When I heard about the One Day on Earth project it seemed the perfect opportunity to try out filming a short project within a tight timeframe and challenging light. White Horse Hill is a famous landmark in Oxfordshire. The figure of the horse is drawn in the hillside in chalk and is very old, and I figured it would be a fairly unique location to share with everyone.
All filming for the project had to be completed on the 10 October 2010. The horse faces west so using the amazing VeloClock app on the iPhone I was able to determine when sunset would occur and when the horse would have the best light just before and during sunset. This gave just one hour to collect everything including general views, commentary and cutaways. The project gave me good practice at editing in camera and trying out small-crew documentary news style.
Using FaderND neutral density filter
I used the Lightcraft Workshop Fader ND a lot during filming in order to be able to shoot directly into the sun and to manage the still very bright daylight in the early part of the film when I was in the shadows. Even with the GH1 at ISO 100, highlights were burning out in the shade with aperture f4.
You need to keep your wits about you using the Fader ND on the 14-140 lens, and in fact any variable aperture zoom lens, in order to keep exposure constant. The zoom changes the f-stop from f4 to f5.6, so if you set exposure with the ND at f4 and then zoom, it takes the exposure down dramatically. Constant vigilence is needed, particularly with a setting sun since the light intensity and position is changing rapidly.
I used a Panasonic GH1 with firmware 1.32 for this film, and whilst the image is reasonably good, it does suffer in the shadows from murky shimmering. Also the files are quite fragile, and colour correcting does degrade the overall quality. However, in good light, and with low ISO, the image quality is very good.
Sound was recorded using the Lumix stereo video microphone that fits onto the camera hotshoe, and this microphone does a fantastic job of recording rich, clear sound even when some distance from the camera. A wind baffle would certainly have helped up on the hill to reduce wind noise. On the other hand, it gives a good sense of location to the soundtrack so I welcomed the wind noise for this project.
I’ve used Final Cut Express 4.01 (FCE) for editing on a MacBook Pro. FCE allows the GH! AVCHD files to be easily imported through Log & Transfer. FCE has much in common with Final Cut Pro, but at an affordable price. FCE converts AVCHD clips to Apple Intermediate Codec for editing.
Export was quite tricky, particularly in trying to keep the quality of the clips at the start and end which had filters and speed changes applied to the clips.
‘Export to QuickTime movie’ produces a very high quality file (2 GB file size) that plays perfectly on the laptop in QuickTime Player, but the encoding in the .mov wrapper is Apple Intermediate. This format isn’t recognised by Vimeo, for example, and it is necessary to ‘Export using QT conversion’ to h.264 to make shareable films.
The compression introduced a number of artefacts when exported to full 1920×1080 HD, so I finally settled on 720×576 high quality movie for web upload to Vimeo. The Vimeo compression settings page gives excellent advice for export format parameters that will look good on the web, but I still had to mess around quite a lot with the export settings to get the best output. When I play the 720×576 version full screen, it maintains good quality and distracting features are minimised.
How to find video file parameters (Mac)
The file wrapper, the file extension .mov or .mp4 etc, can contain video encoded in a number of ways, so looking at the file extension alone will not give clue on the encoding. Use ‘get info’ in the Finder to list out the parameters for each file.
About the film
This film documents a visit on 10 October 2010 at sunset as part of the One Day on Earth project.
Filmed & edited by Martyn Bull
Camera assistant:Julie Bellingham
Location: Uffington White Horse, Wantage, England
Music: Martin Simpson ‘Bareback to bullhassocks’ from ‘Kind Letters’
Panasonic GH1 + 14-140mm
Lightcraft Workshop FaderND
Panasonic DMW-MS1 Stereo Microphone