Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Moving Your Moving Pictures
Use sliders and jibs to add smooth, subtle movement to HD video and time-lapses
The incredible explosion in time-lapse projects and the proliferation of HD video DSLRs have created a new golden age of filmmaking. Amateurs who have never shot motion before are on an equal playing field with high-level, sophisticated cinematographers in terms of having access to tools that can create beautiful-looking motion footage. Alongside the advancements in reasonably priced cameras, pro-level software has become incredibly accessible. Sure, there's still a learning curve to deal with, but there's also no shortage of tutorials, workshops and classes that you can find to help bring you up to speed.
The old maxim of keeping the camera locked down for most of your shooting has faded away. That rule of thumb existed because camera motion was so tricky to pull off. A heavy motion-picture camera needed some pretty serious hardware to move it smoothly, not to mention the crew to make that happen. Dolly shots—those shots where the camera is moved on a small cart—used to require a pretty large-scale rail system to make it look good.
Cameras got smaller and the tools to create camera movement have evolved in lockstep. Jibs and cranes for moving the camera vertically, as well as sliders for moving the camera horizontally, are available, and they're portable, too.
Adding motion control to video requires a stable platform, as well as the ability to show motion smoothly. There are a few basic moves: pans and tilts are the most common, and the ones that require the least amount of specialized equipment. Panning is moving the camera from side to side while it's locked down on a tripod. It's a good effect, but it's hardly cutting edge in this day and age. That's okay because cutting edge is the kind of thing that one shouldn't apply too much.
To pan well, you need a good, sturdy tripod and a fluid head. You can't skimp on these if you expect to have good, smooth pans. A rickety tripod will make it difficult, if not impossible, to keep the camera steady during any move. Sturdy doesn't have to mean heavy. The good news is that you probably already have a tripod that will do the job. A good carbon-fiber model will do well, but if it's really light, you'll want to hold or weight it slightly to keep one of the legs from lifting up as you pan. This is especially a problem if you have the tripod set up on an uneven surface.
The fluid head is where most still photographers try to save some money. After all, you likely already have a tripod head. However, if it's not made for video, it's probably not going to be up to the job. Trying to pan with a three-way head seldom works, and trying to do it with a ballhead is an adventure in frustration.
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