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Shooting with an 85mm

Josh Mason

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So I’ve been practicing since April of 2019 and I have tried my techniques with my shot zoomed in but I haven’t mastered close shots yet.  When I was using a RED with an 85mm mounted to my steadicam you could see every step I took and the control was damming.


How often do Directors ask a steadicam operator to use anything above a 50mm? Also how long has it taken some of you to iron out those ruff spots like seeing steps or lacking control? 

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Hi Josh,

I remember being in your shoes clearly - it was the late summer of 2012, I was on my first feature film, having operated “semi-professionally” for about a year, and on two occasions I had to either put the 85mm up, or do a shot on the 50mm in low mode, and I remember both being seemingly impossible. So, you’re not alone in the difficulty of doing long lens work on Steadicam when starting out!

I’d say about 1/4 of my work is tighter than a 50mm. Generally I don’t see many lenses above 135mm (though I have from time to time), although especially when doing anamorphic, 135mm is a pretty typical lens, and I regularly fly 100mm spherical lenses. A 65mm or 75mm is a sweet lens for Steadicam, and if you can get well in-sync with your actors, you can produce some truly beautiful tracking shots. I’d say to get to the point where I was completely unafraid of long lenses took me about 3 years of operating, and probably about 5 years to actually be able to back up my big talk with the skills to really pull it off. 

I will say that with long lenses, not only is it a technique issue, but it is also a physical feat with your body, and there is a significant component that the quality of your rig plays. When I upgraded my rig after that first feature, one of the biggest things I noticed in going to a new gimbal was that there had been some friction and play in my previous gimbal that just destroyed any chance of precision in long lens operating. Even the slightest friction in your gimbal will translate your body’s movements into the lens, and those errors will become much more pronounced on longer lenses. The same goes for your arm, although to a lesser degree (as the issues will be translational rather than angular). Additionally, having your rig trimmed for the tilt you will be holding is crucial, as is keeping your speed consistent. If you’re holding pressure with your hand to hold tilt, any little twitches and tremors in your hand will get into the frame, and if you’re speeding up and slowing down, any pendular swing of the sled will also get in, unless you’re good enough to keep 100% of it out (which very few are, although I think we all hope to get close!). And biggest of all, relax! I even get called out on this by DPs I’ve worked with for a long time. If I’m tense, that tends to telegraph into the shot, and sometimes I just need to take a deep breath and shake out my hands and try again.

I hope that helps and gives you a few things to think about! Best of luck on your adventures!

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Thanks Tom that does help for sure. I think the next time I practice I’m going to try to relax more as most of my shots I stiffened up in my hands and my tilt wasn’t something I chose to balance. Also I was supposed to walk super slow to get some shots with the lens and it just wasn’t working. 

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" And biggest of all, relax! I even get called out on this by DPs I’ve worked with for a long time. If I’m tense, that tends to telegraph into the shot, and sometimes I just need to take a deep breath and shake out my hands and try again."

Excellent advice for all operating - not just Steadicam. I have found that 99% of the time I'm struggling with a shot (Steadicam, dolly, hand held, etc), take a deep breath and slow it all down a bit.

Long lens Steadicam can be great fun, but I still hate long lens wide shots! With a long lens close up, you really zone into the subject and get to play. Long lens wide shots are so much harder for me. I recall one on "The Americans" where I was forced to track an actor head to toe perpendicularly though the woods on the other side of a small creek and I cursed the fibers of my being! Should have been a dolly shot, but no time (and the grips would not have been pleased) but at that distance, the slightest shift in headroom is so obvious (I wonder how a Volt would have helped that).


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