Every once in a while it's nice to take a day off and go to a museum. Surprisingly, I took a camera with me even though I had a phone in my pocket!!!

It's a been a non-stop month of still photography and video production. There's a certain amount of mental wear-and-tear that goes along with juggling a lot of things all at once. So, after a quick assignment downtown this morning, and a quick lunch, I invited Belinda to go over to the Blanton Museum with me to see the newly hung show of Peruvian photography. 

As is typical of the Blanton Museum, the show was set up nicely, the lighting was good and the curators did a nice job with their selection. There was a good sampling of really well done, black and white photojournalism balanced with some exquisite, large format, fine art landscapes and, a bit of experimental work tossed in for good measure. Parts of the permanent collection of modern paintings have changed; one of our favorite Ben Shahn paintings is gone but there's a nice Franz Kline that I hadn't seen before, just down from an Andy Warhol painting of Farah Fawcett. Eclectic, for sure. 

I took along a camera and a short zoom lens (24-70mm) but I had no serious intention of taking photos any more meaningful than snapshots for the proverbial, endless scrapbook. After our visit to the museum I came back into the real world when I checked my messages and saw the latest round of changes to our latest project. Why do CEOs seem to always wait to chime in after all the approval stages are done and the project is in the final phase? I should be used to it, after all, I have been doing this long enough to know the routine.

On a totally different and very happy note: the house next door; the one that took three painful and acrimonious years to complete, finally sold to a very nice family who just happen to be mutual friends of my friend, Ellen. Same politics, same basic philosophy and great taste in friends....

Finally, a happy ending to the endless construction stories....

How I screwed up yesterday without screwing up my whole project.

I got a call a few days ago about a video project. Could I come out and do a very short interview that would be inserted into a larger project? I've come to like shooting real interviews and I don't mind the quasi-interview process that is prefaced to the interview subject like this: "Hi Mr. Smith. We've got a thirty second gap that we're holding for you in our video. Can you touch on this (the "big" subject) and then say, quickly, how our company helped to solve the problem for your people?" I've come to see these little, episodic plug-ins as extremely valuable; especially when requested by the CEO who "owns" the budget for your overall project.

The brief was to shoot video of one person on location in another city and to come away with about thirty seconds of great messaging. We didn't need B-roll so I left Ben behind to tweak our ongoing edit, promising I wouldn't come back with anything that would run over 32 seconds. Something about  retiming all the audio. 

I'd scouted the intended location before and, since it was a sunny day, didn't think I would need lights; but I brought some anyway. While I had been shooting with the RX10 cameras I capriciously decided to mix things up a little bit. Make a few changes 95% of the way into a project....

I packed two cameras: The A7Rii and the most recently acquired A7ii.  My intention was to shoot with the A7Rii and just bring along the other camera for snapshots and back-up. I packed three lenses; the Zeiss 24-70mm, the Sony 18-105mm G lens and the Rokinon 85mm f1.5 cine lens, with an adapter.

The night before I sat at my desk and went through the A7Rii menu several times to make sure all the menu settings were on target and that I'd set up the function menu for video capture. My intention was to test out the 1080p output of the camera since the final output for the project would also be 1080p. We went into the project with the idea of shooting everything in 4K but a certain percentage of the material we ended up using was archival footage (fortunately only from a couple of years back) which was 1080p so we ended up putting everything on a 1080p timeline. Everything looked great and the camera was ready to go. I stuck it in the case along with the rest of the gear and packed the car.

The trip to Wimberley, Texas was really pleasant. Ranch to Market Route 12 is really pretty, with lots of rolling hills and fun, gentle "S" curves to glide through. I'd had the Honda CRV serviced the day before and the car just hummed along. The cherry on the ice cream was the almost total lack of other traffic. Almost like a holiday from the relentless Austin traffic...

I got to Wimberley (hippie, artist, trustfunder, escape destination for exhausted Austinites....) and found our location in the local community center. I found a room with a bank of windows on one side and no real visual or audio distractions and started setting up. I'd use the soft, indirect, window light as my main light and bounce an LED panel off the ceiling for some vague fill light.

At this point the client arrived and started talking to me in detail about the many facets of the overall project. I paid as much attention as I possibly could but in the back of my mind the countdown clock until the arrival of our talent was clicking away with urgency.

I pulled out a camera, formatted the 64 gigabyte SDXC card and slapped a microphone mixer/impedance matching device to the bottom. I attache a quick release plate to the bottom of the audio device and put the combination on the tripod. I've been wanting to try the 85mm Rokinon 1.5 (cine) lens on the A7R2 for some time so I put it on the camera.

My client stood in while I roughed in the composition for the shot. She also held a white test target so I could get a nice custom white balance (God, that makes the whole editing/grading process so much easier....). I loved the look of the shot so we marked the position for the subject on the floor with some orange tape. The last task before we got started was to set up the wireless microphone and get the levels set. During this whole process I am carrying on a somewhat technical and detail-laden conversation with my client. Lots of stuff to hammer out...

The subject walks in and we chat for a few minutes. I get the microphone position on his dress shirt and show him how to drop the cord inside his shirt and run the wire out the bottom (out of frame) and around to the radio transmitter I'm attaching to his belt. We discussed what the video project needed and what we needed him to say.

Just before we got rolling I went to change the shutter speed and the camera told me that I couldn't do that function in the current setting. The warning showed me that while we were in the movie mode the camera was set to movie/program exposure. Odd, I thought. I was almost certain I'd set that menu to manual weeks ago when I first got the A7Rii. No matter, I found the setting, changed it and then modified the shutter speed. The finder info told me we were shooting in XAVC at 50 mbs and 24 fps. I was happy and ready.

The comp of the shot and the quick fall off behind the subject was exactly what I was looking for. The interviewee was at ease in front of the camera and had a good, strong voice. I had him say the same thing a number of times and we even stopped and reviewed a couple of takes in the process. By the end of the fifteen or twenty minutes of "hands-on" engagement we all felt good about what we'd shot and I started packing up. The cameras got the lenses pulled off and put into their neoprene pouches. The cameras got their body covers and dropped into their protective cases. Everything went into the big, rolling Husky case and I headed back to the buzzing beehive of Austin. I was feeling professional; very satisfied with the work I'd just done and the ease with which we were able to coach the interviewee into giving us exactly what we needed.

I dragged the case into the studio and then went in to the house to find Ben. Since he is doing the primary editing for our project I thought he'd want to come into the studio and help choose the best take to include.

He came along and we headed to the workstation. I pulled the Sony A7Rii out of the case and pulled the memory card. I stuck it into the card reader and opened Final Cut Pro. On the desktop I popped open the folder in which the video clips should have been. There was nothing! It was blank. I went through every single folder on the card. Nothing. My panic started to well up. I'd have to call the client and re-shoot. Yikes. Ben suggested we put the card back in the camera and see if we could see the images on the review screen. No. Nothing. Another wave of panic.

Then I started entertaining the improbable. Was this the right camera? Had I somehow gotten the cameras mixed up? Me, the perfect technician making a technical mistake? Holy crap! I calmly asked Ben to hand me the other camera body. I pulled the card, stuck it in the card reader and....voila....there were all the precious little files. In my haste to set up in Wimberley I had grabbed the wrong camera. I'd just shot my first video on the A7ii in the middle of a real job. Something I always avoid, just in case.

My initial action was relief, followed by sheer embarrassment. What a huge fuck-up it is to choose the wrong camera. I must be loosing my marbles.

But then we looked at the cameras carefully and noticed that they are almost completely identical and, if I take off my glasses it's hard (almost impossible) for me to differential the little model insignias just to the left of the lens on the front of the camera.

Ben was gracious and acted like this was just something that happened to everyone. But I suspect he was thinking...."Ah, so this is how the inevitable decline begins......"

My two takeaways? The video from the A7ii looked great and it cuts in perfectly. I did my actual job correctly even if I did screw up in grabbing cameras. And? Bring bright orange tape. Put a swatch of it on the shooting camera to differentiate. I got lucky this time; what if I'd still been trying to shoot everything in 4K?