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Simplify Your Process To Become A More Efficient Filmmaker

I’ve had the pleasure of working with some great subject matters in the field lately. As a filmmaker, my goal is to capture engaging moments and edit them for viewers to enjoy. That seems quite simple, but the road to making a video from top to bottom can be quite daunting.

My goal with this article is to share some recent work, discuss how I approached making them, and the gear I used along the way. I hope that by sharing my experiences, you can learn a new trick, tip or technique for your next video project. It doesn’t matter if you’re dabbling in video or a full-time filmmaker, I believe there is always something more to learn and grow into from sharing and swapping stories from production experiences.

Recently I’ve turned my attention to documentary and commercial work. Much of the time, the demand for certain types of film work will trend toward wanting a certain look or style. You see this by the requests you get and may notice you’re being asked to do similar work more often. These demands usually come from the different sources or platforms viewers commonly watch content.

For YouTube hosted videos, requests are typically aimed for edited content between 3-5 minutes. Viewers are also using platforms that are a bit more limited for video, such as Instagram, and the request for 1-minute or 30-second edited clips are what many clients commonly request.

The final product or edited video times may have changed, but the time it takes to capture the event or moment are typically the same. I find myself feeling very conflicted on set, filming loads of footage for a clip I know is going to be cut to 3-minutes. As a documentarian, I have to keep my final edit in mind when shooting, but I can’t cut the camera when action is happening on day full of magical moments. 

I never really know what clips will make it into the final cut, but I try to give myself or the editor enough footage to put together a proper piece, while trying not to overshoot as well. I do several things to be an efficient filmmaker without gear getting in the way of capturing the perfect moment that’s impossible to recreate. 

Typically I travel with three Mirrorless Nikon Z 6 camera bodies. I dedicate each one to play a different role and to capture a totally different type of look that helps give my edit a wide variety of looks.

Camera “A,” as I like to call it, is set up in a traditional 24fps setting with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens with a variable neutral density filter to be able to quickly capture any moment indoors or outside. This camera is on a shoulder rig that is also capturing two sources of audio. One channel is running a wireless lavaliere microphone attached to the main subject. I run a second source of audio on the same camera which is a shotgun mic to capture any ambient or group of people talking. Both mics record simultaneously so that I can use either or both sources of audio depending on what’s needed for the edit.

In order to capture two sources of audio, I run one mic to the Nikon camera body and the other mic to a Atomos Ninja V recorder. This recorder also allows me to record in time lengths longer than the limit in my Mirrorless body, which is typically around 30 continuous minutes. This monitor / recorder will record as long as you have available storage, so I load it with a 500GB hard drive and can film for hours at a time if need be.

The reason for running the audio this way is so that all the captured audio gets attached to the singular video file. This Atomos recorder will record the audio coming from the camera body and also has a mic input on the record, which then all records to the video file, allowing me to have all my necessary audio on one file vs one video file and two separate audio files that need to be sync’d in post. You want to give yourself as many options as possible all while keeping your editing process as quick and efficient as possible. In the past, if I didn’t use this process it would take me the whole first day of my editing process to sync audio to my video. Just by capturing audio straight to my video I can save myself an entire day of sitting in front of the computer.

Once I made this change, I sought out other ways to save myself time in post and on shooting days. Battery life was another challenge for me. If I’m using the Atomos recorder/monitor, that’s two different devices on my rig that require batteries, and they’re not the same. So to free myself from swapping batteries and missing important moments, I use a V-Mount Battery. This is a big brick of power that allows me to film all day and power multiple devices at a time. This sufficiently powers my Nikon camera, my recorder and I have the option to power a third device if need be. A common 3rd device would be a Wireless Video Transmitter. If I need to send my cameras video signal to a client monitor, then I can power all three devices and remain 100% wireless. Moving to V-mount power has been a game changer.

The video below shows this main camera in action for a commercial I produced for Nikon’s announcement to debut a new firmware update that allows the camera to auto-focus on the subject’s eyes. 

Camera “B,” as I’ve labeled it, is dedicated just to slow motion. Since the Nikon Z 6 has beautiful slow motion, I set it to capture 120fps. I make sure to double my shutter speed so it’s set at 1/250sec. This usually darkens my image quite a bit so I tend to use a prime lens such as the 50mm f/1.8 or a 35mm f/1.8. This captures details and beauty shots, giving my final edit a variety of looks to help tell the story and change the mood.

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That’s technically a slider. You need to order three or four. It’s a Federal law.

Hi, folks: Today is Labor Day in the US (it’s an official US holiday), and like most government offices, the KelbyOne offices are closed today so we can rest and eat hamburgers (an American Labor Day tradition). So, I’m using that loophole as a springboard for a day off!

You know what else?
Tomorrow, I’m celebrating being married 30 years to the girl of my dreams. It’s just about a perfect day! :)

So, have a great Monday everybody, and we’ll see you back here tomorrow where Dave Williams, who is British and therefore immune to US holidays like Labor Day (of course, he’d spell it Labour Day, which is as whacked as a British breakfast), will be back with his travel photography tips (he is traveling the US West right now — make sure you’re following “@capturewithdave” on Instagram).

Have a great Labor Day today. Don’t forget to rest and eat plenty of hamburgers! :-)

Best,

-Scott

P.S. We’ve already approved nearly 800 Photo Walks™ in cities all over the world as part of my 12th annual Worldwide Photo Walk. If you’re relaxing this Labor Day, why not click this link; type in the name of your city, and see if there’s a walk near you that you can join on Saturday, Oct. 5th (it’s free, it’s fun. Did I mention it’s free?)

Cinemagraphs for Photographers: Animate Your Photos Without Learning To Shoot Video with Erik Kuna

Learn how to animate your photographs without shooting video! Join Erik Kuna for an in-depth look at Plotagraph Pro software to explore the possibilities for adding motion to a still photograph that really grabs the viewer’s attention. Cinemagraphs bridge the gap between still photographs and video and provide a unique method for bringing your photos to life.

In this class Erik takes you through the installation and setup of Plotagraph on the desktop and on the iPad, then walks you through a series of demonstrations to show you how to animate water, clouds, smoke, fire, hair, clothing, and more! Erik wraps up the class with a look at key export settings for sharing your animations with the world, and ideas for how to take your cinemagraphs to the next level.



In Case You Missed It: How to Bring your Still Images to Life Using Plotaverse

Join Trey Ratcliff as he teaches you how to add animation to your still photographs with Plotaverse. These dynamic images exist somewhere between a still photo and a movie and are just mesmerizing to watch. Throughout the class Trey teaches you the ins and outs of using the software, inspires you with mind blowing examples, and walks through ideas of where and how to use Plotaverse to get the most impact in your portfolio.

This class is perfect for any photographer looking to start using Plotaverse or wants to add dynamic impact to their portfolio.

What Does A Food Shoot Cost?

Do you ever get questions like that? How do you answer, “What does a food shoot cost?” When I have a potential client ask me this, I jokingly tell them “It costs about the same amount as a car.”

You can see their wheels turning as they calculate their ideas of what a car might cost. We then engage in some conversation about if they want a $30,000 luxury car or a $1,200 beater like my 17-year-old drives. Maybe it’s somewhere in between.

Out Of Pocket

The real question, and more important for us to understand is, what does a food shoot cost me? Before I can give the client a number, I need to know what my costs are. Most of the out-of-pocket costs associated with a shoot are easy to calculate (generally)…

  • First assistant: $500/day
  • Digital tech: $500/day
  • Food stylist: $950/day
  • Food stylist assistant: $450/day
  • Groceries: $250
  • Production assistant: $350/day
  • Prop stylist: $650/day
  • Catering and craft services: $500/day
  • Retouching: $150/image
  • etc, etc…

But what about my time? What about my value? (More on “value” in a future post.) What about my utilities? My insurance? My marketing and advertising, business license and taxes…the list of expenses goes on and on. Needless to say, there are many expenses/costs I need to be aware of, and then calculate into my estimates. But how?

I think we photographers have conveniently forgotten about all these other costs in an effort to try and compete on price. (More on “competing on price” in a future post.) These costs of doing business are substantial and are definitely part of the cost of a shoot. So, how do we account for these costs in our estimates?

Overhead

Consider overhead. These are our monthly expenses we incur regardless of how many days we’re shooting (or not shooting). Overhead is monthly bills and expenses. Rent, utilities, insurance, etc.

To help me figure out how much to calculate (and charge) for these expenses, I look at the annual total and divide by the number of shoot days—either actual from previous years or a goal for the current year. Let’s say my annual overhead is $100,000 (using round numbers to avoid long division). If I figure I’m going to shoot 100 days this year, then each shoot needs to clear $1,000 to cover my overhead.

Notice I said “clear”, as in, it’s above or more than the other costs of the shoot. This is income that stays in my bank account after I pay my crew and other out-of-pocket expenses in the list above. 

Salary

What about our salary? Did I say “salary?” Why yes, I did. We need to be paid. (More on paying ourself a salary in a future post.) Do we need to make $75,000 this year? Then we better make sure we’re adding $750 per day of shooting into our estimates. (I don’t have time or space to talk about “make” vs “take home” salary. We can discuss in greater detail in a future post.)

Equipment

But wait, we’re not done yet. Yes, there’s more. More for us to consider. Have you thought about your investment in all your equipment? That’s a lot of money. This is not overhead. Equipment purchases are capital expenditures. You know all too well.

$3,000 for a camera body. $1,900 for a lens. $2,400 for a computer. $4,500 for lighting. You might end up with $30,000 or $55,000 invested in equipment. Then a year or two goes by and it’s time to upgrade a few things here and there. These costs are big and they come at us at different intervals, sometimes without warning. 

Where does the money for all our equipment come from? These big capital expenditures need to be covered by our business’s cash reserves. But how? Imagine for a moment that we didn’t own any equipment, how would we get by?

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Hey hey! It’s #TravelTuesday with me, Dave Williams, and every week I’m here with something for you from the category lineup of photography, Photoshop, travel, or life. This week: – life. Mine, to be more specific.

First on the agenda, Photoshop World. It was awesome! I had my first PSW class, my “Ten Tips to Help You Create Captivating Travel Images,” and I loved it! I had a great time up on the stage in front of the attendees and it looks as though I had around 200 people in there with me. So, to those who came and to everyone who has followed along on my travels, thank you! Here’s a little look, courtesy of Brad Moore and Mark Heaps.

And, another big thanks to Rachel and the KelbyOne crew for being so ace, and for delivering me a donut onstage!

Now, since Photoshop World it seems life has resumed, which for me means travelling! I’m writing this post from the porch of the Thunderbird Lodge in Chinle, AZ, having woken up in Page and taken a look over the amazing vista at Horseshoe Bend before rolling through the landscape to Monument Valley where I’m currently shooting with Siân Elizabeth on some projects both together and independently. So far so good on that one, but I want to tell you about the little adventure that just finished.

Mark Heaps and I fulfilled a promise. Two years ago we decided we would go on a motorcycle adventure and we have now done that, albeit quite a short and sweet one (but, hopefully, the first of many.)

We collected our Triumph Tigers from Las Vegas Triumph immediately after Photoshop World ended, and we rode straight out into the blazing Nevada and Arizona deserts with one goal in our sights: – Route 66.

For three days we took in the sights on this amazing stretch of the mother road around the Seligman area, and if you didn’t know already, Seligman is perhaps better known as Radiator Springs from the Disney movie Cars. We tested our riding skills with twists and turns, ups and downs, strong side winds and dusty gravel roads, and it was amazing! I’ve been on some cool rides before but this was the most diverse, entertaining, and in some places, challenging motorcycle road trip I’ve had. Mark and I had the opportunity to share our experiences of photography training and of life in general. I already mentioned that we had planned to ride together for a couple of years, but here’s the point: –

One of the most beautiful qualities of friendship is to understand and to be understood. It refreshes the soul. Having the opportunity to share stories and experiences, and then subsequently share and adventure, came off the back of having met online through shared interest and realising we ticked the same tock, and we developed that and took it up a notch. The KelbyOne Community and Photoshop World are a fantastic way not only to learn but to share and to network. Mark and I maximised on it, and I strongly urge you to do the same so that you can click with like-minded people who speak your language, metaphorically and literally, and take on the world together.

Never let your friends get lonely. Keep disturbing them!

Much love

Dave

Adobe Keynote speaker Terry White, shown above in all four frames, totally crushed it at the conference in Vegas!

…it was just incredible (truly one of the best ever), and I’ve got a bunch of pictures and stories to share but I couldn’t get them ready in time to post them today. I’ll have ’em together pretty soon and post a link to them here, but for now…I’ve pretty much got nuthin.

Well, actually…

Over on my other blog, Lightroom Killer Tips, I have a pretty cool skin smoothing technique I picked up from Frank Doorhof when I was at the conference, and it uses the new Texture slider along with two other sliders to give the best skin smoothing I’ve seen in Lightroom yet. Here’s a link to that post.

Dave Williams at Photoshop World

Dave was teaching at Photoshop World for the first time, and I stuck my head into his travel photography class and it was absolutely packed. From all accounts, Dave rocked it, and I was thrilled to see him up on that stage! Congrats Dave. Don’t forget to catch his column tomorrow here on the blog. :)

Wednesday I’m off to Boston for my seminar there Thursday, and then Friday I’ll be in Philadelphia for my new “Ultimate Photography Crash Course” seminar. If you’re in either one of those cities this week, come out and spend the day with me. Tickets and details here.

That’s it for now —  here’s to a rockin’ week!

-Scott

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