Thursday, August 13, 2009

Unexpected Revelations of Beauty and Grace

I have spent the last week learning Final Cut Pro and getting started editing some 500+ clips shot with the Phantom HD high-speed video camera. The camera can shoot 1000 frames a second at HD resolutions. The results can be truly mesmerizing. Thankfully, editing the clips for stock is relatively simple. Nonetheless, learning to use “four point garbage mattes”, 3-way color correction filters, and Time Lines has been a bit challenging. But all of it is worthwhile when I get to view a few seconds of unexpected beauty and grace. For one such moment check out the video at the bottom of this post.

The opportunity to shoot with the Phantom came about because over the years I have had a close working relationship with GVS systems, a Leading developer and manufacturer of ruggedized digital video recorders and media management for the aerospace, broadcast, defense, digital cinema, post production, and sports worlds. They needed a beta tester for an elegant solution they have come up with for the challenges of shooting with the Phantom. Their software/hardware solution (GVS9000 2XU 444 VTR) is capable of dealing with the huge quantities of data captured by the camera (32 gigabytes every 4 seconds) in a simple and efficient way.

This was demonstrated to me dramatically when I went on line and checked for alternate Phantom workflows. In one forum I read this:

Download the cine files to harddrive and use Gluetools (Mac) / Phantom Control Software (PC) to mov file in lower resolution workable format for offline. Once edit is locked use Iridas FrameCycler Pro / SpeedGrade HD to conform the edl with Cine files. Iridas products can access cine files directly. The other option is using Gluetools you can relink the offline files with Cine files and then directly export as DPX log frames (settings needs to be done in system preference based on various options and choice) and then take back to Color Grading and output your work to TV / Film.

Phew! I am reminded of what a novice I truly am…and how simple the world of stock clips is. With the GVS workflow we captured the scene, then were able to view the results within seconds at whatever frame rate we wanted. If we liked those results, we “clicked” on “capture” and the raw footage was converted to Pro Res QuickTime movies and saved to the hard drive on the fly, again in only a few seconds. Now I am editing those QuickTime movies in Final Cut pro.

The simple workflow allowed us to focus on coming up with and capturing what David Fischer, the photographer I was collaborating with, called the “unexpected revelation”. Over the coming weeks, I will combine learning Final Cut Pro with narrowing those 500 clips down to the fifty or sixty best. Those clips will then be submitted to stock agencies and go up on my site.

I am not sure yet how large a role video will play in my stock future. But this brief foray is proving alluring. I have enjoyed collaborating with other photographers in the shooting stage. Learning Final Cut, while a bit challenging, does feel good. I guess if I could shoot with that Phantom all the time it would be a no brainer. It feels more akin to the concept images I make in stills…and when we find one of those “revelations”, well, it just doesn’t get much better than that!

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Knock Your Socks Off Stock Photo

Humorous stock photo of a pair of socks being blown off of someone's feet
A Knock Your Socks Off Stock Photo

It is always exciting for me when I come up with an image idea that doesn’t seem to have been done before, and that is relevant to the market. I no longer remember when I first had the idea to create a “Knock your socks off” image, but the idea was rekindled when my girlfriend, Stephanie, was showing me how she could flex her toes. I checked on Getty and Corbis and didn’t see any similar imagery. This is potentially a really great stock image. It is a concept stock photo that can be applied to any product or service, or even to something as generic as a sale. The image has humor going for it. Funny pictures can be powerful attention grabbers. The photo is simple, a quick read, and has an “iconic” place in our culture. Another side benefit of an image like this one is the relative inexpensive nature of creating it.

The big decision for me was whether to have a “dust” cloud showing to emphasize that the socks are being “blown” off of the feet. There was also some question as to whether the toes should be articulated so much. Ultimately I decided that the dust clouds would help make the message more obvious, and that the articulated toes added to the humor.

The shoot was simple; I had Stephanie sit on the edge of a table and flex her toes. I lit her feet with a beauty dish above the camera and a soft box behind and on either side. I used Profoto 7B flash units. I filled a pair of socks with bubble wrap and positioned them on a light stand. I used the same lighting set-up as with Stephanie’s feet, and fired off a few frames. To create the dust cloud I used some face powder that had been left in my studio at some point. I created a pile of it on a piece of white foam core, then sprayed the pile with canned air with one hand while shooting with a Canon 1ds MKIII in the other. Not really a recommended technique, but it worked. Of course, my studio smelled like face powder for a week!

I used the pen tool to create clipping paths around both the feet and socks, then converted the paths into selections. I created a new “canvas”, then pasted the feet into place. Next I brought in the socks and sized and positioned them. I brought in two of the dust shots and created layer masks to fade them away into the background. I then duplicated the feet layers and dragged those new layers to the top. The next step was to create layer masks to hide the new feet layers, then I used white “paint’ with the airbrush to create the illusion that the feet were showing through the dust clouds.

All in all, it only took a few hours to put the photograph together. The final question is whether the image should be a Rights Managed image, or a Royalty Free one. I finally decided that I would stick with RM on this one. An image like this one will probably do equally well in either model, but my ego tends towards Rights Managed, and that’s how this “blow your socks” off image ended up.