FB 126C

FB 126C

I wanted to share this amazing story. Harking back to a previous post about multimedia, this is a great example of a multimedia story done incredibly well. It helps of course to have such an inspirational and engaging story to back it up with. An amazing example of what is out there if you have the guts to go looking for it and some cracking pictures as well. I recommend you check it out…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18910560

 

Kibera Film School

Have you heard about the Kibera Film School? Set up a few years ago by the non-profit organisation Hot Sun Foundation, it is a film school based in Kibera, a huge slum on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya.

I found out about them via my work with UK charity Purple Field Productions (www.purplefieldproductions.org) who worked with a Kibera Film School graduate on their latest film project last month. 

An African slum might seem like a strange location for a film school but it makes perfect sense. One million people living tightly packed together with little water, electricity or sanitation? Sound like a place with a lot of stories to tell! And with the help of the Hot Sun Foundation (www.hotsunfoundation.org) the Kibera Film School is telling those stories. Not just stories about poverty, hardship and poor living conditions, but stories about friendship, hope and aspirations.

I wanted to find out more about the school and I came across this article by CNN which I think is worth a read if you’re interested:

http://edition.cnn.com/2012/06/04/world/africa/kibera-slum-kenya-film-school/index.html

They also have their own blog, they’re on facebook and they have some of their films up on Youtube:

kiberafilmschool.blogspot.co.uk

http://www.facebook.com/kiberaschool

http://www.youtube.com/user/HotSunFilms

I’m always fascinated by the different ways film is made and used in different parts of the world and its great to find people and organisations like the Kibera Film School who are doing something different, something positive and something that challenges perceptions.

Sachtler Ace review

At the tail end of 2011 I purchased a Sachtler Ace tripod and having spent the last few months putting it through its paces I thought I’d give it a review.

 I’ve been using it with a Sony A1E which is a very small, lightweight camera (one of the reasons why I bought it in the first place.) Although this makes it easy to carry around when self-shooting, it does make it harder to get nice smooth pans and tilts using a lower spec tripod. Whilst using the camera to film a documentary last year (see earlier posts) I had it on a Vinten and a Libec, both of which struggled without a big, weighty camera on top to counterbalance a slow pan.

 The Ace, however, with its three vertical and three horizontal grades of drag is perfect for my little A1E. This is certainly what has impressed me most about the Ace compared to other tripods in the same price range. The fluid head and adjustable drag makes it a breeze to produce lovely smooth, slow pans, tilts and pretty much any other movement you’re hoping to achieve. I recently filmed a point-to-point with it and the tripod really proved its worth, tracking the horses as they approached the camera and then panning across as they passed by with a nice fluid motion.

 The point-to-point also highlighted the other big plus about this tripod. Although it has a satisfyingly solid and sturdy feel to the build quality, it is still nice and lightweight – great for someone tramping across the countryside on their own with camera, tripod and mic whilst they following galloping horses up and down hills. I have the model with the mid-level spreader (I find it so much more convenient for outdoor filming on uneven surfaces/steps etc.) which only weighs 4.4kg and the ground spreader version only comes in slightly more at 4.6kg – perfect for follow the action, pick-up-and-go style documentary/news filming.

 However, this actually brings me on to pretty much the only downside I’ve found with this tripod -the two stage legs (a design I prefer but I think this is mainly down to whatever you are used to) do not lock on/off but instead have a twist mechanism to  tighten and loosen. There is no end-lock position on this mechanism either, which means it takes quite a bit of practice to lock into position quickly and I was also left worrying that it wasn’t fully locked off and might slip – although it never actually did slip!

This is a minor disappointment, frustrating on a tripod that in every other way is fast and easy to move, but for the price you are paying for this tripod I’d be very surprised if it was 100% perfect and overall I’m very happy with this tripod. I’ve taken it out in the rain and mud and it dries out and cleans up very well – seems to be pretty hardy and robust. The five-step counterbalance and 140mm sliding range make it flexible and easy to adjust to different camera set-ups. All-in-all a great tripod for smaller cameras and in my opinion unmatched within its price range.

 If you want the full specs you can go to the Sachtler website to find out exact payload, min and max heights etc. and I won’t bore you with them here. www.sachtler-ace.com

 I bought mine from Production Gear for a competitive price, but most importantly to me I could go and visit their showroom to have a play with the tripod before making a decision. They were all very friendly and helpful and I would definitely recommend. www.videogear.co.uk

Multimedia

Its been a while since my last post – Christmas, New Year and life generally have wizzed by in a blur and suddenly its nearly February!

I’ve been pretty busy working on various projects, but did manage to find time to dig my stills camera out to take a few pics in my spare time. Photography for me is still a hobby at the moment, although its something I really enjoy and would like to do more of.

I like the flexibility of photography compared to video. A lot less kit to carry for starters! Its possible to take a quick, spur of the moment shot which can then stand on its own as something interesting, beautiful or unique (maybe even all three!). I think video tends to need more of a background – you usually need several shots to contextualise something effectively.

Of course, there is a third option. Multimedia, the vague and all encompassing buzz word has increased dramatically in prominance recently. Partly in thanks, I’m sure, to the increasing capabilities of equipment to do both stills and video and do it well.

With so much content now being produced and with so many different platforms to display it on, finding stuff that is actually really good can be tricky. Someone whose work I personally admire is ex-army photographer and photojournalist, Ian Forsyth.

Coming from a  photography perspective, he approaches multimedia in a different way to many people – using audio techniques to enhance his photos, rather than using photos to enhance his video.

I find his multimedia pieces subtle and understated and usually very powerful as a result. Both pictures and audio are capable of standing alone and so when fused together they create extra impact that makes me stop, listen and completely forget everything else while I watch. I think that is a rare skill.

If you want to check out some of his stuff for yourself you can take a look at his website:

http://www.ianforsythphotographer.com

or go straight to his vimeo page for the multimedia stuff: 

 http://vimeo.com/30988864 

My personal favourites are ‘Buffer Zone’ and ‘The Veterans’, both powerful stories from his time in the Army.

Events Coverage

Last week I was filming a fundraising event at the House of Lords for the charity Fishing for Forces (www.fishingforforces.org) and it got me thinking. Events coverage seems to be an all-encompassing term to include everything from major sporting events to small private functions. I’ve been wondering if its possible to define certain qualities and techniques that apply when covering any event, or is the range simply too diverse?

As a freelance camera operator, I’ve covered a pretty varied range of events, from large outdoor venues like The Millennium Stadium or The Royal Bath and West Show, to extremely intimate and private ‘events’ such as funerals and formal ceremonies. Although the spectrum is broad and it goes without saying that each event is unique, I think there are certain skills it is vital to have for successful Events Coverage.

1. Expect the unexpected! When filming a live event, its almost a guarantee that it wont all go to plan. The ability to think on your feet, quick reactions and a flexible approach are all essential to cope under any circumstances.

2. Discretion is the better part of valor. OK, I don’t think valor is particularly necessary but discretion certainly is. Although it is more important  at smaller, more intimate events like weddings, the ability to blend in is always an asset. It enables events to unfold naturally in front of the camera and is the best way to get candid, relaxed shots which offer a realistic representation of the event. Obviously at events like lectures, exhibitions or sport this isn’t that relevant, but in those circumstances being discreet probably applies more to not getting in the way and blocking someone’s view – or a fire exit!

3. The customer is always right. As well as a diverse range of venues and types of event, the purpose and output is often varied as well. You might simply be providing a straightforward, no-frills record of the event – for example you might be filming a lecture which needs to be distributed to nationwide employees. Alternatively you might be creating a once-in-a-life-time, all-singing, all-dancing DVD package for newly weds. Whatever the event, its vital to establish the expectations and this requires plenty of pre-event research. This enables you to make sure you have the right equipment for the job and focus on what is important to whoever has employed your services.

I think that’s probably enough to be getting on with for now. As ever, there is room to add your own ‘must haves’ to the list…

Filming in Africa

I have recently returned from spending two months filming a documentary on conservation in Malawi for a charity called Purple Field Productions. As anyone who has worked in Africa will probably agree, it presents some unique problems and challenges but also provides wonderful rewards.

Below are a few observations and tips I picked up during the project. Feel free to add any of your own or dispute any of mine…

1. Getting there: we took a very small, light and compact set of equipment with us. Not only does this keep expenses down for excess baggage allowance but it also much easier to get through customs at the other end. Sadly, in many African countries (and in other parts of the world) corruption is rife and carrying expensive, professional looking equipment invites trouble. For the trip to Malawi we took the Sony A1E which is a really nice little HDV camera that’s discreet and fits easily into hand luggage and we didn’t have any problems. Unfortunately it’s not always possible to minimise on equipment. On a trip a couple of years ago to the DRC I was filming for ENG and had a Panasonic AG SPX800E. We had a considerable wait at customs until our local contacts were able to help us out. That also highlights another must – the importance of good planning and good contacts, so that you are not completely alone in a foreign country for when it inevitably all goes wrong!

 2. However… Hakuna Matata! Learn not to sweat the small things or you’ll   have a nervous breakdown. It might sound obvious but problems with basic infrastructure and a laid back approach to life means that facilities, standards and timeframes you may be used to at home just don’t apply in many parts of Africa. Especially in rural areas. For example, severe diesel shortages in Malawi resulted in long delays and last minute changes to the timetable.

3. Dust, sun and sweaty fingers – all bad for cameras.

  •   Dust was a big problem for us and we had to be extra careful to keep all equipment clean. Air duster and chamois are essential parts of the kit.
  • Strong African sunshine poses both technical and creative problems. It can obviously damage lenses and overheat equipment – including reducing the life of batteries. Aesthetically, midday sun can burn out pictures and create a flat, bland look to a shot, whereas, although early and late sun gave much greater depth and a beautiful golden hue to the shots, you can’t rely on using it alone – both for logistic reasons and because you’ll end up looking like your whole film was shot at dusk! Filters helped a lot – both UV filters to protect the lenses as well as polarizers and ND filters to enhance the shot and allow more flexibility with the depth of field. 
  • Filming in Africa, the contrast of the dark skin tones to the strong sunlight is also problematic. We found, especially during interviews, that the reflector was another essential piece of kit to get decent, natural looking lighting onto people’s faces. Any other tips for working in harsh lighting conditions would be appreciated…
  • Sweaty fingers were an even bigger problem for us in Malawi as the Sony A1E has a touchscreen menu – one of the biggest downsides to the camera in my opinion. We had to be extra careful to have clean fingers when operating it and copious amounts of wet-wipes were used when we were out in the field – I wish I’d packed more as I nearly ran out! Although we were incredibly careful with the screens, both cameras developed a fault with them towards the end of the trip. Luckily we could work around it but this was a let down on an otherwise handy and versatile little camera. 

4. Enjoy yourself! I love Africa and I especially loved Malawi. The people are friendly, the landscape is stunning and the lifestyle and culture is unique. Being able to do what I love, in such an amazing location and knowing that it’s also for a good cause – what more could anyone want!?

Purple Field Productions is a UK based charity that works with local organisations within developing countries to produce films for educational and humanitarian purposes. To find out more visit the website www.purplefieldproductions.org or find them on facebook or twitter.