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Shooting Handheld in River Advice


Mateusz Czopek
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Hey all,

I'm shooting a short film coming up in September, and one scene involves two of the characters fighting roughly in a river. The river that we'll be at is fairly still, next to a dam. The director wants to do most of the fight handheld and close to the action. I planned on having a covering over the camera and having a spotter with me in the river to make sure I don't fall over, but was wondering if anyone had any other advice for shooting close to water with handheld? 

I'm mainly worried about taking a stumble and dropping everything into the water... 

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You really should have some sort of splash bag or surface level submersible kit on it. This sounds like a big risk especially with the nature of the action, and while there isn’t a current, a river floor is anything but stable. All it takes is one loose rock to step on. 
 

I would check out the Air Land Sea splashbags. They’re really lowkey and simple to build and aren’t horrendous on budget. 

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you can lose your footing very easily because you can't see clearly what is under the water and will easily step on uneven surface. In addition, all the underwater surfaces tend to be extremely slippery due to algae etc. on them.

I like to have a tripod with me when shooting in shallow water so that I have some kind of reliable reference point to lean on so that I don't fall over when shooting... when moving around I use the tripod as a "walking stick" when finding my way around the rocks and other stuff which may lie under the surface. Couple of times I had close calls with this tripod method when the river was very shallow like 1.5ft on the shore/edges but deepened very suddenly to like 5 ft or so in just like two steps 😬 very easy to lose your balance even if using the camera and tripod as a walking stick

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sometimes if it's a small and narrow river you can get a rope hanged across the river and use it as a reference point when trying to stay on balance and to get the gear around more easily. If it's a steel wire or similar which does not flex much you can try to tie the camera to it too and hope that if you fall over the camera would stay high enough on the rope to stay out of water. the splash bag would be good too if it's possible to use them

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  • 1 year later...

If you're really bold, you can build out a standard fish tank. I've done this on two recent productions and it went super well. Just a bit of a nail biter and takes some prep:

Using a sizable fish tank, I got some clear vinyl tarp, cut it up, and velcro'd it over the top for a splash guard. It was secured over the edges of the tank so even if the fish tank was fully submerged from a fall, it would likely survive with a few drops getting in. Then, I secured a suction cup shower handle, made for elderly, to the side to act as a solid contact point. I usually press the rest of the tank against my body for nice control of the tank.

Two crucial points for imaging - placing the tank in the water you will be shooting in 10 minutes ahead, to prevent fogging, and definitely having a matte box on your build. The matte box, usually oriented vertically, will prevent odd reflections/ghosting on the image. Everything needs to be snug in the fish tank so the camera isn't moving around when you can't make any adjustments, so getting the onboard monitor pressed up against the glass and additionally a towel inside to keep it snug is nice. Also, make sure you have a spotter in the water, I do a sort of leap frog system with them, passing the camera off, so we're never actually taking steps with it, just pivoting around. And we had water shoes on to prevent any painful rocks from making us trip up.

Finally, build your camera with the fish tank during the prep day, to see if you need any special battery plates to make it all fit. And, you'll need wireless focus and video. AND a run stop cable so your AC can cut and roll for you.

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You know it's times like this where I would consider using a respectable DSLR and renting an underwater housing for it; just incase.

https://www.lensrentals.com/rent/ikelite-dl-housing-for-canon-eos-r5-mirrorless

That's just an example, of course.

Edited by Adrian Sierkowski
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  • 1 month later...
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On 9/6/2022 at 10:08 PM, Adrian Sierkowski said:

You know it's times like this where I would consider using a respectable DSLR and renting an underwater housing for it; just incase.

https://www.lensrentals.com/rent/ikelite-dl-housing-for-canon-eos-r5-mirrorless

That's just an example, of course.

I was going to suggest a housing as well. Some of those new mirrorless cams can now be wirelessly controlled via bluetooth and a Portkeys BM5 monitor.

Phillip Bloom is on the scene with more:

 

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If you cannot get hold of an underwater housing you might consider finding a thick sheet of white styrofoam about 3ft x 2ft, two pieces of plywood about 4 inches square as washers top and bottom of the styro sheet and attaching that to the base of your camera. If there is a mishap and you slide in, the camera may have half a chance. 

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