Light stands

Two Light Stands

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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:


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

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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.

Panasonic Lumix GH4 Lens Cap

Indestructible Lumix GH4 Lens Cap

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Panasonic Lumix GH4 Lens Cap

While on my way down to Dana Point Harbor the other day to meet a couple of friends for coffee I saw a view of the coast in gorgeous light. I quickly pulled off the road and grabbed my camera in hopes of getting a shot. As I jumped out of the car I removed the lens cap and—dropped it on the pavement. Immediately, a car whooshed past and drove right over it. Perfect timing. Perfect aim to crush the lens cap under the tires.

Great, I thought. I’ll need to get a replacement. But as I bent down to pick up the cap I was surprised to see that it didn’t look too badly damaged. I squeezed the lock/unlock mechanism and it worked fine. I popped it back on my camera. And it worked fine.

Panasonic Lumix GH4 Lens Cap

As you can see in the photo it got chewed up a little bit. But it continues to work just fine. I’m impressed by the build quality. Of the lens cap. One more reason to love my new GH4.

Carbonite Pros and Cons

David Salahi Uncategorized 1 Comment


I recently suffered the loss of my Windows system SSD but was able to restore it successfully using Carbonite’s Mirror Image Backup. I wrote about that experience previously in my post Recovering from a Crashed SSD. However, since getting back up and running I’ve had some more experiences with Carbonite, some good and some bad.

I was delighted that I was able to restore my system with Mirror Image so a couple of days later I checked Carbonite’s InfoCenter to make sure it was continuing to update my system image. However, when I examined the InfoCenter control panel I couldn’t find the list of backup snapshots. After consulting the online help I determined that there was just a blank area where that list was supposed to be. Not finding anything, I tried snooping around the backup disk with Windows Explorer. I didn’t find any sign of updates so I submitted a help request on the Carbonite website. They replied, saying that I should call for support on this issue which I then did.

The first tech support person I spoke with was unable to determine why no snapshots were shown. The dedicated backup drive seemed to be alive and well and populated with the same data as before my crash. So, he escalated the ticket to tier 2 support. The next guy probed more deeply via a remote connection, looking at my Windows event log and Windows Adminstrative Tools among other things. Unable to find a problem he started CHKDSK, a disk checking tool. However, the software version he used was run from the Windows GUI and it ran into problems. After running for several hours it was only 20% complete. Meanwhile, it was using 28 of my system’s 32 GB of memory and performance had become very bad, so bad that I was unable to continue working.

So, I canceled that operation and reran CHKDSK from the command line. This time the operation completed in a couple of hours without consuming all of my system’s memory. Still, CHKDSK /f didn’t solve the problem so I got back on the phone with Carbonite tech support. After poking around my system some more the latest guy decided that the only way to get things working was to reformat my backup drive. Obviously, that would wipe out my previous backup snapshots but there seemed to be no other way. So, that’s what we did.

After doing that, Carbonite’s InfoCenter showed it getting back to work on my Mirror Image backups. But there has been a minor glitch. After running for more than four hours the InfoCenter still says it’s “preparing” my drive. According to the last tech guy this is supposed to take a short while, like the 10 minutes or so suggested on the InfoCenter dialog. My PC is a very fast system so there’s no reason why it should take more than four hours. My guess is that it’s actually doing the backup but just hasn’t gotten around to updating its screen.

This type of problem is something that I run into a lot with Carbonite; i.e., a misleading or unresponsive user interface. For example, Carbonite gave me no clue that it had been failing to back up my Mirror Image. I had to proactively investigate to discover that there was a problem. Another example is the green “Back up now” button you can see in the screen shot. I recently updated a number of files that I wanted to back up immediately so I clicked that button. Nothing happened. Clicking ten more times over the next half hour did nothing either.

Unresponsive. Enigmatic. These are not words you want to use to describe your backup software but they are words that come to mind for Carbonite. I’ve been using Carbonite for several years now and these are not new problems so it’s kind of frustrating.

For the most part, Carbonite does seem to work reliably. And one time when my main backup wasn’t working because I had unplugged the external drive it helpfully notified me. Reliable and proactive are words that I would like to use to describe my backup software. Most of the time Carbonite fits this description. But sometimes it doesn’t and that can be worrying.

I will say that I’ve been pretty happy with Carbonite’s tech support. When I call I quickly get to talk to a tech support person who is reasonably knowledgeable. They don’t make me jump through hoops and they don’t sound as though they’re reading from a script. They’ve been helpful and personable. I do appreciate all these attributes when I call for help with backing up or restoring my vital data.

Update 3/12/15: After running for 20 hours straight my Carbonite InfoCenter looks exactly the same. I.e., it still says it’s “preparing your Mirror Image drive. This can take 10 minutes or longer.” This is the kind of unresponsiveness I’ve seen repeatedly with Carbonite. It makes me wonder what it’s really doing. It doesn’t inspire confidence.

Recovering from a Crashed SSD

David Salahi Uncategorized 3 Comments


I was working in Photoshop recently when my system locked up—hard. I couldn’t even get into Task Manager. I’d had a few such experiences recently so I did what I usually do: shut down with the power button and restart. Except the restart part wasn’t happening this time.

After opening the case and unplugging all my other hard drives and SSDs I determined conclusively that my Windows system SSD was toast. I was surprised as it’s a Kingston SSD and I have three other Kingston SSDs that have been working great for several years now. Kingston has a reputation for building quality products but this SSD, the newest of the bunch, was dead to the world.

The good news, I figured, is that I have a Carbonite backup plan with their Mirror Image option. Carbonite is a cloud backup service which is great as it gives me a continuous off-site backup. And the Mirror Image feature provides a full backup of my system drive with an updated snapshot taken every day. That backup goes to an external USB drive so I figured all I needed was a new SSD that I could restore to. In the end, that’s about what happened although there were some detours along the way.

The first detour was to the local Staples to get a new SSD as I couldn’t wait a week for a warranty replacement. With the new SSD plugged in, I popped my Carbonite restore disc into my DVD drive and booted up. Hmm, the screen said “Carbonite” but it was garbled and there were no buttons that I could click. Another disc had the same problem so I went into my UEFI settings and found one to boot up with 1024 x 768 resolution instead of HD. I selected the low-res setting and rebooted with hopeful anticipation. But it was no go. Same problem.

At this point, I was getting worried and running out of ideas so I called Carbonite. Happily, I was connected quickly to a native English-speaking tech support rep. After escalation to tier 2 we were able to determine the screen-garbling problem was related to my NVIDIA Quadro graphics card. By changing a different UEFI setting I was able to use the motherboard’s integrated graphics adapter and was then able to successfully boot the Carbonite disc.

Happily humming along again

Happily humming along again

From that point on, I was able to start the Carbonite Mirror Image restore software which worked perfectly to restore my Windows system to its state earlier that same morning. The moral of the story, of course, is that backups are essential if you depend on your computer. In my case, I didn’t have any data on my system drive so I could have simply reinstalled Windows and all my software. But that would have taken an entire weekend and I would have lost a bunch of customizations and user settings. Also, there can be issues with some software not being deactivated properly and, therefore, not wanting to reactivate. Having a good system image allowed me to shortcut the system rebuilding process and get back to work quickly.

So, all’s well that ends well. But before I go I wanted to mention one other problem which had been plaguing me recently. After a previous new SSD and Windows installation I was experiencing mysterious semi-random delays. Launching certain programs would take 30 or 40 seconds. But, if I exited and restarted they would start up in just a few seconds. I was also experiencing unexplained hanging during certain other operations, again, sometimes for nearly a minute. The problem turned out to be my anti-virus software. After replacing it with another brand my problems vanished. I won’t mention the vendor of the problem software as I had used them for a number of years previously with no problem. So, it may just be an incompatibility with some aspect of my home-built system. Just a heads-up if you should develop unexplained performance problems. Try disabling your anti-virus software and see what happens.

Green Screen Removal from Panasonic Lumix GH4 Footage

David Salahi Gear, Video Leave a Comment

Update Feb. 4, 2015: I noticed some artifacting around my eyeglasses and iPad with the white background in the videos that I initially posted. I went back and fine-tuned the green screen keying and eliminated most of those artifacts. There are still some glints flashing off my eyeglasses. I thought that it might be reflections of the lights but since I’m seeing them only on the white background it seems more likely that it’s the white matte showing through. There is also a slight tinge of green in my hair at the top of the frame. Not perfect, but pretty good. I also ended up extending the garbage matte to the very upper right corner. One last thought: I tried keying out the green screen at 4K resolution to see if that made a difference but I couldn’t see any improvement. If anything, it seemed more difficult to get a clean removal.

I did a quick test today of green screen shooting and removal to see what kind of quality I could get with my new Panasonic Lumix GH4. I was very pleased! The sample below shows the result.

I shot in 4K using the MOV format option and the 4K (3840 x 2160) quality setting; also, at 29.97 fps. I imported the shot into Premiere Pro CC 2014 and scaled the clip down to 50% size for rendering at HD. I then added the Ultra Key effect and adjusted the parameters. The keyed footage is shown composited on both a white matte (first 20 sec.) and a black matte (last 20 sec.).

The only other thing I did was add a garbage matte to remove about 5% of the frame at the upper left corner where a piece of gear could be seen. The exported footage is a bit red and oversaturated but I didn’t do any color correction as I wanted to focus on just the result of the green screen removal. I think this shows quite a clean and sharp result.

I used myself as the model (sorry) and read a bit of Jabberwocky from my phone. I did the shot by myself using the free Panasonic Image app for the iPad. I used the app to set the exposure and I had the camera autofocus focus on myself.

I created a second sequence using the same clip, zooming in from a medium shot at the beginning to a close-up at the end. Again, I think the result is quite good. The close-up does reveal that my focus was a bit soft, a result of letting the camera autofocus. Perhaps, I could have fine-tuned the focusing with the app; that’s something I’ll check into.

All in all, I’m very happy with the camera. I think it will be great in the studio.

Panasonic Lumix GH4 Camera

Shooting with the Panasonic Lumix GH4 and Time Remapping in Premiere Pro

David Salahi Gear, Video Leave a Comment

Panasonic Lumix GH4 Camera

Last weekend I bought a new camera, a Panasonic Lumix GH4, for video work. This camera is a technological marvel and an amazing value. I researched it carefully online before making the purchase and I’m pleased to say it not only meets, but exceeds, my expectations. In this post, I’ll give some highlights on the features I like and end with a tutorial on speed remapping in Premiere Pro CC 2014.

Lots of Great Features for Shooting Video (and Stills)

One of the features that clinched the deal for me is the ability to shoot 4K video without an external recorder. I don’t have any immediate plans to produce 4K content but the ability to shoot in 4K provides several important advantages for HD delivery. There’s the ability to make major crops in post which opens up lots of creative framing options. Similarly, it provides the ability to pan & scan; i.e., to simulate camera moves in post. 4K has an advantage in reducing noise. Also, when applying stabilization in post you end up with a cropped version of your footage. If you’re shooting in 1080p for delivery in 1080p you can’t zoom in as tightly if you think you might want to stabilize in post. But when shooting in 4K for delivery in a lower resolution it’s no problem.

Native 4K shooting is just one of a long list of features that makes this micro four-thirds camera a terrific value. Here’s more:

  • Two levels of focus peaking
  • Automatic super-zoom in (to your choice of several zoom levels) for manual focusing
  • Articulated touchscreen (tap on it to select the spot to focus on)
  • Variable frame rate up to 96 fps (camera automatically delivers the retimed footage at the chosen frame rate for a finished slow-motion effect; e.g., 24, 25, 30 fps)
  • Wi-fi
  • Free remote control apps for iOs and Android
  • Up to 7-shot auto-exposure bracketing (great for HDR)
  • Up to 12 frames/sec burst mode for still photography
  • Built-in time lapse

Panasonic Lumix GH4 Reviews

The list goes on. If you want more info check out the Panasonic Lumix GH4 product page. And see these reviews:

User Interface

Panasonic Lumix GH4 Menu

Now that I’ve had my hands on the camera for a few days I’m pleased to say that I find the user interface to be quite well done. The camera has myriad options which take a while to learn but the process of going through the menus feels quite natural. One way the camera makes things easier for the user is by providing multiple ways to do things. For example, you can typically change settings using either the joypad (4-way controller), the command dial controls (aperture/shutter speed) or by using the touchscreen. Any of these methods can be used at any time so you can work the menus in the way that’s most natural or convenient for you.

Time Remapping in Premiere Pro CC 2014

I took my new GH4 to the Irvine train station a couple of days ago in search of something interesting to shoot. It turns out that departing trains build speed really slowly so watching a train leave the station isn’t the most interesting thing. In an attempt to make it less boring I remapped time progressively in Premiere Pro so that the shot starts out at a normal speed and immediately begins speeding up until the footage is playing at 400% by the end.

To do this in Premiere CC 2014 right-click on the FX icon at the upper left of the clip in the timeline and enable time remapping:

Premiere Pro Enable Time Remapping

This creates a marker-style icon at the beginning of the clip and adds a horizontal white line across the clip. You can adjust this line up to increase the speed of the motion or drag it down to decrease the speed.

Premiere Pro Time Remapping Icon

If you do this you’ll be remapping the entire clip at the same rate of playback. In my case, I wanted the speed to build steadily throughout the clip to simulate the train gathering speed on its own. To do this, you can split the marker icon into two halves. But first you need to create a new icon somewhere in the middle of your clip. Control-/command-click (you’ll see a plus icon while holding down the Ctrl key) on the horizontal white speed line. This will create an icon with two halves that can be dragged apart:

Premiere Pro Time Remapping

Next, I dragged up the line on the right side to increase the ending speed:

Premiere Pro Time Remapping

With the two icon halves pulled apart the speed will build steadily from beginning to end.  My initial drag didn’t get the speed just right so I wanted to fine-tune the start and end rates. It’s tricky to move the line up and down if you have the markers at the very beginning and end of the clip. What I found is that moving both markers slightly inward provides a bit of flat horizontal line which you can then drag up and down. When you then hover the mouse over the flat part of the line you get a double-arrow cursor indicating you can drag the line up/down.

You can then adjust the speed at each end to any desired value. You can check the exact amount of increase/decrease in the Effect Controls panel:

Premiere Pro Time Remapping

When you’ve got the speed slope just right you can then drag the icons all the way to the begin/end of the clip if you like. Here’s my result below with a tiny bit of color correction and stabilization applied. The handheld camera work still looks very bumpy near the end of the clip. Admittedly, the camera work’s not great but the bumping motion is also exaggerated by the 400% speed increase. This clip was downsized from 3840 x 2060 to 1280 x 720 for posting here.

Exhibit of Photos from the Czech Republic, 1930s – 1960s

David Salahi Exhibits Leave a Comment

I saw a couple of interesting exhibitions recently at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego. One exhibit, titled “Collective Restraint: Four Decades of Czech Photography,” shows how photographers responded to challenges presented by the political environment during the 1930s through the 1960s. The censorship that was in effect more often than not during this period forced artists to subdue or stifle the expression of certain ideas. Even so, creativity will out as in this photo of a fly on a window screen.
from an exhibit at the Museum of Photographic Arts
The screen itself evokes the bars of a jail cell while the tiny size of the print echoes the claustrophobic feeling the photographer must have felt. In the background, closed windows further symbolize the repression. I can even see how the vulnerability of the fly trapped against the screen might be a way of expressing vulnerability felt by the photographer.

Nudes were largely forbidden during this period so photographers who wanted to work in this genre were compelled to work anonymously and/or disguise the content of their images. In this example, the nude form becomes a barely recognizable secondary layer obscured by the shadows cast by the blinds.
from an exhibit at the Museum of Photographic Arts
Finally, I saw in the background of this ostensibly innocent photo of flowers in a vase a menacing visage that might well represent Big Brother. Just my imagination? Maybe, maybe not.
from an exhibit at the Museum of Photographic Arts
Exhibit runs through 2/8/15.

Youth Exhibition

The other exhibit, “We Are Family,” includes “lens-based artwork“ submitted by students in grades K-12 across San Diego County. I found some of this work to be mundane as might be expected in a show of this kind. At the same time, I found some of the photos to be truly inspired. For example, one photo shows a close-up of an older couple holding hands. All of the technical details are correct and it’s a nice photo. Still, it’s clichéd although one might be willing to overlook this in a photo by a young person. But in the same exhibit I also found this variation on that theme:
from an exhibit at the Museum of Photographic Arts
This shot by Tyra Crawford, titled “Together Forever,” showed me something I haven’t seen before. It has both visual elegance and emotional impact.

This next image, by Isaac Gray, initially elicited a ho-hum reaction on my part.
But after looking at the title, “No,” I took a second look at the photo. I could see the figure shaking her (his?) head back and forth in a gesture of no. As I tried to see the ruling of “no” from an authority figure through the eyes of a child I also wondered if I was seeing something oppressive in that face.

Exhibit runs through 2/1/15.