For me… traveling to Singapore has become like slipping into my favorite pair of shoes. Comfortable. It’s become my favorite city to visit – metropolitan, diverse people, great food and they speak English. I’ve also grown somewhat accustomed to the long trip – almost 24 hours to get there. From New York it’s about 14 hours to Tokyo. Then another 7 hours to Singapore. Not that I’m advocating drugs… but self medication is a must to help pass the time quickly.
For this trip I was lucky to have the use of a Kessler Pocket Dolly thanks to my friend Mike Sutton (@mns1974 on Twitter). When I travel I like to pack light. The Kessler Pocket Dolly is the perfect size to slide right into your one checked bag along with shirts, pants and undergarments. All used as extra padding. A few shots here and there with the Kessler Pocket Dolly adds nice production value to any film. Since I packed the slider, I left my sticks home, instead going for my trusty Gorillapod. It saves space and added weight from your luggage. I’ve really become adept at finding new ways to use it on DSLR shoots.
As a TV photojournalist I’m big on the handheld run and gun style of shooting. Especially with these small cameras. Much easier than the huge monster Sony XDCam 700 I shoulder at CBS Boston. For the Singapore film I used creative handheld methods like slow rocking on my feet to get a fluid look as well as finding level surfaces to place either a camera or the Pocket Dolly. The subtle side to side or pushing in and out rocking shots look much better than trying to handhold a camera perfectly still. You will always see those tiny vibrations that way.
I brought two cameras with me tucked safely in my carry on backpack along with my carry on 15″ Macbook Pro laptop bag (where I keep my meds stashed). I used a Canon 60D and my new GoPro Hero 2. For lenses I was packing my lovely Canon 50mm f1.4, Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 and my run and gun fav – the Tamron 17-50mm f2.8.
I got some surprisingly good timelapse stuff with the GoPro, although I had to crop in during the edit to lose the exaggerated fisheye perspective. I left a few of those shots “as is” for the effect. During the morning sunrise timelapse a huge crow landed right next to the GoPro and tried to grab it.
Lucky for me I was standing right there or we would have had another “Seagull Stole GoPro” type episode!
I also did some timelapse work with the 60D and the Tokina 11-16mm lens because the GoPro does not hold up well once the sun goes down. The GoPro has too much gain noise from the auto settings.
Most night shots were done with the 50mm f1.4 as those extra stops become precious on a shoot like this! I tried to “find the light” when I could. That lens also has great bokeh.
As for audio, I have discovered with DSLR one man band travel shoots, nothing beats the Rode VideoMic Pro plugged directly into the camera. It packs well. Setup is fast and it’s not complicated to operate. The key to success is manual settings in the camera menu so there’s no auto gain (AGC) issues. It’s a must. Check your levels and you’ve got a nice shock mounted mic for great nat sound. Just don’t fiddle with the camera when recording and make sure you keep an eye on the cable connection. If you move around a lot it can come loose.
Here’s a great example of good nat sound captured with the Rode mic:
11-11-11 One Day on Earth
Finally, this time I wanted to add narration to the film to give it more of a mini doc feel or Henry Hill feel from “Goodfellas”. So I asked two of my Singaporean friends, Rosa Selamat (@rosarecruits) and her husband Rizalie Mohamed (@LambchopMojo) to donate their services, again using my Rode mic to gather the sound.
To do this correctly you must do the interviews in a controlled, quiet location and you have to get the mic in very close to your subject. If you are doing on camera interviews it helps to use a portrait lens like a 50mm or 85mm on a tripod. For my film, since I was planning only to use their audio for narration over b-roll of them, I just handheld the camera and did the interviews off camera. If I had more time and gear I would ideally have lit a room or found some good natural light and done their interviews in front of the lens. However, because of their work schedules, location logistics and my vacation I decided this would be the best choice. Besides, I like the style of not seeing a talking head on the screen. Sometimes that’s just darn refreshing.