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Tripod pan and titl

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First let me say that I know I'm supposed to have my real name but I can't change it in the option the display name tab is missing. Sorry about that.


My camera operating is robotic, I am totally not skilled at it and my movement is not subtle at all.


I've been looking around for tips and I've seen people using rubber bands to smooth out movement.


What's your technique and what tips would you have for someone like me?



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Guest Owen Parker

Practice makes perefect...


Donkey's years ago, when I trained as an assistant, the Cameraman I trained under used to have me practice using just a tripod and a cardboard tube I then had to pick a target and just follow that object in my cardboard viewfinder. What can I say, he was a cruel man...

I spent weeks just pointing that tube at strangers in the local park...probably get arrested for it today!


When I was finally allowed to use a camera, one techique he taught me was to time an object as it passes across frame.

Pick an object in your shot and start to pan. As your target enters frame start to count. When it exits frame stop counting.

Now go back to your start point and repeat and get the object to take the same amount of time to pass across frame.

When you can get your target to cross frame in the same amount of time consistantly, lengthen your time.

If the first pass it takes 5" to cross frame change the time to 10". When you've mastered that change the time to 15" etc.


Just as a side point, as a rule of thumb, don't let an object pass across frame in less than 5". At that speed the audience will find it disturbing and you are entering whip pan territory. As I say, not a hard and fast rule, just a rule of thumb.


To be honest, it's as much to do with having a decent tripod that's set up correctly. Properly levelled and balanced and with sufficient drag dialled in to allow a smooth pan or tilt with just enough resistance.


Trust me, with practice you'll improve.


Hope that helps.

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Owen, I love those old school learning techniques--I feel like I'm still missing some of those fundamentals even though I've gotten to try lots of things that would not have been practical even 15 years ago. I may just get out my tripod and a toilet paper tube tomorrow afternoon...


Antoine, if you have a camera (even an old still camera), a tripod, and a cat (or another object that moves around in unpredictable ways), tracking with it on a long lens will help you develop an instinct for how fast to track a subject at various speeds. Likewise for pulling focus on your own... I did this in my apartment in college, so the risk of arrest is slightly reduced.


I try to concentrate on the subject, without overthinking what *I'm* doing. With practice, and familiarity with the gear, your muscles will remember how to move. Very zen. The idea is to anticipate, rather than respond to the subject's movement. Your brain can subconciously recognize the minute body language that says the subject is about to stand up, shift their weight, etc. Getting rehearsals for difficult moves is helpful too--I'm sure some masters can nail anything cold, but not me.


I think your jerky or mechanical movements may be due to overthinking your own motions, or overreacting when trying to catch up with a subject. Or a sticky friction head.

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lol I can definitely see how sketchy it would be to have a toilet paper tube on a tripod and looking through it. that would do a great comedy short.

I get the gist though, and I know what I like and what doesn't work when other people operate the camera, but when I am doing it I can never seem to get the fluidity that I am looking for.

Matthew I'm going to make an audio tape of your post and listen to it while I sleep, maybe that will help :)

So let me ask you a few more precise questions;

Do you prefer lot of friction and lot of force, or little friction and little force?

How do you hold the handle? with the full hand, or with the tip of your fingers?

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Stance and friction really changes shot to shot. When tracking a running subject on a long lens, I tend to be crouched about the camera like a runner, with a firm (but not clenched) grip, so I can move in any direction smoothly. When gently reframing a closeup, I try to keep my arms semi-rigid and push the stick around by leaning my body. Your fingers tend to to twitch and jump, but your back, shoulders and legs can make precise motions very smoothly.


One really good skill to develop is to use landmarks in the frame to re-set the start frame between takes (this is for when a subject walks into frame). I can't fathom how many experienced ops I've seen bone a shot because the actor did not walk in where the op thought they would.

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I worked at a rental facility where we would drive a remote control car around practicing our operating, focus pulling, and driving skills. Good way to waste some time.

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If you don't have a good tripod, buy a Manfrotto fluid head tripod. They are not cheap, but they work. Early on I tried one out and saw the dramatic improvement in my camera work, I bought a second one just about immediately. Worth every penny spent - I still have them both.


Once you have a good tripod with a real fluid head - then I agree with the others - practice.

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As a professional Videographer and avid Photographer I've worked with (and owned) the best tripods money can buy. It's given that such equipment is a joy to use, not only from a functional standpoint but from the superb results that can be obtained. That said, most hobbyist shooters wouldn't seriously consider spending a small fortune for this type of gear even if the weight and size were practical. As most of my video/photo work is hobby related these days, I really do appreciate the quality.


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