Saturday, March 16, 2013

"Red Sky at Morning"

"Ya gotta be in it to win it", is the old slogan for the NYC lottery and something that I mutter to myself on cold winter mornings while attempting to coax myself out of a warm bed.

It's 5:30 in the morning and an hour before first light.  Outside it's 15 degrees with a 5 mile per hour breeze, but I am determined to film the sun rising over Manhattan.  The sun will not actually be visible for another hour, but it's the first light of dawn that often offers the most reward.

In the dead of winter, the sun rises a bit south of my location and it will appear to travel to the far north of the city as the summer months approach.  For a few days in December and January, the sun will actually line up with the city grid and appear to rise directly across the river, burning up 42nd Street.

Often, the most interesting skies, briefly appear before the sun has even pierced the horizon.  For a few minutes, shafts of red or golden light set fire to the pre-dawn clouds that have formed over the skyline and that's why I am standing here in the dark, fumbling with my camera, trying to resuscitate my numbing fingers to operate the camera.

Step 1. Be prepared!  I bring along a small LED flashlight and use use a tripod that has an illuminated level.  You also want a tripod with and legs that won't freeze up in the cold (like mine).

Step 2. Arrive early!  I plan my location and get there early enough to park my car, find my position and set up the my gear.

Step 3. Dress warm!  The wind chill from that 5 mph breeze coming off the river will be on my case in no time and there is nothing out here to block it.

With all of that done, this morning is offering a beautiful display of ruby red clouds, announcing the advancing storm that will arrive by noon.  The camera is rolling and the spectacle last for less than three minutes.  I realize that I have been humming Donovan's "Try for the Sun" for the last half hour and I look around to see if I am the only camera in sight. With the exception of two joggers and a street cleaner, I totally own the moment.

I admit to never tiring of the Manhattan skyline or the thrill of the sun reflecting off the glass towers across the river and finally breaking over a buildings.  I will also admit that it is much easier thing to do in the summer, but then again, the skyline is never as clear or crisp as on a cold winter's morning.  In either case, I feel privileged to be there.

Chuck Fishbein

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The New Ship in Town

A short while ago, those of us who live along the Hudson River were treated to the breath-taking sight of NASA's space shuttle "Enterprise" performing a fly-by of the Manhattan skyline, mounted atop a Boeing 747 jumbo jet.  It was absolutely stunning!

The atmosphere was truly that of a carnival, as a small band of photographers, school kids and their teachers, locals and tourists, gathered in this small park, high up on the palisades of Weehawken, waiting to witness a piece of history.    

As a group we scanned the skies for about an hour until finally, a unique silhouette appeared against the hazy white sky to our south.  Sarah spotted it first. 

"Here is comes!" and the cameras started clicking in ernest.  It was all very exciting.

I was filming in HD using my PMW-F3 camera with a vintage Angenieux 25-250 zoom lens from the 70's.  A wonderful combination that let me hone in on my subject and slowly zoom in as it approached.  You see stuff like this on TV but when it shows up in your own viewfinder it takes on a whole new meaning.  I'm thrilled to say that the lens performed exceptionally well, yielding razor sharp detail and a wide depth of field, leaving me only with the task of smoothly tracking the craft as they soared by.  Very cool, indeed!

The combo flew north for a few miles, turned back to the south and made another pass, but this time it was too high overhead and difficult to track.  It circled the area once more and slowly headed off to a landing at JFK airport, were it would later be transferred to a special barge, for it's final voyage to its new home on the Intrepid aircraft carrier.

Several weeks later, Sarah suggested I check out a new 9/11 monument that had been built along the Hudson for inclusion in our Getty stock footage collection.  Usually a quiet location near the NY Waterways ferry terminal, a small crowd of photographers had again gathered, only this time, they were about to lift the shuttle from it's barge on to the carrier.   OMG!  I had totally forgotten the date and it was only luck and Sarah's suggestion that put me in the right place at the right time.

Well, it's Murphy's Law that the day you bring out your wide angle lens is the day you need the telephoto, but fortunately, Sarah and Ellie were able to bring over our new Nikon 400mm lens to capture a unique angle, over a mile away, across the Hudson.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Wills Eye Institute

I've often mention that one of the greatest appreciations I have had for my career in both photography and film has been the access allowed to behind-the-scenes.  Few professions touch so many people, places and events in this way.

A few weeks back, Evan, one of our clients at Sony asked us to travel down to Philadelphia to do some filming at the Wills Eyes Institute, a non-profit clinic, hospital and research center dedicated exclusively to the care of eyes.  Since 1990, Wills Eye Institute has consistently been ranked as one of the best ophthalmology hospitals in the United States.

Our assignment was to film and photograph a small, HD camera that is integrated into the microscope system used during eye surgery and we were asked to capture some of our images while a surgery was in progress.

After a few painless interviews in the executive boardroom, my assistant, Arion Doerr and I suited up in sterile garb and with the guidance of one of the hospital's directors, quietly walked into the operating room. 

The room was anything but silent.  Aside from the normal beeping and whirring of heart monitors and machinery, there was music playing loudly in the background and between the request for surgical instruments, informal chit chat about the weather or the price of gas.  We could have been in Starbucks.

The lead surgeon and her assistant were both viewing the operation thru a large, dual microscope, hovering over the patients head.  The camera we needed to film was mounted on top of it. 

Although the immediate vicinity of the operation was extremely bright, the room itself was fairly dim.  No problem for my Nikon D3, but less friendly to Sony's EX3.  Fortunately, the camera was white and there was just enough light to pull off the shots.  When surgery ended and everyone left the room, it was easy to move in for some closeups.

In recent years, surgeons at the Wills Eye Institute have successfully planted artificial retinas in patients that have been totally blind since birth, allowing them to experience shades of light and to distinguish basic shapes, such as a door or a table.  Pretty incredible.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Something Old Something New

There is a certain joy and empowerment attached to a piece of gear with karma and such has been the case with a lens I received from my dear friend and fellow DP, Roberta Findlay.

I use a Sony PMW-F3 for much of my work.  The F3 is a large sensor, state-of-the-art digital camera and I am currently mating it with a lens that is over 40 years old.  The lens, an Angenieux 25-250 3.2 zoom lens, was also state-of-the-art, somewhere around 1970, right around the time it was used to create a string of low budget horror flicks including the cult classic "Snuff".

When I first received the lens, it was a bit stiff and I immediately brought it over Du-All camera in Manhattan for service. A place you just have to visit if you've ever, seriously used a super-8 camera,  Although my lens was certainly, no longer state-of-the-art, the crew at Du-All treated it with the utmost respect and within a couple of days, they had cleaned, lubricated and collimated the lens to properly work with my camera.  It was like new.

I took it out to my favorite spot overlooking Manhattan for a test drive and the results where no less than amazing.

Like classic guitars and microphones, lenses, each have a personality all of there own.

In the days when I used to shoot with 4x5 and 8x10 cameras, it was not uncommon to own three of the same focal length lens, each from a different manufacturer and use each for a different, desired result.  For example, Nikon lenses were cold and clinical, while Schneider lenses had a bit more warmth  and roundness.  Warmer still were lenses from Goertz or Kodak.

If I was photographing a new bottle for Clinique, I would use the Schneider, but if it was a beauty shot of a model's face, I would definitely use the Goertz.  No need proving how sharp a lens could be there.

And although a lens might not be critically sharp, that doesn't mean the image is soft, either.  When you are speaking in terms like "roundness" or "creaminess", it's not just about technical accuracy.  Many shooters are finding the quality of older lenses from Cooke, Zeiss, Nikon, Pentax and others are giving them the look they desire.

Now, I know that there are issues with using older technology.  At T4.0, this lens is very slow, especially considering I have to stop down to at least 5.6 to get a decent image.  (Fortunately, the F3's low light sensitivity works in my favor there).  The lens "breathes", which means the focal length might appear to slightly change when focusing, but for most of my NYC filming, this is not an issue.  And finally, it is heavy, which necessitates rails and lens support provided by a rig from Genus.

Still, all of this becomes secondary after seeing the stunning images the lens delivers.

If you ask The Edge or any other well known guitarist why they travel with 20 different guitars, they will tell you that each has a unique sound and personality and so it goes with lenses.  There will also be an added boost if one of those guitars was owned by some legendary character making it special to the artist and so it is with Roberta's lens.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Taking Time To Make TIme

The last few months have been the busiest ever for Crazy Duck Productions and for this both Sarah and I are extremely grateful.   The work we have produced for our existing clientele, as well as the exciting projects from our newest clients, VIP Community Services, Acatel-Lucent and Clear Channel have all been very well received and we're excited that much more is on the way.

In the last six months we've been able to completely upgraded our camera and lighting packages, greatly expanded our editing capabilities and we're in the process of launching a brand new web site.

Most importantly, we have taken time to spend time with each other and our family and to say thanks.  Without this time, what would be the point of being so busy?

Unfortunately, many personal side projects, including my NYC filming and this blog have had to take a back seat while we finish up our current productions.   I miss them both and I've begun winding the gears of my filming mindset as well as writing new blog stories to correspond with the release of our new site.

There's so much ahead of us, just down the pike and I hope you'll stay with us as we explore it all.

All the best

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Journey to the New (3rd) Dimension

About a year ago I was honored with an invitation to join Sony's elite ICE team.  ICE, an acronym for Independent Certified Expert, is a small group of working professionals from across the United States.  Most are specialists in some form of broadcast or cable television, while others are involved in producing corporate or event video.

After providing training, Sony often calls on members of the ICE team to test out preproduction cameras and other gear for the purpose of receiving realistic feedback from those actually using the stuff in the field.
In some cases, our input is incorporated into the final production design of a camera or influences the design of future models.

At dinner, after my first night of training, one of Sony's product managers asked me what I thought about 3D video?

I must admit my response was not very positive.  I thought of 3D as another marketing push to sell more DVDs and players.  Another fad or gimmick.  After all, what possible use could it have in everyday production?

About a month later, my opinion would turn about 180 degrees.  As I have previously written, Sony sent me to St. Louis to document the use of 3D laparoscopic surgery.  There in a darkened operating room, stood a surgeon and an assistant, performing an operation using images appearing in 3D using a microscopic camera inserted into the patient, with the results appearing on a 48" monitor.

The incision was minimal, yet the accuracy achieved was far greater than any 2D image could provide.

Up until this time, my only experience with 3D had been some cheesy horror flicks and Michael Jackson's 3D Captain EO at Disney.   I wanted to know more.

At the NAB trade show in Vegas this year, Robin Berg, a producer/director of several adventure reality shows (and a fellow ICE member) was demonstrating several new Sony 3D cameras and the images were spectacular.

After the show closed to the public, Robin walked me through the camera systems, educating me with knowledge he acquired taking an intense, 3 day, 3D course, at the Sony Studios in Culver City, CA.

I was zapped and immediately starting thinking of ways I could use this technology with my clients.

Now, hold on there Tex. 3D technology is finally coming of age, but, creating bad 3D is very easy.

So now, I'm heading off to Culver City, to learn professional 3D from scratch, from the same folks that have taught feature film and major sports crews the magic.   My goal:   Learn how to make good 3D

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Manhattanhenge

I had filmed it twice before, but, until now, I hadn't realized that there was actually a name for it.

The Manhattanhenge occurs semi-annually around the summer and winter solstice and it is the only time that the setting sun is in alignment with the streets of NYC.   Meaning, that on a few specific days, when the sun sets over the Jersey palisades, there is an unusual opportunity to film and photograph sunsets in Manhattan.

This is a very blessed occasion, because even with a half dozen IPhone apps, and all the cosmic info available on the net, tracking exactly where the sun will rise and set can be tricky business.  Yeah, you can calculate where it will occur, but finding the right place to put down your tripod, so that the shot looks decent is another thing.

Last year I filmed the sun down 13th Street, near the Gansevort Hotel, just as it was setting over the High Line.  Stunning!   I was using a 300mm lens on my EX3 which with an MTF adaptor, which magnifies the image by a factor of 5.4.  So, in essence, it became a 1,600mm lens.

This year I put the same lens on my Sony F3 and recorded into a Nanoflash external recorder.  Although the lens was not as extreme,  the results were still excellent and the low-light capability of the F3's large sensor allowed me to catch the last bits of golden light, long after the sun had dropped.

One important suggestion when using any type of telephoto lens is to have a solid tripod.  The tiniest amount of vibration will show up when using a long lens and having a decent foundation is crucial.
As of late, I have been using the new 509 fluid head and the 536 carbon fiber legs from Manfrotto.  This gives me the firm foundation I'm looking for while still remaining an amazingly lightweight package.

Aside from being very easy to balance, it has a light-up bubble which is essential for low-light shooting.
An important feature when you are huffing around Manhattan with a camera over your shoulder.

July 12th is the next time Manhattanhenge will occur so, be ready!

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