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Understanding video tripods

From: Video for Photographers: Shooting with a DSLR

Video: Understanding video tripods

In this movie, I am going to help you select and use a tripod and head when you are shooting video with your DSLR. Remember that video is about shooting over time. It is not about a single image. Because of that, the camera has to be held steady over the time needed to make the shot. I am sure you have watched home movies or home videos where the camera was constantly bouncing and moving all around, very hard to watch. Well, it is possible to handhold the camera for video, especially with some of the special rigs now available on the market.

Understanding video tripods

In this movie, I am going to help you select and use a tripod and head when you are shooting video with your DSLR. Remember that video is about shooting over time. It is not about a single image. Because of that, the camera has to be held steady over the time needed to make the shot. I am sure you have watched home movies or home videos where the camera was constantly bouncing and moving all around, very hard to watch. Well, it is possible to handhold the camera for video, especially with some of the special rigs now available on the market.

The best way to hold your camera steady over time is to use a tripod. Video is also about shooting with motion. So you need a head that supports smooth motion. To best understand how a video head works, let's first take a look at a tripod head used for still photography. You are familiar with the standard heads that come with tripods for still photography. Whether a ball head or a pan/tilt head, photo heads are designed to make it easy for you to position your camera for the single shot and then hold the camera very still.

They are not designed for you to change position during the shot, because that's not what you do for a still photo. Video heads are designed for stable positioning over time even as the camera is moved. Video heads are usually fluid heads that use a type of hydraulic mechanism to dampen the movement and make it smoother. They also include special tensioning knobs that control how smoothly your camera can move. Okay, I am going to demonstrate. Here with our cameras that's on a standard ball head for still photography, if I loosen this head, the camera goes all over the place and it doesn't move very smoothly as you try to shift the camera's position.

Now here is a clip, which was using a camera mounted on a ball head, and watch how jerky the movement is. No matter how much you practice, it is never really going to be much better. Now let's look at a fluid head. Moving the camera around now is a pleasure and as the camera moves, it is not bouncing all over the place. It is possible to have a very smooth look for moving the camera across the scene as you can see in this clip.

As you start looking for a fluid head, you'll find there is quite a price range. You can get a decent fluid head for a little over $100. You can also get nice friction-based fluid-like heads for video that are little less than that, or you can spend several thousand for a fluid head. For DSLR shooting, you are not going to need one of the most expensive fluid heads. But what you get as you pay more for a fluid head is better dampening in the movement so that you get smoother moves and you gain more controls that allow you to more precisely control the movement of your camera.

Working with the more expensive video head can indeed would be a pleasure. But such heads are not only more expensive, they are also bigger and heavier. Still, even the least expensive fluid head is going to help your video. As for the tripod itself, you have a few options. I highly recommend that you get a carbon fiber tripod or at least one of the lightweight aluminum alloys. Now these carbon fiber tripods, even on a big one like this, very light weight, very easy to carry around with you.

Such a great investment. Any tripod is a good investment, because it won't go out of date like a camera and you'll use it for years. A good tripod will definitely improve your video recording. You can use an existing tripod and simply add a video head to it. Dedicated video heads often have a special ball and bowl mount between the head and the tripod to make the leveling very easy to do. When you are doing camera moves such as a pan across the scene, you want to have your head level before you start.

Okay, so I am going to give you a few quick tips on how you can best use your fluid head. First thing you do want to do is level your tripod. Use a level that's built into your tripod head or that's built into some new cameras. On standard tripods, you'll be adjusting the length of the legs. But with video tripods, there is a little piece right here that allows you to loosen the bowl so that the ball moves around freely, makes it very easy to get your camera level, then you lock the bowl in place.

Once you have done that, you want to balance the camera on the head. That's fairly simple to do on a head like this. It has a plate that slides back and forth and you could move it back and forth until the camera balances best, based on the lens and camera that you are working with. More expensive video heads will have additional controls that will help even more with that balancing. As you move the camera around, keep a light touch on the handle, because a light touch allows you to move more smoothly and start and stop the movement more easily.

As far as that movement goes, always practice with that camera before you start shooting your video. Know where your camera move is going to start, know where it's going to end. Now once you have done these things, get positioned comfortably behind the tripod before you make a camera move. You want to be sure that you can move your own body comfortably to keep up with that move. That will help a lot in making sure your camera moves smooth, especially for longer moves.

So, be sure to practice all of these techniques. There is no question that practicing with your camera, tripod, and video head will make your videos look better. Learning to work with the tripod for video rather than struggling against it will help you immensely.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Video for Photographers: Shooting with a DSLR
Video for Photographers: Shooting with a DSLR

33 video lessons · 26683 viewers

Rob Sheppard
Author

 
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  1. 2m 43s
    1. Welcome
      1m 16s
    2. What video can do for you
      1m 27s
  2. 23m 13s
    1. Stopping time in photography vs. recording over time with video
      4m 14s
    2. Shooting for movement over time
      3m 58s
    3. Composing for constantly changing visuals
      4m 42s
    4. Adjusting to shooting for a non-RAW medium
      3m 26s
    5. Understanding resolution for video
      3m 36s
    6. Choosing a video frame rate
      3m 17s
  3. 37m 21s
    1. Comparing DSLRs with traditional camcorders
      6m 18s
    2. Comparing sensor sizes among DSLR cameras
      5m 26s
    3. Considering noise when comparing sensor sizes
      3m 8s
    4. Choosing memory cards and batteries
      3m 33s
    5. Understanding video tripods
      6m 10s
    6. Working with other camera supports
      3m 19s
    7. Using focusing aids for shooting video
      5m 29s
    8. Choosing lighting gear
      3m 58s
  4. 26m 23s
    1. Adjusting how you shoot
      6m 11s
    2. Limited "fixing" of images
      3m 42s
    3. Understanding the challenge of shutter speed
      3m 56s
    4. Getting the right exposure
      6m 59s
    5. Setting the right white balance
      5m 35s
  5. 19m 39s
    1. Understanding the importance of audio
      4m 5s
    2. Learning to work with sound
      4m 54s
    3. Gearing up for audio
      7m 19s
    4. Recording with external audio gear
      3m 21s
  6. 33m 56s
    1. Basic shooting
      6m 12s
    2. Shooting video to tell a story
      7m 27s
    3. Shooting for coverage
      4m 52s
    4. Understanding how to shoot movement
      4m 10s
    5. Shooting the moving subject
      4m 17s
    6. Creating movement
      6m 58s
  7. 6m 57s
    1. Preparing for the edit
      6m 57s
  8. 1m 47s
    1. Stay focused
      1m 47s

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