July 9, 2013

Take Your Handheld Camerawork to the Next Level: 10 Tips from DP Chris Weaver

HandheldLast month we shared some of Stillmotion's tips for shooting handheld with DSLR cameras. While a good portion of the "DSLR Generation" of filmmakers are still shooting with DSLR's, many are now shooting with various full-sized digital cinema cameras such as the EPIC and Alexa. Most of the basics of shooting handheld are applicable to whatever camera system you happen to be using, but going handheld with larger cameras and rigs can be an entirely different animal. Chris Weaver's blog Through The Lens has an excellent post with 10 more tips for shooting handheld that should help you continue to refine your handheld skills no matter which camera you use.

First and foremost, for those of you who missed Stillmotion's excellent blog post on shooting handheld, here's a quick video rundown:

And here are a several of Weaver's tips for handheld shooting taken straight from his blog post:

3. Develop The Right Stance
For static shots stance is really important; Spread your legs apart, this provides great stability. Standing with your legs and feet too close together makes you unstable and your body can sway and wobble.

7. Watch Horizontals and Verticals

Pay attention to keeping horizontal and vertical aspects of the frame upright and level. Particularly when you are moving or walking backwards with the camera, with everything else going on it’s easy to let the shot drift off kilter. If this happens the resulting footage will look second-rate and unprofessional.

8. Pan Using Your Hips

To achieve an effective Hand Held panning shot, hold the camera close to your body with your arms steady. Keep your legs firm and still, don’t bend your knees. Then use only your hips to make the panning movement. You can easily achieve a 180 degree pan using this method.

Of course, these more advanced tips from Weaver are only going to better your results if the other basic tips are all in play. My favorite tip from both the Stillmotion post and Weaver's list is using wider lenses. This is, without a doubt, the easiest way to reduce the visibility of the camera shake in the frame. I don't care if you've got hands stable enough to perform open brain surgery on a speedboat, you're not going to get good handheld footage with your 135mm lens. But if you're flying anything shorter than 50mm (still a little long), you should be able to get excellent results provided that your technique is solid.

This brings me to my 2nd favorite general tip: increasing the amount of contact points that you have with your camera system. This one is more of a technical consideration, however, since the amount of contact points is dependent on the rig that you're using and whether or not your camera has an ergonomically-placed viewfinder.

handheld cameraDespite these technical considerations, it is important for you as the camera operator to maintain as many of these points of contact as possible while you are rolling. This often means having a dedicated 1st AC who is pulling focus wirelessly or with a focus whip. It also means that you should have someone spotting you (oftentimes the 1st AC) so that you can focus on maintaining your frame without having to worry about tripping over the plethora of cables or grip gear that are often strewn about film sets.

One last tip that I think is highly important for serious handheld operators, but wasn't mentioned in the Stillmotion post and is only briefly mentioned in Weaver's is this: take deep controlled breaths at least 20 seconds before and while you are rolling. The effect of the deep-breathing is twofold.

First, it relaxes your muscles and provides an extra bit of stability in your shots. Secondly, the additional oxygen getting to your brain allows you to think quicker and more clearly, which allows you to be more perceptive as a camera operator. With the added cognitive function and stability, you are now able to make adjustments more easily and adapt to spontaneity in the scene without getting flustered and blowing the take.

Make sure you head on over to Chris Weaver's blog Through The Lens for the rest of his excellent handheld tips, and for his other fantastic educational content.

What do you guys think? Do you have any additional tips for shooting handheld that weren't covered here? Let us know in the comments!

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27 Comments

That guys voice is amazing.

July 9, 2013

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Tyler

@ Tyler.....boy you funny........heheheheheheheh

July 10, 2013

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Al

Great tip about the breathing Robert.
I've asked a photographer about what his technique is when shooting at long focal lengths, "Take a deep breath, hold, shoot, repeat"
We better learn to hold our breaths longer! :-D

July 9, 2013

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Well he's not actually saying to hold your breath here, but to take deep breaths. Holding your breath is actually going to make you jittery. Your body is most relaxed just after an exhale.

July 9, 2013

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director

Indeed, the deep breaths are a bit like meditating before the take. It's just one of those things that will help your body perform at its best on both a physical and mental level.

On an unrelated note, I think everybody on film sets should meditate every now and again, especially the AD.

July 9, 2013

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Robert Hardy
Writer
Cinematographer / Editor

Haha. So true.

July 10, 2013

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Kenneth Merrill

Then you've never had a good AD.

July 12, 2013

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JPS

good simple fundamental quick tips good post

July 9, 2013

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jay clout

I rented a z-finder viewfinder last weekend, with the plate underneath and then the eyepiece, giving you the proverbial third point of contact. It really improves the handheld dslr footage.

July 9, 2013

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Tom

Oh yeah, same in my experience.
Sometimes I like to screw in a 1/4" rubber hand grip onto the bottom camera in combination with a z-finder for handheld. It's still a relatively low profile rig, even with a shotgun mic and with a wide lens, it can a good option for the right situation.

July 10, 2013

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Jules

wow, I guess when I 'timed out', it actually was posting. sorry y'all

July 10, 2013

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Jules

Yeah. It's one of those things we all want on this site. A delete post option.

July 10, 2013

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Hubert

It's coming! And a lot more. Just way overdue...

July 10, 2013

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

not that different from shooting a gun or a rifle ... in terms of shaking, that is ...

July 10, 2013

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DLD

Yeah I spent a couple of years as a competitive air pistol and air rifle shooter. And many of the fundamentals are similar. Breath control, follow through, bone support, and stance. All very helpful. I once watched a photographer complain about not getting crisp shots under 1/100 of a second yet every time she pressed the shutter she just mashed it down (poor trigger control) jerking the camera all over the place. I have been able to shoot down to 1/20 of a second with no image stabilizer and still get crisp photos because of basic principles. :)

July 10, 2013

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Linuxdanish

Back in the 1970's, I once went to a Biathlon World Championship. One could stand close to the skiing path but, obviously, the shooting range was shut off to the fans. Still, from the hillside, you could see those guys slow down while approaching the range - more gliding, less hand pumping - in order to control their breathing and then try to secure points of contact while flopping onto the ground (and they had to do it with the skis still on!) FWIW, a typical US police shooting instructions have the supporting elbow against the chest, an off hand supporting the shooting hand (helps against the recoil, which fortunately doesn't exist in photography) and a shooting elbow also pressed against the other side of the chest for balance. To translate this to the camera cradling, one can do a one-hand-under-the-other cross grip on the smaller, lighter units like GoPro or iPhone. On the heavier DSLR's, some sort of a triangle or arms and elbows might work better. Bracing oneself against a piece of furniture or a wall is another option. If one's limber, s/he can shoot off a kneel down too.

July 10, 2013

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DLD

Anyone tips on good price/quality z-finder for canon 60d? And where to buy? Tnx

July 10, 2013

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Tim

Speed boats have brains? Everything I thought I knew...

July 10, 2013

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Brian

Also, if you got kindof a noisy nose (like me). Deep slow breathing cuts down on that noise, and keeps the sound-guy happy. ;)

July 10, 2013

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I use a monopod (single leg tripod), so things still look handheld (and sometimes too much so), but you have a center of rotation that's fixed. Not great for follow shots, but I know its what guys like smapp use too.

July 10, 2013

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I, sometimes, carry a small chain about 5 or 6 feet long with a short 1/4-20 bolt.
With the chain attached to the bottom of the camera with the bolt, I stand on the end of the chain and pull up on the camera. This tethering to the ground does wonders for stabilizing the camera.

July 10, 2013

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dixter

Well what about that focus elbow flapping in the wind out to the side? Better if you cradle the lens underhand (left hand) for focus while tucking that elbow into your stomach. With the right hand on the grip, camera pressed to face and cradled from underneath you've got three points of contact. Now hold your breath and shoot.

July 12, 2013

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They are hard to come by D:

August 11, 2014

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Reggie

When holding a DSLR camera, I also don't chicken wing my elbows. I keep them close to my body. But, use whatever position that best suits you.

August 12, 2014

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LightGuy

Yup, what he's doing we used to call "chicken winging."

August 12, 2014

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LightGuy

That's not the right way to pull focus on your lense. The right way is to do it with the palm of your hand looking upward. This is the only right way. When holding your lense this way you will give you another contact point with your body because the elbow will be against your abs. The ironic thing is that if you watch him while he's shooting at the end of the tutorial you'll se that he's doing it properly. So please "Stillmotion" when you try to teach people how to do something, try to do it the proper way.

August 12, 2014

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Massimo

Zaccuto Boy advertiser. Should I buy a Zaccuto viewfinder? Or can I try another brand?

August 12, 2014

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Otávio