Monument Valley Utah is home to some of the most amazing rock formations on the planet. This park is part of the Navajo Nation and has been used as the set for dozens of films and television shows. The “Valley of the Rocks” is characterized by clusters of enormous buttes, some reaching 1,000 feet above the valley floor.
This general area of the country is also known as “The Painted Desert,” and the soundtrack of my film is Ferde Grofé’s musical depiction of this part of the Southwest.
We spent 2 days in Monument Valley this June to see what I could do in creating a “homage to homage.” Philip Bloom did an amazing homage to “The Searchers” which was shot in Monument Valley in 1956. After seeing Philip’s film on his web site, I decided to do a homage to his homage!
I called the View Hotel and made our reservations months in advance. I specified that I wanted to be able to shoot some rainbows just like Bloom did, but they were not as accommodating. I suppose it was because I don’t have Philip’s charming British accent. I pointed out that I am an Australian national but that was of little help.
In two days I filled up all of my CF cards and hard drive with 20,000+ files, lots of them stills from the time lapses. I only had my 5D and my iPhone– more cameras would have been useful. I made up for it by capturing video all over the park. The time lapses were taken only from my balcony.
We got there late one afternoon and I set up my first time lapse pointing at the “Three Mittens,” named for their unusual shape with a thumb protruding from each side. Unfortunately from my room you could not see the thumb on one of them. The details on the time lapse technique I use I have explained already in my post on my time lapse “Moonrise Over the Grand Canyon.” I set my 5D snapping away on my balcony and went out to dinner.
When I returned I was disappointed to find my 5D had stopped snapping! I had completely filled up my 32 gig card because I had forgotten to change my stills setting from RAW to a smaller jpg format. So here I was 2 hours into the trip and already one card was shot, filled with 1338 23.7MB files. My laptop was also thin on space, even though I had emptied it out before I came. I almost formated the card, but I decided to save it as long as I could and that is what made all the difference.
I juggled things around until I got back home then put the 32GB card into my computer. HD video is 1920 x 1080. My RAW files were each 5616 x 3744. My 23.7MB files needed to be cut down to size, but what size, and how to do it?
I imported the files into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, a program I consider indispensable for a still photographer. I realized then that with Lightroom’s ability to bulk edit files I could edit each image before they ever became a video. LR can bulk resize, color correct, crop, tilt, sharpen, and just about do anything. You select all the images (in this case 1338 RAW files), open one in the Develop module, set the AutoSync switch then go to town. Whatever you adjust with that image passes over to all of the other images if you have the AutoSync switch turned on. Just make sure you first select all images, then Develop one of them. Just being able to develop and correct the images in LR was a godsend, but the size factor is a big plus.
If I resized the images to 1920 wide I would still have extra room at the top and bottom so I could simulate a tilt once the video was made. Actually the effect is better than a tilt as there is no distortion due to perspective change.
For the most part I cropped and resized all of my time lapses to 2400 wide to give me some room for Ken Burns effect. FCPX can handle 4K images with no problem. All of my 2400 pixel wide videos were a non-issue. In Final Cut Pro 7 my computer would have gagged at the file sizes.
You can see by the sizing chart that the RAW 5D file size is enormous, bigger than 5K. Even 4K is four times bigger than HD, and if you resize the RAW files to 4K wide you get the Full Aperture 4K resolution, lots of space to do Ken Burns with your video.
Take a look at this chart in detail by expanding on it and let these image sizes settle in your noodle and believe me some lights will start to turn on.
If you click on the ‘Opening Reveal’ at the top you’ll see my 3′ Bloom Pocket Dolly, supported by my Manfrotto 535 Carbon Fibre sticks on one side and my Manfrotto 680B monopod on the other. Most of the time I didn’t bother with the monopod, just put the dolly in the middle of the tripod. Yes I know Bloom prefers the 2′, but I like the longer length, and I could fit it, my tripod, and my Glidecam HD 2000 all in one bag that I checked with no oversize fee (62″ combined LWH). I was in Utah to shoot a music video so I needed the gear packed in as small a form factor as possible.
You can see I like the Zacuto Z-finder. I can’t really use the camera in video without it. I recommend trying out the 2.5 and 3.0 versions yourself to see which one works better for your eyes. I also use the mounting frame, only $6 and much less clunkier.
Thanks to Katie Derrick for the BTS. One last tip: if you ever travel to Monument Valley and want to check it out, make sure you are driving a 4WD. The 17 mile loop is just a dirt track, and not even graded– a real monster. They don’t warn you about it when you make your reservations
Originally published Aug 19, 2011