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During Stephen McGee Films shoot

During our interview with Naomi Long for Kresge Arts in Detroit I used the same camera I was shooting the interview with to snap a quick portrait. I toggled the setting on the back of the 5d Mark II to my black and white mode and took this shot. I love Naomi Long's poetry and love for other poets.

“This just in!!!! Detroit photographer and cinematographer Stephen McGee unveils new website showcasing his ten years of reportage photography and short films and it encourages people to document the world around them to help others and educate “.

Well, Thats what I hope the headlines will say but for now I just wanted to share with the few people that read my blog that my new site is being launched today. I am still making modifications and adding Portfolios with old work.

You can visit the site here… www.stephenmcgeefilms.com

I will also start posting my creative process as I finish my 96th film for Kresge Arts in Detroit.

All while learning more about my faith and where I belong in this visual world. Would love to know what you think!

Hello, hope you are well!

If you could get this message out as many people as you feel comfortable forwarding to, that would be greatly appreciated. It has to be done soon though.

Praise the lord that God has freed us and chosen us to bring forth his word and love through his son Jesus Christ.

In January I made a video for an authors book release. It was a competition between six filmmakers and their interpretation of a single page from the authors book.

When I was picked I saw this opportunity to continue in the path the Lord has set before me to become move involved with the world of filmmaking.  Though this competition does have a prize, I see this as an opportunity to push faith based films in a creative way to inspire faith and encourage conversation about Jesus. The book is called Dug Down Deep by Josh Harris and the intention for my film was to do just that, cause you to search for the meaning and to not only not give you answer but leave you in question.

The winner is chosen by how many comments the video has.  Please go to http://www.joshharris.com/2010/01/film_6_stephen_mcgee.php#comments

and leave a comment under my video if it moves you. Thank you.

The movie is about one Christian who sees that his church is focused more on going through the motions of religion. I chose a Ukrainian actor to play the lead and an Ukrainian man to be the voice. Read why in the blog post below.

Harris testifies in his book that until recently his life was built on sand even though he read and believed the word of god. A Sand based foundation was a theme throughout the film. I had the narrator whisper some key lines in the script to emphasize how God speaks to us; in whispers. Like Elijah and God’s still quiet voice at the mouth of the cave I wanted the audience to lean in and truly listen to what was being said. There are elements throughout this film that mirror what Harris wrote about Doctrine and Theology as well as instances in my life where God was revealed to me.

I love the shadow scene in the dark church.  I chose this sequence to represent a few different things. Maybe I’ll write more about that later.

Harris also wrote “I kissed dating goodbye”.  In one section in this, his most recent book, “dug down deep”, he talks about meeting the holy spirit in what he called ‘the bubble church’. The bubble church he thought was great but focused too much on performance based faith.  I represented the bubble church as a ballerina with bubbles.

So often Christians name themselves specific parts of the body of christ, giving themselves opportunity not to serve in other ways than their “role”. As The pastor is preaching from blueprints representing many Christians today who have ministry goals based on what works in other parts of the world and in other churches the congregation goes through what looks like a workout routine.

The main character sees one group who are focused only on prayer, the next group on action and a third, the ballerina, on performance based faith. His search for truth brings him to the front of the church where he sees the ballerina. Beliving he needs also to take off his shoes to do the right dance to meet the holy spirit and become like her faith he takes off his shoes and sees that he had been walking on sand the entire time.  The main character walls over and takes the sword out of the sand and walks it out of the church which stops everyone.

The main actor is a Ukrainian and so is the voice. Because of this film both got to see the love of chirst and were ministered to.

If you could send it to everyone you know and have them do the same if they are moved that would be great. Comment on the video to cast your vote.

May God reveal himself to you and create in you a clean heart built on the solid foundation of his son Jesus.

Thanks.
Stephen

Sorry for the typos, my computer died so I typed this on my phone.

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Video by Me.  Sorry if I just blew your mind.

A weekend over and a week now to prepare. China and Mongolia are on my mind after spending most of today helping my friend Joel Grothaus with his creation of art. It is raining now. I have a lot to prepare for. In all of this I believe I am becoming more of a professional. This week…Geting paid, buying gear, praising God, and making a movie for my church’s 5th anniversary. I am posting my third video I have created in a new program I am learning. It is way above anything I would use for my docs but I at the same time I want to push my storytelling to a new level.

but passion sometimes needs the dam of time before it builds enough backing to take into action what was only thought about.

Unfortunately for my readers and fortunately for me, here are a few lessons and questions I have been confronted with on my travels across America these past weeks.

(From October-Nov 14. DTW-NYC-DTW-NYC-WAS-LAX-DTW-NYC-CHI-DTW-SFO-DTW-CHI-DTW-NYC)

Churchill said, “you can count on Americans to do the right thing once they have exhausted all other alternatives”.

How do present day Christians compare, how do I compare to that.

Christians/I will exhaust every way they/I can to ask and relate to said person posing the question/statement as informally as we can. “You know what I mean” is how I try to make what I say understood.  When I offer my testimony much of the time I offer Christ in a way that doesn’t offend me, that doesn’t make me have to stand firm in what I believe in. The “I want to get you to agree with me, without me doing the careful work of saying what I intend to say” way.

Education without practical application becomes only knowledge and not wisdom. God tells us that everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial, but in a similar context everything that God permits is beneficial. So when you pray for the negative in your life understand that the negative in life is only lost and considered “a learning experience” or “something to get through” when we forget that God permits. There is no other reason.
In a personal search to ask myself questions about my faith I wonder, are denominations a flat front against the war on sin, like a swooping hand across a toy soldier field, or are they like a bunch of needles intending to pierce but instead allowing those who stray to fall between the cracks?

In rejoicing, the person I have to relate my life against is my own. The value of your life is not to be compared or measured by what others are or aren’t doing.

News Hour with Mr. McGee, New York

The News Hour with Mr. McGee, New York, Two Camera, two light shoot.

Nathan packs his bags after the shoot.

Nathan Cremisino puts away his gear after a good two days of shooting with me.

From the Video Archive:

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Hoan, 21, born without legs, came to America in October to talk around the country about the affects of Agent Orange.

Some off the moments of 21 year old Hoan’s travels while she went around the country telling people about the affects of dioxin agent orange.  More Photographs, a video, to come and a written article too.

Hoan climbs into the car.

Hoan climbs into the car.

Hoan, 21, crawls over a barrier at the overlook of San Francisco.

Hoan, 21, crawls over a barrier at the overlook of San Francisco.

Hoan visits prosthetics doctor in hope of new legs.

Hoan visits prosthetics doctor in hope of new legs.

From the outside to the in, Hoan has very little fear of both mental and physical obstacles in her life. She smiles more than anyone I know and in the next post about her, you too can see how her life is lived and learn more about the amazing stories of the millions like her being born today in Vietnam because of what America sprayed in Vietnam over 30 years ago.

How do you cope/conquer your fears?

Just an encouraging word for people who are in difficult times. Please understand that God is always there for you and has a plan for you if you come to him.  I would like to remind you that Christianity is not about Christians, it is about Christ.

Stand firm in faith with me, with all believers, encouraging our brothers and sisters in Christ as Christ encourages us and I encourage you. Tomorrow God has appointments in your fears and you CAN conquer them with the full armor of our Lord. It is not time to sleep or stand content, it is not time to put hope in our president (whom I support), but it is time to be a light reflecting in the true hope and true love that is Christ Jesus. Speak in love. Praise God.

Praise God for all of you brothers and sisters. I wish I had time to write all that God has been teaching me over these past weeks of travel documenting everything from Barack Obama to victims of Agent Orange, painters to volunteers, airports to fellow journalists. I want to and will Lord willing do so in the next week.

I leave for NYC for a big shoot I have on Monday and Tuesday next week. Please pray. I will then stay in NYC for 6 more days. Pray for my ministry and confidence in Christ.

visit…for video samples…http://stephenmcgee.wordpress.com/canon-5d-mark-ii-write-up/

Recommend/Forward to Write-Up

First and for most I would like to say that I recommend this camera very highly especially if you are making the transition from stills to video/stills. I have many positive and negative critiques down below.  I have shot with almost every HDV camera and my thoughts are that there is no “one camera to rule them all” (sorry for the lord of the rings reference).  From picture quality to ring resistance (focus, zoom, aperture) each camera (HDV Canon XLH1 & A1, Sony Z1U & FX1, Panasonic P2, Sony HV1, etc) that I have shot with has is highs and lows. None of those from my experience has come close to the picture quality of the Canon 5d Mark II. Some have less than or equal to color spectrum and perform similarly at night/early morning. However, in my experience I have noticed that the F stops in the HDV world don’t come close the look of a still camera. I have to zoom all the way in with my HDV cameras in order to blow out the background. That is not the case with the 5d Mark II.

In the Canon 5d Mark II, when using Senn MKE 400 the audio qualities are not perfect, but that does not mean you should discount this camera. The components inside are very good and once Canon allows it’s customers to control the audio in camera, well I will just say that the components in the camera will make us all happy.

One more thing to think about as a journalist is the fact that most filmmakers with larger crews and not on strict deadline don’t record audio in their camera. They match up the audio in post.

Overall i think this camera is a good buy for a few reasons; if you have never shot video, you will become more relaxed in the video world by shooting (especially onto the cf card and not wasting time/money on tapes). If you shoot video you will notice more opportunities to shoot in ambient light bringing more of your mental vision into the visual world.  It still blows my mind how good the visual is compared to my HDV rigs.

During the Shoot

I went to Chicago for a workshop and found a 5d Mark II there (see Random Story below for how this movie happened and some extra thoughts on the camera). I asked if I could take it out and borrowed some lenses.  Read more about my first time holding it below. This section is about During the Shoot.

Walking Around (Run and Gun)

I found the camera hard to focus when walking around following people/events because I always had to keep the screen in viewing distance. Tilting the camera 90 degrees or even 45 degrees makes focus very difficult because you can’t see the screen. Many of my shots are out of focus because I could not look at the screen because of the angle I was shooting at.

Walking out on lit streets I had a great time holding up the camera on with the live view function on because I was amazed at the colors in the darks of night. Holding it up with two hands in front of me was a bit strange and was different than how I hold my Canon A1 I shoot with normally.  I noticed it was harder for me to hit the sharp focus quickly and on the first turn because I was not used to looking a screen out in front of me like this.

While shooting the larger HDV video cameras, I often use the strap as a support, pushing the camera away from my body as I walk to minimize tilt shake as well as X/Y axis shake.  With the wider lenses i thought I was doing a great job but with the longer lenses I could not hold the camera as steadily as I could the larger HDV cameras.

I found it hard to keep the shot steady with the longer lenses. I also found it hard to keep steady in general. I would consider myself a steady shot when it comes to the HDV world; not really using a tripod and really relying on the makes of my environment to press my camera against to steady. But with this smaller camera I think that my work flow will have to change in order to assure a high production value.

I was not worried about using it simply as a still camera at the time because I had heard that you could seamlessly shoot stills while shooting video. Before I get into my experience with the video side of this camera I’m going to go ahead and say false to that.  You can not seamlessly shoot both stills and video at the same time with the 5_II.  When in the video mode you can shoot stills but not only does it interrupt your video with a glitch in your video, it makes a noise. A NOISE!  It is a muted shutter release sound that is a bit longer than a normal camera click.

Zoom

While I was shooting with the 5d Mark II I zoomed in on the shot of the man walking. There was a bit of blur, as if you were to push the shutter while zooming your lens for the zoom affect.  The plus side of this is during interviews you can quickly switch your focal length with your lens to give your interview a variety of head sizes for your edit. The downside of the manual zoom is that you have to be very constant and consistently patient with your zoom if you are looking for a good slow zoom.  Otherwise the zoom will look jolted and/or the pacing will be off. It is possible though, which is cool.

Camera + Lens

Although the picture looked very great and “artistic” aka “out of focus” on the back of the screen while I was walking around Chicago, it became very frustrating always focusing on focusing. The 5d Mark II only allows you to use the widest aperture the lens you are currently using offers. Example; if you are shooting with a 2.8 L, then the Canon 5d Mark II will use that aperture to shoot the video in. You can not change it. So again, half of my film resulted in me trying to find focus while filming.

Sound

“Using headphones cuts out LCD display (which is the only way to see what your shooting as the eye viewfinder does not work with video) Other problems are that there are no audio levels on LCD, you can not hear audio while recording, there should have hot shoe to use Canon mics that have hot shoe capability and that there is no way to split the audio into 2 channels without Beachtek adapter. (And then you can’t monitor it.)”-PF Bentley.

More to come…

In the Edit (both pre and post)

I realized after the first three hours I had the camera (night shots) that I wanted to actually make a educational/review video instead of simply holding all of this Chicago footage on my computer as stock. I had so much fun shooting at the sushi restaurant and in the streets that I came up with an idea after watching Reverie again to mimic the style of Laforet’s movie. So the next day I shot with the intentions of making a spy-like film with a little romance, some chase scene and a confusing ending. Really all I wanted to do was to see how the camera worked and present that test in an entertaining way to the world/my mom.

In “Review” I pushed the pixels from the independent 5d Mark II clips to the limits that I often push HDV video in Final Cut Pro.

“Review”

From my interpretations Laforet’s video, Reverie, is about being caught up in day dream. I did not know what I was going to name mine since it was really just a review so I just went simple with the title, changed the lettering of his title, and threw the “E” sideways and boom, “Review”.

Lens Baby

I have never shot with a lens baby before this shoot. But sense one of my friends had it and Laforet’s first shot has a tilt-shift, I decided to go ahead using it. I luckily saw that couple holding each other at the Bean in Chicago. Only wished he would have dipped her!

Zoom and Time Lapse

In the first shot with the buildings at night and the minimal clouds cruising by, I not only increased the speed of the clip to 1500% but I put a zoom in in the post too. The time held up perfectly and once exported as an individual clip and then re-imported as an individual time lapse movie, the clip ran fine. The zoom to 250% worked well on the small screen but once viewed on a larger screen I could see the focus becoming more and more soft. I don’t think that is really a problem with the pixels as it is more a problem with the narrow depth of field (lowest depth of field that your current lens has) used by the 5d Mark II.

Zoom and Pan

On the second shot with the boats and the cars shows the people getting to work at 2000% faster than normal. Again, the amazing thing I find is the consistency in the pixel greatness in both night and day shots. The shot held up perfect, no pixels are dropped and the detail is held in the details in my shot.

Cross Fade

In “Review” I made it a point to have a long cross fade of lights passing by over various night shots. Now while I do not think that is difficult for pixels to do in FCP, I was happy that it worked perfectly.

Pigeons a Plenty

For one of my last shots I shot some pigeons flying over me and slowed those down to 25%. Going frame by frame I can see the pigeons jumping through the scene instead of super slowly going through the scene. Does that make sense? I think the slower shutter speeds of 1/125 (which again is the fastest the 5d Mark II will shoot at in video mode) is the reason for that.

Computer Equipment

I have a Mac Book Pro 15inch with 2 gigs of ram that is 2 years old and for the most part everything ran fine when editing “Review”. I had the footage on my computer (not on an external hard drive) while editing. Sometimes the computer was not fast enough and I had an issue with the play head on the FCP timeline. It would not move even though the movie was playing in the upper right window (canvas). That made it hard for me to cut to the beat sometimes and have the exact affect I wanted in my edit. (Mainly around the quick cuts at the end right before the pigeons shot).

By the Numbers

1.83 Gb for a six minute clip (for time lapse) of buildings at night where the scene doesn’t change much

482 Mb for 1:39 clip of morning lit interview in Pancake House where scene doesn’t change much

104 Mb for a 22 second clip of night driving looking at taxi in side mirror of Mini Cooper

105 Mb for 21 second clip in daytime of people standing listening to fire truck

32 Mb for 7 second clip of woman in revolving door

7.1 Mb for 2 second clip in restaurant with yellow wall and waiter going by

Average size per clip with audio ranged from 4.4 mb/sec – 5.9 mb/sec

Random Story (how this movie happened)

Now then, for the past few years I have been hoping Canon was going to make a still camera shoot video for the main reason of using Canon lenses to add sexy background (blowing out of focus) to each of my shoots. Also, I have been shooting with both a still and video camera for many assignments at the Detroit Free Press specifically for both the print and web distribution of my content.

With the breakthrough of this latest member of the Canon family, that hope seems to be here. My mind was blown away along with the rest the billion people that saw Vincent Laforet’s video, Reverie (to be caught in a daydream) (www.vincentlaforet.com).  Since I am much lower on this industries’ totem pole I did not think I was going to be able to touch the new 5d Mark II for some time.

I did not intentionally set out to write a review or to post this “video response” as youtube puts it, but I did go out to see what this new camera was all about. And here are my thoughts….

With a windy city, no budget, no crew and no actors, one night (4 hours) and one day (3 hours) I had my first date with the new Canon 5d Mark II and it has made me a believer that Chicago is not cooler than Detroit, it just has more to do and less crime.  Walking from the hotel after the workshop I noticed many more passers by remarking to me, inquiring even to the looks of my new camera. Much more than when I went out with my normal 5d. I would attribute that to the hot shoe mounted microphone as the body type is almost the same as its predecessor.

I far as I understand, you can not seamlessly shoot both stills and video at the same time with the 5_II.  When in the video mode you can shoot stills but not only does it interrupt your video with a glitch in your video, it makes a noise. It is a muted shutter release sound that is a bit longer than a normal camera click.

Getting Started
Only watching over a friend’s shoulder once, it seemed that you have to go into the functions menu and scroll through a few menu items to come to a final option of enabling the rear viewer to play in live mode. Once all those are selected I haven’t had to do that again. With those functions turned on and the camera turned on you have to press a button located just above-left the large view finder to enable the live view mode which enables you to be able to use the video option.  Using the live view a lot, say ‘goodbye’ to your fully charged battery in about a day or two. And the old Canon 5d battery does not fit the 5_II either.

With the live view on all you need to do is press the center button located in the rear wheel to begin recording video.  A red blinking light will turn on in the upper right hand part of your screen showing you you are recording, oddly enough, just like a home movie camera. If that doesn’t give you the clue, your memory card light tells you also as it blinks showing it is being written on.  The whole world will know you are recording video if one more light were blinking.

When the live view is enabled and you want to change a lens, the live view disables itself and after switching lenses, you must press the button to enable the live view again.

When recording the only option for exposure is automatic. The camera automatically uses the lowest aperture possible on the lens you are using adjusts the ISO and Shutter Speed to compensate.  In my experience I have seen as quick as 1/125 and as slow as 3.5 second shutter speeds with the ISO ranging from 1000-2600.  There is an AE-Lock function which I utilized throughout my trial period.

Compare and Contrast

To Show you a Video that I co-shot and produced with the Canon XLH1 watch the video below. Compare the night driving shows (which had to be shot with a slow shutter speed and/or high gain) with the ones in “Review”.

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About Me (so you know where my perspective is coming from)

I am a photographer turned filmmaker/photographer. I have been working as a photographer for 6 years and as a filmmaker for 5.  I both shoot and edit the movies I produce and have for the past year freelanced in the non-profit communities around the world as well as in the corporate world making films and photographs alike. I was hired by the Detroit Free Press in late 2005 to teach their photographers to transition their still skills into the video world. In the first two years (2006, 2007) we received 5 National Emmy nominations, winning three of them (see below in Compare and Contrast and at (www.freep.com/emmy and freep.com/respect) and 8 Local Emmy nominations, winning 5 of them apart from numerous other awards.

As far as the name of this blog goes, I am just that, a believer who pursues his faith which happens to be most of the time while wearing flip flops.

To read more about the author of this blog visit (http://www.popphoto.com/americanphotofeatures/5131/the-photographer-as-director-stephen-mcgee-page2.html)

A little more about the Inspiration/Mr. Laforet

In regards to the parody aspect (Review resembling Reverie) of the posted videos, I would like to say that I respect Vincent Laforet and his work very highly and the videos posted above should be seen not as anything else but educational videos that are also entertaining. I don’t teach or speak at events often but when I do I don’t teach with a chip on my shoulder or anything like that and I try to meet each student where they are at in the learning curve. Sometimes my humor goes too far from sticking to the facts and when that happens I appreciate people pointing that out so I can correct my opinions and present them in a more objective approach.

Ultimately I believe it is consistently bringing great content with a high production value in a creatively objective way that will condition your audience to come back to your site time and time again and with the Canon 5d Mark II the visual quality is there.

I often tell my not so often students, “You can buy Picasso’s paint brushes, but that doesn’t mean you are going to paint like Picasso”. In closing, it is not up to the gear to guide us, the audience, through the story, it is up to the visionary. With all that said I will close by saying that I will be going to get my own 5d Mark II to help my vision become someone else’s canvas for education, exploration and inspiration. (too cheesy? I think so)

Feel free to mosie around the other pages on this blog, I have videos (both slide shows and multimedia packages) from the Detroit Free Press on the “Visual” page, videos from more long term work on “NGO work“.

Please contact me at stephenmcgee@mac.com with questions/concerns/recipes for good food you like.

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“I woke up without legs”. Marine walks with new legs after IED blew them off in Iraq.

See how the 5d Mark II performs in the “Run and Gun” of visual journalism. I set out to see if I would like the Canon 5d Mark II for the type of visual journalism I produce which mostly consists of quick photo/video turn arounds as well as in depth 30 minute docs.

In an entertaining Bourne Supremacy/Reverie-style video with a journalistic approach, I take to the streets in the city of Chicago for 3 hours at night and 4 hours during the day.  My main goal was to see how it would hold up under the conditions (ie; lighting, weather, walking, no budget and limited gear/time, ) I normally shoot HDV video in the newspaper/documentary environement.

I will post 2 videos; 1 will show the fancy edit with soundtrack and 1 will be very similar with only the natural sound accompaning the imagery from the hot shoe mounted Senn MKE 400.

Having never touched the camera before, see on Monday how the Canon 5d Mark II holds up from the darks of night to the never happy midday sun, from early morning hues to the timelapsed blues (had to rhyme).

I will talk about my edit and how I wanted to see how the pixels from the Mark II would hold up in Final Cut Pro when pushed to the limits in post production; timelapsed at 1500% and 2000%, slowed down to 25% and blown up to 400%.

Why should you care what I think of this camera? Because I am like you in the pursuit of producing the highest quality journalism I can.

As for the name of this blog, I am just that, a believer who pursues his faith which happends to be most of the time while in flip flops.