Saturday, August 28, 2021

Stills from motion video: a trip to Sherkin Island with the BMPCC4K

This post will outline a workflow for creating stills from video footage. This was very much an experiment. Though I knew the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K (BMPCC4K) shot excellent video, I did not know if individual frames would hold up to scrutiny. Read along as I outline my workflow.

The occasion was a trip to Sherkin Island, one of the most southerly locations in Ireland. Though this was mostly a holiday, I took the BMPCC4K onto the ferry for the short crossing from Baltimore, a tiny but active seaside village. Then followed several hours of walking and beachcombing. While my wife was shooting stills, I gathered some video footage of the dramatic beaches. 

Back home, I realised that I would in fact like some photos from my own perspective... I missed having emblematic images to trigger memory. So I imported the BRAW clips into DaVinci Resolve, my video editor of choice. (If you are using anything else, consider a transition to this most excellent program.)

I put together a rough timeline of the clips and colour-corrected them. The Colour tab allows the creation of stills at particular frames in a video. This is mostly used to match colour between clips, which Resolve can do automatically. But these stills can also be exported. As I went through my footage, I accumulated a collection of about a dozen TIFF files.

These images at first looked very soft, and I wondered if there was anything much to recover. Perhaps single video frames simply don't have the clarity necessary to make a good photo? To see what I could do to improve matters, I brought about a dozen images into Affinity Photo, which is a fine replacement for Adobe Photoshop. 

Here I used the Develop Persona, which allows control over a number of fundamental photo development parameters. I applied clarity and sharpening settings that I normally don't touch when developing photos from my stills camera. 

Then I went through my normal workflow: cropping, balancing, applying filers, and so on. My aesthetic goal is to approximate the scene that I had experienced phenomenologically, rather than attempt any sort of "accuracy".

Looking at the results, I am happy to say that the BMPCC4K performs admirably. I will now be confident leaving my stills camera at home, knowing that I can produce photos as needed from video footage. Hopefully this will give you similar ideas, and the freedom to experiment with your equipment outside the box.

Check out my Flickr album for the set of eight photos.
A few technical details. Video was shot using BRAW files with constant quality Q5. The video resolution was 4K DCI (4096x2160), though I downsized the stills slightly. 

The lens is the Panasonic Lumix 12-35mm, which has image stabilisation. Nonetheless, most of these shots were taken from a tripod. I always filter the lens with a Hoya UV + IR cut, to avoid out-of-band light contamination. I also use an SLR Magic variable ND filter, which performs admirably. 


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