Monday, September 28, 2009

Using Adobe's Premiere Pro CS4 After Effects to enhance your video

Have a look at this clip I posted in Vimeo:

Here I describe how I greatly improved the "washed out" appearance of a clip I had shot of a Great Blue Heron catching a fish. It was only a matter of a couple of mouse clicks to create a video that was a bit blah into something a lot more eyecatching.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Blue Heron Catching a Minnow

I shot this video yesterday at the foot of the Mill Pond Dam in Jacob's Landing Park in Cambridge, Ontario. Got a hot lead from a buddy of mine (Thanks, Murr!) of egrets and Great Blue Herons that frequent this area.

This was a learning experience in a number of ways. Choosing the right background was key; the waterfalls from the dam was ideal in projecting "natural surroundings" as opposed to the manmade structures of cement walls, iron railings, floating plastic containers, etc. that you find in any inner-city location. I've not been too thrilled with the Canon 5Dmk2's sound recording capability, so I recorded separately with a Samson Zoom H4N stereo audio recorder. The heron was undisturbed by my shooting distance of approx 60 meters (it's no doubt acclimated to the many residents who pass by daily), so I was able to zoom in close with a Canon 100-400L telephoto with two Canon teleconverters (1.4 & 2.0) stacked on it.

I processed this clip in Adobe Premiere CS4, and adjusted contrast and sharpening in After Effects. True confession: the waterfalls drowned out the splash of the heron grabbing the fish, so........I have to admit I dubbed in the sound of me whacking a tub of water in my laundry room after the fact. Sue me. ;)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Burning Blu-ray disks on the cheap!

Anyone who has checked the price of a blank 25 GB Blu-ray disk has surely gulped as I have. The local electronic box stores have a tiny selection with individual disks costing $17 CDN or more!!! Also, a dedicated Blu-ray burner is required which is certainly going to set you back $400 - $500 at least (correct me if I'm wrong here; haven't sourced 'em out yet).

For those of us who produce small 5D2 (or other dslr video models) clips and would like to screen them on your huge home LCD 1080p TV from your Blu-ray movie player, here's a way to do it on cheap DVD blank disks using an ordinary DVD burner:

First, purchase (less than $90) from Sony online ( their current version of Sony Vegas Movie Studio Platinum 9.0c. Yeah, it's gonna set you back $84.95 US, but you can download their free trial first to try this out and THAT will cost you nuthin'!

Second, fire up Sony Vegas and start a "New Project". Import your clips to the timeline. If you're going to do any editing first go to "edit", click on "select all", then hit Enter. Then go make a pot of coffee and relax for a bit -- Sony Vegas is "pre-rendering" your raw .mov footage to make it run smoother within the program as you edit it. This makes is much better (and accurate) for snipping, adding effects/transitions, etc......but it does take some time for this pre-rendering to complete, depending on the power of your PC cpu.

Once all your editing is done, again go to "Edit" and click on "Select All"

Click on "Make Movie"

Select "Burn DVD, Blu-ray, or CD"

Then enter these settings:

Put a fresh blank DVD into your chosen DVD burner and hit "OK"

Go finish your coffee

The freshly-burned DVD should play quite nicely in your home Blu-ray player.

Let me know how this turns out for you. Again: get the free trial version of Sony Vegas first, so if it doesn't work you simply expended a bit of time (and wasted a single cheap DVD disk).

Good luck!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Stacking teleconverters

One of the biggest challenges in photographing and videographing small songbirds is getting close enough to "fill the frame" before the shy little creatures fly off. Ever alert to stalking predators, the photographer frequently needs to set up in a blind and wait patiently near a feeding site in the hopes that an unwary subject will venture close to allow a decently close shot.

Another tactic is go heavy on telephoto glass, where 300 - 400 mm is the bare minimum lens required to get a sufficiently detailed image of a small bird. To that end, I stacked two Canon teleconverters, 1.4 and 2.0, onto my Canon 100-400 L telephoto zoom. The advantage is obvious in that the effective focal length on my 5D Mark 2 dslr totals out to 1120 mm -- certainly capable of giving me some decent working distance from a nervous songbird. However, there are some formidable downsides to this stacking arrangement:

1. loss of light: a full 3 stops of light are lost with this arrangement, rendering maximum aperture from the normal f5.6 of the 100-400 lens at full 400 extension down to f13 maximum aperture with the stacked teleconverters. Not too much of a problem at high noon in bright sunlight, but huge in the dimmer light of sunrise or heavy overcast (sometime both!). When shooting video with the 5D2 the only options are to reduce the frame exposure to its minimum 1/30 sec and increase ISO radically to boost light sensitivity to the sensor. Fortunately, the 5D2 works wonderfully in low light situations which may well defeat other smaller-sensored vidcams.

2. camera shake: always magnified with telephoto and macro lenses, the high 1120mm focal length (= zoom of 22.4x) is brutal when showing camera vibrations. A solid tripod/video head is the only answer here. Even very slight camera movement is distracting and detracts from the subject material.

3. manual focus: any lens with a maximum aperture greater than f5.6 will not have auto focus on the Canon 5D2. Even at the relatively closed aperture of f13, the Depth of Field of this lens combination to a subject 10 meters away will be a scant 7 cm -- which feels razor thin when trying to manually adjust focus on a flitting target! Again, patience is key as well as a fine touch on the focus adustment wayyyyy out in front of you!!

This is short 2 minute clip shot a few days ago of a mated pair of Northern Cardinals shot in the early morning from my deck at the side of my house. The light was dim, but the electronic "noise" isn't too bad at such a high ISO (6400):