A Couple Docs Shot With A Stills Camera

- - The Future

Photographers are doing some amazing things shooting video with the Canon 5D Mark II. Here are a couple that I saw that made me go “wow” when I heard they were shot on a stills camera. I have no idea how they will hold up on a 50″plasma TV, but who’s got time to watch TV anymore. It’s worth noting that both involve some serious hardships to shoot.

First This Documentary on Afghanistan shot by Danfung Dennis. He says “The footage was shot on a custom built rig, using a Canon 5D Mark II, 24-70 f/2.8 L lens, Sennheiser ME-66 and G2 wireless system, Singh-Ray variable ND filter, and Beachtek 2XAs mounted on a Glidecam 2000 HD with custom made aluminum ‘wings.'”

The next one comes from Surf photographer Yassine (Yazzy) Ouhilal:

Since I know Yazzy I asked him a couple questions:

Did you edit, shoot and record all the sound yourself?

I shot  most of the raw footage and time lapses over 44 days in the Arctic. A couple of other members of the expedition shot additional footage as well. Since this was also an editorial photo trip, a lot of the surfing footage had to be shot by someone else as I was usually too busy shooting stills. The rest of the time, it was pretty easy to go from shooting stills to video with the 5DMKII.

The audio was pulled from video interviews and audio recordings I got from some of the expedition members. I loaned an H2 digital audio recorder to the surfers on the expedition and asked them to record their thoughts when they were alone or by themselves in order to get authentic impressions from their experience in the Arctic- which wasn’t without challenges.

A lot of the sound effects were pulled from video clips. The 5DMKII has an audio input jack which allows for hi quality mics to be used.

I edited the film myself in imovie and mixed all the audio/sound/music tracks in Garage Band, two simple yet very effective pieces of software that if properly used can yield pretty incredible results.

The time lapses were animated using Quicktime Pro (by importing image sequences of stills and exporting uncompressed movie files)

What kind of experience do you have doing this kind of stuff?

I actually have a film production background- I spent 6 years at Concordia University in Montreal doing the Film Production program there. That was just before the digital/video era so the majority of the film work I did was in 16 and 35mm using editing tables and optical printers that are a much slower process than today’s digital workflow.

After film school, I found it hard to integrate the industry as a film maker. My two options were to try and get funding for my own films or to start working as a technician on film sets and work my way up the food chain. I opted to pursue my dreams and passions as a surf photographer instead and for the last 10 years, I’ve been roaming the globe shooting off the beaten path locations for magazines and companies. This type of work has given me the freedom to work in a field that I really enjoy and has been a good balance of personal and creative freedom as I have been self funding a lot of my trips on a freelance basis and then (hopefully) recouping my investments by providing the content out to various editorial clients.

Returning to filmmaking has been a natural progression and one that I have been looking forward to for a long time now.The way technology is going now, the line between photography and filmmaking is getting thinner and thinner everyday. It has been really exciting to get to shoot with a camera like the 5DMKII. As a photographer, I really know how to compose my shots and how my glass works. To be able to translate that into a cinematic medium has been really incredible.

The experience I had in film school using a much more traditional and slower workflow, it has definitely helped  me to restrain myself and not get carried away with all the possibilities of the digital workflow.

How much time did it take you to make this shot doc?

While I probably could have put something together for this project in just a few days, I really wanted to make an authentic film about the experience of surfing in the Arctic- with all the drama and the hostility of the environment. The editing process was done over  3 months. Much like with my photography, I like to distance myself from the content so that I can approach it again with a fresher perspective. It allows me to look at the photos/footage objectively rather than to remain attached to certain shots or clips because of the experience involved with obtaining the imagery. I find that in both photography and filmmaking, being able to “let go” is an important part of the process. Maybe an image means a lot to me because I endured many hardships to obtain it, but I have to keep in mind that the audience doesn’t necessarily know that- therefore will often see less value than I do in a particular shot. Distancing myself from the content for a certain period is definitely part of my approach and it really helps to “forget” about it in order to rediscover it.

Over the first month or two, I basically narrowed down the raw footage from around 40hours to about 4hours. Then I separated all the clips into different categories, much like I do with my approach to editing my photos: scenics, action, lifestyles and interviews. I then narrowed down the footage in each category to end up with about 1 hour of footage that in my opinion consisted of the most beautiful imagery that was also the most pertinent to the story I was trying to push through.

The backbone of the story was constructed using audio voice overs and interviews. This was a very long process as well as I had to listen to hours of audio and basically pull the most important and pertinent points that told the story.

I did this by transcribing every single phrase of audio I had (which turned into around 100 pages or so). From there I edited the audio in the text file by cutting and pasting sentences and later applied that to the actual audio tracks.

Once I had the audio backbone and the best clips, it was about 4  days and nights of intense editing. I actually happened to be back in the Arctic for the editing process which I found very conducive to an inspired approach to the post production. I was really impressed with the workflow in iMovie. It was efficient and simple and compared to editing on a steenbeck (16mm editing table) and splicing film with tape, it was a much simpler process. I definitely made sure to stay away from using too many effects and transitions in order to keep this close to what could have been achieved using more traditional methods. I find in the digital workflow, it’s really easy to say “I’ll fix this in Post” or to get carried away with all the options- which can end up ruining the result. I think with today’s incredible advances in technology, a mix of using the technology along with some self constraint can produce some really interesting and authentic results.

There Are 44 Comments On This Article.

  1. Arctic Surf is amazing. I’d love to see Yazzy put it up on Vimeo, youtube kills the quality of the MKII. I hope the war documentary turns out as good.

    My entire business has changed this year thanks to technology like the MKII, Final Cut Pro Studio and the new Mac Book Pros. It’s all within reach now to anyone and with talent and determination you can make anything.

    Video of the MKII is awesome on big screens. I’ve showed my first music video to a group or producers on a 50″ screen and it looked great but I did notice how ‘video’ looking 30p is when shown on a big screen. For online purposes 30p is just fine and thats where the future lies.

    I also think that we’re about to see a huge shift in film making and TV. DVD sales are down 25% and studio budgets are getting smaller and smaller plus who has the time for TV?? If I can catch a quick 10min episode online I’d be inclined to watch it if the production was of quality but I’ve not had cable TV in almost 4 years and I dont miss it.

    Get ready for the wave of micro studios and like I said on the post you had a week or so ago Rob, it would be in photographers best interest to learn how to shoot and edit video. Print sales are eating shit and so are still photography businesses but video has a huge area for growth.

    I now have more work with motion then I do with still and a bigger gross per project. Motion work has been my savior in this crappy economy.

  2. If you want to see Danfung Dennis’ footage in HD on your 50″ TV, check out Frontline on PBS this week. The episode “Obama’s War” about Afghanistan premiered last night but will be repeated a couple times this week. It used a lot of Danfung Dennis’ footage (especially in the beginning) which was absolutely engrossing, and looked great on the big TV. I had a feeling it was 5DmkII footage, and I wondered about the setup so I’m glad to read more about it.

  3. Yazzy should put his trailer on vimeo. Youtube just doesn’t look as good as vimeo in terms of clarity or sharpness.

  4. Saw Nova last night and the footage was great on my flat screen 46″ TV…Makes me want to get me that rig and go back to Afghanistan…Beautiful work…

  5. both projects are truly outstanding. This is how the 5DMK2 is really a game- changer. A question for Yazzy about music licensing…… how did he manage to license this great soundtrack from Philip Glass, i assume this is a self- funded projcet, and his music budget is not what the record co would have quoted. I know this is a problem many of low budget film makers run in to.

  6. Very nice work, inspiring stuff. I’ve been wondering how one effectively manages the media when capturing video with the 5DmkII. Use a high capacity card and download it right away to a laptop or hard drive? Or can you capture to an external volume while shooting? Wondering out loud here what seems to work best for people.

  7. for some reason videos always stream poorly for me on your site but stream smoothly on youtube or vimeo. Something about the embed. It is something I experience a lot on blog video in general.

    Hulu can be a nightmare, watching Flashforward on ABC.com was laughable, the show streamed fine but then all the ads came up as white boxes…fine by me!!!

    Seems like we have a long way to go to just recover the simplicity of turning on the TV…

  8. Is Dennis making recruiting films for the army? i feel like signing up after watching that amazing raw footage …..holy shit

  9. Every Dumbass with a 5D thinks he’s a Filmmaker.

    I’m glad the walls are being broken down.

  10. Saw Frontline last night. Some pretty intense battle footage. By the time you buy the mic, the rig to put it on, the sound recorder and the steadycam rig, wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier to just use a HD video camera?

  11. Great videos. I have held off upgrading to the MK II because I didn’t think it was worth the extra money, but I’m starting to change my mind on that. Recently I’ve begun doing soundslides and using an edirol to record my audio and it’s complicated to shoot stills and record at the same time..in fact, I don’t. Using the MK II might be really helpful for that.

    But as I have been exploring all the MK II videos tonight, I worry about the use of music that permission for use has not been sought, or given. I did a Soundslide a few months ago and it took me awhile to find a piece that was in the public domain and then, we asked the musicians to use it. Quality music is really hard to find for free or even for a small fee. Seems the time is ripe for artists and labels to explore another licensing option that goes beyond the 99 cent itunes for personal use and the big bucks it would cost to license it for a video. I can’t afford hundreds for music.

  12. Saw the Frontline last night, had no idea it was shot on a DSLR. The combat footage was the most compelling thing in a very interesting documentary on a complex subject. Great work.

  13. That war documentary looks absolutely amazing… Inspiring stuff.

    And the surfing one, wow. Sick moves and nice views. As the Backyardigans would say, he’s got the ‘rad moves’ – totally should get a pass to Tiki beach. [I need to stop watching TV with my 4 y.o. goddaughter…]

  14. Joe Nieters

    All the excitement among the “photographic” community/industry over video and videography is nothing but a distraction.

    There is no reason, at least no technical reason, why Canon, Nikon and the other manufacturers cannot develop quality video cameras as part of, or separately from, their still cameras, and there is every reason to think that eventually, each frame from a video camera will be able to match the quality of today’s still cameras. The “technology” is cool.

    But let’s not kid ourselves, still and video technology will continue to merge to the point that video is nothing less than high frame rate still shooting at 60 frames per minute — fun. But the people who produce high quality video and high quality photography will “always” be two different people. Photography and videography serve different purposes and require different skill sets and this will always be true — they communicate different messages. Relatively few people will be able to do both well.

  15. America… Fuck Yeah!!!!!

    Is Obama capable of blushing?

    Great job on both projects, perhaps it will show people why Afghans can’t stand their gung-ho occupiers.

  16. These are two fantastic documentary’s! It’s inspiring to see talented people utilizing a new tool in such a successful way. Thanks for sharing Rob.

  17. That arctic surfing vid makes me want to grab a wet suit, a board, and my car and head north. Very nice work!

  18. I don’t have time to watch TV. I don’t have time to watch thousands of online videos, either.

    Can’t make a living as a still photographer because supply exceeds the demand? Losing business because amateur photographers are selling stock for a dollar?

    Buy a 5D and shoot video. There aren’t enough starving filmmakers in the world trying to find venues for their work.

    It’s painful to watch lemmings fall off another cliff.