Just Light

Of all the quick, in-depth, video tutorials that Tim led for us at Open Signal this week, I found the lighting tutorial the most helpful. Where the camera day and the audio day had been borderline bewildering, I think we all left the building on Wednesday feeling confident that we could light an interview.

There was no terminology, functions, or menus to go through and learn. It was just light. We set up the light stands and fiddled around with them under his guidance. The whole class had to participate to make the lighting look good, and it was really cool to be able to use the different filters and dials to manipulate the image (which was being fed from a camera to a large monitor that we all could see). We needed two brave volunteers, Emily and Coral, to sit in front of the camera and have their faces observed in front of the whole class, in varying amounts of light. Thanks to them, we were able to use the time we had to look critically at lighting and figure out what we could do to make it look better.

After that, we still had time to go on a brief tour of the rest of the building. Open Signal is a public access filmmaking and broadcasting organization, and they have a lot of studios and equipment that they rent out to local media-makers like ourselves. Now that we’ve gone through their training, we can check out their cameras, tripods, audio recorders, and lighting equipment to make our documentaries in the next few weeks.

They also let people use their studios, which we had a chance to see during the tour. They have two large, quiet rooms, complete with crane-rig cameras and green screens that are open to the public, so long as they have a proposal and have gone through the training. I think it’s amazing that there are organizations like Open Signal that make media-making so accessible to ordinary people. All you really need is the motivation to create something and you can make it happen.

Theo Morris 

“Oscar Peterson Didn’t Have to Think About Playing a C Chord, He Just Did It”

Monday marked the halfway point of our time in Portland. We had turned in our Audio
Documentaries the previous Sunday, and were ready to move on to the second segment of the
program: video.

Though Theo, Moira, and I had already captured a lot of footage at The Big Float (an
event encouraging public recreation in the Willamette River) on Saturday, we were just now
getting acquainted with the cameras which we were to use for the remainder of the program.
For some, this was a task not far from that of a scientist analyzing alien technology. As a more
audio-oriented person myself, I felt this whole-heartedly. I often found myself shifting my gaze
back and forth from the groupings of buttons spackling the side of the device to the rotating
dials on the lens, wondering if I had any hope of mastering this equipment in just four weeks.

Slowly, we made our way through the camera, learning of the iris dial to control
exposure, the focus dial to change the sharpness of our subject, and the zoom. As I fumbled
with the camera, our instructor, Tim, gave an insight I hadn’t thought of since my days in jazz
band: “Oscar Peterson didn’t have to think about playing a C chord, he just did it.” As a pianist
myself, who has spent hours upon hours studying Oscar Peterson and his uncanny ability to
move through changes with ease, Tim’s comment immediately clicked in my mind. For as much
classical training I’ve had in piano, I’ve found that just feeling my way around the keyboard is
one of the best ways to move through challenging changes. When I started thinking about this
in the context of recording video, it made perfect sense: in documentaries, we want the visuals
to give us a fluid entrance into the setting and move us through the scenes seamlessly. The
technical aspects of the camera work are less important than the “feel” or “vibe” one can make
come across through video.

Now, all I have to do is convince Theo and Moira to call ourselves the Willamette River

Above is a video of Oscar Peterson performing in his trio. If running low on
time, I would suggest listening to the second tune, “Satin Doll.”

–Atlas Finch