Panasonic Lumix GH4 Constant Preview

Lumix GH4 WYSIWIG Mode

David Salahi Gear 0 Comments

DSCF2320

One of the things I like about my Panasonic Lumix GH4 is the fact that the EVF display reflects my settings for ISO, aperture and shutter speed. I like to think of this as WYSIWIG mode (what you see is what you get). There was just one problem—it was only working that way when shooting video. When shooting stills the display was always about right regardless of how over or underexposed my settings might have been. Similarly, the histogram always showed the dynamic range to be more or less centered. It was never totally pushed to the left or right like you would expect if the settings were way off.

After repeatedly searching through all the menus I finally discovered the problem. My setting for Constant Preview was OFF. Switching it to ON made the EVF reflect the combination of exposure settings as I expect. Similarly, the histogram will now go off the chart if the exposure is wrong.

It’s nice to have the option to choose which behavior you prefer. However, I can’t think why Panasonic decided to call this feature Constant Preview. I think WYSIWIG mode is more apt. And I’m not sure why this is only an option for stills and not for video. But it’s fine with me since this is the behavior I prefer anyway.

choosing transitions while editing video

Style Serves Story

David Salahi Video Editing 2 Comments

choosing transitions while editing video

A common bit of advice to new filmmakers is to eschew dissolves, wipes and other fancy transitions. Instead, experts recommend using the simple jump cut for most purposes. I don’t wish to dispute this advice. I think that, in general, it’s sound advice. Inappropriate or excessive use of elaborate transitions can distract and detract from the story. Still, I think the answer to the question of whether to use creative transitions on a particular piece is: it depends.

It’s certainly true that if you watch top quality films and shows produced by professionals what you see is mostly straight jump cuts. But I do think there are times when the use of other transitions can be appropriate and can work better. Recently, while working on a series of videos for the Camino Real Playhouse I’ve often had creative ideas that initially seemed like good ones.  But sometimes, upon reflection, I’ve realized these ideas would not be right for the project.

Using Dissolves for The Diary of Anne Frank

For example, while working on some videos for the playhouse’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank I had several ideas about the use of transitions and other showy visual techniques. I had thought that certain of these techniques might help to heighten the drama. But, after thinking about it, I decided that this material about the Holocaust required a more sober, respectful treatment.

Even so, I did decide to use dissolves rather than jump cuts. There were two reasons for this choice. First, I was assembling several sequences to be used as promotional trailers. This was not a situation where one scene immediately follows the previous one as in a traditional narrative story. These were disconnected scenes, often out of time order, that I was trying to combine into a theme. I wanted to insert a beat between each pair of scenes to allow the viewer to mentally leave the previous scene and enter the next one.

The other reason I chose to use the film dissolve transition is that it was frequently impossible to find an appropriate point to abruptly begin or end a clip. While shooting the performances I had no control over takes. I was just capturing live whatever the actors were doing. So, the action frequently flows directly from one line to another without a pause where I might need one. The dissolve enabled me to more gracefully transition between clips.

Using Wacky Transitions for a Farce

By contrast, in my videos for the comedy Happy Birthday I chose to use some very loud and in-your-face transitions. Being a farce, the play is inherently wacky and over the top. In this instance, I felt that using playful transitions with a lot of movement would help communicate the frenetic feel of the play while also conveying a bit of humor.

So, as with most rules, I don’t think we want to follow the jump cut rule slavishly. Style serves story and we want all of our creative choices working together to produce the desired effect. We just need to be thoughtful and make sure that our choices really do make for a better portrayal of our stories.

audio tracks in Adobe Audition

SmartSound Sonicfire Pro Royalty-Free Music

David Salahi Audio, Resources, Video 0 Comments

audio tracks in Adobe Audition

Any experienced filmmaker will tell you how important high quality audio is to a film or video. And an important part of the soundtrack is the feeling that music can add. Big budget movies can afford a composer to create a custom soundtrack but most indie filmmakers have to make do with off-the-shelf music.

Fortunately, there are some excellent royalty-free music options available but one problem with most of them is that the tracks are a fixed length. If a track is 2:30 but you only need 30 seconds worth you have to try to find 30 seconds that will work and fade in/out just that part. This can lead to a lot of time spent trying to find the right part of a piece so you can extract just what you need. Or, it can lead to giving up and just using something that’s close but not quite right for the shot.

Some music services, like Premium Beat, offer snippets of 15, 30 and 60 second lengths in addition to the full tune which might be two or three minutes long. This can help but it’s still not ideal. In some cases, the editor may even have to adjust the length of a sequence to match the music.

What I’ve found to be a better alternative is the highly customizable music available from SmartSound. With the SmartSound Express Track software you can choose the exact length needed to match your shot or sequence. Here’s a screenshot showing a clip I created with a duration of 35 sec. and 12 frames:

custom music track length

The track is adjusted to exactly fit the specified time and it works automatically and seamlessly. As soon as you type in the time you can click the play button to preview the clip.

This custom length feature is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of customization. Note the Variation drop-down in the screenshot. This particular track has seven other variations on the theme. Just click to try the others. If you find one that’s close but doesn’t quite work for your sequence try the Mood drop-down. Here’s a screenshot showing the 11 different moods that are available for the selected track and variation.

choosing mood music

If you still can’t find a combination that’s just right for your needs there’s also a Mix button that allows you to customize the mix.

custom mix of the instruments on a music track

It gets better. Each tune is divided into multiple segments comprising the beginning, middle and ending parts. But it’s not just beginning, middle and end. There can be multiple middle parts which can be included or not depending on the specific length desired.

If that’s still not good enough you can fine-tune the parts manually. I’ve turned on manual timing control for the track below so you can see the various named parts: eerie, light, pulsating, etc. (Click on the image to pop up a larger version that’s easier to read.)

music arranging

You can adjust the start point of any section by clicking and dragging. This level of control goes beyond just fine-tuning the duration and allows for creative control of the parts of a track.

Oh, and did I mention that there’s a Tempo drop-down that allows you to change the tempo?

Finally, to add musical beats that sync to your action you can add hits using the Sonicfire Pro software. Choose the exact spot on your timeline where you want a cymbal swell, a drum beat, a whoosh or any of several other hit types.

customizing music with a hit track

Using these features and the Ambient Drama album I was able to generate a pretty highly customized soundtrack for my video. SmartSound music is not the same as having a composer but it provides an amazing degree of customizability for the price.

sailing

On Finding Passion

David Salahi My Journey 0 Comments

sailing

Passion is elusive. At least, it can be in my experience. I had a grand passion once—it was sailing. One of the things I loved about it was the richness of the experience. I’ve never felt more alive than on the deck of a small sailboat.

Another thing I loved was the variety of things to learn. You start, of course, with sail & boat handling. By itself, that covers a lot of territory. And then one thing leads to another and many things overlap. For example, if you’re going learn boat handling in a sailboat you probably need to learn about handling under power as well as sail. Which means that it’s good to know something about boat engines. And if you’re going to go somewhere you need to know how to read a chart and navigate. There’s a wealth of information about navigation to learn (and I learned back before GPS; anyone remember dead reckoning?). If you have a thirst for knowledge you keep going: anchoring, weather, marlinespike seamanship, safety, first aid, boat maintenance, destinations & local conditions; the list goes on. You could go on learning for a lifetime and not cover everything. But eventually my interest wandered and my passion for sailing ran its course.

Off Santa Rosa Island

Last year when I semi-retired I had intended to pursue photography as a second career. I had been an amateur photographer for many years (there are some great photo ops out on the water) and I thought I would enjoy it as a new vocation. But an odd thing happened. Last summer as I worked my daily photo practice I kept looking for a genre of photography that really captivated me, something that I had a passion for. I had heard that you have to be passionate about your subject if you want to succeed. That made sense so as I was shooting a variety of subjects I kept my eyes open for something that really grabbed me.

And, oddly, I was having a hard time finding something. It’s not that I wasn’t having fun shooting and processing photos—I was. But I was on the lookout for some niche that particularly excited me, some special discipline or approach that I wanted to dive into deeply. But I was coming up short.

sailboat

I was caught in the doldrums and felt a bit lost. Then, I discovered video & filmmaking. Like sailing, it’s a subject that is both wide and deep. First, there’s a great deal to learn about shooting video even if you’re already a competent photographer. Much is the same but much is also different. Beyond the technical questions film also has its own language, its own grammar.

The addition of time and motion greatly increases the complexity of shooting in the same way that the addition of altitude increases the difficulty of flying when compared with driving. With video the post-production process expands. Now, there is the business of arranging shots into sequences, titling, color grading and effects. There is audio, both voice and music. You work with others to a greater degree than in still photography; the list goes on.

As I’ve discovered these layers of complexity I’ve been drawn more and more into the world of filmmaking. There’s a wonderful opportunity for creativity and self-expression, things that I was looking for in photography and have found in spades within video.

It may be a bit early to declare that I’ve found a new grand passion. It’s possible that filmmaking is just a passing fancy. Passion can be elusive and only time will tell whether passion will be sustained. In the meantime, I’ll see where the winds will carry me.

Frame from the video: The Diary of Anne Frank

Videos from The Diary of Anne Frank

David Salahi Video 0 Comments

This week I’ve been editing some footage I shot at the Camino Real Playhouse during the previous two weeks. The footage is from rehearsals of their upcoming production of The Diary of Anne Frank. I’ve started a YouTube playlist for the play; the playlist currently contains four short videos. Each of the videos features a theme such as “Irrepressible Anne,” or “Developing a Scene.”

I’ll be shooting the dress rehearsal on Thursday evening this week and will create some new videos to add to the playlist.

Technology and Unemployment

My New Video, “100% Unemployment,” is now on Vimeo

David Salahi Video 4 Comments

My new opinion/documentary video, 100% Unemployment, is now online at Vimeo. This 7-minute video looks at the increasing trend of displacement of workers by robots and smart machines. This trend is also leading to increased income inequality. But some people see the potential for a new renaissance in a world where no one needs to work. Could this be a real possibility? What would need to happen in order to make this a reality?

Watch the video. Then, learn more at 100percentunemployment.fail

Crashed SSD Redux

David Salahi PC 1 Comment

For the second time in a month I’ve had an SSD failure. Both times the bad drive was a Kingston 240 GB SSD. The first time  the SSD was completely dead. I returned it to Kingston and received a warranty replacement.

With yesterday’s failure the drive was trashed but still functional. I tried booting from my Windows 7 disc and doing a repair but Windows repair didn’t recognize my system disc (the bad SSD).

So, I went back to my Carbonite Mirror Image backup to restore my system. The last time I had an SSD failure I was unable to boot from the Carbonite rescue disc (CD) and yesterday I had the same problem again. Fortunately, the last time, I was able to boot from the Mirror Image disk which is an external hard drive. This time around I tried booting from the external Mirror Image disk but was unable to make that work.

So, I got on the phone with Carbonite tech support. As before, I was quickly connected and after about 15 minutes with the tech support person she figured out a way to successfully boot the restore disc. It turns out that if you unplug the external Mirror Image hard disk when booting from the CD that allows the CD to boot. I’m not sure why that should be necessary but it makes all the difference.

At that point, I was able to take over the restore process. Three hours later my system was up and running. That’s not exactly speedy but I’ll take reliability over speed. It’s great having the security of a full system image to protect against failures like this one. It’s also great getting through to Carbonite tech support in less than five minutes. What’s not so great is Carbonite’s quirkiness. Booting into the restore software whether from CD or hard drive should not be something that requires a call to tech support. (I’m a knowledgeable PC user. I built this system from components.)

Another thing that’s not great is the flakiness of Carbonite’s InfoCenter. The InfoCenter is the dialog where you change your backup settings and monitor its status. As it happens, I tried to check my Mirror Image status yesterday morning. With all my recent problems I’ve been especially careful that way lately. But the InfoCenter was blank in the area where it’s supposed to display the Mirror Image status. I wrote about a similar problem previously. Happily, today, after yesterday’s restore, it’s displaying correctly. But the blank area yesterday made me a little nervous. I must have known an SSD failure was imminent.

CarboniteInfoCenter

One other thing that’s not great is two Kingston SSD failures in one month. Makes me feel like I’m walking on eggshells.

Light stands

Two Light Stands

David Salahi Gear 0 Comments

I recently bought a pair of light stands, one of which I like a lot, and another that I’m a bit disappointed with. The one I like is the Impact Multiboom Light Stand and Reflector Holder. The other is the Cowboy Studio Top Quality Aluminum Adjustable Light Stand. I have to say that I found the Cowboy stand not to be very well made. The photo below shows the main problem; one of the clamps doesn’t close all the way:

Cowboy Light Stand

This photo shows the problem with the upper clamp failing to close fully.

This doesn’t actually prevent the telescoping pole from being locked down. It’s just that it doesn’t feel secure since there’s no appreciable change from the locked to the unlocked position. The lower clamp locks down as expected but the upper one is as closed as possible with my unit.

The other issue with the Cowboy stand is that it’s much smaller and lighter than the Impact product. Here’s a photo that shows the two stands together so you can compare the size and sturdiness:

_1140269-1200h

Sometimes, small and light is what you want but, for my work, I most often prefer something sturdier. Also, note that the smaller Cowboy stand has a slight bend in it while the larger Impact stand looks nice and straight.

The main reason I bought the Impact stand was for its ability to support a reflector. It works well for that. It also works well as a mic boom. There are some good reviews of the Impact stand elsewhere so, for those who want more details, I’ll just refer you to those posts:

Technology and Unemployment

Trailer for My New Video: 100% Unemployment

David Salahi After Effects, Video 6 Comments

I was pleased last week to finish work on a video on technological unemployment. It’s what the N.Y. Times calls an Op-Doc or opinion documentary. It examines the trend of increasing displacement of workers by technology and the associated income inequality. It also looks at the potential bright side of the trend—abundant cheap goods and services produced by robotics and software.

I haven’t posted the video publicly yet as I’m working on finding the best home for it. I also produced a trailer for it using an After Effects template from RocketStock. I’m very happy with the template. It was easy to use and I think the result looks great. The music is from SmartSound. Using their software SonicFire Pro you can get excellent royalty-free music that is highly customizable. Once the video is publicly available I’ll post more about the video and how I created it.

To learn more about the phenomenon of technological unemployment see the Technology & Employment website run by my friend Dave Kinnear and myself.

My First Video for Camino Real Playhouse

David Salahi Uncategorized 0 Comments

A couple of weeks ago I posted my first video for Camino Real Playhouse, a community theater in San Juan Capistrano. The video features interviews with some of the cast & crew from the currently running play Professor Mack’s Last Train. The video also includes a few snippets from scenes shot during the dress rehearsal.

The play is a melodrama and, as you can tell from the video, it’s a lot of fun. If you have a chance to see it during this final week of its run I think you’ll agree.

The video is a bit rough, technically, but that’s partly because I had almost no time to prepare for the shoot. I volunteered to do some pro bono work for the playhouse and a few days later I was shooting. As so often happens, it was a learning experience.

A Video for The Diary of Anne Frank

The Professor Mack video was the first of several that I’ll be doing for Camino Real Playhouse. The playhouse is currently preparing a production of The Diary of Anne Frank and I’ll be doing a video for that play next. Last Friday I did some preliminary shooting and this week I will be shooting some interview & rehearsal footage.

Technological Unemployment Video

Before I sign off I wanted to also mention another video I’m working on, a type of piece the N.Y. Times calls an op-doc or opinion-documentary. This other piece is composed entirely of stock photo stills which provide the visuals for a script I’ve written. The subject is the phenomenon of technological unemployment; i.e., unemployment caused by increasingly powerful robots and software.  I’m producing the video using Adobe After Effects and Audition. I’ve finished all the visual work and am now working on the soundtrack. I expect to finish it within the next couple of weeks.