Shooting “Grand Canyon Winter” with the Canon 5D Mark II and Editing with Final Cut X

Shooting in the winter with a DSLR can be a bit tricky due to the high chance of getting blow-out in the exposure. DSLRs—although great in low light situations—are notorious for easily blowing out the highlights. Hollywood cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, ASC, says that you need to treat the exposure range as if you were shooting on reversal film stock. Not much room in the exposure range to play with.

When Hurlbut first used the Canon, he said, “I treated the 5D like I was exposing reversal film stock, you had to get it close to what your final product would be.” (http://www.hurlbutvisuals.com/blog/2010/03/30/color-correction-put-your-best-foot-forward/).

What was used:

  • Camera: Canon 5D Mark II
  • ISO: 160
  • Shutter: 1/40
  • Lens: Zeiss Contax 50mm f/1.8
  • Aperture: f/8
  • Filter: Tiffen HT Ultra Clear (55mm)
  • ND filter: Light Craft Workshop ND fader (55mm)
  • Zacuto Z-Finder Pro
  • Picture Style: Technicolor’s CineStyle
  • Editing, color grading, and sound: Final Cut Pro X
  • Music: http://incompetech.com/

Shooting recently in the Grand Canyon after a snowstorm gave me a chance to find ways in overcoming the limitation of the DSLR exposure range.

See Grand Canyon Winter from Kurt Lancaster on Vimeo.

The two things I did:

  • Advice 1:  Use a neutral density filter. I chose Light Craft Workshop’s nd variable fader, mounted on my Zeiss Contax 50mm f/1.4 lens. When you want shallow depth of field and want to maintain an open aperture, then the ND filter is the way to go. Otherwise, you can use a high shutter speed, but when working with a film-like look for video, then keeping the shutter speed at 1/40 or 1/50 is preferred.

Working in collaboration with Canon, Technicolor scientists spent twelve months developing a picture style designed for filmmakers planning to engage in postproduction color grading—the process of not only of fixing color in post—but for digging out the widest range of exposure possible in Canon EOS cameras.

According to Technicolor, CineStyle “… optimizes the dynamic range in the image by leveraging the capabilities of the Canon imaging chipset” (http://www.technicolor.com/en/hi/cinema/filmmaking/digital-printer-lights/cinestyle). It does this by using a log color space rather than linear. Linear provides for an equal distribution of data bit information; logarithmic information allows for bits to be distributed into the darks and highlights in order to provide more detail in these areas. Qvo-Labs claims that the log 8-bit color space (found in Canon DSLR’s video mode) can reach a “close equivalent” of 12 bits! (See Qvo-Labs detailed explanation: http://www.qvolabs.com/Digital_Images_ColorSpace_Log_vs_Linear.html)

Shane Hurlbut agrees. With the new “color science behind” the CineStyle, Hurlbut says he is “finding much cleaner results in the post color correction process.” (http://www.hurlbutvisuals.com/blog/2011/05/08/technicolors-new-picture-style-cine-style/)

For this project, I also wanted to bring motion to the shots. Cinematic motion is like poetry in the film world, so I used my Kessler Crane Pocket Dolly Traveler mounted to a Manfrotto 501HDV head (and Cullman carbon fiber sticks). See Figure 1.

Figure 1 (Photo by Stephanie Petrie)

Fig. 1. Setting up a push-in shot at the Grand Canyon with the Canon 5D Mark II and the Kessler Crane Pocket Dolly, Manfrotto 501HDV head, and Cullman tripod. (Photo by Stephanie Petrie.)

The wind was strong shooting the windchill down to the low teens. Dressing warmly is key. Several shots I had to get down on my knees, which got my legs wet. Should have brought ski pants.

Once the footage was shot, with a side stop at El Tovar to eat lunch, I dumped the footage onto my MacBook Pro (quad core with 8GB of RAM) and external G-Tech mini hard drive (FireWire 800, 7200 rpm, 750 GB).

However, unlike shooting with one of Canon’s Picture Styles, where you do not need to do any work in post, the CineStyle requires you to do postproduction work, otherwise the image looks washed out and flat. It holds extra data in the bit-space, but you won’t see it until you go into postproduction. See Figure 1 below for the flat look of CineStyle.

Figure 2

Fig. 2. This original image comes across flat in the raw CineStyle picture style.

The next image, Figure 3, reveals the color and contrast range after applying color grading techniques in Final Cut X.

Figure 3

Fig. 3. This screen grab reveals the depth of the range of color and exposure after color correction was applied.

I attained this look by adjusting the highlights, midtones, and shadow levels. Above the line increases the value, while moving the circle below the line decreases values. I adjust the midtones down to help remove the wash in the CineStyle image, making the overall image darker, and increased the highlights to make the image brighter.

Figure 4

Fig. 4. The adjustment tools in Final Cut X, providing the tools needed to remove the wash of the CineStyle, digging out the data for the high dynamic range of the image.

Pomfort (http://pomfort.com/plugins/dslrlog2video-tryandbuy.html) sells an S-curve look up table (LUT) that automatically makes these adjustments for you, but at $179 it’s a bit pricey, so I adjusted by eye.

1 Comment
   Using CineStyle for “Grand Canyon Winter” with the Canon 5D Mark II said on January 22, 2012 at 9:28 pm

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