarantee you will have a good-looking picture. Relying solely on the software can also dampen creativity. Although I've learned to trust the software, I only use it as a reference point--not an end-all solution.

2. Calibrate your monitor's contrast, brightness and color to a standard reference. Many Disney and other DVDs contain a monitor optimization tool in their setup menu. This tools walks you through a step by step process to change your TV and monitor settings to optimize the picture quality. Especially for LCD screens you may need to use the advanced display settings to get a decent configuration.

I recently found a free software program, Calibrize (http://www.calibrize.com/), that walks you through a screen configuration wizard then saves the settings allowing you to simply click a button re-optimize your configuration. This program recommends recalibrating your monitor every two weeks. I am planning to recalibrate every time I edit pictures on my laptop to compensate for whatever angle it has when I open it up for that session. Some non-free software, to justify a consumer's financial sacrifice, may do a better job of optimizing your screen. In any case, free or not, I strongly recommend researching a product before investing in it.

3. Purchase a monitor built to provide true color and light balance. Using one of these screens is probably the closest thing you will get to a guarantee that what you see on the screen will also come out on a print. Of course these are priced for professionals who see it as a necessary investment.

Maybe you have some tricks you've learned to make sure your pictures look great on a wide variety of monitors and, for certain, look good after printing.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Stationary Motion Picture

In light of the Cinematography merit badge I've been doing with the Scouts I decided to look at the Indiana Jones and the Shark Treasure story the kids and I did.

Basically, the kids created the scenes with their Legos and told me the story element; I took the pictures and tried to tie the story together in a PowerPoint presentation. Then I used AuthorPOINT Lite (the free version) to turn it into a web presentation. It was pretty fun.

While reviewing the story, I could identify a few cinematography techniques we used to tell the story. Can you identify some of them?

I strongly recommend giving this method of story-telling a shot. Its fun to harness the creativity of your kids while practicing photography and movie-making techniques.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cinematography Test and Follow-up

Here is the test we took for the Cinematography Merit Badge:

1. What is Visual Story Telling

2. What is the Cinematographer's Role in the Movie-making Process?

3. Draw a diagram illustrating four-point lighting
– Bonus: label the light sources

4. What is the 180-axis rule?

5. Draw a diagram of a Zoom lens

6. Draw a simple picture illustrating proper use of the Rule of thirds.

7. Describe four framing techniques.

8. Describe four motion techniques.

9. How does a wide angle lens differ from a telephoto lens?

10. How does rhythm affect a movie?

11. What role does viewer perspective play in movie-making?

12. How does a treatment differ from a script?

13. Why is Story Boarding used in Cinematography?

14. Label the functions of a tripod. (Official names of parts are not required.)

Here is a list of things to do to finish the Merit Badge

Treatment & Story Board

Shoot a Short Film
Demonstrating techniques discussed in class including proper use of:
– Tripod, hand-held, angle, panning, framing, and lighting

Identify Three Cinematography Careers (hint: Cinematographer, or Director of Photography, is an actual career title, search for motion picture careers that do work with cameras or lighting or other jobs related to camera-work. You might try looking at the Credits of a movie for ideas. Also, you can search the Career Guide to Industries: http://www.bls.gov/oco/cg/)
– Pick one and explain education, training and experience needed.
– Why might this career be interesting to you?

Friday, December 3, 2010


I had the opportunity to start helping our local Scout Troop earn the Cinematography Merit Badge. I'm having a lot of fun.

For the Scouts, here is a sample treatment, Story board and the video to go with it.



The figure of a young boy sits in a spacious room with his back to the audience. Out of all the activities a young boy could do in the room, he sits still. Drawing closer the boy appears to be focused, with his face down, on something on a small table. Coming in close finally reveals the boy looking earnestly at puzzle pieces scattered about the table.

The boy's face reveals his tight, serious concentration as he tests different puzzle pieces to find a fit. Sometimes the fit, but often times they don't fit. A bit of anxiety can be seen on the boys face with every failed match.

The boy's countenance changes as the pieces start coming together. He appears to be filled with hope and encouragement. Perhaps he speeds up his pace as each successful puzzle match feeds his motivation. Finally the puzzle is complete, almost glistening in the brilliance of success! The boy looks up with a look of humble satisfaction on his face.

Story Board:

Completed Video: (note: this video was filmed using a point-and-shoot camera that could only shoot 20 seconds of low-quality video at a time...goes to show you don't need fancy equipment to tell a visual story. In fact the camera didn't record sound. On my first sound video, I recorded the sound using a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) with a sound recorder and matched the sound to the video. Now cell phones can do both...with better quality.)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The RAW Deal

Most digital SLR cameras record their pictures a jpeg (.jpg) images. However the language the camera uses to understand the image it sees before it translates it to jpeg is called the RAW data. There are differing opinions (among both professional and non-professional photographers) about whether or not it is better to shoot RAW or let the camera just translate it directly to jpeg or other common picture formats.

RAW contains a lot of information about the image so it consumes a lot of file space on the memory card and on the computer. RAW may also require special software and/or codecs so you computer can actually read the picture information. (I use the free UFRaw in conjunction with Gimp.) However, since RAW is how the camera sees the image information, it arguably provides more accurate images. Editing RAW images may also retain its information quality. Before you share RAW images, you have to translate them to jpeg or another format so others can view them. RAW is ideal for pictures to which you are planning to do some sincere quality editing.

Jpeg is a compressed picture format. As such a storage card can hold more pictures (with my Nikon D40, the highest quality .jpg photo is half the size of the RAW data). Conveniently, all computers can already read and edit jpeg files. However, since the jpeg is a translation of the camera information compressed into a smaller file, reduction in quality and loss of picture information may exist. Each time you edit jpeg the quality of the picture degrades. Jpeg format is great for everyday sharing of pictures and if your not really picky about the little intricacies of how the photo looks.

I used to be biased towards jpeg, but I've been playing with RAW a little bit more lately. I'm still torn on which one I like better. The jpegs come out great...and with some minor editing can look pretty nice. However I like the more natural color quality in the RAW images with which I've played. In my experience there editing raw is a little more labor intensive than the pre-adjusted jpeg images, but that is kind of the point with the RAW images. I also notice that RAW reveals a lot more detail and texture than the jpeg translations and its it easier to correct over and underexposed pictures in RAW.

I think the only way to tell which one you like better is to try them both. Below you can see a jpeg simple edit compared to a RAW (Nikon NEF) simple edit to see what you think. (Click the picture if you want to see more detail.)









But don't just use my experience...find out for yourself.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fleeing The Tsunami

We were enjoying a quiet Sunday afternoon at home when suddenly we were startled by a heart-stopping disruption. All of us were thrust to the ground and things started flying off of the shelves and walls.

When the reality hit us that we were experiencing a violent earthquake, we all dropped, covered and protected ourselves as best we could. I grabbed baby B, held her close and tried to protect her.

When the shaking stopped, we caught our breath again and made sure everyone was alright. J hurt his arm pretty badly which required some quick first aid and T could barely walk on his right food, but fortunately most of us only sustained a few cuts and bruises.

Our house was in shambles with furniture, books/papers, videos, toys, roof tiles, glass, wood splinters and fallen boards randomly scattered all over the place. We had to watch where we were stepping to make sure we didn't get hurt even more.

Now adrenaline was pumping, we were still in shock and the kids were scared ...I was too. However, we couldn't rest. Not only did we know there might be some aftershocks just as violent, we knew we only had 25-35 minutes to get out of the Tsunami Zone in which we lived...and there would be no time to wait for local authorities to tell us whether or not a Tsunami was coming.
We couldn't just drive to higher ground as the roads were all ripped up from the earthquake and if they weren't, they were blocked by panicked people trying to get out of the danger zone. We have to walk.

Fortunately we were prepared with 72-hour kit backpacks for each of us. We dug the backpacks out of the rubble and started out on our 1.1 mile walk to our local Tsunami meeting place.
This happened to be one of those rare times that the weather was dry here in the Pacific Northwest and it was a warmer spring day. I can't imagine how much more challenging it would have been if it was icy cold and rainy....or rainy, cold and stormy with heavy winds. Regardless of the weather, we had to carry on to outrun the two or three story wall of water that would potential rise out of the little river across the street and crawl graspingly up our street.
The path to the Tsunami meeting place rises up gradually with a few steeper 'steps' along the way. Our goal is to get to the first 'step' as fast as we can and then continue steadily to up to the second step and so on until we reach the meeting place.
We knew, especially with the kids' endurance and T not able to walk well on his foot, we wouldn't be able to make it all the way to the meeting place before the wave hit, but we did know the higher we were, the less impact the wave would have if it did outrun us.
We were already about 10 minutes behind schedule, just from trying to dig out the life-supporting emergency backpacks.

We continued forward, pressing on, fueled by adrenaline, heightened senses and amplified awareness as we pursued our goal towards each 'step' of added safety. As we continued, we listened anxiously for the roar of the destructive wave as a timing guide and tried to not lose ground from looking back at what might be nipping at our heels.
On the way we looked around for places on which to hang on in case we did get inundated by the attacking wave. Hopefully we could hold our position until the wave rolled over us and speedily receded. We knew we would have to hold on as tight as possible against the pressure of the coming wave and the suction of the receding wave. We were forecasting what types of debris to avoid if that situation occured.

We made it to the first 'step' in a little about seven minutes and the second 'step' was within site. With each step we were at a safer height than the previous.
Soon we could hear the faint rumble of the Tsunami tearing down Main street. The sound alone motivated us and fed the adrenaline we needed to make the backpacks lighter and our legs less painful.
Not quite to the second 'step' we could see the rush of water crawling up the shallow hill at an amazing speed...yet at the same time it seemed like slow motion. Fear engulfed us and our legs almost 'rubberized' by the overwhelming terror that overcame us. When we realized the wave was approaching faster than we could out run it, we gathered and held each other tight to brace for impact.

Gratefully we were high enough up the hill that the wave, pushed up the hill only by its momentum, was only a foot deep. Yet the impact of the wave breaking against the back of my legs and exploding around us almost made me loose my balance. The kids were crying and screaming in panic and fear...we held our ground until the water crawled back down the hill.
We were startled, scared, cold and wet, but we were safe! We couldn't hold back our tearful emotions, but we were encompassed by a feeling of relief that we survived the Tsunami!
After coming back to our senses and making sure everyone was alright, we regrouped and carried on up the hill towards the meeting place.
We were anxious about our home and how it faired through the ordeal, but we knew there was a possibility of more waves. We also knew we would be able to get help and instruction from others and local authorities at the meeting location so we continued towards our goal.
The second half of the mile-long journey seemed to drag. The adrenaline rush receded like the wave and reality was starting to weigh us down a little bit. But we took this time, knowing we were safe, to try to relax a little and take it easy. There was no need to unwisely rush to the meeting place.

We finally made it to the Tsunami meeting place, found a place to settle and prepared to create a secure and comforting environment. We changed into some dry clothes, pulled out a snack and drank some water. Some of the kids pulled out their books and started reading to help calm their shaken minds.
We were safe...and we were together! It was a blessing that I wasn't at work at the time of the emergency and that the kids were home with us. But even if the scenario had been different, we each knew before hand what we were to do.

Although the above experience was fictional, those were some of the thoughts and discussions our family had as we held a family Earthquake/Tsunami drill this past Sunday. We practiced dropping, covering and protecting ourselves in a pretend Earthquake. We all put on our 72-hour kit backpacks and walked 1.1 miles to the Tsunami meeting place. We talked about what we would do in certain situations. It was a great role play to help us be prepared in case we had to live the scenario for real. There is comfort in being prepared.

This Tsunami drill also helped us realize a few holes in our preparations. But now we can fill those holes before a real situation occurs. We do more drills and continue to progress towards better preparation. Hopefully we won't need to experience these scenarios, but if we do, we will be a little more prepared. Besides, it makes for a good opportunity to work together and enjoy each other as a family.