Expand Your Vision: Getting Started Shooting Video

shooting video

Photographers will recognize many parts of this high-end Canon motion camera, as it’s an evolution of the company’s video-capable still cameras.

Editor’s Note: This piece first appeared in our Spring issue and reflects the products available at the time of publication. To see our equipment coverage of new gear, visit our Camera and News sections. Also check out the website of our sister publication HDVideoPro, for more on shooting video.

More photographers are starting to experiment with and become proficient in video daily, thanks to the high-end video tools being added to today’s digital still cameras.

For still photographers interested in transitioning to or supplementing their still work with professional video projects, we’ll explore expanding the skills you’re probably already fluent in—composition, lighting and visual storytelling—and how those skills can easily translate to video/cinema. We’ll also take a look at the new skills a still photographer will need to acquire to be successful in video production.

Worlds Colliding Or Converging?

While it will vary from photographer to photographer, what are some of the reasons you might want to consider learning how to shoot video at a pro level? If you shoot weddings, you already have a built-in audience that usually wants to also purchase professional video services. Fashion and editorial photographers have been dealing with video requests for their clients for years. As you may or may not know, the first DSLR cameras that had pro-level video capability were conceived for still photojournalists with news agency clients who were also requesting simple video clips for web use of the same story subjects that were being covered in stills.

The bottom line is, the worlds of still photography and video have been converging for almost a decade. At this point, depending on your market, clients and their requirements for delivery, you can bury your head in the sand and keep stating over and over to yourself, “I am a still photographer,” or you can begin exploring the worlds of video and cinema and how their convergence is affecting your business.

The Business Case

How can you best utilize video production to increase your potential client base and income? Most successful photographers already have a website, social media presence and, most importantly, a loyal client base. Not only can video add value to your existing clients by you becoming a “one-stop shop” for their media needs, but you also may discover new clients and markets as your skills and reputation grow. But let’s face it, in a world where almost everyone carries a relatively capable stills and video camera in their pocket or purse in the form of a smartphone, video, like still photography, has become commoditized. While anyone can shoot at least passable-quality stills and video for many applications, the ability to tell compelling stories through your still and video work is the differentiator that will encourage clients to hire you and pay you handsomely for a product/story/visual concept that they’re not capable of shooting themselves.

Video And Filmmaking Are Collaborative

It’s pretty simple to grab a camera and lens, some lighting gear and a subject, and begin shooting beautiful images solo. Video and film are a bit different. That’s not to say that you can’t “one-man band” it when shooting video—you can, but you may find it frustrating and the quality of what you’re shooting may be compromised when you try to go it alone. Ironically, “one-man banding” it with film and video, which is what many still photographers tend to do as they make the transition from still to motion, is one of the most difficult and frustrating ways to shoot.

It takes skill in several different disciplines that evolved with a fully staffed crew in mind. As a general rule, being aware of your limitations and collaborating with others who are experts in their fields will give you confidence, and your end product will be much better than if you try to do everything yourself.

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Photographers who get into video often end up trying to do everything themselves, though video is much easier done with a crew.

Multitasking Or Hiring?

Just as in still photography, budgets these days for video projects are shrinking. When you conceive of a video project or are hired to produce a video project, one of the first issues to consider is how to best allocate the budget and, therefore, resources. Some questions to consider are:

  • What will your role be in the production?
  • Which job functions needed to complete the project on budget and on time are your strengths and which are your “areas of opportunity?”
  • Are you capable of one-man banding this project, or will you need to hire crew?
  • If you don’t have sufficient budget to hire a full crew, what will be the most efficient use of your budget to hire limited crew?
  • Can your crew fulfill multiple roles?

Besides crew and positions, you also need to consider all of the gear needed to carry off the shoot besides just your camera(s) and lighting. Some possible equipment gear concerns to think about are:

  • Camera support gear. Will you just need a tripod or possibly a slider, dolly, Steadicam, gimbal, car rigging or shoulder mount for handheld shooting? What about an outboard video recorder, monitor, cabling or an extended power battery system?
  • Grip equipment to control, mold and shape the lighting.
  • Sound equipment—which microphones, mixer, recorders, cabling and other audio gear will be needed?
  • Props.
  • Sets or backgrounds/set dressing if shooting interviews.
  • Practical effects gear like a fogger, hazer, TV flicker box or greenscreen.
  • Wardrobe.
  • Hair.
  • Makeup.

This list can obviously be larger and much more detailed, but this is a good basic place to begin thinking about what other equipment you may need to carry off your shoot. Along with all of this extra equipment, think about the crew and skills needed to put all of this equipment to work.

Sound Is The Thing

Recording sound seems to be the one area where most new video shooters skimp or don’t plan accordingly and that has the most impact on your finished product. As photographers and image-makers, we often don’t think this way, but audio is typically the single most important component of video and film production. Period. Think about it: If the lighting isn’t optimal but the sound is clear and audible, the audience won’t perceive the production as being of the highest quality, but at least they will hear the actors, interviewee or voice-over clearly and will understand what’s being said. Conversely, if the images are beautifully lit and composed but the dialogue is poorly recorded and hard to hear, it simply won’t matter to the audience; they will disengage immediately because they won’t be able to tell what’s going on in the production.

Secrets Of The One-Man Band

Shooting video solo can be challenging. As a photographer, your main focus will tend to be on the camera setup, composition and lighting. You can’t forget all of the other tasks that, at a minimum, must be performed to capture high-quality footage.

Grip And Lighting

Lighting is time consuming, and doing it all yourself is possible but takes time. Make sure you build enough time into your shooting schedule to not only load in all of your gear to the shoot location, but that you also allocate enough time before shooting begins to unload and set up all of your grip and lighting gear, and have a lighting plan beforehand so you remember to bring all of the gear you will need.

Sound

Let’s just come out and say it: The best strategy is to always hire a pro sound mixer. Recording production sound is its own discipline, not a last-minute, casual afterthought. If you don’t have the budget to hire a pro sound mixer, wireless microphones can be a solo shooter’s friend but aren’t the right choice for every situation. We could easily cover wireless microphone systems themselves in an entire multi-page article, but you also need to learn about how wired microphones, lavaliers, shotgun and cardioid microphones function, which are best for your needs, if you’ll need an audio mixer or outboard audio recorder, cabling, microphone placement and many other skills needed to record high-quality audio. Space precludes us from covering sound recording in depth here, but seek out resources like the Audio Assist column on our sister publication’s website (hdvideopro.com/columns/audio-assist) and other audio articles to learn more about production audio equipment and skills in detail.

Camera Tips

Even when shooting solo, there are camera equipment and techniques you can utilize that will make your footage look more professional. The first to consider is the use of multiple cameras and angles. It can be beneficial to have shots from multiple points of view. Solo shooters can shoot with multiple cameras by themselves, but it can be taxing because the shooter will have to mind the focus, shot composition, battery and recording media of more than one camera by themselves.

Another useful tool is Face Tracking autofocus. Focus in HD, 4K and higher resolution can be a challenge as most viewfinders, flip-out screens and external video monitors don’t have enough resolution to view razor-sharp focus in all situations. Traditionally, autofocus on video cameras rarely worked well; the camera would hunt for focus at the most inopportune times, so pro shooters pretty much used manual focus exclusively. Some newer-generation cameras now have features like Canon’s Dual Pixel Autofocus, which includes Face Tracking. The camera can actually recognize, lock in and track subjects’ facial features as they move. Just be aware that this technology isn’t perfect and still needs to be carefully monitored, as the focus can stop working if the subject leaves the frame or obscures their face momentarily.

Besides The Equipment

A video project generally begins with a project outline, sometimes referred to (incorrectly) as a treatment. This document captures the idea the project will communicate to the viewer in a simple, high-level overview format. This document should be written without details about equipment, gear and technology, using language about how the viewer will experience the project. The script is the bible for the entire production and spells out everything about the production and describes every shot and scene that needs to be captured in detail to most effectively tell the story. Storyboards aren’t needed for every production but can be invaluable when visually complex or difficult scenes need to be visualized for the crew and talent. Casting is more the realm of the producer and director, but is also something that you may have to do yourself on smaller productions when you’re the producer, director and crew.

Rehearsal is important not only for the talent but for the crew; it helps to determine where, when and how the equipment and people resources will need to be positioned and allocated to capture a given scene most effectively. Interviews and documentary shoots aren’t rehearsed, but anything with a story and characters needs to be blocked and rehearsed. The location scout is used to select or verify the suitability of a given location for the production. Production is the act of shooting all of the footage needed to assemble the finished work. Shooting for the edit is working in a way that the footage captured provides “coverage” for the editorial process. This means that all scenes are captured with satisfactory performances, performance variations and alternate takes, all with “handles” so that the editor has enough footage to have options in assembling the final project.

Managing Your Media

Since we’re shooting in the era of high-resolution 4K and greater video and digital cinema, video production, especially with multiple cameras, generates huge amounts of files and data. The key to success in media management is redundancy. If you’re working on a multiple-day or even multiple-week shoot and generating hundreds of gigs or even multiple terabytes of data daily, it’s important that you offload the data onto multiple drives constantly.

Fortunately, there are inexpensive drives now available almost everywhere and software that can perform much of the downloading and verifying of footage for you, but, in the end, it still takes someone organized and responsible to ensure that all of the footage shot is downloaded and cloned for redundant backup before any camera media is scrubbed.

A good strategy is that no camera media is erased until it’s verified to be complete and archived on at least three different drives, and the drives are located in at least two different physical locations. It’s up to you to determine which level of backup and redundancy you’re comfortable with, but needless to say, this process is probably the single most important component of the entire production process.

Writer, producer and cinematographer Dan Brockett’s two decades of work in documentary film and behind the scenes for television and feature films have informed his writing about production technology for HDVideoPro Magazine, Digital Photo Pro Magazine and KenStone.net. Visit danbrockett.com

Gear

The most practical approach to gear for a still photographer is deciding what can be used from your existing equipment (camera, lighting, C-stands, light stands, sand bags, various lighting control tools) and what you will need to acquire to successfully shoot video. Starting in video isn’t inexpensive, but the quality of the gear has recently increased as costs have fallen, so even the lower-end gear has some pretty amazing capabilities in the right hands.

Cameras

The video camera market has exploded in recent years, and there are now more video-capable still camera models than ever before. Many still photographers are more comfortable shooting with a video-capable DSLR, Micro Four Thirds or mirrorless camera than a dedicated video camera, and this can be a good way to break into video shooting for many. On the other hand, dedicated video cameras often have features that video-capable still cameras lack that are superior for shooting video, like dedicated XLR audio inputs, built-in ND filters, time-code capability and more.

Video-Capable Mirrorless

The Panasonic Lumix GH5 is a new Micro Four Thirds stills/video camera for 2017. The camera boasts a 20.3-megapixel Digital Live MOS sensor, Venus Engine Image Processor, 4K video with no crop and an unprecedented internal 4:2:2 10-bit 4K video-recording capability. Price: $1,998

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Panasonic Lumix GH5

The Sony a7R II full-frame mirrorless camera is 4K-capable and features a 42.4-megapixel sensor, built-in five-axis image stabilization and a max ISO of 102,400. It uses Sony’s easy-to-adapt to E-mount lens mount system. Price: $3,199

Sony a7R II

Mid-Range Video/Digital Cinema Camera

Blackmagic Design’s Ursa Mini 4.6K camera features a Super 35mm CMOS sensor, 4608×2592 video up to 60p, Compressed Raw Recording, ready-to-edit ProRes 444 + 422 Recording, 12G-SDI Output, and time code and REF Input. The rugged magnesium-alloy body also houses a 1080p flip-out screen with Touchscreen Interface and dual XLR Audio Inputs with Phantom Power. Price: $4,995

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Blackmagic Design Ursa Mini 4.6K

Canon’s EOS C100 Mark II is a popular choice with a wide variety of video users and is compatible with all Canon EF, EF-S and Cinema CN-E lenses. The camera features a Super 35mm 8.3-megapixel CMOS sensor capable of recording at 1920x1080p at 59.94/50/29.97/25/23.98 frame rates, Canon’s built-in Dual Pixel CMOS AF Hardware recording and AVCHD + MP4 recording to dual SDHC/SDXC cards. Price: $3,999

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Canon EOS C100 Mark II

Camera Support

Tripod packages for video cameras range from low-cost basic units like the $249.95 Benro Aero 4 Video Travel Angel Tripod Kit with a weight capacity of 8.8 pounds to medium-range units like the $3,960 Sachtler FSB 10 ENG 2 MCF Carbon Fiber Tripod System with Sideload Plate, which is rated for loads up to 26.5 pounds, all the way up to the top-of-the-line units like the $14,625 OConnor 2575D Ultimate Fluid Head package that can support camera packages up to 133 pounds.

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Benro Aero 4 Video Travel Angel Tripod Kit
shooting video
Sachtler FSB 10 ENG 2 MCF Carbon Fiber Tripod System with Sideload Plate

Gimbals are camera-stabilizing devices that provide a smooth, floating movement to video cameras without needing as much training and practice that more expensive and larger Steadicam and Steadicam-like devices require. Devices like the $639.99 Zhiyun-Tech Crane are popular for small and light mirrorless and M43 cameras, while larger cameras that weigh more function well with gimbals like the $1,599 Letus Helix Jr., while larger, heavier camera packages require a gimbal like the $6,500 Freefly M–oVI Pro.

 

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Zhiyun-Tech Crane
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Letus Helix Jr.
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Freefly MoVI Pro

Camera sliders are useful for adding small, dolly-like moves to your footage without the expense, weight or size of a real camera dolly. The $249 Konova K2 Slider has 31.5 inches of camera movement and allows smooth movement. For those interested in a motorized camera movement system that can function as a second camera operator or can be used to shoot time-lapse video, the $1,829 Rhino Gear Ultimate Slider Bundle is simple to set up and use, and allows for programmed camera moves up to 42 inches.

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Konova K2 Slider
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Rhino Gear Ultimate Slider Bundle

Grip Equipment

There are several popular brands of grip equipment. The most common grip gear utilized in basic video production are Century stands, light stands, flags, cutters, diffusion and sandbags, although there are literally hundreds of different grip items available. It’s well worth taking a look at the websites of Matthews Studio Equipment as well as American Grip, Norms Studio Equipment and Manfrotto’s Avenger Grip Equipment.

Lighting

If you already own professional “hot lights” or other constant light sources like professional video LEDs or Kino Flo fluorescent lighting you use for still work, there’s no reason why you can’t use it for video. If you don’t have any constant-source lighting, the five most popular video lighting technologies are Tungsten, LED, Fluorescent, Plasma and HMI. Many lighting manufacturers offer pre-assembled lighting kits like the $1,699 ikan IB508-v2 Bi-Color LED 3-Light Studio Kit, which give you at least the basics to light small scenes and interviews. Others prefer to assemble their own lighting kit using different technology, like using the versatile bi-color $885.99 Kino Flo Diva-Lite 415 fluorescent fixture as a key source and building out from there. Those who shoot outdoor or in shaded sunlight often prefer an HMI kit like the $7,980 K 5600 Lighting Joker-Bug 200W HMI Pair Kit. If you mostly light indoor scenes, Tungsten kits like the $3,867.50 Softbank IV Tungsten 5 light kit are excellent choice.

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ikan IB508-v2 Bi-Color LED 3-Light Studio Kit
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K5600 Lighting Joker-Bug 200W HMI Pair Kit

Audio

There are basically two ways to record sound for video. If you own a video camera with dedicated XLR inputs, recording your sound in-camera is a viable way to work. If you utilize a mirrorless, M43 or DSLR camera, with their consumer 3.5mm microphone inputs, the sound quality on all of these cameras isn’t professional quality, so many record on an external recorder like the $215 Tascam DR-70D 4 Channel Recorder, recording a guide track on the camera’s internal microphone, used for syncing the camera picture and the external recorder audio later in post.

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Tascam DR-70D 4-Channel Recorder

Wired microphones for video come in two basic categories: small lavaliers, which are placed on talent, and boom-mounted microphones, often referred to as shotgun microphones, but they actually can be shotgun/lobe, cardioid or hyper-cardioid, each with their own distinct pickup pattern. Some popular lavalier microphones are the $319.95 Countryman B6, favored for its microscopic size and high-quality sound; the industry-standard $389.95 Tram TR50B; and the $489 Sanken COS-11D. Any of these microphones can be ordered with an attached power supply for shooting hard-wired or with various connections used in wireless microphone transmitters.

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Countryman B6

Shotguns like the $1,199 Sennheiser MKH 50 are popular for capturing dialogue as are alternatives like the $1,450 Sanken CS-3e. If a smaller, shorter mic is needed for camera mounting or tighter spaces, consider the $169 Audio-Technica AT875; it’s a great budget choice with low-handling noise.

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Sennheiser MKH 50

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