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How to Get a Stable Shot When Shooting Video

Shooting video on a DSLR, Mirrorless or Micro Four Thirds camera can be challenging.  Let’s look at how to choose the right camera or camera configuration for the task at hand. Even if you only have one camera to use, you can figure out how to optimize your set-up for the job.

Form Factor

Shooting video on a DSLR camera is currently not a well-designed experience in terms of ergonomics.  The technical need to shoot with the camera’s mirror open requires the photographer to compose a shot using the DSLR’s LiveView feature or LCD monitor. As such, the camera is often held in an awkward way.  These non-standard shooting grips may require you to evaluare your shooting style and modify your approach.

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Size

The camera body you choose should fit your hands well. If the body is too small, your hands will get in the way of the controls. Conversely, if the body is too big, you’ll find the body hard to hold. With that said, you won’t always be holding your camera. All camera bodies can easily mount onto support equipment like a tripod or attached to accessories that make it feel more like a traditional video camera.

Weight

The weight of the camera body you choose is also important. Entry-level video DSLRs tend to be rather light, which is great for travel. However, this can make them hard to handle, especially when a large lens is mounted (making the camera very front heavy).

Pro bodies (or bodies that have battery grips installed) tend to be heaviest and provide a nice counterbalance to long lenses. Be careful not to choose a body that is too heavy for what you can handle, especially if you intend to do lots of handheld work. If the camera is too heavy, you’ll end up with shaky footage.

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Camera Support

Camera support is one of the most important aspects of video shooting. The entire look and feel of a video shoot is tied to the point of view that it provides the viewer. Creating stable platform that lets the camera be positioned at various heights is essential to composing compelling shots.

Photographers often desire mobility when shooting video, except the form-factor can make this challenging. A whole side-industry has cropped up offering a number of rigs to help you further refine and expand a photographer’s ability to shoot video with a DSLR camera. Most of these rigs are designed to help distribute the weight of the camera (putting more of it on the shoulders, arms or body). Good handheld operating is helped greatly by having a balanced rig close to a photographer’s center of gravity.  Movements are much smoother if they originate from this center

In general there are seven types of camera support used with DSLR video cameras.

  • Handheld – The camera is supported by the photographer. This may include the use of  15mm rod systems that have handles or a shoulder brace. The additional hardware can often transfer the stabilization over a larger surface of the camera operator’s body leading to smoother movement.

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  • Motion stabilized – In this variation on hand-held shooting, the camera is attached to a device that uses some sort of mechanism to smooth out the movements of the camera. The use of weights and springs helps achieve a better balance. This was originally developed by Steadicam, which offers its own hardware devices to achieve smooth movement. There are quite a few other support devices available, with new manufacturers coming online all the time.

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  • Lock down – The camera can be firmly attached to a tripod.  Any sturdy tripod will do the trick, but make sure it is rated to carry the full weight of the video rig.

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  • Fluid Head – The camera can stay on a tripod and the tripod stays still, but the camera is tilted or panned as the shot is happening. This typically requires the use of a fluid head on your tripod. Be sure to explore options for adjusting tension and balance for the camera.

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  • Jib – A jib looks like a lighting boom, with the camera placed where the light head would normally go.  It provides 3 dimensional movement of the camera. Jibs with a DSLR camera can be very tricky as they often require the camera to be remotely controlled.

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  • Dolly – Dolly shots are created by attaching the camera to some kind of device that rolls.  This might make use of some kind of portable track, or it might roll freely.  Shots can be set up to move vertically or horizontally.

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  • Slider – The camera is mounted on a rail that provides smooth vertical or lateral movement. A slider is very much like a dolly, it is just far more portable and can be operated by a single person.

15mm Support Systems

The most common type of camera support rig is one based on 15mm rods.  These are configurable in many ways, including additions of follow-focus tools, matteboxes, and more. Rigs vary greatly in price and features.  Some are quite simple and attach a gunstock style rig to the camera so you can brace it against the shoulder.  Others offer features like shoulder pads and weights to help balance the camera and lens. These rigs typically require the shooter to keep one hand on a grip and the other on the lens or follow focus to adjust the shot.

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There are a lot of camera rigs on the market.  Here are a few places to explore.

  • Zacuto – www.zacuto.com
  • Redrock Micro – www.redrockmicro.com
  • Cavision – www.cavision.com
  • Cinevate – www.cinevate.com
  • iDC Photography – www.idcphotography.com
  • Switronix – www.switronix.com

 

I originally wrote this article originally for DPBestflow.

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