Friday, December 23, 2011

Late December Evening

Late December Evening
December 16 - 17, 2011
Canon 60D | Sigma 30mm f/1.4 | Final Cut Pro 7 | Color 1.5

Last year during the holidays, I'd posted some shots of Central Park and Rockefeller Center that I'd taken during the month of December. I figured that this year, I would do something similar with a video.

The above video was shot late last Friday evening. After doing some Christmas shopping in Union Square, I took the 4 train up to Grand Central Terminal, arriving about 11:30 p.m. From there I walked to various sites, wrapping up at the Time Warner Center around 2:00 a.m.

Unfortunately, the big attraction lights (e.g. those at Rockefeller Center, Time Warner Center) were all off by the time I had arrived. I didn't have another chance to film these sites, so rather than focus on the big lights and crowds, I tried to focus more on the feeling on what these places were like after the lights were turned off, and most of the crowds had gone back to their homes or hotels.

Since I had another bunch of errands to run earlier in the evening, I didn't bring a tripod. For almost all of these, I swung my backpack around to the front, and propped my elbows onto it while holding the camera. The smoothcam filter in Final Cut Pro helped, but as always, it can be hit or miss. I might put a monopod on my gear wish list. Smoothcam can be ok, but I always recognize it when I see it, and it's not something that I can 100% rely on for fixing problems.

I did one color pass with Magic Bullet Looks, but I think I rushed the job, and it came out looking muddy, for lack of a better descriptor. Since I'd shot this using the Technicolor CineStyle Picture Style profile, I tried my second pass by clearing out the existing color work that I'd done, sending it to Color, applying the LUT there, and then making my adjustments. In the end, this was probably just as fast, if not faster, than what I'd done in Magic Bullet Looks.

Since watching Philip Bloom's great Looks tutorial, and because I am a big fan of his work, I've always wanted Magic Bullet Looks to be the tool I use for these sort of short videos. However, I've always found myself going to Apple Color instead, even for very short projects. I've realized that I have a slight bias towards Color, since the main book that I've read on color correction, Steve Hullfish's The Art and Technique of Digital Color Correction, used FinalTouch, predecessor to Apple's Color, as its model, and my best guess is that whatever tool I might try and use, those workflows are the steps that my brain is working through at any given time.

What I find particularly helpful is sort of a layering approach, advocated by some of the colorists whom Hullfish interviewed. Make your main color balancing adjustments in the Primary room, and then make your more interpretive choices in the Secondary rooms. And then if you don't like what you've done in one of the Secondaries, you can just switch it off or reset it, and try something else. I also like being able to switch quickly between pulling a key, using a vignette, or making adjustments that affect the whole picture.

Of course, Looks isn't designed for that kind of workflow. At that point, a better comparison tool would be to use layered instances of Colorista while in FCP. I just mean to say that I've always wanted to have a blast with Looks, but I just haven't found the right project for which Looks provided the right answer to the problem (and of course, much of this depends on my subjective taste, as well as my own experience, or lack of experience with Looks).

It's a shame that Apple had only purchase Color in 2006, and, for all intensive purposes, seems to have dropped it from its lineup of pro applications. Since I don't plan on making any major software upgrades soon, it's probably the closest that I'll get in the immediate future to high end color correction tools like the DaVinci (much pricier). Colorista looks interesting, but I tried the free version and found it a bit too crowded on my MacBook Pro's 15" screen.

In any case, that's about it for this video. I've been enjoying throwing together these short videos of places/scenes and cutting them to music, but as I'd mentioned to a friend recently, I'd be very interested in exploring the different challenges involved in cutting together a narrative film. If all goes well, I may be working on shooting one such thing this Spring; will post an update once more of those pieces start coming together.

Hope all have a very joyous holiday season, and a happy New Year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The strange thing about Kim Jong Il

"The level of reverence for Kim Jong Il in North Korea is quite underestimated by the outside," Park said. "He is regarded by many as not only a superior leader but a decent person, a man of high morality. Whether that's accurate is not important if you want to deal with North Korea. You have to understand their belief system. Perception is reality."


I don't know much about Kim Jong Il, but if the above is true, this is the most fascinating part.

The guy was apparently one of the worst dictators ever, yet somehow conjured it so that the people of North Korea revered him even as he was nearly literally starving them.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


I started using Field Notes as a carry-everywhere capture tool a few months ago. I had been following some iPhone/Elements/GTD workflow stuff that I had learned of through Merlin Mann's work. However, the process of pulling out my phone, typing in the password, and then opening Elements eventually began to feel far more laborious then pulling out a notebook and writing something down with pen and ink.

At the same time, I've also had a growing interest in creative writing. So as handy as the Field Notes may be, I also had a need for a notebook that would be more comfortable for writing longer pieces and for longer periods.

Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, recommended on many an episode of Back to Work, says the following about notebooks:

Sometimes people buy expensive hardcover journals. They are bulky and heavy, and because they are fancy, you are compelled to write something good. Instead you should feel that you have permission to write the worst junk in the world and it would be okay ... A cheap spiral notebook lets you feel that you can fill it quickly and afford another.

From about sixth through eighth grades, in addition to the required textbooks and notebooks, I carried a marble composition book wrapped in brown paper, and that was my drawing book. Well, drawing and writing and just about anything else. I recall how in one such book, I wrote a science fiction story. I started it, and kept adding to it whenever I felt like it, with no predetermined plot. It had no end, aside from where it stopped.

This seemed to be in the spirit that Goldberg was suggesting, so I picked one up in the stationery section of the supermarket.

Both of these tools, little Field Notes books, and the larger composition book, have served their purposes well, and I must admit that part of the fun has been not only the writing, but also seeing these physical objects accumulate a healthy and pleasant looking amount of everyday wear and tear.

The covers of the Field Notes books get bent and wrinkled over the course of their 3 - 4 week tenures in my left front pants' pockets, and the composition book's pages develop this great crinkling sound as they get indented with ballpoint pen.

On a purely aesthetic level, it's nice to watch a tool age with grace, like the cast iron skillet described in Khoi Vinh's great post Designed Deterioration.

In this case, the fun is also the physical reminder that I've done something, performed at least the bare minimum that is the activity of writing that Goldberg, as well as Anne LaMont, advocate as very nearly an end it itself.

There's more to go- consciously orchestrating plot, story, structure, characters. But these are all areas that I've spent lots of time on in the past, resulting in some decently structured, but otherwise pretty hollow feeling pieces. What I haven't done is mess around, write on impulse, jot down ideas, and in the end, try to push through to come out with something that has guts attached to it.

That's a disgusting image.

Anyway, the closest thing that I can think of is the difference between how I would read a part during a first readthrough of a play, with conscious confidence and strong choices. Then in the midst of rehearsal, I'd get lost amidst trying to peg the character. And then hopefully, in the end, I came out ok, with the conscious acting choices melding together with the stuff in between.

With writing, I'm trying to similarly put these left and right brain pieces together, because I don't think I've ever put quite enough work into it to get past the "first readthrough" stage. At the present, this is happening through muddling about with pen and paper every day and filling up notebooks.

I have to admit that there are likely dozens, if not hundreds, if not thousands of posts online about writing and notebooks, and I've read at least a handful of them. As they've likely influenced my thoughts on the matter a good deal, here are a few links to posts that I've found particularly insightful:

  1. The aforementioned Designed Deterioration post by Khoi Vinh
  2. Objectified, film by Gary Hustwit about industrial design
  3. Sweet Decay, at randsinrepose, by Michael Lopp. In the post, Lopp does a thorough comparison of various notebook types, from Moleskine to Field Notes, and eloquently describes the appeal of a notebook that "decays gracefully".

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Google Street View: blurred faces atop taxi cabs.

Private Eyes face is not; Grey Gardens face is.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Overheard at the bar.

Yo, I'm going to tell you this awesome idea. You can do whatever you want with it- I just gotta get a cut
Good. And if we all got paid cash for zero effort, we could be billionaires.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Great shot.


via The White House

I really enjoy nearly all of the shots that come out of The White House Flickr feed. Not even necessarily from a political preference, but just the notion that there's something interesting that happens every day, not each and every one is great, but they take a shot of what happened and post it. And usually it's pretty good.

This one caught my eye just because, on top of whatever else, it's a sweet looking shot.

Light through the window off the paper onto the President's face.