With HDR shooting adding another layer of complexity to things, Alister Chapman takes us through the processes he went through to create his short HDR documentary Fire & Iron.
I’ve been shooting with the Fujinon MK18-55mm lens on my PXW-FS7 and PXW-FS5 since the lens was launched. I absolutely love this lens, but one thing has frustrated me: I really wanted to be able to use it on my PMW-F5 to take advantage of the 16-bit raw. Finally, my dreams have come true as both Duclos and MTF have started making alternate rear mounts for both the MK18-55mm and the MK50-135mm.
So, when Fujinon contacted me and asked if I would be interested in shooting a short film with these lenses on my F5 I jumped at the chance. The only catch was that this was just over a week ago and the video was wanted for IBC which means it needed to be ready yesterday. And of course, it goes without saying that it has to look good — no pressure then!
First challenge — come up with something to shoot. Something that would show off the key features of these beautiful lenses — image quality, weight, macro etc. I toyed with hiring a model, travelling to the Irish or Welsh coast and filming along the cliffs and mountains. But it’s the summer holidays, so there was a risk of not being able to get an isolated location all to ourselves, plus you never know what the weather is going to do. In addition, there was no story, no beginning, middle or end and I really wanted to tell some kind of story, rather than just a montage of pretty pictures.
So my next thought was to shoot an artist creating something. I spent a weekend googling various types of artistry until I settled on a blacksmith. The video was going to be shown in both SDR and HDR and fire always looks good in HDR. So after dozens of emails and telephone calls, I found an amazing looking metalwork gallery and blacksmith that was willing for a reasonable fee to have me and another cameraman take over their workshop for a day (BIG thank you to Adam and Lucy at Fire and Iron check out their amazing works of art).
Normally, I’d carry out a recce of a location before a shoot to take photos and figure out what kind of lights I would need as well as any other specialist or unusual equipment. But this time there simply wasn’t time. We would be shooting the same week and it was already a very busy week for me.
The next step before any shoot for me is some degree of planning. I like to have a concept for the video, at the very least some outline of the shots I need to tell the story, perhaps not a full storyboard, but at least some kind of structure. Once you have figured out the shots that you want to get, you can then start to think about what kind of equipment you need to get those shots. In this case, as we would be shooting static works of art, I felt that having ways to move the camera would really enhance the video. I have a small jib as well as some track and a basic dolly that is substantial enough to take the weight of a fully configured PMW-F5, so these would be used for the shoot (I’m also now looking for a slider suitable for the F5/F55 that won’t break the bank, so let me know if you have any recommendations).
So, the first items on my kit list after the camera and lenses were the jib and dolly. To achieve a nice shallow depth of field I planned to shoot as close to the lens’s largest aperture of T2.9 as possible. This presents two challenges. The F5’s internal ND filters go in 3-stop steps — that’s a big step and I don’t want to end up at T5.6 when really I want T2.9, so 1-stop and 2-stop ND filters and my gucchi-wood finished Vocas matte box would be needed (the wood look does nothing to help the image quality, but it looks cool). Oh, for the FS7 II’s variable ND filter in my F5!
The second problem of shooting everything at T2.9 with a super 35mm sensor is that focus would be critical and I was planning on swinging the camera on a jib. So I splashed out on a new remote follow focus from PDMovie as they are currently on offer in the UK. This is something I’ve been meaning to get for a while. As well as the remote follow focus I added my Alphatron ProPull follow focus to the kit list. The Fujinon MK lenses have integrated 0.8 pitch gears, so using a follow focus is easy. I now wish that I had actually purchased the more expensive PDMovie follow focus kit that has two motors, as this would allow me to electronically zoom the lens as well as focus it. Oh well, another thing to add to my wish list for the future.
One other nice feature of the Fujinon MK’s is that, because they are parfocal, you can zoom in to focus and then zoom out for the wider shot and be 100% sure that there is no focus shift and that the image will be tack sharp. Something you can’t do with DSLR lenses.
This was a daylight shoot. Now I have to say that I am still a big fan of old-school tungsten lighting. You don’t get any odd colour casts, it gives great skin tones, it’s cheap and the variety and types of lamps available is vast. But as we all know, it needs a lot of power and gets hot. Plus, if you want to mix tungsten with daylight you have to use correction gels, which makes the lights even less efficient. So for this shoot, I packed my Light and Motion Stella lamps.
The Stellas are daylight balanced LED lamps with nice wide 120-degree beams. You can then use various modifiers to change this. I find the 25-degree fresnel and the Stella 5000 a particularly useful combination. This is the equivalent to a 650W tungsten lamp but without the heat. The fresnel lens really helps when lighting via a diffuser or bounce as it controls the spill levels, making it easier to control the overall contrast in the shot. The Stella lights have built-in batteries or can be run from the mains. They are also waterproof, so even if it rained I would be able to have lights outside the workshop shining in through the windows if needed.
I always carry a number of pop-up diffusers and reflectors of various sizes, along with stands and arms specifically designed to hold them. These are cheap but incredibly useful. I find I end up using at least one of these on almost every shoot that I do. As well as a couple of black flags I also carry black drapes to place on the floor or hang from stands to reduce reflections and, in effect, absorb unwanted light.