Daisy Mah — Land Park Gardener Retires — Part 3: Shooting News with the Canon 7D DSLR
So I had a week and a half of vacation. When it started out I had no plans. But I wanted to shoot something with the Canon 7D. I’ve had the camera since the 7D first came out. When I got it the plan was to shoot another feature film with it using prime lenses. But that hasn’t happened yet. I need to have the right script. In lieu of having a film to shoot, from time to time I’ve been bringing the 7D along on news shoots to give it some use.
I’ve only done a little intermittent shooting with the DSLR, not enough to get a strong enough sense of the camera and the whole “DSLR thing.” Every time I shoot with it has come with uncertainties:
FOCUSING: Due to the poor image quality of the LCD screen on the back of the camera, even with a loupe eyepiece over the back, I’m never sure whether the image is in focus or not. I’ve added an LCD4Video 7″ monitor, connected to the camera via mini-HDMI jack, but it is not HD and I still struggle with the focus.
EXPOSURE: This has also been tricky for me. I tend to either over-expose or under-expose. The LCD is not very helpful here either.
I’ll watch other people’s DSLR films and they always look so much better than mine—cool angles, great exposures with details in the brights and shadows, and crisp focus.
My own footage always looks soft & muddy to me. Perhaps that’s how I see my own stuff. Or maybe I just don’t know what I’m doing!!!!!
I decided to shoot the Daisy May story while on my vacation time off to use the opportunity to shoot something with the Canon 7D and get a better handle of how it works.
Zoom H4N digital audio recorder with a Sennheiser Evolution wireless mic for Daisy’s interview.
Primary lens was the Tokina 11-16 F2.8. I would be shooting most of the story handheld and this lens would allow me to get in close in a dense shooting area.
Also with me was the Tokina 17-55 F2.8 and Canon 70-200 F4 L-series lenses.
Finally, I brought along two tripods, a small, very collapsible Bogen Manfrotto, and an old fluid head tripod that I bought from a clearance sale.
I kept the camera in an inexpensive cage that I picked up on ebay for $79 that was made in some prison in China. I’ve been curious about cages as a way to give the small camera a little bit more weight and stability for handheld shooting — to try and take out some of the jerkiness. Also to be able to put more attachments on — the monitor and an external Rode VideoMic for wild sound and reference audio for marrying up the interview sound from the Zoom H4N, which was kept in a pocket of my many-pocketed jacket and was connected to the Sennheiser Evolution wireless receiver.
I pressed the record button on the Zoom and just let it roll until I sat down with Daisy for a formal interview.
(Later, all the footage was loaded into Adobe Premiere and synched up using Plural Eyes.)
There was no easy way to rig the Rode mic onto the cage, so I’ve finally had to just wrap some velcro staps around it. The downside is that I get a lot of camera vibration sound spilling over onto the audio. Not good.
MONITORING AUDIO is a constant issue. Since the Canon 7D does not have a headphone jack for monitoring audio, whatever is going in through the Rode VideoMic is a constant mystery. I can only work on a “guesstimate” of what I’m getting — and if any of it is going to be usable at all.
MONITORING THE WIRELESS MIC: I have a big pair of Sennheiser headphones that I use when shooting my feature films, but which I feel are too ostentatious when shooting news/documentary in the field.
(People always say, “Man, those are some big / heavy duty headphones!” The less attention that I can draw when shooting docu, the better.)
So for this shoot I just used some generic iPod earbuds that I picked up for $5 at Big Lots.
MAINTAINING EYE-CONTACT & “ZONE SHOOTING” WITH THE ULTRA-WIDE TOKINA 11-16MM
As soon as I arrived around 8:30 AM to start shooting with Daisy, I put a Sennheiser Evolution wireless mic & transmitter on her so that I could talk to her as she went about doing her work and could record her voice.
I started out with the Canon 7D in the cage with the Tokina 11-16 F2.6 wide —wide— lens. Flipped the LCD4Video monitor down so that I could roll on Daisy and just have a loose composition on her.
AVERAGE FOCUS SETTINGS: I’ve found that the CLD4Video monitor is not that sharp. But then, I just may not have it tweaked and set up to its best potential. For focusing I generally just glanced down at the footage markings on the lens and approximated the lens to that setting.
When I’m shooting a news story and doing interviews I try not to look directly through the viewfinder too much. I just hold the camera in a general framing and look at the person in the eye. Eye-contact is crucial when talking with people. And I always say, “Let’s talk” or “Talk to me for a minute about…” Never, “Can I interview you about this?” That’s far too formal and off-putting. Keep whoever you’re talking to comfortable and relaxed.
I held the Canon 7D rig around chest height, angled towards Daisy at a general focus setting of 3-feet or so, looking at her, and trying to follow her and be as non-technical as possible.
DAISY & THE DOGS: Bonnie told me about Daisy because our greyhounds — Ava, Alex & Bea — love Land Park and they love all the winding walkways in the WPA Rock Garden. This is how Bonnie got to meet & know Daisy. And Daisy is very good with the dogs. (And we know that she is this way with all the dogs who come through the garden.
I was planning on just following Daisy around as she worked, document some of that activity as she did it, and record whatever she might say or throw a question or so to her to get “active sound” of her telling me about what she did at the garden as she worked.
But once I put the microphone on Daisy, she just started talking. And there was not stopping her. Maybe that’s how she is when people visit her — for fear that silence could be rude, interpretted as her not being interested whoever is talking to her.
FORMAL SIT-DOWN INTERVIEW: After amounting almost half-an-hour of various footage of Daisy, we sat down and I set up the 7D on a simple Manfrotto tripod and switch from the Tokina 11-16 lens to the Canon 70-200 F4 L-Series lens for a regular interview.
TRIPOD DSLR: Most of my news work and my DSLR shooting — with the exception of my sky time-lapse shooting — is done handheld. I like to be free-form, not stage anything, and be responsive to who I’m shooting. Just go with it. Tripods can be very confining for that. But this time, since I wanted to get a deeper sense of working in DSLR, I pulled out an old wooden-legged tripod that I picked up at a photography/shooters/video flea market years ago and decided to shoot much of the last elements of the story — Daisy’s retirement lunch “on the stix.”
I had the Canon 70-200 F4 L-Series lens for this. And it worked pretty good. Though I was constantly adjusting the zoom. I really could have used a longer & tighter lens. On my KCRA-issued Sony HD XDCAM is a Canon 8.2-164mm zoom lens — a 20-1 zoom — with a 2x multimplier! That’s a lotta lens!!!!
I really do rely heavily on a long & strong zoom lens for docu shooting so as not to miss anything.
Shooting with an old tripod and in DSLR is not fast!
I’m still gathering my thoughts on DSLR and news. I think that, considering the length of this post, I shall put up my conclusions/evaluations in the next post.
Posting this on Tuesday, December 24, 2013 — so HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!