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Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page

Setting up a fluid head

In Equipment and Technique on February 24, 2011 at 6:13 pm

It’s something that isn’t talked about much, but makes a real and significant difference to the quality of one’s camera operation:  setting up a fluid head properly.  “What does it mean to set up a fluid head properly?” you ask.  Well, you’re in the right place.

A fluid head allows for smooth camera movement by using a viscous fluid (usually an oil of some sort) to create drag that limits the speed with which the head may pan and tilt.  The difference between a high quality fluid head and a cheaper version is that the cheaper version often incorporates some sort of non-fluid drag, such as friction created by having two surfaces in the pan or tilt joints rub together.  You don’t need to be an expert to tell the difference.  Simply by testing out the pan and tilt you’ll notice high quality heads feels smooth, and there is no resistance at the start of a pan or tilt so you avoid a jerky start.

If you’re looking for a higher capacity weight-bearing head (something like a Sachtler or O’Connor) then chances are all of the heads you’re dealing with are high quality.  Make sure to check the weight-bearing capacity of the head, because each head is rated for a range of weights.  If your camera is too heavy for the head…let’s just say cameras and concrete floors don’t like each other too much.

With the advent of smaller cameras, especially the DSLRs that are becoming so popular, there is a greater range of heads available from various manufacturers.  Some of these heads are high quality (often reflected in the price), and others are cheaper, less capable versions.  Make sure to try out a head before you commit to buying one.  Even the best operator can look like an amateur if saddled with a poor head that doesn’t allow for smooth, jerk-free pans and tilts.

Having a high quality head is key, but setting it up is equally important.  The pan is relatively simple.  There will be a dial, or ring that controls the amount of fluid drag engaged.  Adjust the drag to a level that feels comfortable.  Generally, a larger, heavier camera will feel better at a higher setting.

The tilt settings are a little trickier, and I constantly see people setting up the tilt settings incorrectly, so pay close attention.  There are three settings that need adjustment when properly setting up the tilt:  The camera’s balance, the counter balance, and the drag.  First, mount the camera on the head, keep the tilt lock engaged, turn the drag down very low, remove the counter balance, make sure to have your hand on the camera or tilt handle, and loosen the tilt lock (make sure you have a secure hold of the camera.  If the balance is off, the camera will pitch forward or back.).  What you’re looking for here is that the camera is properly balanced or neutral on the head.  Ideally, you should be able to take your hand off the camera and it should stay upright without the tilt lock, counter balance, or drag engaged.  You can achieve a neutral camera balance by sliding the camera forward or back in the sliding base plate (higher quality heads may have some sort of sliding capability built-in, or you may need some sort of sliding base plate from your camera rental house), or by re-mounting the quick release plate from the head forward or backward on the camera’s base.  It’s pretty obvious when you have a neutral camera balance, but this is the step most people miss.  They simply start dialing up the counter balance to compensate for the camera’s lack of neutrality.  This is a mistake.

Step two is, yes, to dial in the correct amount of counter balance.  This begs the question, “What is the counter balance’s function?”  No, the function is not to make the camera spring back to a neutral position when the operator lets go of the camera (I’ve seen this set up), or to compensate for a lack of camera neutrality.  The function is to counter the lack of balance created when the camera leaves a neutral position (i.e. tilts forward or back).  Dial the counter balance up only enough to allow the camera to stay in position when tilted forward or back without the need to someone to keep a hand on it.  If you set the balance and the counter balance properly you should be able to tilt the camera to any position and it will stay there of its own accord.

The final step is to dial in as much drag as desired.  Usually, I like the drag on my pan and tilt to feel the same so that diagonal camera moves feel seamless, meaning I don’t have to push harder to tilt or pan, but am able to move the camera in any position with an equal amount of force.

If you’ve set things up correctly you should be able to operate your camera with a minimum of effort, which will make those long takes much easier, and will make your frame less subject to creep.

Happy Shooting!

Om Sweet Om goes live!

In Shoots on February 22, 2011 at 2:29 am

Slip into your Yoga pants and stretch out that groin!  The first episode of Om Sweet Om just went live.  Check out the website here.

Thanks for all of your support.

White Bowl Productions | pre production for Final Weekend

In Updates on February 16, 2011 at 7:59 pm

White Bowl Productions, the new production company run by Jennifer Campbell, the brainchild behind ‘HIKE’, has a new home.

I am very excited to be working with Jennifer again on pre production (pre, pre production) on ‘Final Weekend’, a psychological horror film about what can go wrong when one misjudges a childhood friend.

We won’t go to camera for some time, but getting going on Final Weekend has me jazzed.  I have high hopes for the film.

Shameless Plug for Om Sweet Om

In Shoots on February 15, 2011 at 4:35 pm

I know, its shameless, but in cyberspace no one can see your embarrassingly red face.

Here’s a link to Om Sweet Om, a web series I worked on over the summer.  It premiers it a week’s time.  Please take a moment to check it out.  I hope you like it.