The demand for filmmakers always appears to be high at the Arts University Bournemouth, there hardly seems to be a day that goes by without an interesting filming project coming through by email or word of mouth.
So when an opportunity came through recently to work for a client filming a range of Sports activities we jumped at it. I thought this would certainly be a challenge and add to the experience we have of using a DSLR to film but in a totally new environment and the added anticipation of using a GroPro for some of the action shots. Filming Sport is something we’ve not really covered at University and so this has certainly become a learning process while working on the job so to speak.
For this project I’ve been working with my classmate Aleksandra Leontyeva we’ve been developing camera techniques and creative ideas for shots as we film. The filming techniques and processes that we have developed and become familiar with using over the years at University had certainly helped prepare us for this type of work. Although there are some differences from filming Sports as opposed to documentary or short films. The usual in depth pre-production processes, which include writing scripts, storyboarding and shots lists do not really have such a prominent position for this type of project. We managed to put together some ideas, a basic outline of the sort of shots we wanted to capture based on what we viewed from Sports coverage of the London Olympics 2012 and some more recent research conducted by viewing online videos. But essentially it’s a case of trying to identify key images/shots we wanted and planning camera locations to be in the right place to capture the action as it happens. As we have progressed on this project it has become easier, based on our new experience of where to position the camera to film and capture that shot. In fact we have begun to take greater control of the images that we capture by in many cases directing the action that we want to be seen on screen. We are now in the position to say that we have learnt how to direct live action sequences, quite a good thing to be able to put on your CV.
If you look at pictures of the professional press attending sports events they tend to be kneeling down with cameras fitted with very powerful zoom lenses mounted on monopods. In our experience there is very good reason for this, you need to get close to the action, in a live event this is not possible without a very powerful zoom lens. You also need to get the camera low, with the exception of some sports most of the action takes place at near ground level, for example the kicking of a ball. Whatever the reason it also just looks better on screen to position the camera low and point up.
You also need to be able to follow the action or alternatively position the camera to catch the action at a predetermined position. Focusing is the issue as always but remember being out of focus can add to the effect on screen but generally you need to get the focus right and be able to capture a rapidly moving image. This brings us back to being in the right place at the right time, which means that you need some idea of what the sport activity entails. Some basics apply, most sports persons are right handed/footed so position the camera to their right side or right front, this way their bodies/feet do not block the sight lines, however there are many exceptions to this. It’s also a good idea to position yourself with camera infield if possible, this way as you film the athlete you can have images of the spectators as your background and this certainly adds to the interest as they react to the action on field.
Although the current fashion is to aim for shallow depth of field, this can work against you when filming sports as being able to keep the subject in focus would almost certainly be impossible as maximum aperture. I find that F8 is a good aperture for most sports and you can always open up the aperture if you are able to control/direct the action or want that out of focus effect.
I have found that I have been using my camera rig for the majority of the time as this allows you to follow the action much easier than by using a tripod. I wouldn’t recommend just handholding the camera as the final image would be just too jerky, so any form of stablelisation would be better than none. A useful tip, when following the action is to try and anticipate the direction of where the action is going. This can help you keep the camera steady, for example say the action is going from left to right, in that case twist your body to focus on the left for the start of the action and then unwind your body to the right as you follow the action. This means that you are tensed at the start but as you turn to the right your position is becoming more relaxed towards the end, which means you can keep the camera aimed towards the action longer as your body unwinds and this of course helps to reduce camera shake. Of course in an ideal World it is best to have the camera mounted on a tripod and ideally a good quality one designed for video with a damped action for both pan and tilt, a video head that gives a smooth transition as you pan the camera from side to side or tilt up and down.
Using a GoPro
I’m relatively new to using the GoPro but recent experience has convinced me that this is an almost essential tool for sports filming. It allows the audience to see images from positions other cameras just cannot take them. We’ve positioned a GroPro on the front of a surfboard to get those amazing shots of a surfer paddling out to sea and riding the waves back to shore. We also put one on the front and back of a bike as it is ridden around a Velodrome track capturing images of the bike as it catches up and then passes through a group of riders. But putting one on the head of a cricketer was totally unsuccessful as the camera followed the head movements and this did not always match up with where the action was taking place and we ended up with lots of video of the ground and the sky. Next time we will try putting the camera on the stumps.
The GoPro design has moved on since the original was released and the University has several of the newer GoPro Hero 2’s, which have the optional LCD backs and WiFi connection. Previously you just setup the GoPro and hoped it would be pointing in the right direction and hopefully covering the action. However previous experience told me that you could just end up with a video sequence showing just half the action or just the top of heads or feet. With the LCD backs you can see what the camera sees when setting up and even better with the WiFi backs you can preview the image on your iPhone and also use your iPhone to change the cameras settings.
What’s the story
This is true for all films not just Sports, you have to remember that your film has a story to tell. Sometimes you look at a sports film and it’s just a sequence of rapid cuts and there does not appear to be any story at all. So think about the sport and decide on what the story is about. For example we like to show the drama in our films so we tend to concentrate on the athlete rather than the action, I’m really telling the audience the athletes story and how they approach their sport. Sometimes a facial expression is all you need, showing the effort involved, the level of concentration in their face really anything, which draws the audience in. Limited use of special effects appears to work well, for example make use of slow motion (Time Remapping in Premier Pro) to slow the action down. Repetition also works well, for example a golfer hits a ball, repeat this and ideally from different angles all of which adds to the impact on screen.
Keep the camera low; get it as close to the action as you can, use a zoom lens. Use a steadicam, tripod or some other means of stablelisation to get a steady image but one that lets you follow the action.
Position yourself in the right place, if you have the means to control the action, get the athlete to repeat what they are doing until you have the shot. For example I asked a group of sprinters to practice their starts until I had the shots I wanted from multiple angles, I think they needed a rest after take 12.
Get help, 2 cameras are better than 1, if you missed the shot hopefully your teammate in my case Aleksandra had caught it on camera because when filming live action there’s usually no opportunity to retake. Alternatively be prepared to go back and film what you missed the first time around, although this only works when conditions and participants are the same.
Wide apertures are great for film style effects but be careful where you use this as you may end up with a film sequence, which is consistently out of focus rather than in focus.
We been having a great time filming Sports, it’s not easy but the results can be fantastic.
Download the original magazine article
The PDF for the Magazine Article can be downloaded Click Here