Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Some of my traditional and digital art work...

Art Prints

Monday, June 18, 2012

Dearest and most esteemed readers of my meagre blog, since my last post I have been on a major gear acquisition jag with some new purchases particularly my new camera, the Sony NEX 7. This camera (I do believe) will vastly improve my photographic and video production efforts and launch me headlong on my eventual Hollywood directorial role. Uh right… Okay, delusions of grandeur aside, first a quick story… On New Year’s Eve of 2011 after a couple o’ glasses of bubbly I, uh, inadvertently grabbed the wrong quick release on my DIY fig rig, yes I was holding the rig but not the video camera which was also on a quick release plate. Oops, there went the beloved Panasonic NV-G S 400 straight to the tile floor. I frantically grabbed at it but too late. I immediately picked it up, turned it on to check it looked at the LCD viewfinder and egad everything was green! I tried recording but it worked for a few seconds and that was it. Not happy, but as luck would have it I was still able to play the mini DV tapes with it so I finished capturing the footage from the last few tapes that I still had left. I am glad we pay for home owners insurance as after a call to our insurer they agreed to cover the accidental damage either repairing or replacing it. I took it to the local repair place and they said the CCD sensor was dislodged and broken and though it could still play they would not be able to get the parts to fix it so that it could record again thus it was a write off. Albeit bittersweet the insurance settlement was just the thing I needed to bankroll my purchase of a Sony NEX 7 that I had been lusting after for six months or so since the day it was announced and I saw the specs. Too bad it was still not available due to unprecedented demand then the floods in Thailand in October 2011 etc.

The insurance company had an agreement with a camera dealer (Michaels in Melbourne) and set me up with a credit there to pay for a recommended replacement. I called Michaels and they were quite happy to apply that credit towards the Sony NEX 7 because I also had to put in an extra couple hundred dollars more. I was informed that I was tenth in line to get one as soon as they arrived. After less than a month’s wait, I received the call that it came in and was being shipped to me straight away. I paid them the balance and was doing the happy joy dance. When it arrived I was like a kid at Christmas as I had been wanting to replace my Nikon still camera and the video camera as well not because I am overly gadget acquisitive but the gear I had was getting way old and I waited for at least a couple of years for something like the Sony NEX 7 to come along. I already read every review hunted down other’s test footage to watch and even downloaded the manual so I was ready! I made my own silly little unboxing video on my little Kodak Zi8, which while a bit goofy as suits my character was fun to prolong my excitement.
With my camera in my hands finally, I also got on to B&H photo in the USA to order some extras to help me along. First thing was a couple of proper Sony MS Pro HG Duo HX Magic Gate 16gb cards which I chose because they had the highest transfer rate. I did my research to make sure that despite the claims of others about their cards speed, they did not use proprietary Sony transfer algorithms that made them as fast. Also the reviews were five stars.
 Only buy these from a reputable dealer because there are fake/re-labelled ones out there. Moving on, of course an extra battery also Sony, sorry no knock off batteries for me need I explain?
 I also ordered a Sony BBF black neoprene case, which fits it but just barely…
I wrote my little review of it on here as well.
Add to all this a couple of odd things to help my production including this cool Manfrotto shoulder brace to keep things steady at a very inexpensive price point.
I have used the shoulder brace a couple of times and it works pretty well but my wife thinks it is somewhat geeky looking  and is a bit much for every day kind of shooting so I guess I will save it for more full blown productions. Since the Sony NEX 7 inherited the Minolta proprietary hot shoe I had to get an adaptor so I could attach my LED light panel or the Rode Video Microphone right on top of the camera. I ordered the
Uh, not the best piece of gear but it is only seventeen dollars. I had to carefully sand down the inside of the shoe part to get it to slide onto the NEX 7 hot shoe with some semblance of ease, lucky I have jewellery skills and some really small files, but its little release button is poo and often catches. My recommendation on this little gem is buy it at your own risk. Did you say Minolta hot shoe? Hmmm I drag out my old flash unit from the 35mm days a Minolta Maxxum 3500xi flash from 1993 and popped it on the NEX 7, well I’ll be dipped in shit, the thing worked! I pointed it at the ceiling and it lit the room up like a low kiloton yield nuclear weapon!  However, I still have to see if the camera will control the exposure compensation on it though I have my doubts. It is nearly as big as the camera though. It would probably light up a night scene well but blind anyone in the vicinity. Maybe it is time to hunt for something to diffuse it. I’d welcome any recommendations.
One more accessory which I have now come to value highly is the P & C pistol grip I first saw on
and in some other videos  particularly
where it was put to some novel uses. This is a great piece of gear for only twenty five dollars. I could have gotten a Zacuto one for a hundred… nah.
It has now been a couple of months and I have had a chance to use all of the gear in a variety of differing configurations and put the NEX 7 through some heavy duty shooting. So far everything has worked well together here was my first test video with nothing but the camera and kit lens using only the camera’s on board microphone shooting 1080p AVCHD 25fps (PAL).

I have been extrememly pleased with the size and feel of the NEX 7 it is significantly more compact than my old Nikon Coolpix 8800, weighs less and takes some pretty stunning pictures. But I did not get this camera for mere happy snaps alone. One of the first tasks I undertook with this camera was shooting a new set of images from my artwork in RAW. I am not alone in my opinion that photographing artwork, especially large oil paintings is one of the most challenging photographic tasks you can undertake only followed by photographing jewellery (I’ll be writing about that down the line) and requires full control of the documentation process. All of your camera settings have to be done manually, the lighting has to be handled meticulously as you want to show the texture of the works and there are major issues with glare on shiny varnished paintings.  Then there is the post-processing of the raw images which also needs to be spot on and it definitely is time consuming even with a good workflow utilizing CS4 Adobe Bridge, Raw and Photoshop. I am photographing my artwork to create the best possible images from which I then sell as giclee` prints on fineartamerica.com therefore the colour and detail has to be exact in order to print them at a fairly large size. My final files I upload to FAA are between ten to twenty megabytes in size they allow up to twenty five though. Is all this photographic fussiness worth it? Hell yeah, I toiled for innumerable hours painting the images stroke by stroke so I know exactly what the colours should look like by the time they are ready to be uploaded as digital data as I mixed them myself on my real palette with actual paint. I did some of the photographic work inside with lights and shot some outdoors on a very cloudy day which while providing very even lighting still required careful colour grading. There are advantages and disadvantages to the indoor or outdoor issue. Light on cloudy days can vary slightly, but no hassles with lights, angles, ceiling height, also paintings do not get blown off of easels when inside… The level indicator that is available for display in the viewfinder and the LCD on the camera came in very handy as well and saved me some time straightening out the images before cropping. I used the manual focus and peaking function throughout which worked fantastic especially when the focus jumps to a much more magnified image.
The NEX 7 performed well for me under these rigorous requirements, however I had to compensate for some pincushion distortion on a number of images but that is because of the kit lens, if I had one of those thousand dollar Zeiss lenses I might have eliminated that. If I had an extra thousand or so for some really good lights too that would probably help as well.
Just go to FAA and you can view some of these images yourself, hell you can even buy a print if you like my artwork. The NEX 7 has the capability to provide the level of detail necessary for copying artwork destined for print. Considering the price point of this piece of gear, I can live with it for now. As an outdoor point and shoot anything camera it has also performed well plus I can hand it off to others to shoot in Auto mode and most times get a decent image back. I have found the navigation system to be the biggest challenge. With the nearly overwhelming variety of settings it can be a bit confounding initially. The tri-navi system worked well when I shot all the artwork with manual settings even felt kinda old school and it does have a logic to it that you can apply to other parts of the menu items as well. It is going to take me some time to become totally proficient at navigating my way around the menus as there are numerous settings. I have played with some of the more “fun” type of settings which can be helpful for stylized shooting though I tend to do most of that stuff in Photoshop, though shooting video in these modes has also been a treat as well. Not sure if I would shoot anything serious with them enabled. I did try some settings recommended for a more… filmic look as found here
Though meant for the NEX 5n they also worked on the NEX 7 as well though it is pretty subtle. I will have to experiment with this some more. 

Unfortunately the NEX 7 has no intervalometer (could be done with a firmware upgrade?) and I really wanted to do some experimenting with this feature so I had to do it manually. Here are the results.

However, doing it by pressing the shutter is a PIA, so I think I will invest in one of these devices and get serious with the time lapse photography: http://tempus.bymac.org/
Next we are planning to shoot an interview with an aged relative in a cool documentary style. Should be a great opportunity for utilizing all the gear, I think we are ready for it.
I will post a few images here from the NEX 7 that I took at a body art carnivale in Eumundi in May.
Oops, some (kinda) naked lady pics!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Fig-Rig Action!

I have now had a chance over the holidays to put my fig rig through some real tests and actually make a couple of short films with it too. The difference is remarkable, it has really helped to stabilize my camera and make it less home-movie looking… wish I would have done it a while ago. I put it through its paces at the beach, over rocks, up inclines, around the home and I have included some footage below shot with it as well as one of the short films.
I acquired some new video accessories over the holidays and have now added a Rode video microphone with a dead cat cover to my rig, which I have tested in some very windy conditions. Thus far, I have found that it makes what was formerly un-listenable video (due to horrendous wind noise) only mildly unpleasant; seems fair enough. Maybe I have to re-consider shooting in these conditions. Anyway, in normal home situations it sounds great with crystal clarity and detail that has been sorely missing from my efforts. It is worth every bit I paid for it at B&H Video. I look forward to including better sounding dialogue into my work from here on out.
In addition to that I am now the proud owner of a 144 led panel light that is adjustable for both dimming and colour.  I purchased it direct from China on EBay from steven.studio at half the price of the Ikan branded model-exact same light/kit. Though a bit leery of doing so, I have to say it all went really well, paid by pay-pal and they were really prompt answering my e-mail enquiries with pretty good English to boot. When I asked about articulating (magic) arms to mount the various gear on my fig rig they really hustled me to buy a couple… very impressive! Again they were less than half the price of “normal” on-line hardware retailers and they shipped them quickly no hassles. Now I have two magic arms, an eleven inch and a seven inch. I have used them with the light and the microphone. They all worked great! I will use the shorter arm when I get a seven inch monitor.
Last, but not least I also got some fiddly bits consisting of a couple of hot shoe mounts ¼’-20, cold shoe mounts ¼’-20, and a Manfrotto 323 quick release plate and adaptor, so I can now get all the gear as well as the camera on and off quick and the same to mount the complete fig-rig on a tripod.
Though the near complete rig now looks a little intimidating; I am happy with the results so far and am looking forward to a more ambitious project.  I have put up a video of the fig-rig in action, which you can see below. There are also samples of the footage taken with it as well. The last bit of the video I am using the light and the microphone and it looked heaps better and sounded superb. Next we will be adding a Lilliput seven inch monitor to the rig and finally a Sony NEX 7 and some nice glass to the kit!
In the meantime I am in the audience testing phase of a short film I made from which there are a couple of scenes in the fig-rig footage. I am deciding whether or not it is worth entering in a film festival of some kind or just putting it up on YouTube and Vimeo. I guess I will just wait and hear what a few people have to say about it.

And here is the link to the video-Down-under DIY Fig-Rig in action!

Downunder DIY Fig-Rig in action from Joe Michelli on Vimeo.

And here is the link to the video-"The Duel"! I used a tripod for some of the opening shots but after that it is all hand-held with the rig. Yes it is a silly little video... would have been epic if the weather was in my favour. Drat!

My wife Bronwyn came up with the idea to video her nieces opening their silly string guns for Christmas and instead I turned it into a production that took an afternoon to film and a few hours of editing, effects, etc.

Feel free to leave a nice comment!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Downunder DIY Fig Rig

Joe's down-under DIY Fig Rig!

Why did he do it?

Some background information first.

During the last six years or so I have been on a monster of a project that really has no end. That is to get every bit of personal video and every photograph I have ever shot (as well as video already "pre"-edited from my nightclub VJ days), digitized and available on DVD. Thus far the project has seen me editing over a hundred and fifty hours of video footage and creating roughly 90 DVDs, numerous YouTube videos all of this work includes sound, musical backgrounds, titles, transition and the occasional goofy special effect. The footage comes from a variety of activities from mundane cat video to tropical vacations as well as the seemingly endless round of birthdays, anniversaries, parties, picnics at the beach, Christmas, funerals and weddings. 

At this juncture, I feel I have at the very least developed the editing skills to do far more ambitious things. However as I have looked at all those hours of footage despite my best and oft clownish efforts also to a degree limited by whatever technology was available (that I could afford at the time, VHS, Hi 8mm, mini DV SD) a good deal of it has... an amateur-ish look (duh) especially when it was taken with a hand held camera. So, from here on out  I want to make my video look less... shaky-then maybe sound better, which I think would be a pretty good start. Over the last few years me and my wife (who also handles the camera a lot) have been very conscious of creating a more narrative flow to our personal documentary complete with establishing shots, didactic information and self-conducted interviews.

I have some confidence now as well as some ambition and want to make a short film in the near future, you know, one with a story, an actual narrative with a point and a conclusion. While I am writing my screen play, working on the story-board for a couple of projects I wanted to address the more technical side of my camera work and production skills. But, before I shell out for some more gear like a really good camera, a dedicated external microphone, a nice dim-able LED light, or an on board monitor, what can I do or make on my own? First things first, (well more like cheapest thing first) I really feel I need something to give me some stability for the hand held shots and hopefully something that would also accommodate the extras I want to add to my production gear.

My Internet research provided me some great web-sites that gave me heaps of information to start. Probably one of my most favourite sites of late has been http://cheesycam.com/  it is here where I learned of the "Fig Rig" invented by the director Mike Figgus. Cheesy Cam's most popular video is the DIY Fig Rig after watching it I was all like yeah, I can do that! The video and the ensuing stream of comments, modifications and pictures from everybody else who has done it sure helped as well. Now you have to keep in mind this was made in the USA so if you do not live there then you do not probably have a "Home Depot" store nearby. Thus the parts they use are not quite the same as what might be available in say... France, or in my case, Australia. We don't know WTF Home Depot is here (I am an American, so I do). Anyway, with that in mind, if I wanted to DIY my version of the fig rig, I was ON MY OWN. So for me Aussie Mates, yes, it can be done here as well. I got everything I needed to do my own DIY down-under "Fig Rig" right on the Sunshine Coast where I live. I got a lot of the hardware at Bunnings, a few more bits at North Coast Plumbing and the bicycle grips at K-Mart. 

Here are some of the costs:

Bike handles-2 pair-$10.00 K-Mart
hardware from Bunnings and local plumbing supply store $23.87

Total cost (drumroll) $33.87

But wait...

flat black spray paint (the good shit!)  $9.30
new hacksaw blade  $4.59
drill bit  $7.64

so I had to add another $21.53

I also had a dozen Large washers from a previous DIY household repair, a black cap left over from a curtain rod and I unscrewed the ball mount from my   $29.00 mono pod to use until I replace it with a Manfrotto 323 RC2 Quick Release plate (BHPhoto). I figure I got away pretty cheap as the least expensive decent one I found to purchase on-line was the ALZO DSLR rig

Okay I had to do some work, I hack-sawed the steel shelf strut, threaded rods and black pvc pipe, drilled holes with my Foredom flexible shaft outfitted with a drill and my Makita drill as well. It took me 20 minutes of measuring and thinking how to get the shelf bracket/strut to center up with the length I wanted at around 16 inches... had to bounce back and forth between the metric system and the old school measurements both of which are used here depending on the trade... confusing but not a deal-breaker. Took me say, five hours of work as I had to do all that cutting, so less than a day with the pre-preparation and clean up. Here are the pictures! I will put up some video comparisons with and without my rig when I get the chance. Hope this helps somebody else out. Thanks to all the other folks that have posted their versions as it really helped me to do mine!

I moved the handle down on the left to show the black pvc pipe.

Coming soon, some video!

Monday, October 31, 2011

I thought I might try my hand at producing an "Un-boxing" video after watching some others on YouTube. Some of them were pretty bad with zero to minimal production value. Others were fantastic and well made. So I decided to do my own thing with the equipment I have, which is not all that great but each time I create something I learn a little more, stretch my meager skill set.
And now for some background! My wife needed a new laptop after our HP Pavillion 9000 series laptop suffered it's final meltdown due to the faulty NVIDIA graphics chip on the mobo. This problem is well documented and HP virtually ignored my three phone calls and e-mails back and forth and basically wants nothing to do with the problem nor did they offer me any kind of compensation for selling me a faulty product. So I voted with my feet... I ordered a Dell XPS 15 through their on-line sales site. It all went really well. I am glad I did my research and due diligence as we now have a much better laptop. Well, we will see if it lasts the three and a half years we got out of the HP. The video is not about my cat Luka, he is just the..."talent" you know how they are, he cannot help but insert himself into any endeavor I undertake around the house. I guess it is his "enrichment" time. Coolski! Feel free to comment if you are so inclined. No trolls please... I try to play nice.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Just to give a little idea on the kinds of work I do for a lark!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Eventually the stuff you have that you thought was so cool gets old. Like my Panasonic NV-GS400 3 CCD camera which still puts out great video but it is in SD format. Maybe time to up grade? I have began the laborious process of research into all things video camera related. Then I consider my still camera, the Nikon Coolpix 8800, also a great piece of gear but I bought it in...2005 and while the mega pixel size is no longer considered very big at 8mp the optics are good enough to show a nice picture on my 50' Fujitsu Plasma screen. The question has loomed, buy two new separate cameras one for HD video and another for the super great photos or try to find the perfect marriage of both still and video camera?
As my research has progressed I have vacillated between brands and various makes of video cameras still cameras, DSLRs with video etc. I have checked out imumerable blogs, reviews, fanboy websites and juggled items on wish-lists with Amazon and BHPhoto mostly as well as reading all the customer reviews on each item I considered. I also got LOTS of information on this subject from http://cheesycam.com/ which has been an invaluable resource in my pursuit of the right stuff.

It seem there are a lot of folks using the Canon EOS 5D MKII BH Photo, and the Canon EOS 7D BH Photo and since I already own a Nikon I was interested in the Nikon D7000 of course BH Photo.  However, these cameras (in order to take decent HD video) all seem to require various kinds of shooting rigs that go from the DIY with parts from IKEA for under $25 Ultra cheap DIY all the way up to $3,000 or so from the likes of Zacuto BH Photo, RedRock Micro BH Photo and a host of others. Then there are the cheapo Chinese knock-offs at around $300 bucks they look similar but there have been some criticism of their quality (DUH) but for the price they can't be beat at Amazom. These types of rigs are just for mounting the DSLR type camera to give a decent and steady video with the bonus that you can trade lenses and get that sought after bokeh effect that says "hey, this is cinematography" and not home video. Once you have a "rig" then you have to mount a heap of shit on it including, eternal microphone, monitor, led light panel, maybe a separate audio recorder. Add a matte box to that to keep out the stray light and avoid those lens flares. Suddenly your rig looks like something from a Hollywood shoot! Try sneaking up on anybody with that... also the weight factor kicks in. I started looking into other ways to shoot by using a stedicam style set-up for those super groovy follow shots. I checked out some DIY versions as well as some of the professional made ones. I have wondered though how that would work if you tried mounting all of the other suff on some type of rig and tried running with that? I have checked out various articulating arms to attach the extra bits with and found a really good one after watching an arm review, so that part is settled. After a lot of...sifting I have definitely decided that the Rhode video microphone was the hands down winner, as it has been the choice for so many others. I also found a good deal on e-bay for a dim-able LED light panel that is the same as the professional brand IKAN, except it is less that half the price, see ebay led panel. Okay got that straightened out. Might as well add a monitor too so I found this review of the 7" Lilliput monitor, looks pretty good and again half the price of the other more "professional" brands see tonyzeh's review.

Then I saw tonyzeh's DIY shoulder rig! Quite snazzy and cheap as, I asked him a bunch of questions and instead of just answering them he made a four part series video showing the entire build! Wow, now I can make my own out of tent poles and automotive wire harnesses for a couple of hundred instead of a couple a large. see photozblog.com 

Next I will address the camera end of this but the meantime I have become VERY interested in the new and lighter Sony NEX 7 seems to tick all my boxes and I can take it off whatever rig I wind up using and can hand it off to my splendid wife who also likes to document nearly everything with both video and photography. The Sony NEX7 fits her major specification of a small, light camera that takes very high quality pictures both video and still. Though this camera has not really shipped yet to the public, except for reviewers who all seem to agree that this camera is the "ONE"... From the footage that I have seen on the net I am coming to this decision as well. Hmm, more to come about this.