Posts Tagged ‘digital media services’

Lessons from the Landfill

February 9, 2011

One of the benefits of working in the video and photo industry that we appreciate most is the wealth of information to which we’re exposed during our productions. Even a trip to the landfill can be a source of revelation. Did you know that the Caterpillar graders, bulldozers and compactors that distribute the garbage truck deliveries atop a landfill include in-cab GPS devices that assist the operator in letting him or her know within inches how evenly distributed their layers of refuge are? As was explained to us by the plant operator, one of the landfill staff’s priorities is to make the most efficient use of the limited acreage they manage by ensuring that as much waste as possible is compacted within a given area.

Caterpillar Bulldozer working at a landfill

Lance Robson and I spent a full day at the North Central Landfill in Polk County, Florida shooting high definition video interviews and b-roll footage of the Caterpillar machinery in use at the facility. The footage is being assembled by Brush Art Corporation in Downes, Kansas to create a promotional short for CAT. While a day at the dump may not sound like something to look forward to, I must say that we were impressed with the level of sophistication involved with running a modern landfill and appreciative of the well-designed, purpose-built machinery offered by Caterpillar.

So, to all you budding photographers, videographers and journalists, don’t take for granted the knowledge that can be obtained on the job and don’t be afraid to get your feet dirty. We here at Digital Media Services are grateful for the wealth of information we’ve obtained while working on a projects…even at the landfill.

For a sampling of what we discovered about Caterpillar and the operation of a modern landfill, take a look at a rough cut of the video by clicking the link below…

Caterpillar Landfill Equipment Promo

Tips from the pros – Using your available light

December 14, 2010

One of the biggest ruiners of an otherwise perfectly-shot photograph or video clip is improper exposure. Even when using a modern, capable camera, a user still needs to be conscious of lighting. I’m not talking about the use of a cumbersome lighting kit or even an on-camera flash or video light. I’m talking about accounting for and utilizing the available light in the scene for creating a better-exposed photograph. Don’t be alarmed – this problem is easy to understand and resolve and overcoming it will instantly result in your ability to capture much better-looking images.

First a little background. Modern photo and video cameras use an auto-exposure meter built into the lens system that helps the user set proper exposure levels. Without getting too technical, an auto-exposure meter analyzes the amount of light coming into the lens and sets the camera’s aperture (lens opening) and shutter speed (light exposure time) to what it determines will provide a properly-exposed image. And this feature usually works quite well. Many users probably don’t even realize that this process is occurring every time they take a snapshot or record some video. Shooting images outside on a sunny day? The auto-exposure meter will close the aperture and shorten the shutter speed since an abundance of light is available. Taking photos or shooting video in a darkened room? The auto-exposure meter will open up the aperture and lengthen the shutter speed to allow in as much light as possible. If you’re using a still camera with an auto-flash, the auto-exposure meter can even instruct the camera to activate the flash and move the shutter speed back to a normal setting to keep images from getting blurry. Pretty cool!

Auto settings producing properly-exposed sky, but leaving face underexposed

The problem comes in when you have a lighting situation that confuses the auto-exposure meter. For instance, consider shooting someone with a beautiful sunset behind them. Most of the scene is likely going to be full of light since you’re pointing the camera directly into the sun. This causes the auto-exposure meter to close down the iris and shorten the shutter speed, leaving the small portion of the scene that’s not brightly lit – faces of the people in the shot – totally underexposed. Most of us, in scanning through our photo collection, can quickly come across such images where what we thought would be nicely lit is way too dark. Shooting people in front of a window with bright light pouring in often creates the same problem. And sometimes we see the opposite effect, too, where a portion of the scene we’re shooting ends up looking totally white (what we pros refer to as “blown out”) because the auto-exposre meter determined that more of the scene was dark and shadowy and opened up the aperture and lengthened the shutter speed to properly expose those dark areas.

Bright window light causing underexposure of subject

So, how to we compensate for these situations? Well, there are actually several things you can do. The first is to simply be aware of your current lighting conditions. If you’re shooting photos or video outside, the first thing you should always do is check where the sunlight is coming from. Then, position yourself with the sun behind you so the direct sunlight is lighting up the scene you want to shoot. Often, this is your best solution because it doesn’t require any extra equipment or force you to learn any new camera settings. And, contrary to what you might think, it usually doesn’t restrict your shot selection to the point where you can’t get the shot you want. If you’re shooting indoors, position the subject matter (or yourself) so that what you’re shooting is lit from an overhead light, a nearby lamp or a window. Just don’t place the subject in front of the window because then you’re back to the same problem of most of the scene being full of bright light like the sunset shot.

OK, so say you’re not able to reposition your subject matter or yourself to take advantage of the available light; say you really want to take a photo that couple standing directly in front of the sunset or that group of people in front of that window. What can you do? Well, there’s a few tricks for that, too. Most modern digital still cameras utilize a two-stage shutter button (the button you press to take the picture). If you press the button half way down, the camera locks in the proper exposure and focus settings for the scene in view. Pushing the button the rest of the way down takes the photo. Use this feature to your advantage by pointing the camera away from the bright scene a bit to cause the auto-exposure meter to adjust to a more desirable exposure setting and push the shutter button half way down to lock in those settings before moving your camera back to the desired framing and taking the picture. It takes a bit of practice to get the hang of it but quickly becomes second nature once you do it a few times. Just be aware of your focus as moving the camera away from your subject may cause the camera to set the focus too close or too far. Alternatively, reframe your shot by moving closer to or farther from your subject matter so that more or less of the underexposed or overexposed areas compose the image. This will usually force the auto-exposure meter to re-adjust the exposure of the image and might just be the little adjustment you needed.

Some cameras offer LCD screens that actively update the exposure view so you can easily see at what position to lock in your settings. Some camera screens don’t show an adjustment until you push the shutter button half way down so you might need to reposition and perform the “halfway push” a few times until you get the look you want. And remember, with digital, you have the freedom to shoot as many photos as necessary in order to get that great shot since you can just go back and delete the ones you don’t need without wasting precious film!

Camera angled to properly expose sky since foreground was not important

Finally, what about iPhones (and similar devices) or video cameras that don’t have a true shutter button that can lock in settings? Well, all hope is not lost. Altering the camera framing just a bit so that the auto-exposure meter makes an adjustment is a good technique to practice. A good example to demonstrate this might be when shooting a horizon shot. Placing the horizon line directly in the vertical middle of the frame will likely result in a very bright sky and a very dark earth. Maybe you want the sky to be properly exposed and don’t care much about the rocks and dirt in the foreground. In that case, tilt your camera up just a bit to create more bright sky area in the frame. The auto-exposure meter will adjust to bring down the overall light level which will better balance out the sky exposure and cause the earthen foreground to go dark. Alternatively, tilt your camera slightly down to fill the shot with more dark area so the auto-exposure meter will brighten the image if the ground is what’s important in the shot. With your video camera, learn to use the manual shutter speed and aperture (also called iris) settings to that you can have total control over the exposure of a scene.

Camera tilted down to limit the amount of sky so foreground is properly exposed

In the end, it’s all about positioning your subject matter, your shooting location and your camera angle to maximize the available light present in your shot so that your auto-exposure meter will set the proper exposure level for your subject to get you the image you’re looking for. With this knowledge, you’ll immediately begin to capture better images and be justified in calling those under- and over-exposers amateurs!

Stylized New York City

November 30, 2010

There’s an app for that, right?

As much as it irks me that some people confuse access to technology with professional craft, I admit that the plethora of smart phone apps and ever-improving video and photo hardware has an overall positive impact on the consumer and professional image creation process. Apple’s iMovie ’11 is incredible, palm cameras can now shoot 1080p video and the recent crop of inexpensive image enhancement applications for smart phones can create instant art out of almost any camera phone shot. And with just a smidgen of talent at play, some pretty interesting results can be obtained.

I was recently on assignment in New York City and, being inspired by my architectural photographer Sean Deren’s cross-country imagery collection The South of America, I took some time to capture some iconic New York City scenery with my iPhone. I processed those images with Red Giant Software’s Plastic Bullet iPhone app and posted the results on the Digital Media Services Website.

The overwhelmingly positive feedback I’ve received on those images prompted me to create a new gallery using imagery from Tim Garbutt (of Dreamworks) and Sally Loesch, who accompanied me on the trip.

The results are presented below…

Paths through Central Park

Of an architectural wonderworld

Familiar orange seats

A few of the 9 million faces

Macy's motto...

Stairway to the depths below

City of contrasts

We were there...somewhere

A better view?

Parade namesake

Vintage style

Ferry waiter

Corner coolness

Looks like New York

Escalator of old

NFL in HD – It’s all good! Or is it?

September 21, 2010

NFL football in HD. Like most young-to-middle-aged American males, I love NFL football. And it has to be in HD. On a big screen. With big sound. But not all HD NFL is created equal. Most of you are aware of the two high definition television broadcast formats – 720p and 1080i. Read more about the differences between the two formats in the Digital Media Services January 2009 Newsletter. ESPN and Fox broadcast in 720p. NBC, CBS and NFL Network broadcast in 1080i. Is one format better than the other for football? You bet your jockstrap one is, and it’s the 720p format! I’ll tell you why.

The 720p format delivers viewers sixty 1280 x 720 progressive video frames per second. The 1080i format delivers viewers 1920 x 1080 interlaced video frames 30 times per second. While a 1280 x 720 image has less resolution than a 1920 x 1080 image frame, the other two broadcast format factors – scanning method and frame rate – give 720p an advantage when it comes to sports. The progressive scanning method handles fast motion imagery much better as the images doesn’t suffer from artifacts that appear as jittery motion, jagged lines or blurry edges as interlaced scanning formats do. Also, most of us have 720p or 1080p televisions so the progressive broadcast doesn’t have to be de-interlaced to show on our screens as 1080i broadcasts do; the de-interlacing can create a loss of detail, among other problems. The faster frame rate (60 fps vs. 30 fps) allows fast moving objects or scenes of a fast moving camera following the action appear clearer on our screens and deliver smoother, less stuttery motion. The faster frame rate also allows the digital encoders compressing the broadcast into an MPEG-2 video stream better manage the motion because there are less changes from frame-to-frame. What these technical details really mean is that the 720p format provides for a more efficient use of the limited bandwidth available to each broadcast network and therefore provides a better picture when it comes to sports.

NFL HDTV Formats

But forget all the technical mumbo-jumbo for a moment; perform a test yourself. This Sunday, watch a 720p broadcast on Fox and compare it to a 1080i broadcast on CBS. If you can’t catch the games on Sunday afternoon, NBC (1080i) has Sunday night games, ESPN (720p) has Monday night games and NFL Network (1080i) has Thursday night games. What I think you’ll find is that the 1080i broadcasts are not quite as clear as the 720p broadcasts and you’ll see much more artifacting such as macro-blocking and picture breakup – especially during scenes with fast motion or fast-moving full-screen graphics – with the 1080i broadcasts. These artifacts appear as small, square-shaped distortions of the picture image, almost like a pixelized digital photo. Additional factors playing a role in the quality of an image include whether or not your cable or satellite provider re-compresses the incoming broadcast signal and how well your HDTV’s internal de-interlacer performs. I subscribe to Verizon FiOS, a fiber optic data delivery system, which does not re-compress any of their incoming broadcast signals, so I’m seeing exactly what the networks are sending out. Dish Network, DirecTV and Comcast, among others, re-compress at least some of their transmissions.

Knowing full well the strengths and weaknesses of the two different broadcast formats, you’d think the networks would adapt their style of production to deliver the best picture quality. But I see no evidence of that. NBC continues to use full-screen, fast-moving transition graphics that create macroblocking every time they’re displayed. And the 1080i networks’ use of fast camera moves during close-up shots can create really poor-looking visuals. The 720p broadcasts from ESPN, ABC and Fox don’t have near the quality issues the 1080i broadcasters experience.

I’m interested in hearing feedback from readers about experiences with 720p vs. 1080i NFL broadcasts as well as what the various cable and satellite providers are sending out.

Where in the world are you?

August 25, 2010

Our jobs as photographers and videographers allow us to travel quite a bit. Our interest in architecture and cityscapes provides us with a familiarity of numerous famous buildings and landmarks. I have a collection of abnormally large coffee table books with titles such as “Man-made Structures,” “The World’s Greatest Buildings” and “Architectural Wonders,” among others. Collectively, the Digital Media Services crew feel like we know the cities of the U.S. and parts of the outer U.S. pretty well. So, when I come across these online geography quizes, such as the one linked below, I’m never hesitant to take the challenge to validify my brilliance…

For the record, I got 12 out of 16. I should have gotten a couple more.

I grew up around the construction business. My father owned and worked for various residential and commercial construction companies. Some of my first paying jobs were on construction sites. I had the pleasure of helping to construct a THX-approved AMC movie theater in St. Petersburg, Florida. It’s now gone in favor of a Long John Silvers. One time I had a near-death experience falling down a multi-story open stair well. But that didn’t quell my fascination with skyscrapers and other large buildings. Add to that the fact that I work with one of the most talented architectural photographers around (Sean Deren) and I guess it’s easy to see why my appreciation for architecture flourishes.

Following are select architectural shots we’ve compiled over the years. Some we like because the shot is well-composed and visually appealing. Some we like just because of the interesting location.

Leave a comment telling us which ones you recognize…

Architectural Example #1

Architectural Example #1

Architectural Example #2

Architectural Example #2

Architectural Example #3

Architectural Example #3

Architectural Example #4

Architectural Example #4

Architectural Example #5

Architectural Example #5

Architectural Example #6

Architectural Example #6

Architectural Example #7

Architectural Example #7

Architectural Example #8

Architectural Example #8

July 2010 Newsletter

July 30, 2010

The Digital Media Services July 2010 Newsletter has been published. The Project of the Month is a visually-interesting promotional video created for the 1945 American Victory merchant marine vessel. The Marketing Tip discusses ways to identify quality face-to-face networking events and the Tech Tip offers ways to protect your computer data from the inevitable hard drive failure.

Feedback about the content of the newsletter and suggestions for future topics are encouraged. A direct link to the Digital Media Services July 2010 Newsletter is as follows:

June 2010 Newsletter

June 30, 2010

The Digital Media Services June 2010 Newsletter has been published. The Project of the Month is an exclusive look at a new collection of Yellowstone National Park stock photography shot by DMS Photographer Robert Kildoo (purveyor of the Chronicles of a Photo Assistant blog). The Marketing Tip discusses using economical, turnkey marketing products to attract clients in a down economy and the Tech Tip presents an updated look at megapixels, this time from a digital cinema perspective.

Feedback about the content of the newsletter and suggestions for future topics are encouraged. A direct link to the Digital Media Services June 2010 Newsletter is as follows:

Toy Story in 3D and Dolby 7.1 too?

June 16, 2010

When Toy Story 3 opens this weekend, movie-goers will have the now-commonplace choice of seeing the film in the standard 2D version or the usually-higher-priced 3D version. But those in select markets may also wish to seek out theaters showing Toy Story 3 in the new Dolby Surround 7.1 soundtrack format.

Toy Story 3 Dolby 7.1

Dolby Digital soundtracks were introduced in 1992 with the release of Batman Returns, the first release to include a digital movie soundtrack with 5.1 channels. Since then, almost every movie theater in the United States, with the exception of a few single-screen independent theaters in smaller markets, has converted their sound system to one that supports Dolby Digital. Most support SDDS (Sony Dynamic Digital Sound) and DTS (Digital Theater Systems) soundtracks as well. Dolby Digital soundtracks became available to the home theater market in 1995 with the release of Clear and Present Danger on laserdisc; I still have my copy. The DTS audio format was available as an option on some laserdisc soundtracks; mainly Universal releases such as Jurassic Park as Steven Spielberg was an initial investor in DTS.

Dolby Digital became the standard soundtrack specification for commercially-released DVDs and then standard definition satellite television. HDTV broadcasts include Dolby Digital as the standard soundtrack format. All of these various Dolby Digital sources can make use of up to 5.1 channels, which offers 5 full-bandwidth channels and 1 LFE (low frequency effects) channel for bass enhancement. The specific audio channels in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix include the Left channel, the Center channel, the Right channel, the Left Surround channel, the Right Surround channel and the LFE channel. For the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Dolby Laboratories teamed with Lucasfilm’s THX division to create Dolby Surround EX, which adds a sixth channel appearing as a Rear Center Surround channel; it’s mixed into the rear digital channels and decoded using an analog matrix decoding technology.

While various forms of 7.1 channel decoding have been available to home theater owners for years, these decoding schemes have been produced by altering the original Dolby Digital (or DTS) 5.1 soundtrack available on the source program (DVD, HDTV, etc.). Now, however, Dolby Surround 7.1 soundtracks will provide theater goers, and soon, I’m sure, home theater owners, with a full complement of surround sound speaker locations. The 7.1 decoding adds a Back Surround Left channel and a Back Surround Right channel.

7.1 Surround Sound Diagram

Read the official Dolby Laboratories press release and then see if Toy Story 3 is playing in Dolby Surround 7.1 near you using Dolby’s theater locator. The nearest theater to me showing Toy Story 3 in 7.1 is about 175 miles away in Melbourne, Florida. It’s difficult to convince friends and family to drive across the state to see a movie because a certain theater has special equipment. Believe me, I’ve tried. Therefore, I’ll likely be missing the 7.1 version. However, I will be seeing it in Sony 4K digital projection!

By the way, to read more about how to identify your best local movie theaters, be sure to read the Digital Media Services December 2009 and January 2010 newsletters; they include a two-part Tech Tip explaining the technical design elements of movie theaters that allow films to be presented as the filmmakers intended and how you can identify which theaters will perform the best.

Who are these guys? (Part Five)

June 8, 2010

And then there’s me, Brian Satchfield…

Brian Satchfield, President

I would say we’ve saved the best for last but we all know that I’d be fooling no one with that statement. The fact is, I subscribe to the concept of surrounding oneself with those who are better in their area of expertise than you are. This is definitely the case with the Digital Media Services crew. Part of our success is in putting egos aside and recognizing who is best qualified to handle the task at hand. After all, our goal is to produce the best possible product for our clients, not to impress a particular personage with our individual capabilities.

So, what role do I play at Digital Media Services? Well, my function on the set is to direct and DP video projects. However, as a small business owner, my off-set roles may be even grander. Marketing, operations, payroll, administration, purchasing, sales, Website management and custodial services are just a few of my responsibilities. And, believe me, I claim no expertise at any of those roles. Constructive criticism is always appreciated! Above all else, though, the role I take most seriously is in servicing our clients. Digital Media Services may not always be the provider with the most equipment, the fanciest crew shirts or the biggest yellow pages ad but we do try to be the company with the most satisfied clients. And it’s quite simple to do, once you become enlightened about what’s really important.

As a company, our personal preferences and traditions all need to take a back seat to that which will create an effective media product for our client. Every decision needs to be made with our client’s end customer in mind first and our client’s corporate objectives in mind second. Everything else follows somewhere behind. Is their target audience the typical 9-to-5 worker? Then maybe a drive-time radio spot would be more effective than a TV commerical broadcast during the mid-day soaps. Is their company suffering from some bad publicity? Maybe an ad about support for the local community is more appropriate than one for their new, expensive product. Every photo and video project is unique and what worked for one client at one time is rarely appropriate for the current client right now.

When our client has been delivered a media product that effectively communicates to their customer and satisfies their corporate objectives, everybody wins. And, when everybody wins, we win. Our clients end up coming back to us again and again because they know what the end result will be.

So, now that we have our basic introductory comments out of the way, our blog can now focus more on interesting projects, current events and those topics that will hopefully give you not only enjoyable and entertaining reading but also tidbits of information you can use to enhance your conversations with your co-workers, clients and friends.

We look forward to hearing your feedback on how we’re doing!

Who are these guys? (Part Four)

June 7, 2010

Well, folks, let me introduce Sean Deren…

Sean Dere, Lead Photographer

You’ve all heard about those people who seem to have an eye for a great shot. Most of the time, that turns out to be nothing more than a marketing phrase or an ego-driven delusion of grandeur. But Sean is truly the real deal. Sean can take something incredibly ordinary and make it look extraordinary. I’ve seen Sean turn something as visually unappealing as a medical tool into a work of art. Unispiring office buildings can become architectural masterpieces. And give Sean something that’s designed to be admired, like the interior of a modern cruise ship, and Sean can create an image that will have your eyes fixated for much more than a moment.

Sean knows how to get the most from his gear, too. Give him a single light and ask him to shoot an expansive room and he knows just where to put that light to create a more interesting look. Give him 20 lights and he’ll use every single one of them. Sean knows his gear and how to put it to work to create unique images for clients.

Sean’s official bio can be found with the rest of the crew on the About Us page at the official Digital Media Services Website. Sean’s work is also on display at and