Sunday, 22 June 2014

Everything you need to know about preparing to make movies on your DSLR but were afraid to ask

essential tool number 1
You may have seen how hopeless my videos were of birds in the forest in New Zealand. Out of focus, juddery and totally lacking in cinematic style.

So hopeless that I signed up for a one day course on "How to make videos with your DSLR" organised by London Independent Photography at Photofusion in Brixton, in the hope that next time I see something worthy of a mini-movie I am able to do it justice.

The course participants were all female. We wondered if the World cup had something to do with that. Probably not, decided I, as across the corridor in another studio a class of 8 males and just one female were busy  taking photos of a female model perched on a desk - perhaps a course on portrait photography or studio lighting.

The sun was shining outside. Brixton market lay below us, visible through our window.

Brixton market

I was able to capture the security guard without him noticing; he having earlier tried to stop us practising with the follow-focus rig down in the market as we 'didn't have permission'. Permission was readily granted once we knew who to ask.

the security guard doesn't like people taking photos

Obviously it is not possible to learn to make movies in a day.

What I did get an understanding of, was the large amount of supporting gear that is used to achieve a shake - free, in-focus video with good sound quality. And it seems that next time am out in the forest, I will not be able to create  the perfect video unless I carry a few essential items.

So here are the essentials.

  • a clapperboard. So that you look the part, and to aid focusing on set.

  •  a DSLR loupe   Basically a viewfinder that attaches to the LED screen so that you can see what you are doing. Approximately £80.

  • a follow focus rig. You will need another person to operate this for you............ but it is the key to accurate focussing and fun to practice. A low budget model looks like this . Starting at around £65. 

  • Prime lenses are desirable as the follow focus rig attaches to them better, and they make for better focussing and image quality. Preferred lenses include 50mm 1.4 and 85mm plus a wide angle....... £560 upwards. 

  • a torch for focussing at night . The good news is that I have one of these.

  • a set of ND filters to allow wide open apertures and variable focus in daylight (you should  always shoot at 1/50second so exposure options are restricted). Or a vari-ND rotating filter  for variable light adjustment during filming. £100+

  • Microphones to improve sound quality; use the in camera microphone and a back up external microphone. The options here are endless. 

this is NOT how it should be used

external microphone

I would rather have one of these........

As it will sit on the top of my camera and stop the wind distortion. Plus it looks funky and has a good name and only costs £25.

  • a tripod designed for video with a floating head............  I shall point you here to a blog by Vincent Laforet ( as I like his name and he summarises all the options succinctly). In fact he has written so much on all of the above that I no longer feel I should continue .........

  • plus video editing software, plus lighting ( but where is the power point in a forest?) , plus tracks to run the tripod on for smooth transitions . Or failing that a rig like this for hand held videos (£982). I can just see me in the forest with this. 

Lanparte Complete DSLR Rig  - Travel Rig

and finally, the one thing that I feel tempted to buy; 

  • an intervalmometer which only costs £26, and with which I could try making time lapse videos.

How could one resist an object with a name like that?

And then maybe I could make a video like this ............... of the beautiful El Tiede mountain in Tenerife.

I can recommend the course; I really did learn a lot, and now know how to set my camera up properly for making videos. I will not be taking out another mortgage to get kitted out with all the above, but I do have a much better understanding of the issues involved in making a quality movie.

And if I go out at night, I can use my torch.

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