Monday, July 14, 2014

That Thing About Lightning and of Course Chasing the Storm.

Yes! Lightning is most dangerous!

Recently the National News has been Broadcasting about the Dangers and Mishaps, even Deaths in just the Past Year due to Lightning Strikes. 

The numbers are staggering to say the least (see below). It is almost as if the odds have gotten better to get struck by lightning than ever before. Perhaps even better now than winning the lottery. More and more videos and photos come out almost daily of gorgeous and not so gorgeous strikes. The not so gorgeous ones are the warnings to heed. Some show trees getting turned into shrapnel, others simply show just how close one can get to a strike and last but not least, actual strikes hitting humans that thought they were safe. Even a storm chaser can get nailed as there is no guarantee as seen here:

In this case, even though sitting in a car, the iPhone, his arm and perhaps the metal of the car itself simply attracted the "grounding point" for this strike. Let's just say he was extremely lucky to have walked (driven) away from this to even submit this video to YouTube.

Let's Talk about the Reality of Lightning and Get Rid of Some Misnomers.

  1. It's impossible to get struck by lightning while filming a storm from a distance. Although this has been the belief of many, it is furthest from the truth! See the video above. Lightning can travel quite a distance away from any storm. As a matter of fact, lightning will do whatever the hell it wants to do. It has no rules. It will seek out the nearest and fastest point of contact to ground out. Or so one might believe. If that were the case, then why does "creeping" or "spider" lightning work. This is the type of lightning that "crawls" along a cloud bank bottom. In essence what it is really doing is finding another cloud to discharge to. I personally have seen and have a photo of this happening across a distance of about 20 miles. Scary. No?
  2. Lightning is weak and most victims survive no problem. Tell that nonsensical information to actual victims that have been struck and actually survived. There can be all types of after or side effects for months after such an incident. Everything from brain damage, dizziness, skin burns and even heart failure. Think about it this way; the human body basically works off of electricity within. This is what makes the heart keep pace. So changing that pace from an external source can either be fatal, or in the case of those electric shock pads (defibrillators) that your typical EMT or surgeon may use, it could bring you back to life. Lightning doesn't care if you need defibrillation or not. It just strikes. This may cause your heart to miss a beat or two, and hence kill you. The reality is lightning is way more powerful electricity-wise than you would ever need for defibrillation. Beware. It will cause damage no matter what. 
  3. I am safe because I hear the thunder so far away. Sure, tell that to the golfer that got killed by a lightning strike under clear blue skies. This actually happened here in Tucson a few years ago. (See: Man struck by lightning on Tucson golf course dies). Yes, the golf course was totally clear, but the mountains just a few miles away had some thunderheads building. That's all it took. This is so typical during the monsoon season in Arizona. It's a very dangerous playground. But so famous for its monsoon lightning that the University of Arizona actually has one of the best known lightning research centers in the world.
  4. I know what I am doing. I have been chasing storms for years! The dumbest most stupidest thing I have ever heard too many times in my many years of chasing. I joke about how my wife holds the umbrella for me in the e-book. But all jokes aside, I actually have had to yell at my wife, my kid, my parents and fellow shooters to get there asses out of harms way. This is a serious issue. Always. I am asked so many times by people if they can go on a chase with me. I have to explain the dangers, the timing, the driving, the running... and usually that ends that conversation real quickly. It is a frickn' dangerous job period! 

So Just to be Clear, here is a List of Some Close calls I Myself have had:

For the Tucson Locals that may recognize the locations I am stating such locations so that you can see just how awesomely powerful our storms are. (As if you didn't know that already.)

  1. Corner of Speedway and Wrightstown/Harrison - while waiting at a red light, the pole diagonally across the street gets nailed. Very bright flash and loud.
  2. Behind Lowes on Speedway and Kolb overlooking the Pantano Wash - strike across the wash (maybe 100-150 ft) super loud recorded on my Tascam DR-100 while packing in the cameras. Yeah, we jumped out of our skins.
  3. The last strike from a time lapse sequence shot on Houghton Rd. using a wide angle lens. I thought perhaps that the lens manufacturer should put a warning label on the lens stating that "Objects are closer than they appear when using this lens". See the clip - the very last strike was also within 1000 ft from where I was standing with a metal tripod. 
  4. Just before arriving at Outback Steakhouse on Grant, a transformer got nailed across the street and was sparking nicely. Needless to say, no power, no steak that night. :(
These are just a few of the more memorable events. There are many. It is a challenge and dangerous as I usually have to stay in front of the storms direction. This is simply due to the fact that most lightning strikes, and I emphasize, most, not all, precede the typical storm. Note that this is not a rule, but common. As said; lightning strikes wherever the hell it wants to!

In any case, just so that you have no doubts about what I write here and that I am somewhat of an expert, have a look at my collection of footage that is all about lightning: 

So what made me decide to write about this... again? Just yesterday we had a very nasty storm pass over our little city. Damage was reported. Electricity was off in some areas, and still is at the time of this writing 24 hours later. But the real culprit was this picture posted on FaceBook by Access Tucson - a public access television facility:

"Access Tucson's channel and building are out of commission until further notice. The building was struck by lightning last night. The main breaker was destroyed. Please be advised that there will be no public hours tomorrow except for equipment check-in.

Stayed tuned!"

If you look towards the bottom of the power cabinet, you will see burn marks from when lightning fused the lines and hence caused all the damage.

Finally, the numbers!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

To 4K or not to 4K, that is the Question

To 4K or Not to 4K, that is the Question- 1080P may Just be Fine!

4K UHD is 4 times HD
For quite a while now the 4K buzz has been getting loud as ever. There are monitors, televisions and most importantly cameras simply buzzing around the term 4K. Then there are various 4K resolutions as just barely any final standard has been determined. It seems that in regards to television (totaly futuristic), the 4K UHD (4 times HD or 3840x2160) standard seems somewhat predominant. But there are additional 4K resolutions for film, and god knows what else. The key is to get as many pixels into a frame as possible. Why? Because if you think back to true film, just how many silver atoms/pixels are there in a frame? A lot! Then there is that little detail known as dynamic range. Blech.

4K is Great! But to What End?

If one asks people in the pro-cinematography world, one might get several answers. Or perhaps even some questions. The questions are usually to drill down to what facility in regards to 4K. One may ask, what camera? Or perhaps, compressed or RAW? Maybe DNG? Once that is determined, then the answers start harmonizing. And only then does 4K become great! 

The fact of the matter is that the professional world primarily looks to 4K not for the size that it will show on one of those outlandish 4K televisions or monitors, but rather what it offers in what is known as "post production". Ask any DP about this and they will start talking about RAW, shooting "flat", dynamic range and all kinds of wonderful things. But in the end, the final product will most likely end up being 1080p. 

4K - Big Bucks without Delivery.

On the net it's now even more up in the air...

One may hear about the future of 4K being delivered to your television. Yeah, right. Not happening unless you are internet connected with a large pipe (bandwidth) and know how to fetch from certain streaming companies that they themselves are not really sure about doing as this thing called "Net Neutrality" is starting to bite. 

Major Television Networks? 

Not likely gonna happen unless someone figures out a way to really crunch the data and then explode it without loss over the digital air, or cable. And by the way, it seem digital air is a lot cleaner than cable. You can see the difference on your current tv signal. Try it. In any case, the problem lies again within bandwidth (net/cable/hardwired/Google fantasy fibre) and frequency spectrum over the air. It simply isn't available for the quantity of data that needs to be transferred in real time. 

Buffer it and then play? 

Well, maybe. This simply means that you request a download to some device, and watch later. The device doesn't yet exist for easy use consumer-wise that is also directly connected to your entertainment system. Who knows? Maybe Microsoft will come up with a killer concept in the near future. Oh wait, they tried that once with Windows Media PC. We saw how successful that was. 


Why even worry? 4K is overkill for the eye anyway. Actors don't really like to be shot at such a high resolution. However there is a tremendous use for 4K As a marketing tool for manufacturers in the industry it opens up a whole new world for selling new cameras, ancillary devices etc. We are talking some big bucks here!

The Real or Usable Benefit of 4K.

Being a stock shooter, I have been producing 4K resolution footage for almost 2 years now, all without owning a 4K camera.

The fact of the matter is simple. 4K is a resolution. And for all intents and purposes, let's just call it 4 times HD and still a 16 by 9 aspect ratio. So how can one shoot 4K without owning a 4K camera?

Ever since I purchased my first Canon DSLR, I had the capability with the only limitation being that it could only yield time lapse goodies. Simply put, the frame size or resolution of a photograph in one of these DSLR's is far larger that need to create 4K as we know it today. 

If one shoots a sequence of say 300 photographs, timed in a consistent increment, one now has 300 frames, which in turn is approximately 10 seconds of footage in time lapse. Pretty neat. And it just so happens that time lapse is a darn good selling product. But the real benefits come when one can shoot such sequences in RAW, which most of these (even pro-sumer) DSLRs can do. You just need one nifty little attachment affixed to the camera itself. This nifty tool is called an intervalometer.

This "intervalometer" device simply plugs into the remote shutter release port and does all the work for you once you program it. There is one caveat about the word "intervalometer". Many don't know what it is or have even heard of this word. If this is the case, simply ask for a remote timer shutter release mechanism that you can program for interval shooting. :)

For more info on how this is done, check out some of my video tutorials on how post processing works for such image sequences:

Producing and Delivering 4K

If you find yourself getting excited about this prospect, great! Think about the possibilities. You can deliver in super high res, with a super high pixel depth provided you use the correct "post production" tools. I personally tend to shoot in pure RAW always. This gives me so much color space, lighting space and flexibility that opens up many interesting avenues. The key is to understand the technology in the camera as well as the software technology for use in "post". 

Once you figure out the concepts and can deliver gorgeous footage (time lapse of course), you will surely realize that there are many, many possibilities as well as possible revenue generators to accumulate enough cash to perhaps one day purchase a true 4K video camera. Perhaps the longer this takes, the better for you. Let me explain the oxymoron of a statement.

Don't Jump on the 4K Camera Bandwagon Yet!

Why you ask? Probably because it still seems somewhat premature? Maybe because 6k is on the way?
If you want my opinion (opinions are a dime a dozen), I believe the market will stabilize perhaps in the next year or so. But it currently is just doing one heck of a marketing job. Prices keep coming down. Products keep improving and getting more versatile. And the standards are really still up in the air. A company known as BlackMagic announced their 4K camera quite a while ago, and only recently started shipping. But from what we see it is still not up to par. Sony has a line up of cameras that one can supposedly upgrade for quite a few bucks. Canon may be announcing some more goodies as well. And let's not forget about many other possibly unknowns out there.

It's a Race to the Bottom (Price-wise).

As this industry has shown over and over again, it will most likely end up being a race to the bottom price-wise. The competition is fierce! But one must really do their do-diligence prior to making any purchase. This has been the case with all generations. 

You need to first ask yourself, what do I need the camera for specifically? Is it for in-house a.k.a. studio work? Is it for "run and gun"? Or is it simply to be the first to own whatever purely for bragging rights?  

This would cool.

Personally, I can wait as I still have my time-lapse option for now. I would much rather see a new breed of HD cams that offer a dynamic range of at least 24 stops . For those that don't exactly know what that means; 16-24 stops (depending on who's article you read) is approximately the range of light that the human eye can see without being "blown out" (i.e looking straight into the sun) or waiting for the eyes to adjust to a pretty dark environment. Now that would be cool! In the mean time we just have to live with that HDR concept. 

For additional insights and opinions, here is another article from a fellow stock shooter talking turkey about this exact same topic

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Drink Some Juice - you will See The Results in your Imagery - Part 1

So what does Juicing have to do with Getting "Your Unbelievable and Fantastic Footage?

(Disclaimer: The following story is 100% "my story". The stuff I did worked for me. I can not guarantee that this is a solution for physical ailments that you may have. However, I, for myself realized that any of these things I did would in the worst case simply not work. But at least they wouldn't cause more damage by simply doing them.)

Well. let's start with a little back story first.

About 3 weeks ago I finished painting my roof. That's what we do in Arizona to maintain our perfectly white roofs. Prior to that, I had to re-build a fence at my folk's house which entailed in hauling 150 lb pieces of finished redwood panels, pouring concrete for the posts etc.. all for about 280 ft. of fence. Then I had to do roof repairs on their roof (as well as paint it too). Prior to painting, both roofs needed to be pressure washed. This is a tedious and horrible exercise on the back.

The fence and roof at my folk's house was in desperate need of repair due to a so called "micro-burst". A "micro-burst" can be viewed as being a very small and tight tornado that lasts for only a few seconds. But the damage is usually quite severe. This happened right at the end of the monsoon season.

In any case, I finished my roof on Sunday 3 weeks ago. Monday morning I was in such pain, that I couldn't even stand, not mention couldn't walk one step. Getting out of bed became a 1 hour ordeal. My sciatic nerve was pulsating so strongly that on both legs it felt as if someone was ramming a sword up inside from my feet. I do not wish this on even my worst enemy. Perhaps this was from overdoing the work as well as stress. It was scary to say the least. Additionally, this caused me to suffer from camera withdrawal symptoms. Hell, I couldn't even lift a camera not to mention a tripod. I knew I was in real trouble.

Finally decided to try some Myotherapy and lots of juice, and definitely not a chiropractor!

My folks used to play tennis with a lady (Bonnie Prudden) years ago. She unfortunately passed away several years ago. However, she left quite a legacy and several understudies behind. These people are known as Myotherapists. The concept of Myotherapy is simple. Find certain pressure points on any muscle and work it for not just a cure, but ongoing for always keeping the "pressure" or "pain" in check. I also researched other methods and found that certain juices act as very powerful anti-inflammatory mechanisms.

My first session of Myotherapy was most interesting. I did not know that I could move or relax my muscles to do the things I did within a short session. When we started, I was literally hanging on to anything possible to just take a few steps. Right after, I was able to actually walk and stand in a nice warm shower. I was intrigued. I learned about a few simple, no, very simple exercises that only would take a few minutes every hour or so. I was absolutely amazed.

Think about this. My sciatic nerve was totally inflamed to the point that I was in total pain down to my toes, in fear that I was going to suffer a long time and maybe never heal. A friend of mine had this once, and suffered for over a year! Yeah. I was scared. I also realized that no combination of pain pills worked either. Besides, the last thing I want to do is be on drugs for an unspecified length of time. Forget ibuprofen (supposedly an anti-inflammatory), forget the Tylenol type "pain killers". They simply weren't enough. But something far more powerful and actually pretty good tasting did the trick. Juicing with ginger root (and turmeric root when in season)!

My Juicing formula based on things I discovered on the net.

I know everyone says that things you find on the net must be true. Right? Yeah. I was super skeptical but after finding this (and many other videos too):

I figured the worst that could happen is I spend 80 bucks on a juicer and maybe drink some healthy stuff regardless. Amazingly, about 15 minutes after drinking this concoction, which by the way tasted pretty darn good, I would literally feel the pain subside. It blew all the pain killers mentioned out of the water, and was probably a heck of lot easier on the stomach too. Fast forward to today. Yes. the day I write this. I am almost back to 100% plus, normal. What? Why the "plus" you ask? 

I feel more confident about hauling my equipment than ever!

So finally, here is why this story may be super important to you. 

In our business, we tend to "haul" lots of equipment around to "get those shots". Whether we are shooting for stock or shooting on a job, we take on physical positions that are not necessarily great for our legs, back, neck, arms, feet or our body in general. And this is usually after we haul the equipment to the location. That simple "hauling" can do unbelievable damage simply because is stresses the body in non conventional ways to start with. And then we expect our bodies to immediately relax so that we can contort ourselves to get that crazy slider move, or weird camera position on the ground, or simply having to stand for an hour while shooting an interview on a super hard studio floor. The list goes on. But you get the picture. 

Here is what my personal future holds. 

1. I plan on keeping up the juicing. I actually really like the natural "wake up call" in the morning from this stuff. Better and most likely healthier than coffee! I am living proof that this works. And there is one more side benefit that I didn't even think about - I lost 12 lbs in the last three weeks too! How cool is that?

2. Understanding that I need to do certain exercises to maintain the flexibility of my certain body parts to get "those shots", I feel far more confident and inspired to try new and crazy shots of all types. Whether on a slider, on the ground or sessions on a nasty hard concrete floor, these exercises are probably going to keep me going, and without fear of ending up in pain after a day's work with the camera. I can do a simple 2 to 3 minute stretch for my various limbs to "limber" up. 

3. I will most likely over the next several weeks create some videos showing some of these simple tactics so that you too can easily learn a few simple procedures for yourselves. After all, don't we all want to be comfortable and healthy so that we can do the camera work necessary? 

So stay tuned. Even though this may not have anything to do with lenses, equipment, shooting styles, or ... no, I take that back. It has everything to do with all that. Simply because if you can't move your body, the best lenses, equipment and knowledge won't do you a damn bit of good.