THERE’S NO DOUBT that venturing into the world of video production for the very first time can be daunting. There’s a lot to learn, and a huge amount of kit to pick from, but it’s definitely worth the effort since the growing hybrid sector can be hugely rewarding on all levels to move into.

My background is that I started my career as a runner working on TV shows, which is still is the ‘traditional’ way to get into the media, and I also completed a Media and Comms degree, but it was by no means a fast-pass access to the industry. However, after many cups of tea made for the team and lunches fetched, I worked my way up to directing and producing.

What I picked up on the shoots I was working on was invaluable. I watched and learned and, after ten years working in TV, I left to set up on my own and I then ran a production company, dealing with big and impressive clients and shooting and editing decent budget promos.

As recession hit, however, clients started slashing budgets and, seeing the way things were going, I began to look at how I could bring more cash into the business. I’d always had a passion for photography so I moved in that direction for a while. However, despite moving to a set up where I was primarily shooting stills, over time it became clear there was a demand for video alongside.

Having lost touch with the tech and with so many kids coming through and producing knockout content I worried about whether I could compete in this space again. Could I really keep up with the pace? To cut a long story short I took the plunge and invested in some basics, and thus became a hybrid operator offering both stills and motion.

My initial advice to anyone going down this road is to ‘keep is simple’. If you go all guns blazing, trying to be the next JJ Abrams, it’s almost certain you will end up with footage that isn’t usable and which won’t cut together to tell the story. It helps to be realistic about your expectations. For me it has many levels – I shoot video behind the scenes and some for my clients. My grounding in stills helps me grab the shots I need while I can also flick into video and get some moving imagery in the bag.

MOVING INTO VIDEO

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach that helps when it comes to kit. The adage of ‘buy once and buy well’ is really important. You can get good and relatively cheap kit when starting out, which can be fine. You can also acquire a lot of rubbish that won’t work well and you’ll end up regretting the purchase after it fails on you.

At the most basic level, most of us can start shooting very high quality video on the smartphones we have in our pocket. With minimal kit additions you can go out there and shoot some cracking stuff. For a very basic kit, I’d take my phone and a small but sturdy tripod. Chances are you already have one – but a stills tripod won’t allow you to pan and tilt. If you don’t want to splurge on a new set of legs, then you need to restrict yourself to locked off shots. An alternative might be a well-priced but still highly usable product such as the Kenro Twin Tube video tripod kit with a fluid head, which is designed specifically for filmmakers but will only set you back around £150.

To be honest, however, it’s not the end of the world if you do remain static, since this approach will force you to tell the story visually without getting distracted by trying to add movement. Let the action happen and point the camera at it. You don’t need to pan or tilt to follow the action all the time. Let the action come to you. This also applies if you want to use a bigger camera. Concentrate on the basics and the clever moves will follow. I’ve ordered a Peak Design travel

tripod, which is not a video model but it will give me some stability and I can mount my phone onto it. It’s perfect for time-lapse at night as well. Add in a cheap gimbal like the DJI Osmo Mobile 3 and you suddenly have a powerful and compact filmmaking kit.

If we assume you already have a camera that shoots motion – and so many models offer an amazing video feature set these days – it’s important to get the basics right. Don’t be ashamed of shooting in Auto modes: if the story is good, It doesn’t matter how you get there!

If you decide on shooting motion at conferences and so on then you may want to look at working with a more traditional camcorder rather than a hybrid camera. These are great for longer recordings – perhaps a keynote speaker on stage – and will give you great AF. They usually also feature more professional XLR audio inputs as well, and they can be very well priced.

Audio is as critical to the story as the visuals. Many think of it as an ‘add on’ but it’s massively important. Whether it be some live audio to add texture to a scene or a cleanly recorded interview, it pays to get it right. People will notice bad audio more than they will notice bad images and there’s no tidying it up in post if you get it wrong.

I use a bunch of different mics from Sennheiser, which are all built to a very high spec. Like lenses and cameras there’s not one single solution for every scenario. I have some Lavalieres, two shotgun mics and some other super easy plug and play mics. I use them as much as each other depending on the situation and environment.

Any mic plugged into the camera will be better than the tiny one that’s built in. I would suggest investing in a good shotgun mic initially, which is highly directional and will pick up sound mostly from the front. If you can get it close to the subject you can get amazing sound in a noisy environment.

It’s also important to pop the mic into some sort of support to minimise handling noise. My favourite mic at the moment is the Sennheiser 8060, which is housed in a Rycote suspension. For a basic audio kit I would suggest a shotgun and boom pole. My Sennheiser MKE600 – which has the benefit of being battery powered, thus making it truly portable – gives a lovely sound. I would also consider adding a wireless radio mic to the kit, such as the excellent Sennheiser AVX system or perhaps the XSWD, which are both truly plug and play and USB chargeable too. These are perfect for interviews.

Remember – keep it simple! You can plug your mic directly into the camera or into a recorder and then sync the audio separately. I use the Sound Devices Mix Pre 6, and record into the camera as a ‘backup’. Nothing will be as good as using a separate sound recorder and dedicated mic.

Lighting is another potential minefield and, as with stills photography, a light mounted on top of the camera will not be as good as taking it off-centre. There’s some great LED lighting panels out there from the likes of Rotolight and, for good measure, these can often also double as lights for stills photography, saving you the considerable cost of a dual investment. Don’t over complicate things. I use some Lumecube lights for ultra-portability and the company also produces a lovely LCD panel, which is dazzling and can offer a really good operating time. Three cubes and a panel will be enough to give you a basic lighting setup with plenty of options.

If you need more light and the ability to add some diffusion and softboxes, then you have to move up a level of kit to something with more punch. I like the Aputure LSC120, which is keenly priced while having the ability to output high quality light. Like the Lumecubes I can control this via an app, so you have incredible flexibility.

CHOOSING A CAMERA

I’ve recently become a fan of the Lumix S1 series. On a shoot I’ll take two S1 cameras along with the gorgeous Lumix 50mm f/1.4 and 24-105mm f/4 and the Sigma 14-24mm f/2.4. I’m also adding the more videofocused S1H to this line-up (see review in this issue), giving me a three camera shoot, with the bonus that they are all accomplished stills cameras as well.

One camera I leave ‘rigged,’ with more of a bent towards video. I use the S1/H Zacuto cage, which allows me to add a top grip, external monitor and quick mount onto a tripod. This cage also allows me full access to the camera controls to use it on the fly as a video or stills camera. Everything lives in a CamRade small run-and-gun bag, along with the top mic and AVX system and some small
in -ear headphones for monitoring.

Larger shoots may involve some gimbal work and it’s something of an art form learning how to walk and shoot with one of these. The trap lots of people fall into is that they think they will pull off some incredible shots seconds after they get the gimbal out of the box. I can assure you that it won’t actually happen like this: there is a definite
learning curve. Practice always pays off and don’t be too ambitious initially about the shots you’re trying to get.

I own a Ronin-S but also the Osmo Mobile 3 and, if I want to be ultra-compact, I might also work with the self-contained Osmo Pocket, which can still offer highly usable footage. I may also add in a slider to add some interest during interviews, so I’d be rolling one camera locked off on a tripod, one on a slider and could even leave my iPhone in the background recording a really wide shot for some social media footage.

Remember – just because you have the kit doesn’t mean you have to shoehorn everything into each shoot. If you have a gimbal or a slider, then use them to tell the story, not because you’re trying to show off your new kit. It’s the same for drones. When people own them they tend to be overused and productions can become too aerial based. It’s all about the story – not the kit.

BACKING UP

I would also highly recommend thinking about what you can do to ensure you keep the footage safe. Are you going to buy extra memory cards or look to offload footage as you go? As quality improves so does the file size. Memory cards are expensive if you’re adding several high-capacity ones and at the speeds needed to record 4k or higher video.

You could take a laptop with you and a hard drive but it’s not the most portable option and it won’t check the backups and files. Ideally you want to back up your footage asap and then make sure it’s safe, so you can delete the cards and carry on shooting. Shoots can chew through memory, so I would look at having an on-site backup system. I’ve fallen in love with the NextoDi NPS-10. I have a 2Tb SSD inside mine but you can also connect another external drive to it so that you’re backing up, archiving and verifying to two drives at once, from multiple memory cards and this little box will error check the files too.

There really is no limit to how you can scale video production up or down. I do recommend that a basic kit that you own is the best way forward if you’re just starting out. Hiring is a good option but possibly not practical for short, impromptu shoots.

COME AND MEET ME!

I’ll be speaking at The Photo/Video show at the NEC this year and at photokina in Cologne. The sessions I’ll be presenting will look at shooting stills and video on the same camera, how to make money from video, shooting on a smartphone and also some sessions on mics and audio and video editing. If you’re planning on moving more into video I’d say it’s well worth getting down to Birmingham and getting some hands on knowledge. Ping me a message on the social media channels and say hi if you’re there.

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