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The art of Hand Held camerawork


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#1 Joe Riggs

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Posted 02 December 2009 - 10:15 AM

Hello,

I have a shoot coming up, where a significant portion will be hand held. I have been taking in the work of Prieto/Iñárritu, and they seem to have that style down. Most of the times it is not too erratic, and they come up with some wonderful compositions.

We did some tests in the location, a office room which is really small, and I found it difficult to come up with interesting compositions, and follow the actions without it looking too clumsy. Moreover, maintaining focus is really difficult.

Any tips to this style of hand-held work? I'm sure, much thought goes into it but at times, they seem to just follow the action, and pan all over the place.
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#2 Dan Salzmann

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Posted 02 December 2009 - 10:38 AM

Successful handheld work is dependent on:
Experience, grace, physical strength and compositional ability of the camera operator
A good first AC
Ergonomic camera configuration and support (handles, pads, etc)
Suitable action for handheld cinematography.
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#3 Chad Stockfleth

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Posted 02 December 2009 - 10:41 AM

I would add that a fair amount of rehearsal helps!
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#4 Gus Sacks

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Posted 02 December 2009 - 11:07 AM

In general, working in small spaces tend to have a lack of foreground and background elements to work with to make compositions that aren't inherently flat. Handheld might allow you the opportunity to squeeze back into some tight spots to create some seperation.
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#5 Tom Jensen

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Posted 02 December 2009 - 11:43 AM

Successful handheld work is dependent on:
Experience, grace, physical strength and compositional ability of the camera operator
A good first AC
Ergonomic camera configuration and support (handles, pads, etc)
Suitable action for handheld cinematography.


And intuition with a dash of anticipation.
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#6 Dan Salzmann

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Posted 02 December 2009 - 01:15 PM

And intuition with a dash of anticipation.


I think those things come with experience.
I want to add that I feel that I don't like static camera handheld very much because it often seems like just shaky and lazy. Like why wasn't it on sticks?
Also I feel the "I'm trying to be a human steadicam" thing usually fails as well.
Handheld seems most effective when it reinforces the psycho-emotional impact of what is being filmed, for example, fight scenes and complex movement from the actors or continuous shot dialogue sequences.
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#7 Donald Wong

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Posted 11 December 2009 - 11:05 PM

As an example of what I consider to be very good hand-held camera work, watch the scenes on the boat in JAWS. They contributed positively to the tension and excitement that those scenes needed and were clearly justified, not gratuitous, and not so shaky as to induce vertigo. I also think the technique was used judiciously in that it was not overused and was used in a relatively small portion of the film.

Potential downsides to the technique especially when it becomes what a lot of viewers would call "shaky-cam": a) it turns off potential viewers who are sensitive to vertigo induced by a shaky image (which could lead to a loss in box office revenue), b) it will lead some viewers to think that the technique was used simply because it was faster, cheaper, or easier to do it that way (not necessarily bad reasons, but it may leave a bad impression on some viewers).

My $0.02 is that if the hand-held technique is not clearly well-motivated and appropriate to the scene, it shouldn't be used. Think of the possible alternatives that will still satisfy your storytelling objective or solve your filming problem before you use it.
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#8 Chris Keth

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Posted 12 December 2009 - 12:14 AM

As an example of what I consider to be very good hand-held camera work, watch the scenes on the boat in JAWS. They contributed positively to the tension and excitement that those scenes needed and were clearly justified, not gratuitous, and not so shaky as to induce vertigo. I also think the technique was used judiciously in that it was not overused and was used in a relatively small portion of the film.

Potential downsides to the technique especially when it becomes what a lot of viewers would call "shaky-cam": a) it turns off potential viewers who are sensitive to vertigo induced by a shaky image (which could lead to a loss in box office revenue), B) it will lead some viewers to think that the technique was used simply because it was faster, cheaper, or easier to do it that way (not necessarily bad reasons, but it may leave a bad impression on some viewers).

My $0.02 is that if the hand-held technique is not clearly well-motivated and appropriate to the scene, it shouldn't be used. Think of the possible alternatives that will still satisfy your storytelling objective or solve your filming problem before you use it.


I can't disagree with any part of your post. That just takes all the fun out of internet fora. :lol:
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#9 Gregory Middleton

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Posted 12 December 2009 - 03:04 AM

Hello,

I have a shoot coming up, where a significant portion will be hand held. I have been taking in the work of Prieto/Iñárritu, and they seem to have that style down. Most of the times it is not too erratic, and they come up with some wonderful compositions.

We did some tests in the location, a office room which is really small, and I found it difficult to come up with interesting compositions, and follow the actions without it looking too clumsy. Moreover, maintaining focus is really difficult.

Any tips to this style of hand-held work? I'm sure, much thought goes into it but at times, they seem to just follow the action, and pan all over the place.


A couple of basic physical things tips.
1 - rehearse your footwork. Things may change but if you have your feet where you want them you will be better balanced and comfortable. Comfort = steady ( as you like) and quicker reacting. Rehearsing footwork will help you 1st AC too. A remote focus system is great for hand held. I less hand bumping your shot, however you lose the ability to grab the focus wheel yourself and make an adjustment.
2 - If you are twisting your body for a shot remember the rule ' unwind yourself'. If you start compressed or twisted you will be able to unwind with grace and control. The other way make you hold an uncomfortable position at the end....
3 - Try and get your camera a neutrally balanced on your shoulder as possible. You do not want to be lifting the front the whole take. You want to be pointing the camera with your hands not lifting it. We used to use 1000ft mags sometimes to help with balance.

As for compositional challenges of a small office, if you can shoot over the shoulder you can use the other actors for interesting elements.

Good Luck on your shoot.
g
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#10 Evan Ferrario

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Posted 12 December 2009 - 12:43 PM

I find it helpful to have someone holding my belt if I am walking backwards. Practice a lot, if you are confident in what you are doing, it is going to show. Footsteps are the biggest annoyance to me for handheld so I like to walk with my knees bend so my body moves up and down as little as possible. This is a walk you can practice all the time and although people might laugh, it will make you better. I'm not suggesting that you can make handheld look like a steadicam shot, but it is possible to illuminate the obvious bump bump of footsteps.

Like others have mentioned, a weak focus and handheld do not work well together. The focus needs to be right on and this is very complicated. Also without the right equipment (follow focus, handgrip for operator) it can be almost impossible not to bump the camera. I remember watching a special about Spielberg where he was talking about his short film Amblin. To shoot some of the handheld shots, they tied a rope between the camera operator and actor so they would always be the perfect distance apart. Although this technique might not work for your shot, it is a great way to practice the shot.

For me, a dynamic moving camera is always more interesting that a static camera. If you aren't using handheld work to allow the camera to move, then it should be on a tripod.

Although I will agree that handheld has become a kind of overused gimic in a lot of movies, I think Emmanuel Lubezki's work in Children of Men and Y tu mamá también is a great example of handheld used for almost the whole film and it fits perfectly.

Handheld is a "look" that creates a strong feeling, however I don't think it's just for action or running. I think it's more about unsettling the viewers sense of stability, normal camera shots never change the paralel between the horizon and the camera, and breaking this relationship has a strong effect on the viewer.
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#11 Chris Keth

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Posted 12 December 2009 - 04:14 PM

One thing I haven't seen mentioned is related to some forethought for the scene. If you have a lot of handheld planned and your director isn't big on rehearsal, consider the stop you light to. One of the most miserable things I've ever done is days and days of wide open, unrehearsed, quite wild handheld with a whip. We got through it but it would have been much better and much more pleasant has we either rehearsed more or lit to a deeper stop to give me a decent chance on focus. As it was, I had to use the whip (and have the line producer angry with me for leaving the special-rented preston in the case) so the operator could grab his own focus as needed.
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#12 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 13 December 2009 - 02:52 AM

Hello,

I have a shoot coming up, where a significant portion will be hand held. I have been taking in the work of Prieto/Iñárritu, and they seem to have that style down. Most of the times it is not too erratic, and they come up with some wonderful compositions.

We did some tests in the location, a office room which is really small, and I found it difficult to come up with interesting compositions, and follow the actions without it looking too clumsy. Moreover, maintaining focus is really difficult.

Any tips to this style of hand-held work? I'm sure, much thought goes into it but at times, they seem to just follow the action, and pan all over the place.


In my opinion, the finest example of hand held camera work was in Jaws. Every time I see that movie a truly marvel at the exquisite hand held work in that picture and still can't quite figure out how it was done so perfectly. I've done some hand held work and so I know how hard it is to keep a camera perfectly smooth. Surprisingly, I have more trouble with smaller, lighter cameras than larger, heavier ones. Balance and keeping your knees slightly bent seems to help for me, as does a shoulder and body brace. Keeping the spine straight and the head up, adjusting the camera to fit you rather than the other way around and making sure you have gotten enough rest so you are refreshed and your muscles and not shaky is very important as well as raking breaks between shots when ever you have a chance. This stuff works for me.
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