I have always been fascinated by natural extremes. So when the opportunity to go and shoot a volcano, thunderstorm, hurricane or tornado presents itself I can be ready to go at a moments notice. My natural extremes footage has been used in feature films, natural history programmes, TV commercials and I expect there is a good chance that you will have seen some of it somewhere at some point. I’ve been shooting severe weather for over 25 years, so know how to stay safe in bad weather.
I’m planning on running a Documentary production workshop and 3D workshop based on a Storm Chasing trip to the USA from the 4th to the 12th of June. The trip would be an excellent chance to really put your documentary skills in to practice and learn more about your cameras and workflow shooting a short film about the violent weather that hits Tornado Alley every spring. We can even shoot in 3D if that’s what people are interested in. I can provide a PMW-F3, lens kit and EX1R, but hopefully you would bring your own cameras and I can teach you how to get the most out of them. depending on the weather each day there would be a classroom session or practical on location session covering everything from sound and interview techniques, to camera setup and shooting tips. Will will do a lot of timelapse, make use of cache record (if you have it) and work in some very challenging lighting situations. Each member of the group will be given different roles to play as part of the “crew” each day so that they may gain a better understanding of the difficulties of each role. At the same time the idea is that each person will also create their own personal short film about our storm chasing adventure. With luck we should see incredible thunderstorms, giant hail and maybe even a tornado or two (I’ve been storm chasing for 12 years, it’s my speciality). The cost for this comprehensive and very exciting workshop will be $1800 USD per person for a place on the course. In addition to that each student will be responsible for their overnight accommodation. Typically we will stay in hotels/motels that cost approx $100 USD per night, so you should budget for approx $800 for accommodation bringing the total to $2600. We will depart from Denver, Colorado so you will have make your own travel arrangements to/from Denver. This will be a real educational adventure. The previous trips I have run to Norway for the Northern lights, Arizona for lightning and Tornado Chasing have been great successes with many people returning for more. We will spend a lot of time on the road, visiting many parts of the Mid-West. It will be fun and you should come away with improved video skills, a great short film, and amazing stories of adventure and excitement. Please use the contact form if your interested. Places are limited.
Well winter is upon us. The north of the UK is seeing some pretty heavy snow fall and it’s due to spread south through the week. I regularly make trips to Norway and Iceland in the winter to shoot the Northern Lights (email me if you want to come) so I am used to shooting in the snow. It can be very difficult. Not only do you have to deal with the cold but also difficult exposure.
First off it’s vital to protect your equipment and investment from the cold weather. A good camera cover is essential, I use Kata covers on my cameras. If you don’t have a proper cover at the very least use a bin liner or other bag to wrap up your camera. If you have a sewing machine you could always use some fleece or waterproof material to make your own cover. If snow is actually falling, it will end up on your lens and probably melt. Most regular lens cloths just smear any water around the lens, leaving you with a blurred image. I find that the best cloth to use in wet conditions is a chamois (shammy) leather. Normally available in car accessory shops these are soft, absorbent leather cloths. Buy a large one, cut it into a couple of smaller pieces, then give it a good wash and you have a couple of excellent lens cloths that will work when wet and won’t damage your lens.
Exposing for snow is tricky. You want it to look bright, but you don’t want to overexpose. If your camera has zebras set them to 95 to 100%. This way you will get a zebra pattern on the snow as it starts to over expose. You also want your snow to look white, so do a manual white balance using clean snow as your white. Don’t however do this at dawn or near sunset as this will remove the orange light normally found at the ends of the day. In these cases it is best to use preset white set to around 5,600k. Don’t use cinegammas or hypergammas with bright snow scenes. They are OK for dull or overcast days, provided you do some grading in post, but on bright days because large areas of your snow scene will be up over 70 to 80% exposure you will end up with a very flat looking image as your snow will be in the compressed part of the exposure curve. You may want to consider using a little bit of negative black gamma to put a bit more contrast into the image.
If the sun is shining, yes I know this may not happen often in the UK, but if it is then the overall brightness of your scene may be very high. Remember to try to avoid stopping down your lens with the iris too far. With 1/3? sensor cameras you should aim to stay more open than f5.6, with 1/2? more than f8 and 2/3? more than f11. You may need to use the cameras built in ND filters or external ND filters to achieve this. Perhaps even a variable ND like the Genus ND Fader. You need to do this to avoid diffraction limiting, which softens the image if the iris is stopped down too much and is particulary noticeable with HD camcorders.
Finally at the end of your day of shooting remember that your camera will be cold. If you take it in to a warm environment (car, house, office) condensation will form both on the outside and on the inside. This moisture can damage the delicate electronics in a camcorder so leave the camera turned off until it has warmed up and ensure it is completely dry before packing it away. This is particularly important if you store your camera in any kind of waterproof case as moisture may remain trapped inside the case leading to long term damage. It is a good idea to keep sachets of silica gel in your camera case to absorb any such moisture. In the arctic and very cold environments the condensation may freeze covering the camera in ice and making it un-useable. In these extreme situations sometimes it is better to leave the camera in the cold rather than repeatedly warming it up and cooling it down.
Have fun, don’t get too cold, oh… and keep some chemical hand warmers handy to help stop the lens fogging and to keep your fingers from freezing.