I find one of the most satisfying aspects of being a DP is looking at the variables of an individual project and building an appropriate, and ultimately successful approach for camera and lighting. I try to begin the process by visualizing the look. But from there it’s about the practical considerations of how to create the look given the specific budget, location, crew and resources on hand, working style of the Director, speed of production, available prep time, post production requirements, broadcast specs…. you get the idea. In short, it’s incredibly rare that for any one job I can pull out a “hammer” just because I did on the previous one.
I’m going to try to illustrate this idea a bit more fully, but to keep the post to a reasonable length, I’ll focus on just two examples from the second week of February. Multiple locations from urban to rural, close-up sports-action, energetic camera work, and augmented available light would sum up the project I shot Monday through Thursday. Friday and Saturday was soft naturalistic studio lighting, living room set, multiple cameras, subtle camera moves, flattering testimonials (read real people). The largest lighting set-up on the first project was a night-for-night and included six lights, four of which were just 1k’s, while my subject covered 50-60 yards. In contrast, the studio lighting set-up utilized between 24 -28 instruments at any one time, while the subjects sat on a couch. I shot the sports-action project on cameras smaller than a bread-box. The studio shoot looked like I was using a couple of rocket launchers… puts the origins of old Fearless Camera Company bomb-loaders in perspective!
The camera package was rented through Hurlbut Visuals (HV). Their “ManCam” rig really suits the way I like to use these small form factor cameras – in the hands, physical, with just the minimal amount of components on the camera itself. I have to mention that HV’s Really Right Stuff Bracket is the best I’ve seen for both rigidity and allowing for quick changes to the rigs. I also like “pogo-cam” style rigs for HDSLRs. To both protect the camera while we shot from moving platforms, and to allow us to rig and underslung pogo, HV included a ViewFactor cage in our package.
For me, shoulder-rigs are the point at which “Rig Inflation” can quickly begin to push against the point of working with these small cameras… I’m just not a big fan. For longer lenses I used either improvised support, like jelly-rolls and sandbags or threw the camera up on sticks.
Wireless follow-focus on HDSLR projects has been part of my approach for awhile. I like using a backpack for batteries and receivers. That said, HV has the best backpack system I’ve encountered yet, and includes an HDMI to HD-SDI converter. Wireless follow-focus not only helps with the short focus throws found on most still lenses, but it also removes the additional physical inputs from the 1st AC that can effect framing while operating these low-mass cameras.
Here is one of two Panasonic HPX-2700′s I used on the testimonial project. Both cameras ran Optimo zooms with Pro-35 adapters. It would be hard to build a camera much longer than the 24-290 on an ENG body… and frankly why would you want to? It’s a bit like driving a bus. With the expansion of PL mount camera systems the Pro-35 can seem like a bit of a throw-back. Certainly I’ve been using it less and less. However, that isn’t to say that I avoid Panasonic cameras, or that the Pro-35 isn’t the right tool from time to time.
When the parameters fit, the Pro-35 adapter allows me to use great lenses on a an affordable camera with a streamlined post path, delivering a broadcast ready image. The HPX line does a great job of allowing me to finesse highlights, of which I had many on this set. The package, provided by Koerner Camera Systems, was right for the look, right for the budget, right for the resources on hand (the client owns one of the bodies) and compatible with the type of camera moves that I knew I would be doing. Both cameras were on dollies, had Preston zoom controlers and standard accessories.
The point here, of course, is that neither of these camera packages would have been appropriate for the other job. Getting into the middle of a basketball game with an Optimo and ENG style camera body would be like trying to pound nails with circular saw….bound to get somebody/something hurt. And, the little pop-zooms and loose feel that the HDSLR rigs excel at was not an appropriate look or level of control for the testimonial job… like putting up trim with that framing hammer! Throw in the all the other production factors, and no one tool would fit both jobs. There are no production panaceas!
From time to time I get a request for an owner/operator arrangement or rate. I’m sure that I’ve lost a job or two because I don’t own a specific camera package. Perhaps I’m leaving money on the table by not owning a lot of rental gear. But for me, right now, I’m happy to have a large and well stocked tool box to draw upon. It just happens to be owned by top-notch camera, grip and lighting vendors. It expands my abilities, flexibility, creativity, and allows me to best serve each production with the just the right tool for the job… not the one I happened to use on the last nail I sunk.