Autobiography of an Amateur Photographer (The enLIGHTment)

Here is the 3rd part of my photography adventure.
I took a detour.

OR rather, it’s more of a side trip. As many of you know, Canon 5D MKII was a “game changer”. It changes how people typically envision photography to be. It has video!! Full 1080P HD Video capability. Of course, this was nothing new. Many existing video camcorder has that feature and even more point and shot are hybrid still and video capable. But this was a different beast.
When I first bought the 5D MKII. This was right before Thanksgiving weekend 2008. I had one on pre-order from Adorama. I had already sold my 1D MKII in anticipation for the new 5D MKII. But it didn’t seem like it was going to arrive right before my trip to Taiwan. Knowing that I will be there to photograph by brother-in-law’s wedding, I needed a camera. Started calling around the local shops. Finally, Camera West in Walnut Creek just got one in that haven’t been spoken for. Took the drive down there the same morning and had the beast in my hand an hour later. I was already fully aware of it’s video capability, but didn’t fully exploit it until I came back. The high ISO was especially useful in the dark lit wedding hall. I think I actually capture more interesting photos then their resident wedding photographer! This was one awesome camera. The bokeh coming from the 50mm 1.2L on the full frame sensor was to die for.

Shortly after, I started to troll around sites like and start to read up on all the videographer/cinematographer like Shane Hurbut and Stu Maschwitz and how they’re embracing this new medium. Shooting video with a DSLR? Of course, who can forget Vincet Laforet’s Reverie. This was a revolutionary full 1080P video done with the 5D MKII.

Reverie from Vincent Laforet on Vimeo.

Ok, I want to be like them!!

As I dive deeper into the video scene, very quickly I realize this is not something you can learn over night. It’s not as simple as picking up a camera and press the shutter button. Let alone, picking up a DSLR and hit the “SET” button. Yes, it will record. Yes, it will give you DOF that most people can only dream of. And Yes, it only cost $2,799 no including lenses. But NO, you will not be able to film stuff like the Reverie without additional gears. And No, you will not be able to film stuff like the Reverie without understanding cinematography.

Just like my previous EAS (Equipment Acquiring Syndrome), I started to make list of stuff I “Must” own. Scouring Craigslist and eBays for deals. Hangout at Cinema5D’s buy and sell for deals. Snatching up the latest invention that someone created just for DSLR to do video. I didn’t really care if I’m going to do anything with it or actually trying to make money out of it. I just want to have it. I’m sure there are a lot of amateur photographers that can relate. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Start with some new legs, a new head. Then with the Red Rock Micro full Cinema Rig with follow focus and matte box. With the Matte box, got some ND filters. Bought the Rode mic for on camera sound. The list goes on and on.

I did some early takes with editing with both Final Cut Pro as well as iMovie. Very Amateurish work. Nothing to be proud of, but it was fun making it.

link to some of the “homemade” Video

Shortly after collecting gears, I found out a friend started a production company MediaPeeps using the Canon 5D MKII as it’s main camera. He’s primarily shooting Hip Hop Music videos. I hit him up and tag along as a 2nd shooter with my entire rig for a few of the shoots.

The first video shoot I did with him was at a park for a Music video call My Hood My Block. The shoot was exciting. It was the first time I actually put everything I learned about the camera to use. The settings, the angles, etc. Of course, the video shoot went well until the cops came and kicked us out of the park. Apparently, some of the “talents” were throwing alcohol bottles around and smoking out in the public. It was an interesting experience.

Tha Spitflame Fam - "My Hood My Block" **OFFICIAL VIDEO** from Media Peeps on Vimeo.

The 2nd video I did with MediaPeep was with a talented local guitarist Jay Alvarez. It was a MV call Evening Serenity. We shot the entire video with available light. Leveraging the 5DII’s high iso capability as well as both of my 50mm 1.2L and 85mm 1.2L.

Here is a behind the scene video

Jay Alvarez - Behind the Scenes from Media Peeps on Vimeo.

And the MV

Jay Alvarez - "Evening Serenity" **OFFICIAL VIDEO** from Media Peeps on Vimeo.

There was also an interesting job I did with MediaPeeps with CalTrain. It was a training video they share with all entity showing safety and emergency response. It was master on DVD.

The last video I did with MediaPeeps was with another local group call N3W ERA. It was for their “Like You” MV which was featured on BET. This was filmed inside a studio with models and extras. This was a full production in a control environment. Everyone was very professional.

Here is the behind the scene

N3W ERA **BEHIND THE SCENES** from Media Peeps on Vimeo.

And the Full MV

N3W ERA - "Like You" **OFFICIAL VIDEO** from Media Peeps on Vimeo.

During this time, another one of my friend started his own photography and video company theOpenFrame. I helped him with his website as well as worked as 2nd shooter on many of his video gigs. We did a few documentary and wedding jobs as well as one for Kaiser Hospital. Since most of these were for private use, I don’t have any links to share.

The last video I completed was for my dad’s 70th birthday. Being an avid golfer, he played at many courses. But one course he never got to play was Pebble Beach. So for his 70th birthday, my brother and I took him to Pebble Beach. I documented the entire round, made him a DVD for keepsake. One thing I figure out though. It’s tough trying to film while playing golf. Probably play the worst round in my life.

I do have a documentary of my wife’s grandparents that I still need to edit. This was shot with a flip camera and a Canon 1D MKIV with the Rode Mic and a 2nd audio source with Zoom H4n. I will get to it one of these days…

One thing I did learn while shooting video. It was about lights. It was much more challenging to get the proper exposure. All you have to play with was ISO and Aperture. The shutter speed was always locked down to 1/60 or 1/50 depending if I was shooting 30p or 24p. The ISO was only really useable up to 1600. Everything beyond that was too grainy. If the aperture was wide open, you would be cranking the follow focus like there is no tomorrow. I got really good at manual focus. And of course, you still have to worry about camera shakes and how to move around smoothly. Lastly, it really opens your eyes and start to notice what’s around you. Moving picture is very different than stills. There are a lot more components to keep in mind. Of course, even more importantly, the colors.

I remember ever since I started shooting video, I started to dissect movies I watch, tv shows I watch. Seeing how they film certain things. How the camera operator pull the focus. How the camera operator maneuver the crane, the dolly, the slider. I would study how the post processing was done on color of certain films to give it the film look. All of the sudden, watching movies and tv shows was never the same. I’m seeing everything in a different light.

All in all, it was a great ride and if anything, it improved my photography skills. It opened my eyes. Eureka! I been enlighten!!

  1. […] Autobiography of an Amateur photographer pt.3 (The enLIGHTment) […]

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