Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pumpkin Pie Stop Action Animation

I took over 1100 pictures of Lori making a pumpkin pie and created a stop action animation using the humble Windows Movie Maker. It turns out that neither of my Windows machines are powerful enough for Photoshop to convert that many RAW files in one action or Windows Movie Maker to render them into a video larger then for an iPod.

I overcame that problem by converting half of the RAW files at a time to 720x480 jpgs, compressing them down to 5. In order to create an AVI file in Movie Maker, I had to create 12 different videos of 100 pictures each and then combine them to make one complete video. For posting on SmugMug, I then saved the video in another smaller format.

Looking back, I could have shot the original pictures in jpeg at the correct resolution saving a big step. And I need to figure out the best format to save it for the web. Still working these things out.

It's not too bad. Click the picture below and check it out. And then read my own critical review below.

More thoughts: I learned a few things here, after repeated viewings.

1 - I observe the exposure changing nearly every frame, as Lori moves her arms in and out of the picture. The cause? I used aperture priority mode. As things move around, especially the black sleeves of Lori's shirt, the "correct" exposure changes and the camera adjusts the shutter speed. While her arms are now correctly exposed a change can be seen in surrounding areas such as in the wooden cabinets.

Once I determined the best exposure setting, I should have worked in manual mode which will lock those settings in. Do not change them! Determining that correct exposure is the trick. Using manual mode, chances are not every scene will be perfectly exposed, (ie; the black shirt moving in and out of the picture and moving to various scenes within the kitchen). You need to experiment and find the settings that balance exposure for the whole of the animation.

2 - I also see the focal length changing, or at least appears to change. Watch the edges of the video as they disappear and reappear. My guess is the autofocus is adjusting as arms and items move around the frame. The solution again is to set the best focus for the scene and turn off the automatic focus. I need to verify this with the next animation.

3 - The color and brightness are dull. I filmed this at night under a mix of incandescent and full spectrum fluorescent lighting. I set the white balance to incandescent and did not use a white or grey card. I thought the colors looked pretty accurate.

Maybe what this needed was more light. A faster lens would help too, enabling faster shutter speeds. It would also allow a smaller aperture and a greater depth of field, bringing more into focus.

To summarize what I have learned, consider using manual exposure settings and turn autofocus off. Bring in more light then you think you need, especially to compensate for low light lenses you may not own. If the project is important, rent the equipment you need. Learn to use the software and know the capability of your computer.

For software, I may look into Adobe Premier Elements. Similar to Photoshop Elements, it appears that Premier Elements provides all the basic tools needed to create and edit video for about a 1/5 of the price of the full blown program.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Foothill College Contemporary Big Band

The contemporary big band program at Foothill Community College appears to be ending it's long run, falling victim to the sad economy. Under the baton of John Gove, the bands attracted many of the bay area's first call players as well as providing a friendly environment for up and coming students. Contemporary music was the key. From Jim McNeely to Maria Schneider to Thad Jones to obsure Duke Ellington pieces and also local composers such as Ray Brown. I listened to my wife Lori practice the most bizarre trombone and piano parts and picked up quite an education by proxy. While others recorded their end of semester concerts, I started taking pictures and have put together a collection. Click here or any of the pictures below to go to the full gallery.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Open PPGBA Meeting this Thursday

I just recently learned of the Professional Photographers of the Greater Bay Area which appears to be another valuable resource for picture snappers, especially in the San Francisco bay area.

They are holding their annual "Sustaining Members" meeting Thursday, November 19, free and open to everyone. Guest speaker Ed Pingol will discuss lighting. There will also be several photo labs and other vendors showing their wares.

Click here for more details.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Great Horned Owls

Birds are great subjects. They are plentiful and colorful. They are fleeting which make still pictures of them challenging and all the more appreciated. A friend recently showed me a picture of a great horned owl taken just a short walk from my home and I realized I needed owl pictures of my own.

2 owls live in the eucalyptus grove right down the street. I can hear them hooting as I type this. They do not seem much afraid of us and often sit rather close to an accessable path. They also sit very still. This is an advantage as I am shooting them in late evening light and in deep shadows. With the aperture wide open, I am using 1/10th of a second or slower shutter speed.

According to Wikipedia, we have a male and female. The male being the smaller of the two and with a lower pitched song. All the hooting may be courtship rituals in progress. If so, they would build a nest and little owls would appear in the early spring. All in all, an excellent photo documentary opportunity and blog worthy too.

If I am correct, in the pictures above, the first is the male. The second, the female, is not winking at me. She appears to have lost her right eye.

I will be photographing them as often as I am able. I am using a Nikon D80 with a Nikkor 70-300 4.8/5.6 lens usually cranked out to 300mm and still requiring some extreme cropping. Using a tripod and remote trigger helps. Focusing through the branches is another challenge. I hope to score some great shots going forward and posting them here.

Great Horned Owl

This was my first shot and hand held at that! He was sitting in a great location.