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Unless your work is purely run-and gun, one of the most important things to do in preparation for any shoot is test your equipment. ALL OF IT. And - even if you you are a real run & gun shooter: how well do you know your camera: can you anticipate the kinds of situations that might occur in your shoot? Try them with a friend. Figure out what works best, based on the options your camera, rig, and any further equipment you are using have to offer. Think about the final look you are going for in the context of the post-production process. Will your material be graded? What will the master/final output format be?
The same thing goes for those with more control over their images. Plan, test, find out what works, and find workarounds for what doesn’t. Here’s an example: Earlier this year, I helped out my fellow cinematographer Gleb Volkov on his commercial shoot for a new product by an airgun manufacturer. He needed a professional setup for high resolution images and plenty of information to go into grading with, so opted for the RED Epic Helium 8k.
We put together the camera with rods, focus motor & all other accessories and weighed it, then checked our selection of kits that could do the job, and came across the iFootage S1 slider and S1A3 Motion Control set. It was not easy to find in rental houses in Prague, which was surprising given the opportunities it offered. On paper, it seemed right for the job, so we grabbed it and tested it, with our entire camera setup, and an object at roughly the intended distance, to see how it performed. Points of interest included: was the movement smooth enough? Was it feasible at the desired speed, and if not, how much time would it take to adjust in post? And, last but not least, how difficult was the focus, which was done wirelessly by the 1st AC, in our macro lens shots with a moving camera and a moving object?
Having tried and noted all this, we rolled on a few test takes, which Gleb then took home and ran through post. Only after seeing the results and confirming the task at hand could be done within the given timeframe and budget did we make the choice. When dealing with equipment you have little or no experience working with, this is a must. Don’t take your friend’s word for it, or the rental’s, or the manufacturer’s. Get your hands on it, test it and see if it and exactly how works for you. Most rentals will be fine with this if you do it in-house on a day when the equipment is available. Zoning in on the right settings is a great way to help you better visualise the final outcome, and also saves you precious time on your shooting day(s) when the equipment, studio space and crew are all coming out of the budget and there is no time for experimenting.
Needless to say, this was not the only test we did before shooting. Lighting was another huge factor impacting how this particular product looked and how each of its features were highlighted.
Reading up on your gear is great, as is watching tutorials and reviews, and getting colleague’s opinions can be priceless when it comes to getting your desired effect quickly and precisely, but nothing beats hands-on experience, so don’t be shy!