Harris Fogel caught up with David Saffir and myself at PhotoPlus Expo, and spent an evening discussing color management, as it relates to photography, mobile, and video. Here’s a MacEditionRadio.com audio interview that captures some of that conversation. Thanks, Harris, for an interesting evening, and a very professional interview!
Time lapse photography consists of a series of still images, taken at intervals, which can be played back as a fast-motion video. Timelapses can be taken with a wide range of cameras, and don’t necessarily require much special equipment. This article will serve as an intro to the basics of low-cost time lapse.
Can I Shoot Time Lapse Without Buying Any Special Hardware?
That really depends on what you own now. In order for images in a time lapse to register correctly with one another, it’s necessary to have your camera stable while you shoot the series. This typically means using a tripod. For DSLRs, this could mean a serious tripod, but for test purposes, or for simple web-grade time lapses, a low cost tripod and camera holder such as the Joby Mpod Mini Stand is fine. Using a stand that only holds your phone horizontally will avoid Vertical Video Syndrome, and assure your videos fit on-screen appropriately.
Can I Shoot Time Lapse Without Buying Any Special Software?
Some cameras have the ability to shoot multiple exposures over time built into the camera firmware, and available in the camera’s menu options. For more flexibility, some type of external timer and trigger system is typically used. Triggertrap’s iPhone and Android apps are free, and offer simple time lapse functions that can be used with the phone’s internal camera, as well as a broader range of functions for triggering external cameras. So its possible to be creating sample time lapses instantly, at no cost, if you have some system for holding your phone steady. Applications from freeware to top-end Adobe apps, can be used to composite your time lapses once shot and edited.
What Types of Time Lapses Can I Shoot?
Triggertrap has multiple modes, including standard, even interval time lapses, TimeWarp, which speeds up as it shoots, DistanceLapse, which shoots the same number of frames per block, mile, or kilometer, even if the conveyance carrying the camera slows down and speeds up with traffic. These three modes are available for your smartphone camera, as well as external cameras. Star Trail mode, creating night shots with the stars rotating around the north (or south) pole, and a bulb ramping mode, which is more advanced than we will cover here, are only available for external cameras.
Traggertrap can also be triggered by sound (great for fireworks, gametrails, etc) vibration (which could use the same examples as sound) or even facial recognition, all of which work with internal phone cameras as well as external cameras. It also offers two HDR modes, which are designed for merging multiple exposures into single images with an increased dynamic range. The HDR functions are external-camera-only.
Where Would I Go from There?
Once you are comfortable with the concepts of time lapsing, the next likely step is to get a Triggertrap Mobile Dongle and Camera Cable (total cost at the Triggertrap website of slightly over $30US) to control your real camera wirelessly from your smartphone. As well has adding new functions that only an external camera is capable of, and improved resolution and sharpness, the biggest plus to time lapsing with a DSLR is the increased light sensitivity; evening is the most exciting time for urban time lapses, and the low light sensitivity, and better handling of light sources within the image frame without halo effects, offer much improved night-shots using a DSLR instead of a phone-camera. While add-on wide-angle lenses make wide angle possible with phone-cameras, telephoto lenses on DSLRs offer a whole new range of opportunities.
Where Does It End?
Who says it has to end? With the beauty of landscape time lapses with clouds rushing by, rivers and roads with cars and watercraft moving through, and all the interesting activities of urban locations, the possibilities are endless. And that is before even considering the human factor. Documenting the ebb and flow of people in a subway station, or cars at traffic lights from above, are just a few suggestions. Then there are bulbs popping up and flowers bursting open and birds building nests, for macro photography lovers. Even the traffic on an anthill can be mesmerizing when time lapsed.
What are the Other Hardware Options?
If time lapsing becomes a serious interest, than advanced tools can be added that enrich the time lapse experience. The first addition is typically a dolly track. Dynamic Perception makes a series of professional track systems that allow your camera to move gracefully during a time lapse, adding dimensionality, as close-up objects move against the background during the process. 3 axis robots, such as those built by Emotimo allow an even wider range of motion, moving from the landscape to the sky vertically, or panning side to side during a time lapse. Combining both allows a camera to move past an object while swiveling to keep it in the center of view, much as a person does when walking or riding by an object of interest.
Editing and Color Managing Your Time Lapses
One of the advantages of time lapse work over most types of video, is that it is actually a series of still images. This means it is possible to shoot in RAW mode, and gain the advantages of better highlight and shadow control, as well as making it easy to color manage one shot, and then apply those color corrections to all the images in the series. Shooting a SpyderCube or SpyderCheckr can help you determine the settings for your time lapse work, and SpyderLensCal can assure that your focus is in exact zone desired. Back in the studio, those Cube or Checkr shots can then be used for RAW adjustment before creating your time lapse from your individual images.
Your Camera Can Do It, So Why Can’t You?
Most recent model DSLRs shoot excellent video, as do many of the smaller Mirrorless cameras. So the only thing keeping you from shooting video, is learning how to put your camera in Video Mode.
Your Lenses Can Do It, Too
Many DSLR and Mirrorless Lenses are great for starting out in video work. Yes, there are some limitations, but you can learn about these as you go along, and make your future purchase choices accordingly.
Your Current Gear is Not a Bad Starting Place
Whatever you currently own for batteries, bags, tripods and continuous lighting can be used for initial video work. Yes, there are a few items that pop to the top of the list as early gear additions, such as a video pan head if you currently use ball heads, and continuous LED lighting, if you currently use strobes or SpeedLites. But there is not reason, particularly for outdoor shooting, not to start with that you have.
Video Editing Software is No Longer a Big Expense
Final Cut Pro X is a full video editing suite with most of what an intro user could ask for, at the amazing price of $299US (the previous version of Final Cut was $1000). iMovie is now free with the purchase of a Mac, and shares much of the Final Cut interface, so starting with iMovie and moving to Final Cut is painless. Other editing apps are dropping in price under the pressure from the new price-points on the Apple software, so Windows users are in line to save money as well.
Video Is Becoming Mainstream, and Easily Distributed
Not that long ago, only pros shot video, and only corporations had much use for it. The distinction between a magazine, newspaper or book, and a website, blog or e-book is blurring quickly. Electronic media can use video where traditional media used only images. And the democratization of the web means that individuals and small outfits are frequent participants, as well as the big corporations. So your motion work can find hundreds of new locations to be used, and to be seen, which did not exist a few years ago.
Bandwidth is Making Video Viewing Easy
The days when it was a lot of work to get digital footage onto your TV or Computer are fast disappearing. We now think nothing of streaming a Netflix film instead of playing a DVD. And we watch video on an increasing number of devices; phones and tablets being the most prevalent.
Social Video is Growing
More and more social media locations are now accepting video. Your work can be placed on Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or a number of other locations, or linked to from more common video locations such as YouTube.
Still is Starting to Look Less Interesting
A well shot and edited image, carefully printed at a larger size, is still a wonderful thing. But the number of people who will see your prints is shrinking, and the number who might see your images digitally is growing. In electronic form, resolution is replaced, to some degree, by motion. People are coming to expect their images to move; and to have sound.
Dimensionality Can Increase
We work hard to add depth and dimension to our still images. But there are other techniques, available in video, which can add further dimension not possible in still images. Once you learn to use these techniques, you will miss them when they are not available; you’ll start thinking as a Director of Photography, not just a Photographer.
The Future Awaits You
Digital photography has been an adventure. But its reaching a more static phase in its life, where an increase in resolution or dynamic range is about all we can expect to see over the next few years. But digital video is growing at a mad rate. We can look forward to many improvements, and growth in the aesthetics of video, as well as the delivery techniques for motion. If you’re the type of person inspired by a challenge, then motion is the biggest challenge available in photography today.
Datacolor won a Best In Show award for the Spyder line of products for Photo and Video from the International Press Association‘s IMPress Magazine, shot at Photo Plus Expo in New York City last week. Below is a link to the video interviews IMPress shot with me at the Datacolor Photo Plus Expo booth.
It’s Not Unexpected
A week before the announcement of the new MacPro I had dinner with a videographer who was quite passionate about his need for a new MacPro, and what he needed it to contain. I warned him that the next generation would most likely not have a standard tower size or configuration, would likely offer Thunderbolt 2 as the expansion solution, instead of internal options, and would have excellent native graphics capabilities, though it might be some time before third party graphics options would be available. This was all clear from the general direction Apple has been moving in, and from the areas they have been showing interest in. That forms a fairly good description of the new MacPro in advance. And having that sense of the device has allowed me to think less about the tech specs, and more about the concepts and applications of the machine, now that it has been announced.
Who is it For?
Without belaboring the specs, the key take away is that this is a fast graphics machine. Still photography long ago ceased being the standard by which computers were tested. 3D rendering and video tasks have taken over as the heavy lifting tests. And this machine is all about fast memory, fast internal storage (I hesitate to call it a drive) and fast communications protocols to external devices. Which pretty much describes video editing. Not that it won’t be great for many other uses, but anything you can do conveniently, without delays and slowdowns, on the latest iMac, is not a candidate for the (as yet undefined) much higher price tag of the upcoming MacPro. Photographers working with huge layered files or composites, those wishing to work with multiple HD (and 4K) screens, and those wishing to access large numbers of images quickly, may find justification, but basic photo editing won’t really need the capabilities of this machine.
Why is it Groundbreaking?
Apple’s key advantage over other companies in the industry is the ability to customize and integrate all components of software, hardware and communications. Here, this takes the form of integrating all the high powered, heat creating chips into a unified core. This allows better heat transfer, which should have implications for longer life, improved performance, and with the custom cooling system, lower noise. All in an elegant little package.
Why is it Risky?
Another unique decision was forcing all other high speed functions to Thunderbolt 2. This is an external data transfer system so fast it vies with the fastest internal data protocols, with the added flexibility of not having the components be internal. This allows the device to be small, and the expansion to be totally fluid, as it does not need to fit specific expansion bay sizes and numbers. The risks of this forward-thinking strategy include the current lack of Thunderbolt 2 accessories, the long lag time it took before Thunderbolt 1 accessories trickled onto the market, the premium cost of Thunderbolt devices, the small market size (which may not lure as many third parties to produce such accessories) and the need for companies accustomed to creating only internal products, such as video cards, to create external products. Which leaves those companies responsible for their own heat dissipation schemes for those external enclosures as well.
Good design consists of determining what the key aspects of a project are (selecting too many dilutes them all), and how best to express those elements. In the case of the new MacPro, Apple has emphasized speed, centralized cooling, reduced size, and the external nature of everything else. This is a legitimate design list, and rethinking the computer’s size, shape, and other factors based on this short list is excellent design. Whether it is excellent marketing is yet to be seen.
What is Magic Lantern?
Magic Lantern is an Open Source project that was created to provide extended features and more user control to the Canon 5D Mark ll camera, specifically for videography purposes. The project has since been extended (no surprise) to the 5D Mark lll camera as well, and offers some advantages even for still imaging. Magic Lantern is firmware that is run on top of the Canon firmware. As such, it involves “hacking” your camera to install it, but has a history of successful use without problems.
What’s the Big Deal Now?
All this now becomes much more important, as Magic Lantern has recently been making progress that has captured the interest of the entire videography industry. They have moved on from “short burst” video capture to continuous capabilities, and now are able to capture 14 bit RAW data from the 5D Mark lll. The results of this are more than interesting; they may well be groundbreaking.
The latest captures with early builds of this RAW firmware extend the quality of what the 5D Mark lll can manage to a level that appears to exceed other affordable video options such as the Panasonic GH2 and GH3; and even beats the Canon C300 dedicated video camera. This makes affordable options such as the Black Magic cameras much less tempting, and could even have an impact on sales of more advanced cameras such as the Camera RED models.
What do the Results Look Like?
Here is a screenshot I captured directly from the sample video demonstrating the capabilities of this combination. Be sure to click on the image to see it at full resolution. Whether you want to see that much lose dog hair in detail is questionable, but the ability to do so is exciting.
What Does This Mean for the Future of Video?
It’s too early to make any grand pronouncements, but the value of the 5D Mark lll as a video tool has just increased significantly. The balance of camera cost versus quality, and particularly bit depth and resolution, has shifted as well. It’s only reasonable to expect this to put pressure on Canon to create RAW firmware for the Mark lll themselves (or other means of exporting high bit video in flexible resolutions), or else lose development control for their own products to third parties. Certainly Canon, and all other competitors in the DSLR video category will need to adjust their plans for future products accordingly, as will companies developing affordable dedicated video cameras, again starting with Canon, but most notably Black Magic, whose value proposition is largely defined by the low cost of their products.
And Finally: What about Video Editing Software?
Video editing software developers are racing to incorporate high bit and high resolution into everything they offer. This firmware option will increase the number of cameras in use which can shoot RAW by a large percentage; which in turn will increase the pressure to be able to color correct and process RAW high bit video. With high bit capture, its less damaging to white balance in post processing, and there is more headroom for color LUTs and camera calibration. This is all to a good end, and will settle into the video workflow over time. But there will be bumps in the road during the race to get there.
When you think of controlling the focus of images after the fact, you probably think of the Lytro camera; a clever little device (one is tempted to say prototype) that shows us one way of gaining different info from a shot, instead of spending all our pixels on increased resolution. But now there is an iPhone/iPad app (I’m tempted to think of this as a prototype as well) which allows you to perform a similar trick with your phone photos.
With Arqball’s FocusTwist app, its time, not resolution reduction, that is used to produce the multiple images. Hold your iPhone still, tap on the foreground element on screen to start the focus process, and in a couple of seconds the FocusTwist app will have captured multiple images with different focal planes; starting with the foreground element you selected. Take a look at this example, which I shot with FocusTwist to include in this article.
The process is something of a gimmick, in that the resulting photo can’t be used as a standard image, since there is no current format for “multiple focal plane images”. The other “gimmicky” factor is FocusTwist’s expectation that the foreground object be three to five inches from the lens. This is a great range for macro shots with recent iPhone models, and it shows off the focal plane change function clearly. But it also makes all photos taken with FocusTwist rather similar. The term “meme” comes to mind.
But there are other issues than the “one trick pony” aspect of the application. Note that, while the iPhone was carefully placed and oriented for several seconds before the shot was taken, that FocusTwist failed to orient the image correctly; it appears to be a one-orientation pony as well. And if one wished to adjust the exposure or other factors of the image, say to lighten the tub handles in the foreground? Since this is not a standard image it cannot be edited in a standard image editor, so rotation, lightening, cropping, or other adjustments are not possible. Please recall my “prototype” comment above.
Will FocusTwist images make the rounds as the next phone photo fad? Will such images be passé in a few months? Or are the capabilities of this App perhaps a bit deeper than the directions and marketing video imply? One further dimension that immediately comes to mind is time: it would be possible to capture boughs waving in the breeze, cars moving on the road, or a dancer spinning on the floor in the multiple frames of a FocusTwist image; particularly if Arqball chose to extend the App’s capture capabilities.
How much further will Arqball move with features and functionality? Will they add an option to render out to video, or animated GIF, so that the results of their app can be widely used, instead of trapped in the snowglobe of their own application and website? Will they see this as a beginning of a category, or a parlor trick? Only time will tell…