Shooting Video in the Field with the Canon 5D Mark II

The first two days of our Round the World Journey, shooting the documentary Opening Our Eyes has been quite full and I’ve faced numerous situations – really putting my tools to the test.

Our first full day was spent at the offices of Wrap Up Africa, which are located in Kampala, Uganda. In addition to shooting b-roll of tailors at work, we shot several interviews. Our main interview was with Wrap Up Africa’s founder, Letha Sandison, followed by interviews of a couple of her staff members. We also did interviews of some of the cancer victims that Letha has helped. Here is where I not only needed to be attentive to my technical details but be sensitive to the situation and the people that I was interviewing. Hearing some of their stories is heartbreaking and hard for many Americans to fathom. Sure, we all watch the travesties taking place throughout the world on the nightly news, but it’s quite another experience to speak with people who have experienced horrendous tragedies in their lives that are simply unimaginable.

One woman, Evelyn who works for Letha had been abducted and held captive by the LRA, which stands for the Lord’s Resistance Army, and is not exactly a charitable group. She managed to escape after most of her family had been killed in front of her. She is now raising three orphans who had been victims as well and works with Letha, helping others.

Our set up was simple and deliberately so. I set up the Canon 5D Mark II and captured my audio separately with the H4N Zoom. I had two mics – one shotgun on a small boom stand and another lav. I will sync them later in post. We chose a room that had ample window light as we are traveling with only a small camera light and nothing else. Our biggest challenge was that the cabinet installer decided to do his work the day we were shooting – so the sounds of hammering and drilling made up our ambient background sound. But the mics were placed close to our subjects and did a pretty good job of boosting their audio above the din of the environment.

The next situation we faced was shooting b-roll in the dirty environments of a potter’s studio and a foundry. Again we used the Zoom to pick up the ambient sound of the environments. After a morning with the artists, we packed up quickly and headed to Mulago Hospital to visit the children’s cancer ward. We were not allowed to shoot video but we did shoot some still images and was happy to have the hybrid cameras that captured beautiful files – far better than frame grabs from a traditional video camera.

Then we headed to the market, which as usual is always a trying experience. For anyone who has traveled to congested third world environments, you know what I mean by “trying experience”. You must be aware of your personal belongings at all times, while shooting and I wish at times that I had eyes in the back of my head. On top of that I’m sensitive to those that don’t want to be photographed. It’s exhausting but at the same time exhilarating because of the exotic nature of the environment. My daughter wore the GoPro Hero helmet cam that is a tiny camera made for adventure sports but she had a lot of fun walking through the market recording the event with running video as we walked through the market.

I was shooting video with the Canon 5D Mark II and used a shotgun mic on top of the camera and run through a JuicedLink audio mixer. I’m embarrassed to say that somehow, even after lots of testing – I came back with no audio! Luckily the helmet cam Hero picked up very good ambient audio so I’m able to use that and layer it in post. In the chaos and confusion of the market, I probably didn’t set it up right and today I will do additional testing so as not to make that mistake in the future. But the video was captured beautifully and I will interweave those clips into the documentary with sound from the interviews and ambient sound from the Hero.

I am realizing one thing though and that there is nothing easy or streamlined when shooting video with these hybrid cameras. The results are stunning, but the shoot and workflow are much more tedious than when shooting with a video camera. Perhaps at the end of this three-month journey, I’ll be singing a different tune – I certainly hope so.

I’ll keep you posted as I get access to the Internet, which is iffy, and we’ve been off line for the last two days. But there’s something humbling about being off the grid and I’m learning to take it in stride and appreciate what I have. Today is Sunday and we are resting and storing up a bit of energy for the coming week. Please read more about our journey at Opening Our Eyes.

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10 thoughts on “Shooting Video in the Field with the Canon 5D Mark II

  1. Daymon J. Hartley May 30, 2010 / 9:46 am

    Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedules to share this information with us.

  2. John Durant May 30, 2010 / 10:05 am

    Gail – this is like an on-going field tutorial. And your writing is like having you there in the room. Thanks for all the hard work. JD

    • Gail Mooney May 30, 2010 / 11:05 am

      Thanks for your comments – it’s nice to hear from people as we continue our travels. Nice to be connected through the wonders of technology. Totally different than when I made my first global journey in 1971.

  3. Tom Kelly May 30, 2010 / 10:13 am

    If anyone can handle it, I know you can Gail. Great update on the 1st leg of the project.

  4. Mark Green May 30, 2010 / 11:21 am

    Gail, I would think that in that environment, the nat sound captured with you camera would suffice… maybe don’t bog yourself down with the juice box and mike in that situation. Plus it’s more incognito.

    Of course I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, just throwing in my .02. Keep up the good work!

  5. Gail Mooney May 30, 2010 / 11:31 am

    Mark – you’re so right. Even if I plugged the shotgun directly into the camera it would be sufficient for b-roll ambient sound. I figured out that I plugged the mic into the right channel of the JuicedLink and when using one xlr port – you need to use the left channel. Plus when using the JuicedLink – it disables the camera mic so therefore – no audio. In the chaos and watching my belongings – I wasn’t as conscious of my technical details. Sometimes in the quest for the best quality …….

  6. Chuck Braverman May 30, 2010 / 6:14 pm

    Hi Gail:
    Great to hear and read that you are out there shooting away. Looking forward to reading future blogs. Please post some video too on vimeo.
    Chuck Braverman

  7. Mark Green May 31, 2010 / 4:31 pm

    So she doesn’t have enough to do? Now she has to edit and post video to Vimeo too?

    On another note Gail, I am having a hard time getting PayPal to work… was going to pitch in some $$. Tom Kelley, maybe you can check that?

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