I’m working on a series of four training videos to help pilots learn the finer points of powered paragliding. They’re what I wish I would have had to speed up the learning process. The script for number one is nearly done and soon I’ll begin shooting. To improve the final product, I’m learning a variety of techniques to get footage from a variety of angles, both ground and airborne. One of the tools is a helmet cam.
Helmet cams are notoriously difficult to get smooth video with. The small movements that we barely notice are amplified on the screen and render many shots unusable. Jitter is only good on bugs.
Phil Russman has gads of incredible helmet cam footage. One tool that makes it much better is a small video viewer in glasses. It’s key to be able to frame shots but it turns out that you don’t want to shoot the shot using it alone. The idea is to use it as an initial aimer then use your eyeballs looking at the target. Also, the wider the angle lens, the better.
Lance Marczak improved on the idea by separating the viewer from it’s glasses and mounting it to the microphone goosneck on his helmet. I’m going to use a variation of that by mounting it on another gooseneck since I use the mic a lot. Good radio comm is essential for the best shots.
So I’ve now flown two flights with the device and can see it’s not easy. Thirty minutes of recording netted a mere 2 minutes of usable footage. The only useable footage is between camera shakes. Bummer. Hopefully my ratio will improve.
Don’t think that camera stabilization will do much. It won’t although it’s still better with the stabilization on.
Another element is proximity. If you’re using a wide angle lens, that’s best for smooth but requires being extremely close to the subject. And being distracted by “the shot” adds a lot of risk. Make no mistake, getting aerial footage like this is riskier than normal flying.
Another tool is the Merlin Steadicam, a device that puts the combined mass of camera and counterweight just below a very loose gimbal. When properly wielded, you get incredibly smooth video because it eliminates the small pans and tilts that cause jitter in hand held shots.
Learning to use the Merlin is much like learning to paramotor—frustrating at first but then rewarding as success wins out.
Any shot where the camera is moving will benefit from being on a Steadicam. Either from vehicles or walking. Other shots will still be best handheld or from an old fashioned tripod. I’m learning both how to use the Merlin and when not to use it.
It’s truly amazing to compare shots done by hand and then with the Merlin. One that I did just for fun was recording neighbor Mark on skates and his younger brother on a bike. I was on skates. It looked like the camera was flying.
Using the Merlin requires time. You get the camera balanced in both tilt (up/down) and bank (left/right tilt). Then you hold it, supporting all the weight with the handle which is below the gimbal, and then use the lightest possible pressure to “steer” the camera. With no pressure, it wanders around slowly like a drunken sailor. With too much pressure, you defeat the purpose and the video gets busy. The key is looking at the background in a moving shot. It shouldn’t be moving much at all. Lighter the touch, better the video. But you still need enough pressure to keep it from wobbling and on target. Like a well executed no-wind forward, a good Steadicam shot is rewarding.
It’s not for use in the air and not for many other applications but anytime you want to try getting a moving shot of someone launching, it’s awesome. I’ve got shots planned from a truck where the steadicam will be perfect. Shooting from the helicopter is now incredibly smooth.