My Screw Ups Shooting Video With a DSLR

Today is my last day in Buenos Aires, the final leg on our 99-day journey, shooting our documentary Opening Our Eyes.  This was not the first documentary that I have shot in video, but it was the first where I used HDSLR’s.  Luckily, I was not new to shooting video, thinking in motion or ignorant about capturing good audio.  If I had been, I would have been overwhelmed.  But even with 11 years of video experience – I made my fair share of mistakes.  I got the goods and then some – but I did screw up at times.  I’m feeling generous and confident this morning so I’ll share some of my favorite screw up moments with you.

  • Out of sync – this is so easy to do when you are capturing audio with another device.  For interviews I had two external mics – one lav on the subject and a shotgun mic on a boom stand.  Both were plugged into my Samson H4N Zoom.  I learned the hard way that I should turn the digital recorder on and leave it on.  I had to start and stop the camera because you can only record for 12 minutes at a time.  When I stopped the digital recorder as well – I forgot to start it again a couple of times.  Since audio is not memory intensive – just leave the digital recorder on.  It eats up batteries but it’s better than not getting good audio.
  • Brought a compact tripod – big mistake.  I brought a tripod that would fit in a suitcase so that I would only have one checked piece of luggage. I struggled with it the entire time.  Not tall enough but most importantly wasn’t precise and/or fluid enough in its movements.
  • I got lazy and tried to handhold the camera. Even though I’ve been shooting video for over ten years, instinctively, coming from a still photography background, I tended to think of these cameras in that way and hand held it at times.  I got away with it when I was shooting with a wide lens – but it just didn’t cut it with a focal lens of more than 70mm.
  • I attempted to do some pans and follow focus.  Forget pans with these cameras because of the “jello effect” where vertical lines in the image go askew.  Pans aren’t really good form anyway in video and take up too much screen time.  I also tried to follow focus while filming, focusingon a person or object and then changing the focus to another point in the image. I was not successful because I wasn’t using the right lenses nor was I using a follow focus knob.  To do this properly, you need to have a follow focus ring affixed to the lens and you need to use prime lenses that are meant for cinematography.
  • I made assumptions.  I was a victim of myself – twice.  Once when I hadn’t read the manual for the Zoom digital recorder thoroughly, and changed the batteries without turning off the unit.  Some of my audio files got corrupted. I was lucky in that for those files I can use the camera audio because it will be dialed down and become background audio with a translated voiceover that will be recorded in post.  Had I read the manual – I would have seen the warning. The second time, I was literally in a boat on the Amazon River in Peru and had a major meltdown thinking that my 5D was broken because it wasn’t working in manual mode – which is essential in video.  Unbelievably, my Blackberry was getting a signal so I sent off an email to my partner alerting him to the problem and asked him to have Canon send a replacement to Buenos Aires – my next stop.  I would have to use my 7D in the jungles of Peru and I was happy to have the backup.  To make a long story short, my partner got on the phone with the Canon repair technician, and started relaying to me things to try via email and we finally discovered that the technician had changed some settings in the custom area – that I hadn’t thought to look in after getting the camera back.  I assumed that the technician had set the camera back to factory defaults and I had only reset the settings back to as how I had the camera set up.

So there you have it – my screw-ups revealed.  I’m sure there are more that I’m conveniently forgetting but perhaps I can spare you the pain by learning from my mistakes.  Anyone care to chime in with some of their favorite “off” moments?



5 Replies to “My Screw Ups Shooting Video With a DSLR”

  1. Thanks for bearing your soul here….. well you dirty laundry anyway. I feel your pain, but know that in the end, due to your skill set and your attention to detail (redundancy!), it will all be fine. Thanks for sharing your journey and now on to editing!

  2. I, too, thank you Gail. Funny how your “srewups” come across as “Yes, I’m on top of my game, and mistakes are always going to happen when we push ourselves.” As you say, you had more than a decade going in, and you mangaged to overcome your mistakes, so as ugly and frustrating as they may have been, they definitely come across as “learning moments”, and they definitely teach me a number of things.

  3. Thanks for sharing – it’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one who suffers the same set backs!

    I use pluraleyes to sync my audio with my video…my biggest problem comes when I record at 25 or 30fps instead of 24…the audio drifts out of sync which is massively annoying.

    I also went for a low budget tripod and am paying the price…often in deciding to do handheld instead which does doesn’t work with DSLRs.

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