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The Gadget Bag
Posted Nov 16, 2006 Print Version     Page 1of 1

A recent commercial shoot required me to videotape a number of crushed stone driveways, some in excess of a quarter mile long. Although there are a number of ways to capture this kind of footage, most require expensive car-mounted jibs or steadycam rigs. And making that kind of investment doesn't make much sense if you only do this type of shoot once in a while.

Reluctant to lay out that kind of cash for this shoot myself, I got a very inexpensive solution. Have you ever seen those new pillow-like bags that cradle your camera? They not only hold your camera in place, but also isolate and absorb shock and movement.

With that in mind, take a trip to your local department store. There you will find such a pillow in the bedding department. The one that I got is about 15 sq. in., and is filled with very small polystyrene beads, covered in a spandex-type material, with a price tag of under $13. To use it on a shoot, I simply place the pillow on the center of the hood of my SUV, then press my PD150 into the pillow to create the cradle. I attach a wide-angle lens to decrease perceived movement. Then I secure the camera with four bungee cords in an "X" pattern to prevent it from sliding or shifting. Bungee cords add to the shock absorption, but be absolutely sure that the camera is secure by attaching your tie-downs to the camera's carry handle. Pay attention to the placement so that the cords will not press any of the cameras controls and that the camera will not shift as you drive.

Once the camera is in place, use the flip-out screen and position it so that no part of the vehicle is in the picture. Use a LANC remote for remote record and zoom capability from the comfort of your cockpit. So what does the picture look like? If you drive relatively slowly, and the surface is reasonably smooth (no craters or potholes) the resulting footage will be so smooth and vibration-free that people will wonder how you do it. I do not recommend this for highway speeds, but works great for off-road work and speeds less than 5 MPH.

Need to rise above the crowd? Gorilla Ladders makes a nifty folding aluminum platform (40"x15") that gives you 20 inches of height and supports 225 pounds for a mere $35 at your local hardware superstore. A pair of these can elevate both you and your tripod up over the heads of most people. Folded it only takes up about 5" (thickness) and weighs in at 11.5 lbs. It's small enough to fit in the trunk of just about any sized vehicle, light enough to be handled by anyone and inexpensive enough to set you back less money than a tank of gas.

Let it be heard! One of the most asked questions from people producing photo montages for live presentation is how to make sure the audience can hear the audio. The best way is to strike an agreement with the band or DJ and feed your audio to their equipment, but that is not always possible, so you're often better off using your own sound equipment. So, what sound equipment do you need to buy?

Most equipment with sufficient power tends to be bulky and has more features than you need for the the venues where we typically work. But there are exceptions. The Crate PowerBlock amplifier boasts 150 W (mono) in a compact (10" x 3.2" x 5.6") box weighing in at a mere 4.6 lbs. It has three inputs and three bands of tone control and includes a padded carry case, all for a street price of $199. You can find it at local music stores like the Guitar Center, and in many online music stores as well. This amp will provide enough power to easily broadcast your audio to an audience of several hundredpeople. Position the speakers above the heads of the audience to make sure the sound projects. Placing them too low will cause the sound to be absorbed and become muffled. This is the main reason why DJs use speaker stands.

One key to productivity is having the ability to multitask. At the height of my busy season, it's not unusual for me to be editing on one computer, outputting to a DVD burner on a second system, and to have several DVD duplicators turning blank discs into product and the robotic printer adding the finishing touch. Sound like chaos? It was until I created a system, did a little planning, and invested in a $5 digital kitchen timer. The key to keeping all of this equipment running is to keep track of what is running and for how long. When using standalone (desktop) DVD recorders, it is critical to know when the program ends (if less than 2 hours) so that you can move on to duplication immediately. That is where the timer comes in handy. Just set the timer in countdown mode to the length of the recorded program. The model I have gives a warning beep five minutes prior to the end and a continuous beep when time's up. Having the audio alert allows you to continue working on other projects, answer the phone, and even wander away from the studio (imagine that!) for a break.

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