Shooting the world around us is what every photographer and filmer does, it just so happens that for as long as I have been shooting, that world has been full of big mountains and bikes.
My name is Jacob Gibbins and I’m a freelance photographer, filmmaker and one half of Aspect Media based in the UK. I’ve been self-employed and travelling the world photographing and documenting the sport I love, mountain biking since I was 15. Now 22, things are busier than ever and my photography has evolved from just snapping some photos of my mates down the local trails, to spending most of the year living out of hotels and suitcases.
A lot of my recent jobs have involved shooting both stills and video, so in this post, we’re going to talk about this and I’ll pass on a few tips for shooting away from the studio. When I first picked up a camera, which wasn’t all that long ago, the worlds of video and photo were very separate. Cameras only did one thing and you marketed yourself as one or the other, photographer or filmmaker. These days the lines have blurred though and this makes it an exciting time to be a creative professional.
As I said above, gear is now capable of shooting top-level stills and video all in the same camera. This is pretty new to everyone and the industry is still working out how to use this technology and price it. It’s us, the photographers and filmers that need to keep up or get left behind.
I personally own a Canon 5D MK3 as my main camera for stills and video. However, I’ve also just invested in a Panasonic GH4 for its rich video feature set and vastly superior image quality when compared to the 5D. The camera is just the start though! There are a million and one other things to consider when building a kit for shooting both video and stills.
Some things are only good for one or the other, like flashguns or sliders. But others such as Tripods, LED lights, lenses and bags are all things you will use for both. It’s in these areas where it’s best to invest your money.
These are the main parts of my kit
- Bike and riding kit – When you need to keep up with the riders and shoot in hard to reach places, having a good bike and kit is pretty much as important as all the camera stuff.
- Tripod – A good fluid head video tripod is a must for shooting video. You can shoot hand-held but it gives the footage a very run and gun, fly on the wall feeling. To get nice cinematic shots you need smooth controlled camera movement and a tripod is the first part of that.
- Slider – Sliders are a good, simple way of adding a bit of smooth motion to video shots. Pretty light weight, sit on top of your tripod, and give a lot more production value to a shot.
- Steady cam – Another great way of getting smooth camera movement. Much more free and dynamic kinds of movement are possible with one while still being a small and light bit of kit.
- Microphones – Both on-camera shotgun mics and lav mics for interviews are a must-have. Wireless lavs are the way to go so that you can let the subject move about a bit and not have to worry about wires. Audio is just as important as the video in most films, definitely not something to be forgotten.
- LCD VF / Screen – the LCD VF is a must for shooting hand-held DSLR video. It steadies the shot with another point of contact on the body and lets you see your focus much more easily. With the shallow DOF DSLRs are famous for, that’s extra important. Additional external screens are more a luxury than a must have.
- ND filters – With video you are best leaving your shutter speed at twice your frame rate for recording realistic movement. This sounds easy but by taking out one of the three ways you control exposure it sometimes gets hard to keep low apertures in bright light. Adding a set of ND filters to your kit gives you some of that control back again and you can limit the light and open up your aperture again to get that pleasing shallow DOF look.
- Flash guns – Now on to stuff needed for photos as opposed to video. Flash guns allow better control of light, which in the end is what makes a photo. Getting them away from the camera is a huge plus and so Pocketwizards or other remote flash triggers are a great bit of kit to get if you are wanting to step up your stills shooting.
The Job – A Trip To Canada
For this article, I based it around a recent trip to British Columbia in Canada and shooting an episode of an online series following two mountain bikers on trips around the world. This would be the 3rd episode of the series so we’d already done this a few times with this crew and had a good idea how to work and get what we needed. The output needed to be a 5-minute video episode of the week’s antics, as well as enough still images to use with the videos release and an article in a magazine.
The main thing to remember when you have to carry your gear up mountains with you is to only take what you need and make the gear you do take count. When you’re talking steady cams, tripods, multiple camera bodies, lenses and all the other stuff, this soon starts to add up and you have to work out how best to get all the required media in the time you have.
There are the two ways of doing this that I find work best:
- Shoot video primarily stopping when you find a good spot for a still image and then focusing on that for a short while then switching back.
- Shooting just video, then going up again with a new set of gear and shooting just photos.
Video and photos require a totally different mindset so I don’t tend to find that chopping and changing between them constantly works very well. One is all about light and composition, where the other may have those elements but also add the extra dimensions of camera movement and sound.
Sometimes we did set aside whole days just for one medium or the other, and other times where we drove a little way to one specific location, I went for the 2nd approach above as we had access to a truck to shuttle us up the hill for a second run.
These are all things that will decide how you approach a shoot with both video and stills needed:
- Access and effort. These things needed to be considered, do two runs, one for each, or just get one time down the hill.
- Time. Do we have time in the schedule to come down twice or are we best picking a few select spots on the one time down and focusing on stills.
- Importance. Which one is more important from that spot or at that point of the trip.
If you are just documenting a trip you tend to shoot a lot. You shoot everything with a loose plan and storyboard in mind, but mainly you piece it together after the trip once you know how it all panned out. If you go in with a more specific shot list, or idea of the required output like this trip you can plan the scenes a bit more carefully to best fit in stills and video.
Check out the completed episode of the show below and enjoy some of the photos!