Tuesday, February 01, 2011

A Forest Grows


I've been honing my photography skills, getting ready to start shooting soon on the bar flick. A lot has happened lately around here that all contributes to why my images are looking better... I'll summarize in this post what the main factors are.


First, I've installed some boom arms, one type of which I detailed in my last post. I got pretty frustrated with the flimsy mic stands though, so I went looking for something better that wouldn't cost as much as a professional C stand and grip equipment.

Man - I'll tell ya what... I love all the posters surrounding me here in the Darkstudio, but it sure does make it hard to take pictures of the studio itself or anything in it! All that busy, colorful imagery tends to overwhelm the pics. I hope you can see the forest of rods and extensions coming down from the ceiling. Click on the image to see it at Flickr, then click Actions > View All Sizes to see it larger. Or actually, once you get there, just click on the pic itself to see it enlarged against a grey background... looks much better to me.

linked arms

Hope you can make it out against Kong's flank here, but I found these awesome little extension rods made for mic stands that clamp onto any rod up to maybe 2" diameter. They're pretty short, only 7 inches long, but they're sturdy and have a big toothed clamp wheel, very much like an actual grip clamp. It seems quite strong... a heck of a lot more secure than any joint on those mic stands I put up the other day! And as you can see in the pic, you can link them together if you want to get lights exactly where you need them. These are clamped onto one of the simple wood dowel extensions I made some time go (I painted all the wooden parts black... makes everything look all shiny and professional). These are called OnStage Stands Mini Boom Arms and will only set you back $12.99 each. Mmmm... you know what... they were $11.99 when I bought mine about a week ago...

Next, the really BIG addition to the studio, which just came in today...

monster stand

The Cowboy Studio Pro Light Stand and Boom. Looking at the pics on Amazon, I thought it was about the same size as the little lightweight camera tripods I'm used to, but NO!!!! This thing is HUGE!! As you can see, I've got it practically up against the ceiling, and it could go a bit higher. The tubing is thick and sturdy... the fittings are plastic, but solid and made very much like the fittings on real pro grip gear. It's basically a lightweight budget version of a professional C stand. The extending boom arm is so long, it can reach all the way across my set table, and can be height adjusted to anywhere from table height to ceiling. This thing is so beefy and sturdy compared to any other lightbearing arm here in the studio, I think I might just get another one and retire the frustrating mic stands. It cost about $60... just about twice what one of the mic stand rigs costs if you include the price of the 3 clamps needed to make them work.

Ok, but enough about grip equipment or cheap knockoffs thereof.

The other main factor in improving my shots is three books I bought. I'll give my thoughts on each below...

The Filmmaker's Eye: learning (and breaking) the rules of cinematic composition Gustavo Mercado

THE best book I've encountered about cinematic composition.

Buy it.

No, really... what are you waiting for? BUY IT!!!

DSLR Cinema: Crafting the Film Look with Video Kurt Lancaster

I can't rate this one nearly as high as the last - large parts of it feel more like infommercials for specific products and glowing praise for a small group of people associated with the early advent of DSLR Cinema that hatched with the release of the Canon 5D Mk2 (1st DSLR with full HD video). 

However, that said, I was immensely inspired by it, and by the videos I sought out on youtube such as Vincent LaForet's seminal DSLR video tour-de-force Reverie:

... And the Making-of for it:

Also, loads of good info about how to get the best image quality from a DSLR camera that I was unaware of (and most of which also works with a DSLR-like camera such as my Lumix DMC-FZ50). 

and finally, there's 

Motion Picture and Video Lighting, Second Edition Blaine Brown

I bought this one hoping to find another good book about general lighting techniques that I can recommend, because my former choice, Matters of Light and Depth by Ross Lowell is now a textbook and has increased significantly in price. I was rather disappointed though... this book isn't nearly as good as far as I'm concerned. The main emphasis seems to be on lighting equipment and on the breakdown of jobs on a professional lighting crew, with very little useful information about how to actually create good lighting. There is some such info, but not as much as I'd like. I'd say pass on this one and just shell out for Matters of Light and Depth. Or pick another highly recommended lighting book on Amazon... it'll probably be just as good if not better.

Whew! This has turned into a massive post! I'll close out with another of my recent pics inspired by these books and made thanks to the newfound ability to place lights wherever I want:



Shelley Noble said...

Outrageously cool, Mike. The Dark Lair, the rigging, the books, the new shots! Wow!


a guy in a gorilla suit said...

These are really great shots !

I just had a talk about high-gloss perfectly stages glam photography and the cheapo lomo trendy cameras with everone and his dog taking pictures and uploading them to clog their websites… like me.

A few days ago I was in a shop with art supplies - the largest I have ever been in - and strolled through the book department. And found that I for myself wouldn't find much inspiration in most of the books. Talking a stroll with my camera and keeping my eyes open and then slightly working on the pictures after I made them (fumbling around with brightness and the intensity of the colours) taught me more than I learned in any books.
It is hard for me to find good collections of art prints… erm: collections of pictures to various topics made by different people without spending all my hard-earned money for shiny and glossy paper. I - personally - am looking for books that inspire me and make me more sensitive concerning topics like colours, contrast, light - and all the magic spread.

But thanks for the recommendation. The John Alton book is my manual concerning lightning. About the technical aspect, your blog is my main inspiration.

And the pictures are just awsome.

Yaz said...

Mike, I love the posters all around. And your lighting setup is amazing. It sould be great having all these lights ready hanged in places.

I see what meant by having a very small set. If I did not see your studio picture, I would never imagine you shooting that great picture at the top only at the corner of that table.

Thanks for posting about the books you are reading. I will refer to these later to develop my skills.

Today, I took some pictures and tried getting a shallow dept of field. The information you gave me helped a lot!

Reverie film makes me wanna try another short film with Lumix video features... I wish I had 100 lifes to try all these wonderful stuff. Maybe someday... Making of video was a very helpful to understand things better about the capabilities of DSLRs.

Yaz said...

By the way, I like the new look of your blog. The puppet's eye on the header... it is soo meaningful.

JON said...

Cool post, man! Givin' me a ton of ideas. I'll be sure to look into those book recommendations!

Darkmatters said...

Thanks everybody!! I hope to be done with these "getting things set up" posts and actually be able to post some animation soon...

Vincent Tétreault said...

Nice shots !
Your studios is very kewl too.

Reading your lightning post is very inspiring. There's so much art aspects in stopmotion that you can improve to get greater depths. They are tiny details that requires lot of reading and practice but when combined, they make a huge difference on the finish product.

Your reading recommendations are bookmarked. Thanks to share these.