Daniel Haggett

London based Lighting Cameraman / DoP 

Branded Content and Packshots

Branded content is a big deal these days. Over the past few years I have worked with a large number of brands from Nike to Rolex to Dior to Heineken the list goes on and on.  If there is one thing that is really important when filming branded content, it is the packshot.  A packshot is a shot of the product, pure and simple.  It should be obvious, this is what the client is trying to sell, so of course the packshot should look amazing.  However, as the scope of branded content grows and the filming gets ever more elaborate, it is easy to forget this.  Think of it this way, the marketing types and those high up in the company might not notice the quality of the camerawork, the music, the audio etc, but there is one thing they will notice for sure: the brand.  Whether the brand is an object, a logo or just a name it needs to be given a bit of attention.

This is a frame grab from a slow move in on a test shot.  Lighting this was a bit of a challenge.  Watches are always a bit tricky to light.  The problem is, glass reflects.  You need to shine lots of light into the face to bring it alive and get the numbers and hands on the watch to pop out, but you don't want the light bouncing back into the lens.  It's also tricky when you have a black background as you don't want light spilling all over the backdrop causing it to look grey rather than black. Finally, the hardest bit, and probably the most important, the brand name must be well lit.


Each light source hits the watch at an angle to reduce glare from the watch face.  The main light source is reflected from a large poly behind the watch.  This helped light the lower section of the watch, but left the brand name in darkness.  The smaller polyboard was then used to highlight the brand name and the upper portion of the watch.  The light here was a small dedo (anything more powerfull could have spilled onto the black background) which was reflected back using a silver poly just infront of the watch (left of the watch in the diagram above).


This was filmed with a macro lens and around 2.8f.  The wide aperture was used so that the face would be sharp but the watch strap was soft.


Architectural Lighting

I love filming interesting architecture.  I find good architecture fascinating and I like the challenge of bringing a 3D space to life on a 2D screen.  The video below is actually a photography "how to".  The photographer uses a flash gun to add interesting texture and light.  He then stacks up several layers of photos and cuts in the details he needs.   So what is a photography video doing on my cameraman blog?  Essentially you could create the same thing with video, rather than using a flash you would just use many small lights (such as dedos) the only additional challenge would be in hiding all the cables.  The reason I think this works well as a tutorial, even if you are shooting video, is that it is easy to see the effect each light makes.  As each light is added you can see the effect it has in the overall picture.  

In this type of situation I would possibly shoot 2 layers, the first for an interesting sky, and the 2nd for the lights that are being switched on around the building.  I sometimes shoot 2 versions of a shot in case the editor wants to cut in a plate, especially if I am shooting a timelapse.  More than 2 layers and it probably gets a bit much for an editor to be messing around with, so I would hope to light the building all in one go.  Obviously, you are going to be restricted by the number of lights you have at your disposal.   On architectural type programmes there may not be time to light every shot, however, I would say the one master shot of the house it is probably worth while.  The full article can be found here.

Canon C300 mark 2

With NAB in the USA coming in April and BVE in the UK opening it's doors tomorrow, people are going to be curious about the future for the Canon Cinema EOS line.

The Canon C300 was originally sold for £12k and did incredibly well for several years.  At this price bracket you now have the Sony F5, which has better slow motion capabilities and also works better as a shoulder mounted camera.  This puts the C300 slightly lower down the rankings.  Sony then releases an incredibly high spec camera for the price with the FS7.

Sony's FS7 sells new for just over £5k / $8k, whereas the C300 now cost well over £8k.  The FS7 shoots 4k and has slow mo up to 180fps at HD 1080.  Canon are obviously going to have to improve the C300 spec with the mark 2 to keep it selling units.  Personally, I think they will make a few improvements, but I don't imagine them droping the price too far to compete with the FS7.  Although 4k looks like it will be on the menu, I am not so sure about the high frame rates for slow motion.  Canon has always been a bit behind with regards to high speed and has placed more emphasis on its colour pallet and skin tones.  

In order for the C300 to become really competative again, they obviously need to look at ergonomics and make it more of a shoulder mount camera, which would put it well beyond the FS7 end of the market, regardless of specs.  With a decent shoulder mount set up the camera would then be able to compete with the Sony F5 and maybe even the Arri Amira, although a lot would need to be done to get there.

I can imagine updates such as 4k, improved picture quality through colour rendition, and a few minor tweaks being ready for NAB, but whether a shoulder mount version will be released then who knows.  Canon have already made noises about competing with the likes of Arri so you can guarantee a better spec shoulder mount camera will be here in the near future.

How ensure you get paid as a freelancer

I have been working as a freelancer for years and have always been paid, that said it is worth taking a few precautions. 

As a freelance cameraman there are a few things you can do to ensure you get paid. There are preventative measures you can take to ensure you are working for the right people, but if things go wrong and clients refuse to pay, there are also tactics that could help you get the money you are owed.
Most people will tell you to make sure you have a contract with your employer, however, in the world of TV, this is pretty unrealistic. If you are working a contract over a few months you may get a contract, but for most short term jobs an email or phone call might be all you get.  This being said there is plenty you can do to protect yourself.  
If your job offer is just a telephone call, getting it in writing is a good idea. Even if you just email them back to confirm the rate, the hours, the number of days etc, you will have a contract of sorts and proof you have been employed to do a job.
If you don't know the company, do a little research.  Do they have a habit of not paying people? Are they easy to contact? Do they have a physical address? All of things will help you access the company when you need to get paid.  If it is a big contract you could even ask around and find out what other freelancers say.  I would always be more cautious of working for an individual, as companies tend to be easier to contact when it comes to getting paid.
If you aren't sure about the company, ask for payment up front, or maybe ask for half of the fee and the other half on completion.  When I am asked to work for a company based abroad, I always ask for the fees up front, the reason being it is much harder to take these companies to court or even contact them if they decide not to pay.  I find companies are happy to pay up front as they understand the risk involved.
Be clear about your payment terms and stick to them.  I give 30 days as this is standard in the uk.  After that date I will remind the client. I always remain friendly and professional as I understand companies may struggle with cash flow, or may have simply forgotten the payment. I usually want these companies to employee me again, so it doesn't make much sense for me to send Joe Pesci around to their accounts department with a baseball bat.

What happens if you do the work, but don't get paid?

Firstly, it is worth being persistent.  Find the right accounts contact and email them.  If you still haven't receieved the money after your payment term, gently remind them.  If you still don't receive anything it is worth calling to clear things up, just to make sure they haven't lost the invoice or paid it into the wrong account.  Although 30 days in the standard payment term, some companies may regularly wait two or even three months before they pay freelancers to aid their cash flow.  Although this is frustrating there isn't much you can do about it, other than email them reminders.

What if they refuse to pay you?  If you still don't get paid, then you may want to lean on them a little harder, this is a last resort as it will certainly destroy your working relationship.  The footage you shoot is your intelectual property, which you are selling to your emplyeer.  If they don't pay you, then that property is still yours. This is a point you could easily make to the broadcaster or brand or whoever the end client is for this material.  Obviously this is going to cause a major headache to whoever employed you and they may find it prefereable to just pay you what you are owed.

What if this still doesn't work?  It is worth remembering that governments want business transactions to run smoothly and for individuals and companies to get paid.  Whatever country you live in, there is probably some sort of system that can help if you aren't getting paid as a freelancer.  In the UK there is  the Small Claims Court which deals with small amounts of money owed (under 10,000 UKP).  Although this sounds like a lot of trouble, especially if the amount of money you are claiming is really small, you may not need a solicitor or even have to go to court.  Just registering the claim online means that a court date is set and a letter is sent to the person or company who owes you money.  The letter alone could be enough for your client to pay up, as they may not want to go to court.


NFTS Lighting Course Review

For a several years I have been keen to try out the Lighting Course at the National Film and Television School.  Most of what I film is factual programming, so working in a purely film and drama context on a week's lighting course was something that has always appealed to me.

I picked the NFTS as it has a reputation as being one of the best film schools in the world, the list of alumni is pretty incredible and includes the likes of Roger Deakins.

(Above lighting for pack shots)

The course is limited to 8 people at a time, although this means it is heavily oversubscribed and places go quickly, once you are on the course you get plenty of hands on time with the kit.  

The tutor was Derek Suter BSC.  One of the first things he said was, he didn't want to talk too much and instead prefered us to learn by using the equipment.  For me this was perfect, I didn't really fancy a week looking at a white board discussing theory. The course is sponsored by Panavision and Panalux, so the first thing we did was unload a delivery from them, a truck full of lighting equipment.  

(Below setting up for daytime external shoot)

Over the week we shot: pack shots, daytime studio scenes, night time studio scenes, daytime scenes outdoors and nightime scenes outdoors.  The group was split into two, so you have four people per group, each person taking it in turns to be the DP, focus puller, operator or assistant.  There is also a highly experienced team around you.  We had a fantastic Gaffer, a really experienced Camera Assistant a Spark and Grip.  You end up learning just as much from each of these people, as each one of them is an expert in their own specific field.  On several days there were also two actors and a sound recordist.  Having the actors and sound really helped bring things to life.

(Below the Alexa with a beautiful Cooke 18-100 T3)

The cameras are always cabled up to a large monitor, so at any point you can go and check your work.  Sometimes both groups work on the same scene, so you can flick between the two monitors and see how each one is set up and being operated.

At the end of the week you get to see your footage in the cinema.  I have never seen anything I have shot blown up that big, so it is an experience in itself.  You realise why attention to detail is so important in the film world.  Using a certain filter softens skin tones suddenly serves its purpose when you see an actors face projected 5ft wide.

(Below, one of the actors gets ready for a take in the studio)

Apart from learning to light, you also pick up a lot of film making techniques.  Being a lighting cameraman I have always pulled focus for myself looking at the monitor.  Pulling focus for someone else, I learned to make measurements and feel the pace of the action and look at the distance marks, rather than looking at the monitor.  It felt odd at first, but once I gave up looking at the monitor and relied on the marks everything fell into place.

The following scene is shot with a 10k coming in through the blinds and a 1k inside the room pointing away from the actors bouncing off the wall.

This next scene has a 5k coming through the blinds with very little internal light to give a dark moody feel.

Each of these scenes is ungraded (shot at LogC 444 with a REC709 LUT added in post).

For more information on the short courses on offer from the NFTS check out their website.


How to shoot a basic interview

Here is the situation: you have been given a room to shoot an interview in, you have never seen the room before, you can't change and move to a different room.  Sound familiar?  This is the bread and butter work for a lot of cameramen.  Sometimes you can move to a different spot, sometimes you have a small recce, but often you just have to deal with what you have been given.  


Here is an example:

The interview setting above needed to be nondiscript.  It was filmed in London, but for the purposes of the documentary, it could not be identified as such.  The room was empty and so there was a chance the shot could look a bit dull. 

In order create a more interesting background, I decided to use the overhead chandliers as a backdrop.  I needed to use the entire length of the room to do this.  If I was too close to the overhead light, I would end up shooting at too extreme an angle.  Fiming from below is rarely a good idea, you end up looking up their nose.  So in order to get the chandalier in shot I needed a slight angle and a long room.

 I then position the camera so the chandalier was lined up in the mirror.  The light on the far left of the image is the chandalier, further right is its reflection and further right still the rainbow of light is where the reflection hits the join in the mirror.  (This was a lucky find).

That gave me three practicle background lights, all overhead.  The rest of the shot looked dark by comparison, so to even it up I lit the bottom left back wall with a dedo, highlighting the gold pattern on the wall.

The end result I think is an image which could be anywhere.

Here are a few tips to get the most out of a room:


1)  Start and the far corner of the room as this gives you the biggest aspect, the most depth and the most options.  Look around from here in each direction trying to envisage what a small section of that shot will look like.

2)  Use what is around you to break up the background and give interest.  

3) Your subject needs to be the focus of the interview.  Typically people's eyes will be drawn to odd shapes so try not to make the background too busy.


Canon C300 Custom picture colour matrix


Acurate colour rendition verse a beautiful look.

I recently worked on a programme filming famous paintings.  Colour reproduction in these works of art was obviously very important.  With a normal scene an editor or colourist can change the picture and grade the scene how he or she likes, with a work of art there is a very clear right way and a wrong way, and what is more, the editor might not have a reference image of how the picture should look. You might think this would be easy, surely a camera will acurately reproduce colours, but this simply isn't true.  Cameras have a certain "look" or feel to them, this is done by the way in which they interpret colour.    This is true of all colours but it is particularly noticable with green.  If you point your camera at a colour chart like a colour du monde and turn on your vector scope, you will notice some colours are more acurately reproduced than others.

If you point your camera at various sections of the chart it will quickly become obvious which sections of the chart refer to which sections on the vector scope.  Regardless of which CP profile your camera is set to I bet the colours running across the top row and down the right side of the chart come in fairly acurately and the colours down the lower left corner of the chart do not.  If you flick through the various picture profiles on your camera you will see how the vectorscope changes.  The most dramatic change will be from the CINEMA Clog profile, giving a very flat reponse. 


Remember when reading a vector scope it is important to look at the vectors the colours are on, and not just whether the colours sit inside the box or not.


Lets take the colour red for example.  Red is located top left on the vector scope.  In the image above the red is sitting exactly correct in the box.  If the response from the camera was slightly left or right of the box the hue of the colour would be different: slightly more yellow if it was left and slightly more magenta if it was right.

Being further or nearer the centre mark represents chroma.  Typically any gamma curve desinged to hold highlights is going to move those marks closer to the centre, however, the colour hues might still be correct i.e. on the right vector.

It is important to note that on the C300 when you change your picture profile you are changing both the gamma curve and the colour matrix.  These have the same names "normal 1" "EOS standard" "Cinema" etc, however, you don't have to use the two in conjunction.  You could easily choose the Colour matrix of "Normal 4" but have the "Cine 2" gamma.  The gamma of course protects the highlights and deals with luminance rather than effecting the colour.

Before this gets too technical, here is a real world example.  A director and I noticed that on the painting we were filming the green was wildly different in the monitor, but the other colours we pretty accurate.  I quickly spun through a few picture profiles on the camera and strangely the one which gave the most acurate green was "EOS Standard."  However, I don't like filming with EOS Standard as I find the colours pop out way too much:  red goes insane jumping off the picture and highlights blow out really easy.  I then remembered the matrix setting.  I dialed the matrix setting to "EOS Standard"  and then I set the gamma curve to "Cine 2" as this preserved the highlights without creating an overly flat image.


This was just a quick fix on the job, but it seemed to do the trick.  It got me thinking though, what happens when you need very acurate colour, not just a pretty picture?  What if grass fills lots of your screen or you a doing a commercial involving limes, do you want to send mustard coloured grass or blueish limes to the edit?  I am picking up green specifically here as I am aware that green is the colour that cameras often treat unusually, not just C300s.  Cameras on the whole are designed to shoot acurate skin tones, as far as other colours and hues go, cameras are on the whole aiming to create a beautiful over all look rather than acurately reproduce each colour.

I later had a play around with the various colour matrix too see which produced the most acurate results.  I used the SMPTE colour chart below as I  found this a bit simpler to read.

This backed up thoughts I'd had before about the EOS matrix.  The green colour does get a bit more acurate, and the chroma on the red does jump up.   Of all the profiles I had loaded up on my camera the one which looked the most acurate on the vector scope was from Ablecine.  (There is a link to download this on a previous blog I wrote about gamma curves on the C300.)  


Having descovered this, I am not now going to shoot everything I do on the Ablecine profile.  Getting beautiful pictures isn't about simply recreating colours exactly.  However, there are times when you look though the monitor and feel that you aren't getting the image you want.  Going through the colour matrix settings and then selecting a gamma curve afterwards seems like it could be a good fix.  You can of course alter the values of all of these colours to produce your own matrix settings, however, this isn't something I'd like to do without a dedicated vector scope and I am happy just to download a few profiles from trusted sources.


Macro lens test and review with EF 100mm 2.8L

Having some kind of macro capability is often handy to have on a shoot.  Maybe you are filming a watch being made or you are watching the reflection of the object in someone's eye, and you only want the eye in frame, I have done both of these shots more than once and for this you need a macro.  (Below is a gratuitous macro shot I took in my garden)

I thought I'd compare the macro capabilites of the following lens combinations and see how they did.  All of these images are taken on the Canon C300.  

1) Canon 70-200mm L 2.8 IS

2) Canon 24-70mm L 2.8

3) Canon 100mm IS macro

4) All of the above with the Canon macro extension tube.


This first image was taken using the 24-70mm at the closest focus range at 70mm.  I had never used this as a macro lens before, and was surprised by how good it was.  You can really get in there with it, and it gives you a way bigger image than the 70-200mm which I hadn't expected.  The note covered is about 8cm across, filling the screen.


This next image is from the 70-200mm at 200mm


The image below is 70-200 again, this time with the macro barrel, which allows you to focus that bit closer.


This next one is the 24-70mm with the macro barrel attached.  Really amazed by this one.

This is the Canon 100mm macro lens IS.  As you'd expected, it is the closest of the bunch.  The across section filling the screen is only about 2cm wide.  

Just for interest I thought I'd chuck the Macro barrel on the 100mm macro lens.  Apologies for this terrible shot, I was doing this all hand held and struggling with light so it all looks a bit soft, but you can get this close if you really need to.



The Canon 100mm macro is obviously quite a bit more expensive than the macro barrel.  This is hardly surprising when you consider that barrel is really just air - there is no glass in it, the barrel just transmits the info from the lens to the camera and creates a gap, so your closest focusing distance becomes nearer.


So what do you get for your money when you spend the extra on the Canon 100mm macro?  Firstly the lens gives you the best macro cababilities and you get the closest images.  Secondly it is image stabilised, this is really handy when shooting this close to something as the slightest woble is magnified. Thirdly 100mm makes sense for macro work more that 70mm on the 24-70mm.  To get the shot I have above with the 24-70 and the macro barrel I had the lens centimeters from the object.  This can cause a few issues when you are shooting - you could quite easily block your light source, and if you are shooting a person - their eye for example, the lens would be almost touching their face, which would be a bit weired.

One final pluss point for the macro lens is it is quite a bit easier to focus than when using a barrel.   The barrel also gets rid of the infinity end of the focus spectrum.  

Here are each of the lenses used in this little test including the barrel.

EF 24-70mm

alt     alt

EF 70-200 

alt  alt

EF25 ii Extension tube 

 alt    alt

EF 100mm macro 2.8L IS



Creative Framing

One of the things about learning to do something the "correct" way is that it can easily become such a habit that you never look outside these rules.  With composition, we get so conditioned to placing objects in the screen using the 2/3rds rule that it becomes second nature.  Often, when I see something that I feel is shot beautifully it is because it breaks these rules.  In the clip below there are some great shots, but it is worth looking at the portrature, the way people faces and bodies are framed.


Faces aren't always where you expect them (occupying 2/3rds of the screen looking into the space section of the frame).  Sometimes just the smallest part of the body or face is shown, just an eye or even the back of someones head, but you get the sense of it and you don't need to see the entire face or body on a standard mid shot.


I love this shot of the man below.  Reflexively, most cameramen, myself included, would pan right and a touch down on this image and end up with a very standard shot.  It takes a bit of forethought and concentration to mix things up and get these kinds of compositions.

Again, the temptaion is to show more of what is going on, but we dont' always need it.  The actual amount of in focus face here is tiny, just and eye in the furthest 6th chunk of the screen and the vast majority of the screen is just one out out of focus colour.  The image is beautiful because of the composition.


Another one that breaks the rules.  Loads of head space, subject in the middle of the screen, most of the face missing everything you are taught not to do when you first start composing photos or filming interviews, it is breaking these rules that make the image work.  

There are loads of other shots within that clip that break the rules of compostion in a similar way.  Most of them just flick up on the screen for a few seconds and yet that is plenty of time for us as a viewer to relalise what is going on.

Recently I have been trying to inject a bit of creative framing into a couple of the projects I am working on.  It is really good to stop and re asses the rules we have been taught.

Double Exposure and Negative Space

I have worked on a few projects lately that rely heavily on negative space.  It seems odd to be employing the same shooting technique on completely unrelated projects, but I guess this is something of a trend at the moment.  I thought I'd outline two of the projects here.  The first is a branded video, and the second is a promo/advert both of the projects employ a technique of double exposure to make them work.


This image is a good example of double exposure (with the tree element there are actually three images at play)


This next image is a frame of one of my images (just an ungraded shot)


Here the workers face is used as a canvas, but you could just as well shoot this wider to make the head smaller, and then use the negative space as a canvas if you prefered.   This isn't a green screen shoot, the worker is in his normal work environment, but his head is easy to cut out as it is heavily differentiated from the background.  This differentiation can come from either using a tiny depth of field and seperate the background, or extreme lighting to create contrast. 

In this shot we got most of the light using what was already available.  The lift and the area just outside is brightly lit and so contrast well with the darker walls.  All we had to do was light the worker as he came out of the lift and we have an image that can be used for double exposure.  Here it is the framing that works, shooting this tight would mean you only have a lit area with no contrast, the wider shot gives us darkness.


In the above examples contrast is used to pull out a feature of the picture and seperate it from the background.  However, you can also use a small amount of contrast, especially if there is a large area of darkness onto which you can comp your second image.  In the next image the negative space takes up most of the screen.  Here I stopped the camera down heavily and used a shaft of bright light to give to illuminte the model's face.  This is for a different project, but the basic concept is similar.


There are other shots from this sequence with even smaller amounts of light, where literally only one eye is lit.  Sometimes I had the model stand by the window into the blazing sun and stopped down, to throw the background into total darkness, and sometimes I shot in a blacked out room and just used a tiny shaft of light from a dedo to highlight a small area. 


Before starting this project the Director and I found images we liked from videos that we thought looked beautiful or had an interesting textural quality and that we knew would lend themsleves to the double exposure treatment.  


This is a shot that I love from director Eliot Rauch's film Remember.  Here the light drifts down the actors body with the camera.  Eliot Rauch is the guy who came up with that incredible film "Last Minutes with Oden", if you aren't familear with it, it is definitely worth checking out.  It's a film that came out back when many of us where getting into shooting with DSLRs and it let me know what was possible.


Another image here is worth something that just works well, it looks visually interesting and you automatically have that high contrast with no lighting needed.  These shots are useful as they are so quick to shoot, it can get you out of a whole when you are pushed for time.

Here is another shot which again just relies on natural light.  This one is from a short called Gravity. The framing and contrast here would give you something to use for double exposure without having lots of complicated keying work to do in post.


To sum up, here is a quick list of stuff that I think works and stuff that doesn't.


Does work:

1) High contrast.

2) Shallow depth of field with close foreground and distant background.

3) Objects that are large and fill most of the screen.

4) Objects that are very small and use only a small amount of the screen with a uniform background.

5) Unusal framing where our intest is drawn to edges of the screen.


Doesn't work:

1) Busy scenes with too much going on.

2) Even lighting


Finally, the title sequence to The True Detective.  A peice that without doubt drives the trend along.



How to film works of art

I have been filming lots of art work recently for a BBC strand and an independent production company.  Although it is relatively straight forward to get this right, I thought I'd write a few notes up, as many people get this wrong and make a mess of it.  


F-stop:  It isn't a good idea to shoot paintings wide open as it is very easy for the edges of the paintings to be out of focus, while the centre is sharp (due to the relative distances from the lens).  Stop the camera down a bit, 5.6 tends to be the sweet spot for most lenses, if you have enough light you could go further.

Framing:  Set your tripod up so the head is right in the centre of the painting, from both a height and width perspective. 

White balance:  Light the painting and then take a reading from a white card right infront of the painting.  It is essential to get this absolutely spot on.  Experts will be used to the colours used in a painting, get it wrong and you'll know all about it.  Usually there are no true whites on paintings, so the editor will have no reference point, meaning colour correction afterwards will be very tricky.  

Lighting:  Having filmed in lots of galleries over the past month I can safely say most gallery lighting is horrible.  Typically painting are lit with harsh spot lights from the cealing giving very harsh hot spots.  Get rid of these lights, turn them off if you can, point them away from the painting if you can't.  Light with something very soft, I used a kino flo with a flozier over the top, which worked well.

Reflections:  The hardest bit about filming paintings is dealing with reflections.  Even without a glass frame, glossy paint will reflect a bit, so the light source needs to be a soft as possible.  If the paintings are in a glass frame you could ask the gallery to remove it.  If this isn't possible there are a couple of work arounds:  1)You can try filming the painting from a distance on a longer lens, this way you won't be able to see the camera in the relection as easily.  2) Another option is to film behind a black drape and just poke the lens through a gap.

MoVI M10 and the Canon C300

Ever since Freefly Systems bought out the MoVI M10, I have been curious to see how it would handle a C300.  DSLRs and, to an extent, RED cameras are solid brick shapes that can be balanced fairly, easily whereas the C300 has a tall narrow body with a high centre of gravity.  It does take a bit of balancing to get it right, but once it is locked in it works really well.

 I won't go into how to set this up here, as it is covered well elsewhere (Freefly have a series of videos that take you through the set up process.)

Here are just a few tips for using a MoVI, particularly with a C300.

The first thing to be aware of is that this thing will take a long time to set up (if it isn't already set for your exact camera with the same lens, battery, etc. ) The reason for this is the weight and size of the rig.    Before starting to shoot the MoVI must be balanced perfectly, there are several variables to adjust and this will take a while to get right, especially when doing it for the first time.  Getting the right rental company is essential, you need somewhere you can go to the day before your shoot and start setting the rig up.  If you are in London I'd recommend Catalyst Cameras.  Anita is hugely helpful when it comes to helping set your camera up.

The best thing to do is take your camera and lens along to the rental company and get it set up, there is no way you want to be doing this job in the middle of a shoot.  You need to take everything you'll be attaching to the rig, exactly as you intend to use it.  Even something as light as memory cards will make a difference to the balance.   If you intend to use a few different lenses it is a good idea to mark the base of the camera where the balance point is for each lens, that way when you are on the shoot, you can quickly make adjustments when changing lenses.  Catalyst Cameras in London are amazing, not only are they really helpful, they also have every conceivable bit of kit neatly packaged up in the MoVI kit box.  If you need a screw to mount your monitor, a lightweight BNC or HDMI cable, a screwdriver, allen key, whatever every single thing is right there in the box.


In order to get the C300 working on the MoVI you need to remove the handgrip, the eye piece and obviously the top handle and LCD.  Since you'll be monitoring off an external monitor, rather than the LCD, you should send the camera display info through to the monitor, otherwise you will only have the tiny back panel on the back of the camera, which isn't ideal.   NB  Pulling the communication jack from the hand grip can sometimes make the camera buttons freeze up.  If this happens just pull out the jack and re insert.  It is also worth making sure that you have assigned the camera functions, so that every button you need is on the side of the camera, on not on one of the bits that you have just removed.


It is worth keeping the weight down as much as possible, although the rig feels light it starts to burn the biceps after a while.  I used my TV logic 5.6 mounted on the rig and a 17-55 lens, I wouldn't recommend anything too much bigger and heavier.


Once you have your MoVI balance correctly, it doesn't take very long to set up each time you need to use it.  You can pack it down and then just slide the camera on to the correct point and you are ready to go.


I love shooting with the MoVI, it is a really great bit of kit and highly addictive.




Shooting in Low light with Canon C300 picture profile

I was asked to shoot a music video for American act, Austin Mahone the other week.   The job was pretty last minute and the label wanted to shoot it around the main scenic tourist spots of London.   Everything had to be shot at night, partly for the look of it, and partly so we could actually move around London easily.  The only issue was there was no room for any lighting at all.  We had to be extremely manoverable and so kit was kept to a bare minimum (not even a tripod).  

I wanted a picture profile that could handle extremely low light.  Clog, seemed a bad idea as you immediately lose a few stops of light with this profile, and also that profile is aimed at preserving highlights, of which there would be very few when shooting in almost complete darkness.


Many of the C300 picture profiles contain some sharpening, which I really didn't want.  If there is any noise in the picture, the last thing you want is for a digital sharpening effect to highlight it.  If you are doing this on the fly and want a quick picture profile that works best in low light, I would recommend using Normal 1, with all the sharpening removed.  

Able Cine have a specially made low light picture profile, which is very similar to Normal 1 with sharpening removed although they have also changed the colour matrix slightly to aid shooting in low light.  I used it here and am pretty happy with the results.

Click here to download the low light profile from AbleCine and see the video below.


4k Camera Comparison

Of late there have been so many new 4k cameras coming to the market, I thought it was time for a quick round up of what is about.


Camera Resolution Slow motion Price USD Dynamic range
Black Magic PC 4k None 2k 13 stops
Blackmagic Ursa 4k 100fps 6k -6.5k 12 stops
AJA Cion 4k 60fps (120fps externally) 9k 12 stops
Canon 1dc 4k  60fps at 1080 10k  12 stops
Panason Vari Cam 35 4k 120fps ? 14 stops
RED Epic 5k 120fps at 4k 17.5k 13.5 stops
Canon C500 4k 120fps (external) 20k 12 stops
Sony F55 4k

150/180 fps

(240fps external)

29k 14 stops


Blackmagic URSA   AJA Cion


Of course, resolution and frame rates are only a tiny peice of the story.  Usability, the actual dynamic range, colour handling, funtionality, from things like view-finders, shoulder mounts inputs outputs etc etc, will all effect whether a camera is worthwhile buying and not the sort of thing you can work out from a press release.

The Blackmagic Ursa does look like it goes along way towards becoming what camera operators would actually need and want from a camera.  The design is not disimilar to older ENG cameras: with audio outputs where they should be (at the back of the camera) a decent top handle and it also looks fairly well balanced.  It is also a camera that can be upgraded later by the user, and even the chip itself can be replaced later down the line if something more advanced is made available.


If you are interested in shooting lots of slow motion, the Red Epic is interesting as can shoot 120fps at 4k and can shoot up to 300fps on a sliding scale with resolution dropping down from 4k.  This is amazing when you consider how much people were paying for phantom shoots only a few years back.

Sony F55As far as ergonomics and usability go the Sony F55 is definitely up at the top.  Sony have been making ENG cameras for years, and the F55 is a nice block of a camera to stick on your shoulder and it has a proper view finder in the right place.

Although I don't imagine many productions demanding 4k anytime soon, having the ability to shoot slow motion is always going to be a pull for directors, especially when it is in camera.

For me a massive question about any of these cameras would be reliablitily.  If you are shooting in New York, London or another big city and your AJA Cion stops working, you might be able to get another quickly from a rental house, or you might be able to get it fixed quickly.  I do so many shoots in far off places, I need to know, beyond a shaddow of a doubt that the camera is 100 percent reliable, or if there is an issue there is somewhere I can find get the issue resolved.

Although there is no exact price on the Panasonic yet, they have been rivals of Sony for years, with earlier versions of the varicam and we can expect the price to be pretty close to that of the F55.  The word on the internet seems to be the price will be "under 60k USD" Although that is pretty obvious, since the F55 is way under that.


varicam 35 4kMany people will probably be wondering whether the price of the Epic/Panasonic Vari 35/Sony F55 will drop as a result of these new cheaper alternatives.  It is hard to say, but personally, I don't think so. The prices are so different they are really separate markets.  A DoP thinking of buying a new F55 might be easily persuaded to buy the Panasonic instead if the price is better, but I dont imagine the same is true of the cheaper 4k cameras.  Apart from anything else, owning a camera most production managers have never heard of means you'd have to do a lot of explaining and persuading to get it on a job.  So who will buy the new New BM Ursa or Aja Cion?  I can see independent fim makers buying these, or small production companies buying them as their in house cameras.    Having said that, what about the 1DC?  Desptie the 1DC dropping its original price down to 10k, it is still 10,000 US dollars for a stills camera.  The blackmagic Ursa is a fair bit cheaper and on paper looks like a much more usable film camera.  If Canon still want to pitch the 1DC to independant film makers they may have to further reduce their prices.


One thing is for sure, cameras shapes and sizes are merging back towards what we first had with ENG cameras like the Beta SP, DigiBeta etc.  All of these new offering look very similar.  Manufacturers have obviously seen how all us operators have been struggling along for the past few years, with odd shaped boxes on our shoulders and a whole load of 3rd party periferals attached to the camera.  Most of these new cameras seem to have lept forward in ergonoimics as well as technology.

Further reading:

4K Cameras: Should I care



I have been writing blog articles for around 2 years.   I recently joined the B&H and Amazon Affiliate programmes.  If you buy anything through one of these links on my site, I earn a small commission.  This will not effect the kind of reviews I write.  On the whole I tend to write about equipment I use on a regular basis, if I am using it is probably because I like it, and not because I will earn a couple of dollars if someone buys it through Amazon.

If you need to buy something from B&H or Amazon, consider getting there through clicking on one of the links on my site, as that is what keeps the site running, and encourages me to write more articles.



4k cameras should i care

There seems to be a mass of 4k cameras becoming available.  The latest offering from NAB in Las Vagas talk about cameras with better and better specs, for cheaper and cheaper prices.  So when do you ditch your HD camera, in favour of something that shoots 4k?

As a cameraman it is always good to be slighltly ahead of the game.  When a Production Manager phones up and asks you to shoot on a certain camera or format, it always works best if you can say yes, rather than phone a rental company, get specs and prices and call them back.  When people were first getting interested in shooting on DSLRs I got in early.  I had the rig, the right lenses, knew the right way to record audio and knew what was acheivable and what wasn't.  The bottom line was, I got good work and made good money.  The same was true when the Canon C300 came out, I pre ordered the camera and was ready to go as soon as the interest started.

It wasn't that easy with every camera buying decision.  In the early days of HD I managed to get a very good deal on a Sony F900 with a friend.  The F900 was, I guess, the Arri Amira or the Sony F55 of its day, it was used to shoot Star Wars III, it was capabable of shooting HD at 24p 25p or 30p, which was very unusal at that time.  Most TV productions back then were shooting with Digi Beta, whilst lower budget work (news, sports, corporate) were beginging to shoot on DVCAM.  The Sony F900 was streets ahead of these cameras and I was hoping I could clean up.  I didn't.  There were a few issues 1) The tapes cost several times more than the other cameras. 2) the decks for the tapes were 50k to buy, or a lot to rent and few companies owned them. 3) Editing systems often didn't have the space to capture everthing in HD.  When people called me to ask if I could should something in Digi Beta, I would try to persuade them to go HD at a reduced price and very often, the productions simply couldn't afford it.   The only work I got with it was on high end, high budget documetaries.  Meanwhile the value of the camera was droping like a stone.

Blackmagic ursaThe Black Magic Ursa, starting at under 6,000 dollars.  Records apple pro res 422, or RAW. 










 AJA CionThe AJA Cion


Apple Pro res 444 or 422

9000 USD








My point, in this rather long and drawn out story, is that it is good to be slightly ahead of the game, but there is no point in being years ahead of the game, as cameras devalue fairly rapidly.  This years NAB is awash with 4k cameras, each one cheaper than the last.  Camera manufacturer obviously want to push and sell new technology, and Sony have an added insentive as they can sell 4k TVs too.  However, it is good to keep the end user in mind, as this will ultimately be what drives demand and dictates whether you get a phone call asking to shoot 4k or not.  At present masses of channels aren't even broadcasting in HD yet, let alone 4k.  Loads of DVDs are being watched, which are not even HD and more and more people are watching content online - where 4k is likely to be a hinderance rather than something to be desired. 

With this in mind, how many people are likely to be dissatisfied with the resolution of their HD TV at home and want to upgrade to 4k?  In a cinema 4k makes sense to me, you have a huge screen and resolution could reasonably be improved, however, I am not sure the same can be said for  40 inch TV in the home.

This is not to say I think there will be no interest in 4k.  There are lots of points that will draw productions towards it, special effects work or even just edits where Directors want the option to crop into the image for a normal HD production.  4k also gives the cameraman the option to digitally zoom in and use super 16 size lenses for HD productions.  So 4k does have its benefits. Eventually TV, film, broadcasting and camera technology will push on ahead and 4k will be mainstream, however, I won't be buying a camera just becuase it shoots 4k before the phone calls start coming in.

Further reading:

Cnet.Why 4k TVs are stupid.  

Variety. Hollywood says "Meh to 4k TVs"

Canon C300 firmware update

I don't usually get that excited about firmware updates for the C300, as in the past the new features haven't been of much interest to me, however this latest issue ( has a couple of features I have been wanting for ages.  

1) You can now assign a seperate funtion to the grip wheel and the funtion wheel, so you can now control iris and ISO on two seperate wheels.  You no longer have to press the function button several times.  At last!!!  I have been going on about this for ages! This will make shooting some much easier.

2) You can shift the area you zoom into to check focus.  This is something I always loved about the zoom in function on DSLRs so I am glad it made it over to the C300.  

3)  Although I haven't tested it yet, they new Canon Wide Dynamic Range profile looks pretty good.


When adding the new firware you need to format your SD card first, so it is a good idea to put any saved picture profiles you have on to your computer (not the camera like I did, which then got wiped when I updated the firmware).  Once you have dropped the FIM file onto your SD card you can scrol to Firmware and update on the camera.  

Warning!  The after the firmware update the camera sets everything to default.  This means the camera will set to interlaced, so don't forget to put everthing back to the shooting mode you want.

To set on scrol wheel to iris and the other to iso, go:  Menu>Settings>Custom function>Control Dial   and Grip Ctrl Dial.

Since I am on the subject of C300 menus, here are a couple of other functions I always assign as apposed to the defaults

1) Rec review >entire clip default or last 4 sec.  (the default is the entire clip for some reason)  Settings>Rec review

2) Settings>Custom Function>F.Assist B&W.  This isn't on as default, but I like it.  When you zoom in digitally in sets the screen to black and white, which one, helps with focus, especially with peaking on, and two means that you'll never make the mistake of thinking you are zoomed in on the lens.

Here is a list of all the updates from Canon:

Shooting Enhancements:

  • ISO up to 80,000
  • Wide DR Gamma
  • AE Shift
  • Select the metering mode
  • Flicker reduction
  • 1440x1080 35Mbps to Meet Broadcast Requirements
On-set Support
  • Multi-person Login for the Canon Wi-Fi® Remote Application
  • Record Button Lock
  • Ability to Assign ISO and Iris Operation to the Control Dial
  • Ability to move the magnification viewing area around the LCD using the MAGN Function.
  • Push Auto Iris/One-Shot AF
  • GPS Support
  • Support for New Remote Controller (Scheduled to be available June 2014)

How to take a still photo with canon c300

Taking a photo is not something I am often asked to do on a shoot, although recently I did a job where the client wanted a few publicity stills of the video.  There are two ways to do this on the C300.

1) In video mode.  Assign a button to "photo" and then click away whilst recording video.  The photos are stored on the SD card not the CF card.

2) In media mode. Assign a button to "photo". Pause the video and press the assigned photo button. As in video mode photos are saved to the SD card.

NB I tried to use the same button I had assigned when in video mode and it didn't work, so I then assigned a button in media mode on the top of the camera where many of the media mode buttons are, like play, pause etc are and this worked). 

Using the 2nd method is a great way of getting decent shots, having the choice of multiple frames is great as you never need to take photos when someone is blinking, grimacing etc and you can just role on to the next frame and take your picture.  These pictures are not the highest resolution and tend to be around the 1MB mark.  However this is plenty for the web, when blowing them up full screen on my iMac, the pictures looked great.




How to shoot live music

When I first started working in tv I used to film bands, partly for fun and partly as away to learn how to shoot and edit.  I have filmed loads of bands over the years, from tiny concerts to large festivals and I always enjoy it.  If you are new to filming I would defintely recommend it, there are always bands about who are desperate to have some kind of video and it is a good way for you to pick up some skills.  Here are a few tips:

Get cameras.   Music tends to but cut fairly quickly and you obviously need something to cut to, so the more cameras you can get the better.  Get as many camera owning mates involved as you possibly can.    If you can't get people to shoot, just get the cameras, even a locked off camera pointing at the stage is better than nothing.  A few go pros attached with k clamps will give you another angle and help the edit along.

Learn the song.  You'll be able to shoot a song better if you know it.  Even just one listen will be enough to give you a feel of where a guitar solo might come, or when a backing vocalist might sing.

Shoot non-synch.  This is hugely important.  I have shot low budget music videos where we only had a couple of cameras for a live gig, the only way to deal with this is to shoot tones and tonnes of non synch.  There are loads of ways to do this, you could shoot the band back stage, getting ready, travelling to the venue etc and cut it over the live performance.  Another option is to shoot lots of crowd cutaways.  You can also just shoot lots of non synch of the band playing, for example you can shoot close ups of anyone not singing, or shoot weird angles from behind the band so you can't see what they are playing.  All of these shots can then be cut in with your actual live footage.  Another option, to make it look like you have more cameras on the actual performance, is to get the band to do a run through before the gig starts.  If they are playing to a click track, the shots will cut in perfectly to the live performance, if not you will have to fiddle around a bit in post, but it does work, bands tend to be pretty acurate when they are playing and the tempo will probably match.   The only thing to be cautious of with this route is continuity.  Make sure the band all know not to change clothes between the rehersal and the gig.  The lighting will also need to be the same.

Jam synch.  Lock all your camera's timecode together for the actual shoot.  If your cameras don't all have this function, then at least role for the entirity of which ever songs you are using for the edit, so that the songs can be easily locked together in post.

Audio.  Get a decent recording of the music.  The easiest way is to take a feed out of the desk and put it into one of the cameras that won't be moving.

Here is a performance from Rudamental at V festival which I shot over the summer.  There were quite a few cameras on the actual performance, but there is also loads of non synch of the audience, which was shot before hand.  There were also a couple of go pros mounted just over the stage, which I think worked really well.  




How to get your first job in TV

Getting your first job in Film or TV is really, really tough, so before you start cranking out resumes you need to ask yourself "Do I really want to work in Film or TV?"  Here are a few pointers before we start.

1) People think working in TV is glamorous.  It isn't

2) If HBO/BBC/Discovery posted a job for a Runner/Camera Assistant/PA today hundreds would have applied by the end of the week.

3) TV workers do bankers hours, without the wages.

4) TV work can be unpredictable, at times you'll be flat out busy, at times you might have no work at all.

If this hasn't put you off, and why should it, I knew all of these things when I started and it didn't put me off either, then read on.  Here are my top tips to get your first TV job.

Play the numbers game.  When I first started looking for a job in TV, I applied for a job that over 200 people applied for.  It was for a Camera Assistant.  Do you think the employer read every single CV?  I am guessing they looked through the first few and picked someone they liked.  Did I get the job? No.  Should you be put off by this?  Absolutely not.  All of the good jobs in the world a hard to get. If you go and ask NASA if you can have a go flying one of their space rockets, they are unlikely to say yes, but some dedicated people do become astronauts, by comparison getting a job in TV should be pretty easy.

There was a great Derren Brown "trick" I saw on TV where he tossed a coin 10 times, and 10 times it was heads.  How did he do it?  Did the camera cleverly cut without us realising? Was the coin a fake? Nope, he just tossed the coin a lot.  It took him the best part of a day, but in the end he got the result he wanted.  The odds of a coin landing on heads ten times in a row, is not high (it is 1/1024), but if you keep going, statsistics prove you will get there.

Ask not what a TV company can do for you, but what you can do for your company.   This is going to sound a bit harsh, but the people who run production companies don't care about the film you just shot with your mates on your new 4k Blackmagic camera.  At the beginning of your career companies are looking to see how you can help with their production, not the other way round.  Don't get me wrong, later on they may be very happy that you have aquired a few shooting or directing skills, but when it is your first job, chances are these are not the skills they are looking for.  


Use your skills.  If you are applying for a job as a Runner / Camera Assistant / Production Assistant, everyone who is applying has an education,is willing to work hard and probably has a good CV, so how do you stand out?  

Think of any skills that you have, that other people probably don't and think how you can use those in the TV world.  For example:  You have degree in Science, apply to Science based television programmes.  If you are interested in History, then apply to Historical programmes.  These kinds of programmes always need researchers and you could be useful to them.  If you speak a foreign language then find a show that needs translators or interpretors.  Having a language is a MASSIVE advantage.  TV programmes are shot all over the world, pre-production and planning these shoots may require your language skills, the crew on the ground might need your help, or they may need help translating the footage when it comes back.  If you are good with numbers and like sport, use your skills to work out the stats for football games.  If you are interested in politics, look at getting a job in current affairs.  If you like fashion/sport/gardening/achtecture - whatever, and you know a bit about the people involved in this world, then you could be of use to a production. This list could go on forever, but you get the idea.  Whatever skills interests or education you have, you can put them to good use somewhere. You don't have to stay in these jobs forever, but it could be a good way to get your foot in the door.

Be tenacious. When I was first looking for work in TV I sent of hundreds of CVs, literally hundreds.  This was in the days when people sent CVs by post.  I once even sent a CV inside a metal chicken through the post to a comedy channel, just to get noticed.  Did this get me a job?  No, but I still kept going.  In the end I walked round countless companies and knocked on doors pretending I had interviews with heads of departments, and the odd production company owner.   I didn't always get past security. I just kept going, untill eventually I had several offers on the table.

Here is an example of someone both being tenacious, and using her skills.  There was a girl I knew who wanted to get involved in TV journalism.   She saw a live BBC report from the town in Yemen where she was from (She lived in London).  She figured out that the crew would eat in a certain restaurant in that town, as it was a small place with few options.  She phoned up that restaurant and asked if a bunch of foreigners were eating there.  She asked to speak to the BBC crew and offered her services, she explained she knew the language, knew the region, and could help them out free of charge.  She ended up with a paid job at the BBC.

Use your contacts.  That old saying of "it's not what you know, it's who you know" is very true in TV.  If you know anyone in film or TV, keep in touch with them.  You don't need to hound them for a job, but get them to keep an eye out for you, that way if a job comes up in their company, you'll be the first to know.

Practicalities.   If you are wondering where to start, get a list of all of the production companies / post production companies / broadcasters or facilities houses in your area, depending on what type of work you are interested in.  Start by contacting these people.  There are lots of lists out there of production companies, databases like The Knowledge or Pact are a couple of UK examples.  Many of the larger organisations share CV libraries, rather than accept a CV as an email.  Upload your CV onto these databases, it is usually free and it is a good way of many getting access to several TV companies.  The talent manager is a UK example, and there are many others.  Keep an eye on Twitter and Facebook as there are many groups that advertise jobs in this way.

There are essentially two ways to go about contacting people directly to break into the industry:

1) Carpet bombing.  Get the general emails (info@ jobs @...) of every production company that is in your area and email them.  Chances are, most emails won't even be read, and many CVs will just find there way into the junk folder.  However, it is still worth while as some of those people might need someone, or they may pass you CV to the right person.  Remember, the larger the company, the more fortress like their email policy will be towards unsolicited mail.

2) Targeted shots.  This is more time consuming, but could give a better result.  Find a production company you are interested in, and then find out the contact details of the relevant people. Sending emails to addresses like"info" "CV" or "contact" usually means that your mail will be read by the office junior, who is not in a position to hire you.  You need to find out the contact details of the people that can hire you, this means a Production Manager, Production Coordinator, a Producer/Director or similar.   The trick here is to strike a balance between being motivated and determined to land your CV on the right persons computer, and pestering them.

No one wants to send off loads of CVs or enter their details into website it is boring, monotonous work that at times can feel soul destroying, however, it is a necessary evil in the early days of your career.  In order to get through it, split the list up and make a few goals.  Maybe decide to do twenty carpet bomb style emails per day, and two targeted emails. 

If you want to be really targeted you can even read up on what is about to go into production.  Online trade magazines often give information on programmes that have just been commissioned, and that means that the Production Company will most likely be about to crew up.

Get Connected:  Connect to your industry through any means possible: follow people on twitter, Instagram, Facebook, read blogs, comment on them.  Companies do this as they know people who are connected to them through social media are more likely to buy their product.  It is the same for individuals.  Someone is more likely to hire you if they have already had some form of contact through you on line.

Another example of this, just to prove I am not just pontificating and making all this stuff up, comes from Twitter.  Rodney Charters, a top Hollywood Cinematographer who is very open to social media, mentioned he was about to shoot in Austria.  Nino Leitner a young DoP from Austraia who is very well known online offered to assist him on twitter.  Rodney Charters gave him the job.  I don't know for sure, but I would say it was fairly unlikely they had ever met before this, and  the whole interaction happened solely through Twitter.  Would this have happened simply through sending an unsolicited email with a CV?  No way.  Incidentally, both of these people are well worth following on Twitter @ninoleitner @Rodneykiwi 


Film and TV is a tough industry to get work in when you are starting out, but it is a big industry that needs a lot of fresh talent to drive it along,  if you are really keen to work in it, you will get there in the end.


Canon C300 Zacuto Z finder

My one complaint about the Canon C300 has always been with the view-finder.  The LCD screen works great inside, or outside in shady conditions, but when you have the camera on your shoulder and you are filming with the sun behind your back, it is really tricky to see the screen.  You can of course chose to use to use an external EVF.  I just can't be bothered to deal with an evf for a few reasons:


1) Not all of the features from the camera always make it over to the EVF e.g digital zoom, peaking, zebras etc.


2) I can't be dealing with another set of batteries to charge.  This might be okay if you are running everything of one large v-lock - otherwise, to much hassle.



The odd solution to this has become available with a hoodloop type set up, but they usually have one problem or another: too heavy, too cumbersome, insainly expensive ...


Then there is my other issue with using on-board LCD as a view-finder.  If you are shooting off the shoulder for any length of time you are going to get extreme neck ache.  I speak from experience.  Look at where the LCD sits compared to the camera, it is way higher than your eyes, so you are going to constantly have your head pointing up straining your neck!


alt This is the top handle that Vocas have made for the C300.  There are lots that is good about this thing.  Most importantly it takes weight off the light weight plastic handle that has ONE screw hole!  If you load your C300 up with shoulder rigs, lenses etc etc as we all do, you just know that this screw thread is going to break at some point.  With this Vocas set up the  handle is fixed to a plate at the base of the camera, so no strain is on that thread.  

 But, and it is a big but, this still doesn't do much for the issue of the positioning of the LCD to the operators eye. 











However,  at last it looks like the guys at Zacuto have got a solution to both of these problems.   Not only have they made an Z-finder style device that fits over the LCD, they have also figured out a new configuration that looks like it will put the LCD where the operators eye is.  I can't say for sure if this actually works well, as I have only seen a video of this, and haven't been able to try it out yet, but so far it looks good. 






I will try one of these z-finders out as soon as I can and report back


Sony F5 vs F55 vs Canon C300 vs Arri Amira

Arri recently released the pricing structure for the Amira, so it seems like a good time to look at a price comparison between the brands.


Since there is a price difference in terms of what you get with each camera in terms of extras, for the sake of simplicity, here is a rough price comparision for each camera. In each case it includes the camera body and a view finder (if not included in the original price).  All prices in US dollars.


Camera Price in USD
Arri Amira 40k/45k/52k
Sony F55  34k
Canon C500  20k
 Sony F5  17k
 Canon C300  14k

(see note on bottom of page of how I got this pricing)


I think that the price difference between each of these cameras would also continue to grow as you add on the extras.  Arri are not known for making cheap products, (think about the prices of the matte boxes).  For each camera you are going to need to add on some kind of shoulder mount system, batteries, chargers etc etc and all of these things will widen that price gap a little.


I think most cameramen, myself included, would feel pretty excited about shooting everything they do on a camera that shares the same chip as the Alexa (all be it with a different recording format behind it, which could change the look of the picture).  The question is going to be about the return on investment, whether the additional price you would pay for the Amira over the Sony or Canon cameras, equates to working on better projects, or earning more money renting the camera out.


The next thing to contend with is the current obsession with resolution.  Even people who don't work in TV come and look at my C300 and say "ooh does it shoot 4k", no and nor does the Arri Alexa that Roger Deakins used to shoot Skyfall or countless other beautiful looking films.  At present, production companies aren't even close to working in 4k, but Sony is pushing 4k TVs hard and so I guess it is only a question of time.  I can imagine that TV editing could become used to using 4k as away of croping the picture as and when they feel like it, and for the cameraman it would be like have a digital 2x extender on the camera at all times, but broadcasting in 4k seems a long way away.


When the C300 was first announced I jumped on it and put an order in, as it filled a hole in the market and there was literally nothing else out there I felt I could use that would give me the same results for that price.  In the current situation, I don't feel like I will run out a buy an Amira when they are eventually released.  I am more likely to be dictated to by the demands of production companies: if I start getting a lot of requests for F5, F55 or the Amira, then that is the route I'll take.


For further reading here are brief reviews of each of the cameras

Arri Amira

Sony F55 / 5

Canon C300 


NB: Here is how I got the pricing for the above table:

Arri have announced that the Amira will have 3 price structures, each one slightly different in terms of slow motion capabilities and recording formats.  

40k USD, 45k USD, 52k USD

In the UK CVP have announced the entry level package at 26,000 Euros, which is actually 5k USD cheaper than the US list price.  Since cameras are never more expensive in the US than Europe I would guess that the package prices are slightly off, or that the US price announcement includes more optional extras.  The 26k package from CVP does include a viewfinder, but not a shoulder mount plate.

Sony F55: 29k USD (body only) + 5k for OLED viewfinder = 34k USD

Sony F5:  16,490 USD (body only) + 5k for OLED viewfinder = 16,990 USD

Canon C500: 20k USD

Canon C300: 14k USD

How to find work as a cameraman

Since I wrote a blog post about "how to become a cameraman" it has become one of the more popular articles on the site, so the next question is "how do I find work as a cameraman?".   The short answer is that it isn't easy when you start out and a freelance career can take a good while, at least a year, to build.  The problem is, everyone is looking for the most experienced cameraman they can find, so how do you get that experience when starting out?  There are a few different options you can try when looking for work.


1) On line.  There are plenty of website that advertise jobs for the film and TV industry as well as Facebook groups etc some of these are free to join, others not.  Many of these sites work better for APs PDs etc than for camera crew.  The main reason for this is that most of those jobs will last several months, whereas a cameraman may only be needed for a week or even just a day, so companies a tend not to go to all the effort of advertising for such short job.  Having said that, longer jobs, such as working on long running reality shows, are occasionally advertised on line.  Full time work at production companies, facilities houses and broadcasters are also advertised in this way.  


2) Diary Agencies.  Diary services offer to look after your bookings, take phone calls for you if you are busy shooting and can arrange your diary.  They can also put you forward for jobs when offers come in from production companies.   When joining an agency it is worth having a look at the other cameramen on their books, if they are all much more experienced than you, then you know those people are likely to be picked for work over you.  The key is to join an agency that has people with a similar level of experience to you.  Some agencies might specialise in documentaries, films, dramas and so on, so it is worth looking at lots of agencies to get the right match for your skill set.  The main issue with diary services is the expense, most companies charge 100 - 200 GBP per month in the UK, and there is no guarantee they will be able to get you any work. However, if you think your experience is similar to others that are well represented by an agency, it might be worth taking a punt, you could spend over a grand for a years fees, but just one good job offer could take care of that cost.


3) Word of mouth.  By far the best way to get jobs is words of mouth.  The TV industry is built around trust, if a director is about to go to Alsaska with a cameraman, he or she needs someone who shoots great pictures, is reliable and that will be easy to get along with.  This last point is massively important, who wants to spend every waking minute with someone they can't stand?  Things like personality can't be judged from a CV, resume or profile on an online service.  In this situation a personal recommendation is going to carry much more weight than a CV from a stranger or even a recommendation from an agency.  So how to be that person who is recommended?  Firstly, on every job you do, do it well, be helpful and pro active, try to work above and beyond your actual remit as a cameraman.  Remember job recommendations could come from pretty much any of the crew, not just the PM or Director. Secondly, try to nurture any of those relationships you build on a shoot.  Keep in touch with those people either face to face, or through social media, whether that is Twitter, Facebook Linked in, or just though email.  The important thing is to keep these relationships going, you don't need to be hounding these people sending them CVs or Resumes, but you do need to keep in their thoughts so they don't forget you.  Drop Productions Managers, Co ordinatiors, Directors etc an occasional mail to stay in touch and who knows, at some point they'll be looking for someone and your name might be in their mind.


4) Give jobs away.  If someone offers you a job, but you are already booked, recommend another person you know.  Chances are they will return the favour.  You will also have made a Production Managers job a bit easier, and they will be grateful to you.


5) Persevere.  Work in the TV and film industry is oversubscribed, lots of people want these jobs.  No one just effortlessly works into a freelance career, it takes time to build skills, experience and relationships, however, in the end if you put the time and effort in, there is a good career there.

How to shoot reality or observational documentary

Even if you aren't working on a full blown reality TV show, there are many programmes that will incorporate a small amount of actuality shooting, where you can't control the action. Observational documentaries can be slightly tricky to shoot as there often isn't an interview or a graphic to cutaway to, so the cameraman needs to supply all of the buildings block necessary to make the edit themselves. The action often happens very quickly and there won't be time for a director to call the shots for you, often you'll have to do the thinking for yourself.


Audio is everything.  Audio is massively important when shooting reality and I would always advise wearing headphones, I usually do this in just one ear, leaving the other ear to hear what is happening around me. It is hard to stress just how important this is, if you aren't tuned in to the conversations the sound recordist is picking up, you won't be tuned in to what to shoot. Remember the edit producers will read through story notes and lots of the audio that is recorded, if they hear a vital conversation and want to cut it into the show, they won't be impressed if the camera is busy filming a pretty shot of the sun set. These days sound recordists will be laying audio down on a digital back up, so they'll be happy to monitor off their own rig, however, sometimes they will want to use your headphone jack, to monitor audio that they are sending to the camera. It is worth getting a solution to this, even if it is as simple as a mini jack splitter, so you can both monitor camera audio. The sound recordist could be picking up audio some distance from you through radio mics, you need to be able to respond to this as much as possible.


Observational and reality shows are all about the characters in them and what they say.  To film effectively you need to concentrate on what is being said, and respond to it.  The audio should always inform your shots.  Here is an imagined scenario to better illustrate this idea:


Dr: We ve had a look at your results...
Patient: How do they look?
Dr: Well, I was quite surprised at first
Patient: Why what is the matter?
Dr: You are pregnant.


So there are three possible ways to shoot this:
1) You shoot it all on a 2 shot and get everything that is being said.
2) You shoot everything in singles, quickly panning from one to the other.
3) You shoot the first line the Dr says and then only shoot the patient.

I would always advocate going with option 3 here, the reason for this is that you have the audio, you just need the reactions. At this point the main story is the patients reaction not the Doctors. The drama in the scene will all come from the patient, chances are, she will either burst into tears or be ecstatically happy. The Doctor on the other hand will be fairly non plused and we just need to hear his audio.


Option 1 will mean you capture everything, however, the editor might want to cutaway the middle lines as they don't add much. If you shoot everything on a 2 shot this will leave the editor with nothing to cut to. The shot will also be a hard profile of each person, as they will be talking face to face and this doesn't look great.


Option 2 sounds okay in practice, but the reality is you will be panning at the wrong time and miss the vital reaction. Remember it isn't just a case of wip panning, to have a decent full face shot, you will need to shuffle around and be to the side of one of the characters, if you are on the Dr when he says " you are pregnant" you'll be too slow to get the initial reaction.


Most scenes are not going to be as obvious as the one above, however, in most scene, there will be an element of drama. If you have been following the flow of what is happening between the characters, you should be able to guess where the interesting bits of drama and reaction will be. Remember, the sound recordist will pick up the audio, and the editor can even lay a wide shot over this if need be, the main thing is for you to get the reaction.


Fill in the gaps. Let's imagine two people chat away for 10 minutes and you film singles of the conversation, switching between one person and the next. If something develops and you know the editor is going to want that scene, you need to back track a bit and fill in the gaps. Firstly, that conversation needs to be cut down to the essentials and to do this the editor will need something to cut to. Non synch shots are always going to be a help, you need to choose a flat moment in the conversation where you can step back and get a big wide (wide enough so you can't make out what the characters are saying). Another alternative is to focus on some foreground and leave your characters out of focus.


Next you might want to pad out the story a bit, this isn't possible on every shoot and it depends on the people you are filming and the nature of the show. Typically you will catch lots of "ends" a few "middles" but the beginnings of the story are often missing. You may need to back track and get them, think of a few shots that would help the story along. At the most simple level this could be one of the characters driving, arriving at a scene and getting out of the car. This is very basic but just these few shots might make enough space for an edit producer to write in a bit of commentary explaining what we are about to see. It is also worth getting any cutaways which could be used to help the edit along. Think through the conversation you just heard and see what could be used. Reality and observational shows are becoming increasingly more structured, edging there way towards drama (Made in Chelsea and Made in Essex are at the extreme end of this). In these more structured shows, whole conversations can be re done, or gaps in the viewers knowledge filled in, however this is really a decision taken by the PD and not the cameraman. If you were framing up or not recording over a vital bit of dialogue I don't see the problem in saying "what was that?" to encourage them to start over, but again this is really dependent on the nature of the show.


Vary the shot size. Many inexperienced shooters make the mistake of shooting everything on a wide shot, standing very close to the contributors. This makes life easy for them, as cameras are easy to focus on a wide shot with a large depth of field and any shakes are much less noticeable, however, this is not good for the edit. For something to cut well the editor needs a massive variety of shots, tights, mids, wides and plenty of different angles. I always aim to give the editor a sequence that will work, where all the building blocks are in one place. If you only provide a wide shot, the editor is going to have to search through hours of footage to cobble together something that works. If you want to be hired again, it is important to provide useable footage. If possible, speak to the edit, find out what they typically need more of, or what kind of footage they don't want, that way you won't be wasting your time.


Talk to the edit. Another good way to get some communication between you and the edit suite is to talk your actions through. Let's say you are filming a situation, but the shot is not working, so you walk to a different place and shoot the same scene from a totally different vantage point, or maybe a new person turns up, but you didn't film them arriving. At times, the edit will have no idea of what you are filming or what just happened when you stopped recording. Filling the edit suite in with a bit of information might make their lives a lot easier. Just waving your hand in front of the lens giving a bit of information could help a lot eg: "I am filming this through the kitchen window as they don't want us in the house" or "that new guy who just turned up is a plain clothes cop".


Plan ahead.  Sometimes things just happen in reality or obs doc and you just have to follow the action as best you can.  In other situations, people know roughly what is going to happen before it happens.  In this situation you need to ask the characters who you are filming for as much info as you can get.  Here is an example of this.   I was filming an alligator that had been rescued, and was being returned to the Everglades.  I knew that it would make that cut as it was an end to the story.  I also knew that it was n't the first time our character Bob Freer had returned an alligator to the wild, he knew a huge amount about the creatures and how they react.  Before I shot this scene I asked Bob exactly where he would put the aligator and exactly what it would do once it was in the water (the answer was sink to the bottom and hide, whereas to be honest, I was expecting it to race off like a fish).  Just knowing these things meant there were no surprises for me, which in turn makes it easier to shoot.  Here is the end result.




Shoot good GVs or B-roll.  If you are shooting a standard documentary over the course of say 10 days, GVs will often just be anything that looks interesting to give a sense of place. In the case of a reality show the filming schedule might go on for months on end, and you don't need the same few GVs again and again. So what should you shoot to make your GVs useful? In reality shows GVs are often used to give a wider sense of what is going on: what time of year is it, is it hot or cold, what kind if weather is it, what time of day is it. The trick is to give the edit suite a kind of tool box with all the shots they could ever need to build the edit. Think of lines that could feasibly be used in commentary for the show you are working on: "It is early morning and ...." "Work has to stop at mid day as the searing desert heat ..." "Despite the rain...." Rather than just pretty shots, GVs or B- roll need to help the story along. A shot of heat haze on a road, blaring mid day sun or rain over flowing from a roof gutter might not be your traditional choices for a postcard style photo, but the editor will be grateful for them. Remember the viewer isn't as aware of the location as you are, so keep thinking, time of day, time of year and place. If you can include some of the subject you are filming, then great. Imagine you are filming a show about police in New York: a shot of the police cars from low down showing snow and ice on the ground with the winter sun low on the horizon, could be more useful than a mid day shot of Brooklyn bridge (that, chances are, another cameraman has already done anyway). Reality shows typically run for months on end, so as winter sets in, story producers are bound to want to talk about this change.


Get the wides. Wide shots can often be forgotten about when shooting reality sequences, as typically shooters will be very close to the action, always scared to miss the next thing that might happen. There will usually be a lull in the action though, and this is the time to step back and get a massive wide. Wides help both to cut the scene together and to give a sense of place. If you can, get up high and look down on everyone, or falling that, try to move around to get a landmark in the background. If you are working on a large production with countless shooting APs sound recordists, PDs etc etc cluttering up your wide shot, get them to clear frame. You probably won't be very popular for doing this, as often people get carried away shooting everything that moves, however, wide shots are an essential part of an edit and as a good reality shooter you should make it your job to ensure these shots end up in the editors cutting bins.


Add some gloss. A lot of reality shooting is really about getting the shot, making sure you are in focus and pointing the camera in the right place when something interesting happens. Use any opportunity outside of is type of filming to add a bit of gloss to up the production value. When the subjects you are filming are going about their day to day tasks try to show this in an unusual light. Look for reflections, silhouettes, extreme high or low angles, anything that can make the shot more attractive. Some shows I have worked on have given me helicopter time, four wheel drive cranes, massive jibs and others just a go pro, so the variety of shots you can provide is somewhat budget dependant. Whatever the budget do the best with what you have been given. Getting onto the roof of a building to film a car pulling out of a drive way from over head, will give the show a more interesting look than an off the shoulder shot at ground level.  These shows can often run for months or even years, so adding variety will avoid repatition and hopefully add some beauty.


Trust the Producer. There will usually be a Producer, Director, Show Runner or similar person working on the show, who has a vast amount of knowledge when it comes to shooting reality or observational programmes.  In some cases these people might have spent their entire career working on such shows, trust their judgement and ask for advise. Here is a story from personal experience: Early in my career as a cameraman I was working with a much more experienced producer. We working at an animal sanctuary. A woman came in to return a dog she said she had found on the street. To me this was the most mundane story imaginable, so I stopped recording. The producer insisted I keep going. It had been a long day, with the camera on my shoulder for most of it. I kept filming, all the while thinking it was a waste of time and effort. At some point in the proceedings the woman started crying, revealing it was actually her dog she was taking to the pound as she was no longer able to look after it. How did the producer know this? I don't know, she just did. Maybe it was women's intuition, maybe she noticed the woman was overly sad, or maybe she had worked on a million reality shows just like this one and knew when to keep shooting.


Get the shot. Don't be too precious of filming something in a considered and beautiful way, if you see something happening that you know will make a good story, shoot it. You might see something that is a bit far away, and handheld, on the long end of the lens, it won't be too stable, shoot it anyway. Sometimes you might need to run and the camera will be wobbling all over the place, shoot it anyway. These moments can be used to heighten the sense of drama and editors and producers sometimes like these shots as they move the show away from the more finessed shots and give the programme a kind of legitimacy, as if this is a actually happening and we are just flies on the wall. We have all seen shots where the cameraman is asked to stop recording, so he just puts the camera on the floor and keeps rolling. We are just looking at a set of feet, and hearing the audio, but it gets used. Obviously I am not suggesting shooting everything in this way, but if it is a bad shot or nothing, then get the shot, it won't reflect badly on you.


Know your kit. Knowing your kit inside out will help you with the above (getting the shot). It is essential to be able to react quickly when shooting reality or obs doc. Knowing where each button on the camera is by feel, without looking, will help here. The characters you are following might go from an extremely bright place, into a dark room in a second and you need to be able to get rid off lots of ND and crank up the DB or ISO very quickly. Most cameras have assignable buttons on the side, so if you are likely to need a certain feature, assign it to a button for easy access.


When I am shooting something very fast paced, I like to shoot in the middle of the iris wheel (around f8), that way I can change exposure smoothly if the lighting changes. If you are shooting at f2.8 and then your characters move into the shade or the sun goes behind a cloud, you won't be able to open up anymore and you'll have to remove ND which will ruin the shot with a sudden exposure jump. Again, this is just a tip for shooting when things are fast paced, I won't shoot everything at f8 as it could start to look a bit flat and dull. When things slow down or you know you'll be in one place for a bit, open up and shoot with a smaller depth of field.


There are several features on a camera that you might want to use occasionally and could assign to a button. The pre record function can be a useful tool, hit record and the camera will record, plus it will put down everything that occurred several seconds before the camera went into record mode. I often assign this function to a button, that way say you are waiting for a convoy of trucks to role around the corner in the distance, rather than roll hours of footage of an empty road, waiting for the moment, you can just wait till you see the trucks, then hit record and you will have the shot of them first rounding the corner. Slow motion is another useful tool, but you really need to make sure the programme you are working on will use slow mo. Usually slow motion is tucked away in a cameras menu system, if you think you'll need it, assign it.


Know the law. This really only applies to observational documentary, less so reality and entertainment shows. In many situations you could be asked to stop filming and laws exist to protect people's privacy. Knowing these laws will help you out, so you know when to ignore the request and carry on discretely, and when you should stop pointing the camera at them (and potentially just leave the camera rolling to pick up audio). Laws change from country to country, and in the USA from state to state. In some states it may be legal to stand on the street and film through the window of someone's house, in others it may not. Knowing what you are legally allowed to do will give you confidence in what you are doing and stop the production from getting involved in any legal wrangles.


Get black and white. One of the most experienced series producers I have ever worked for once said "life is grey, we want black and white." What he meant by this is that real life is much more complicated than simple good or bad, black or white. Are the choices that the characters in the show right or wrong? The truth is often that these choices have both good points and bad points (a kind of grey). However, for the sake of a reality TV show, we need drama, and for that we need a dichotomous world of good/bad black/white. The story arc of most reality shows will go from boom to bust and back again and it is worth keeping this arc in mind when shooting. If you see a worried looking face, tension, anger, tears, fights, rejoicing, happiness, relief, joy, these are all things that will add to the drama of the show and give the producers what they need: black and white.


Keep up your stamina. The last point to make here is a simple one: reality shows are marathons, not spirits. Hours and hours of your footage will end up on the cutting room floor, so it can be tempting to shoot in a half arsed way when you are tired out, however, Sod's law will dictate that that poorly shot bit of footage will make the cut. Keep your strength up and keep shooting to the best of your ability.

What type of lighting to use for video

All cameramen need some kind of basic lighting set up, all offer different pros and cons at different price points. Here is a quick round up of the differrent set ups available.


1) Tungsten:  


Pros: Cheap, powerful, high quality light source


Cons: Heavy, hot, not always dimable












These lights have been around for a long time, the advantage of this is that they are therefore often really cheap.  You can buy a set of three lights incredibly cheaply as many cameramen are moving towards more modern lights such as LED.  Another advantage of these lights is the power: an 850 watt red head has a hell of a lot more power than an LED light panel.  This extra power can also work against you as theses lights are usually not dimable, so you have to get around this with huge amounts of diffusion paper, or by bouncing the light off something.  There is also the option of buying lower wattage tungsten lights if you know you won't need the excess power.  Another plus for tungsten is the quality of the light.  A simple tungsten bulb is a much more reliable source of light than an LED light as it transmits the full spectrum of light. You can read more on this here.  The light from these lamps is typically very hard, this however is often useful, and if you need a softer light source, a Chimera soft box or some diffusion and a bit of distance will soften it. And now for a few disadvantages.  Tungsten lights are incredibly inefficient, meaning they get really hot.  Several of these beasts burning away for hours and you'll have a hot room, you also have to let them cool before packing them as if you touch them, you'll realise they are hotter than the surface of the sun.  The next disadvantage is the size and weight.  For the most part this doesn't bother me, but if you are going to fly or travel a lot with you kit, it could become a pain.





Pros: Lightweight, bi colour, battery powered, efficient, dimable


Cons: Poor quality light source, not powerful 









LEDs have flooded the market in the past few years.  The technology behind these is constantly and rapidly improving, so I am sure they will be the main light for everything before long, however, as it stands there are some limitations, but first a few of the good points.  Having the option to battery power is a massive plus.  Many important buildings will want to see PAT certificates before you are allowed to plug them into the wall, and some are so paranoid they won't allow anything to be plugged in (St Pauls Cathedral in London is one such place that springs to mind).  Battery power allows you to get around this.  Another plus to battery power is, it saves time finding power points and running cable, in a quick turn around job, this can be invaluable.  Being able to switch between a tungsten and daylight colour temperature and everything in between is fantastic, and a great time saver, as no gels or blub switching is needed.   Not all LED panels are bi colour, so you need to check you have this function before buying.   There are certain situations where no other light will do, for example a shot where you need to light on the move is really easy with an LED panel, someone can just walk holding the panel where you need it.  Try this with a red head and a load if cable and you are likely to get in a mess.  So why not shoot everything with LED?  LED have a few limitations, firstly the light source just isn't high quality as mentioned before.  LED light panels never really look that great as a key light source for an interview as the light just doesn't wrap around the face as nicely as something like a kino flow, attaching a chimera soft box can help limit this issue, but it doesn't solve it.  The next issue is power.  If you are in a bright room and you need to battle against the daylight an LED panel just won't cut it.





Pros: Quality light source, dimable, low heat


Cons: bulbs must be switched for colour change













The kino flo is my go to light for so many situations, especially interviews, and has been for years.  The light is dimable and really wraps nices around the face so you don't get any harsh shaddows.  The ability to switch from tungsten to daylight colour bulbs is great, although obviously not as convenient as LED bi-colour switching.  The units are fairly light weight and transportable.  I have been using a kino flo diva light for many years, flying it all over the world and it is still running well with almost no issues since I bought it.  Bulbs last a long time, and the unit doesn't overheat. Price wise these do cost more that the other two options above, but you do get a good quality light.


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