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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Moving Your Moving Pictures

Use sliders and jibs to add smooth, subtle movement to HD video and time-lapses

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Using pan/tilt heads, jibs and sliders, you can make a sophisticated-looking video project.

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.

For DSLRs, a combination still and video pan/tilt head like the Manfrotto MH055M8-Q5 gives you a lot of versatility, and it's sturdy and smooth.
On the hardware side, this is a really special time. At the 2013 NAB show (National Association of Broadcasters, the largest trade show for audio/visual content creators in the U.S.), the buzz in the air was palpable. There's a new energy at this trade show as innovators display cutting-edge gear that's revolutionizing motion capture. The innovation is coming from entrepreneurs who are part businesspeople and part creative people. The upshot for us is that we're being inundated with incredible products that are making it possible to pull off sophisticated camera moves, and we can do this with affordable gear.

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.

You can take camera movement up a notch with a slider. The Kessler Pocket Dolly is small enough to be easily transportable, and you can carry it into the field (it's not exactly packable, but for a short walk to a secluded spot, it's doable).
The Basics: Pans And Tilts
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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