Tips to Clip: January 2014

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Stop Shaky Shots

A sign of an amateur attempting to hand-hold a film or video camera is the amount of vibration or shake in the image. Elizabeth Golden of New Orleans asks if I know a way to avoid the problem.

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Most of us are aware that the longer the lens, the more any given amount of movement will show up.

Years ago when shooting handheld news aerials I learned to avoid the “amateur shake” and make my zooms to longer focal lengths smoother by watching the edge of the picture in the viewfinder. Any shake will first become obvious there because of its proximity to the non-moving edge of the frame.

As you zoom in, if you begin to notice shake at the edge, stop the zoom. Chances are the movement will not yet be objectionable in the picture’s center and you will have saved the shot.

Filter Factor

I was taking pictures of a huge machine that turns old automobiles into little chunks of metal about the size of large marbles. Suddenly one of those “marbles” flew out of the machine and hit the front of my 18:1 zoom lens. The only thing that saved me from having to call off the rest of the shoot, not to mention a huge repair bill, was the 1-A filter I always keep on the lens.

That filter joins another on my shelf of honor. The first one earned its place by catching a piece of hot metal thrown by an arc welder.

When on the camera, a good quality 1-A is invisible to the normal eye. For the purist, it does eliminate a small amount of ultraviolet, making shadows appear slightly less blue. Much more importantly, however, it protects the very expensive and hard-to-replace front lens element.

In day-to-day use, the 1-A will help keep dirt off the front element. That means you won’t have to clean it as often and its coatings will last longer.

I strongly recommend using a 1-A whenever you take the camera out of its case.

Solder Station

If you have read this column for any length of time, you know I am a nut for gadgets that are repurposed to fill a need other than their original job. The gang at Stanford University’s AV department showed me this kluge they put together: it’s a soldering station made from a microphone stand.

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One of the neat points is that the roll of solder is held securely, but it uncoils easily as it is needed. I can’t count the number of times mine has rolled off the bench and across the floor. The hot iron is held away from the bench, where it is less likely to roll around or burn me.

A tip of the tipster top hat to Stanford AV.

Stand Safety

We should all be concerned about safety on our shoots, and that definitely includes falling light stands. Your stands will be more stable if you point one leg in the direction of any overhanging load. If the weight of the instrument appears to be balanced on the stand, try pointing one leg toward the subject. Then if the stand tips over, it is less likely to go in that direction.

Watch for trip hazards such as “clothes-lined” power cords (cords that don’t go all the way to the ground before beginning their horizontal travel).

A friend of mine found he reduced the number of people tripping on his set by putting yellow and black hazard tape on the light stand legs.

Power to the Kids

We have mentioned this before but I think it bears repeating. We use wireless microphones a lot and end up with boxes of partially used AA and 9 volt alkaline batteries. They are not actually dead, but since they’ve been partially discharged, I wouldn’t feel safe using them for a production.

Instead of throwing them away, we donate ours to a local children’s shelter and a home for victims of domestic violence. In both cases the batteries spend their declining days powering kids’ toys.

I’m sure a quick check with local agencies will find an equally useful “retirement home” for your partially used batteries.

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