February 2019

How I Used the Best Tool To Achieve Steady Shots

We were hired to film a retreat recap video for Mar de Jade, a beautiful yoga retreat center located in Chacala, Mexico. After talking with the retreat coordinator, she recommended I pack very light and be prepared to explore several different conditions and terrains...

The Challenge

While having the pre-production meeting with my team back in Chicago, we discussed the importance of having a light-weight setup that could capture what we envisioned, but not slow the group down. I was not checking any bags, so everything had to meet the Southwest carry-on standards. In other words, this was a “run and gun” style production.

The Plan

As a team, we decided the best option was to use our handheld crane I-Kan EC-1 a 3-axis stabilizer, paired with a Sony A7Sii and a 24-70mm lens. Our DJI Mavic Pro + 15” MacBook Pro tagged along as well. I was prepped and ready. I spent my last day in Chicago balancing the EC-1 and preparing it for the week-long shoot. I practiced the shooting options it offers and even utilized a monopod to give it more of a “jib” feel. The footage looked great, but appeared a bit bouncy when dropping into Adobe Premiere. I was slightly concerned, but went along with it.

The Experience

When I arrived in Mexico, the warm air and tropical atmosphere instantly put me in the mood to capture! After settling in, I prepped my camera and hit the resort for some exterior shots. It was day one and I was immediately immersed into capturing the palm trees, pathways, people walking around, the sun, and the waves crashing on the beach. On camera everything looked amazing, I was energized and feeling the good vibes! When I got back into my room, I instantly started offloading media to put into Adobe Premiere. Since I shot a majority of the footage in 60fps, I went ahead and started interpreting the footage from 59.976 to 23.976. After importing the footage, I went ahead and rendered my favorite selects on the timeline. When I pressed play my jaw dropped...

The Problem

Although the footage seemed to look smooth on camera, the playback showed differently... Since the crane has three motors, there are tiny micro-adjustments occurring to stabilize the shots. I spent the next three hours researching how I can fine tune the-adjustments. When I put the camera back on to test it again, I kept experiencing micro-vibrations in my clips.

At this point, I was on day two of the trip and felt defeated. I doubted myself and was angry I brought the handheld crane. I put the camera down and was about to let the client know I was facing some technical difficulties with my gear. I went outside and took a couple deep breaths and cleared my mind to find a solution. After 10 minutes, it hit me! I don’t need an electronic tool to ensure I get the best shots. I just needed one thing...my breath!

The Solution

At this point I made the decision to shoot handheld for the rest of my trip with the intention of staying mindful to the breath. Crazy right? After all I was at a mediation and yoga retreat, it only seemed fitting.

Once I dedicated myself to this, I had the flexibility to capture anything I wanted without the limitations of having to calibrate a stabilizer. I was simply just capturing raw moments without worrying about technology failing on me. I kept the camera in my backpack at all times and when a moment presented itself, I was there to capture it in its full essence. I pushed myself to get creative, I used my arms as extensions like a jib and my legs to adjust height like a tripod. I was ready to capture any moment freely, from the intense hikes, trips to the organic farm, wood shop, school, market and yoga classes. I was there, shooting cinematically, with my hands.

See for yourself.

The Key Takeaways

1) Mastering breath is an extremely important skill you can learn as a cinematographer.

2) The best tool is the tool you feel most comfortable with.

3) You don’t always need fancy equipment to capture cinematic shots.

4) There is always a creative solution.

5) Push yourself even when all odds are against you.

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