Elephant+Piggy from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.
I spent last week up in Canada, working on a video project for a healthcare client. I got back to Austin, Texas around 7pm and I was pretty wiped out from two days of travel and three days of non-stop shooting and interviewing. But the freelancer's credo is to make hay while the sun shines so instead of taking Sunday off I recharged my batteries, unpacked the video stuff and repacked the photography gear so I could do a Sunday afternoon assignment at Zach Theatre. We were booked to do marketing photographs for a children's play called, "Elephant and Piggy go to a Play."
This production was done on one of the theater's smaller stages; in fact, my favorite stage and one I've made photographs on for nearly 30 years. I packed a motley collection of cameras but I used only one for the entire performance. The shoot started at 3pm and I was on my way back home by 5:00 to post process the images I'd taken for the marketing staff.
I used the Sony A7Rii to shoot the entire performance; along with the 18-105mm f4.0 G lens. It's a bit counterintuitive since this is an APS-C lens and the A7Rii is a full frame camera but let me explain. We love the performance of the sensor in the A7Rii but don't always need to use the full, 42 megapixel potential of that sensor. Many times our clients' needs are such that 16 to 18 megapixels is the sweet spot between capture, storage and online transfer. Most of the marketing for the kid's shows is done on the web and via post cards. Neither application demands the highest levels of resolution.
Sadly, the big Sony camera doesn't give you the ability to photograph at a reduced raw size but I am more than happy, in many situations, to shoot with the camera set to the APS-C crop mode and make use of the 18 megapixel files that configuration creates. But rather than shoot raw I end up shooting in the Jpeg extra fine mode. With good attention paid to color balance and exposure I just don't think the photographer is giving up much quality in the final files....if any.
With the camera set to the APS-C mode the 18-105mm f4.0 G lens becomes, effectively, a 27mm to about a 158mm zoom lens. In the smaller theater this is the perfect lens with which to capture both near and far action.
One more thing I do to ready my camera these days is to select a picture profile instead of using the canned looks. I've come to like the look of PP3 which rolls off the highlights more quickly than the still camera profiles. I've changed the "knee" just a bit to roll off highlights even a bit more aggressively which means I rarely end up with burned highlights. My last customizing step is to turn down the "detail" setting in the picture profile's sub-menus from zero to minus 4 (out of a range of +7 to -7). I can always add a bit of sharpening in post but it sure is harder to subtract over sharpening that is already baked into a camera file.
The images got delivered on Monday morning and the marketing staff was happy. So was I. The new PP3 picture profile method is giving me smoother skin tones and nicer highlights. The shadows are slightly more open as well.
With this small assignment done I got to work on Monday logging my video content from the previous week. It's not fun listening to the same interview over and over but it's necessary if you want to put your project together correctly in the edits.
I was about to call it a day on Tuesday and head into the house to grab a snack when I got a phone call from my favorite marketing expert at Zach Theatre. Seems they had booked one of their regular videographers to videotape a performance of the same kid's play on Weds. (the next day) and the videographer had come down with the flu. He thought he might be able to come shoot at the midday performance but the theater was hesitant about not having someone with full blown flu in the middle of a performance for a packed house of first graders.
Was there any way I could make it over and record the show? A client in need is somewhat like a friend in need except the client also pays you. Even though I was busy with my project at hand I decided to help out. After all, a client of 30 years is generally always worth it.
I asked how they usually record the shows. Some people do it with one camera and then ask the actors to come back and run through some of the performance after the audience leaves in order to get usable b-roll for their edit. Some people shoot single camera and call it a day.
I decided we should use one camera in a stationary mode to capture a wide shot of the stage and then use another camera throughout the show as to capture closer action, to get tight shots of the characters and to follow the action around the stage. I set up on the top row of the house, dead center to the stage. My stationary camera was the RX10ii set almost to its widest focal length and stopped down to f5.6. It gave me ample depth of field, given the relative distance from my position to the stage, and the effective f-stop. That camera was matched with the Beachtek XLR interface so I could get a balanced feed from the mixing board of the sound engineer. With the help of the sound engineer we were able to fine tune the levels in camera for great sound. That camera was set up on a big, wooden, Berlebach tripod equipped with a Manfrotto hybrid video/photo fluid head.
The second camera was the RX10iii set up on a big Manfrotto tripod with an enormous Manfrotto video fluid head. The Aputure monitor was attached to the hot shoe of that camera. The bigger monitor and the much more define focus peaking made following actors upstage and downstage, with good focus, much easier. I didn't bring cages for the cameras but I did want a microphone on the roving camera just to catch sound if I needed to sync up any frames with the other camera but I'd run out of hotshoe space by mounting the monitor there. Instead I dropped the microphone onto the hotshoe of the stationary camera and ran a cable back to the roving camera's input. Problem solved.
With both cameras set to ISO 640, and the white balance set to 4100K, I spent the next full hour operating the moving camera; following the actors, trying to decide who to keep in the frame when they split up across the frame, and trying to smoothly change the apertures on both cameras when I sensed changes in the light levels.
I knew the client was in a rush to get something they could use for distribution to media outlets so I had a quick lunch and headed back to the office to edit. At 5:00 pm I sent off a finished 1:30 minute edit to my client. We'll probably have a few little changes to make; that just goes with the territory, but she did e-mail me within minutes of downloading the video to tell me she "LOVED THE VIDEO!!!"
Starting tomorrow morning it's nose to the grindstone on the Canada job. Well, maybe after swim practice...