The DSLR Filmmaker’s Handbook: Real-World Production Techniques, Second Edition (2015)
Chapter 5. Camera Motion and Support
Stop looking at camera support equipment as simply gear. Think of it more as a way of adding movement or taking movement away from your shot. The type of equipment you will use depends on the type of movement you want to add or control.
You need to ask yourself three questions for each scene you will be shooting:
· Do I want movement in the shot?
· What type of movement do I want to have?
· What equipment do I need to execute that type of movement?
You should start by choosing the sort of camera movement you want to have in your scene and then think about what equipment will best help you deliver that movement. To do this, you need to know the various types of camera movement and the most common equipment used to achieve those types of shots. You can’t have one without the other.
The reasons for adding movement to a scene are dictated by your philosophy of moviemaking and the parameters of your scene. If you want movement in the shot, you should examine why you want the motion. The motion should come from the script and the story you want to tell. Knowing when you want motion and what kind of motion is an extension of knowing your story. If you decide that you don’t want motion in the shot, that decision is also an extension of your narrative and perspective. How the camera moves is as important to the telling of your story as the sound, dialogue, and lighting.
In theory the type of movement obtainable is limited only by your imagination, but in practicality usually it is dictated by the budget or location where you are shooting. As you envision the types of motion that you want for the scene, think about the final shot. How do you see the story in your head? This is the only part of the decision that isn’t technical. You must answer this question by looking at the script, envisioning the story, and dreaming about how you want it to look and feel. If you aren’t coming up with a good visual image, you may want to go to potential locations and walk through your story or even watch movies that tell the story effectively through motion to search for inspiration. After you have done the dreaming, it is time to get back to the practical world of gear and planning how to execute the motion.
When you have an idea of what kind of motion you want, you will need to figure out whether this is practically possible. You will need to pick and plan the gear and crew that are needed to achieve the shots. As you make your motion plan, break down every shot in terms of gear and crew.
Why Add Movement?
There are many reasons why you would go to all the trouble and extra work of adding camera motion to your shots:
1. Show Perspective Movement shows perspective. It can show the internal view of a character by showing what the character is seeing and by moving in the way that the character’s eyes move over the scene. In these cases, the camera movement is dictated by how that character is moving and reacting. The movement can also show what the character is feeling or thinking even if it isn’t showing the physical perspective of the character. The character may be shot with camera movement that describes the internal state of the character.
2. Add Emotion The speed, angle, and type of movement can cue the audience about what they are supposed to be feeling or what kind of scene they are watching. The next time you watch a scene with high emotion, examine the camera movement. If it’s an intense scene in a scary movie, does the tempo increase, is the movement jittery, or is it suddenly rapid and slightly off-balance? How does the camera movement increase the tension, and when the tense moment is over, how does the camera motion change to reflect this lull?
3. Show Emphasis or Direct Focus If the camera is moving to follow a character or object, the audience is naturally drawn visually to what the camera is following. The motion leads the eye directly where to look, just like we turn our head to follow objects or because we want to see what emitted an unexpected noise. The motion can also dictate what elements the audience is not looking at or what they are not noticing as much. By directing focus, you are showing the audience what to look at but also selecting what elements the audience will not be paying attention to. Whatever you are matching the motion with or what is creating the need to move the camera will be the visual focus of the shot. This is true if the camera is moving because it is showing the point of view of a character who is visually searching a scene. What is the important part to be watching? Whatever the camera is moving on.
Motion Makes Eye Candy Sweeter
Motion creates eye candy by showing interesting things for the audience to take in as they view the scene. As the camera moves past colors and light, the colors and light often create an interesting blurred effect. The motion also keeps the eye busy, and adding motion to the camera and within the frame creates layers of motion that provide visual interest. We are hardwired to be attracted to motion and the effects it generates.
Every moviemaker will want to restrict unwanted movement by the camera. Even if the shot is wildly spinning, some camera moves will need to be restricted by the operator and the gear. The simple tripod that most people use the first time they shoot a movie best illustrates the elementary way the camera movement is restricted. The tripod is used to keep the camera steady and allow the operator to direct the movement. We don’t usually think of our gear as restricting movement, but essentially that is the entire point of camera support gear: to restrict any movement that is uncontrolled by the operator. Camera support gear is used to restrict shaking, bouncing, wiggling, and other erratic changes in motion that ruin the shot. The best camera operators have spent a lot of time learning how to restrict unwanted movement and how to best control the movement to get the desired shot.
There are also times when camera movement is restricted by the story or even the style of the piece. A few—very few, really—modern major directors use sparse motion in their films. The good news is that if you are limited by budget, time, or location and don’t have enough capital to invest in motion, it is helpful to look at films prior to the extensive use of motion or at current films of directors who don’t use a lot of motion.
On-Screen Action and Position with Movement
Another thing to consider is how the movement in the shot complements or contradicts the movement of the camera. There is a visual relationship between the camera movement and the movement of the subjects or objects in the scene. For instance, if you dolly screen right to follow a car, also moving to screen right, you have both movements complementing each other. On the other hand, if you have a car coming directly at the camera and you add a dolly or job arm push toward the car, the movements are acting oppositely. This conflict can help create an enhanced feeling of speed for the car coming toward the camera.
The camera movement also interacts with the position of the subject or object in the frame. Moving on a subject that is very close to the camera will have a different effect than if the camera is far away even if the movement is the same. If the subject or object shifts position in relation to the camera while the scene is playing, the look and feel may be altered.
Types of Camera Movement
As you think about camera movement, think about all of the directions that the camera itself can physically move. It can move forward, backward, side to side, up and down, at a tilt, and at an angle; it can be made to look like it is flying, and it can even be brought back to retrace the movement. Within the camera and lens system, there are also movements with focus. A push-in or pull-out is possible with zoom lenses, and the camera can also stay in a stationary position but pan or track to give movement to the shot. If you can imagine the movement, it has probably been done with a camera.
The beauty of DSLRs is that you can capture more movement easily with less equipment. Also, a huge variety of movement options have been opened up to moviemakers because you can now place the camera in ways that were not possible only a few years ago. The size and weight of the camera make a lot of the gear more affordable and attainable to smaller budgets or sleeker projects, and since perfecting motion is often about practice, having the camera and gear in your hands is half the battle.
The movement you can achieve can be limited, however, by one thing. Sometimes the limitation is a gear limitation. If you don’t have a crane or jib arm with a rotating head attached to a remote, it is going to be impossible to get a shot flying in the air and through a window. Sometimes the limitation is with the location. If you don’t have enough room for a dolly track to form a circle around your actors, you will have to change your shot or the gear. Sometimes the limitation is time. Some movement shots are very time-consuming to set up and perfect, especially since they often influence the lighting and set design. Sometimes the limitation may be linked to the DSLR camera capabilities. Certain fast pans with the sensor may cause distortion or the dreaded Jell-O camera effect on your lovely landscape. But probably the most important limitation will be the story and the effect you’re after. If your story doesn’t call for rapid kinetic movement, you won’t be ordering a helmet cam.
Here are some basic movements to keep in mind; this is by no means a comprehensive list but rather a starting point to expand upon in your project. It is also important to note that often a shot will incorporate several different types of movements, and therefore the movements will be linked together. If you are doing multiple movements, timing becomes your biggest challenge.
Pan and Related Movements
Figure 5-1: You rotate the camera from one side to the other but add no additional movement.
A pan is achieved when the camera is rotated or moved horizontally on a tripod or other point (Figure 5-1). The movement here is directional and on a single plane unless combined with another movement. Pans are often used when it is necessary to get more physical space into the shot. They can be used on a wide scale for landscapes or on a smaller scale when the camera pans from one character to a character sitting nearby. Panning can occur on or with a moving piece of the scene or be stationary. It is important as you pan to keep in mind the composition throughout the shot, particularly the composition of where the shot lands.
A vertical pan where the camera is panned on a vertical plane is referred to as tilt. If the camera is panned up, it is a tilt-up; if it is panned down, it is a tilt-down (Figure 5-2). A tilt is used for the same reasons as a pan is used, and the care of composition, timing, and smoothness of operation are areas to focus on for this movement. A boom is a vertical movement that is not on a fixed axis, so a boom move will simply move up or down on a vertical plane. Usually these moves are made more dramatic with cranes or arms.
Figure 5-2: You tilt the camera up or down but add no additional movement to the camera.
For DSLR cameras, the weight of the camera will not make panning physically difficult as long as the camera is attached to a solid head. However, sometimes having a very lightweight camera can make it hard to judge the speed of the pan. The keys to any type of pan are the head that the camera is attached to and the deftness of the operator. With film-movie cameras, pans are usually done with considerable stabilization gear, but with DSLRs, pans can be achieved simply by holding the camera. If your panning is jittery or the speed is off, you are likely in need of at least a decent tripod with a fluid head. Adding weight to your camera and/or tripod will help you achieve smoother movements. If you must handhold for the pan, try bracing your body against a wall or solid object and pulling the camera in close to restrict the extra movement and reduce any physical arm fatigue.
Figure 5-3: You start with something framed in your shot but then really quickly whip pan to reveal something else in the frame. With this type of movement the audience sees nothing but a blur between your movements.
If you get the panning motion down, a whip pan is an easy second step. A whip pan is a really fast pan where everything is blurry in between the start and stop of the pan. It almost feels like the movement is done with the flick of a wrist. Obviously, the move involves more than flicking the wrist, and the exact movement will depend on your camera, lens, and setting. It is an exceptionally rapid pan often used as a quick image change. As the pan happens, all of the background and the entire moving image will be completely out of focus and blurred (Figure 5-3). For part of the shot that will be out of focus, you can plan striking colors or lighting that will be eye candy during the move and increase the impact. A whip pan can also be cut into another whip pan to transition from one shot to another or even into another location.
The whip pan is one area where the propensity to Jell-O effect will not be a problem. The pan happens so fast that the distortion becomes part of the effect. If you move the camera fast enough and stop it fast enough, any potential distortion will simply be viewed as an effect of the whip pan and not a sensor dilemma.
Figure 5-4: To zoom in or out from your actor you make the movement with the camera lens and not by moving the camera itself.
A zoom movement is possible when using a zoom lens (Figure 5-4). The speed at which you zoom the lens will change the effect and depend on the desired look, which can range from an extreme visual change to a subtle shift. There is a great variety of degree of zoom; sometimes a slight movement is a way to provide emphasis, while an extreme zoom gives total focus on a particular piece. The zoom can also be paused and used as the scene progresses. Zoom moves can be useful on low-budget sets where time and cost are at a minimum. Zoom moves usually involve very little actual camera movement, and the operator works solely with the lens.
If you come from a video background or have used zoom lenses in still photography, zooming is a common practice that you may continue using unconsciously in your DSLR moviemaking. However, zooming is not an overly common film technique in today’s cinema, even on film sets where a zoom lens is used. This is one time where using still lenses to make your movie may cause you to miss some of the other camera moves that can be used for the shot.
This shot is exactly what it sounds like. A push-in occurs when you push the camera in or move toward an object or a subject so that it naturally feels like something has changed or you are introducing a new element (Figure 5-5). As the push-in occurs, pay attention to the timing. If the push-in happens too soon and nothing has really happened of note, the audience can be left trying to figure out if they missed something. A classic example of a push-in with a dolly is a window push, where the camera starts outside the window and pushes in on the scene, letting the audience enter the building using the window as an internal frame. A push-in can occur with a dolly or a zoom lens.
Depending on what gear you use to achieve the push-in, the effect can be very different even in the same scenario. The clearest change will be seen in the background, but the compression can also look very different depending on your gear choice. Another factor for the look of the push-in is the lens, and if the push-in feels distorted or ends on a shot that has odd perspective, you may need to adjust the lens or camera.
Pull-Back (or Pull-Out) and Widen-Out
A pull-out occurs where the camera moves backward away from the subject; it’s often on a dolly but can be done handheld or with a combination of a crane or lift and a dolly. Typically a pull-out move shows more of the scene or important elements. It can be used as a way to reveal elements or to give a different feel to the shot (Figure 5-6).
Figure 5-5: To create a push-in you need to move the camera physically closer to your subject.
Figure 5-6: To create a pull-out you need to move the camera physically farther from your subject but not use a zoom lens to get farther away.
A widen-out is a type of pull-out but achieved with a zoom lens. When widening out with a zoom lens, the effect is different because it is more of a perspective change and it widens the field of view rather than being a complete camera move. The background and final shot will be very different than a pull-out. Either of these moves can be done at different speeds to fit the desired effect. As you plan the speed, take into account whether the items in the shot are moving and whether you are going to match the speed or move at a different speed from the action. If the camera is moving slowly, it is said to be creeping along. You will also need to plan if the speed is going to remain constant or vary.
Combined Push-In and Pan
Many times shots incorporate two movements, and sometimes these two movements go together so well or so frequently that the combined movement becomes its own movement type. The push-in and pan combination begins with a push-in and then partway through adds a pan. The pan is done to reveal some visual information that is important to the scene, usually another person or part of the setting that is important (Figure 5-7). Sometimes with this move there will also need to be a focus change if the pan moves to an area that is not in the field of focus. It is best to start the focus with the subject that the push-in is focused on and change the focus as you pan to reach critical focus when the next element is properly composed in the frame. This movement may then be added onto with additional movement if necessary, but keep in mind any focus issues that may be present if there was an initial focus pull during the pan.
Figure 5-7: Push in on the person at the left of the table and then pan over to the person they are speaking with.
Combined Push-In and Whip Pan
This move is intense and when done rapidly can signal a powerful story move or reveal. In this move, the camera moves in toward the action and then, usually to match a quick move on the screen, whips over to catch or move with the on-screen movement (Figure 5-8). The whip pan in this move is the decisive moment. Sometimes the on-screen movement is a direct action, but it can also work on a powerful line of dialogue that, when combined with the push-in and whip pan, can feel aggressive.
Figure 5-8: Push in on the person entering the door and then whip pan over to reveal the person waiting for them.
Moves that spin around a group of people are often circling dolly moves or a 360 dolly. The track is set up in a circle around the subjects, and as the scene progresses, the camera moves on the dolly around the track (Figure 5-9). This is one time where having a dolly track is necessary. It is almost impossible to move a dolly off a track in the same path for the entire scene. These scenes are also usually done on a dolly because the same camera moves will need to be repeated and used to cut into the other footage that is shot to cover the whole scene. Handholding or Steadicam operation will not be able to achieve the accuracy in repetition of a dolly on a track. The position of the track and radius of the circle can change the circling move into a spinning dolly move. Some circling-type moves can be done on a tripod or handheld if you don’t need to cut the same shots in sequence, but the traditional circling move is done with dolly track. Circling is one area where DSLR moviemakers are advised to stick with traditional filmmaking techniques.
Figure 5-9: The camera will move around the table to continually reveal each actor at the table as they speak.
If the subject and the camera are moving in opposite directions, a counter move is occurring. When the action on screen and the camera are moving in opposing directions, it is a counter action or movement. For a counter move, the camera direction will be against the subject direction and move around them in a circle. It is still a circling movement by the camera. Sometimes counter moves are considered any moves that go counter to the camera movement, but they are usually used with circling setups.
Dollies usually move forward or backward on a track and stay on the track until the gear is reset. A dolly also often has an arm that can be raised or lowered by the operator, so several motions may be possible at one time all from the dolly. The dolly is normally steered or moved from the back wheels, and the motion forward or backward will be determined by how the dolly is moving in relation to the scene or action.
The vocabulary for dolly moves is consistent with other camera movement terminology. Moves are moves that happen when the camera moves parallel to the action and the camera continues with it. Tracking, or trucking, is done when the dolly is in motion for any movement. The camera can also move across the screen, usually with a pan for a lateral move, and this can occur by the camera on the dolly. When the camera on a dolly moves vertically and on the dolly track, it is a compound move.Retracking on the dolly is simply moving backward over the steps that the dolly took on the first pass.
Tracking Lateral Movement through Space and Retracking
Tracking movements occur when the camera moves forward to tell the story. Usually tracking shots are done with a dolly but can also be done with handheld rigs and Steadicam shots. As the tracking moves, the speed can be changed. If you’re using a Steadicam or handheld rig, pay attention to camera sway when the tracking move stops.
Retracing occurs when the camera, usually on a dolly or handheld support system, goes backward over the same path as the previous forward motion; essentially, it is a continuation of the shot but in reverse.
Figure 5-10: The camera can dolly or crane with the person entering the door but then continue to travel through the side window to frame the person now standing in the room.
Moving or Tracking through Solid Objects
You can set up many cool moves where the camera looks like it is going through doors, windows, whole buildings, or other solid objects. The small size of a DSLR makes these shots possible (Figure 5-10). To get these shots, the objects are cut apart so that the camera can fit through them, and usually the camera is attached to a remote-controlled crane. Often in movies, cutaway sets are in use, or specialized miniature cameras are in play. If you need an elaborate move through a solid object, take into account the size of the object and your camera. This is one of many types of shots where you need to design the set and the motion in the shot together.
A pendulum pan is a variation on a typical pan that takes the pan to a more forceful level. For a pendulum pan, the camera stays mostly still, moving just enough so that the moving subject is properly framed. The camera stays in this calm, more passive state until the moving object has passed by. As the subject passes, the camera moves into the space that the moving object or subject was in and pans after the subject as the subject continues to move (Figure 5-11). You can choose either to stop or to continue the camera movement. The exact timing and speed of this move will depend on the desired effect and the set. This film move is easily possible with a DSLR and minimal gear or a handheld rig but adds a level of interest that goes beyond a traditional pan.
Figure 5-11: The camera will pan with the actor in profile, and the actor, not the camera, will turn and walk directly away from the camera revealing the back of their head.
Figure 5-12: A crane can start with the camera low to the ground and then be raised so the camera is high above the action on the ground or to frame up an estate in the distance.
If you want to make your DSLR project feel high budget, invest in a few crane shots. Cranes were designed specifically to get movie shots envisioned by directors and operators. Cranes vary in their abilities in terms of scale, but regardless of use, they can add drama to a scene. In general, if you are using a crane, you will want to use an experienced crane operator. Cranes can move up and down from eye level to reveal a new perspective, ranging from a low-to-the-ground shot all the way to a towering shot high above the actor or subject you are shooting (Figure 5-12). The crane can also move toward or away from a subject. The crane can move quickly or slowly, and you can design a combination of directions and movements for your shot.
Cranes can be used for shots that feel like the camera is going over the top of objects or moving on top of tall areas to give audiences large-scale views.
Rigging for Motion
Some shots, like flyovers or moving car shots, can be achieved only by rigging the camera to a moving object. If you need this type of shot for your project, rigging for motion will become a budget item. DSLRs can be attached to a limitless array of moving objects from planes to remote-controlled cars. The camera can be rigged stationary or with a remote moving head and focus to get complex levels of movement. For situations with fast-moving objects, it will be worthwhile to invest in an experienced rigger.
Movement with a Jib Arm
The jib arm lets you get shots that incorporate a range of height and, when combined with a remote head, that move in smooth and interesting ways (Figure 5-13). With a jib arm and a crane, shots can take on a grand scale and still get the details.
Figure 5-13: A jib arm can start high, showing a car driving toward the camera. It can be lowered to normal level to allow the actor exiting the car to be perfectly framed.
The speed of the camera movement will affect how the entire shot looks and feels. As you work with the speed, think about how it relates to the characters and the tenor of the scene. There is a big difference in the camera lunging at the character and a soft glide forward as she looks out the window. Sometimes a slight change of movement can give the audience an anxious feeling. Even very subtle changes cue the audience in and can influence the effect of the scene.
Think through the motion every step of the way. You will need to plan the movement steps and where the movement should rest or stop if necessary. Often the movement will have a flow with resting points for pauses or beats in the action or dialogue. This means you can adjust the speed and even style of movement within the same shot to match the changing action. Obviously, this is another thing that you’ll need to coordinate with the operators and the actors.
If you are using a two-camera shoot and are having movement in the same scene with both cameras, the speed and timing of camera moves will be key. For example, say you have set up a shot where you are going to dolly in with both cameras toward the same characters and get two different angles; if the speed and any pauses don’t match, editing will be a disaster. Or, if you are going to be catching one character on a Steadicam and have a wider shot with a camera mounted on a jib arm, the movement style and speed should work together unless the edit is going to be done from completely different perspectives. As you work with multiple-camera movement, keep in mind what angles you’re choosing so that you won’t break the 180-degree rule or cause the edit to look a bit off.
Planning the Motion
The motion starts with the script. Motion clues are likely to be integral to some scenes. There may even be a few motion words present; this is motion that happens outside of camera motion but will need to be incorporated in your motion structure. There will also be shots where no motion is mentioned in the story; however, you will likely have actors moving on set or moving pieces of the set. As you read the script, you can make notes of the motion that is happening within the story and the motion you want to include in blocking.
Some motion will be inherently necessary within the action. Characters or objects will be moving in the story, and you will have to incorporate that into the shots. But the biggest consideration will be planning how you are going to move the camera to show the story. The narrative will reveal the action and establish an emotional flow through the motion of the camera. As you pick locations, think through the motion requirements, or if you are given locations, decide how to use them to fit your motion story.
Blocking and Previsualization
After the locations have been chosen, it is helpful to walk through the set before shooting begins. Check the lenses and proposed camera movements to see whether they work as envisioned. Pay particular attention to lens choice because of the different characteristics that lenses impart on motion. When you are on the set, measure the space to make sure even small pieces of gear can fit. If you are using a small location, your tripod may quickly dominate the corner you are using to set up. Practicing with as much of the planned gear as possible is ideal; however, if you cannot afford to rent all of the gear you need, check for any physical accommodations necessary. For example, if you are using a crane, how high are you planning on taking it? Is the camera head going to be controlled by a remote system? When is it going to move, and how will you tell the operator what to track?
If you are using camera operators for some of the motion techniques, it is necessary to have a clear vision that you can communicate to them in order to get the best shot possible. Experienced operators will be able to work with you to get the best shot possible; their opinion is invaluable and should not be overlooked. For this stage, using stand-ins is helpful, and you can take several shots of the scene to use with storyboard changes or to give you a better idea of what to expect with the movement in the scene.
Storyboarding and Diagrams
When you are storyboarding, you may want to diagram the camera movement. This will give your crew a better idea of what you are anticipating and help you determine whether the gear you have will work and how the motion fits with the narrative. You can also ideally discover whether any potential camera moves are impossible to accomplish and need to be revised. You can use simple diagrams to show the movement, or you can take some sample shots to use along with the storyboard. You should plan out each cut and shot with the movement shown clearly.
Rehearsals and Run-Throughs
Rehearsals are the best-case scenario for many technical aspects of the film, including planned camera motion. However, at the very least, you will need to do several run-throughs prior to actually shooting to make sure that the blocking, camera motion, and lenses are working together well. It is also important for the actors to know where to move and whether they have any very specific motions to deliver and, if so, the timing of the movement.
Gear for Designing and Controlling Movement
The top question on most moviemakers’ minds is what do I need to get the shot? In some cases, you can achieve the same movement with different types of equipment. If you know what each piece of support gear is best used for, it will help you decide what gear you need on set without having to rent or buy extra equipment.
Tripods are used to stabilize the camera and keep any camera movement out of the shot. But you can combine a tripod with a head to create motion to make the shot. Many people think of tripods as a single unit consisting of the tripod legs and the tripod head. In reality, you need to think of them as separate pieces of equipment that can be mixed or matched with other pieces of support equipment (Figure 5-14).
Figure 5-14: Tripod and head separated
Often with DSLR cameras the temptation is to go to the set with the smallest, lightest, and least expensive tripod available. Don’t let the light weight of the camera fool you into thinking that having the smooth control of a fluid head and steady tripod isn’t crucial. The tripod will need to handle the weight of a large lens. And when you are shooting video, you are shooting movement, so the tripod head must be designed for movement, not stills. In video, it is also important that the tripod be perfectly balanced so that the shot is not crooked. In a still image, a slight tilt is not usually problematic, but with a video image, this tilt may focus the viewer’s eye away from the action unless you designed the shot with a tilt in mind.
When possible, use a tripod and a head that are designed for cinematography. These tripods and heads are bigger, heavier, and bulkier than all of the tripods used for still work and video work. You may even feel a little odd putting such a small camera on top of a giant setup; however, the rewards are worth it. Gear that is designed for cinematography is designed to move. It is designed for smoothness, endurance, and consistency. This gear has been field-tested in crazy conditions and made to hold weight way past what a completely stacked DSLR can even come close to. In fact, one of the only problems you may have with cinema gear is that the camera doesn’t feel heavy enough. If you use a cinematography head, you will need a tripod that can handle the weight of the head and remain balanced. Make sure that your tripod has all of the tilt functionality that you may need (Figure 5-15). A cinematography tripod is a huge investment, but it will pay off.
Figure 5-15: Large tripod with head tilted
If, however, you are doing “run-and-gun” shooting, you will need to have smaller and more compact tripods. These smaller tripods and heads can function well for motion, especially if you look for gear designed for video work. If you already have tripods and heads for still photography or other work, these may function as excellent second-camera tripods for locked-down coverage shots. When you pick your tripod, make sure that even if you are using a lightweight camera, you test it with the full loaded weight of your camera, lens, and any accessories that are attached to your camera.
If you are using a lighter or less-stable tripod, you may be able to add a sandbag to an attachment or even to the legs to add some quick stability. Sandbags are always a good item to have on set. When traveling, you can get sandbags that empty and can be filled with any sort of heavy granular material on your location. You can also place the camera on sandbags for very slow, stable shots. This helps keep your gear protected and off the ground.
When setting up your tripod, always ensure that it is level and that if your tripod has spreaders they are being used. As you set up, check the horizon and make sure you are level and appropriately balanced (Figure 5-16). To expand the tripod, make it taller by extending the thickest leg segments first and the thinnest segments last. Check all of your gear, and get it set before mounting your camera. Double-check to make sure that the sliding base plate is secured and that the camera mounts securely. Remember, the sliding base plate may slip, but the camera won’t fall off if it is attached properly to the plate (Figure 5-17).
Figure 5-16: Check your bubble level, and make sure the air bubble is in the inner circle, confirming you are level. Check the drag setting on your pan to make sure it isn’t too loose or too tight for the shot you are trying to get.
Figure 5-17: Some ball-head tripods have a post below the head that you need to straighten to make sure you get the head level. In some extreme cases, like on a steep incline, you may need to adjust the post to help level your head.
Always listen for the click to make sure that the plate and camera have locked into place. As an extra precaution, after you mount the camera, move through the entire range of motion and check for any looseness. This is important because inevitably you will be moving the tripod with the camera attached, and the last thing you need is for something to fall off.
After you put your camera on the tripod, make any adjustments to the head that are necessary for the camera to be neutrally balanced. This means that the camera doesn’t tilt either forward or backward but stays properly and centrally positioned. You can use the sliding plate to reposition the camera to achieve the perfect balance without changing any of your camera setup. These adjustments will have to be tweaked every time there is a lens change or tripod position change. A properly balanced head (Figure 5-18) will stay level when you let go of it even with the camera and lens attached. If you need to walk away, lock it into place. When you are operating the camera, you will be able to get more fluid shots with less effort with a properly balanced head.
Figure 5-18: Tripod properly balanced with a camera and lens attached
Using a Fluid Head vs. a Nonfluid Head
A simple way of differentiating between a fluid head and a nonfluid head is that a fluid head is designed for creating movement with the head. A nonfluid head is designed to hold a camera in one position without movement. The tripod head is a top-level concern on location because the smoothness of most of the motion depends on the tripod head. Filmmakers accustomed to film or video work are usually very competent on the control of fluid heads. They also likely have used heavy, professional tripods in the past simply because film and traditional video cameras are heavy and need movement to get the shot. However, a tripod head used for stills is likely not usable on location with a DSLR.
Part of the appeal of a fluid head is the ability to adjust the friction of the fluid head itself (Figure 5-19). You will often need to adjust the drag friction after you set up your camera and plan the shot. This setting allows you to control how much force is needed to move the head when shooting movement. A fluid head helps you control the smoothness speed of the motion through how much or how little friction is applied in the head itself.
Figure 5-19: There is a knob to control the tension of the fluid head to help control the speed and motion of the head.
Monopods are unique to DSLR moviemaking. Most other moviemaking cameras are simply too heavy or not built to be used with a monopod. However, because DSLRs are built with a still body, they can be used with a monopod with great success. Monopods can help you get a better shot if you are in a situation where a tripod isn’t practical. Using a monopod as an extra support for your camera will keep the shot much steadier than handholding, especially if you are using a heavy lens. They are also useful if you are using multiple cameras in a crowded real location and can’t use a tripod, large rig, or elaborate setup. Take advantage of the size and still camera look of a DSLR (Figure 5-20) and use a monopod for shots in real locations.
Figure 5-20: Monopod with camera attached
When using a monopod, you should use one with a fluid head attached so you can increase your movement possibilities and maintain flexibility to shoot in almost all circumstances.
Tripod Head Plates
Interchangeable plates and quick-release plates are key to moving the camera on and off various gear setups quickly and securely. You should find an interchangeable plate you like and buy one for each of your support systems so you can move your camera from rig to rig quickly and easily.
Accessories for Camera Angle
You can get tripod legs that allow for extremely low and higher than normal heights. You can also attach different heads to tripod legs of various heights to get the shot you need. Some dolly systems are essentially vehicles attached to tripod legs and moved. In these cases, tripod legs adjusted to various heights can increase your options (Figure 5-21). Tripods can also be used in the backseat of a car and other areas, and these tripod options can prove useful in getting the occasional hard-to-manage but necessary shot.
You can achieve angles in typical ways with your tripod and a standard head. High-angle, low-angle, eye-level, and bird’s-eye views are all easy to achieve. If you want an angled shot and then will need to repeat it, you can make marks on your head and camera that you can line up when you need to come back to this shot. Often, the head itself will have hash marks that are easy visual reminders.
Usually, Dutch or canted angled shots are handheld in the DSLR world. If you are doing a project with many funky angles, you may want to look into a specialized head. There are angled heads that can be attached to your tripod or legs, and these heads give accurate, repeatable angles throughout the entire shot or scene.
Figure 5-21: A short or mini-tripod to capture a low camera angle
Stabilizing Your Camera Motion
Since the dawn of movies, stabilization equipment has been used on most sets around the world. As cameras became lighter and sound techniques were mastered, the camera became more or less free to move in any direction; it can now be attached to almost anything. This freedom has ushered in a popular visual style in recent history where a camera is simply handheld and the subtle shake and drift of the camera add to the visual storytelling. If you have worked with a video or film camera before and are used to handholding your camera, you may not always get the same results with a DSLR camera without some sort of stabilization rig.
You probably have heard that DSLR cameras are susceptible to what is called rolling shutter or the Jell-O effect. This effect is unique to any camera with a CMOS (which stands for complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) sensor and is particularly a problem in DSLR cameras. We will address these issues more in Chapter 9, “Troubleshooting.”
You need to take seriously how you are going to stabilize your camera for your shoot. Let’s first look at why the size and shape of the camera are not ideal for shooting and handling.
The average motion picture camera ranges from 20 to 30 pounds, and the typical ENG (electronic news gathering) camera, such as RED or Arri Alexa, runs between 12 and 20 pounds. In comparison, most DSLR cameras range from 1 to about 5 pounds. For instance, a Canon 5D Mark III with a standard Canon battery, a telephoto lens, and a small monitor could reach 6 to 7 pounds.
Because these cameras are so light, they are very easy to move when they are being handheld. In fact, DSLR cameras are so light that a simple breeze or the slight shake from a tired arm will cause the camera to move from side to side and up and down. As an analogy, think of a ship on the ocean. The calmer the sea, the steadier the ship. However, even on the calmest sea there is some motion acting upon the ship. The larger and heavier the ship, the less the ship moves or the movement is felt by the passengers. The smaller the ship, the more the ship moves, and the more the passengers feel the movement of the ship.
Since DSLR cameras have CMOS sensors, they are more susceptible to jittery and shaky images than more traditional CCD (charge-coupled device) video or film cameras. The sensors are also prone to the Jell-O effect or distortion. The reason that CMOS sensors are prone to the skewing and distortion is most of these sensors are not global, which means they record line by line starting at the top of the sensor and going to the bottom. The faster the camera’s internal processors, the more they cut down the amount of skew and/or distortion, but until camera makers move to all global CMOS sensors, this will remain an issue.
DSLR cameras were designed with the body of a still camera that was meant to be handheld or mounted on a tripod. This kind of still camera is ideally made for shooting close to the body or on a tripod while the photographer looks through the viewfinder for composition and technical controls prior to taking the picture. This camera body is not inherently designed for motion. There is no easy way to stabilize and hold the camera while executing smooth shots with motion. For a motion shot, the camera is usually held a bit from the body to allow for swing and shift but stabilized by various points of contact with the body. This camera comes with a strap that can be a point of contact, and the viewfinder often doesn’t even work as a point of contact unless you are using an added-on viewfinder. This means that if you are going to be using motion, you must decide how to best move the camera to achieve that motion, and usually that decision involves some quantity of gear, even for a handheld shot.
An additional problem with the design is that the cameras are not comfortable to handhold for long periods or even to get a continuous shot without some fatigue. Getting a still involves a fairly limited amount of time frozen in one body position. Support rigs cut down on muscle fatigue by putting the camera in a position where the arms and body are not held at odd angles for the sake of the motion.
Increasingly complex and interesting motion can occur when a variety of stabilization equipment is used. In general, never operate the camera without some sort of stabilization gear, or your project will suffer the dreaded “shaky cam” effect (unless that’s what you’re after). Even with handholding, stabilization tools will improve the look and grace of the handheld image. These systems are designed to give the operator extensive control over what type of movement is possible. Some systems allow for any camera movement that the body can handle. The operator wholly dictates the speed and angle. The stabilization gear helps hold the camera for the operator and keeps the camera closer to the body’s center of gravity to allow steadier, more controlled motion.
The goal is for the operator to decide what the movement will be, not fight unwanted movement. These rigs free up the motion and give an immense range of motion possibilities. With stabilization rigs, the entire special perspective and area where movement is possible is expanded. However, if you are taking multiple shots, the accuracy of repeating a motion is also up to the skill of the operator, so if you need a highly exact repetition with a shot, consider how the camera support rig will influence the gear decision.
Many types of equipment allow for a monitor to be attached to the rig. The monitor helps the operator focus and compose the shot. Because the design of DSLR cameras does not allow for easy monitoring while shooting, having a monitor that is designed to be in the operator’s field of view while operating the camera is a huge benefit.
Gear for Motion
Handheld, Steadicams, dollies, jib arms, and many more creative stabilization setups have been used on a variety of both film and video cameras. These afford the freedom of handheld motion with the support of other, more grounded setups. Such systems are highly dependent on the operator’s skill. This makes testing and hiring a crew an important component for using rigs for motion. Test in pre-production as many stabilization systems you can, and pick the ones that provide the best images for your project.
Stabilizing rigs are mounted to the operator’s body and are systems for the operator to handhold more effectively. A camera that is attached to the rig will have smoother footage that feels much like it is gliding through the space and distance. These systems make complex moves possible in tight situations in any location you can imagine. If you need to track your actor through a rugged landscape, track them up or down stairs, or make intricate forward/backward and boom moves to keep your actor in focus, these rigs can do it.
These rigs are attached directly to the body of the camera operator. They put the camera balance and weight onto the operator and make the body’s center of gravity the focus for movement. Basically, the rig can follow any move you need as long as the operator is capable of performing the move.
The most common and widely used operator-based stabilizer used for moviemaking is the Steadicam. There are other similar rigs from other companies, and the theory of their use is similar, but the Steadicam is amazingly effective. If you are serious about Steadicam work, it pays to take a course and learn the process from the people in the industry who have used it since its invention.
Steadicams and related stabilization rigs often have a little more sway and floating in the frame than a dolly and track. If you have a scene that must hold steady in one place, a Steadicam shot will still have minimal sway and movement (Figure 5-22). If the shot has a lot of stuff going on in it, the sway may not be as noticeable, or the sway may even add aesthetically to the shot.
Figure 5-22: A camera on a Steadicam
Shoulder-mounted rigs usually have the goal of getting the camera tighter and closer to your body either physically or with multiple points of contact. They also balance the camera and are designed to allow the operator to pick the camera location in relation to the body. Using a shoulder-mounted rig keeps the camera balanced and stable.
An additional advantage is that this system also helps the operator have a place to keep a monitor or look through a viewfinder. The operator can move in any direction or angle to get the shot. These rigs improve the steadiness of the camera and thereby improve the camera motion. It is also important to be able to change the focus or adjust the lens if necessary, and a rig may allow the operator a free hand in order to make adjustments that must happen while shooting. Often DSLR shooters are also responsible for pulling focus while shooting. This is impossible to do if both hands are being used in holding the camera during the actual shooting.
Here are the steps for setting up a shoulder-mounted rig. Each manufacturer will have different parts or a different way to assemble them, but this will give you a good idea of what you will have to go through. For this example, we are assembling a DSLR Field Cinema Deluxe Bundle V2rig from Redrock Micro.
1. Make sure you have all the pieces for the mount you want to assemble.
2. Loosen the blue knob on the side of the padded shoulder rest, and slide both of the long poles into the holes. Place them so they are overhanging the back of the shoulder rest a little to allow room for the counterbalance weights you will install later.
3. Attach the handle to the front of the two long poles. Make sure to tighten the blue knob on the bottom to secure the handles to the rig.
4. Slide the back plate onto the back of the rig. On this plate, we have an additional Anton/Bauer mount with a D-Tap adapter.
5. If you need to use counterbalance weights, you need to add them before setting up the rest of the rig. You will need the plate, the two weights, the screws, and an Allen wrench.
Attach the first weight to the plate and use the center groove to line up and place the screws into the plate. If you are not using a plate for a larger battery, you can do this on the side of the plate where it works best. If you are using a plate for a larger battery, then test and see whether your battery plate can work on either side or whether you are limited to the inside or outside of the plate. Then attach your weights accordingly.
6. Attach the second weight by using the outer upper or lower holes on the second weight. Screw in the remaining screws, and you are good to go. Just note that the screws will fit only into certain holes on the weights and the plates, so pay attention and make sure everything lines up.
7. Place the plate with the weights on the back of the rig and tighten the blue knob. Make sure it is tight enough so if you tilt upward, the weights won’t fall off.
8. Attach the camera mount to the front part of the two long rails in between the shoulder rest and the front handles. You’ll need to adjust the exact placement based on the length of the lens you are using and the extras you have attached to the camera, such as a matte box.
9. Screw the camera onto the camera mount and secure the camera. If you want, you can do this step before you place the mount on the rails.
10.Attach the follow-focus unit. You need to loosen a screw on the side to attach the follow-focus unit onto the rails. Additionally, you must be aware that you need to loosen the lower screw and allow the follow-focus knob to extend as wide as it can. If you forget to do this, you may not be able to attach the follow-focus unit to the rails because the focus knob and gears will run into the lens.
11.If you have the follow-focus unit all the way open, you can slide it into place and visually line up the follow-focus gear to the gear on your lens.
12.Once the gears are lined up, you can slide the follow-focus unit closed so the gears slide into place. Don’t force the gears into place, but make sure they are firmly in contact so you don’t have any slipping when pulling focus. Tighten the screw on the side of the follow-focus unit as well as the one on the bottom so the gears don’t slide apart.
At this point, your rig is mostly done. Here are some further things to consider when you set it up:
· If you are using a separate audio-recording device such as the H4n Zoom, you can attach it to the handlebars with the supplied screw mount.
· In some cases, you might want the follow-focus gear to be on the opposite side of the camera (for example, to allow for an audio recorder or external viewfinder). This rig will allow you to just mount the follow focus the opposite way on the rails, and you can have an assistant help you on the opposite side of the camera.
· For this example, we have been showing lenses that have been permanently geared. If you are using still lenses without gearing, then you will need to attach a gear to your lenses.
You can get gears for different diameters of lenses. Slide on the one that fits your lens the best and tighten the screw to secure the gear into place.
Make sure the screw mount area of the gear is placed so it doesn’t hit your follow-focus gears. Put the camera on the rails and line up your follow-focus unit, and you are ready to shoot.
Many of the shoulder rigs are reconfigurable and can be made into handheld rigs or pistol-grip rigs. Several of the shoulder-mounted rigs are essentially handheld rigs that have a shoulder mount added. These rigs allow for more flexibility with camera position.
Handheld rigs are not directly mounted onto the body and are not designed as a shoulder-supported rig but are still a camera support rig. These are usually simple systems that give extra balance and stability to the camera. They also can dampen any camera motion and are a quick way to increase the value of your handheld footage.
DSLR support rigs often are designed so that you can build a cage to support the camera. The cage concept is simple. Essentially various rods and plate-like components are put together to form a support system for the camera body and lens. This cage can often be used by various support systems or have accessories added easily. The cage module makes it easier to mount and balance the camera with the rest of the support system.
Figure 5-23: Redrock Micro’s manCam handheld rig
A handheld rig is one of the best purchases for any DSLR operator. It is usually very easy to assemble and disassemble, it can fit into small cases for transport, and the learning curve is relatively simple. These rigs are also great to have on hand for an impromptu handheld shot or even to use with a second camera (Figure 5-23). They still have all of the advantages of the other, more complex support rigs. Granted, you are not going to be able to shoot as long or get as many beautiful complex moves with a simple handheld rig when compared to a professional Steadicam operator. However, the jump up in quality of footage and motion control is immense. Often, having more designed motion in your shooting will improve the project.
The size and complexity of the rig are not always indicative of its handling and effectiveness. Some handheld rigs are essentially just a rod and pistol grip that the camera is mounted to. Even very simple rigs can be helpful to increase points of contact, decrease shaking, and reduce fatigue.
Using a Loupe with a Handheld Rig
Using a loupe or Zacuto Z-Finder can help stabilize the camera and the shot. These items provide another area where the body supports the camera rig or camera. When using the adjustable eyepiece, make sure that you don’t leave it pointing to the sun, or the heat magnification can cause damage to the LCD screen.
DSLR support rigs often use rods as another build component. The rods are then connected to form various configurations to support the camera, provide stability, and raise up the camera, and they often can have accessories added. The rod system is handy because once you configure the basic settings, you can often move it from various rigs or systems and not have to remake the entire thing. Although these kits may look like a complex building set, they shouldn’t take too long to figure out. Frankly, if you buy a kit and the rods feel flimsy or it is impossible to put them together tightly, you probably need a different kit. Once you have a basic support plate or rod system, you may even be able to use it to attach the camera to articulating arms, shoulder rigs, or more complex gear.
A dolly is usually one of the easier things to spot on the set; it’s the item that looks like you can drive the camera around on it. A dolly is a wheeled platform that the camera can be mounted on and then moved on tracks; occasionally you might use a doorway dolly without tracks. The dolly usually also supports the camera operator and any accessories that may be necessary. Often a DSLR will be mounted to a head and tripod, and then the entire assembly will be placed on the dolly.
Cheaper and do-it-yourself dolly options are available. A quick Internet search will yield plans made with hardware store parts and skateboard versions that run on PVC pipe. Small, easy-to-use CamTram versions and dollies that attach to tripods are simple options that DSLR users can take advantage of because of the lightweight camera and simple setup.
Sliders are devices that you attach a camera to and move it from side to side (Figure 5-24). They sound much more complicated than they are. Essentially they are small versions of a dolly. They have a track and either a platform or a place to attach a tripod head that slides along the track. You can usually move the camera by placing your hand on the mount and pushing it or by using a wheeled control on one of the ends.
These types of sliders come in several sizes and with various features, but the main components are identical. They can also be used with timed remote systems for controlled movements down the pole and with the camera head. These are uniquely suited to DSLRcameras because most other cameras are too bulky or heavy to use. By using a slider or a pocket dolly, the DSLR shooter can get shots that look like big-production moves.
Figure 5-24: Glidetrack with a Manfrotto 3130 head attached
Jib Arms, Cranes, Lifts, and Other Aerial Rigs
Since the beginning of movies, directors and camera operators have been looking for ways to get the camera up higher or down lower and get it to swing in wider arcs while keeping it under control. Jib arms are long pole-like devices with the camera mounted to the longer end that has the most movement (Figure 5-25). The operator and controls are positioned at the other end. Jib arms are usually operated by hand, but they can be used in conjunction with remote camera head-and-focus systems. These additions are beneficial because the operator is obviously not able to look through the viewfinder while operating it. Complex systems for pans and tilts can make movement combinations, with the help of a jib arm, impressive. The arm can boom or go up and down by using counterbalance and a control system at the bottom end. The jib arm is not confined to simple up and down movement but can extend beyond the vertical plane into wide arcs and swinging motions.
Watch the height. You do not want to hit ceilings or any low-hanging lines with a jib arm.
Figure 5-25: Kessler Crane 12-foot jib arm/crane
The term crane is often used interchangeably with a jib arm, but usually when a crane is used, it is a higher and larger pole system that is less hand operated. Cranes often have remote-operated heads that control complex camera movements as the crane moves the camera through the scene. There are also lifts and other rigs that can move the camera up even higher or move the camera and a camera operator through the scene, giving full control of the camera to a hands-on operator. At these levels, a professional team of operators is necessary.
These devices are like robot arm extenders. The camera is mounted to the end of a system that is fashioned with rods and joints to move the camera in ways that resemble a huge double-jointed robotic arm. They are usually mounted to a camera support rig to give extra length or height to the camera reach and can be swung and moved to provide interesting movement.
Unique Movement and Support
Figure 5-26: Helmet camera setup
An awesome aspect of DSLR cameras is that you can mount them to almost anything or rig them to things that previously took entire rigging teams to handle. DSLR cameras can be rigged to almost anything that moves, including the traditional planes, cars, and helicopters. But now you can rig several at one time or even rig them to smaller moving objects such as remote-controlled planes or balloons. Imagine the creative movement possible with simple solutions such as helmet-mounted cameras—throwing your camera, mounting your camera to a bar and swinging it, or finding tight spots to rig an extra camera while you run through the scene (Figure 5-26).
You may not have the money or equipment to be able to get the exact same shots that large productions can get all of the time. So use your creativity and think about what unique shots you can achieve with the advantage of the light weight and mobility of the DSLR (Figure 5-27).
Figure 5-27: You can attach the camera to the end of a pole and get a point-of-view shot not previously possible to achieve.
Follow Focus and Remote Heads
When rigging or setting up in places where you can’t actually reach the camera to turn it on, make sure you plan your shot’s timing. If your camera has a limited shot time, you will need to factor that in when setting it up. A remote start option can be helpful. Also, if you can’t adjust the camera physically, you may find that remote heads provide the necessary movement while the camera is being used to shoot away from operator reach.
Motion, the Edit, and Cutting
Often if you have a shot with motion, it will not be able to be cut or edited without planning. Some shots can’t be cut midway through the motion and then edited in a coherent fashion with another take that uses a completely different kind of motion. Because of this, when you have a shot with motion planned, it is doubly important to plan the shot and think through the edit. This also means that on set you need to know what shots must be perfect for the entire duration because you will need to use the complete shot for the final piece. If you are going to edit or cut the shot, plan various compositions or changes that can be made in the longer motion shots to allow for natural edit or cutting points. At these points in the shot, make sure that there is a clear composition that can be duplicated in the coverage shots and that the camera angles and position can be logically changed or continued.
Different kinds of motion can be intercut when they are the perspective of multiple characters. If you are moving from different viewpoints in the scene, you can intercut different types of motion both in style and in speed as long as the motion stays consistent to the perspective that you are showing at the time.
When doing motion shots, plan for the places where you are going to cut into the shot with another perspective or shot. As you plan a motion sequence, carefully plan for the pauses or locked-off shots for coverage if you are planning on getting coverage. If the feeling of motion is supposed to continue for the entire shot and be picked up after the cut, make sure that the coverage shots incorporate the same feel and match the longer motion shots.
For example, imagine you are doing a long-running sequence where the main character is going to be dynamically moving through the scene with a Steadicam shot following; then he is going to run up the stairs where there will be a close-up of his face turning around, and then he is going to continue running. When you go in for the close-up of his face, keep in mind that the audience has just seen him with the sway and movement of the Steadicam; if the shot at the top of the stairs will be done with a locked-off camera on a tripod, decide how to keep the same feel and motion with the locked-off shot. This may mean that the locked-off shot will include some panning or slight push-in, or the change may signal a natural change that occurs for the story, so consider how to transition the change.
Frequently motion will be used in shots where cuts and editing are being limited. Long, continuous shots are regularly made possible by motion planning, and this is where the art of moviemaking can really shine. These shots usually must be highly orchestrated by all members of the crew and will take some planning and likely several rehearsals and potentially retakes to get everything perfect. The simplest version of movement in a long shot is just to pan the entire scene moving back and forth as the action takes place or to get dialogue and reactions.
Intricate Steadicam work can often lead to wonderful moving shots for action sequences. There are also motion shots designed to look like there hasn’t been a cut, even though technically one shot would not have been possible; look for examples of these shots when a crane or jib arm is used. When the action gets close to the ground, a Steadicam operator keeps the shot moving with the shots matched visually and usually cut on a solid, inanimate object so that the frames can be matched perfectly in post editing. Shots with a deliberate cut that is designed to look continuous involve as much planning as completely continuous shots.