(Over the next couple of blog posts, I’ll be writing about my recent experience shooting a narrative short, SHC. I’ll cover camera, lighting and grip considerations.)
First things first – as Director of Photography, I worked with two amazing ACs / Grips (you’ve got to do it all on a small / no budget film). Randy Lee and Brian Alberth were great collaborators and put in long hours (in some stifling heat). It’s always nice to have the kind of working situation where it’s not about egos but rather about getting the best ideas out there that will get the director the best looking shots. Randy and Brian worked hard, but even more importantly, they brought good ideas to the set that really helped.
Randy preps the camera
Brian at the jib
I was hired for the shoot in part because of my experience shooting with DSLRs. I told the producer and director (Melissa Schaefer and Robb Thompson respectively) that my forte was shooting documentaries, but they had seen my work and that’s the style they wanted. So we agreed to collaborate. Since they connected most to the DSLR work I had done, we decided that we were going to shoot this on either a Canon 5d or a 7d. Ultimately I ended up using the 7d in 98% of the shots (I’ll get to why I used the 5d in 2 shots). I made this decision for two reasons.
1. Monitoring. With the 7d I could send out an HD signal to two monitors and have them stay in HD through the recording process (the 5d down converts the monitor signal to SD when recording.) Since Randy would be pulling focus with a shallow depth of field, it was important to give him the best monitoring options. Also, the 5d can be sketchy when going to multiple monitor sources.
2. Depth of Field. I really like the depth of field of the 5d, but sometimes it can be a little ridiculous, especially at 1.4, 1.8 and 2.8. I wanted to have a little less depth without stopping the lens down to f8. The 7d allowed that.
(I shot with the 5d on two shots when I needed to be really wide – once to fit in a stairwell and once to distort faces by getting really close with a wide lens.)
So we shot with a 7d. We had two rigs for it, one that mounted to a tripod, dolly and jib and another for hand held work. While sometimes I just hold the camera for hand held work, it’s important to have a rig to help stabilize the camera a little more and limit rolling shutter skew (which can kill a shot.)
Nate sets up a jib shot
Randy sets up a dolly shot
Nate and Robb (director) with the cam mounted to a tripod
Randy preps a hand held shot
In terms of lenses we primarily used Contax / Zeiss primes with an EOS adapter (a 28 2.0, a 35 1.4, and an 85 .1.4). For wide angle hand held stuff I used a Canon 16-35 2.8L and for closeups we used a Tamron 70-200 2.8 (the 85 had a 3 foot minimum focus meaning it was fairly useless for closeups). I think a Canon 50mm 1.4 might have appeared on the camera once, but other than that it was the lenses above. The great thing about the primes is that the focus ring has hard stops so repeating focus pulls is (in theory) a lot easier. Randy ended up doing a good amount by eye, but at times, these hard stops were essential.
Finally, we used a doorway dolly for some tracking shots and to add a little interesting movement to dialogue heavy scenes and a jib at a couple of key moments (like when a conflict escalates.)
All in all I was really happy with the gear we chose.