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!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Intro to Action Photography - Photography with Imre - Episode 33

I'm happy to say that the action photography episode is done and live on YouTube, so do give it a watch. And for those of you curious about who Richard Steele is... well now you know! He's a fictional comic book like character I came up with in the last couple of weeks and I'll be producing a series about him called Second Shot. But yes, I'm holding back on details about him and the show, so you'll just have to stay tuned to find out more.

Boy did I love creating this episode though! I got some serious practice editing shots too. But enough about that. If it's one thing that popped out at me the most as I developed this video, it's that action photography encompasses a huge realm of smaller subjects with their own unique requirements. So if you have specific questions about action photography, then feel free to ask away and I'll answers some of those Q's in my supplemental blog post (you can post a comment below, on my Facebook wall, tweet me, or send a message through YouTube).

This episode came as a request from several viewers and I did a little vote on Facebook to see if the next show would be this topic or time lapse. Since time lapse has also been requested a few times, that's the topic I'll be hitting up for the next episode. L8r!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Woot! I got accepted in the YouTube Partner Program!

I certainly got what I consider a really cool Valentine's Day treat! A few months ago I decided to apply for the YouTube Partner Program and this afternoon my inbox presented me with the surprise. Although I did have some work to do today, I couldn't help but put it aside so I could enable some of those nifty features on my channel like that awesome banner atop the page. As time permits, I'll also be updating many of the video thumbnails to something a little more catchy. And... woohoo!!

Aside from that, around the middle of this week I'll start working on my next video, which will be on the topic of action photography. In fact, I've already been jotting down a few ideas and doing some research that has whipped around how I'll be organizing the show. I will only tease you now, but after the episode has been produced I'll do some explaining in the supplemental post.

Here's a quick fun fact before I end off this post. My last name, Balint, which is Hungarian, translates into English as Valentine. And in Hungary there is a name associated with every day of the year, so of course today is Balint day; here's a Wiki article on it... happens to be in Hungarian, but using Chrome should translate the page adequately. So there ya go.

Happy Valentine's Day Everyone!

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Quick Exposure Quiz

A few days ago I posted a quick quiz on my page on Facebook and I promised a blog post to explain it for those who might not have been sure of the answer. So, below are the three exposures (sensitivity - aperture - shutter speed) I provided and the question was: if you took a photo of the same scene, would the pics look identical or different?

A. ISO 100 - f/5.6 - 1/60 sec.

B. ISO 400 - f/8 - 1/125 sec.

C. ISO 3200 - f/11 - 1/500 sec.

Strictly Exposure
In regard to exposure, A, B and C are identical. In fact, you could put your camera into manual mode and take three photos of the same scene with these settings and the shots should look very much the same (in the section below I discuss some other effects that occur).

In making up this quiz, I decided to stick with standard values for sensitivity, shutter speed and aperture. Therefore, you can use full-stops to figure out any differences between the exposures. In case you're not familiar with the concept of "stops" in photography, I'll give a brief explanation here and I've added a few links to the resources section below on the topic.

First off, a stop can be applied to sensitivity, shutter speed or aperture, as it basically represents a doubling or halving of the intensity of light. So in regard to:

Sensitivity: The standard sensitivity (ISO) scale includes, but is not limited to: ...100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200... Each of these values is one stop apart with each successive value being twice as sensitive to light as the value before it. As an example, 400 ISO is twice as sensitive to light as 200 ISO. 100 ISO is half as sensitive to light as 200 ISO. 400 ISO is four times as sensitive to light as 100 ISO.

Shutter Speed: The standard shutter speed scale includes, but again is not limited to (values in seconds): ...1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1... As you've probably guess, these values are a stop apart, with each successive time being twice as long as the previous; in terms of shutter speed, the shutter would be open for twice as long, thus allowing twice as much light to fall on the focal plane. Of course the reverse is true, each value preceding the next is half as long, thus a shutter speed of 1/60 of a second opens the curtains for half as long as a shutter speed of 1/30 of a second.

Aperture: Lastly, the standard aperture scale includes, but is not limited to (from small to large aperture): ...f/22, f/16, f/11, f/8, f/5.6, f/4, f/2.8, f/2, f/1.4, f/1... You guess it, each value here is one stop apart, and each successive value allows twice as much light through as the one preceding it. For example, f/2.8 allows twice as much light through as f/4 does. f/4 allows half as much light through as f/2.8 does. f/2.8 allows four times as much light through as f/5.6 does.

Before moving on, you may have noticed that you have a lot more options available to you on your camera than just these standard numbers. Those "in-between" values, like f/3.5 or f/4.5 and other shutter and ISO values not shown here, are generally a third apart. Unlike the good old manual cameras many decades ago, these silicon brainy ones of today can easily accommodate/calculate such a variation of settings, thus providing photographers with a finer degree of control if need be.

Now I still briefly want to go through the quiz, and as you'll see, using the concept of stops will make this task quite simple. I'll be relating both "B" and "C" to "A". By the way and for those unfamiliar with this, positive stop values mean you are moving to a higher ISO, widening the aperture or using slower shutter speeds (in a way, methods of increasing light), whereas negative stop values mean you are moving to a lower ISO, closing the aperture or using faster shutter speeds (in a way, methods of reducing light).

B and A: "B" has an ISO difference compared to "A" of positive two stops, one from ISO 100 to 200 and another from 200 to 400. But "B" has a negative one stop (or one stop down) for aperture and the same negative one stop difference for the shutter speed. Thus, no change: +2 + (-1) + (-1) = 0

C and A: "C" has an ISO difference compared to "A" of positive five stops: 100 to 200, 200 to 400, 400 to 800, 800 to 1600 and 1600 to 3200. "C" is two stops down in regard to the aperture: f/5.6 to f/8 and f/8 to f/11. "C" has a negative three stop difference compared to "A" in regard to shutter speed: 1/60 to 1/125, 1/125 to 1/250 and 1/250 to 1/500. Thus, no change: +5 + (-2) + (-3) = 0

For photog newbies, this may also make it clearer why a negative EV compensation (like -0.7) will darken the photo whereas positive compensations (like +0.7) lighten the image. Depending on the mode you're in, the camera manipulates the aperture or shutter speed to under or over-expose the photo, respectively.

Other Considerations
In my quiz, I was not specific in regard to other image artifacts that would occur due to those exposure settings, but thanks to some eager folks, those things did not go unnoticed. One of those things is depth-of-field (DOF). "A" has an f-number of 5.6, which would produce less DOF than f/8 (B) or f/11 (C), which for example could mean a blurrier background behind the subject in image "A" or conversely, an overall sharper image for "B" and "C". Next, the amount of noise in each photo would vary. There might not be much of a difference between "A" and "B", but "C" at 3200 ISO would surely produce more digital grain; add in the effects of noise reduction and the image might also be softer/less detailed than the other two. And lastly, also thanks to a fan on my page, the difference between the shutter speeds could play a role, especially if the subject is in motion. Time would be more "frozen" in "C", but a 1/60 of a second shutter speed in exposure "A" might result in that subject being blurred (or the background if following the subject; whatever the case).

I really enjoyed creating this quiz and I believe those involved did too, so I think I'll be coming up with more of these in the future. Plus, I also had a vote going to determine which episode I should produce next and the "winner" is ACTION PHOTOGRAPHY (ouu caps lock for excitement)! For those who wanted time-lapse photography, don't fret as I'll be doing that one in the future too.

Web Resources