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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Worlds In Collision

What the intersection of still photography and HD video capture means for camera technology and the photographers who use it

This Article Features Photo Zoom

These three images represent the colliding worlds, but illustrate that the ability to pull still images from video has yet to become viable. 1) A still-capture TIFF from a Canon EOS 5D Mark II RAW file yields a 12.48x18.73-inch image at 300 dpi. 2) A still-capture TIFF from a RED ONE gives a 6.8x13.65-inch image at 300 dpi. 3) A video frame from a Canon EOS 5D Mark II makes a 3.6x6.4-inch image at 300 dpi—not enough for real professional work.
DPP: Tell us about the RED ONE, which is having a huge impact in the motion-picture and television worlds. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages for the photographer who wants to capture both still and moving images with that camera?

Britt: The RED ONE shoots moving images at 24 frames per second that are roughly equivalent to a 12-megapixel capture, producing an exported TIFF that’s approximately 9x13 inches at 300 ppi. It does this continuously, not just in small bursts that have to buffer. It also shoots in a type of RAW format that gives the files flexibility in post. My own testing has surprised me with how good the still images are when lit properly, shot at the right shutter angle—shutter speed in the still-photo world—and exported as a linear 16-bit TIFF. I see a creamy quality in the skin tones that’s really great for what we do here in Hollywood—mostly celebrity portraiture and people shots for advertising.

DPP: What computer setup and software do we need to do this work?

Britt: The fastest you can get your hands on. HD video is processor-intensive. The RED Rocket card will help do some of the heavy lifting for RED Raw files, and there probably will be other hardware solutions coming soon, but editing video can be a huge time-sink hole without the right gear. This includes fast, robust hard drives and storage systems, and I/O options like fiber channel cards that most photographers haven’t had to deal with in the past. At 30 frames per second, one minute of video from the 5D produces 1,800 still frames. One hour equals 108,000 frames, and a five-hour shoot can generate over half a million stills. Add transcoding and rendering times with the huge storage and I/O needs, and it becomes obvious why digital intermediary post houses exist for the movie business. Plan on viewing in QuickTime and doing simple things in Photoshop and iMovie, but the real work will need to be done in Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere, and you’ll need the functionality of After Effects and a slew of plug-ins like Twixtor.

DPP: The RED ONE is a fairly large device. What challenges does this present when you’re shooting?

Britt: In the motion-picture world, the size of the RED is one of the selling points because it’s compact in comparison to other movie-camera systems. In the stills world, it’s a beast. As an operator, it’s fairly simple when locked down, but it becomes the elephant in the room between you and your subject. I had a much harder time connecting with the model while shooting the RED ONE. I think it’s best used as it was designed, with a director who’s watching from a larger screen and not messing with the camera. Add camera movement, and you’ll be increasing crew members and costs into the range of small movies and commercial productions. You need an operator who can smoothly follow the action, a focus puller, a dolly grip, dolly track, grips to build the track and on and on. Cinema-style movement isn’t the same as shooting static video or even run-and-gun documentary filmmaking where autofocus lenses shoot to small chips.

The RED ONE, though, has proved viable as a still camera on big shoots, and I think that as their new products hit the market, it will be easier to shoot a stripped-down version with a small photo crew. It really demonstrated the potential for this collision of stills and motion with the Megan Fox Esquire shoot and the Bruce Willis W magazine spread.

DPP: During your presentation at the Collision Conference, you said that the Esquire shoot produced the “shot heard ’round the world.”

Britt: The Esquire spread advanced the idea of shooting video for stills capture from theoretical to practical. It proved that this camera was capable of producing images for print. The photo industry took notice and so did their clients. I bet the by-product of this shoot—video clips of a very sexy Megan Fox—has generated huge traffic for the Esquire website. Greg Williams did the Esquire shoot, as well as a moving poster for Quantum of Solace and a short for Agent Provocateur. That’s the beauty of capture stills from video. If done correctly, both can be delivered in a usable format. Look at what Entertainment Weekly is doing with embedded video content in their print magazine. Technology is changing the way we view our information, and the Esquire shot heard ’round the world was the starter’s pistol ushering in a new world of hybrid photography as well as hybrid media. It’s really a great time to be an image-maker.

For more on the Collision Conference, visit www.imagemechanicsexpo.com.

For more about Michael Britt and Image Mechanics, visit www.imagemechanics.com.


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