The Joy of Documentary Photography

Documentary photography is, in my opinion, one of the noblest, most socially useful and most personally rewarding pursuits one can engage in with camera in hand.

Photograph by David Turn from ‘Wales 1970s’ published by Café Royal Books.

It is regrettable that fashion and the death of magazines that relied upon documentary photography and its subgenre photojournalism have conspired to assign the genre into the waste bin of history only to be revived and celebrates by the likes of Café Royal Books, but that should not put off contemporary would-be documentary photographers.

Documentary photography at its best frames a mirror before the events, people and places of its time and is even more important in an age where entertainment is preferred to information, fantasy is preferred to fact and religion is preferred to science.

Against this background, documentary photography is an act of resistance born of seeing the world and all within it with supreme clarity.

Even if documentary photography’s current lack of fashionability and respectability, sees the genre absent from galleries, away from museums, off the television and out of print, I encourage all who may be so inclined to take on its mantle and practise it each and every day, where you live, where you work and in the streets of your city, town and country.

Do so especially if you are one of those whom the gatekeepers reject, whose experiences and views of the world are traditionally denied and ignored.

Do so especially when the gatekeepers may appear to accept your right to exist and be a documentary photographer but dictate rules and regulations at you that are designed to keep you, your vision and your work under control, compliant and conforming.

Do so because your right to to be you, to see as you do, to depict as you do and to tell your stories in your own way is unassailable no matter what lies you are told and what power games and punishments are enacted against you.

Above all, documentary photography is fun, demanding as it does a deep and constant engagement with this world and all that is in it to the point where it is possible to enter a flow state, also known as being in the zone.

Documentary photography is, in my experience, the surest way to achieve flow state that I know, a gateway into sheer joy.

Ways and means of production

The hardware and software of digital photography have come a long way since it began replacing analog film-based photography to the point where most cameras, lenses and processing software will do the job well enough now.

While most of the wide range of the analog era’s cameras, lenses and types of films, processing and printing materials no longer exist, contemporary digital cameras offer analogies of some of those upon which documentary photographers once relied:

  • Rangefinder cameras in 120 rollfilm and 35mm formats.
  • Single lens reflexes aka SLR.
  • Twin lens reflexes aka TLR.
  • View cameras in field camera and studio versions.

The mirrorless cameras of the analog era and now the digital age offer the advantage of silent operation and the lack of mirror slap and shutter shake, especially when shooting in electronic shutter mode.

Without the ongoing punitive financial burden of film, processing, proofing, printing and archival storage, digital photography is more affordable than analog so consider future-proofing and capability-expanding yourself through wise investment.

Hybrid digital mirrorless cameras open up the world of documentary moviemaking in ways that never existed for analog just with a little extra expenditure on video production accessories.

With DSLR giants Canon and Nikon finally seeing the light and slowly coming up with viable soon-to-be-released mirrorless alternatives, and mirrorless pioneers Fujifilm, Olympus and Panasonic already well established with a wide range of mirrorless cameras and lenses at several price points, there has never been a better range of choices in equipment.

Hybrid mirrorless cameras open up the world of documentary moviemaking in ways that never existed during the analog era and, with a little extra expenditure on video accessories, allow you to create professional-quality productions.

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I will add to this section soon, so please come back again if it is useful.

Rangefinder and Rangefinder-Style Cameras

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Leeming LUT Pro Coming Soon to Level the Hybrid Camera Video Playing Field with Radically Improved Colour Accuracy for Easy Colour Matching

While we have been stunned and amazed by Australian company Blackmagic Design’s coming revolutionary Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4k aka BMPCC 4K aka P4K, a a quiet revolution in hybrid camera video post-production has been brewing. 

Australian cinematographer/director of photography/director/writer Paul Leeming of Visceral Psyche Films has been radically overhauling his Leeming LUT suite of camera profile colour matching 3D LUTs whilst grading Kodokushi, the very first full-length feature film to be shot on the affordable, award-winning Panasonic Lumix GH5S high-end compact video camera. 

paul_leeming_panasonic_lumix_gh5s_zoom_h4n_rig_01_1024px_60pc
The Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5S plus 8Sinn GH5/GH5S cage-based rig used by Paul Leeming to shoot ‘Kodokushi’, the first full-length feature film to be shot with the GH5S.
During his first visit to ‘Untitled’ Paul Leeming tested several cameras for possible Leeming LUT One custom 3D LUTs.

As we learned earlier this year when Mr Leeming dropped by our home studio after wrapping production on the Kodokushi shoot in Osaka, the Leeming LUT camera profile testing and production process has evolved courtesy of now basing it on 3D LUT Creator combined with a new footage creation methodology.

We tested an early beta of Leeming LUT Pro, successor to Leeming LUT One, against earlier versions of Leeming LUT One and were suitably impressed.

Leeming LUT Pro has delivered on its predecessors’ promise of enabling easier, faster and more accurate correction of video footage from a range of hybrid cameras and camcorders affordable for self-funded, low-budget, independent documentary and narrative moviemakers.

Leeming LUT Pro makes that possible regardless of whether video acquisition is via Rec. 709, Rec. 2020, log, flat or regular picture profile footage, and with whichever brand camera so long as Mr Leeming has tested its footage for creation of his custom camera profile 3D LUTs.

Still frame from ‘Kodokushi’, the very first feature film to be shot with the Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5S video camera by Director of Photography Paul Leeming.
Still frame from ‘Kodokushi’, the very first feature film to be shot with the Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5S video camera by Director of Photography Paul Leeming.
Still frame from ‘Kodokushi’, the very first feature film to be shot with the Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5S video camera by Director of Photography Paul Leeming.
Australian director/cinematographer Paul Leeming with his Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 rig during his first visit to the ‘Untitled’ home studio..

Contemporary moviemakers often use a range of cameras on any given production, presenting a costly, time-consuming colour-matching headache during the postproduction process.

With Leeming LUT Pro, a timeline of footage from several different cameras can be colour-matched by dropping the relevant Leeming LUT Pro camera profile custom LUT onto each clip, evening their colour up for faster subsequent colour correction then colour grading for looks and emotion.

Consequently, footage from, say, a Canon EOS DSLR or Cinema EOS camcorder, a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8, GH5, GH5S, any of the Sony hybrid cameras, a JVC GY-LS300, GoPro or DJI X5 Series on the same timeline will no longer be screaming out their colour science differences and will play nice together.

Application of the ETTR – exposing to the right – principle as taught by Mr Leeming on his Leeming LUT Pro website aids in exposure-matching and enhances Leeming LUT Pro’s colour-matching benefits even more.

Colour-matching footage shot on a range of cameras over time is the bane of longterm documentary moviemaking and Leeming LUT Pro makes the process more accurate, easier and faster when using profiled cameras.

For example, my current documentary production gear kit includes the Fujifilm X-Pro2, Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4, and I may be adding a GH5 or GH5S along with a second Fujifilm camera to backup and extend my X-Pro2.

paul_leeming_panasonic_lumix_gh5_8sinn_cage_2250059_cameraraw_1024px_60pc
Paul Leeming’s Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5 in 8Sinn cage with Scorpio handle.

That represents a range of picture profiles, film simulations, Rec. types and specific Rec. 709 profiles as well as HLG and V-Log without adding footage from very different cameras such as GoPro, DJI, Canon, Nikon, Blackmagic Design and more.

Blackmagic Design’s Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K aka BMPCC 4K aka P4K gives self-funded indie moviemakers like me an eminently affordable 4K UHD and 1080p HD cinema camera option as well and Mr Leeming will no doubt be creating a custom Leeming LUT Pro 3D LUT for it when he can obtain a production-ready version of the camera.

Blackmagic Design’s Grant Petty once shared his vision for the rest of us who need to be storytellers in moving pictures but don’t come from traditional storytelling class and ethnic backgrounds:

“My big thing is, if you don’t have any money, it doesn’t mean to say your brain is turned off, or you’re stupid or you don’t have ambition. From my point of view, you want to move up, you want to do great things. If you want to do that, you should be able to buy products that let you do that. That’s how you get rid of class structure. I’m trying to remove it, and just let people be creative.”

With the coming release of Leeming LUT Pro, Paul Leeming is also assisting independent moviemakers in dismantling the moviemaking class system and more power to his arm, as the saying goes.

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fcp.co: If High School Kids Can Do It, So Can You… The Apple Short Film Project Workflow Pt. 1

http://www.fcp.co/final-cut-pro/articles/2052-if-high-school-kids-can-do-it-so-can-you-the-apple-short-film-project-workflow-part-1

“Sam here. I’ve been waiting to write this article for a very long time, and it signals the beginning of something… and that is the beginning of complexity finally getting out of the way of high end filmmaking and truly making it accessible to everyone. We’re talking turning high end filmmaking into a teachable, repeatable process….

… There is a new world of content that is emerging and the paradigm shift from an ivory tower post production mentality where everything is complicated and no one knows how to communicate with each other is shifting to a model where anyone can make something that looks amazing if they take the time to become good at their craft. All you need is the right workflow, some affordable tools, a basic understand of storytelling and filmmaking fundamentals, and a willingness to learn….”

red_raven_HK8Q2_AV1_1024px_60%
RED Raven camera with Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art Lens for Canon EF mount.

Commentary

I laboured under the ivory tower postproduction mentality mentioned in the quote above as well as the cap-in-hand production finance paradigm that has ruled documentary moviemaking for what seems like an eternity and I can think of no systems in the creative sphere that can be as punitive and as brutal to storytellers.

I have experienced the worst of the system with the lowest of low points being the time when then Australian Prime Minister John Howard personally demanded my human rights documentary movie project that was about to be commissioned by the Australian Broadcasting Commission under its New Directors scheme be cancelled resulting in being blacklisted as a moviemaker.

I sincerely hope Australian expatriate Sam Mestman is correct about a coming major paradigm shift in the nature of independent documentary moviemaking, and I look forward to the rest of his four-part series of articles about the methods used by LA high school students and their advisers and assistants in the Apple Short Film Project.

Although the Apple Short Film Project was based around using RED Raven raw cinema cameras equipped with EF-mount Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art lenses, I hope that the workflow used in these short documentary projects will be adaptable to using more affordable cameras such as Panasonic’s Lumix DC-GH5 and GH5S hybrid Micro Four Thirds and media storage systems other than LumaForge’s reportedly excellent Jellyfish Tower.

I will post links to each article in the series as they appear.

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Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art fast zoom lens for APS-C sensors and for adapting to M43 with Metabones SpeedBoosters, lens available in Canon EF or Nikon mounts. Also available in a geared cinema version.

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Lucas Pfaff: JTZ DP30 Cage and Shoulder-Kit | Filmmaker System REVIEW

“The JTZ DP30 Filmmaker System offers a great set of classic rig-parts in a high-end fashion. JTZ is the high-end brand from Fotga!…”

jtz_dp30_cage_plus_for_gh5s_gh5_gh4_gh3_square_01_1024px_60%
The JTZ DP30 camera cage and shoulder- mount kit for mirrorless cameras like Panasonic’s Lumix GH5S, GH5 and GH4.

Commentary

Every so often I wonder whether I should look further into the idea of shoulder-mounting mirrorless hybrid video cameras in order to approach the way I once used the Super 8 and Super 16 movie cameras on which I learned cinematography.

Then I take a serious look into the prices and the carrying weight of contemporary shoulder mount systems and set that idea aside for another day.

Until I came across Lucas Pfaff’s series of videos on the JTZ DP30 system.

JTZ, Lucas Pfaff tells us, is the higher-end brand of Fotga, the Chinese camera accessories makers whose DP500 follow focus device is used by documentary moviemaker Sol March of Suggestion of Motion.

Neither Fotga nor JTZ appear to have their own websites or retail through B&H Photo Video, so the only recourse is to buy from Amazon or ebay.

Meanwhile I will be looking for videos and other reviews of the JTZ DP300 in action on location to see how it bears up in the field.

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Austrian manufacturer Angelbird makes more affordable V90 SDXC cards than Panasonic’s own alternative and they are reportedly just as reliable.

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Lucas Pfaff: Return of the display loupe? VARY-i cage for GH5s Review

“Nifty, well fitting cage for the Panasonic GH4, GH5 and the new GH5s! A remarkable little set!…”

VARY-i Cage Combination for Panasonic Lumix GH4, GH5 and GH5S with multi angle LCD viewfinder loupe and two VARY-Grips.

Commentary

When I first got back into photography and video with the then revolutionary Canon EOS 5D Mark II, thanks to the advice of my partner who worked in Canon’s R&D division at the time, I looked at several LCD magnifying loupe options online and in Sydney’s inner city professional camera store, now sadly defunct.

None of the solutions available then completely solved the problem of needing to view the camera’s LCD in order to effectively focus and shoot video, and so I set aside the idea of handheld video for a while until a chance encounter with a Panasonic GH3 in a duty-free store, which led to purchasing the GH4 when it became available.

Despite not investing in one at the time, I always thought there might be more potential in the loupe concept if done right and that they could be more affordable than the incredibly expensive third-party electronic viewfinders and graticals that have appeared to take their place.

Lucas Pfaff’s video look at the VARY-i loupe plus case combination for Panasonic’s Lumix GH4, GH5 and GH5S make it look like a very attractive solution for handheld video with the GH5’s in-body image stabilization (IBIS) or the GH4 and GH5S with Panasonic lenses with optical image stabilization (OIS).

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  • Angelbird 64GB AV Pro UHS-II SDXC Memory CardB&H
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  • Angelbird 256GB Match Pack for the Panasonic EVA1B&H – special promotional packaging of two Angelbird 128GB AV Pro UHS-II SDXC memory cards that are just as usable in other cameras than the AU-EVA1 that also have UHS-II SD card slots.
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newmatilda.com: John Pilger On Why The Documentary Must Not Be Allowed To Die

https://newmatilda.com/2017/12/12/john-pilger-on-why-the-documentary-must-not-be-allowed-to-die/

“Breaking the silence and speaking truth to power is the job of the film-maker, writes John Pilger, something that’s perhaps needed more today than ever before….

… Whenever young documentary film-makers ask me how they can “make a difference”, I reply that it is really quite simple. They need to break the silence.”

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Panasonic Rumoured to Announce Lumix GH5S 4K Low-Light Video Super Camera on December 15, 2017 US Time – UPDATED

The rumour sites have been running hot with the possibility of a low-light version of the Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5, giving rise to thoughts on what benefits such a camera might offer to documentary moviemakers and photographers working mostly in available light, or often, available darkness. 

The Panasonic Lumix GH5s is rumoured to have the same camera body size and shape as the Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5, great news for cinematographers and camera accessories makers.

A Micro Four Thirds answer to the Sony Alpha a7S low-light video camera series would be very useful for the sorts of immersive, fly-on-the-wall photo essays and short documentary movies on the cards for the ‘Untitled’ project’s Stories department.

Although I appreciated the Sony a7S series’ larger 35mm format sensor when I reviewed the Sony a7S, I much prefer Panasonic’s hardware design and engineering, its menu system and colour science, and Olympus’ manual clutch focussing M.Zuiko Pro f/2.8 zoom and f/1.2 prime lenses.

Most of all, I prefer the affordability and portability of Micro Four Thirds cameras and lenses, even if, as some users complain, some M43 flagship cameras can be a little on the large side.

Sample stills from another low-light, low-resolution high-ISO camera, the Sony Alpha a7S

Images minimally edited with DxO PhotoLab.

Otherwise, though, I obtained some impressive available light results from the Sony a7S’ 12 megapixel, 35mm format sensor, especially when shooting stills in the gritty mixed-source lighting and grotty interiors of Sydney’s ageing inner-city underground railway stations.

Video on the a7S proved more challenging as its S-Log2 logarithmic profile was poorly understood at the time and little well-qualified advice was available on how to get the best out of it via camera settings and postproduction.

Further, the a7S’ S-Log2 base ISO is 1600, demanding the use of strong neutral density filters in a good set of fixed density NDs or a strong variable ND, which I did not have at the time.

The need for speed induces a need for density

Only now are strong, top-quality variable NDs like those from Aurora-Aperture and SLR Magic becoming available to satisfy the needs of documentary moviemakers for whom constant swapping from within big sets of fixed NDs is not an option.

Nowadays, if using the Sony a7S II or the coming a7S III, I would default to using Paul Leeming’s Leeming LUT One for Sony camera settings and camera profile LUT.

If the Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5S proves real and follows Sony’s example in having a high base ISO, then you may wish to consider some of the more recent ND filter solutions that I have written about:

Consider a possible high base ISO GH5S in combination with the Olympus M.Zuiko Pro f/1.2 17mm, 25mm and 45mm prime lenses used wide open or close to it in bright light as well as darkness and the need for a good set of matched variable and fixed ND filters becomes even more urgent.

Low-light stills and low-res sensors

Getting back to stills photography, for some years glossy magazines have commissioned cover portrait photographs to be shot with high ISO RED cameras for the sake of behind-the-scenes videos, raw digital stills and top-quality raw video.

At the start of the digital era, before the camera makers’s megapixels contest began, we were often reminded that 6 megapixels was enough for magazine covers and double page spreads.

The 10.71 megapixels sensor being suggested as Panasonic’s choice for the for the Lumix GH5S should be more than enough for most digital and four-colour press publication, while the Lumix G9 may well be suited for big exhibition prints given its 80 megapixels high resolution mode.

Things are looking good for affordable, portable, high-quality digital documentary moviemaking and stills photography thanks to creative innovations like these.

A GH5S video features wishlist

I asked cinematographer/director Paul Leeming of Leeming LUT One for a the features he would like to see in a possible GH5S:

If they make a low light DCI 4K sensor variant I’d be very happy just with that alone. The main thing I’d like to see is more dynamic range than the GH5, and more frame-rate in 10bit 4K 48p internal would be lovely if they can’t do 60p. With UHS-II cards the write limitations are pretty much gone so then it comes down to the internal processor and what it has as a limit.

If Panasonic hits any or all of the following things I’d upgrade:

  • DCI 4K at 10 bit 4:2:2 48p internal or greater,
  • 2 stops better noise performance,
  • 2 stops better dynamic range (kind of linked to the noise performance) though to be honest even 1 stop better DR would be great.

Updates

Since writing this article, the usually very reliable Micro Four Thirds rumours website 4/3 Rumors has reported that Panasonic’s Lumix GH5S public announcement event scheduled for the 15th December has now been made into a two-day closed event only for selected members of the press under NDA, with the public announcement most likely to be at CES on the 8th January US time, 9th January Sydney time.

Images of the Panasonic Lumix GH5S, first published by 4/3 Rumors and Nokishita

I have added relevant 4/3 Rumors rumours to the Links below.

So far though, other than the GH5S’ base ISO which is sure to be higher than the GH5’s 200 and 400 ISO for video, the rumoured specifications for the GH5S include:

  • DCI C4K (60p, 150Mbps, 4:2:2 10 bit Long GOP)
  • Slow motion: 240fps (FHD)
  • Sensor: 12 Megapixel 4/3 LiveMOS sensor with up to 100.000 ISO
  • Effective pixels: 10,280,000 pixels
  • Total number of pixels: 11,930,000
  • Lowest frame rate: 12 fps
  • ISO: 160-51,200
  • Extended ISO: 80-102,400
  • Mechanical shutter: 1/8,000
  • Electronic shutter: 1/16,000
  • Flash sync: 1/250
  • Light metering system: 1728-zone multi-pattern sensing system
  • LCD screen: 3.2″, 1,620,000 dots, touchscreen
  • Viewfinder: OLED, 3,680,000 dots with diopter adjustment (-4 to +3)
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
  • Bluetooth: 4.2
  • Battery charger: Panasonic DMW-BTC13
  • Battery: Pansonic DMW-BLF19PP
  • Two memory card slots
  • 4K photos
  • HDMI Type A / USB 3.1
  • Dimensions: 138,5×98.1×87.4
  • Operating temperature: -10°C to 40°C (14°F to 104°F)
  • Dust-proof and splash-proof body

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Image Credits

Image concept, rip and hack by Carmel D. Morris.

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  • Sony Alpha a7S Mirrorless Digital Camera B&H
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Fstoppers: Let’s Make a Short Social Documentary Film

https://fstoppers.com/documentary/lets-make-short-social-documentary-film-205453

“Short documentary films have the power to reveal a unique story, inspire with insights and even motivate change in the brief duration. How easy or difficult it is to make one? In this post, we will discuss the steps involved in making a short social documentary film….”

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Great News! Director/Cinematographer Mike Figgis Has Redesigned The Legendary, Innovative Fig Rig Video Camera Rig

Just as I was wondering if we would ever see the likes again of movie director Mike Figgis’ innovative, legendary Fig Rig, welcome news arrives of the Fig Rig’s redesign for more contemporary video camcorders and hybrid cameras courtesy of The Guardian newspaper’s culture webchat with the creator of the Fig Rig himself, Mr Mike Figgis

First version of the Mike Figgis-designed Fig Rig, made for the HD and SD camcorders of the pre-4K DSLR and DSLM digital moviemaking era.

Here is the relevant extract from the webchat:

artmod asks: Do you still use your Fig Rig?

Mike Figgis, 19 June 2017 1:17pm: Good question. I use it all the time. And have spent the last two months redesigning and updating it, based on using a 15-mm bar system, combining it with bits of equipment acquired cheaply from the internet. And it has been a revelation.

I’m using it with a Canon C300 and the new Nikon D5, adding follow focus and a 7-inch monitor and it is working beautifully.
I’m talking to Manfrotto about relaunching it and if not them, would love to find a small British company and stay local.

Great news indeed and I hope that Mr Figgis finds a good new manufacturing and marketing partner for Fig Rig version 3 – Manfrotto made and marketed Fig Rig in its first and second, Sympla, versions – or hashes out a great deal with Manfrotto ensuring that Fig Rig 3 will be affordably priced, well distributed and better marketed than its predecessors.

Although I have not had the pleasure of seeing and trying out a Fig Rig, and one was not available for purchase when I was searching, the short movie above showing Mr Figgis using a Fig Rig version 1 reveals its uniqueness as a camera-supporting solution, one based on the human body and natural human movement in a way foreign to better-known movie camera stabilization solutions such as shoulder-mounts, gimbals, Steadicam and the like.

Mr Figgis shared that he has been using Canon’s Cinema EOS C300 camcorder and Nikon’s D5 DSLR lately and so has based his Fig Rig redesign around them.

It is likely that Fig Rig 3 will function equally well with other mid-sized camcorders and cinema cameras such as Panasonic’s AU-EVA1 Super 35 Handheld Cinema Camera and smaller DSLM cameras such as Panasonic’s Lumix DC-GH5 Super 16 hybrid with or without camera cages, battery grips, audio or video recorders and the like.

If so, colour me very excited indeed.

Links:

Image Credits:

Header image concept and hack by Carmel D. Morris.