How to: Get a Grip on Your Video

Holding the shot steady is essential for a good viewing experience. And that’s hard to do with just your hands; especially with a smartphone. Using some kind of grip can really help. But do you know the difference between your monopods and your gimbals? Use this handy guide to help you choose.

1. Tripod. Ubiquitous in photography and video, you will be familiar with tripods: three point support for cameras. Models, and costs, range between a few pounds and thousands. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for, but you can get decent kit cheaply, especially secondhand. Manfrotto and Velbon are popular trusted brands. When choosing a tripod, make sure you get one that can take the weight of your camera. Something durable is best, especially if you’re going to use it on location. Get one with a quick-release (QR) plate. Most come with a standard ¼-20 UNC (quarter inch in size, 20 threads on the screw) connector, although ⅜-16 UNC are used by professional cameras. You can get useful tripod thread adapters — some of which enable you to put a camera on a mic stand.

2. Monopod. The one-legged variety of the tripod, monopods have only one leg; as the name suggests. Monopods are, therefore, quicker to set up and pack up. They are useful for on-the-go and run-and-gun photography and video work.

3. Clamps, stands and holders. To attach a smartphone to any camera grip, you will need a holder or tripod adapter. These are cheap, readily available and a must-have. You can get small, low stands for use on tables or the floor. Some smartphone and tablet holders clamp on to desks and are bendy, gooseneck or anglepoise. These can be very useful for capturing work-in-progress such as painting, drawing, craft making or close up finger work for instrumental tuition — if you’re using a smartphone rather than a more professional camcorder with a zoom lens.

4. Stabilisers and Gimbals. These terms are often used interchangeably. I think of a stabiliser as a simple handheld camera holder that is counterweighted to provide smooth, steady shots. A gimbal is more sophisticated. It’s “ a pivoted support that allows the rotation of an object about a single axis ” and enables the user to produce even smoother shots, including sweeping, flowing motions. I produced music festival live performance documentation recently and worked with a camera operator who combined a monopod and a gimbal to mimic a jib beautifully. There are lots of motorised gimbals which give you even greater control over the shot.

5. On The Shoulder. For roaming cameras — either recording only or wirelessly connected to the vision mixer for broadcast and live streaming — a shoulder mount is vital. These are professional pieces of kit and the good ones have price points to match. Shape is an excellent brand, and something sturdy like this is essential for broadcast and cinema cameras. You can get inexpensive ones that are decent enough, especially for DSLRs. You don’t need a shoulder mount for a smartphone, although I’ve seen some innovative uses of GoPro mounts and backpack straps to hold phones.

6. Slider. Smooth sliding shots add subtle, elegant motion to your films, videos and broadcasts. Sliders sit atop a sturdy stand (usually a tripod) and should enable your camera to glide from one end to another. Some of them are motorised. You can get them for smartphones and there’s even an ingenious DIY smartphone slider project video on YouTube .

7. I Like The Cut of Your Jib. For a full range of motion, sweeping, soaring and gliding, you need a jib. Whether it’s a mini jib for use on a relatively small set or the crane-like variety used in festival coverage, the range of motion is wonderful. They are expensive, specialist items that you are unlikely to use; when starting out, at least. You can mimic the effect with cheaper, simple bits of kit though (like the monopod and gimbal reference, above).

8. Hello Dolly. A dolly is a camera stand on wheels — a trolley, really. Professional ones usually run on tracks. They are very sturdy, very expensive and require a grip operator to push them — and the camera operator — back and forth. You can achieve similar effects with a slider. Or you can try to build DIY alternatives using trolleys or carts with tripods secured to them and some kind of suspension. As with the use of any kind of grip; experiment, be sensible, be safe and have fun.

An XpoNorth blog post by Dougal Perman


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