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Thread: Stabilisation - what's the go with it?

  1. #1
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    Default Stabilisation - what's the go with it?

    XXLRay raised a point in my recent video post about stabilisation, and I'd like to throw out a question. (I'm quite happy to receive this feedback, just looking for some clarification).

    It gets mentioned in a lot of critiques on this forum, but I am a little confused because I see it all the time in everything I watch from movies to music videos, and of course it is widespread in documentaries - often deliberate.

    So when is it acceptable and when isn't it? I can't believe there is a hard and fixed rule, but is there some sort of guideline or etiquette here?

    I mean camera shake on a dodgy tripod looks bad when it's obvious the film doesn't warrant it, so is it like lighting - does it have to be motivated?

    Or is it that it's an old wives tale, in that it goes on all the time, but it's an easy critique to make, and the criticism isn't really justified at all?

  2. #2

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    For me smooth shots look in general better but shaky cameras can be used to introduce action by intention. High action like in sports or chase scenes can justify shaky shots. Calm scenes profit from being stabilized or shot from a tripod. I think in the end it's all about the balance. Too many smooth scenes can be worse than too many shaky scenes and vice versa.

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    Shaky camerawork shows laziness unless it is motivated. It shows that the cameraman was too lazy to get a tripod or spend a few minutes getting the camera supported. It also shows inexperience. Any camera operator worth his name (but then every clown seems to call themselves a DoP today) should be able to hold a steady shot.

    What it does is draw attention away from what's happening on the screen. As a result, the absolute pits is when it's introduced to try and "spice up" a scene. Remember the old adage, "you can't polish a turd." If the shot is boring, shaking the camera won't make it more interesting.

    The ONLY justification is if there was no way to support the camera, bombs are falling, or it's a run and gun situation. Everything else is just an excuse for lack of skill. "It was too difficult" is not a justification.

    However, if you look at a well-shot series like "The Newsroom" where they aim for a documentary "feel" you'll see that it's not wobble-cam but very carefully choreographed movement.
    Last edited by Rembrandt Rob; 10-29-2013 at 05:03 PM.

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    Thanks guys, but to be honest I see a lot of this 'it was too difficult' , and it's being made by people on TV all the time.

    So I can't swallow that logic, it is going on, turn on the TV, flip some channels, and tell me how long before you see a shaky cam, I'll estimate less than 2 minutes.

    Right now my jury is considering that it is all pure snobbery, until proven otherwise.

    The average punter in the audience does not notice it, and it is happening all the time, anyone know anyone that has turned a show off because the camera shaked a bit?
    Last edited by Stripe; 10-30-2013 at 09:48 AM.

  5. #5

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    TV is not automatically good
    There are a lot of cheap shaky productions (soap, pseudo documentaries) and I don't watch them because they annoy me. Good (expensive) TV movies and documentaries usually have very stable footage. I mean you wild hardly see any shaky footage on e.g. BBC wildlife documentaries or their Sherlock series.

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    I'm afraid it's the rush of media graduates who are to blame.

    I have never yet met a viewer who likes it. None of my friends like it, my family hate it and people I meet comment on it when they know what I do for a living. It's a case of "The Emperor's New Clothes" and nobody wants to stand up and shout "This is bullshit".

    You're right Stripe and XXLRay, none of the top productions have wobble-cam. Sherlock, Ripper street, Whitechapel, etc etc all have dynamic camerawork but it has a steadiness. It's the low budget stuff which shakes about and it really is because the cheaper camera crew have not learnt to put effort into getting a decent shot.

    It is a pain in the arse walking to the kit-car or van, unpacking the tripod, humping it over a field, then having to try with a smaller mount or different head. Or rigging up a mount with cable-ties and magic arms, clamps and bungee cords. But.... That's what you're bloody paid for!

    It's a lot easier to say "I can do this hand-held."

    When the director is also a media graduate, taught by academics who have never shot a commercial feature in their lives, there is no-one in charge who knows what it can look like if done properly.

    I'm afraid that current universities teach students how to justify poor work, rather than how to do good work.

    In the same way compare the camerawork on shows like "Ground Force" or "Bargain Hunt" (Content = crap but technically well done) and it is all hand-held but.... Steady. It can be done, it just needs effort and practice. It seems to be "old fashioned" to try hard to provide quality.

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    Thanks again guys, I enjoyi this discussion, and here we are again dealing with that modern world.

    The youtube generation is at the point where it has become immune to shake.

    I watched a film called Boogie Nights a couple of days ago, the opening sequence is incredible for the camerawork, a bar scene where the cam crane or whatever managed to do 180 degrees of the venue whilst dodgy in and out of people, there were 2nd and 3rd and 4th cams, it almost looked impossible what they did. Later in the same movie there was some of the worst cam shake documentary style ever.

    I just don't know how you can put a finger on what is right and wrong anymore.

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    I'm usually not too bothered by some camera movement, as far as it doesn't remind me of someone filming his nephews birthday. Takes you away from the scene, makes you too aware that there is someone filming this, someone who can't stand still.

    Most of the shots in my films are either filmed on tripod or by My Very Steady Hands(MVSH, patent pending). Still, with cheap tripod, short camera operator, tall actors and fetish for strange camera angles, tripod is simply not always an option. I seem to have notably more steady hands at these things than every other people I have worked with, but as long as it doesn't look like the camera operator is having a seizure it can propably be improved in post. At least Adobe products seem to be capable of either making the movement softer or completely fixed without butchering the footage. Some resizing might be required, obviously. There was this one time when it even fixed notable shake caused by insect crawling into camera operators ear...

    To clarifly, it is mostly bad only when "going for handheld look" equals not being able to see what's going on. You all must have seen some of these, camera operator trying to run after the protagonist swaying this way and that, vigilant viewer only catching glimpses of shoes, sky, trees, some car that was not supposed to be there etc. It was curse of many big action scenes, even major works like Lord of the Rings trilogy. "Ok, they are charging... They'll strike at each other... NOW! Ok... I see... A shield.... That might have been orc toe... Hmm... Shoe... Ah, that was definitely a sword... Ok, someone stabbed someone..."

  9. #9

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    I don't have anything to add to this discussion really but that's never stopped me in the past.

    I am the opposite to SS if I hand hold the camera it does look as though I'm having a seizure. I don't know if this is too much alcohol the night before or what. SO I have had to learn how to use the camera with a tripod and still give it shoulder mount look. I tried this with my diving video and no one commented on the camera movement so I think I must have got what I wanted. OR everyone is to polite to me to point it out.


    There are some cameras these days that can look smooth while being hand held if you shoot at a wide angle and don't forget to turn on the image stabilisation system but I totally agree with Rob that the majority of what we see of "shaky cam" come about by not knowing any better. I have to put a link to a video I saw on YouTube a while back about this subject. It may amuse some of you.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmZ12w9SlWI

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by SSCinema View Post
    "Ok, they are charging... They'll strike at each other... NOW! Ok... I see... A shield.... That might have been orc toe... Hmm... Shoe... Ah, that was definitely a sword... Ok, someone stabbed someone..."
    Hilarious - but so true.

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