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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Still Pro Gets Started In HD Video

Award-winning still photographer Mark Edward Harris takes us on his journey to becoming proficient with HD video

This Article Features Photo Zoom

A few accessories can turn hybrid DSLRs into true moviemakers. A hooded loupe is a must for critical focus and shooting in bright conditions such on Inle Lake or the sun bouncing off the gold domes of Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. We locked the Redrock loupe in place with a Manfrotto quick-release plate. This enabled us to keep the loupe in position when we were switching between a Redrock Micro system rig for image stabilization and a monopod or a tripod. The Manfrotto monopod was great for doing crane-like moves and over-the-shoulder shots. It has a fluid base with three little feet that fold out for smooth pans.

The Redrock works best when you become a human tripod, keeping the elbows in tight to the body. Racking focus smoothly is almost impossible without a supplemental focusing setup.

We used a variety of Singh-Ray grad ND filters to harness bright skies. For supplemental lighting, we carried a battery-powered Litepanels LED light that’s daylight balanced. It comes with some CTO gels for balancing under tungsten conditions, and it fits right in the hot-shoe on top of the camera. There’s an extension plate that fits in the hot-shoe so both the mic and the light panel can be on board the camera at the same time.

The visual results with this basic kit are stunning. Our audio tests showed that while the sound recorded by the camera’s onboard mic is usable for many applications, it doesn’t do the 1080p picture justice. Bill brought a Rode Stereo VideoMic that works especially well for picking up dialogue within six feet. It’s light (288 grams) so it doesn’t throw off the balance of the camera. It’s powered by a nine-volt battery and plugs into the camera with a stereo mini jack plug. The mic comes with a windshield that was particularly useful for our shots on Myanmar’s Inle Lake. I packed my Sony PCM-D50 recorder that, besides being able to plug in as an external mic, has the ability to focus its onboard directional left and right mics from 90 to 120 degrees. We used the clapping-hands technique with the hands in frame to help us sync up the sound in post. My feeling is, if you’re going to shoot HD video, you need to generate HD sound.

At the end of every fascinating day of shooting, we backed up our still photos and video clips captured on SanDisk Extreme Pro CF cards in our 500 GB LaCie Rugged external hard disks.

Perhaps my favorite shot of the journey was of the sun setting behind the seemingly endless stupas of Bagan. We arrived a half hour before sunset, climbed the sunset stupa and locked down the camera on my Manfrotto carbon-fiber tripod, exposing for the sun and letting it pass through our frame. In Final Cut Pro, we speeded up the seven-minute exposure with dramatic results.

We’re now in the process of putting the video together with the idea of telling someone a story rather than just scripting out a bunch of facts. This approach will hopefully produce a far more engaging result and be an effective calling card for future projects.

Photography has brought Mark Edward Harris to more than 80 countries around the globe. His books include: Inside Iran, Inside North Korea, The Way of the Japanese Bath, Wanderlust, and Faces of the Twentieth Century: Master Photographers and Their Work. Visit www.markedwardharris.com.


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