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Installment 1 of New S&A Series "#AskCybel" (On Canon Log, Waveform Monitors & Hiring the Best Documentary DP)

Features
by Cybel Martin
June 9, 2014 1:04 PM
2 Comments
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Waveform behaviour when using C-Log recording vs full dynamic range recording

EDITOR'S NOTE: Before you dive in, here's a reminder of my initial announcement 2 weeks ago, to remind you what this new series is about...

Her much-anticipated monthly columns on all things cinematography, have contributed much to this blog's success in a myriad of ways, since she started penning them in 2012, much to the appreciation and education of the many who read each and everyone - the two most popular likely being "The Art of Lighting Dark Skin for Film and HD" and "A Cinematographer’s Plea to the Budding Film Auteur: Move Your Camera." Cybel Martin's pieces have been so widely-read, so much that even the late Roger Ebert, before his death last year, shared one of them on Twitter, which we were all incredibly appreciative of, given the many hundreds-of-thousands of followers he has. Needless to say, that specific post was at the top of the most visited S&A articles for that year (2012). Cybel has already covered a lot of ground since her first post, and in order to assist in ensuring that she continues to inform and delight, we both agreed that a bi-monthly column - in which she'll essentially hold court, fielding specific questions from YOU, the reader - was a great idea! So, you're encouraged to email any cinematography-related questions (whether you're a pro filmmaker, or just getting started, or somewhere between) to Cybel at AskCybel@gmail.com. I'm sure she'll really appreciate it if you kept your questions direct and professional. She'll then publish bimonthly posts, answering as many questions posed as she's able to. Obviously, your participation is necessary to maintain this new series; so don't hesitate to use it, otherwise, it'll go away! This is something we've never done before, so we might make adjustments along the way, if necessary, as engagement evolves. In the meantime, "Ask Cybel" at AskCybel@gmail.com.

And without further ado, here's the very first installment of #AskCybel in basic question/answer order.


ONE

Hi Cybel,

One question that comes up frequently on my client jobs has to do with the Canon C300 camera and it's C-Log setting.  A lot of producers have seen the marketing materials for this camera and are enthusiastic about shooting in Log.

I'm a product of digital filmmaking, and have never trained to shoot on film.  So, while I understand the theory of using and knowing a camera's dynamic range, measuring stops above and below 18% grey, and exposing accordingly, I'm more accustomed to exposing shots using video tools like waveform and zebras.  Not so helpful when what you see in the camera isn't necessarily what you're giving to the editor / colorist.

So...just using things you have in-camera, like the zebras and waveform monitor, what are your tips for properly exposing C-Log to get the most out of it?

Thanks,

Don Downie.

Director Cinematographer


Hello Don

Thank you for your question. The Canon c300/500 are excellent cameras. Here is some advice that should make your life easier:

First, let’s address our wonderfully enthusiastic clients. Clients/producers will always be hypnotized by whatever is the bright new shiny toy. It is our job, as Cinematographers, to be aware of time and budget constraints and to manage our client’s expectations. Everyone wants to shoot on Log (or if possible, RAW). 12 Stops of Dynamic Range! Shoot in low light! Change color temperature at whim! The project will surpass “Citizen Kane” in its prowess.

But do they have the money, time, storage and patience to complete the look in post production? Or will it be a better use of their money to rent more lights, hire more crew and spend more time on set nailing the look in camera?

In the same way I need to know how likely a production can afford processing and dailies (not “weeklies”) when shooting film, I have to gauge what is most likely to happen to my footage when shooting digital cinema. Will a student or professional grade it? Will they have the money for a full color session or a rush job? Will I be invited to the DI session?

On a recent shoot for photographer beyond-extraordinaire, Carrie Mae Weems, I actually opted to use the Canon Wide DR (Dynamic Range) Gamma. I made this choice because it was a one camera shoot (Canon Log is ideal for multiple camera shoots) during a live performance (I had little control of the lighting colors/ratios/levels.) I wanted to hand over the footage close to the final look but with enough information and “wiggle room” for a final proper grading.

2. The meat of your main question is more complex and deserving of a few follow up questions. I would want to know if you are comfortable with light meters? are you shooting for broadcast or theatrical? are you working with View Assist or another form of LUTs? are you using an external recorder? In the name of efficiency, and since film is my “first language”, let me offer you some links from those who speak yours:

Canon offers a great tutorial on working with the c300 internal waveform monitor.

Andy Shipsides, at AbelCine, wrote an excellent post about the Canon c300, waveforms and “proper” exposure.

Whenever I am breaking in a new camera, I search various forums to read about others’ frustrations. For instance, someone on DVX.com asked “how do I know I’m properly exposed when shooting in Log-C”. Another favorite forum is Cinematography.com.

For readers unfamiliar, here is some in-depth information on how to read a waveform monitor.

I dislike working with Zebras. I find them distracting. However, I imagine your highlights should be safe when Zebra is set to 90% and you are shooting Log.


TWO

Hello Cybel,

Thank you so much for your willingness to share your incredible wealth of knowledge with others. My question is: what's the best advice you can give a documentary director with a budget too small to afford an awesome DP like yourself?

Thanks again. I look forward to reading your Ask Cybel column!

Ayla "Brass" Montgomery

Director | Editor | Social Media Strategist


Hello Ayla

Thank you. That is very kind. My DP rate is dictated by my technical expertise, years of experience and who I’ve had the pleasure of working with. However, what makes me a strong documentary DP and what you can (and will) find in a more affordable DP are certain personality traits:

- I am ridiculously inquisitive. I love when my documentary directors share the history, politics, themes and social implications surrounding our subject. The more aware I am, the more sensitive I am to moments that must be captured and why.

- I understand the power of the medium. For example, if I frame a subject with a high angle, I can be communicating to the audience that the subject is small or without power. The camera is never objective. My director’s viewpoint (never mine) determines my composition and lighting.

- I am extra respectful and courteous around “non-film industry” people, especially when our subjects invite us into their home. I always think of the “Have a f--king cup of coffee, Ed” scene in “Erin Brockovich”. When I was filming a documentary in Ethiopia, it was customary for individuals and businesses to greet us with a coffee ceremony. I drank, on average, 12 cups a day.

I suggest you find a DP who exhibits these qualities and be patient with them as they master their technical skills.


As always, I encourage readers to offer additional tips in the comment section.

See my work and past articles at CybelDP.com and chat film with me at @cybeldp.

Email questions for #AskCybel at AskCybel(at)gmail.com

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2 Comments

  • Jasmine | June 11, 2014 2:58 PMReply

    Thank you Cybel (and Shadow and Act) for this column! Already learning some new things!

  • Thanks Cybel | June 6, 2014 12:49 PMReply

    It's wonderful of you to do this Cybel. In film, the image is the vessel for the voice so more folks who aren't comfortable shooting would be well served to become versed in the camera side of things.

    Cheers to you

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