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Demo of Shoulder Rigs

Lesson 8 from: Use Your Photography Skills to Master Videography

Jessica Dimmock

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Lesson Info

8. Demo of Shoulder Rigs

Lesson Info

Demo of Shoulder Rigs

This is applicable to either, I mean, I was doing this also on the 5D. Right now, I'm going to show it to you on the C300. I've got a C100 here that I'm also going to show you. But I was shooting on the same exact shoulder rig when I was also using the 5D, so this is something that you could definitely be using with the DSLR. On the bottom here, this is made by Zacuto, but also these are not necessarily rigs that just come out of a kit, or just come out of the bag. All of these things are very customizable in a great way, which is that you can go to places like AbelCine, which is a store in New York and LA and Chicago. Or, other kind of camera outfitter places, and they can help make something that will fit your needs. Is it too light, is it too heavy? Do you need a certain type of look or whatever? So, a lot of the gear I'm going to show you is Zacuto, but also this is all very customizable. So, on the bottom here, I've got two base plates. This one here is for a monopod because I wan...

na show you how to do that. And this larger one here is a base plate for my shoulder rig, made by Zacuto. And it's got two sections right here where it basically fits on rails. This is gonna go like this. okay, I loosen these guys up just so it allows it to slide on. Then I'm basically on here. Tighten this up so it doesn't fall off. My camera then needs to get just a little bit built around it. When it's a 5D, it all comes together. When it's not, it's got a couple of parts, but they're really simple. My record button and my aperture were just kind of attached by this handle here. And then there is a handle that serves a couple of functions. One is that it allows me carry it around, although with the amount of weight that's on here, I don't totally recommend it. I'll show you in a second why. That screws right on. These things get plugged in. One and two. And now, two elements of the shoulder rig that are probably the reasons that I enjoy shooting with it so much. One is a follow focus, which I'm attaching here, and I'll show you in a second how that works. Face it that way. Can you see this here? Okay, and handles. Okay, now I'm basically done. I plug my mic in here. We'll talk more about sound tomorrow. But in a minute that's all set up. So, shoulder rig allows me to do a couple of things that for me are really important. One is that I am a very intimate type of shooter. I like to get right up into people's personal spaces. And in order to do that, in order to maintain a sense of intimacy, for me personally, eye contact, or being at eye level, is very important. And a shoulder rig allows me, when I'm shooting with people, to kind of be right at their eye level. Obviously, if I'm shooting with men, they tend to be a little bit taller. If I'm shooting with children, they tend to be a little shorter. But in general, I'm within that range. I'm not shooting necessarily from, there are people that shoot down from the hip. So they have their camera in more of a cage, and they hold the handle here, which means that they're looking up at people, which is great for certain types of shooting. But for me, I really like to be able to see into people's eyes, and doing this allows me for that. It also means that if someone is sitting, I can sit next to them and I'm able to be at their eye level as well. So if someone is sitting in a chair, I can sit in this thing and shoot right next to them. A shoulder rig does a couple of things for me. One, it allows me, this weight on the back is seven and a half pounds, which adds weight to my day and to this whole operation. But in a lot of ways, because this is in the back, it takes some of the weight off of my front arms. The camera is heavy, so having the weight in the back acts as kind of a counterbalance. It means that if this weight was not here, I'd basically be holding this thing up all day, and I'd be struggling to keep it upright. By having weight in the back, it allows my hands to be a little bit lighter. It's still heavy, but I'm not hoisting all of this weight up all day long. And as you can see, I can do it with one arm. I can answer my phone, I can be operating. Obviously when I'm really, really shooting, I wanna have both hands on the handles. But the point is that this is not so heavy that I can't do a normal activity and I'm limited. A couple of other important things. For me, it's not just about when you're actually shooting, it's also about when you're not shooting. A lot of the time that you're shooting, you're spending not shooting. What am I gonna do with this thing when I put it down? Well, in this situation, it's very stable. I've got these handles. These are made by a company called SHAPE, and they rotate around. So, I've got these handles that will just rotate up. As soon as I wanna put it down, it's down, and it's not down in the mud. It's still kind of lifted off. Let's say I'm really out in the field, or I'm even out in this scene, I could probably put that down in that amount of snow and if that amount of snow is too much, what I can do is I can rotate those handles up and now it's significantly off the ground. It just means that when I'm making these choices I'm thinking not only about how do I want everything to look, and I'll show you the look that's achieved by this, but also like what do I want my time in the field to look like? Do I wanna be stuck with something that I'm like, oh, God, now where do I put it? Or do I feel pretty comfortable? This is also a great situation. Potentially, this is also like a little mini tripod. It doesn't have a fluid head, so it's not infinitely adjustable. But let's say there was a little situation that I wanted just completely static. Maybe I wanted to interview someone at table setting. I can put this up like this. I can use a book or something to change how high up I wanted it. It's not as good as a tripod, per se, but it gives me a little bit of flexibility. One of the most important parts, and I'm gonna scoot this up a little so you can see it, one of the most important parts of this setup is the follow focus. Follow focus is this thing here. It's this gear. It's made by Zacuto, and what it does is that there is a plastic ring with these plastic teeth that I put around my lens. These are variable in their length, so you basically customize them and make them for each lens, and wrap it around, and that engages with this gear here. What that means is that while I'm shooting, instead of having my arms down like this, I rotate this handle up. And with my thumb, I'm constantly changing the focus ever so slightly. I can see it because my LCD screen is right here, and so this is where I'm looking. In the C100 model, I actually move it up and I have a viewfinder over here so it's magnified so I can shoot wide open, very, very shallow depth of field, and totally know when things are in focus. And that question earlier that came in about, I'm worried about my focus. If it's not in focus for a moment or two, it's okay, because it'll get there. And actually, being out of focus and moving in and out might actually be a really beautiful thing. You don't have to chase that focus. And that's why it's so nice to have this here. You just kind of watch your subject, or whatever you're shooting, and you just make these little adjustments. Or, if you need to change focus quickly, in that trailer that I just showed you, there's a moment when we're following her down the hallway, this character, and the focus is right there on her. And as soon as she gets into this doorway, the man is in the bed. He's blurry, and then he comes into focus very quickly. That's not an auto focus thing. That's that camera operator just got there immediately, was about to kind of quickly get into focus, knew where it was going to be, maybe even practiced a couple of times, but knew and was just able to get there very quickly. The other thing that this weight does in the back, it keeps some of the weight off of my arms. Especially as a female, some of this stuff is a little hard on our upper-body strength. But what it also does is it allows for all of this stuff to have a little bit of float. This is not a static, static type of shot. This will have movement in it. But it's a movement that feels like breath, and that it feels a little bit natural, and doesn't feel jittery. When you're holding a camera out in front of you, like the DSLR model, let's say, and it's like this, and you've gotta see that LCD screen, and you have nothing to help you, that's when you're jittery. With this, you've got this counterweight that just allows everything to kind of slow down in the way that it moves. It also means that you can track really nicely. And I use this a lot in situations where not only do I want a little bit of movement to it, but I know I'm going to be following people. Because with this weight in the back, when I walk, you can tell it's walking. It's not steady cam. It doesn't look like I'm floating through space. But it doesn't feel jittery and jangly all over. It kind of has a little bit of float to it. So, you know. I love that this is getting recorded. I also do this crouch down thing where I try to keep my body as steady as possible as I walk through the scene, but having this weight in the back really allows this thing to be steady. And I'm gonna show you a couple of examples. So I like to use this setup because it allows me to be in the world with subjects in a way that I think feels very real. It's a visceral type of shooting. It's not a static, cold, tripod only, pulled back approach. This is a very in the world, raw, visceral type of shooting, but that's really subject matter that I like. I like being in real situations. I like being able to kind of move with things. And in this, it allows you to kind of use your body when you follow things. You're not just taking your arms and following it. It's like you're using the whole weight of your body. Things tend to have a very immersive kind of quality. I put my mic over here. I'm going to talk about sound tomorrow, so I'm going to skip that for right now. The quick note is that I don't necessarily put my mic up here, which is where the hot shoe is, because I feel like going from photography to this is a lot. I think it's very manageable, and my goal in photography is always to become as invisible as possible. And my goal with this thing is also to become invisible. And just because this is a lot, I still wanna be just as invisible, but I'm aware that this is a lot. And that this is a lot more. And by adding more height on this thing, I've always found that it's a little bit too much. This at least allows me to still make eye contact with people. You know, it might be through some stuff, but they can see me. But it's not adding height. Also, I tend to get in and out of cars with people a lot, because people in their real lives drive a lot, and you've gotta be able to get in and out and shoot them in that. And when I've got extra height on there, I find that I'm always hitting the ceiling of whatever vehicle I'm in. This type of situation allows me to have access to most of the buttons that I need, and this would be the same in a 5D situation, where my menu, my LCD, all of that stuff are accessible and I can see them. And, yeah, that's it. Does anyone have any questions about the shoulder rig before I show you some things think it looks like? Yes. I was wondering, now that you're using the shoulder rig, and you shot your first video in your human tripod form, would you have shot it differently using this rig as opposed to your human tripod? That is a good question. You know, I always think that, and this is kind of what I was saying earlier with that model of just doing the thing to learn how to do it, instead of always having your plotted-out action to do it. Because I think in some ways, I would never shoot in the human tripod thing again. But because I shot in the human tripod, I shot very close, and I established that in video, much like in my own photography, I want to feel intimate. That, for me, is the name of the game. That does not need to be everyone. Some people are much more landscape focused. Some people are much more pulled back and seeing the whole scene. For me, I really like an intimate type of feel. If this had been in my hands right off the bat, I think I would've been like, how do I get that close? This is a lot. I gotta try to stay further away. Because the very first thing I did was so close, because all I had was that little camera, that sets the bar. I'm like, everything has to look like that. I'm not saying that stuff looks the most gorgeous, but I want that proximity. Everything should be that close, and therefore, I use this in a way that still gets me that close. I don't let this be an obstacle. Sometimes it's a little bit of an obstacle. But I really try to not let it be. And I think that's so much about just diving in and doing these things, rather than holding back and learning it first. Can you talk a little bit about if people are in that in between step before being able to invest in a rig? What are some other things that they can do, kind of DIY stabilization? Absolutely. I'm going to push that question back real quick. I'm gonna talk about a monopod, which I think is a really great kind of in-between, and talk about some of the ways I think it's a little bit limited. But also I'm shooting on a monopod right now a lot, and part of me is like, why wasn't I doing this before? A monopod is an extremely inexpensive and great stabilizing tool, so I'm gonna show a little bit of that. Is now a good time to ask you more questions about focusing? A lot of people are wondering if they don't have the follow focus, say you're just with a DSLR and you have your lenses, do you have any tips about focusing? Yeah, so the follow focus is definitely a step up. You don't have to be on a shoulder rig to do that. There are simpler models that can do that. But I really found that any time you're touching your camera, rather than something that's on the rig around it, but you're actually touching your camera, you're going to feel that, unless you've got an incredibly light touch. What I was finding was that part of the reason so much of that first sample was in the world of the still photograph, was not only that I didn't know how to move my camera, but also that focusing was a challenge. Here I am in this human little tripod. I'm gonna take my hand away and focus. From shot to shot, that's one thing. Getting it to a good focus and being very shallow depth of field, and allowing things to come in and out, no problem. Changing focus within that shot, I found really challenging, especially because my own arms were part of that tripod. Once I took one arm away, there goes one of the legs of the tripod, so to speak. I would encourage people to think about using a follow focus, because I think it just allows you to move in and out of depth of field without really making anyone aware that you're doing it. But also, if you can't do that, to just really think about the fact that your hands are impacting your shot a lot. If you are gonna change the focus, be really gentle with it. Try to kind of come down at the bottom of your lens rather than coming up and around. Try to practice, like if you know that something is going to come up. I always think about when I'm shooting something, and it's a repetitive motion. Let's say I'm shooting at a factory, some kind of sweatshop situation, it's an assembly line. They're gonna be from here, to here. From here, to here. Instead of trying to track that focus, I think about what's the one part that I want in focus? Maybe when her hand reaches out, I want that part in focus, and then it goes out. Here, to here. Here, to here. And I just think about, what's the part that would be great? If it's something that's repetitive and slow, treat it the way that I was treating that narrative film, which was allow yourself to practice. I know that they're gonna do this action 20 times, shoot it 20 times, and try each time, going back and forth with that focus, hoping that you'll get one or two right. That's what I would suggest. Great. How much does that rig weigh? I know it's gonna be different for different ones, but approximately that you're carrying around? With this, plus a lav. Which, you know, I'll talk about sound tomorrow, but I will normally also have a lav on here somewhere, as well as this, which I'm going to talk about tomorrow, which is an external recorder, it's an Atomos, it's also a monitor, back here, plus the battery on it, all of this starts adding weight. The last time I weighed it to go on a flight, it was about 23 pounds. Which is a lot. But it's 23 pounds of, I always find that it's way heavier when I'm carrying it to go shoot than when I'm actually shooting. So when it's just like 23 pounds in your hand, and you're like ah, you know, it's so heavy. But when it's 23 pounds and it's helping you do the thing you wanna do, and it's a tool, and it's a helping tool, it becomes a lot lighter. It's also, again, it's 23 pretty balanced pounds. It's not perfectly balanced, I'm sure if there are people at home that are really really skilled in video and have been doing this forever, they might look at the balance of this thing and be like, that girl's an idiot, she's crazy. It's not perfect, but I find that for me and what I need to do, I'm able to get the job done. So this weight in the back, which again, is seven and a half pounds of that weight, is actually a really helpful seven and a half pounds. At the end of the day, your back feels a little crunchy, you feel a little compressed, you feel a little shorter. But your arms are not dying, and a chiropractor might disagree, but your arms not being like ugh, and wobbly and shaky is definitely a goal because that's where you're gonna see it all over your footage. Yeah? Can you speak a little bit to maybe a sensible progression to a rig like that? I mean, being able to outlay all the cash all at once seems intimidating, but where would you start, and how would you move to completion? So, Zacuto makes this like very kind of stripped down version of it, which is that there is, you still have a base plate, so that you can kind of attach the sphere to it, and maybe during the break we can pull this up and we'll get an image just so that we can show people. But there's a base plate and then a rod that comes down and another rod that intersects and it basically has a plastic little plate that just sits on your chest. And that just allows you to do that human tripod thing that I was talking about, but it gives you a point of contact on your chest. And then using your eyepiece, and you put it right up to your face, every time you kind of have a point of contact with your body, it's more stable. So one, being right into your chest. And just like allowing it to rest there. That's one. Then an eyepiece, that's two. That helps with stabilization for sure. It doesn't really free you up for the focusing stuff. They make some very basic though, Zacuto and Redrock. But I like Zacuto a lot. They make some very basic just like little bit of a shoulder pad, one thing coming down as a handle, so that your other hand is free type thing. And those are kind of great entry. But this was really, I mean I went from what I showed you to this, in one step. I was like, let's just do it. Let's figure this out. It was a little bit of an investment but also, I've been using this thing for years now. I mean, cameras have changed and I didn't change it. So, yeah. One more quick question. Can you, people were intrigued by your adjustable handles on the shoulder rigs. Can you tell us again what those are? Sure, so these are from a company called SHAPE. They go onto the same rails, they just slide on and off, with this little lever here. And what they do is they kind of rotate all around. So you can get them into any configuration you want. I put them up to put them onto my rig because otherwise they're too much in the way. They slide right on. And I tighten them. That way. And again, what I really like about them, one is that they're comfortable, you know, they're gonna be in your hands all day, this rubber is kind of nice, they're very comfortable to use, they're very easy to adjust, it's not like I've gotta take it, loosen it, unscrew something or whatever, I'm just kind of pushing in here. But for me the most important part, and this was kind of an afterthought, I didn't even realize it, I originally had just bought them because I thought they were nice and comfortable. And it was only when I was shooting with it and I was doing this, which is still not bad, because it's still pretty stable, but I was shooting and I'd pick my hand up to focus, and then I realized, oh, I can just kind of rotate this up here, and do it with my thumb and not ever have to take my arm off. I do find, and this is always gonna be the case is stuff is not made for your bodies. I do find that for me, it's sometimes a little short. And so for me sometimes after a lot of shooting, I find myself that I'm doing this. Instead of holding it here. And it must be because at some point this is like too much of an extension, and what would feel better is if my elbow was really locked in, and so I'm kind of mimicking that by keeping my elbow locked in. It's not that I'm doing it because I'm like, oh, I should do that now. It's that I find my body starts to kind of get tired, and after a couple hours of shooting I tend to be like that. But it also speaks to how well this is helping. Because the fact that I can hold this thing up by my fingertips means that a lot of weight is off of my hands. Hope that answers the questions. Great, thank you. I'm gonna quickly show you another one. And then I'm gonna show you some samples of what this stuff looks like. So this is a newer shoulder rig. Also made by Zacuto. And right now it's on this tripod. But it's a, there we go. So. So this is this great thing because this is really really light. And I'm not quite used to it. This is really light because the whole thing basically goes on your shoulder. You don't have a counter balance. You've got your follow focus, it is here. And your handle is here. So potentially you're shooting like this. I'm not quite used to this, so you can see that some of the stuff at first is a little bit getting your sea legs, they just sent this over for me to kind of experiment with. But it allows the system to be incredibly light. So if you're thinking about really all day stuff, you've got a viewfinder here that allows you to really see very close up what's happening in your lens, and you can see the depth of field, and it allows you to focus at very shallow depth of field very easily. You have access to all of the stuff you need, et cetera. I would say for me personally, the one thing that I'm still a little unsure of with how I would use this, because I tend to be out in the field so much, is that when I'm done shooting with this, I'm not quite sure where I put it. Because it's very very light, which also means that I can do a bunch of things that on this are hard, which is that like, I can track someone's feet, you know, I can actually use the handle. Whereas here, now that I've got 20 pounds worth of equipment hanging around, I don't really wanna, A, I feel like it might break off, but also it's not gonna do anything for me to be using this handle. But for this I could track people's feet, if I was photographing puppies, or filming puppies, which clearly no one's asking me to do, but if I were, I could be down there, I can do all types of different angles and it's light. My issue is, and I don't know if you can get to the floor here, is that when I'm done shooting, I'm not sure that that looks like a good idea. I'm not sure that that pressure on this thing is a great idea, I'm not sure, I think with here it's okay, this makes me a little concerned. Potentially, I mean, so much of this stuff is very customizable. Potentially, one could make like a little kickstand here, or something that just kind of pops out so that when you're done shooting, you just drop this thing here, and it's resting on the floor and this part of your follow focus, which I imagine is a little on the delicate side, and you don't wanna be putting a ton of pressure on, is not getting impacted. But, I'm also totally impressed because all of this extra, heavy stuff that I've got going on is eliminated in this model. And it's something that just goes right up onto your shoulders and away you go. It's compact, this thing probably fits, not only in a pelican but something really really small, and you're kind of off and running. I could probably jog with this thing. Whereas that's a little heavier. Okay. What they've done here, also to just demonstrate a couple more elements of it. What they've done here is that on the camera when you're holding it out in front of you, or when you're just holding the camera as its own body, your shutter and also your aperture are controlled by this handle here. And so what they've done is they've moved the handle off and attached it so that when you're shooting, you're pressing record here. And you're changing your aperture here. Instead of having to come, like whoa, all the way up here, which would be a nightmare, and it would fall. Does that make sense? And then everything else is just kind of stripped down. In this model you're basically just with your camera, which is great. But again, I'm not totally sure where it goes when you're not shooting. One more question here. Just wanna make sure, I know we've talked about that this class is for people with both DSLRs as well as getting into the video cameras. Can you just comment on, they make rigs for DSLRs as well, correct? Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, this I use for a DSLR as well, this is the same exact one that I use for my Canon 5D. And if I were to shoot something tomorrow on the 5D, which I very well might, I would use the same exact rig. The base plate might be a little different because in order to engage the follow focus, it has to be at the right height. And so on a DSLR, you don't have as much on the bottom. And so the base plate for the DSLR, which is the only thing that changes, it's almost like it's got two levels, it's got like first floor and second floor, and your camera just sits on the second floor. So it like creates a little bit of space so that your follow focus can engage, but other than that, I use the same thing. And a lot of these are made for a variety of cameras because they know not everyone's shooting on cinema cameras, not everyone's shooting on DSLRs, and they're all very interchangeable. Even across brands, you know the fact that the SHAPE thing fits onto the Zacuto, et cetera.

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a Creativelive Student

I have been waiting for a course like this. Purchasing it was a no-brainer. Taught by an accomplished professional in the field, with a strong track record of high level work, Jessica Dimmock, I feel, is exactly the type of instructor Creative Live should be giving air time to. I have watched other Videography classes on Creative Live, and this was the first one that I felt was worth purchasing due to how much info was being shared, in a very methodical, easy to follow (but not dumb downed) fashion.

a Creativelive Student

This class has left me feeling very encouraged and inspired about getting into videography. Jessica has made some great work, in her short career with video, and was able to share what she learned through those experiences. She started out as a photographer and has now incorporated video into her skill set and it seems to have expanded the diversity her opportunities and has enriched what she produces and shares with the world. I look forward to doing the same thing in my own way. Thanks CL for another wonderful class.


Simultaneously broad and deep, the information Jessica covers and the way she delivers it really give you the feeling you can jump into video right away. Professionalism in every area, from prep steps to workflow in the field to clean organization and processing, inspires confidence in the value of her methods. She clearly learned most of this in the field over years of work, which means the rest of us now have a huge leg up on our first projects. Thank you so much!

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