Magic Mirror 2.0
I am happy to bring you an update to the tip I shared in July about using the mirrored surface of a DVD or CD to read the connector labels on the back of equipment. When Robert Hudspeth of Pittsburgh has a client who needs a mirror for a last-minute makeup or hair check, he pulls out his ever-present cell phone camera in the "selfie" mode. Note that when you use a cell phone instead of a DVD, you still need to paste reversed "mirror writing" labels on equipment.
A light stand tipping over can ruin your day. That's why we normally put sandbags on the stand's legs. If you don't have sandbags, Pablo Villas of New Mexico suggests you try this: place two legs of a chair over two legs of the stand, then put one of your heavy equipment cases on the seat of the chair. The chair legs normally will not reach the ground, but that's ok—it concentrates more weight on the stand.
Beanbag Camera Support
Beanbags are not just toys. They are great for supporting a small camera on a windowsill, rock or other surface. You can make your own beanbag with chamois or lightweight canvas. Cut out a rectangle and fold it in half. Sew two sides and fill the bag with rice or birdseed before sewing the remaining side. A very serviceable bag can also be made from the leg of an old pair of pants. It's a good idea and will help prevent leaks if you put the filling in a sealed plastic sandwich bag inside the beanbag.
If a standard beanbag is too bulky for you to carry around, put a zipper on one side. Then you can fill the bag with sand, dirt or anything else handy when you need it.
Photographers often find themselves on their knees looking for a low-angle shot. Although this can result in nice pictures, it can also cause very sore knees. Whenever I anticipate doing a lot of low-angle work on a shoot, I protect myself with knee pads. I actually have two pairs: one hard shell "construction" set (shown in the photo), which works well on rocky ground outdoors, and an elastic "athletic" set that I can wear comfortably under my trousers. I have even worn them under a tuxedo while working a handheld camera during an awards broadcast.
Stop the Shake
A sure sign of an amateur attempting to hand-hold a film or video camera is the amount of vibration or shake in the image. As most of us are aware, the longer the lens, the more apparent the lens movement.
The secret of making smooth zooms to longer focal lengths is to watch the edge of the picture in the viewfinder. Any shake will first become obvious there because it is compared with the non-moving edge.
If you begin to notice shake at the edge as you zoom in, stop the zoom. Chances are the movement will not yet be objectionable in the picture's center and you will have saved the shot.
We need to be especially conscious of shake when making a shot that will be used behind titles. Like the frame edge, the titles don't move and will call attention to an unsteady camera.
There are several ways to produce smoke effects, particularly if you only need a little. Jacob Lodge of San Leandro, Calif., suggests incense or fragrance sticks, which are safer than dry ice and less expensive than commercial pyrotechnic smoke pots or squibs.
For example, Jacob says, "When photographed from the right angle, a small stick placed behind a coffee cup or plate of food can stand in for steam."