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Old September 18th, 2008, 12:35 AM   #1
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The Newbie Operating Tips Thread

Maybe we can start a thread on Steadicam operating tips for newbies, a sort of question and answer session. The questions can be technical or artistic in nature. All input is welcome.

I'll kick it off with this:

Imagine you're shooting some point-of-view footage where you're walking along a gently meandering track or pathway. As you come to each bend in the path, should the camera:

a) Pan before you get to the bend so it's looking "ahead" of the operator, and the operator follows the camera around,

b) Not pan at all, keep the camera pointing straight ahead, letting it rotate around the bend with the operator as he/she navigates the bend,

c) Look at the most distant visible point on the path (the horizon?) and stay focused on that point while navigating the bends,

d) Something else?

Thanks,

Julian
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Old September 18th, 2008, 09:26 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Julian Frost View Post
Imagine you're shooting some point-of-view footage where you're walking along a gently meandering track or pathway. As you come to each bend in the path, should the camera:
Well, this is a bit subjective, but for POV where there is no person in the shot, I would pan a bit ahead of the bend.

Think about it this way. Forget that you're a cameraman. You're just a typical person walking along a bending pathway alone. What would you do with your eyes? I think most people would look around the bend to see where they are going. So in POV, I would try to mimic that a little. Just my opinion.
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Old September 18th, 2008, 01:58 PM   #3
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This is more of a simple camera operating question, rather than something Steadicam specific. It's also a good example of why you have to be a good camera operator in order to be a good Steadicam operator, since 99% of the principles of composition and movement are the same.

To answer your question, however, I would do whatever the director or DP told me to do. I think Dave's suggestion of staying a bit ahead of the bend would conform to the "rules", but the rules are broken constantly. Each person has their own tastes. Each scene is trying to capture a different feeling. Each location is different. If you are given no other instruction other than "shoot a POV walking down that path," I might walk down the path by myself first and make note of what I do. I'd then try to replicate that in my shot. Essentially what Dave suggested, but I'd actually do it rather than imagine it. This can apply to virtually any POV shot.
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Old September 18th, 2008, 02:19 PM   #4
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Here's a scenario for you....

Stairs and uneven ground. What techniques and operating postures help to create the best (most stable) shot.

Lots of things I could ask about - safety, posture, planning, sled setup (tilts?).

Consider this from the standpoint of a total newbie asking dumb questions, but with a quick mind and glimmer in his/her eye.
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Old September 18th, 2008, 05:12 PM   #5
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Stairs and uneven ground. What techniques and operating postures help to create the best (most stable) shot. Lots of things I could ask about - safety, posture, planning, sled setup (tilts?).
Stairs are tough. Uneven ground is tougher. In particular, keeping headroom constant on uneven ground or steps with lots of landings is very difficult. The EFP DVD goes into some detail on this.

I'm just starting to do some serious practicing in this area, and I'm no expert, but I'll write what I've been doing here, and some more expert operators can correct me where I'm wrong.

1) If you haven't done so already, consider signing up for the 2-day workshop.

2) Buy the EFP DVD.

3) Make sure you are "under the rig" at all times. You definitely don't want to lose your balance on stairs. Specifically, do some practice moving around on a level floor "hands-free". In other words, you should be able to let go of the sled with both hands and not have it move away from you. When I get more into the tricky areas of framing, it becomes very important to have the balance thing down inherently, without even thinking about it. I practiced hands-free for a solid week so that this would become second nature. When I feel myself getting out of balance, I practice for a few minutes as a refresher.

4) Find a practice partner. Another steadicam newbie in your area will be motivated to pose for your shots if you pose for theirs. If you can find someone that uses the same rig, so much the better. I've found another Pilot newbie like myself nearby, and we just go outside with 2 vests, 1 arm and 1 sled. When one of us gets tired, we just switch for a while. I'm looking forward to more of this.

5) Booming is your friend. You can boom up and down all day and the sled stays pretty stable. With no other considerations, I would tend to trim the tilt so it hangs where you want it, and then just use booming to keep headroom. This point is more applicable to uneven ground or steps with lots of landings.

6) Practice standing still and framing someone who sits down, and then stands up. This is actually fairly difficult, and it's not that different from the booming action necessary on uneven ground or steps with lots of landings.

7) For a regular flight of stairs, you'll need to tilt, so you may need to slow down your drop time for this shot, maybe around 3 seconds. Trim your sled tilt for level ground, and then tilt as necessary throughout the shot.

8) It's always safer to have an experienced spotter on stairs. For lighter rigs like the Pilot, I consider a spotter optional. For heavier rigs, having a spotter on stairs is mandatory.

9) If a particular shot is critical, and it's possible to rehearse the shot beforehand, find somebody that will stand-in for this and rehearse the specific shot many times. I've heard it's not unusual for critical feature film shots to be rehearsed up to a dozen times before the first take.

That's all I can think of right now. Let me know if I've missed anything or gotten something wrong.

Last edited by Dave Gish; September 19th, 2008 at 08:40 AM.
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Old September 19th, 2008, 10:45 AM   #6
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I think the EFP DVD will address these types of questions. It's a great resource!

As for turning around bends, walls, corners, etc., as a general rule of thumb, it helps to try and keep the bend (or wall or whatever you're flying around) at the edge of the frame so that you have a frame of reference as you turn the corner.

A lot of what makes a Steadicam shot stand out, IMHO, is the use of references in the frame to fly around.

One of the best newbie operating tip is to be loose with your operating hand. You should only have a light finger tip touch and not gripping the post of the sled.
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Old October 12th, 2008, 06:27 PM   #7
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Minimizing Lateral Motion

Using the little finger on the post is great for minimizing front/back pitch. I'm looking for tips on how to minimize lateral (side to side) movement... keeping the horizon horizontal.

I've become a frequent watcher of the TV series, House (starring Hugh Laurie) and have noticed a lot of quite wobbly horizontals during the Steadicam shots. Maybe this is what the director was after, to add some "edge" to the shot, but when I watch it, it just seems distractng. I see it in my own footage too, but I know for sure I don't want it!
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Old October 12th, 2008, 07:33 PM   #8
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I'm looking for tips on how to minimize lateral (side to side) movement... keeping the horizon horizontal.
Right. Stability in the roll axis. I have the same problem, but I've started getting a little better. I think this problem is kind of inherent to most steadicams, but is particularly true with lighter rigs like the Pilot. Solutions I've found helpful are:

1) Really Light Left Hand. Maybe even let go for a split second now and then to make sure you're not applying pressure inadvertently.

2) Pre-Trim the sled. If necessary, re-balance the sled so it naturally tilts where you want it. This will minimize tilting with your left hand.

3) Load up the weight. For the Pilot, I use 8 pounds on top and 2 pounds on the bottom.

4) Try to keep your little finger in the direction of travel. For example, if you are moving forward with the lens is panned right, the temptation would be for the left hand to turn with the camera. Don't. If you're moving forward, your left hand position should be pretty much the same, regardless of where the lens is pointing. Also, if you are walking sideways or in a circular motion with the lens pointing forward, keep your left hand sideways, in the same direction as the motion.

5) Rehearse the shot if you can. The fifth time through the shot always looks better than the first. If you can find someone to stand in, so much the better.

6) Reduce wind issues. If you can, get someone to hold a 4x4 up wind. If you are shooting into the wind, get two people behind you, each with a 4x4, making a v-shape wind pocket around you.

7) Buy gear that specifically reduces this issue. The MK-V AR system solves the roll problem completely, but only for big expensive rigs. For smaller rigs like the Pilot, there may be some more options to help with this roll issue in the future.

Hope this helps.
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