Take Your Handheld Camerawork to the Next Level: 10 Tips from DP Chris Weaver
Last 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.
Despite 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.
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!