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"Colorado Rainbow" - Grab Shot 186

"There's a lot to be said for being in the right place at the right time and having your camera with you," writes Mark Castleman." I saw this striking rainbow in the South Park of Colorado, about 10 miles east of Fairplay. I took it with my K10D and a Sigma 17-70mm lens at ISO 100, 1/350 at f/5.6. Yes, it really was that bright; I'm not that good with Photoshop."

Photo by Mark Castleman. Click on image to zoom to larger size.

If you have a candid you'd like to share, take a look at our Submissions page, then send us your Grab Shot. We'll try to get it published for you on The Digital Story.

And you can view more images from our virtual camera club in the Member Photo Gallery.

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The Canon 5D Mark II is an excellent tool for creating instructional videos in high definition. We've been using this DSLR to record our Creative Output tutorials featuring Stephanie Scheetz. After publishing the latest episode, Shrink Plastic Jewelry, I thought you might enjoy a peek behind the scenes to see how we manage these filmmaking projects.

On average for a 5-minute movie, we spend a half day planning, another 4 hours shooting, then the better part of a day in post production and publishing. So we figure about 2 days work for me behind the camera and in front of the computer, and 1 day for Stephanie to prepare the project and to be the talent.

Parts List

Our goal is to keep the production process as simple as possible. My feeling is, the easier the movies are to make, the more we will produce. Here's what we use.

  • Stock Canon 5D Mark II with 24-105mm f/4 IS lens
  • Audio Technica lapel mic
  • iMovie '09 for cutting and adding transitions
  • Adobe SoundBooth for cleaning up audio
  • BoinxTV for adding lower thirds and production effects
  • QuickTime Pro for various mini-steps

If you're already dabbling with movie making, you've learned there are many different ways to accomplish the same goals. I'm showing you this method as a point of interest. Take from it what works for you, and adjust accordingly.

Recording with the 5D Mark II

Video capture has become much more manageable since Canon released the Firmware update that allows me to manually set shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Previously, having to rely on auto exposure settings was a real problem for us. Because when Stephanie would hold up a bright object, the camera would be fooled by its luminosity and dim the overall exposure. Now I can lock-in the settings for the overall scene without worry about exposure shift during recording.

I typically shoot on a tripod or monopod with the Canon 24-105mm L IS zoom lens. If we take the camera off the tripod for handheld shots, as we did for the kitchen scenes in Shrink Plastic Jewelry, the image stabilizer becomes very important. IS is vital for handheld scenes. They are just too shaky without it.

After trying a few different methods, I've settled on using the ExpoDisc for my white balance setting. In part, I like it because I can establish a good custom white balance setting in mixed lighting.

We capture in full HD (1920x1080) even though the published movies are served via YouTube at lower resolution (1280x720). I do this because all of my options are open up the road. For example, if we decided to publish this content on a DVD, I would want full HD resolution for more compelling playback on HDTV screens.

It's very important to record at the best quality possible in terms of exposure, white balance, focus, etc., because as your compress your movies for web publishing, degradation always happens. I'm very careful in post production, and still there's more loss than I like.

Audio Capture

Sound recording has been the most challenging part of this project. The audio input jack for the 5D Mark II isn't high quality, and you can't control audio directly with the camera. We've had the best results using a wireless lapel mic (an affordable Audio Technica model). Even so, I always seem to have hiss as a byproduct. To control this, I've been processing the audio in Adobe SoundBooth to reduce unwanted noise and increase the DB a bit.

Many movie makers record the audio with a separate device then sync it with the video in post production. This is a great way to go if you're using Final Cut Pro of some other high end software. We keep things a bit simpler, so I try to get the best audio possible as part of the original movie file.

iMovie for Initial Production

For ease of use, it's hard to beat iMovie for organizing the scenes, trimming them, and adding transitions. On my Snow Leopard MacBook Pro plugged into a 23" Cinema Display, iMovie can handle the 1920x1080 files from the Canon 5D Mark II. Some folks have had problems with this. We published a good article by Kip Beatty titled, Managing Canon 5D Mark II HD Video in iMovie '09 that should be helpful for those having problems with the large files in iMovie.

Once the initial cuts are made and transitions added, I export a sampled down version of the movie (1280x720) using the Apple Intermediate Codec to retain as much quality as possible for the next step.

Clean the Audio

I usually want to clean up the audio a bit too. iMovie doesn't have very good controls for this, so using QuickTime, I extract the audio track as a .mov file, open it up in Adobe SoundBooth, remove noise, then use QuickTime again to add the audio track back to the video file. Make sure you delete the old audio track before adding the new one. This always works great, and I've never had any syncing problems as a result.

Final Touches Using BoinxTV

I love BoinxTV for final touches because it allows me to create layers for each effect, then turn them on and off while I watch the movie. I feel like the director of a television show as I enable lower third titles and graphics. I could probably do most of this work in iMovie, but it's not "live" the same way BoinxTV allows me to work. This method feels much more dynamic.

Plus, I can save my work as a BoinxTV project, switch out the main video feed, and create a new show without have to set up all the graphics and titles again.

I also use BoinxTV for the final export for YouTube. The dimensions stay the same 1280x720, but I switch to the multipass H.264 codec to keep file size down. For example, the 5-minute Shrink Plastic Jewelry episode file size was originally 1.4 GBs using the Apple Intermediate Codec, but was reduced to 42 MBs using H.264.

Archive All of Your Work

I use a Drobo hard drive array to store my original video files, the iMovie Project, the BoinxTV project, and the output along the way. This allows me to go back to any stage of the project, make changes, then output the best quality possible.

I also recommend keeping detailed notes during every step of the project. I've learned so much each time I make a movie, and I want to retain that knowledge so I can bring it into the next project. Like dreams, you always think you'll remember the details when you wake up. But you won't. So write it down.

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Macintosh Computer Expo Coming on Oct. 3

The Mac Computer Expo is coming to Petaluma, CA on Oct. 3, 2009 featuring 10 speakers and a couple dozen vendors. The free event is celebrating its silver anniversary, entertaining Mac enthusiasts for over two decades.

In addition to Tom Negrino, Dori Smith, Jim Heid, and a host of other Mac luminaries, I'll be presenting two sessions focusing on iPhoto. My afternoon session, How to Set Up an iPhoto Referenced Library, shows you how to establish a library of master images on an external hard drive, then point iPhoto, Aperture, Lightroom, and Bridge to that same set of masters. This eliminates the problem of migrating your iPhoto library to other applications, plus it frees up your Mac's hard drive. You have to see this demo to believe it.

Vendors include Griffin, O'Reilly Media, Ambrosia, Microsoft, Parallels, Intuit, and many more. I'll be signing books at the O'Reilly booth after each of my sessions. So if you want your book signed, bring it along. O'Reilly will also have my latest titles on sale (at a discounted price) in the booth.

If you're within striking distance of the North Bay on Oct. 3, then check out this speaking schedule and make your plans. It's a great way to spend a Saturday, and the price is right (free!).

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If you're running a Mac and haven't upgraded to Photoshop CS4 yet, then I have good news for you. You can get the latest version of Adobe Camera Raw (5.5) with all the current profiles, and the CS4 version of Bridge, with the just-announced Photoshop Elements 8 for the Mac, and you can get it for $79. (According to the official press release, "Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 for Mac will be available in Oct. 2009." You can have Adobe notify you when it's available.) As part of the deal, you get Adobe's latest merge technologies included the new Photomerge Exposure.

One of the reasons I think this is exciting is because the Bridge CS4/ACR workflow is so powerful. If you really look at what's there, you only need Photoshop or Photoshop Elements for the finishing touches on your best photos. I wrote an entire book on this approach.

You can hear all about it in my interview with Bob Gager podcast. Bob is the Elements product manager for Adobe.

Master Adobe Camera Raw 5.5 and Bridge CS4


Get the most out of Adobe Camera Raw 5.5 and Bridge CS4. The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers lays out the entire workflow that you can master in just a day. It fits in your laptop bag and is very easy on your wallet. And it works with Photoshop Elements 8 for the Mac too!

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Adobe just announced Photoshop Elements 8 for Mac and Windows. On the Mac side of the equation, you get the latest Adobe technology plus Adobe Camera Raw 5.5 and the CS4 version of Bridge. That means you'll have access to all of the current Raw file profiles available from Adobe. This is a big deal if you have a new DSLR. On the Windows side, the Organizer has been greatly improved and includes lots of helpful automated tools. You also get ACR 5.5 for Windows. I sat down at Adobe HQ with product manager Bob Gager to discuss the ins and outs of Elements 8. It's a terrific conversation, and I think you'll enjoy listening to it.

Photoshop Elements 8 will be available from for $99. And you can take advantage of a $20 rebate lowering the price to $79.

Listen to the Podcast

You can also download the podcast here (27 minutes). Or better yet, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

Bob Gager, Photoshop Elements 8 Product Manager. Click on image to zoom.

Monthly Photo Assignment

Simple is the Sept. 2009 Photo Assignment. My original thought was the power that comes from a simple composition, with as few elements as possible. But you might find another twist on this month's theme. You can read more about how to submit on our Member Participation page. Deadline for entry is Sept. 30, 2009.

More Ways to Participate

Want to share photos and talk with other members in our virtual camera club? Check out our Flickr Public Group. It's a blast!

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There's always more to learn in Photoshop. I just came across a terrific article on Virtual Photography Studio titled, 21 Photoshop Tutorials And Resources. They provide links to excellent articles that show you how to create HDR images, build effects, make stunning backgrounds, retouch portraits, create 3D effects, and more. If you're looking to improve your Photoshop chops, you may want to keep this resource in your back pocket.

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Drobo Field Test - 18 Months Later


I've been using a Drobo for about a year and a half, and it's worked wonderfully. So I was interested to see this published report on Photography Gadgets titled, Drobo Experience Report: Going strong after 18 months. This post covers the setup, usage, pros, and cons. If you've been considering a Drobo as a backup for your media, I think you'll find this report useful.

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I was reading news stories online and stumbled across this photo. What's wrong with it? I'm sure the photographer didn't notice that the subject is lined up with the background so it appears he has Martian antenna.

But, then, as you look closer, it gets even more interesting. Is this a Photoshop job? The lighting on the subject is coming from both sides. It doesn't look the same as the lighting on the background. If that's the case, then someone actually placed the subject there... on purpose? Hmmm... Figure that one out. Looks a little passive aggressive to me.

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One of the types of photography that definitely became more accessible with the digital age is infrared. Now you can modify an old DSLR, or simple add an IR filter to an unmodified version, and experiment with this dramatic style of capture.

In the article 20 Stunning Infrared Photographs, Nate Jelovich shows us examples that can be used for inspiration. Even if you're not considering trying your own hand at this approach, I'm sure you'll enjoy these images.

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Good Tutorial on Slow Sync Flash


Taking control of your flash changes your images from ho-hum snapshots to works of art. I just found a solid tutorial that covers different methods for balancing flash output with ambient light. In the article, How to Use Flash With a Slow Shutter to Create Motion and Ghosts by Cameron Knight on PhotoTuts, you'll learn how to adjust your lighting to create far more interesting effects than you would ever get in auto-everything mode. It's definitely worth a read.

And don't forget, this week's TDS podcast is on Backlit Portraits.

Now Available! The Digital Photography Companion. The official guide for The Digital Story Virtual Camera Club.

  • 25 handy and informative tables for quick reference.
  • Metadata listings for every photo in the book
  • Dedicated chapter on making printing easy.
  • Photo management software guide.
  • Many, many inside tips gleaned from years of experience.
  • Comprehensive (214 pages), yet fits easily in camera bag.