Sunday, February 27, 2011

Anatomy of a "Photography with Imre" Episode

I thought I'd write a "behind the scenes" post as I've had some viewers ask various questions about how I produce my "Photography with Imre" episodes; things like what camera I shoot with, software I use to edit the footage and how long it takes me to create a show. Now I've answered those questions directly, but I think it would be more fun to go through the whole process. In general I stick quite closely to the order of steps presented below, although sometimes I break the rules if the situation merits it.

Hmm... ok! I think I've got it!
It almost goes without saying but the topic of the episode comes first. When I started my photography series I went straight for the basics; aperture, shutter speed and sensitivity. As time continued the choice of topics became more difficult to select and not because I was running out of them, but rather the contrary. I find that the more you learn, explore and poke and prod, the more there is to discover. As of writing, my most recent episode was about action photography. Although I feel it's a good primer for those interested in the topic, virtually each and every subject under this umbrella could be further investigated. For example, photographing aircraft, fireworks and a basketball game could all be considered to be in the realm of action, but each subject has very different needs in regard to camera settings, human skill set needed (e.g. panning ability, good feel for composition on the fly, reflexes) and equipment requirements.

I can also add that more commonly you wonderful viewers and fans out there are making the topic of choice easier through your suggestions and interactions on my various webpages. Keep'em coming and I'll try keeping up!

Research, Research and More Research
Once the topic for the next episode is selected, I begin the hunt for data and information. Although I might have a good understanding of certain subjects, I've come to recognize two major patterns that frequently develop. The first is fairly evident in that certain types of information enlighten me on something I did not know, thus I can include such details in the video. But surprisingly often, the flow of the episode, or how/in what order I present the goods are changed. A couple of examples of this are the white balance (WB) and polarizing filters episodes. Even though I had a good understanding of WB and the Kelvin temperature scale, the black body radiator was both new and fascinating to me. As such I started off the episode with it instead of getting right into WB settings and when they should be used. Pretty much the same goes for the polarizing filters show. At first I wanted to present the effect the filter has and when they could be used, but I started with an explanation of how they work.

Almost all of the materials I examine also end up in the "Web Resources" section of my supplemental blog posts. Some topics are far to vast to cover in great detail in a single episode, and some information is really cool but just isn't necessarily that important. So, those people interested in finding out more can peruse through those pages. Anything else that I usually add is from memory; having learned something ages ago from books/magazines or speaking with other photographers.

The Script
The first few episodes I created were not scripted; just thought through and winged. Looking back, I wish I had taken it a little more seriously, but then again, I never imagined I'd have over 1,100 subscribers and YouTube would ever make me a partner. But as I started to gain more viewers and topics became more challenging to discuss (and to reduce errors), scripting each show has become a standard.

As with most styles of writing, I begin by creating a quick outline that allows me to see the overall flow of the episode; intro, topics to cover in order, ending. In addition, this begin a more recent development, I consider the style and personality the show will take on. Notably, in my HDRI episode I went to the Calgary Zoo to both capture the stills and the video, same idea for the IR program where I went to a lake, my astrophotography show took place in space (Okay! Cartoon space!) and the action photography video was done in a semi-comic book style, which also introduced another series I'm working on. It takes me roughly a day to write one up start to finish.

I could present my videos in a very methodical and lecture like manner, but for one, I believe that more entertaining programs help people enjoy the show and even learn better. Perhaps it's not true for everyone, but during my university days I certainly had a lot more fun and better experiences in classes where the instructor was energetic, engaging and had a sensor of humor. And two, I love to do creative things --used to make 2D/3D animation work for corporate videos and television many years ago-- so this gives me a nice way to express myself and exercise the brain matter.

Do you hear me now?
One of the first things I do after writing the script is record the voice over or narration. In most cases, the video, graphics and even animations are timed in accordance with the text, so indeed, without having the audio to begin with could pose quite the challenge.

My microphone of choice is the Olympus LS-10 (yes I know, I have a lot of Olympus things) and I use Adobe Soundbooth CS4 for editing, mainly to delete dead air between paragraphs, put segments together and maximize the volume. This whole process takes me around twenty to thirty minutes.

And... Action!
The script for me is like a screenplay. Once I have that done I can begin shooting the photographs and footage needed for the episode; in some cases I already have pics to use, so I just browse through my collection and copy the ones I want into my episode project folder. Many of my vids also have various diagrams, graphics and animation to help explain the subject matter, so these too are created. I tend to favor Photoshop for editing my shots, Flash CS4 Professional for 2D animation, and a combination of Photoshop and Flash for the graphics work.

I currently use my little Olympus E-P2 to shoot the video, generally with the kit lens, but for the first few episodes I employed the Casio EX-F1 (which I still use on rare occasions). Since many videos are just shot in my bedroom (don't get any ideas!) the window and fluorescent bulbs in the room provide enough light. However, if more is needed then I'll use my studio hot-light that has three 5000K fluorescent bulbs.

This portion of production by far takes the longest time period to overcome. Episodes mostly comprised of video take the least time, as I simply shot and edit; let's a few hours. On the other hand, graphics and animation heavy shows can often take me two to five days to complete.

We'll fix it in post.
Let's see... Audio recorded? Check. Video shot? Check. Graphics, animations, etc. done? Check! All that's left to do is mash the digital goodness together so it forms a nice cohesive program. Adobe Premiere is the editor I use. Not only do I use it to transition between clips, but frequently for simple animations too. In the action photography episode, the backgrounds and Richard Steel were high resolution images, which allowed me to scale them to various sizes and shift them around in order to give the appearance of movement. Combined with a few other effects like directional blur and fading, some simple, quick and nifty effects can be produced. I render out to 720P HD video and until recently I stuck with the WMV format, but from episode 33 onwards I'll be using H.264; much better quality and the video goes live much faster on YouTube. Total editing time usually runs me four to eight hours depending on how complex the show is.

That's a wrap!
Once the video is uploaded I can sit back and relax until I produce the next show. One of these days when I manage to steal some free time, I'll tune my skills up with After Effects. I have a feeling that some of its features could speed up a process or two, especially since I'm getting into more graphics heavy episodes and potentially a music video or two.

Well off I run for now. Later in the first week of March I should hopefully get started on the supplemental post to action photography and shortly after that I'll be planning out the episode on time lapse photography. L8r!

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