Over the last three and half years I’ve been on a wonderful journey learning and perfecting my photography skills. I’ve provided and insight to my journey in Part 1 (link) and Part 2 (link). I love photographing people and so portraiture is obviously where I’ll be for years to come. Developing one’s skills isn’t cheap. For me I’ve always focused on the principle that if you buy cheap, you buy twice. So from a camera gear perspective, I’ve bought the right stuff at the right time when I needed it. Acquiring photographic skills isn’t about having a nice camera. It’s about having the skills to drive the camera. The training aspect is really important! If you want professional results, you need professional training. Simples… Virtually all my training has been with Damien Lovegrove as well as Chris Hanley. These are two very important people in the industry when it comes to photographing people.
About a year ago I purchased a Canon 5D mk II camera. When this camera came onto the market, it caused a flurry of excitement. As a stills camera, it has a Full Frame sensor (35mm x 24mm) and is a whopping 21 Mega Pixels. It works well in low light and it looks like a normal sized DSLR camera. As well as being a great still camera, Canon introduced HD Video recording too! The camera’s small form factor (compared to industry standard video cameras) and it’s large sensor size excited film makers throughout the entire industry. The cinematic look created by such a small device was a new affordable way to get great results. Film makers all over the world grappled to work around the limitations and make this new breed of hybrid camera work. The most prominent of these film makers was Vincent Laforet and he made a short film that rocked the entire industry titled Reverie (link). Shortly after… a new breed of film makers jumped on to the wave. The take up of the 5D mk II camera within the film industry surprised Canon. Apparently, Canon hadn’t expected the video feature to take a life of its own in the way that it did. Some even comment that Canon made the video functionality too good! One of the new breed of film makers that jumped on the wave very early was Philip Bloom. He left the broadcasting industry and started afresh using the new Canon hybrid camera. He is now one of the most prominent names in the industry, has a huge following and has companies like Kessler Crane make products to his specifications. Canon has done something amazing! It’s almost single handily created a new industry in the film making world with the 5D mk II camera. The camera is now regularly used in filming the popular TV show ‘House’ and it was also used on a few scenes in Iron Man 2.
So… as well as having a superb stills camera, in my hands I also have an amazing video camera too!! The temptation to introduce myself to the film making world is too great! In many ways I see it as an option to extend my creativity and offer potential clients a new kind of post-event experience. I love seeing the excitement of people’s faces when they see a wonderful image of themselves and loved ones. The prospect of seeing a bride and groom seeing a cinematic film of their wedding will be something to treasure forever. Another film maker that shows hows its done on DSLR cameras and is one of the new breed of film makers is ‘stillmotion’ from Canada. Here’s a recent wedding film they put together (link). And then you have film makers like Kevin Shahinian who make a wedding film that goes way beyond your typical experience (link)!
Over the last several months I’ve been doing a lot of research into the film world and started doing a lot of self-study to get myself onto the film ladder. In many ways, in a similar fashion to how I got to grips with photography. My first task was to try and get an overview of the industry, especially the DSLR film industry. This meant following film makers on twitter and generally chasing search terms in Google. Having appreciated the importance of photography training, I searched for a ‘Damien Lovegrove’ type person in the DSLR film world. I wanted that person to be based in the UK (because of access) and this turned out to be Philip Bloom. I got his training DVD specifically aimed at the Canon 5D mk II camera (link). This was a fantastic introduction. You get to hear about the essential gear and some of the technicalities of filming with a DSLR camera. Next up is the book, ‘From Still to Motion’ (link). This is simply brilliant! It is written by many authors and contains a DVD with 6 hours of additional footage. It also contains the RAW footage discussed in the book and even includes the Final Cut Pro project files. Then I purchased Drew Gardner’s 2-disk DVD set (link) which contains more detail on actually filming a short film. These 3 items have been essential for me and getting to grips with using a DLSR camera.
Working with DSLRs like the Canon 5D mk II require some essential gear to really get started. It is unrealistic to just use the camera ‘as is’ for video or film making. The camera’s form factor makes it difficult to hold steady and it does not have autofocus. The steady aspect can be easily achieved using a tripod which most photographers will already own. However, they are unlikely to own a video head which is a minimum requirement. Anyway, let’s take an overview of what’s required (as far as I can ascertain):
Tripod and Video Head
I’m using my current tripod which is probably not ideal for video use. However, it appears to be okay for the time being. I have purchased the Manfrotto 501HDV video head (link).
Hand holding the camera
As mentioned already, you cannot easily hand hold the camera because of its form factor. At a minimum you need something like a Zacuto Z-Finder Pro 3x (link). This is an eye piece that fits onto the back of the camera’s LCD display. It allows you to assess focus more easily and adds an additional point of contact to your body. At this point there are 3 points of contact with the camera. Your left & right hand and your eye. Ideally you need 4 points of contact, so something like a Zacuto Target Shooter (link) is required. With this setup, you can hand hold the camera steady enough. An optional component is a monopod which will help keep the camera still when you’ve stopped to take some film.
This is a whole new ball game for photographers. The built-in microphone is useless. You need something like a Rode Video Mic (link) which is a directional microphone. Then you might consider an external audio recorder such as the Zoom H4N (link). And additionally you might want body packs so you can get omni and uni-directional microphones close your subject. Something like the Sennheiser EW G3 radio microphone (link). This stillmotion video covers the ins and outs of audio (link).
There’s a bunch of advanced gear that you can use for different types of shots. You can use a GlideCam (link, example 1, example 2) for smooth filming whilst moving with a subject. There are cranes which allow dramatic movements of the camera. Companies such as Kessler Crane make a variety of cranes and jibs (link). You can use a dolly track to add a subtle moving quality to the film piece (link). And the list goes on…
Making films goes way beyond simply being able to film the scenes with a video capable camera. You also need story telling skills and a creative mind. To help me on my film making journey, I’ve just booked a place for an intense 3-day masterclass with 3 film makers in Majorca later this summer. I’ll be training with Philip Bloom (link), Nino Leitner (link) and Sebastian Wiegärtner (link). I’m very excited about this opportunity to walk amongst giants!
And to finish this post off, here’s an amazing short piece by Tom Lowe which will blow your mind (link)!