This is article #8 in the DSLR Video Weekly series. If you’d like the whole thing in one shot, check out the book Creating DSLR Video: From Snapshots to Great Shots.
When you shoot photos with a DSLR, hand holding the camera is pretty easy. With each click of the shutter you’re essentially freezing motion. Unfortunately, this doesn’t translate well to video because the form factor of a DSLR camera is not designed well for handheld video shooting. When recording video, you capture every movement of the camera. Unless you want your viewers to feel motion sickness, you’ll need to take corrective actions.
Use a Tripod
One rule that is drilled into those studying videography and cinematography is to use a tripod. Creating a steady shot while shooting video is more difficult than you might think, and viewers will notice every wiggle, bump, and cup of coffee you drink. It cannot be said enough times—use a tripod. Sure, there’ll be times when you’ll need to break this rule and put the camera in motion, but you can’t go wrong with a steady shot.
Do You Own a Photo Tripod?
You may already own a tripod from your photography hobby. However, a photography style tripod may not be exactly right for video Does the tripod head have a handle that you can move? Is it easy to perform smooth pans and tilts to follow the action? In many cases you can replace the head of the tripod to convert it from photo style to video style.
Selecting a Fluid Head Tripod
The most important part of a tripod is the head, which is where the camera attaches and where controls exist to help reposition the camera. Small, still photography heads are limiting when it comes to smooth movement. They can typically be unlocked, repositioned, and then locked to hold their place.
However, a video tripod head usually has springs that help balance the tripod head to prevent unwanted movement. When properly calibrated, you should be able to let go of the camera head without the head tilting one way or another.
The cost of tripod heads varies wildly, which is often due to how much weight the tripod is designed to carry. For DSLR cameras, you can often get by with affordable tripod heads. Models like the Manfrotto 502HDV Video Head start at around $140.
Consider some of these options when shopping for a tripod head:
- A sliding base plate. Being able to slide the camera forward and backward on the tripod head is useful (especially if you change lenses). This is essential to balance the camera and prevent unwanted tilting.
- Adjustable tension controls. Many tripod heads allow you to tighten or loosen resistance to create smoother movements when panning or tilting. Having enough tension can also prevent unwanted drifting when you stop moving the head.
- Ball leveling. You’ll often find a bubble level built into the tripod head. Many tripods let you loosen the head a bit and adjust it so the camera can be leveled without having to adjust the tripod legs.
The handle on the fluid head tripod makes it easier to smoothly pan and tilt the camera. Photos by Lisa Robinson.
Selecting a Tripod
The fluid head you select will need a set of legs to rest on. Tripods legs come in all sizes, heights, and weights. Often, the manufacturer of your fluid head makes a matching line of tripod legs. You may also be able to reuse the legs on a photography tripod.
Here are a few options to consider:
- Tripod material. Tripod legs are made of a variety of materials (based on weight and durability). Heavier steel and aluminum tripods are meant for durability but can be a drag to carry around. Lighter materials, such as carbon fiber, are very popular.
- Tripod height. Although it impacts cost, you can choose how many stages you want in your tripod. The stages determine the height range of your camera. Two-stage tripods are the most common. They allow for a lens height in the range of approximately three feet to six feet. If you need to shoot at live events or from a distance, a three-stage tripod can help you shoot over a crowd.
- Tripod stability. Many tripods offer a spreader bar to increase stability. The spreader bar might be located at the base or part way up the legs; it connects all three legs to each other. When you set the spreader, it allows you to securely raise or lower the camera beyond its normal height range. The spreader creates additional stability and keeps the tripod sturdy.
As a beginner, you won’t have to spend much money on a tripod. This is especially true if you’re just using the head to frame the shot, not panning or tilting while recording. As you improve, you may find the need to upgrade your tripod.
Here are a few tripod head manufacturers to consider:
Join us each Saturday for the next installment of this weekly series.
Rich has published over 100 courses on Lynda.com. Rich has authored several books including From Still to Motion, Understanding Photoshop, Professional Web Video, and Creating DSLR Video.
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