Interview with Daragh Muldowney

Today I met with and discussed the outlines of my project with professional photographer Daragh Muldowney. Daragh was a big help in the beginning stages of the project and advised me on choosing my Digital SLR. Even after researching the photography element of the animation I’m still unsure about various aspects of it so it was good to talk to someone who could advise me on the different aspects of the shoot.

Until now I had been considering shooting using a quality setting of Medium or even Small. The reason for this was that they would give me pixel sizes of 3088 x 2056  and 2256 x 1504 respectively. Daragh suggested that I should shoot in RAW as to do otherwise is instantly limiting my options. RAW shoots at a pixel size of 4272×2848. The disadvantage to shooting in RAW is the jump in file size. Whereas a small JPG is 3.4 Mb and a Medium is 6.3 MB, a RAW file is 12Mb. The way I see it is that I was going to be buying an external SATA hard drive to store all my images on so if I get the right hard drive capacity I should be able to accommodate shooting in RAW. Daragh also told me about how it’s possible to set up batch processing in Photoshop using a function so it would be relatively easy to apply settings across a selection of RAW images and convert them to JPGs.

A quick bit of maths:

  • If I’m shooting at 12fps, then there will be 720 frames in a minute.
  • For 5 minutes of animation then I’m looking at 3,600 frames.
  • Each frame is 12Mb. That works out at 43,200 Mb, or 42.1875 GB.
  • If I’m shooting at 24fps that that doubles to 7,200 frames, 86,400 Mb or 84.375 GB.

That is not considering reshooting and shots from different angles. I’m thinking a Terabyte hard drive might be sufficient space to deal with this project.

I asked Daragh about lighting and explained that I may be using floods to light my set. He told me about using white sheets to bounce the light and also about diffusing the light. I learned that there is no set way to light a set and that it’s all about experimentation. We agreed that side lighting might work best for the set with some diffused light to make the shadows seem less harsh. The lighting will really be up to me and how I want to illuminate the objects. This will be helpful in setting the tone of the piece and will also be useful in setting atmosphere. We discovered that lighting the tape machine from within with a small LED looked really nice and that different coloured lighting inside the machine could be suggestive of the machine’s mood. This is something I will have to experiment with but could be a useful contribution towards the anthropomorphism of the object.

We talked about Lens Flare for a bit and ways of avoiding it. This is something which might not be apparent at the time but can ruin a shoot. It is important that I eliminate any possibility of flare as this could mean a complete reshoot of a scene, which in my case could be hundreds of photos. Lens Flare occurs when direct light hits the lens at an angle so the best way to avoid it is to shield the lens from the light. This can be accomplished by simply placing a piece of card in between the two. A lens hood may also be effective in doing this.

Daragh showed me this importance of using the histogram on both the camera’s display and within Photoshop. The histogram in Photoshop is more accurate and shows more range but the camera’s one is a good reference all the same. Using this, I can easily check for overexposed areas within the picture as the blown out areas show up as large spikes in the histogram and they also flash within the actual picture captured. When setting up my shots I will have to spend some time checking that the scene is properly lit and that all reflective surfaces aren’t overexposed.

This then led to a discussion about HDR (High Dynamic Range) editing. This is when images of different exposures are taken of the same subject and then combined in Photoshop. It’s a useful technique when trying to accommodate for extreme contrasts of light in a shot. We did a test of this by taking three photos of the room we were in. There was a bright light on in the foreground and the background was much duller. With the camera on a tripod and in the exact same position a picture was taken at the correct exposure followed by photos one stop underexposed and one stop over exposed respectively. In Photoshop Daragh layered the pictures on top of each other and then used a layer mask and the brush tool (with reduced opacity) to blend the desirable elements of each photo together.

Finally we discussed the lenses I would use with my Canon 450D. Daragh suggested that the 18-55mm kit lens that came with the camera wasn’t the best lens for the job and that I should try and borrow a better quality lens. I told him I may have access to a Canon 50mm fixed focal length lens and he said this would dramatically improve the quality of the shoot. He also suggested a macro lens might be nice for the extreme close up shots of the tape machine.

I also made a note to look into calibrating my MacBook Pro monitor as this will affect the overall look of the animation. It’s something I never considered before but understand the importance it has in how my work is viewed on other screens.

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