Guides & Articles
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A Good Story is Told with Good Camerawork, Not the Camera

You can have the most beautiful, expensive, shiny camera with all the bells and whistles; it can shoot in the dark, in the water. Heck, it can even shoot lasers. But even with the most solid camera, the number one thing that will, hopefully, shine through in the end is your camerawork.

Think about all of those shaky shots, indecisive movements, and automatic camera adjustments that just can't be edited in post. These shots aren't going to be useful to you, especially if they're not useful to the message you're trying to convey to the viewer.

I'm always told in the industry that the best camerawork is always invisible to the viewer. What they see on the screen should transport them to the scene, not make them aware of the camera and everything else behind it. That defeats our purpose as filmmakers.

The camera is definitely a great tool and fun to toy around with, but remember the simple things, such as working on a steady foundation. Steady hands, steady ground. Use a tripod when you can. Frame your subject, lock the drags down, and take your hands off the camera when you roll. The slightest vibrations can be detected even with one hand resting on the camera. Stick with these tips and your shots will look professional, and you'll save time with less editing to do in the end.

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Knowledge Refresher: Fluorescent Lens Filters

Fluorescent lens (FL) filters are made for daylight or fluorescent lamps. They vary in shape, size, color, and purpose. Fluorescent lens filters correct the greenish-yellow cast that fluorescen t lighting gives off. This balances the light and improves the quality of your picture.

The main types of fluorescent filters are:

D filters correct tones from daylight fluorescent lighting; while W adjusts tones from white-type fluorescent lighting. B filters correct the color balance in tungsten films, and can be used to adjust green tones from warm-white or white fluorescent bulbs.

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What's Your Backup Plan?

With the holidays upon us, soon we'll be merry over eggnog, eating warm baked cookies, and catching up with family we haven't seen in awhile. All of this while also shooting the major events, such as dinner feasts and present-opening, capturing memories for posterity. Our cameras will be working overtime in order not to miss any the holiday action. But what about when the holidays are over? What do you do with your files when an event, or any kind of shoot, ends? At least one of your answers should be: File Backup.

Backing up your files—ideally, not just photo and video—should be an automatic thought, especially as a videographer and filmmaker. We're constantly shooting large amounts of digital data, so we need to make sure we're protecting our files against damage, loss and disaster. Below are some important things to keep in mind when creating a backup plan.

Create a Clear File Structure
Make your file structure easy to understand and easy to check. Don't give your files generic names and dump them into one folder titled “Video”. Instead, a suggestion would be to build your folders into a series that combines the date, location and card number of its shots. For instance, use a main folder with the main event or the client name. Then inside that folder, break it down into shoot names. Inside that folder, break it down into multiple days, if that's what happened with your shoot. Finally, break it down even further into card numbers. The more precise, the better. This will also help you easily double-check whether you copied the entire contents of your card before you erase it completely.

Copy Your Files in More Than One Place
Having your files in only one place isn't a true backup plan. Have at least two places where you've copied your files; one backup onsite and one offsite. A few places to use are your main drive, onto CDs and DVDs, an external hard drive or an online backup service.

Copy As Soon As Possible
It would be ideal to back up your data while you're shooting in the field, but some of us don't have large memory cards to spare. The next ideal situation would be for you to back up onto drives that are bus powered (powered from your computer battery through the connecting data wire) while you're in the field. Otherwise, backup as soon as you are done shooting.

Choose Fast Drives
Choose drives that are fast FireWire 800 or USB 2.0 or better on a fast system. Laptops that let your card to be directly inserted into them are usually much faster than external readers, or you can try running the transfer from your camera.

Check to Make Sure Your Files Work
Once you've made your backup copies, be sure to check to see that all of your clips have transferred to your computer and play a few of them back to verify they're working.

Make backing up your files a habit. Always have a plan to backup and always stick to it!

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Top 4 Must-Have Apps for Filmmakers
Check out these great apps that are sure to help your video or film production move more smoothly. Search your favorite app store now!

An award-winning story development system that streamlines the process of turning your movie ideas from first glimmer to full outline.

A simple yet powerful professional teleprompter for the iPad. Perfect for presenters, lecturers, students, teachers, broadcasters, podcasters, filmmakers, musicians, business professionals, or anyone who would benefit from having a powerful visual aid while engaged in a public speaking activity.

A convenient, all-in-one digital slate, clapper board, shot log, and notepad is used for film, TV, documentaries, music videos, and interviews.

pCAM The most full featured calculator and assistant for DoF, timelapse, color correction, exposure and more.

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The Importance of Knowing Your Audience

Your audience is important to the success or failure of your project. This is based on whether or not your film or video project evokes a desirable response within your target audience. Even before starting on your production, you will need to know who will be watching when it's completed. It's also important to consider who you want watching because you will take that into account when you're actually working on your project, making aesthetic choices with that particular demographic in mind. Is your audience mainly teenagers, thirty-somethings, business people, or senior citizens? Or a combination of those?

Knowing about who's watching will help you decide what details are important to that audience. This directly affects how you produce your film. And although it's critical that you stay true to your own vision, if you want a wide audience to watch your film, try to think outside of the box and don't just create something that you like. Everything from music choice to pacing will affect your audience's response to your film. Sure, it's fulfilling to make something you love, but isn't it just as great (or maybe even better) to see others getting the same amount of joy out of something you created?

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Special Effects: Why Less is More

Just because you can pull off every trick in the book in your edits, doesn't mean you should. When it comes to special effects, less is usually more. Effects like outrageous fonts, 3D titles, constant rack focus effects or slow motion can be very effective in specific contexts, but in small doses.

Showing restraint for flashiness and having an eye of discernment for a good storyline are foundational qualities of a good production. Being a great magician with special effects is a great talent to have, but use this talent sparingly and only if your production absolutely demands it. Think about it this way: Say you wrote an email in capital letters. This would be overkill, and not a very good use of that effect or tool. By the same token, try not to use those special effects in every edit.

Special effects, when used incorrectly, can call attention to its own overuse. You don't want the attention of your viewers to be somewhere where it shouldn't be. These effects are great in car commercials, but otherwise, your effects need to stay special. Having the technique backed up with the right knowledge and skills will beat out flashiness every time.

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Shooting Video with an HD DSLR

The DSLR camera opened the floodgates to aspiring filmmakers worldwide. No longer does it take a massive budget of millions of dollars to make a quality film. With the advent of the HD DSLR camera, young and creative minds were given a relatively inexpensive tool to make a movie. And with smaller cameras, smaller less costly video equipment such as camera cranes have been used to attain the same kind of spectacular shots made with an industrial-sized cranes and equipment.

The new ProAm USA 8 ft. DVC210 Camera Crane has been designed specifically for the HD DSLR camera. The camera mount placement allows you to add more weight, which means you can easily add a remote pan and tilt head like the Bescor MPH-1. A pan and tilt head under your camera gives your film shots a gigantic leap of options.

Click here to see Remote Pan/ Tilt Head Options.

The ProAm USA DVC210, just like all other ProAm USA Cranes has a silky smooth pan and tilt. The large swooping motions that are capable with a camera crane make huge improvements to otherwise normal video. The shots you get from a crane aren't natural to peoples' eyes, so quickly grabs and keeps their attention. ProAm USA makes several models ranging from 4' to 20' in total length with the HD750. When used with a wide angle lens, the video can be really amazing. A four foot extension can be added to the DVC210 to make it 12 ft. Our Heavy Duty ProAm USA Crane Stand gives you a maximum of six ft from the ground for a possible total height from the ground of 12 ft.

See what can be done with the ProAm Camera Cranes here.

As wonderful as the HD DSLR camera has been in opening up the playing field to young hopeful film makers, it has its drawbacks. For instance, the viewfinder attached to the camera is usually no more than 3” and no help at all when the camera is 6 ft up in the air at the end of a camera crane.

Our solution for the miniature, out of reach and out of sight viewfinder is the ProAm USA 7” HDMI LCD Monitor Kit. We offer two different ProAm USA HDMI Monitor Kits. They offer up to 800 x 600 native resolution with 1080p maximum resolution. A higher resolution is helpful when focusing a shallow depth of field and all adjustments can be visible on-screen. The HD1 model has 1080i and 1080p resolution and a 2200mAh built-in battery makes sure you have this practical LCD monitor running for at least 5 hours during your video shoot.

Click here to see our selection of LCD monitors.

One piece of equipment that can never be overlooked is a good, sturdy tripod. When recording moving images, the traditional DSLR tripod may not be sturdy enough. You'll also need a smooth fluid head to accomplish tilting and panning without effort or shakiness in the video. The Manfrotto 501HDV is a perfect match and our recommendation for every occasion.

View or selection of Tripods and Dollies here.

Another very useful piece of equipment is a camera stabilizer. Made popular by the Stedicam, stabilizers can add a very important aspect to your production. Smooth, floating scenes are easy on the audience's eyes but many times, more interesting than static tripod shots. Because DSLRs are so lightweight, large stabilizing rigs aren't necessary. The Glidecam XR2000 has been developed specifically for the DSLR camera.

See Camera Stabilizers here.

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Did Your Equipment Go For A Swim?

You get to watch the whole scene play out in slow motion, knowing you’re powerless to prevent it. Time stands still as your equipment slips out of your hand and takes a plunge into whatever body of water you happen to have been standing next to at the time. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world, accompanied by a really awful, sickening thud-splash sound.

Luckily, with professional help, your equipment might be salvageable, but there are some steps you must take along the way. Several of these steps actually involve being prepared for this kind of situation to crop up, which is important to remember if you’re the kind of photographer that this scenario is more likely to happen to, like a nature or adventure photographer.

1. Insurance – the best offense is a good defense, and the best hope for getting your equipment repaired or replaced is to insure your equipment for their replacement value.

If your camera is a lower-end but quality model, think about how much the replacement would cost you versus the cost of insurance each year. One source said that the manufacturer charged her $350 plus shipping to repair her submerged camera and lens. That’s a pretty hefty price on a $500 camera, especially when it was several years old. In her case, replacing the camera might have made her come out ahead, since she would have spent only a little more and had a new camera.

But if you’re taking professional shots with top-of-the-line equipment, the annual insurance fee might help you sleep better at night, or at least feel safer while perching on a bouncy tree limb over that lake, trying to get your shot.

2. Silica – this handy stuff is found mostly through hunting supply retailers, but can mean the difference between hearing that your camera can be saved and being told to chunk it. This is the stuff that comes in little packets in food stuffs, so you could probably start saving those little things, too. It’s a desiccant, so it will absorb any moisture from the splash. It’s not going to save your equipment outright, but it will definitely help while the camera is in the box on its way back to the manufacturer for repair. Take the lens off and place it around the lens and the guts when you pack the box.

3. Battery – this is possibly the most important thing you can remember to do in the event of a water emergency. Everyone, like, 95% of everyone, would reach into the water, snatch up the camera, and turn it on to see if it still works. For EVERY electronic device out there (and we’re talking even your toaster), that is the absolute worst thing you can do. Your chances of saving that camera go way up if you don’t turn it on. TAKE OUT THE BATTERY IMMEDIATELY. Then remove the SD card. Basically, water is already in there, and by turning it on you’re telling the camera to function with water in there. The camera is going to fight you on that.

4. Shake and Bake – Don’t. Just don’t. For some reason, people think that shaking the water out will help. It won’t, it will just upset your camera. A number of people have also tried setting the equipment in direct sunlight thinking it will heat it up. Don’t. The lens will trap the water in there, and the heat will fog it up. Keep it cool and more dry until you can pack it up to the manufacturer.

Of course, one of the best things you can do for your equipment is start with quality stuff that comes with some kind of warranty. There may be limitations on what is covered and whether it’s for replacement or repair, but it’s a start.

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“Would You Just Hold Still?!” - Keeping Your Camera Steady During a Shoot

When it comes to getting a great shake-free shot, typically while perched on a rocky cliff face that has recently suffered a really great rainstorm that makes the ground slippery, you have two options. You can hone your physical freezing skills through decades of disciplined meditation and yoga, or you can purchase a support of some kind.

Most people are familiar with a tripod, but what they may not know is there’s a huge spectrum when it comes to the price, durability, and features of a tripod. Sure, you can pick up a throwaway model at your local discount store for under twenty bucks, which is a great idea if you accidentally left your professional tripod at home on this once in lifetime vacation. But to get good results from your day-to-day shots, you need a few key things.

When there’s even a chance you’ll shoot on uneven terrain, you’ll want the option to position the legs independently of each other off the center column. This lets you bring one leg closer or higher than the others to keep your camera level. And speaking of levels, a built-in bubble level would be a big help. Just because the shot looks even, doesn’t mean it is, and that’s something you’ll find out when you’re back home and looking over your work. If you work with a wide-angle lens, you might also want a tripod with a pivoting center column so that you don’t end up with the foot of your own tripod sitting in your shots.

Of course, for more involved work that requires you to be able to move, you might want to consider a shoulder support. These frames, which range from a simple arm that props against the front of your shoulder to the more involved full-body frames that look like you’re about to don your spacesuit, let you see the action through your viewfinder while still exercising stability and control of your camera. Using your own body as the support without forcing you to hold your gear’s full weight in your arms, shoulder supports are great for taking a range of video over terrain. Depending on how long you’ll be shooting—a few frames as opposed to hours of covering a live event, for example—your frame needs to incorporate some measure of comfort padding and the ability to switch shoulders without compromising your ability to line up the shot on the other side of your body.

If you’re going to be working in action shots over some measure of distance, going up to a more sophisticated tripod-mounted crane might give you the best results. A shoulder support is good, but can make for a long day of shooting. A crane lets you create professional pans and zooms without shaking the camera or the tripod. Look for a crane that will grow with your expertise and will handle a wide variety of heights, lengths, and camera weights. A slightly higher investment at the beginning can mean not having to purchase a whole new crane down the road as your needs evolve.

One great thing about cranes is the technology hasn’t changed much. While camera equipment constantly goes through expensive upgrades, you can rest assured that a crane is going to be one piece of equipment that provides jaw-dropping professional results but that will still be in use for years to come.

There are a host of other features available in steadying equipment, like carbon fiber construction or padded handles, that you might also consider depending on your needs. Decide what type of equipment you need for your photos or video while still thinking ahead to where your photography or videography might be taking you in the next few years, and prioritize the features you need before you buy.

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