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Shooting my first project - any pointers?


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#1 Rob McGreevy

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Posted 29 October 2015 - 01:09 PM

Hey guys,

I'll be attempting to shoot my first project in mid december and I could definitely use some guidance. I've been G/E for almost 10 years. I've done a little camera stuff during that time but...the technology has definitely gotten away from me somewhat and I'm currently playing catch up.
 
I'm sure I'll have a lot of questions over the next month and a half as I prep for this thing, but here's two good ones to start: first off, can anyone point me in a good direction to learn some of the things I need to learn? I read online articles/posts on this forum everyday, I also have a big fat book on digital cin. that I've been going through...some of it just doesn't make sense in practical terms I guess. I've got a ton of abstract concepts floating around in my head, are there any resources that explains things in practical, this-is-how-this-concept-applies-on-set terms?
 
Also, what kind of camera should I use? I know, I know, hopelessly general question with dozens of variables...let me be a little more specific: this is for a web series, main viewing platform would probably be youtube. Is 4k really necessary? What kind of bit depth should I be looking for? I think we want to color correct in post, what offers the best workflow/shooting format? Budget wise I'm not really sure what we have yet, but the director said she would try to arrange to get me whatever camera I wanted to shoot on...the only answer i can really give is Alexa because that's the one all the DPs I work with prefer. As a lighting guy I have to say I somewhat agree, the low light sensitivity sure makes my job easier... I know it also has crazy dynamic range and that's really the only opinion I can state on the matter. Other than those two things are there any other big advantages it offers over say a Red Epic (which I believe the director can get a good deal on and so is a very likely contender) or some other lower end, pro-sumer camera? I guess when selecting a camera I'm not really sure what technical specifics to consider other than light sensitivity, stop range, work flow and lens compatibility.
 
Thanks guys, any advice is greatly appreciated

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#2 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 30 October 2015 - 02:52 AM

What specifically are the gaps in your knowledge that you are looking to fill? If you want to learn about how to light and expose for a specific camera system, then you really need to get hands-on with it, shoot tests, watch them, and then make adjustments until you find the look you want. I would highly recommend going to a rental house. Get to know the staff, and ask if you can shoot some tests with the various cameras they have in the shop. They'll most likely be happy to give you the basic rundown of how to build and set them up if they're not too busy.

Impossible for us to say if shooting 4K is necessary for your project. That's really more for your producer to decide since they would know what kind of deliverables they are required to create. If the final deliverable requirement is 1080p or 2K, then shooting 4K is more of a judgment call on your part.

In my opinion, the biggest advantage the Alexa has in the current market is its simplicity of use. There are relatively few menus and options to select, and changing the basic camera settings like frame rate, shutter speed, white balance, and ISO are dead simple. If you're recording Prores and are using a Mac, then you don't need any specialized software to play and edit the footage. These things are marginally more complicated with other camera systems.

In any case, it sounds like you should hire an experienced 1st AC that you can lean on for technical expertise. Then just worry about storytelling, blocking, framing, and lighting. :)
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#3 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 30 October 2015 - 03:00 AM

Satsuki hit the nail on the head.
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#4 Rob McGreevy

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Posted 03 November 2015 - 01:49 PM

Thanks for the response, guys...as far as gaps in my knowledge goes, I guess largely what it comes down is I'll never understand the math. The book I've been reading up on covers stuff like de-bayering algorithms, nyquiest sampling math, etc...I think I have a general understanding of most of these concepts, but I'll never understand the math behind any of it, I'm just not mentally geared that way. So I guess I'm wondering, how much of that stuff do I really need to know? I'm sure I need to be at least somewhat familiar with most of it, but just looking at all those equations gives me a headache. 

 

Also, there's a bit of a gap for me between abstract concept and practical application. For example, I understand what a LUT is and what it does. But I have no idea how to apply one, either in camera or in post. I know these are things that just take some repetition to learn, but in the mean time is this the type of thing I can expect to rely on an AC/DIT to cover for me until I get a little more hands on experience?

 

I feel pretty comfortable lighting/exposing in general as that's what I've been doing for years. As far as doing so for individual cameras no I'm not up to speed with how things expose on specific camera models. Going to the rental house and shooting tests is definitely good advice, I used to work at one and will be doing that soon.


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#5 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 03 November 2015 - 03:10 PM

The book I've been reading up on covers stuff like de-bayering algorithms, nyquiest sampling math, etc...I think I have a general understanding of most of these concepts, but I'll never understand the math behind any of it, I'm just not mentally geared that way. So I guess I'm wondering, how much of that stuff do I really need to know? I'm sure I need to be at least somewhat familiar with most of it, but just looking at all those equations gives me a headache. 

 
You don't need to know any of it, there are plenty of DPs, operators, and ACs who don't know the math on these kinds of things. You should know what these things like Nykvist limit and debayering are and how they affect the image. But you don't need to be able to calculate these things yourself.

Also, there's a bit of a gap for me between abstract concept and practical application. For example, I understand what a LUT is and what it does. But I have no idea how to apply one, either in camera or in post. I know these are things that just take some repetition to learn, but in the mean time is this the type of thing I can expect to rely on an AC/DIT to cover for me until I get a little more hands on experience?

 
Yes, applying LUTs is the DIT's job. If it's a small job with no DIT then the AC should be able to handle it. Ask them to show you how to do it. At the most basic level, most cameras these days have pre-installed Log to Rec 709 LUTs which you can either use to monitor or bake into the recording. In the meantime, why not download Davinci Resolve Lite, read the manual, and play with the LUTs in the Color page? It's pretty straight-forward and your DIT and colorist will probably be using something similar, so it'll be a good common base for you to start learning from.

I feel pretty comfortable lighting/exposing in general as that's what I've been doing for years. As far as doing so for individual cameras no I'm not up to speed with how things expose on specific camera models.


This is probably where you should concentrate your focus. I think you'll feel more confident once you know the different cameras, their interfaces, the different settings, and what each system's strengths and limitations are. Maybe just start with the two cameras you will most likely be using on this project so you don't get overwhelmed with info. Best of luck!
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#6 Matthew Padraic Barr

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Posted 03 November 2015 - 05:31 PM

I would also like to add that testing is extremely important.
Testing lenses, cameras, filters, LUTs, and the overall look
including the lighting, color schemes, overexposure and
underexposure limits; when/if actors become available for you,
you can test lighting for that individual -- every face is unique
and responds uniquely to different colors and qualities of light
-- this is especially important if they are female.

Testing is always important, even for seasoned veterans.
I think it's even more important early on when you might not
have the experience; you can make up for that by testing a lot.

Even if you can't test a lot of the things I mentioned above,
you can be vigilant in pre-production, thinking up problems,
and possible contingencies, scouting locations and taking lots
of pictures and pre visualizing lighting approaches.
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