Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Review: Vincent Laforet workshop at PDN Expo

After a few days of advertising + editorial meetings in NY, I wrapped up the week with a visit to the PDN Expo to hear a 3 hour Vincent Laforet talk about "Cinematography with a DSLR". The talk dovetailed nicely with the project I worked on a few weeks ago, shooting stills with a documentary crew using two RED Cameras (which will be detailed in a separate post.)

One of the main takeaways from this workshop is that shooting motion is a totally different animal than shooting stills. The gear, ways of seeing, workflow, software, lighting, formats, output, are ALL COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. The common denominator is the camera body - which in this case is a Canon 5d Mark II. But the similarity ends there -- once you decide to shoot video with your DSLR, and have any sort of production value, you are committing to a completely new way of working.

And other people in the video / film worlds have been working at this a lot longer than us still photographers. We do not just pick up a 5D and become a DP, (ASC). Like anything, it takes time, and there is a steep learning curve. Especially now, since many lenses, cables, formats are not compatible. Laforet's Frankencamera, with gear from Red Rock Micro, looks like a risky, technical nightmare. And this one isn't even rigged with a monitor (or two):

Why go through the trouble of making a 5D work? Because it has a huge sensor. It gives a different look that you can only get with big, expensive film cameras + lenses -- shallow depth of field in crispy HD. "Cinematic" is one way to describe it. But the body only weighs a few pounds, versus 100+ pounds for a big ass Arri, Panavision, or even a RED (which is a total hog too -- don't be misled, it takes a big strong person with a good back to move a RED.)

Rock star DP Shane Hurlbut (ASC, mind you) who has shot huge Hollywood features (including Terminator Salvation most recently) is apparently obsessed with the 5D. His blog has a TON of info. Too much to cover here. Anyway, here is another Frankencamera, a Panavision Prime with his 5DMkII:

Ok so after attending this talk, how do I feel about entering the foreign, shifting, messy world of video? I feel like I am starting to understand how I'd like to approach it.

First, Laforet is a massive gear head. He has to be in order to enjoy what he does. He is constantly buying, renting, testing, reviewing new kinds of crazy looking video gear. Camera rigs, remote control helicopters, gyro stabilizers, portable sound recorders, monitors, cable converters, etc. The thought of managing, let alone owning all this stuff makes me cringe. I've spent years honing my gear down to a few lenses and a couple lights with which I can shoot a ton of stuff. The thought of going the other direction is very uanappealing. Especially when just a decent fluid head is $2k+.

One comment he made that has been bothering me was in regard to shooting video by moving the camera (using a dolly, handheld rig, steadicam, frankencam, etc) vs. keeping it still (locked on a tripod.) And that the moving shots are what "separate the men from the boys" and that video shots where the camera doesn't move are "boring."

Of course, this is his opinion. And yes moving shots are cool. But shots where the camera is locked down can be killer too. Check out the work by director Henrik Hansen. The camera never moves. And it's absolutely beautiful. So, Sorry Vincent, I have to disagree with you on that one.

Also, it's important to put all this in perspective w/r/t to what you are shooting for. If I were hired to shoot stills and video on an advertising shoot, I would never try to tackle this on my own with a still crew. It would be career seppuku. Especially if you are working with an AD that is accustomed to working on broadcast. In order to make it work, I'd surround myself with the best people possible, specifically Camera Operators, Gaffers, Grips, etc. When you HAVE to deliver, it's not worth the risk.

Personal work, small editorial jobs, sure -- fire up the HD SLR and shoot away. But be prepared to clear some technical hurdles (sound, constant light sources) along the way, even with a simple setup.

That said, once the Canon 1D Mark IV is available, I will get in line with every other photographer in the world -- not just for the HD Video capability, but for the high ISO and 16mp stills.

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