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Old August 31st, 2008, 06:56 PM   #1
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Camera artists: your approach to planning and getting great shots?

I have a question for all of you who consider yourselves quality artists when it comes to the camera.

What is the mental process, the approach, that goes into evaluating your surroundings and choosing the shots you will need in any given situation? The angles, the lighting, the variety of shots you will get, new and interesting ideas, etc?

Do you visualize your shots ahead of time? Do you have a system for covering a certain range of shots? Do you scout out ahead of time? Do you do test shots? Do you simply wing it and go just on instinct? Do you play it safe? Do you experiment? Do you storyboard what you will do ahead of time? If you are a journalist, what goes into sizing up a situation, and what shots do you aim for? Etc -

I realize this may vary depending on the situation. A video journalist or sports photographer has less opportunity to plan than a filmmaker or an event videographer.

Recently I had some time to kill on this job and I went around and did a bunch of test shots of the property, from every angle. It was interesting to come home and see what worked on video, what didn't, what met my expectations, what was disappointing, etc.
For instance, there was a shot of the bar from the adjoining room that had a bunch of things hung from the ceiling, and it looked really cool to my depth perception, but looked flat and busy and confusing on video. So I didn't use that. So I'm testing out what works vs. what doesn't. Sometimes the best shots aren't the same as the ones I think will turn out.

Also, do you shoot handheld more often or on tripod? If off the tripod, how do you shoot steady video?

Just trying to nail down the planning process and approach in specific terms to make sure I have a solid system for getting great shots.
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Old August 31st, 2008, 07:40 PM   #2
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I don't consider myself an artist, but I am in college right now majoring in film to become a Director of Photography. So I really hope to become an artist someday.

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Do you visualize your shots ahead of time? Do you have a system for covering a certain range of shots? Do you scout out ahead of time? Do you do test shots? Do you simply wing it and go just on instinct? Do you play it safe? Do you experiment? Do you storyboard what you will do ahead of time? If you are a journalist, what goes into sizing up a situation, and what shots do you aim for? Etc -
I typically draw storyboards, and that helps me not only visualize the shots, but also to organize them so I can shoot as efficiently as possible.

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For instance, there was a shot of the bar from the adjoining room that had a bunch of things hung from the ceiling, and it looked really cool to my depth perception, but looked flat and busy and confusing on video.
The reason it looked flat was because you zoomed in and "flattened" any depth you had.

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Also, do you shoot handheld more often or on tripod? If off the tripod, how do you shoot steady video?
If you need a tripod, use it. Action scenes can be done handheld with some degree of success. But the whole movie doesn't (and shouldn't) be shot handheld (see The Bourne Ultimatum.) A shoulder held camera or a shoulder support really helps to steady handheld shots. I have a good tripod and use it whenever I can. I've seen student films where they had a tripod, but only a few of the shots used it. The rest was handheld when it shouldn't have been.
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Old August 31st, 2008, 08:28 PM   #3
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The reason it looked flat was because you zoomed in and "flattened" any depth you had.
I find just the opposite true... When I zoom, I get a greater depth of field, especially indoors where the iris is open all the way.
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Old August 31st, 2008, 09:02 PM   #4
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Maybe I'll go back in then and do some test shots. I never considered aperture and focal length as a factor in that shot. I thought maybe it was composition - no angles setting it apart.

As to the other questions -
Tim, what is your approach to scouting out a situation and planning your shots? Or not ---
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Old August 31st, 2008, 09:05 PM   #5
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I find just the opposite true... When I zoom, I get a greater depth of field, especially indoors where the iris is open all the way.
Yeah, zoom in to create more depth of field. I use this technique all the time.
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Old August 31st, 2008, 09:13 PM   #6
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if your question(s) is about weddings.

Experience and know your camera well is very important. Always think ahead and predict whats going to happen next. Otherwise you are going to miss alot of good facial expressions on people.

Its not up to videographer to set people up and tell them to pose to the camera (it looks fake). Film naturally without telling people to act is best.

Depends on the situations, shoot hand held, tripod, monopod, .... etc.
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Old August 31st, 2008, 09:16 PM   #7
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if your question(s) is about weddings.
My question really is about specific, different approaches to planning in a variety of situations, so that I can be as ready as possible for different types of jobs.

I'm just wondering how people approach the entire process from planning to shooting.
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Old September 1st, 2008, 12:33 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kell Smith View Post
Maybe I'll go back in then and do some test shots. I never considered aperture and focal length as a factor in that shot. I thought maybe it was composition - no angles setting it apart.

As to the other questions -
Tim, what is your approach to scouting out a situation and planning your shots? Or not ---
I use inspiration from other vids. I find shots that I like and dissect them. I ask myself, where do i have to stand to get that kind of a shot. Also, like you, I review my own footage and replicate some of the goods shots that I've taken.

The more you do, then hopefully the more questions you will have. And when you do, this is a great place to come to. I found more answers on here using the 'search feature' than probably any other source.
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Old September 1st, 2008, 05:32 PM   #9
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I'm the same as Tim, I just watch highlight vids all the time. I have shots that i have seen burned into my brain, but on the day they might not work out. But im always thinking about the edit. I don't know if that way is right or not. Thats the way i do it:)
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Old September 1st, 2008, 08:16 PM   #10
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As far as shooting with the edit in mind, I wish I'd done more preplanning on something I just did. It was just a virtual tour of a property. So I went in and shot - figured, how hard could it be? I'm going to need shots of the property either way, so I'll just shoot it and make something out of it.

Later, I wrote the script, and then realized that even though I had a lot of footage, it wasn't exactly what I needed. Some of it was, but had I done some preplanning, I would have gotten some different shots.

In retrospect, I think I would have written out a script and storyboarded it out, saving myself a few extra trips, gas and time. This was also my first one, so I guess if I had a few of these under my belt I would know automatically what was needed. Or, maybe not. Maybe I should always spend more time on the front end planning.

I imagine even that much more preplanning will be involved as I do a few weddings, or tackle other types of jobs that come my way. That's why I asked the question.

Perhaps a better way to phrase it would have been "what specific planning do you do prior to your shoot?"
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Old September 1st, 2008, 08:40 PM   #11
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Talking about weddings, for me, no planning if you have done lots of weddings.

just make sure all the equipments are in the car, batteries are fully charged, tapes in the bag.
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Old September 2nd, 2008, 03:04 AM   #12
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Weddings

Talking specifically about weddings...there are a lot of different mini-events that take place throughout the day, so weddings in particular are a great way to practice shooting in a variety of styles (i.e. looks, tools, and techniques). As for planning, here are some general tips that I would pass on to anyone starting out in this area.

PRE-PLANNING

1. Know the timeline.

2. Budget enough time to set up for each event.

3. Get enough information ahead of time so there are no major surprises on the day-of.

4. Have everyone's phone number (bride, groom, coordinators, contacts, venues, shooters) programmed in your cell phone and written down in case any problems do arise.

5. Set up your equipment before the day of the shoot (fresh batteries in wireless kits, cleaning tape heads if necessary, checking camera settings, packing gear, etcetera).

6. Print out directions and an equipment checklist for the shoot.

7. Email your second shooters (if any) the day before the shoot and thank them for their help (as a gentle reminder not to forget about the shoot the next day).

DAY-OF PLANNING

1. Call your shooters to make sure they'll be on time.

2. Show up ahead of time to scout the area.

3. Shoot as much b-roll as you can ahead of time

4. For each mini-event (bride/groom prep, first glance, pre-ceremony session, guest arrivals, ceremony, post-ceremony session, cocktail hour, reception events, etcetera) choose your stabilizing tool (tripod, monopod, shoulder mount, steadicam, handheld) based on what is most feasible. I know this is vague, but some things to consider in making your decisions are:
-How many shooters you have with you
-Your distance to the subjects (such as on a very large or small dance floor)
-How much you might need to compete with guests and photographers to get your shot
-Whether the action will take place in one spot or if you'll need to be mobile
-Whether the edit you have in mind will require a continuous shot or more variety
-Your abilities and weaknesses (and your shooters') with different stabilizers
-The photographers' needs in order to get their shots as well
-Limitations set by the venue or religion
-How much gear you can feasibly transport to and from more remote areas
-How secure your extra gear will be
-Your attire (running steadicam is a lot easier in a polo shirt than in a full suit)

5. Plan out what would be the safest possible way to shoot each mini-event. Then come up with a more daring method or two to shoot it (possibly in a different style and/or involving highly specialized shots, such as a close-up of the breaking glass at a Jewish ceremony, or a rack focus from the couple to their onlooking parents during a first dance). From there, make a decision as to what look you want to go for and whether you're comfortable with the method you've chosen.

6. Let the photographers know your shooting game plan for each mini-event so they'll be aware of your camera positions.

7. If you're working with multiple cameras, designate one of them as being the main camera and let the photographers know which one it is so they'll be extra careful not to cross it. This also lets them know that they have some freedom to cross the extra cameras' shots if necessary. If you don't do this, then you've just given them license to cross any cameras at will, as one couldn't possibly expect them to stay out of the shots of say, two cameras shooting a first dance at 90 degrees apart from each other where we've already chosen the best angles for ourselves. Realize that photographers need to move about, but designating one camera as "sacred" helps greatly with the coordination of all professionals involved.

8. Always leave enough space (when possible) for the photographers and guests to move behind you rather than pass in front of your lens.

9. Get the DJ/MC, coordinator, and photographers on your side so you can give each other a heads-up on things as they progress. (These people can be our biggest allies in being prepared for each mini-event...whether it's a one-minute warning before the toasts, turning up the lights for the bouquet/garter toss, or grabbing us for a special shot when we're away getting a bite to eat.)

SHOT SELECTION

There is an infinite amount of advice out there pertaining to shot selection, if you keep your eyes and ears open. I think the best thing you can do is to be critical of your own footage and compare it to what you see from others in the business. Spend time reviewing your work and note what works best. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and the better a videographer understands their own, the more their work will improve.

Work on acquiring a "toolbox" of specific shooting techniques.
-MADE (movement, angle, distance, effect) helps greatly for certain shoots.
-Pay attention to your background.
-Anticipate the action.
-Shoot with the edit in mind.
-Capture a lot of footage (unless you're shooting for someone else who specifically asks you for "just the basics")
-Take some chances when you have some room to experiment, and go for some unusual shots in addition to some safer shots. If the unusual ones don't work out, you're still covered.

For each mini-event I have several typical scenarios for how I shoot it. It's good to have these scenarios already in mind for the inevitable problems that arise. For instance, if while doing a single-camera shoot of a first dance, some guest walks by and kicks over your tripod, you'll need to edit that out, so make sure to reset the shot with that in mind. You might resume with a much tighter or wider zoom (to avoid a jump cut) or resume with a tight shot of the parents crying while you slowly zoom out to reveal the couple. Regardless of how you might handle this specific example, lots of experience is an incredible asset, and as you shoot more events, you will get less flustered when something goes wrong.

Learn to "work" your subjects. I believe that a big part of what separates a professional from a novice is how they interact with people, and that one can learn a lot by simply observing others (such as photographers) in this area. Our clientele want to feel confident in us and knowing just what to say to them at the right time will give them every reason to do so.
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I'm not yet a seasoned vet, but I've had the chance to talk with some great videographers and photographers, and see them in action. The tips above are just a few of those I've culled so far, but definitely worth chewing on for someone new to live events,

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Old September 2nd, 2008, 02:34 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Travis Cossel View Post
Yeah, zoom in to create more depth of field. I use this technique all the time.

Yes Travis is correct, a shallow depth of field is achieved a lot easier when you are zoomed in and even better if you can use the ND filters.

Here is a really cool tutorial i found on the web a while ago

Digital Juice DJTV - Production Notes: Into the Blur - Focusing for Effect
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Old September 2nd, 2008, 03:02 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Carl Wilky View Post
Yes Travis is correct, a shallow depth of field is achieved a lot easier when you are zoomed in and even better if you can use the ND filters.

Here is a really cool tutorial i found on the web a while ago

Digital Juice DJTV - Production Notes: Into the Blur - Focusing for Effect
Great link; entertaining AND informational!
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Old September 2nd, 2008, 06:03 PM   #15
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Although zooming in creates more depth of field, it can also flatten the image because it makes the background appear bigger and closer to the subject than it really is. The best way to achieve shallow dof with out an adapter is iris wide open and nd filter on.

Ofcourse if zooming in still works. Just can.. not always.. make the image look flat.
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