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    How I Light Tested's In-Studio StandUp Videos

    This will be a weekly three-part behind the scenes series: Lighting, Shooting, and Editing.

    "Standups" are what I call the solo presented video segments we do at Tested--a term taken from the news industry, in which a reporter addresses the camera, usually to another anchor, or the audience. It's become a common internet video format: one person, in frame, talking to camera (audience) with coverage layered over. We do them with our Makerbot videos, Show and Tells, Product reviews, etc. Everyone approaches the lighting, shooting, and editing of these segments differently; whether it be natural lighting, close-up center frame (ie, webcam), lighting quick hard cuts, etc. Today, I'd like to share my process on how I approach the lighting for these segments, specifically the 12 Days of Tested Christmas video series for 2014.

    Let me start off with this amazing illustration of my light direction and placement.

    For this shoot I used 5 lights: 2 Background Lights, 1 Rear-Key Back Light, 2 Fills

    • #1 Background Light, 650watt Arri, CTB half, medium flood/spot
    • #2 Background Light, Kino Flo Diva-Light, half-cranked
    • #3 Rear-Key Back Light, 650 Arri, CTB half, full flood
    • #4 Lowel Rifa-Light Softbox, 75%
    • #5 Kino Flo 4' Double

    I wanted to stick with traditional omni-lit studio lighting for this shoot, while adding harder lights to help sculpt the subject. We recently redesigned and painted the set with much more color and props, naturally I wanted to show it off with background lights, but still contrast that with the subject.

    Above is a short video I put together of each light's specific contribution to the scene. Let's walk through what each of those lights does for the shot.

    In Brief: National Geographic's Roboticist and Photography Engineers

    National Geographic may be known for its photographs, but you don't see much about the people behind the cameras. And I don't mean just the photographers. The organization has a small team of engineers who invent and build camera and robotics equipment for photographers to use in the wild, either to document wildlife up close or to reach parts of the world that humans and cameras just can't normally operate. Last year, National Geographic's Proof blog profiled one of its roboticists, Walter Boggs (video below), and more recently, produced another video documentary showing the work of another one of its engineers, Kenji Yamaguchi. As National Geographic describes them, they're the Q to the James Bonds of nature photography.

    Taking Jamie Hyneman's Tintype Portrait!

    You may have seen those striking black and white photos of Adam, Will, and Norm in our studio set--those were taken by photographer Michael Shindler with a process called tintype. Michael is one of the few practicing tintype artists, and we visit his studio to finally have Jamie's tintype photo taken as well!

    Living with Photography: Testing Sigma's $950 50mm f/1.4 Art Lens

    For the past month, I've been testing the new Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG DSM lens. Announced at the very beginning of the year and shown off at CES, it's been one of the best reviewed full-frame lenses released this year, and is the highly-anticipated successor to Sigma's 50mm f/1.4 EX lens released in 2008. That prime lens, if you recall, was the first lens I bought with my DSLR, the Canon 6D. It served as my primary lens for several months before I saved enough for some Canon zoom lenses. As I explained way back in Feb 2013, I opted to buy Sigma's f/1.4 over Canon's f/1.4 as my 50mm prime because it was just a better lens--more elements (8 vs 7) and more diaphragm blades (9 rounded vs 8) for sharper photos wide open and better bokeh, respectively. The tradeoffs were that at the time, the Sigma 50mm was $150 more than Canon counterpart, and weighed more as well. I thought it was worth it.

    Jump forward to almost two years later and I actually rarely break out the 50mm anymore. For convention photography and events shoots for Tested, I keep my Canon 24-70m f/2.8 on the camera 90% of the time. The versatility of the 24-70mm range is too convenient, and I found that the most I would close down to on a prime is f/2.0--the depth of field at f/1.4 is a little too shallow for my taste. When I do need the sharpness and wide aperture of a prime lens, I borrow Adam's Canon 35mm. What I end up using the Sigma 50mm for are macro photos (eg. for sixth-scale figures), with a Fotodiox macro adapter attached.

    But Sigma's new 50mm lens intrigued me. Instead of trying to be the best lens for the price, it follows along the path of Sigma's previous 50mm lens of trying to achieve the best image quality possible, no expense spared. On paper, that's a line of thinking that appeals to me: why not allow users to spend the extra money for the best product possible? Just as I didn't mind the 2008-model Sigma 50mm f/1.4 costing and weighing more than Canon's 50mm f/1.4, I figured I would embrace the new lens, even with its $950 price and 60% weight increase (815g vs 505g). Yeah, this single 50mm weighs as much as my all-purpose 24-70mm zoom.

    Let's start with where this lens shines.

    Hands-On with DJI's Inspire 1 Quadcopter

    DJI's new quadcopter is one of the coolest we've seen--a huge upgrade from the current Phantom 2 Vision+ we've been using. The Inspire 1 can record 4K video, lifts its propeller struts, and transmit clear HD video to the pilot. We chat in-depth with Eric Cheng, DJI's Director of Aerial Imaging, about all the new features in the Inspire 1 and then take it out for a test flight!

    In Brief: How to Photograph an Atomic Explosion

    The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently interviewed film archivist (and early ILM visual effects artist) Peter Kuran, who literally wrote the book about How to Photograph an Atomic Bomb. Kuran, who also directed a 1995 documentary about nuclear weapons testing, runs a website and YouTube channel dedicated to restoring and archiving films from American atomic history. Kuran talks about the current digitization efforts of nuclear research film, and what scientists and historians can learn from re-examining the footage. The HD video that Kuran and his team archive are also a resource Hollywood filmmakers tap into when needing to show footage of atomic explosions--like in this year's Godzilla.

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    Color Grading Breakdown for a Beauty Commercial

    Joey shared this awesome video with us yesterday, a time-lapse screen capture of post-production colorist < ahref="http://www.colormeup.de/">Andreas Bruekcl's work on a L'Oreal beauty commercial. The three-minute clip shows about 30 minutes of realtime grading of video shot with on an Arri Alexa, and gives just a taste of the incredibly complex task of tweaking colors and lighting of video for production. It's far more complex than the developing of RAW photos in Lightroom, for example, because the colorist has to mask and track moving elements for video. Something to keep in mind: this is a process that almost every shot of every produced live-action commercial, television show, and film goes through today, to some extent.

    Chris Hadfield Explains His Space Photography Techniques

    Adam tweeted this link to a great Q&A with Chris Hadfield from the Dark Sky star gazing festival happening right now at Canada's Jasper National Park. The former astronaut spoke a bit about Earth-gazing, and explains in this video how astronaut take advantage of the micro-gravity environment on the ISS to steady and position their cameras to photograph long-exposures of the Earth. No tripods needed in low Earth orbit!

    Tested Asks: How are Holograms Made?

    While in New York, Norm stops by Holographic Studios, one the last remaining independent holography galleries and holography studios still operating. Its founder, Jason Sapan, has spent almost 40 years practicing the art of holographic imagery. We figure he's the best person to explain to us what exactly is a hologram, and how they're painstakingly made.

    NIkon's D750 Temps me to Switch from Canon

    Early last month, Nikon announced its D750 full-frame DSLR camera. It sits between the popular D810 and entry level full-frame D610. The two aforementioned cameras are the Nikon equivalents of the Canon's successful Canon 5D MK III and 6D, but there's no comparable camera in Canon's lineup to the D750. And now that I've read some early reviews of the D750, this is beginning to worry me as a Canon user. First off, some specifications. The D750 is a 24MP full-frame camera running Nikon's EXPEED 4 processor. It basically combines the 24MP sensor of the D610 with the 51-point autofocus system of the D810. The processor bumps the framerate up to 6.5fps (using appropriate SD cards), and video recording features are adopted from the higher-end D810. New for Nikon FF DSLRs is a tilting LCD display and Wi-Fi for photo transfers. It's on sale now for $2400 (body only). This video below does a good job giving an overview of its specs.

    I've been very happy with my Canon 6D, and was looking forward to upgrading to Canon's next 5D release, if that happens in a year or two. For these full-frame cameras, upgrading the body every 3-4 years or so makes sense, since the lenses are where the money's at. But this new review by photographer Ross Harvey gives me a little bit of envy. Harvey demonstrates the tremendous low-light auto-focusing abilities of the D750 in a wedding shoot, and the image quality of photos he shot at ISO 9000 made my jaw drop.

    The best way to use a camera is to adjust your shooting style to the capabilities of your equipment. Camera performance dictates best practices. For example, the FF sensor on the 6D and a wide zoom lens lets me shoot pretty great low light photos, but I know I have to frame and compose my shots quickly because of the limited autofocus points. I shoot center point focus because I can't rely on full auto. A 51-point AF system that can lock in focus at -3EV, as well as the tilting LCD would absolutely change my shooting style, or at least expand my shooting options. It's like unlocking new abilities in a photography skill tree.

    Since I'm actually in no rush to buy a new DSLR body, all I can hope is that Canon has a good answer to the D750 in the next year. Based on recent trends, I'm not sure that's going to happen. Canon has been putting a lot of effort into video recording, from the 7D Mark II to its professional Cinema cameras (and respective lenses). The last Canon product that really excited me was its PowerShot G7X, and that was a response to Sony in the point-and-shoot market. Nikon is really impressing with its continuing innovation in traditional DSLRs, while Sony has lead the way in new format cameras like the A7r.

    In terms of ecosystem, I'm about $4000 invested in the Canon EF format. That's not a lot compared to some photographers, but it makes switching to Nikon and Sony something I can't just do on a whim. For those of you who have switched, how did you go about doing it and how was the transition?

    Living with Photography: The Nonprofessional

    Surprise, time for a long overdue Living with Photography column--I missed writing this regularly. I'm returning this week to talk about something that's been on my mind for a while now--a question I've been struggling to wrap my thoughts around since the summer: what defines a professional photographer? Or more specifically: what's the line that separates an amateur and a professional photographer?

    This question started bothering me at this year's Comic-Con, where I met a bunch of Tested readers at our Incognito party. A few of you brought up the photo galleries I post on on the site (mostly praise--thanks!), and there was even a request to schedule a photo shoot back in San Francisco. I had to respectfully decline, because I honestly don't think I would be qualified to do so as a hired photographer. I really don't consider myself a professional photographer.

    In the work I do for the site and in my own time, I've taken thousands of photos of products, events, and people. Through that experience, there are types of photos that I'm well on my way to having spent the requisite 10,000 hours of practice taking. If you need a photo of a smartphone for an article, my brain can immediately pull up the dozen different ways to illustrate its features to a viewer. If you need a photo of a cosplayer posing outside the San Diego Convention Center on one of the last weekends of July, I'll know how to frame a few good shots. There are photos in my Lightroom library that I really like, and some that I think could be considered "professional" in quality. But I am not a professional photographer. No way. And every time I get a compliment from people I respect, I feel like an impostor.

    Which leads to my original question, which I want to discuss and explore with you guys: what defines a professional photographer? Maybe the best way to start is to consider the attributes that I don't think define a Professional with a capital P.

    Education is probably the most logical attribute belonging to a professional photographer. The study and practice of photography under an academic setting--whether it's a photojournalism class or at one of those photography seminars or retreats run by notable photogs. Education is great, and goes a long way to giving you a structured understanding of the important technical aspects of taking photos. I've always wanted to take a few weekend classes for myself. But I don't think it's a requirement. It's not essential. There are plenty of working photographers who are self-taught or never had any formal training.

    Ah, so maybe that phrase--working photographers--can point us in the right direction. Is a photographer a professional if they've been paid for their work? I suppose that in the strictest sense, making money from photography would define you as a professional. But I don't think that's the case, either. Paid photography says as much about the photographer as it does about the client purchasing the photos. It's subjective. And just because someone liked a photo you took enough to pay you to license it, doesn't necessarily mean you would be qualified to do the same kind of work again. I've sold two photos before, but they were far from my favorite photos--they just suited what the licensee needed. Just because you see a great photo on Flickr doesn't mean that the photographer would be capable of taking an assignment to produce the same caliber of work. Photography is fickle, and new technology has made it easier than ever to take a good photo without explicitly knowing what you're doing.

    That's not to say I don't take the photos I shoot for Tested seriously. When I shoot product photos for stories, YouTube thumbnails, or behind-the-scenes materials, my mind is absolutely "on-assignment." So can the definition of a professional photographer be something literal: a sense of responsibility and professionalism? Again, I think that falls short of a proper definition. Professionalism and a purposeful approach to photography are valued qualities of a professional photographer, but not what I would consider essential for professional practice. We're getting closer, I know it.

    How about that Gladwell-notion of mastery, then. Is the number of photos taken or how many hours you've spent practicing the craft that makes you a professional photographer? I don't doubt that 10,000 hours spent taking photos would give anyone a technical mastery of photography, but this is still talking about experience in terms of quantity, and not quality. There's likely a strong correlation between quantity and quality that converges as you reach a certain amount of experience, but this still is too abstract an association that doesn't satisfy a concrete personal definition. As someone who isn't a professional photographer, I want a objective definition that doesn't feel like an arbitrary goal.

    So after much thought, here's my proposed definition of a professional photographer--the standard I hold myself against as an amateur:

    In Brief: GoPro Announces Hero4 Line of Action Cameras

    Another year, another GoPro release (how many people actually upgrade every year?) This generation of the ubiquitous action cams builds on last year's strengths--more high-speed fps recording options and better 4K video. On the high end, the $500 GoPro Hero4 Black now shoots 4K video at 30fps (double that of the Hero3 Black), as well as 120fps at 1080p (and other resolution/framerate options). The $400 Hero Silver has the same recording capabilities of last year's Black edition, but now includes a touchscreen for viewfinding and control on the back. GoPro also now has a budget option in the $130 Hero, which can record 1080p at 30fps and is also waterproof. 120fps at 1080p is appealing, but I care more about the usability improvements. The controls have apparently been reworked for faster access to recording settings, and new night shooting modes add manual control to the camera shutter. We'll likely buy one for testing, but have not had the best experience using the GoPros for our own productions. For long videos like shooting Still Untitled podcasts, the GoPros have overheated a few times.

    In Brief: FAA Begins Granting Production Companies Drone Waivers

    Last Thursday, the FAA announced that it has begun granting video production companies exemptions to its unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) regulations. Six companies now have permission to use quadcopters and drones for production purposes, after convincing the FAA that their operations would meet a minimum standard for safety. Operators at these companies, for example, would hold private pilot certificates, keep the aerial systems within line of sight at all times, and keep flights restricted to designated "sterile areas" on set. The FAA would still have to inspect the aircraft before each flight, and nighttime aerial production is still prohibited. But this establishes a precedence and procedure for commercial companies to seek regulatory exemptions for drone flights with the FAA. 40 more requests are being considered, and the FAA is encouraging interested firms to work with their respective industry associations to create the appropriate safety manuals and operating procedures required for new exemptions. In other quadcopter news, DHL has begun a monthlong trial of autonomous aerial delivery of medicine and supplies to a sparsely populated island off the coast of Germany.

    Beautiful Quadcopter Video Over Prague

    I really enjoyed this aerial tour of Prague, shot with a Phantom DJI and GoPro with a three-axis stabilizer. The filmmakers promise that they were cautious in their filming, but I think it would still be considered reckless by veteran multi-rotor hobbyists who are struggling with regulatory limbo and dickishness here in the States. It makes me wonder if this genre of videos--beautiful aerial montages from the uniquely mobile perspective--is a flash in a pan, and will go away as governments tighten down their restrictions on where hobbyists and professional videographers can fly. I was actually surprised to see how few drone or aerial RC videos came out of Burning Man this year. DJI's Eric Cheng shot a great montage, but I expected the desert skies to be littered with these things.

    In Brief: Canon Announces PowerShot G7 X, Long-Awaited 7D Mark II

    It's been a crazy week in technology already, and a few bits of news escaped me until today. Photokina is going on right now, and camera companies are making some pretty big announcements there. New "entry-level" Leica cameras, Instagram-styled Polaroid instant cameras, and plenty of lenses. I honestly have trouble keeping up with all of it. But Canon has two cameras that extremely notable. First is the PowerShot G7X, a direct competitor to the Sony RX 100 III. It's a compact that uses the same 1-inch type 20MP sensor, but is $100 cheaper than the RX 100 III and has a better 24-100mm equivalent f/1.8-2.8 lens. Apparently, the lens stays wider longer, and Canon goes directly after Sony with a clicky lens dial and a dedicated exposure comp dial. No EVF, but that's not a big miss. Canon knows where fans are at and are finally addressing high quality compact needs. Also announced was the long-awaited EOS 7D Mark II, the best APS-C camera you can get from Canon before going full-frame. Like the 7D, it's designed for video shooters, with a fast AF system equipped with 65 cross-type focus points. Recording is still limited to 1080p50, but now there's a headphone jack and uncompressed clean HDMI out. I bet it shoots pretty good photos, too.

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    Tested In-Depth: Sony RX100 III Compact Camera

    We sit down to discuss Sony's latest high-end compact camera, the RX100 Mark III. Having tested both predecessors to this model, we evaluate its new features like the electronic viewfinder and improved zoom lens, as well as its image quality compared to big DSLR cameras. Here's why it's one of our favorite new cameras to use!

    Testing: Sony RX100 MK III Compact Camera

    I've been on the hunt for a pocket camera to complement my DSLR, and spent time with cameras with sensors ranging from micro 4/3 to full-frame. My test of Sony's RX100 Mark II made me seriously consider the trade off between body size and sensor size. There were several things that held it back from being ideal for my day to day use, but I realized that getting a compact camera with an APS-C or Full-Frame sensor would compete too directly with my DSLR. Going for portability made more sense for a secondary camera. So for my recent birthday, I ended up buying Sony's RX100 Mark III, based on the praise other photographers have given it. It arrived a little over a week ago, and I've been shooting a lot with it since. And even though I've already committed to the camera, I'm still running it through the practical testing that I would give any new camera to gauge its strengths and weakness, and to relay that experience to you. So here's what that shooting experience has been like so far.

    One of the reasons I felt I would be comfortable buying the RX100 III before using it is because it inherits almost all of the great things I like about the RX100 II. That includes size, weight, tilting LCD, image quality, manual controls, and wi-fi features. The size and weight are perfect for these cameras to be stowed in a jacket pocket (though the MK III is slightly thicker and heavier than both previous models). I was already satisfied with the RAW and JPEG image quality from Sony's 20MP 1" -type sensor, even if the lens on the MK II was a little lacking. And I have been very impressed with the Wi-Fi connectivity of Sony's cameras, which I used extensively on the a7 and RX100 II. In using this 3rd-generation RX100 the things I wanted to specifically test for were the new zoom lens and autofocus speed, as well as the digital viewfinder.

    The OLED viewfinder is probably the most noticeable addition to the RX100 line, and surprisingly doesn't add to the heft or bulk of the camera. There's still a built-in flash, and the only thing you lose is a hotshoe that was on the MK II. This EVF pops up on the left side and needs to be extended a little bit before use, so you can't switch to it as instantaneously as you would a fixed EVF like on the Fuji cameras. The eye proximity sensor has proven to be accurate, though. I found the 800x600 resolution (100% coverage, .59x magnification) sufficient for framing and focusing, since I use digital peaking assists anyway for finding focus. I know some people who only use EVFs for their shooting, but I typically can't stand the latency--my brain wants the response of an optical viewfinder. But I have been using the EVF on this MKIII outdoors and even for reviewing photos. If Sony offered a version of the MK III without the EVF for a lower price, I would've gone with that one. But the $150 price difference between the models accounts for the EVF, the new lens, and new processor.

    Below are my sample photos taken so far, with notes on what they say about the camera. The photos were not post-processed at all, just RAW files ingested in Lightroom and resized/exported as JPEGs. Click each of them to enlarge.

    Testing: Instagram's Hyperlapse App for iOS

    Instagram today announced and released a new iOS video app called Hyperlapse. It was a pet project of Instagram engineers Thomas Dimson and Alex Karpenko, and impressed Instagram founder Kevin Systrom enough that the company developed it into a full-fledged app. Wired Design's Cliff Kuang has an exclusive story about the app's origins, if you're curious. But after a morning of testing, here's what you need to know about it.

    Hyperlapse is a time-lapse app for iOS, much like Studio Neat's Frameographer or the time-lapse feature built into many smartphones. Unlike those apps, three isn't much to configure--you don't set the interval time between snaps, nor the framerate of your output video. You just hit record and Hyperlapse starts record, at a default rate of five frames a second (assuming 30fps output). That translates to one second of video for every six seconds of time passing--pretty fast for a time-lapse. But what makes these time-lapses a "hyperlapse" is the stabilization between captured frames, making it look like your time-lapse video was shot on a gyro-stabilized gimbal. And technically, your video is gyro-stabilized, since the app takes into account the iPhone's gyro data to match frame angles and smooth out the video movement. The result is smoother time-lapses that you'd get than just putting your phone on a tripod, without using complex motion-correction algorithms like Microsoft Research's hyperlapse project.

    I shot a few Hyperlapse videos to post on Instagram, and frankly wasn't very impressed by the output. The gyro-stabilization works to some extent, but doesn't do a good job compensating for very shaky movement. You still have to try to keep your hands still or your phone held steady against a fixed object. Also, the video output on my iPhone 5 took a long time to process for a minute-long clip, and compressed the hell out of it. Hyperlapse is really only ideal if you're shooting the Instagram-preferred 15 second clips (about three minutes in real time), and if you don't care about video compression whisking away HD details. Full clips are saved to the iPhone's camera roll, like the video I uploaded to Vimeo and embedded below. A two minute clip ended up being only 120MB on my phone, and looked worse than a stationary time-lapse I shot and exported with Frameographer.