Mistakes Still Photographers Make When Shooting Video With a DSLR

  • They don’t understand the importance of audio and don’t use external microphones. Audio is everything in video.
  • They think in “moments in time” and start shooting video too late or stop shooting too soon. You need to let the camera linger longer.
  • They don’t shoot sequences with a beginning, middle and end.
  • They don’t think in “storyboard mode” – You should ask yourself  “How will I get into and out of a shot and what’s next in the story?”
  • They don’t shoot enough B-roll with variations in angles and focal lengths – very important in the editing process.
  • They move the camera instead of letting the motion take place in front of the camera.
  • They turn the camera vertically. There aren’t too many vertical TV sets and monitors.
  • They don’t use a tripod forgetting that video is “time in motion”.  It’s one thing to hold a camera steady for 1/60th of a second and quite another to hold the shot steady for 10 seconds.
  • They don’t consider the frame rate and how that will affect workflow and editing.
  • Aren’t careful keeping their sensors clean from dust.  Retouching video is a lot more involved than spotting still images.
  • They “throw” some video clips in with the still photography job, not putting an added value on them and thus setting a bad precedent with clients.
  • They don’t consider the output and the type of file to be delivered.  There are dozens of formats and codecs in video.  Choose according to your target audience and viewing platform or device.

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More Convergence – DSLR’s + Video = VSLR

It seems like this has been the year of the video capable DSLR or VSLR. Not only are manufacturers continuing to roll out new models but third party companies have made a big business out of selling attachments or add-ons for these cameras.

Dabblers as well as professional still photographers have gotten into video because the entry level has become easier and more affordable with the advent of these cameras. While traditional news crews haven’t embraced the new hybrid cameras yet, filmmakers have created a cult around them. I must confess that although technically I have had my hands on these cameras, I have not done any test runs using them in the field.  But it is on my list of things to do.

What’s Out There Now

The Nikon D90 shooting 720p was the first DSLR camera to shoot video in HD.  Canon followed with its impressive 5D Mark II which raised the bar by shooting full frame 1080p with external mic input and recently rolled theyout the Canon 7D with variable frame rates for under $2000!

The most attractive features of these hybrid cameras besides the price, is the ability to change lenses, have controllable depth of field and large sensors that work phenomenally in low light situations. However there are limitations that traditional video cameras that come at a higher price don’t have.  Camera stability is one problem due to how the shooter needs to hold the camera because they are designed to shoot in video mode with the mirror up. Since the camera operator must see and focus using the LCD monitor instead of steadying their eye up against the viewfinder, it’s harder to stabilize the camera when hand holding it. Audio capture is very basic as well and must be supplemented in some way.

Third Party Options

Because of these limitations, third party manufacturers have gotten in the game by designing add-ons. Zacuto


has come up with a few interesting items.  One item is the Z-Finder DSLR Viewfinder, which is a device that fits over a 3” LCD and provides magnification for better focusing. It runs around $400.  Hoodman lpp3.0(front)provides a lower cost version called the Hoodloupe without the same optics but at a quarter of the cost.

An added benefit to using these viewfinders is that it provides another contact point with the shooter’s body and therefore provides more stability.  There are also camera support systems available that help remedy the need for better stability in “run and gun”

Rapid Fire

situations where the shooter can’t use a tripod.  Zacuto makes two stabilization devices, the DSLR Rapid Fire and the Quick Draw each designed with a different type of shooting situation in mind. In addition a Cavision has come up with a shoulder mount device the  RS5DM2SET-S.

Package for 5DII-8
Cavision shoulder mount

As far as audio is concerned, if you want to move beyond a supplemental external mic that’s plugged into the camera and use a more professional audio solution you’ll need balanced XLR inputs which will also enable you to use multiple external mics off the camera. Beachtek makes the DXA-5D for around $375 and juiceLink has come up with the juicedLink CX231 for about $300.

Samson H4n

Or you can capture your audio with a stand-alone recorder like the Samson Zoom H4n, also around $300 and sync it later in post.

Regardless of how you ultimately “trick out” your VSLR (video single lens reflex)  you can be sure that there will continually be newer models and solutions as technology keeps moving forward.   Pro Video Coalition puts out a great newsletter online keeping us abreast of the latest tools.  Check out their DSLR Shootout where they test these hybrids and adaptors. Take Dirck Halstead’s Platypus Workshop now incorporating the new DSLR’s in the program. And become a Facebook fan of From Still to Motion for ongoing information and updates.  It’s an exciting time with loads of possibilities.

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Technology News – New Video Cameras Announced

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I’m not one to get overly infatuated with the “tools of the trade” – but this week a few new cameras and upgrades were announced.

Sony announced two new cameras the PMW-EX1R – a revision of the EX-1 and the PMW-350 with a 2/3” chip. Redesigned viewfinders on both cameras make them attractive upgrades but there are many other added features as well.

Canon announced that it is currently developing a firmware for their hybrid camera – the EOS 5D Mark II enabling the camera to record at 24fps, obviously responding from user feedback.

Canon also announced their latest still camera (that also shoots video) the EOS 1D Mark IV.  The sensor however, is a non full frame but the autofocus system has been totally revamped.

All for now as I am headed into New York for Photo Plus Expo, where I’m sure to see more new toys.  More later.

Converging Technologies and Photo Plus Expo 2009

I’ve been attending the Photo Expo for as long as I can remember, back when it used to be at the old Convention Center at Columbus Circle.  It changed over the years, growing in size, moving to Javits and now shrinking, taking up ½ the floor space it used to.  Times SquareThat could be yet another sign of the economy, or how the photographic industry has changed over the years – or both.

This year is the first year there will be a Video Pavilion, where manufacturers can showcase their products and attendees can get a glimpse of how the converging industries of photography and video continue to change the paradigm of how we deliver our visual message.

Another profound change on the floor this year is the absence of the Adobe booth.  I can’t remember a time when Adobe has not been an exhibitor at Photo Expo.  Has the economy played a part in that – or is it another sign of changing times in the photography business?

It will be interesting this year to observe who is exhibiting and what the new “cool” tools are?  Like last year when Canon displayed their first hybrid camera the 5D – a still camera that also shoots video – their booth, along with Nikon will be the “main attraction”. Video continues to be the hot topic.

Gone are the manufacturers of lab equipment, along with the last vestiges of film. Gone are Apple and Adobe – maybe next year?  Or will next year look more like NAB”s (National Association of Broadcasters) show in Las Vegas as we continue to move from ink and print to electronic delivery?

Are You a DP or a Hybrid? – What’s the Difference?

I’m searching for “the word” the “title” of what I am these days.  I’m a photographer.  I also shoot video but I hate the word “videographer” because it sounds a bit cheap to me or at least dated. I generally think to myself that I’m a “visionographer” but I tend to “title” myself as a “media producer”. With all the talk recently about getting into video, I feel the need to make a distinction between being a shooter or a DP as opposed to a producer.

There is nothing new about still photographers moving forward in their careers and segwaying into commercial motion work.  Traditionally they take on the role of the DP (Director of Photography).  Many times they don’t man the camera but direct the shooter instead.  Generally speaking they work in large crews and with agencies.  The biggest distinction is that most times it’s a “work for hire” situation because the production company owns the finished product.

With the explosion of video and in particular web video, come new buyers for this medium.  Buyers from the corporate world as well as institutions and even ad agencies that may have been historically just “print”.  With the advancement of technology and being able to deliver a high end product because of it – leaner and meaner small production companies have come along.  When you have a shooter using the RED and able to deliver not only the motion part of the job but able to pull stills from the shoot, once again still photographers feel threatened.

When I got started in video, I made a conscious decision to take on the producer’s role.  I could choose to shoot or edit or I could delegate these roles to outside contractors.  I could also form partnerships that were fluid as the needs may be.  But more importantly, I maintained ownership of the final product – which was what I was used to coming from my still photographer background.

Still photographers are essentially producers anyway so it’s not such a mental leap.  So when your client comes to you and asks you if you shoot video (and you don’t) think before you answer that with a NO answer.  It may be better to form some partnerships with people who do and not only keep the money in house – but not send your client off to someone who does.

Do’s and Don’ts for Hybrid Cameras

Many still photographers get started in video with a “hybrid” camera.  Canon just came out with the EOS 7D to add to their already popular EOS 5D Mark II.  Nikon has their – D90 and Panasonic has the Lumix DMC-GH1K.

There is plenty of information online particular to all of these cameras so  rather than repeat what others have written, I’ll list some tips on shooting with these cameras.

1. Don’t shoot verticals when in the video mode – the reason should be obvious but nevertheless because these cameras look and feel like still cameras (and are) turning the camera vertically is a common mistake photographers make.

2. Use an external mic if audio is important and it usually is.

3. Use a tripod – hand holding video is far different than hand holding a still camera where just the “moment” has to be sharp.

4. Don’t try to be sneaky in venues that prohibit video by pretending to shoot just stills.  It’s just not ethical.

5.  Remember when shooting video it’s a motion medium – so seek out subjects with motion.

6. Make sure your sensor and lenses are always spotless – while you can retouch video it’s quite labor intensive or can be.

7.  Editing files from some of these cameras can be slow and clunky in the edit room, especially when trying to blend with other video shot at a different frame rate like 24p.  If you’re shooting with the 5D which shoots in 30p you may want to convert your files to the standard Apple Pro Res at 24p to make everything compatible first.

8. If you’ve been hired to shoot stills for a client and they ask you to “just” shoot some video footage for them from the same camera – don’t just throw that content in for free.  There’s added value there and you’ll short change yourself as well as set a bad precedent for your future video clips.

To be honest, I don’t own a “hybrid” and most of these tips have been collected by hearing complaints and advice from others.  So please add your own tips and cautions.

What Camera Should I Buy?

If I had a dollar for everytime someone asked me what camera they should buy – I could retire.  These days I get a lot of “what video camera should I buy?”  That question is almost impossible to answer without more information.  So I usually reply with my own onslaught of questions “What are you going to be shooting?”, “What editing software will you be using?” , “Are you concerned about getting “natural sound” or will you be using the “video” and not the “audio” from the camera?”.  And of course the big question “What’s your budget?”.

One thing that complicates making a choice in video cameras is that unlike still cameras – video cameras shoot different types of files – mpeg2, native quicktime, HDV, AVCHD.  In addition some shoot to tape, some shoot to cards and some shoot to discs.  Then of course there’s the basic consideration of SD or HD.  And not all HD files are alike.  Sounds confusing and overwhelming doesn’t it?  And it can be so my advice is always to work backwards.

Start by identifying the type of shoots you’ll be doing – corporate interviews or beautiful imagery intended to be shown to a music track.  Where will it be shown?  Broadcast? Web? DVD’s?  And how will you edit it? What platform? What editing software? To help guide you with selecting the right camera for the editing software you have or intend to purchase I have come across some great links to compatablity charts. Adobe Premiere and Final Cut This is a great place to start to see if that reasonably priced prosumer camera that outputs AVCHD files will work with the prosumer version of the editing program you have or will you have to purchase the full pro program.  I have seen lots of posts on listservs with people who need help editing files from the camera they just bought and loosing a lot of time in the process, not to mention the frustration they put themselves through.

There’s all kinds of cool cameras coming on the market everyday and lots of people jumping on the bandwagon as seen in the success of the RED and the hybrid Canon 5D II. http://tiny.cc/KmAOK There’s a lot of great things about both these cameras but before you plunk down the money – ask yourself if it’s the right tool for you.  Unless money is no object, you’ll want to make sure that your investment in a camera will serve your purpose.  There’s a tool for everything.  Here’s another interesting camera that recently debuted.  If you’re an action adventure shooter – it could be the camera for you.  http://tiny.cc/3owdX

My advice is to make a pros and cons list before you even look at cameras.  That way you won’t be overwhelmed by the tools – but will choose the tool that is the right tool and the “means to your end”.

Utilizing the Tools – Convergence of Video and Photography

Every once in awhile I see a blog or a video that really strikes a chord. Today I saw a video that caught my attention for all the right reasons. It was a video that was produced by a photographer Alexx Henry demonstrating how he used technology in a new way to create a One Sheet, commonly referred to as a movie poster.

He had an idea to make the typically static movie poster, come to life with motion. His ultimate goal was to shoot the movie poster and have it appear like a still photograph in his customary style – but with the surprise of coming alive with motion. He chose as his tool the amazing HD video camera, THE RED. But first he needed to do some testing and to sell the idea to his client. For that he used the hybrid camera, the Canon 5D Mark II. He also needed to use hot lights. Because he was shooting motion, he couldn’t use flash. He chose to use HMI lights to get the same look and feel of the lighting style he brings to his still photographs.

Watch the video – it will give you more insight into his project. I loved his last statement. “A great photographer once told me that if you deliver exactly what a client expects, you aren’t doing your job”. He not only delivered the “surprise” he was looking for, but then some.


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