Bryce Canyon Bolex and color grading raw with Adobe Lightroom

Bryce Canyon National Park is full of visual wonders and oddities just waiting to be captured by the 12-bit raw capabilities of the Digital Bolex‘s D16 cinema camera. I’ve proven this camera as a nice production house workhorse with several short documentaries and a promotional (see earlier post, A great production house camera). Bryce Canyon gave me the opportunity to test the camera’s capabilities at one of the most strikingly visual national parks. And with approaching thunderstorms in the distance, it added to the dramatic feel of the shoot.

Shot with the 10mm Switar, 50mm Zeiss Contax, and 85mm Rokinon lenses (the latter two attached with an EF to C mount adapter). I also used Kessler Krane slider, as well as a tripod, monopod, and handheld shots.

Bolex-slider

Setting up a slider shot in Bryce Canyon with the 10mm Switar lens. I usually use an external monitor, but I wanted to go as light as possible for hiking purposes. I also used tripod and handheld shots. Photo by Stephanie Petrie.

Bolex-tripod

Notice the Mars hat. It’s like I’m on Mars with good atmosphere. The hat was useful for blocking sun against the LCD screen. Photo by Stephanie Petrie.

I’m a big fan of Pomfort’s LightPost for the Bolex, because it’s really easy to use and you can do fast turnarounds that allow you to complete a grade for a short quickly. But it doesn’t allow for detail work. Adobe Camera Raw is the best choice for the level of grading I wanted to do for the Bryce Canyon footage.

I recently heard about the capabilities of Adobe Lightroom–which contains the same functions as Adobe Camera Raw, with additional capabilities and a nicer visual interface. Be warned, however, you need to pay careful attention to the development stage because it tends to skip or miss shots when you synchronize all of your images in the shot sequence! You’ll get some nasty flickering effects, which will force you to go back to Lightroom and scan your sequence to reapply the synchronization tool. 

First steps in post
I scanned through my files into Adobe Lightroom and scanned through the shots, writing down which ones were my favorite. Out of about 170 shots, I ended up importing around seventy of them. (During the edit, I would end up using only 25–about a 7:1 shooting ratio.)

1. Importing files into Lightroom

A. Open up Lightroom and press the “Import” button on the lower left side of the screen. A new window pops up.

B. Select the source hard drive and folder. I select my external drive, scroll through my folders, and find the first shot sequence I want. (When shooting raw, you get a series of digital negative files (dng), 24 (or more) frames per second–similar to looking at a roll of individual shots on a roll of film. The Digital Bolex breaks down the puts your shots into a shot folder every time you hit record and then stop.

Select_source

The first day I have 106 shots. I import them one at a time into Adobe Lightroom (just the same as Adobe Camera Raw). In LightPost, I can import them all at once, so that’s definitely one of the easier steps.

C. Selecting one of the shots, the sequence appears (with each shot with a check mark):

Add-shot-sequence

D. Press Import on the bottom right of the screen.

E. The image sequence now appears in the Library (see highlight on the upper center right).

Library

You will see the first shot in the sequence highlighted. You will edit only one shot (and apply synchronization to all of them after you’ve graded it).

It does not have to be the first one. Notice that there are 419 stills in this sequence. You can do a “quick develop” in this window, but the detail work is in the Develop screen (menu next to the Library button). Press Develop.

2. Developing or grading in Lightroom

A. This is where the magic happens. Like developing a roll of film in a darkroom, Lightroom allows you to do a lot of post-processing to your images–especially since you’re dealing with 12-bit raw, giving you a lot of room to manipulate your shots. (8-bit compressed files coming out of DSLRs and C100s, for example, do not allow for this kind of processing or developing work.)

Develop

The image is as it appears coming out of the D16. Notice the histogram in the upper right. All of the tools below the histogram allows you to grade and manipulate the image.

The arrow points to White Balance settings (as shot, and presets such as sunlight, cloudy, etc.), as well as the color temperature and tint. Notice that the image in the Bolex comes in warm: 7650 color temp and a +30 on the tint, bending it towards the reds). Manipulate these as desired. Remember, there’s not right or wrong–do what’s best for your story.

B. Grade the image.

Develop1

This screen represents the graded image using the Tone Curve tool (grading the tone of your colors).

I’m not going to go into all of the tools available in Lightroom, but you can adjust HSL (Hue, Saturation, and Luminance) of specific color channels (so if you wanted to adjust only our blues, for example, you can do that), adjust and compensate for camera calibration, as well as the basics of adjusting Tone:

  • Exposure
  • Contrast
  • Highlights
  • Shadows
  • Whites
  • Blacks

These Tone tools (along with the Tone Curve) provide the foundation of your grade. This is where you adjust the brightness and darkness of your images. The White balance tools (including Temp and Tint) will adjust your foundational colors. Use the other color tools as needed to nail the color you want. Notice the images in steps 2A (before) and 2B (after). This kind of subtle manipulation changes how the image gets perceived by the audience. It impacts how the story gets felt.

And that’s why I prefer shooting 12-bit raw with the Bolex than with a Canon C100 or 5D Mark III (both of which I have access to) or my 5D Mark II. The density of the image comes through like I’m working in film and reminds me of my NYU days when I shot on 16mm film. In fact, this is the only camera in its class that feels like I’m shooting with film and when people refer to digital film, the Digital Bolex is as close as it gets.

Here’s another before and after shot:

Before After

Here, you can see I’ve changed the color temperature and adjusted the tint from +30 to +10. I also moved the shadows and tone all the way to +100 in order to bring up the details in the foreground rock walls.

3. Creating a preset

Once you nail your grade in a particular scene (same lighting and location setup), you can create a preset for each scene, so you con’t have to write down all of your changes and then go through and do it for each shot. Just apply the preset to the other shots in the scene. I ended up creating four or five for Bryce Canyon (some shots were underexposed, so I created one that pushed the exposure). I also created one just for shots that had mainly red rocks.

To create the preset, go to the Develop menu at the top and select “New Preset…” from the drop down menu:

New-Preset

Type a name and the preset will appear in a menu on the bottom left of the screen (see the screen shot in menu 5, above, where you can see Bryce1, Bryce2, and Bryce3_reds in the folder User Presets, for example).

4. Synchronize

After you’ve graded the shot you want to apply it to all of the shots in the sequence.

A. Select All, (short cut, CMD A or ctrl A), so that all of the images are selected and press the Synchronize button, bringing up this window:

Synchronize

B. Unless you’re doing specific grading where you need to select certain menu items, just leave it as a default and hit Synchronize to make it happen. This window does give you an overview of all the changes you can make to an image.

As noted above, skim through your image sequence (select the Library button to get thumbnail previews) and make sure all of the images have been changed by your grade. Re-synchronize any aberrations or you’ll get a nasty flicker in playback.

5. Export as uncompressed .tif

You do have the choice of exporting as .dng files, but I choose 16-bit tif files. The sequence will be larger than the raw, but you’ll have a clean image to create the .mov files.

A. Go to File–>Export…

Export-menu B. Choose the location where you want the sequence of .tif images to go. Create a new folder on your drive (such as “tif files”) and then create a subfolder for each shot (Shot_0012, for example). Don’t make the mistake of exporting without creating a different folder for each shot!

I choose Specific folder and Choose… to select the folder I need. I also keep the naming of the file the same as the original Filename with lowercase Extensions:

Export-Location

 

C. Next, I scroll down to File settings and choose Image Format: TIFF; Compression: None; Color Space: AdobeRGB; Bit Depth: 16 bits:

Export-tif

 

D. I ignore everything else on the screen and choose Export.

The tif files appear in the new folder. To build an .mov from the sequence of images, I use Compressor (you can also use QuickTime Pro).

6. Build .mov file

A. Open Compressor make sure you in the “Current” projects window, then choose File–>Add Image SequenceSelect-Image-Sequence:

 

B. Scroll through your drive to find the folder containing your tif sequence choose one, the press Add:

Find-shot-sequence

 

C. The sequence is added to Compressor and you’ll see a preview window of the shot sequence and the name of the file. Below the name of the file is a + sign. Press it.

Add-Outputs

 

D. Choose the type of file you want to create from the image sequence, such as a ProRes, file. I choose Apple ProRes 4444 so I’ll have more data to do any manipulation of the image in Final Cut Pro.

Choose-ProRes

E. Scroll to the location and create a new folder to place your .mov files, then press OK.

F. You’ll now see below the name of the file, the file type that will be created as well as the location it’ll be placed. Choose Start Batch to build the .mov file:

Start-Batch

 

You can now import the .mov files into your editing software (such as Final Cut).

This may seem like a lot–and it is. I find it much quicker to just use LightPost, but when you have the time, Lightroom (or Adobe Camera Raw) contains a lot of postproduction grading power.

By the time I complete editing the project, I end up creating a two and a half minute film that’s nearly 700GB in size! A lot of it is from the CinemaDNG raw files, but I noticed that the uncompressed tif image sequences are huge–nearly 500GB, and those are from only less than half the original footage. So I would only use this process if the footage needs a lot of manipulation. If you can nail it in LightPost, that will save more drive space and time. From processing to editing, it was about a 24 hour turnaround.

As a side note, I used the Bolex handheld for some of the moving shots.

Bolex-handheld

Handholding with a small lens makes the process easier, although you still need to really control your movement, especially since there is no image stabilization! Photo by Stephanie Petrie.

In addition, I slowed down the movement in Final Cut, placing it at 10 percent speed and using optical flow to make the movement as smooth as possible.

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Kurt_Lancaster1_small Kurt Lancaster is the author of DSLR Cinema and Cinema Raw: Shooting and Color Grading with the Ikonoskop, Digital Bolex, and Blackmagic Cinema CamerasHe is also the author of Video Journalism for the Web: A Practical Introduction to Documentary Storytelling

He teaches digital filmmaking and documentary at Northern Arizona University, where students shoot with DSLRs, Canon C100s, and Digital Bolex cameras. Kurt received his PhD from NYU.

2 thoughts on “Bryce Canyon Bolex and color grading raw with Adobe Lightroom

  1. Great write up on your work flow and some fantastic shots too!

    Did you use a warp stabilizer or Twixor for this video? Some of the shots looked really soft compared to others and the ones that look soft had that warping kind of thing going on in parts of the image.

    1. No Twixtor, but that would probably have saved me some problems. I used optical flow in Final Cut, which can work wonders, but sometimes causes weird pixelation errors, which I do notice in a couple of shots, as well as causing a bit of softness. Also, I was shooting with the onboard low-res lcd screen of the Bolex which did give me focus issues when I was going through the footage. I through out some shots that just did not work, while others I had to live with. I highly recommend an EVF with focus assist for this camera!

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