Shooting Concerts as a Lone Shooter

(Published originally on the Run and Gun Videography Blog)

World Leaders and Power Seekers still 6

To best understand how to shoot a concert as a lone shooter, let’s consider how a concert would normally be shot.

Typical Multi-Camera Concert Shoot

A live concert is generally shot is with 6-18 cameras and a live cut director. (those numbers are arbitrary, but representative of most of the concerts and live performances I have shot).

Typically one frontal camera is dedicated to close shots of the main performer. Next to it is another frontal camera whose job is to cover anything from long shots of the stage plus audience all the way into medium shots of the performer. With this set-up you’re never without a close shot of the main performer even though other cameras will be shooting close-ups from different angles from time to time.

Then off to the left and right will be another couple of cameras also dedicated to side or 3/4 angles onthe main performer, but can also be assigned to other performers and solos based on the shooting plan.

There will be one or two, even three long shot cameras covering the whole stage and will be variously framed on the stage or stage plus audience and may be zooming in or out at the beginning and end of numbers.

Either additionally, or as part of the long shot camera set-up, there will be a couple cameras (or more) on cranes.

Near the stage there may be a camera set up on a dolly for lateral dolly shots.

And finally there will be 2 or 3 (or more) hand-held cameras on stage or at stage front assigned to dynamic angles, instrument close-ups etc.

That’s a pretty standard set-up and can even be tricked out with steadicam operators, wire cameras (cameras flying on wires), etc.

Ideally there is a full rehearsal with the band at which point the director determines the various camera cues. For example, when there are solos, he’ll know when they are and that he must have a camera on it and ready to go.

If no rehearsal, there will still be a cue sheet used for the same purpose.

All the cameramen will be in communication with the director (mainly for listening) via a comm system. During the show the cameramen, with their various assignments, will generally know what to do throughout the show based on their assignments (so you don’t wind up with 18 cameras all shooting close-ups of the singer), but will be assisted by the director calling out cues in advance of the live cut. For example; “Ready Camera 2 on a close shot push”, then, “Take”.  The “ready’ means you’re about to go live pushing into a close shot.  “Take” means you’re live. This doesn’t mean he’ll cue every single cut. He’ll be looking at all the cameras on his monitors. If he sees a nice shot on camera 6, he may say “ready 6….take”. When he says ‘ready’ that means he’s going to you, so that’s not the time to zoom into a cute girl or pick your nose.

And so it goes.

From the multitude of cameras of varying image sizes and angles makes editing easy, even on a live edit. Any mistakes are easily fixed in post.

Ok, so that’s NOT the scene we’re talking about for a lone shooter.

The Lone Shooter ‘Multi-Cam Shoot’

Why do lone shooters even try to shoot a concert?

Most likely it’s for a friend. And most likely it’s for little money if any at all.  And such is the case with the video samples you will see below.

When it’s a managed band with a budget, even if you are to do the shoot, you’ll be hiring extra crew and equipment–minimum two operators and 3 or 4 cameras for a small budget production and on upwards to the big budget ‘sky is the limit’ productions.

But some shooters will want to do it for a friend, do it for fun, or break into the music video business by offering some ‘starving artists’ an opportunity for better promotion with a music video for little or no money.

So how do you do it?

First of all, let’s be clear: Shooting alone is not the best way to go about it.

Shooting with only one camera is definitely the worst way to go about it.

Having at least three cameras, one of which is ambulatory (your hand-held), can make it appear to be a multi-camera shoot and will be fairly easy to edit.

More than three is even better.

Better still is having a second operator for one of the cameras…

And so on.

Ok, let’s start with a lone shooter and three cameras.

Camera Setup

Where do you set them up?

First of all, your main camera will be your hand-held and that’s the one that’s going to be getting all the close shots of the main performer. You must realise that if there is any fan-base at all, they’ll be wanting to see close shots and close-ups of their idol. They really don’t care much about cool shots of guitar strings and all that kind of fluff. Give them what they want, not what you think might be ‘artistic’.

Your locked off cameras must be necessarily on the wide side because you can not control the various changes that happen on stage while you’re running around with the hand-held, so you minimally have to cover all the performers on stage with your frontal locked off cameras.

One of the locked off cameras should be a tight shot of the main performing area of the stage.  If the stage is full, then it’s the whole stage and all the performers. If the performers occupy a portion of the stage, then it’s a loose shot of the whole grouping of performers, rather than the whole stage.

The other is on a medium shot of the main performing area from a different angle.

Balconies are a good place for these two cameras (one on either side).

I think the side angles are more interesting than a dead-on center shot, but if you have another camera, you can put it next to the sound booth or whatever center position you can occupy.

If you have a fourth camera, put it backstage shooting past the performers at the audience. It will give you nice relief shots with some nice flare off the spotlights.

Setting Exposure

You must set your static cameras to manual exposure using the highest light level of the key spot light on the main performer. (Just ask the lighting guy to give you that level and set it on someone standing in the performers position). If you don’t do that, your cameras will try to give you an exposure to the overall long or medium shot of the stage (which, on an interior stage is usually mostly black) and that will result in the main performers face being blown-out most of the time.

If you use a GoPro, just let it do it’s automatic thing. It’s pretty good about auto-exposure.

On your hand-held camera my advice–if your camera is intelligent in its auto modes like the Sony cameras I use–keep it on full intelligent auto. You’ll be all over the stage at different angles, but your shots are mainly going to be closer shots. Your camera (especially if it has facial recognition) will be able to give you good auto exposures most of the time–or at least close enough to fix in post. You just won’t have time to be fiddling with settings as you’ve got too much work to do keeping that camera’s shot useful as much as you can.

The Hand-Held Camera

The hand-held camera is the one that does all the hard work.

Because you’re ambulatory, you can get all kinds of different angles: frontal, side frontal, from the wings of the stage, and even from backstage.

Add all these angles to your static cameras and you’ll wind up with something a bit closer to a multi-camera shoot and W A Y better than a single camera zooming in and out all night long.

Be Quick But Be Patient

The trick to the hand-held camera is to hold a shot up to and slightly past what you know will be an edit point. For example, let them finish a line of lyrics or chorus and add a beat or two before changing frame. If you don’t, you’ll find out the hard way that the cut to another camera may seem awkward if you suddenly decide to reframe your hand-held camera at the wrong moment—and you’ll have no choice but to cut to another camera, because your hand-held is useless as you’re moving position and re-framing.

Once you’ve reached an edit point, you move and re-frame as fast as you can. Ideally start with a different image size. While you’re moving and re-framing, you’re covered by any one of your other cameras. But the interesting shots will be the hand-held ones, so you move as fast as lightning. All your static cameras will be shooting the same thing all night, so they’ll start to appear rather repetitive. Use them as relief, or as openers and end shots and the rest of the time run your butt off getting as many different shots as you can from different angles with your hand-held.

I mentioned above having a second operator on one of your cameras. Even if you assign him to a fixed position on a tripod, at least now he can be zooming in or out, changing static image sizes, covering a solo, etc., so now of your 3 or 4 cameras, only 1 or two are completely static. You use them lightly and give the main work to your hand-held and your other manned camera. Now it can really start looking like a professional concert shoot—even with only two cameramen.

“But I only have one camera…”

Well–borrow one or two. By hook or by crook, get at least two or three additional cameras. Fortunately most video cameras these days are HD quality. Even iPhones and iPads and the Android equivalents shoot HD.

In the samples below I had 4 completely different cameras. A Canon DSLR, a Canon XHA1, a GoPro and a Sony HXR NX30.  To say they didn’t match up would be an understatement.

I now have another Sony camera (X70), so next time I’ll be better off.

The particular show in the samples below was 1 hour and 40 minutes long. I knew it would happen eventually, and sure enough, toward the end of the show the GoPro and DSLR batteries died (even though I changed them during intermission) leaving me with only two live cameras. (That gives me the opportunity to show you what can be done with two cameras in a pinch).

Take Advantage of Breaks and Intermissions

Between songs the performers sometimes (not always) chat with the audience. There’s your chance to grab some water or make your way to an interesting new angle from the wings of the stage or wherever.

Obviously it’s best to have your static cameras on AC power, but you may need to change cards (or tape) and that you can do during an intermission or break. You can even re-frame your static cameras during a long break or intermission.

If no intermission, you’ll have no choice but to do it during one of those chats with the audience between songs. You may risk not being ready by the time they start up again, but it’s better to have that camera up and running as soon as possible than to have it dead. You’ll simply have to rely on one of your other fixed cameras while you’re tending to all that.

Of course I’m really talking about the L O N E shooter to the nth degree here. If you can get an assistant to deal with those things, all the better.

You take your sound off the house mix board. That could be run by cable to one of your static cameras, but if the cameras are too far away from the mixboard, you can simply use a digital recorder to take the audio and sync it up later. I use the Zoom H2 which I’ve had for years and which never lets me down.

Matching Disparate Cameras

Since I had 4 completely different cameras that handled color and light differently, in order to smooth it out a bit I added a ‘look’ after manually balancing the color and exposure as best I could. In this case the looks were from a Pixel Film Studios plug-in. Now I have Color Finale which, like Divinci Resolve, allows me to create any look I want.  Since this was a concert with weird concert lighting anyway, the addition of a ‘look’ just added to the whole concert thing. But mainly it served to smooth out the differences between all the cameras to some degree.

The singer sat beside me and I scrolled through the various looks I have from Pixel Film Studios. By clicking on each filter it would give me an instant live preview in the preview window. We picked one she liked and put it on the whole song. (I used a couple different looks for various of the songs). Since the stage lighting was so crappy, one good thing the looks did was crush the blacks which also served to hide the different grain levels of the different cameras.

The GoPro isn’t good at low light levels, so on the darker scenes the grain was as big as golf balls. For those few Go Pro shots that I had to employ in the edit, I used Neat Video, a pretty good piece of software for removing grain. When the grain is extreme, the result is rather severe, but, in this case it was worse with the grain. For light grain, Neat Video is brilliant at removing it rather seamlessly.

All this is unnecessary, of course, if you have closely matching cameras. That’s not to say you couldn’t add a look anyway.

Concert Video Samples

In this case, I saw no rehearsals. I was seeing it for the first time live and had no choice but to think on my feet and do the best I could under the circumstances. If nothing else, it’s a good exercise even if it doesn’t all come out the way you hoped it would. The next good exercise in that case, is figuring out how to fix it all in post. And that can be fun and rewarding too—but only if you have multiple cameras to work with—or, as I had near the end of the show, only two.

Also, in this case, I was alone. I had no assistant. So the samples below are meant to give an idea of what a lone shooter can accomplish. I don’t offer it as anywhere near ideal–or indeed what I would want if it was my band, but still, for the money, it was a pretty good promo for this particular band. And it was fun and a good exercise for me. Next one will be better, for after all, it’s from things like this that we learn.

Let’s start with one when all 4 cameras were working. (after that are samples with 2 and 3 cameras)

As the show went on, and since I didn’t have an assistant, I would start losing cameras to either dead batteries or cards filling up. I dealt with that as best I could between songs, and of course, during intermission. Nevertheless, toward the end of the show I lost one camera permanently and later lost the GoPro as well when it’s short-lived battery died.

I know all this is rather stupid–even amateur, but at least it gives me the opportunity to show what you can do with 3 cameras and 2 cameras.

The following video is comprised of 3 different excerpts from the end of the concert starting with a 3 camera shoot and ending with two different samples of 2 camera shoots.

Post Lip Sync

And finally there’s the matter of syncing a performance to a studio recording.

This is fairly doable if the performer has performed the song many times after having done a studio recording. It’s surprising how close they can be in sync to a studio version while performing a live gig.

The samples you saw above were all multi-track recordings which were subsequently mixed by the band and forwarded on to me. That’s why the sound is so good.

This was their final performance after a year on the road.

I also filmed the first performance, a year earlier, which was not multi-tracked and was so bad a live mix that the singer asked if I could sync their live performance to the studio recording.

Turned out to be not as hard as I thought it would be.

When lining up the studio recording with the live performance we found that there were only three parts of the song that drifted out of sync a few frames. So we synced up the live performance to the three sections that were in sync, and in the three sections where the sync had drifted off a few frames we used a reverse angle to cover the cheat.

That was only a 3 camera shoot: Here’s the result:

Pure Frickin’ Brilliant–Flexlite, the Flexible LED Panel for Filmmakers

As anyone who follows my blog knows, I like stuff that’s simple, smart and compact.

Being a great fan of LED lighting for the home, I felt it was time to check up on the advances of LED technology for the film industry.

I was never happy with the bulk, fragility and horsepower-lack of my flouro softbox lamps, so I went to the Broadcast Video Expo in London earlier this year to see what the LED crowd was up to. They were up to a whole lot of things it turns out.

But of the vast array of impressive LED lights, one particularly caught my attention–the Flexlite, manufactured in Korea by Neonix Co., Ltd.  I spoke with the London distributor Prolight Direct Ltd.

Flexlite

 

 

It’s designers didn’t follow the traditional path of encasing it in an aluminium housing. Rather it is on a flexible backing.

It has a clever, compact mounting bracket that slips into elastic bands on it’s backside. Or, using its velcro tabs, can be mounted just about anywhere.

You can curl it up into a cylinder, bind it with rubber bands and drop it into a Chinese lantern for 360˚ illumination.

You can stick it on the end of a monopod or selfie stick and, with a battery, use it as handy fill for vox pop interviews.

And, of course you can stick it in a softbox.

Is it durable?

I asked this of the distributor at the Broadcast Video Expo. To answer that, he took the lit panel and threw it down on the floor. “I’ve been doing this all day”, he added.

It’s currently available in 5600K adn 3000K versions only. Bi-color versions may come in the future.

Cost is £413 available at Prolight Direct Ltd.

Full technical specs and related accessories, including battery and cable can be found here.

U.S. Distributor (Wescott) here.

The battery offered by Prolight Direct is a single unit with built in charger, but any Vlock battery will attach to their belt-clip V lock battery holder. If you already have V lock batteries, all you need is the adapter cable provided by Prolight Direct or any future distributor.

It comes with a power adapter and dimmer, adjustable from 10-100% maintaining a constant color temperature throughout the range. It also comes with a compact support frame, adjustable light stand mounting hardware, and an extension cord for the dimming unit that can be employed as the case demands.

Flex lite kit

 

Following a video review I did  demonstrating the light, showing samples of its use and demonstrating its brightness and constant color temperature at different brightness settings using its dimmer.

Note: I’ve uploaded over 180 videos to YouTube with no trouble and for unexplained reasons, this one was a nightmare. 3 aborted uploads. Finally made it as a 720p upload, but the color was quite red. Thought it was a fluke, but uploaded again with same results. Finally in desperation I altered the red in the edit by several points and did several test uploads until I got what you’re about to see. It’s still not as nice as the original edit which had absolutely no color correction, but I was getting fed up. Anyone else have trouble recently with Youtube uploads being altered in color by YouTube? 

Sony PXW X70–AVCHD vs XAVC-L, Some Sobering Thoughts

4k-Ultra-HD1 Like everyone else I was intrigued by the possibility of shooting 4K when I bought the X70 (4K upgrading coming out in June at a cost).

I say intrigued. It’s not that I really needed to shoot in 4K. When the 4K upgrade does come out, I’ll be interested to know if it has any improving affect on the camera’s native 1080 HD resolution by reason of the software. Otherwise, I’m not very inclined to go that way.

Here are the sobering facts:

1. To shoot in 4K you will have to use the Sony SxS Pro+ cards (not the SxS-1 or SxS Pro cards) and for that you’ll need a reader/writer than can take them. Or, as one commenter said, get and use an Atmos Shogun  4K recorder/monitor or something similar for about £1500/$2200.

2. The 64 GB SxS Pro + card costs over £600 or $900 and will get you 32 minutes of record time (or less by some reports).

3. The 128 GB SxS Pro+ card costs about £800 or about $1200 and will get you an hour of record time (or less).

4. There is now a free plug-in for FCPX that will allow you to import off an SxS card, but the expenses don’t end there…

5. You’ll need high-end graphics cards and a 4K monitor. Your MacBook Pros and iMacs won’t handle the image processing without making you go mad. You’ll need the Mac Pro which was built for 4K. PC users will have similar hardware issues, particularly for graphics cards.

So what about these SDXC cards we all bought? Well, they’re good and they’re fast and you CAN record XAVC-L on them if you want to, but why bother if your output is HD? Is there some small advantage? Apparently there is if you’re into minutiae, but in the scheme of things I don’t think there’s any discernible difference or advantage–except your files will be larger.

Unless you’ve got money to burn, stick with HD. It will be years before the prices on 4K equipment and media become affordable for most, and for that to happen, 4K will have to be all the rage. And that may never happen except in a small niche group of producers.

On the other hand, as another commenter pointed out, if you shoot in 4K for regular HD export, that gives you a host of advantages in post production (image cropping, stabilisation without image size loss, etc). Some blogs are suggesting that clients are requesting 4K shoots for HD export. It gives the option of later re-issuing the same video in 4K.

The question remains for X70 users, will we be able to record 4K at 60mbps on an affordable SDXC card and edit using proxy files? It remains to be seen.

As I said in the original X70 review, if you want a 4K camera, don’t get this one. Get one that’s already ready.

When it is ready, I hope I will have to eat my words–‘cuz I think I’ll want to start shooting in 4K for 1080 HD export.

 

Flexlite–New Review Coming Soon

Flexlite–The Flexible, Dimmable, Versatile LED Light Panel

Just one more thing to get out of the way over the weekend and I’ll start putting together a review of the Flexlite LED panel.

Flexlite

Flexlite–the flexible LED panel

 

Like everything I review, I own it. And I only review it if I really like it. And I only buy it if I really like it anyway.

LED lighting is coming of age in the film and video industry. There are a LOT of good LED lights out there. This one was the only one of it’s type–the rest mainly being encased in aluminium housings of one sort or another.

But for sheer functionality without the weight and bulk, this may be the perfect solution for the run and gunner.

IMG_9649

Innovative holder for use on light stands or even ‘selfie sticks/monopods’ for hand holding

 

You can snap in its holder for regular light stand mounting or even put it at the end of a selfie stick or monopod for hand-holding (say for fluid man-on-the-street interviews).

Or, using the velcro already sewn into its corners, you can velcro it to a surface or even to the inside of one of your existing soft-boxes (which I did). It’s brighter than the brightest spiral flouro lamp.

Dimmed to its lowest setting

Dimmed to it’s lowest setting

 

IMG_9647

Full brightness

 

What I intend to do is some testing to quantify its brightness and colour temperature.

I’ll also show it in use during an actual corporate shoot (nice to be able to sit in the chair with the viewfinder flipped so I can see it and simply dial in the correct exposure).

It’s also apparently quite durable. The fellow at the BVE show in London earlier this year threw it down on the ground while it was lit to answer that question when I asked it–and said he had been doing that all day long.

You can curl them up into a cylinder, wrap with rubber bands and drop into Chinese lanterns for 360˚ illumination.

Pretty clever.

Anyway, hope to get the review up within the week.

 

 

Video Whisperer Blog–New look

I’ve been wanting to update the look of the Video Whisperer blog for some time, but couldn’t get up the nerve to do it. I had no idea of how the content would migrate. Well, it turns out to have been relatively painless.

I updated it to integrate better with my Video Whisperer website and the Run and Gun Videography Blog, both of which have white backgrounds and black type which is easier to read. (that white on black was SO last century).

More importantly, I wanted it to be easier to navigate, and I think now that has been taken care of.

I hope you like it.

Best regards,

Joe

P.S. I mentioned the Run and Gun Videography blog. That was created as a supplement to the book Run ‘n Gun Videography–the Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide.

It has its own content specifically posted as supplements to some of the chapters in the book along and will evolve with more resources specifically for the run and gunners. At first I was simultaneously publishing the same material to both blogs. I’m going to start phasing that out.

The Video Whisperer blog will remain as it is and the Run and Gun Videography blog will orient more to stuff of interest to lone shooters, small production companies and those who are just starting out in the industry. For those in that category, I suggest you subscribe to that blog.

Pure Frickin’ Magic

Some newcomers to the blog might not appreciate the significance of the phrase ‘pure frickin’ magic’ that I’ve now used on two camera reviews and which I’m likely to use on future reviews–mainly because I tend to only review things that I really, really like.

It comes from the original post for the review of the Sony HXR NX30:

Urban Legend has it that buried deep in the guts of the Boeing 747 somewhere is a little black box.

A young engineer once noted that in the schematics, the box was given the cryptic designation “PFM”. It seemed no one knew what the letters stood for.

Years later he tracked down one of the original engineers and asked him.

“Pure F..ing Magic” is what the old man told him.

My next review will be in about a week on an amazing LED light I found at the London BVE (Broadcast Video Expo). It will probably be called, ‘Pure Frickin’ Brilliant’.

FCPX Grading Tools

 

FCPX and grading

The other take-away from BVE London was an eye-opener for me. The world of color grading.

There’s a London-based outfit called SOHO Editors which is the largest pool of freelance editors throughout the UK and Europe. They also teach classes in London and Manchester in all the disciplines (editing in the major NLEs, Motion, After Effects, Divinci Resolve, etc.).

They had live presentations all day and I watched a few of them relating to FCPX and Divinci Resolve.

It was clear that these guys were top-notch. Teaching is a part-time job. These were industry professionals.

The first thing I noticed was that FCPX was their weapon of choice. Without getting into all of the reasons why, a point was made that was rather telling. FCPX is faster. Period. The speaker said that alone is the major reason why major networks and production companies are moving over. It’s economics. And that is the reason to no longer ignore FCPX. But what I didn’t know (and this was a bunch of geek stuff), FCPX is set up for the future to such a degree that many of the other major NLEs will be forced to majorly upgrade anyway. Changes are coming. FCPX is already there. And this, from a guy who ran the team of editors for the World Cup on FCPX: it is hands-down the best multi-cam editing software out there, bar none.

But I digress.

The hands-down best grading tool out there is Divinci Resolve by Black Magic. That was also made clear.

And the same guys who use FCPX for editing, use Divinci Resolve for Color grading (which works pretty seamlessly with FCPX).

I had NO IDEA all the things that can be done in grading. I was stunned. I mean I was gobsmacked, a quivering mass of jelly on the floor.

Talk about ‘pure frickin’ magic’.

Color and looks aside, you can practically re-light a damn set with Divinci Resolve.

Plus they pointed out that the FREE version of Divinci Resolve has everything the paid version has bar one thing: The De-noise tools. Everything else is there in the free version. And it’s really free. Not a trial. You can download it today right here.

What they were demonstrating was light years beyond anything I’d need to do in corporate videos–or weddings or anything else of that nature. But it was clear to me that I could make anything I produce look way better, no matter how well it was shot to begin with.

I was intrigued.

There’s one problem.  You’re not just going to download it and ‘figure it out’. It will take some basic training. And that, with the SOHO group–who I would implicitly trust to get me up and running in either their one or two day course–is a few hundred dollars for a day or about $1500 for the more intensive two day course. They’ve got a 3 day course in the works.

I spent time time discussing my exact needs and trying to determine if I needed the one or two day course. I was pretty determined to work out a schedule whereby I could go down to London and do it at the earliest opportunity.

Then serendipity struck on Linkedin.

There’s a colorist in the U.S. who has just released a product called ‘Color Finale’. (It runs on FCPX Yosemite only)

There’s no mention, but I’d bet anything he’s a Divinci Resolve user and I think what he’s done is produced a program that has the most crucial tools found in Divinci Resolve. If so, I should be clear: Divinci Resolve is the bees knees and has everything you would ever want as a colorist. But clearly, not all of us need all those tools. Just as clearly, we could all use some of the basic magic available that goes beyond the scope of what we can do in our NLE of choice. And I think that’s what he’s done.

The really good news is that if you buy it by 3 March, you can get it for $79. After that it will be $99.

Furthermore, one of the things that Divinci Resolve has that is mind-blowing is ‘masking and tracking’. In Resolve it’s absolutely magical how easy it works. (say you change the color of a shirt in the background and someone passes in front of it–well, masking and tracking is how you deal with that and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do it easily in Resolve). Anyway, that feature will be coming to Color Finale in a ‘pro version’. However, if you buy it now, you are grandfathered in and you will get the future upgrades with no further charges.

So far he’s got a couple of good tutorials on his site with, undoubtedly more to come.

So…a few hundred dollars plus travel and expenses to London for a day…or $79 for a program that does everything I need to make anything I produce look better?

I’m sold.

Here’s the link: Color Finale

 

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