Event Video Experiences


  • Formal Ball by John Beale
  • Outdoor Music Festival by Richard Smedley
  • Seminars in St. Petersburg by Harry Butler
  • Notes from a Wedding by Tess Goodman
  • Festivals in Europe by Harry Butler
  • Here is a link to Richard Crowley's webpage showing his video production setup.

    2-Camera Formal Ball

    by John Beale
    March 17 2000

    A few weekends ago I did the video for a sizable formal ball, which you might consider similar to a wedding reception (with 1200 people). I've been encouraged to think that people find my experiences useful so I'll make some short notes here.

    I used two cameras, the Canon GL1 and the Sony TRV900. Given that the dance floor occupied most of the ballroom, the 0.5x wide adapter for the TRV900 was useful, and I would have used the Canon 0.7x for the GL1 if I'd had it.

    I had the GL1 mounted on a tall tripod, specifically a 12 foot tall lighting stand (rated for 100 pounds weight!) with a homebrew tripod mount at top. This gave me a great viewing angle for the formation dance performances, and at around $100 from a local theatrical lighting supplier was a good deal. In a small room this stand sticks out but in a huge hall it's not so obtrusive.

    This was a fixed mount; with the GL1 at max. wide, I got most of the floor anyway. The GL1 was running on its own battery, so I used the Sony RM-95 LANC remote (has 15' cord) to turn it off/on and start/stop remotely, and an aftermarket 12' A/V cable (see my accessories page) going to a 5" RadioShack B/W TV (RS#16-131, <$100) as a monitor. This TV runs off 12VDC and I had a 12V gel cell, which was handy because despite being inside a hotel, the camera position was against a large interior partition wall and there was no power outlet for 40 feet! Remember that with an unmanned, fixed mount you have to be extra careful to center it and level it accurately, since you won't be able to fix it on the fly. It was mounted on a seating area with risers so it sways as people walk across, which I knew in advance but couldn't help- fortunately I could cut to the other camera during the worst swaying. (using this stand on a sprung wood dance floor you see some real movement!)

    I operated the TRV900 at floor level from a normal tripod, and sometimes handheld. I ended up with five MiniDV tapes all together from the evening, which a few weeks later I'm still editing together (Premiere 5.1c on Win98 box). Some observations:

    1) Being rushed was my #1 problem. Through some fit of insanity I agreed to do a (film) portrait shoot at the ball as well, so I was juggling 35mm camera and strobes as well as DV gear. I arrived 1.5 hours early which wasn't really enough to scout the location and set up this much equipment (my checklist had 35 separate items of gear.)

    2) I manually white balanced the TRV900 but not GL1 (see "rushed" above) so the GL1 image turned out more red (and, in the marginal light, more contrasty) than the TRV900. Yes, it is possible via color and contrast adjustments in Premiere to make the footage cut together well, but you'd just as soon not do this, right? (After adjustment the video does match very well; it's hard to tell which camera was which if you didn't know).

    3) If you set exposure manually and the lighting isn't changing, for heaven's sake lock off your exposure (TRV900 switch on side in lowest, "hold" position). This way your thumb doesn't slip over the thumbwheel and change exposure unintentially, complicating your post-production (see above).

    4) Check your front element for smudges. I've never had one... until that night. Too subtle to notice in the viewfinder, but on playback you see an area of diffusion whenever a bright white dress passes that part of the frame. Not too often, fortunately. I somehow acquired a smear on the 58mm UV filter on my GL1. I could easily have just removed the filter had I taken the time to notice it- see "rushed" above.

    5) Careful to check that your fluid-head tripod is well adjusted for proper resistance before swinging into action, otherwise your pans will lack a professional look. Normally I do this, but... see item #1.

    6) Don't expect Canon equipment to read Sony MiniDV tapes or vice-versa without dropouts. LP mode is known to be troublesome, but my cameras don't interchange even in SP mode without frequent dropouts. Not a killer, I just label the tape accordingly and use the correct camera to play back into the computer at edit time. Pros like to use separate playback decks, but I can't see that really working here if you've got a mixed camera setup, based on my experience.

    7) At this event there was no practical way to use anything but camera-mounted mics and I made do with the built-in ones. Since the GL1 was well above the crowd it got more of the desired music and less of the undesired crowd noise. Using Canopus DVRaptor and "Raptor Video" to seamlessly batch capture a half hour of GL1 video into 4 separate 2Gb files, then opening the set of .avi files on the Premiere timeline, I see that the soundtrack ends about 4 frames before the video on each of the separate .avi's from the GL1. Most of the last four frames worth of audio is blank space. Doing this with the TRV900 video is no problem; audio lines up ok. Something to do with unlocked audio and Canon's sampling clock being not quite 48.0 kHz (maybe?).

    Yes, you can separately acquire just the audio into a single half-hour .WAV file using Raptor Audio, separately paste that into the Premiere timeline, and then align it by splicing in a few duplicate audio frames where you won't notice it (waltz music=bad, applause=good). But it would be nice if the audio lined up in the first place.

    8) To the flakiness of Premiere5.1c/Win98 there is no end. Preview file mix-ups were supposed fixed but aren't completely. Also you can get perfect captures and then see subtle dropout-like effects on playback that show up very occasionally (but don't repeat). Then they go away if you restart the program. Then they reappear but only at the end of a half-hour video segment. Best to edit in smaller segments if possible so when you have to stop and restart you don't waste as much time. Raptor Edit is much less powerful, but at least I've never had it flake out like this.

    Despite above items, both cameras performed well and yielded good quality video which the client was pleased by.

    9) You can do cool 3D animations for titles etc. using a free raytracer (POV-Ray 3.1) but there is A) quite a learning curve and B) terrific CPU horsepower required. Like: 5 seconds of 640x480 video with six lightsources, extruded text, textured primitives and reflections= 16 hours rendering on a 500 MHz PIII. I guess the fancy 3D packages are probably worth it if you do much of this, and your time is worth anything.

    10) Just in case you want any still-camera hints: be aware that flash from friends/relatives photos will set off the slave triggers on your strobes. I fired test shots using a flash meter and realized I didn't have enough light, but with 2 minutes to go I was too panicked to switch to 400 speed film, and just moved the strobes closer (that "rushed" issue again!) In my shots, background was dark due to flash falloff, which I might have improved by moving the strobes twice as far back (1/4 the light, loosing 2 stops), and using ASA 400 speed film instead of 100. More advice: PC cord cables or connectors can fail at the worst time- fortunately I had spares. And remember to ask those wearing glasses to remove them ("angling the head" is more doubtful in my experience) as the strobe will just give them headlights for eyes.


    3-Camera Festival Shoot

    by Richard Smedley
    Oct 17, 2000

    Well, guys, just got back Sunday from shooting a 2 day rock festival. Just thought I'd share my techniques, what worked, what didn't, and end it with my incredible screw-up and recovery plan.

    The festival venue consisted of 24 bands playing over 2 days (Fri the 13th and Sat. 14th). The bands were scheduled to begin at 12 noon Friday and play until midnight, then same schedule again on Saturday. The sets consisted of 30 minutes of music (approx 6 songs) and then 30 mins switch to the next band. The festival was out doors in a rather large cow pasture ala Woodstock, although on a much smaller scale. The promoter (Red Records) had built a 24'x24', uncovered stage for the bands. I shot the festival for payment based on bands who wanted a package deal consisting of video, CD and streaming video files. I had 9 takers out of 24, although others came up to my "booth" afterwards asking for a video. I tried to shoot as many bands as possible, even those who didn't pay.

    I shot the festival using 3 cameras mounted on large Bogen tripods (3036/3236) fitted with Bescor remote panheads and Canon ZR1000 LANC controllers for the zoom and focus. I built my own 100' cable bundles consisting of 1 S-Video, 1-LANC and 1-panhead cable in each bundle. I actually didn't build the S-Video cables as I bought these from Elite Video (hypercables). I used a Canon XL1, Canon GL1 and Sony TRV120 camera, with the XL1 located about 20 feet in front of the stage (next to the soundman), the GL1 on the left of the stage and the Sony on a little hill (how convenient) directly behind the stage. I miked the audio by placing 2 - Shure BG 4.1 mics on about 2 feet in front of the house speakers. I planned on taking an additional feed from the house board, but the sound man ran out of mic cables and I had to loan them to him, so I just made do with the floor mics! It actually sounded pretty good if it hadn't been for...well, more on this later.

    I shot the festival "live" using a MX1 Videonics video mixer, RT3000 titler, Peavey audio mixer, and remote controller consoles hacked out of Radio Shack project boxes. I used JVC S-VHS decks, one that is the dual MiniDV/S-VHS deck. I used an Alesis NanoCompressor on the feed side of the Peavey before feeding my record deck(s). I handed the paying bands a VHS tape on the spot after their set. I kept the S-VHS and MiniDV masters to be able to make dups, CDs and streaming files later.

    Here's what I learned:

    1) Auto focus on the cameras worked just fine in the daylight hours. Although I tried manual focus, I didn't really find it necessary. I positioned the cameras such that I didn't really have any problems with auto-focus hunting. For the night sets, manual focus was an absolute MUST. The ZR1000 controllers will manual focus just fine, but it's a little slow so you have to think ahead with a 3-cam live switch.

    2) The Bescor panheads were absolute troopers! I ran them on batteries and only changed them once, and even then they weren't ran down. They *do* pan and tilt a little to fast when you're zoomed in, even at they're lowest speed setting, but I simply took care not to pan/tilt too much when zoomed. I simply framed the shot from a wide shot using the pan/tilt then zoomed in without moving the panhead. 3) The Sony TRV120 (a cheap, 1 chip camera) was no good at night -- simply too grainy for a clear, color picture. I adjusted, however, by "artistically" switching to night shot. I got ooohs and aahhhs over my "special effect" cam ;)

    4) I ran power cables and DC adapters to each camera after I had a couple incidents of "Low Battery" appearing on the video monitor :( Although I tried to watch the camera battery power, and I bought the largest batteries Canon makes, it was still hard to keep from running the batteries down. My advice -- run on wall power and forget the batteries!

    5) The sound would have been better if I had ran a third mic about 50 feet or so back from the stage speakers to get a spatial effect. I don't know why this didn't occur to me, since I had a third Shure mic. Could have had something to do with not having any more mic cables!

    6) It rained several times. We kept shooting by covering the cameras with clear plastic and duct-taped them leaving only the lens exposed. It worked great for light rain. When it rained heavy, we brought the cams in because the band couldn't play anyway (stage was uncovered).

    Now, for the *real* screw ups:

    1) I mentioned the camera batteries. Don't do it unless you change the batteries after each set!

    2) The wind blew, we had dust, dust and more dust. This was something I didn't anticipate. The rain yes, the dust, no. The MiniDV deck on my JVC is screwed now, and I think it's from the dust. Some of the MiniDV tapes have no audio and many, many dropouts. If it hadn't been for the S-VHS decks, I wouldn't have half the masters! I'm *real* disappointed in the performance of the MiniDV deck. Believe me, I'll have problems trusting it for this type of shoot again.

    3) As most of you already know, don't depend on auto-focus for night shooting. It simply won't work. If you don't know how to focus your camera manually --- *learn*.

    4) We experienced power outages and drops *several* times. Although the RM3000 titler has a non-volatile memory, one outage wiped out my 50 title pages! I had to shoot the last two paying bands without titles. What's the solutions here? A UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply). I actually thought about this and planned on bringing mine, but simply forgot. Morale -- make sure you have one and make a checklist!

    The last screw up deserves it's own special place, since it caused me to refund all the bands money. Neither of my JVC decks has headphone jacks. I worried about this a lot, so I bought a small set of Yamaha speakers so I could check the sound. I did so after every band, and was fairly satisfied with the results. Here's the problem -- I had the speakers mounted on the inside of my rack enclosure, and couldn't tell that the left audio channel was not there at all! I almost puked when I got home and starting testing the master tapes. The video looked great -- the audio was trash. Not because of distortion and such, but a one channel sound track sucked. I was sick to say the least. I had just spent 2 solid days working my ass off recording these bands, and I only found one band that had both left and right audio channels. My mistake was relying on those speakers mounted inside an enclosure to monitor the sound. Of course, I also watched my mixer and compressor closely, as I was concerned that I didn't get distortion. If I had only attached a device to my video decks so I could plug in headphones, I would have noticed the problem *immediately*.

    It wasn't a total loss. I extracted enough good songs to remix to monoaural and make a compilation video. Nonetheless, heed my warning -- MONITOR YOUR RECORD DECK WITH HEADPHONES! Although I took every precaution I could think of (I wire tied cables and closed the back of my rack case to avoid cables getting knocked loose) it still bit me, and bit me *hard*.

    Anyway, hope someone finds this enlightening.


    Seminars in St. Petersburg

    by Harry Butler
    Feb 4, 2001

    1) THE TRIP: Flew Delta to Atlanta, Lufthansa from Atlanta to Frankfurt to St. Petersburg, three checked pieces of luggage (special permission from Lufthansa, no charge... it pays to ask!) from Nashville. Did not use a Carnet this time (basically a "passport for your stuff" which aids avoiding tariffs/VAT in foreign countries... don't do England with pro gear without one! Contact NFIB through Roanoke Trade at http://www.roanoketrade.com for further info) but had a gear list, with serial numbers and replacement prices, signed and stamped from US Customs for all the big stuff - cameras, lights, mics, stands, mixer, comp/lim, etc) which came in very handy with Russian customs, both in and out, and upon our return through US Customs. Also handy was the Russian facilitator who met us at the airport and who greased the tracks, in Russian, answering all their questions. I just smiled, pointed at my list, and said "Spa-see-ba" a lot. That means "thank you" and is the extent of my Russian. Lufthansa missed getting two of our four gear bags onto the plane from Frankfurt (late arrival, quick departure) but they arrived unharmed and were delivered to us the next day.

    2) THE ASSIGNMENT: I went as the second camera/principal audio guy on a crew including a producer, a tour manager, a production assistant, first camera, and me. We were to record 15 hours of seminar-style meetings for the Josh McDowell ministry, out of Dallas. The seminars were a pastor's conference for about 60 Russian pastors (evangelical, not Russian Orthodox) dealing with marriage enrichment, family life, and ministry. It was the first time Josh, his wife, Dottie and son, Sean, have all spoken in Russia. Translation was realtime phrase-by-phrase (hence the 2-camera setup) with the translator side-by-side and matching gestures. Pretty amazing to watch. I had the "2-shot" while my buddy Jason had the tight shot on the principal speaker. There were also several presentations in Russian, which, while initially interesting, by the end of day 2 were better than Sominex taken with a shot of NyQuil.

    3) THE GEAR PACK: Since this will be edited NLE, we shot everything on two PD-150s in miniDV video mode, 48kHz audio, giving us 60+ minutes per tape. To cover each other, I started up 60 seconds before "roll tape" and changed out at 58 or 59 minutes. Jason started at "roll tape" and changed out at 60-61 minutes. Jason worked off Bogen sticks with a Manfrotto 501 head; I was on a Cartoni Alfa I combo with a VariZoom. Both worked well. No tape problems at all.

    Audio was handled through four wireless systems: Shure LX4 and L4K lav systems with WL185 cardioid condenser elements (speaker on left channel/translator on right); EV N/DYM UHF handheld wireless (announcements, intros, and floor); and an Azden UDR400 with a lav element/bodypack xmitter (backup) and a SM58 with the butt-plug xmitter (vocal on the piano). These fed a Soundcraft Spirit Folio Lite 12x2 (4 mic pre's, 4 stereo lines in) mixer (along with a CD player and a videotape playback deck supplied by the venue for projection of PAL media). R/L main out fed a dBx MC-6 miniComp compressor/limiter, which fed a XLR split on each channel, feeding both cameras directly through mic cables. We also assigned an Aux out (post fade) to drive the house mixer... worked like a champ. (*Hint* If you can make up cables, use Belden 8761 comm cable to make mic lines and jumpers... it's inexpensive, weighs half what standard cable weighs, has a 100% foil shield (better noise rejection) and packs well... it's just not made for constant flexing and stage abuse.) We both monitored live audio at the cameras through Sony MDR-V6 40mm 'phones. Cameras/director comms were a set of 3 Radio Shack FM intercom headsets. Cheap and nasty, but they work.

    We lit the stage with built-in overhead pan lights augmented by my two Lowell Omnis house right and left, on 11' Manfrotto stands, 6 rows back, loaded with 650w/240v bulbs. Just enough "pop" to crisp up the presenters (and fill raccoon eyes from the overhead pans) without blinding them.

    We monitored video with a Sony 8220 8" production monitor during setup (it put a buzz on the audio when everything was hooked up so I disconnected it before we started); used the pop-out screens for actual on-camera monitoring; and I fed Jason a video out from my camera to a 5" TFT LCD monitor taped to his tripod so he'd know when it was safe for him to move his shot... mine stayed pretty much the same for the master 2-shot.

    Power conversion was via 4 Radio Shack 3-amp regulated 90/240vac-12vdc converters ($49.00) and one Radio Shack 85w 240-120 ac converter (I took two, but one arrived not working. Backup, backup, backup...). The cameras went straight to 240v mains through adapters; the 12v converters powered the wireless units (*Hint* Zip-tie a 3-way underdash lighter socket adapter to the side of the 12v converter, tie it in to the bare-wires connection, get 4x12v cig plug from 1 converter! for $50!), the Sony 8220 (never did figure out the 50 Hz buzz), and the 5" TFT monitor. Had one for backup (see a pattern?). The AC-AC converter powered the mixer and dBx. Since we had no dimmers, the lights were on the same circuit and everything played nicely together. Except for the 8220.

    My pack was in an old Tamrac Rolling Vault case (don't know the model number, but it's 30x20x12 or so with velcro dividers and lots of pockets and padding) into which went the 4 wireless systems, the 8220, the TFT, the power converters, and cords and stuff, and a 30x20" chunk of 1" foam. Ended up at 32 kg on the nose. (That's the hard limit before heinous overweight charges accrue.) Tripods, light stands, audio trick bag, tool/butane soldering kit, VariZoom, 15 Sony DVM60PR2 tapes, batteries (30-9v and 24-AA) and more cables went into a SKB golf club case (got mine at Nevada Bob's for $115). You need one of these if you fly with gear. It is amazing. And because it looks like a golf club case instead of an audio/video/photo gear case, fewer questions and, to my way of thinking, less chance of theft. It weighed in at 29 kg. Clothing for a week in Russia (including insulated boots which I never wore) and the Soundcraft mixer (wrapped in a sweatshirt) went into a big soft suitcase. 30 kg. Heavy boots. Finally, I carried on a rollerbag/backpack (gift from Sony after buying the DSR-300) with the camera and power adapter, my Contax G1 for stills, film, two days' clothing, toilet supplies (including paper!), CD case, headphones, 15 more tapes (in case the rolling vault got lost... which it did for a day), three novels (which I finished before we got back), liter of water and five baggies of homemade Gorp... peanuts, raisins, dried cranberries, chocolate covered peanuts and raisins, sunflower seeds and, the dealmaker, Reese's Bites. Takes the taste of cabbage (nearly every meal) right out of your mouth. And I finished the last bag just as we put down in Nashville. Mmmm, Mmmm, good.

    Jason's pack was virtually identical, including the SKB golf case, less the wireless systems (only an old Samson for his remaining two weeks of candids) and plus the TRV-900 he took for B-roll and backup (guess that makes this entire post relevant). BTW, he got his PD-150 just two days before we left. He called me at 11:00 the night he got it and, without preamble, said "I LOVE this camera. I mean, I really LOVE this camera." He also said it at least three more times during the flight. Nothing on the trip (until I left, at least) had swayed his opinion.

    On my person was a fanny pack ("bum bag" for those across the pond) with a spare charged -960 and the little one that comes with the camera (never used either of them); copy of my passport, visa and customs list; Swiss Army knife, Leatherman, mini MagLite, butane lighter, Sharpies, jeweler's screwdriver set, and, of course, my cigar cutter (Cubanos, anyone? Quintero? Si. Gracias.). Under my over shirt was a small slung wallet with cash, passport, visa, credit cards, plane tickets, pictures of wife and babies and driver license.

    I always wrap the latches on the golf case with duct tape. All the way around. Twice. For backup. Little cheap locks are good, but duct tape does the job, and doesn't snag on the conveyor. Also, carry a few zip-ties for running through the zipper tabs on suitcases that don't have latches. I usually do two small ones, at opposite directions, so's I can tell if anyone was in the bag. Carry enough in various sizes for your needs in the field and the trip back home. They can be lifesavers... as can the duct/gaff tape.

    4) THE JOB: The PD-150s performed admirably, judging from the tape we looked at each evening. The light in the room was good enough for a (manually white balanced) f: 4.8 aperture at 0 dB gain. Very pretty pictures. I manually focused, usually once a session. Plenty of detail in the 2-shots (closeups are, as you may guess, killer). The VariZoom made my job much more relaxed, re: arm position, standing on a table for 5-6 hours a day. It ain't the rocker switch on a Canon or Fuji ENG lens, but is much more controllable than the switch on the camera. Less worry about jar and shake, too. (*Hint* When you must be on a riser (or, in this case, table) try to get two... one for the camera; one for you; don't let them touch. Much more stable picture. Tape the camera legs to the table with duct tape... gaffers tape if you (or your client) can afford it.)

    Audio setup was simple. First I fed a cd through the mixer/compressor setup, setting the gains where I wanted them (peaks -10 dB on the mixer's LEDs pushing the compressor to a -6 dB gain reduction). Then we went to the cameras and tested various combinations. We settled on "Mic Att" input select (48v off) with AGC on both channels, using the XLR inputs, and varying the output control of the dBx to put "peaks" at about -12 dB on the meters screen. Love the meters screen. Then, real tests with the wireless systems. The reasoning: I couldn't get the "Line" input to sound decent. Some kind of impedence mismatch, I guess, but I have the same problem on the DSR-130 and -300. "Mic Att" puts enough drop on the line to be able to feed it nicely with about -20 dB from the comp/limiter. In sum: The board inputs had plenty of headroom; the dBx provided a nice, smooth compression from the board to the cameras; and the AGC on the cameras provided an absolute hard limit at "0 dB" that we never got close to (-6... maybe -3 dB when somebody got excited). If I'd been able to watch the gains and levels instead of the framing, I might have gone Manual on the camera... but the presenters were all over the place as to their relative volume levels... so this was safe and very quiet. Remember: digital distortion is just plain ugly. And, especially in this instance, it can't be fixed in post. Sounded better to me than anything I ever got from the PD-100... and the on-camera XLRs and switching matrix is soooo nice.

    5) THE COUNTRY: Russia was extremely interesting. The people in customs were a bit intimidating... although my lack of sleep during 18 hours on three aircraft and the missing luggage may have prejudiced that feeling. The bureaucracy makes anything in the US pale by comparison. Except, maybe, IRS. They're trying very hard, but 80 years is a lot of negative precedent to change. Probably take a generation.

    Our interpreters and the people from the local travel agency couldn't have been better. Note that the $20 a day we paid the interpreters represented over a week's salary for two of them. They are hard working people, and everybody has a hustle, it seemed. Shop keepers were polite, if not overly helpful. Lots of tiny shops with some very good prices, and some not-so-good. Caveat Emptor. English is definitely a second language, and Russian is so difficult to pronounce properly (something about extremely different tongue/jaw/teeth configuration) that my feeble attempts brought mostly querelous smiles.

    We were at a venue 30 km north of the city for 5 of the 7 days, so my St. Petersburg experience is limited to two days. The architecture is impressive (pre-revolution) and imposing (though bland, post-revolution). The Hotel Moskva (River Neva end of Nevsky Prospekt... opposite end from the Winter Palace/Hermitage and St. Issaacs) was comfortable with good service and more than a few English speakers. American pool tables were a pleasant surprise (Russian pool is like snooker, but with huge balls and tiny little pockets... though I won my final - of 6 - game). Tea in the lobby shop was 10 roubles... about $.30. No surprises in the bathrooms (didn't try public facilities), but take TP anyway. You can always leave it as a gift...

    The Hermitage is phenomenal. One of the most incredible collections of paintings and sculpture I've ever seen. The rooms (the ceilings, particularly, and the inlaid wood floors) are worth a couple of hours in and of themselves. All sorts of artwork from Flemish to Old Masters to Impressionist to Soviet (though not much of it). There were mummies in the basement (Egypt display), full-sized mounted knights in Teutonic and French armor on the second floor, and a grand staircase that must be seen to be believed. St. Issaacs and Kazan Cathedrals are also incredibly impressive, especially in light of the 70-year virtual ban on religious expression of any kind. In short, I wish I'd had another couple of days. They've made a lot of progress in 10 years. I shot lots of film in the Contax, and made a bunch of .jpgs to the memory stick, including a series of tests with the Century .5 WA adapter (and without... Jason was running tape for "B" roll.)

    Here are two stills from the PD150 in the Hermitage, using just the standard lens, and with the Century .55 Wide. Both are with the lens at fully wide-angle.

    Harry Butler

    Notes from a Wedding

    by Tess Goodman
    April 2, 2001

    Wedding videography isn't something I engage in full-time, so when my niece asked me to shoot her wedding video over the weekend I was admittedly nervous. I thought I'd post a little of what I learned and hope that it proves useful in some way for others:

    Equipment Used:

    1. Main Cam - Sony PD150 on a Bogen Tripod with Fluid Head
    2. Cutaway/Backup Cam - Canon Gl-1 on Bogen Tripod
    3. Just in case/audio backup/DV Gods are angry Cam - Old VHS Camcorder on cheapo tripod running unmanned during the ceremony.
    4. Sennheiser EW112P UHF Wireless Mic system attached to the groom with receiver connected to the PD150.
    5. Sennheiser ME-66 Shotgun mic for the reception along with an NRG Mite-Lite on-camera light for auxilliary lighting at the reception.

    The PD150 was mounted at the back corner of the alter, on the brides side since that provided the best and most consistent view of her. I would encourage all videographers to attend the rehearsal, as I did, before the event to see how the minister and attendants are positioned and to see what kind of obstructions (ie, flowers, decorations) will be in your way. Heck, the minister himself can be an obstruction if he's as large as the one my niece had officiating at her wedding! :-)

    The Canon Gl-1 was positioned in the balcony, center, and was manned by my business partner after some quick instruction on how to operate the camera the night before. She practiced fluid movement of the tripod head and panning, and was told that the main purpose of this camera was to capture the cutaway shots. I also instructed her on when she would have a better view of the bride and other attendants/singers than I at my position so she was instructed to zoom in for closeups at those times but to avoid zooming and panning at other times. We made cheat sheets of the order that events would occur, typed them out and taped them to our cameras for reference during the ceremony. We started all three cameras at the same time right before the ceremony started and kept them rolling without stopping the entire length of the ceremony to be able to synch them up effectively in post.

    I mic'd the groom with the Sennheiser wireless about 15 minutes before the ceremony began (and ladies, you have NO idea what men talk about as they're preparing to get married, I can ASSURE you!! Ha!). They forget that you can hear every word (and every LONG, nervous pee right before they are to give up their bachelorhood) ... Anyway, I mic'd the groom on the LEFT side of his jacket as the bride would be standing on his left for most of the ceremony when she wasn't facing him; not that it mattered much because the Sennheiser picked up EVERY word beautifully - even the preachers. I was very impressed with this setup. I had the sensitivity set at -10 Db on the groom and it worked out perfectly. His voice wasn't so overbearing and yet it picked up the others quite nicely. It even gave me acceptable audio of the music during the ceremony. I was able to have the groom mic'd the night of the rehearsal to test out my settings so that was an advantage of being at the rehearsal as well. I bought a $15 pair of Koss earbuds to monitor audio with and they worked just fine. I was able to effectively adjust the audio gain manually when necessary on the PD150 - a nice feature of the Sony.

    You read about the necessity of a wide angle lens over and over in the newsgroups and you think, "Nah... I won't need one of those", but I can assure you that I was kicking myself for not having one at this ceremony. The church was small and the balcony was actually relatively close to the alter, so the cutaway camera positioned in the balcony for the overall shots could have really benefited from a wide angle lens. It would have also been nice at the reception...

    White balance - I had set the white balance manually on both cameras using a white foam core board about an hour before the ceremony, making sure all the lights were on just as they would be during the ceremony. Well, the church also had ambient sunlight shining in through the windows of the church and I noticed that its intensity and color was really starting to change about 15 minutes before the ceremony started (around sunset, duh!) so I decided to use auto white balance instead to try to compensate for the rapidly changing color of light. I'm glad I did, in this case, as the auto white balance on both cameras really came through for me. The colors are almost identical, and any slight color inconsistencies can be adjusted in post, I hope. Both cameras really delivered exceptionally accurate colors under these conditions, though the PD150 came through the best. It was also the sharpest in detail and obviously much better in the low light conditions I had at the reception. I used the "indoor" white balance setting when shooting with the on-camera video light during the reception as instructed to in the PD150 manual and it worked very well.

    Both digital cameras utilized AC sources for power during the ceremony so we didn't have to worry about battery power and could save the batteries for the reception. At the reception, I was greeted with really subdued - read DARK- lighting conditions so I was glad to have had my NRG mite-lite. It's not a great light for shooting interviews because it's much too intense at short distances so I didn't use it at all for interviews but it was a lifesaver to have for lighting up the dance floor for the bride/father-of-the-bride dance and the bride and groom's first dance. I also used it to light up the garter and bouquet tosses. The PD150 gave me acceptable quality for interviews without a light after I scoped out the most well lit corner of the reception hall to perform the interviews. And, lead-acid battery belts SUCK!! They're way too heavy, so do yourself a favor and spend the extra money for something lightweight. I had my business partner carry the battery belt for me when we lit up the dance floor! HA!

    The ME-66 shotgun mic became a problem in the reception hall as it was rather small and the DJ's speakers were REALLY loud. The music and DJ's voice really overpowered the ME-66 even with me being able to adjust the audio gain manually on the PD150. I should have also brought along the supplied on-camera mic but that was the one piece of equipment I had forgotten. The ME-66 was much too directional I guess to work effectively in this situation and an omni-directional mic would have probably been better. I will have to dub in the music from the bride/groom/father-of-the-bride dances from CD because the music is nothing but static on the tape.

    After getting home that night and watching the videos, I can say that they came out absolutely beautifully and once I get them all edited together I know my niece (and more importantly, her MOTHER - my sister!) will be very pleased with the outcome.

    1. There were two people sitting in the balcony where my cutaway camera was positioned and when they walked around during the ceremony the camera shakes a bit and you can hear their footsteps. We had put "reserved for photographer" signs in the front row where the camera was stationed, but not reserved the whole balcony because we didn't know if it would be needed for guests or not. If you can, reserve the whole balcony!

    2. People who LOVE to strike up conversations with anyone with a professional camera! I was trying to be 3 places at once before the ceremony began, adjusting white balance, setting up cameras, trying to get shots of the bride getting ready and "Uncle Harry" has to tell me about his son-in-law who does better flowers than THIS flower guy and his last trip to Florida, etc., etc, etc... Ugggh!

    Will I ever shoot a wedding video again? Probably. I have lots more single nieces and nephews! Will I like it? If it goes as well as this one, I might, but I don't think I'd like doing wedding videos full time. Not worth the stress and sore feet! Hope this helps someone else...


    Music Festivals in Europe

    by Harry Butler
    July 4, 2003

    Just as I promised (threatened?), here follows the debrief from 20 days on the road with lots of video gear, a bunch of tape and some really great music.

    1) The Pack. Fearing the international checked baggage limit might have dropped to 50 lbs (23 kg) per piece, I attempted to lose 80 lbs of gear from last year's four cases. Imagine my relief when we were told international limits (on American Airlines, at least) were still 70 lbs (32 KG). But, I did shave well over 20 lbs off last year, and with a double load of tapestock (festivals at both Bern and Chester, instead of only Bern) to boot.

    Two full-sized DVCAMs (a DSR-130 2/3" and a DSR-300 1/2") each had a purpose-built foamed shock-proof (more on that) case, which were also stuffed with microphones (2xGefell M200 omni condensers, and a R0DE NT4 stereo cardioid condenser), RF systems (2xEW-300 Sennheiser with 835 HandHeld transmitters), a 5" TFT LCD monitor, comms sets (2xRadio Shack FM wireless comms - cheap, but lightweight and effective), rear lens controls for the master camera, and power conversion (4xRadio Shack universal 3-amp 12vdc supplies... handle input of 90-240v and lightweight, and 2x240/120vac converters). One weighed in at 58 lbs; the other at 62.

    A Tamrac Rolling Vault (approx. 24x30x12) made of ballistic cloth over some very effective padding was likewise stuffed with 20 reels of Sony DVCAM184 and 20 reels of Sony Premium miniDV (DVM60PRL), a Sony PVM8020 8" production monitor (which has a "blue only" setting for an accurate color setup on bars), a Sony RMM-7G remote camera control unit (for remote control of and monitor send from the second camera to my prime camera location), a Soundcraft Spirit Folio Lite 12x2 compact mixer, a Soundcraft Spirit NotePad 8x2 compact mixer, power supplies, all the audio and video interconnects (which I custom-built for connectors and length, and bundled into appropriate groups), a 250' stereo mic cable (custom built from Belden 2-pair+drain foil shielded lightweight cable), the 30m control cable for the RMM-7G, and foam and styrofoam blocks to hold everything in place as needed. This bad boy tipped the scales at 68 lbs.

    And finally a SKB golf club case into which went a Vinten Vision 12 head on a set of Cartoni sticks with control arms, a O'Connor 30 head with one arm on a set of Bogen 3040 sticks, a Bogen 3126 Micro Fluid Head on a set of Bogen 3011 sticks, a PIC 12' aluminum mic stand, a second 250' stereo mic cable, and cloth and foam packing to hold it all snug. It weighed 63 lbs.

    Two carryon bags held clothing for each of us for the duration; then a backpack with my PD-150 (see... this is relevant to the group...), the PD-150 charger, three DVM60PRLs, two 960s, a 950 clone, a Sony HVL-20DW2 light (which, thanks to the incredible low-light ability of the PD-150 never came out of the bag), my CD player and favorites case, a Nikon SB-28 flash, a set of Sony MDR-V6 (7506) cans (which, after using them once on a transatlantic flight, you'll never again be satisfied with those dinky airline 'phones), twelve Energizer NiMH AAs, a universal AA charger, the Carnet, and four paperbacks. A fannypack held wallet, passport, ultrafinepoint Sharpies, mini Mag light, Century .55, media vault with 1x512, 2x256 CF cards and 2x128, 1x64 SmartMedia, a couple of spare CR-123 Li's and 12 more NiMH AAs. Over my shoulder was a Fuji FinePix S2 with a 24-120 Nikkor (nearly perfect zoom range for travel) loaded with a 512 CF and a 128 SM for stills. Topping it all off was a Sony/Domke shooting vest with snacks and water, and pockets for anything I needed handy.

    Not bad for a three-camera coverage. The cases proved adequate protection, except for the DSR-130, which started freaking out (intermittent white flashing) at Chester. It had happened once before, and a $180 repair was explained "Reseated all circuit boards." So out came the trusty Leatherman tool (which, with my equally trusty Swiss Army knife, had been packed into a checked case for the trip), off came the side panel, and all the boards were jiggled and reseated, and the problem was solved.

    2.) The First Venue: Bern's Casino Konzerthaus. This is the 4th time we've covered the festival in Bern ('97, 99, 01 and 03) so we were very familiar with the venue. It's a medium-sized room (900 seats), rectangular, with a balcony wrapping 2/3 around the 1st floor seating. Orchestra level was a raised stage 50x30 or so, with choir in 10-12 rows inclined to the organ chamber, and around to the sides at balcony level. Primary master shot was center balcony aisle, first row. From there, the DSR-130 gave a shot from the entire choir and orchestra at full wide to a waist-up of the conductor at full zoom. The second camera position was house left (both conductors were righthanded) about halfway in on the balcony rail. This gave Carol a shot of the entire orchestra level at full wide to a elbows up shot of the conductor (or a tight 2-shot of choristers) at full zoom, and coverage of 2/3 of the choristers (all but some sopranos) and over half of the audience faces. I was able to get the sections she could not, so as to give everyone a shot at some "face time" in the souvenir video.

    I was responsible for the audio feed to video, and to the house. Therefore: two mixers. The stereo pair of Gefells was mounted to a stereo bar and dropped from a center ceiling mic position to hang about 12 feet behind the conductor and at about 30 feet up... about six feet above eyelevel from the top row of singers. Once positioned, it was stabilized by monofilament fishing lines left and right. The feed was dropped through the rear chandelier to my center balcony position. These mics were spread to about 110 degrees and panned full L/R. The R0DE NT4 was affixed to the PIC stand via a Sabra shock mount and positioned on the floor, centered at about 4 feet above stage level for the smaller featured choirs (keeping it low in the video shot) which performed at 3 morning worship times and at the Thursday night and Friday night concerts. This allowed a helper to rotate it 180 degrees into the audience for the "all-singing" hymns selections; then back to the stage for performances. For the final concert (massed choir of 300+ voices with a full orchestra, dual pianos and organ) I placed it between the pianos (face-to-face, center of the stage) and put it up about 10 feet. It was panned to 9 o'clock/3 o'clock L/R and, in conjunction with the wide panned Gefells, gave a very nice stereo picture of the choirs and instruments, allowing me to highlight the choir slightly over the orchestra and organ.

    We used rehearsals to set levels and, once set, only had to tweak master levels and the balance of overheads/stage mic, from small groups to all in full cry. This all was fed into the Folio Lite's 4 XLR mic inputs, which has a very nice, bright, 12-segment LED array output meter. Its main output fed the DSR-130 XLR inputs set to "line" (I use the same scenario for the PD-150 when it's the primary camera), and set to "auto level." Since this is a hard limiter as opposed to a classic AGC circuit, I adjusted the output of the mixer so that at "0" the meters were at -15 dB on the camera. At "+3dB" on the mixer, the camera was just reaching -12 (just before the limit cuts in) and at "+6" (where I had red LEDs on the mixer's array) the limiter was just kicking in. Careful monitoring of the mixer's meters (it was on a small table to my right, just beside the PVM-8020) kept me out of trouble.

    The Spirit NotePad served two purposes: first, it received the XLR outputs of the two Sennheiser EW-300 receivers. The mics were onstage for conductor and piano foldback in rehearsal, and for the MC's public address use in worship services and concerts. These were normalled and fed mono to the first stereo line input of the Folio Lite, which enabled me to mix it directly to tape as needed. The "Aux 1" output from the Folio (set to "pre-fader") sent the signal out to the Fostex powered "Speaker-on-a-stick" PA we rented. (The Casino sound system is a series of small "transmission line" columns loaded with 3" drivers and directed entirely at the audience. Past bad experience dictated renting adequate PA for rehearsals (imagine a conductor and two pianos rehearsing 300+ singers) and the Fostex devices were just barely that. We had agreed to rent four Mackie 450 series cabinets which would have been very much more than adequate (300 watt internal amps biamping a 12" woofer and 2" compression driver through a nice, sweet horn array). The supplied Fostex were about 80 watts driving an equalized pair of 5" drivers. Like I said, barely adequate. I hope the festival director got a LOT of money back on the rental.) This allowed me to control RF mics' level to the PA separate from the level to tape independent of each other. Sweet. The second purpose was to provide an adequate headphone feed from the master camera. Just like the PD-150, the headphone amp on the DSR-130's DSR-1 deck SUCKS. I can monitor the output of the Folio directly, with a nice clean sound, but it tells me the output of the mixer... not of the camcorder's record section. So, by patching the stereo RCA output from the DSR-1 into the stereo "2-Track In" of the NotePad, I can switch headphones between the output of the Notepad or the input of the "2-Track In," giving me a decent stereo monitoring of the signal going to tape at the camera, and at levels that get above the "room" that gets past the sealed cans. Worked like a charm.

    I could have wagged a larger single mixer (a Spirit Folio 12x2, for example) but didn't have the space. Both these mixers took up only about 12"x12"x4" in the case.

    Video monitoring was accomplished through the PVM-8220 and a 5" TFT LCD set gaff taped to the top of it. The Master camera fed input "A" of the 8220, which looped out to the LCD. The second cam fed from the Monitor output of the RMM-7G control unit to the 8220's "B" input. Usual set was my camera on the TFT, and Cam 2 on the 8220, but it was nice to check focus, color match and iris match on the 8220 by switching back and forth. Not as good as an engineer with a set of scopes, CCUs on both cameras and a nice, new 14" production monitor, but not on this budget. We did fine. The light in the Konzerthaus is predominantly a pair of large chandeliere, one directly over the conductor, and one about 20 feet in front of my center balcony position. These are NOT 3200K theatricals. They are, at best, 2500K. Add to that two banks of skylights that are predominantly lit by blue sky (we prayed for overcast, but the weather was just beautiful in spite of our pleas) and you have a room where white balance onstage goes from a 3600K blend before sunset to said 2500K after dark... which occurs at about 9:30, just as the evening concerts ended. We were good until dusk (8 pm, concert start), then we white balanced after each choir's performance or between each section of works at the final concert. I draped the "speaker-on-stick" tripod stand bases with white cloth (much to the surprise of the my director) which, while not beautiful at the sides of the stage, was entirely useful.

    The third cam, the PD-150, was a lockdown on the conductor's position from the stage. It was focus locked, and exposure locked (both conductors wore white dinner jackets), but with auto white balance left on to track the color change. Worked quite well. It was run "wild" (I had it switched on as the conductor came on stage) and changed tapes (miniDV = 60 minute runtime) at interval. We did 56 minutes on each half of the final concert. Close call. I did the same type thing when we did three-camera coverage of 30-minute chunks of rehearsal. The two DVCAMs were "jam synched" together (using the timecode output of the master camera to set the timecode of the "B" cam) each morning and allowed to free-run all day, then jammed again before each evening concert. Makes uploading and matching the selected clips a breeze.

    All "B" roll of the environs, interviews and event coverage (welcome service at the Münster cathedral, welcome banquet, afterglows, and final party) was filmed on the PD-150. It was rigged with a 960, the Bogen Micro fluid head tripod when not handheld, and a AKG SE300/CK98 shotgun combo on a nifty little elastic shock mount attached to the cam's shoe via a 3/8 stand-to-shoe adapter purchased at Trew Audio (www.trewaudio.com). The stock foam filter was adequate for wind noise. I built a 12" XLR to get it into the PD-150, and we were off. Location monitoring was via the cam's LCD and through the Sony MDR-V6 (7506) cans. The Century .55 WA was invaluable (don't forget to clean the dust off every time you attach it or you'll get lots of little black speckles in clear sky areas, and beware of shooting into bright light sources) and thanks to my new Jessop's Lens Pen, once we got to Chester, cleaning it was a breeze. (Thanks to Tom H for that tip). Lots of ND outside allowed for some nice rack focus shots of flowers and fountains in Bern, and the WA helped get some really cool shots of trams passing really close (the white clearance lines painted on the streets mean what they say!).

    3.) The Second Venue: Chester. After Bern, Chester was a walk in the park. Or, should I say, a walk through the walls. Chester Cathedral is an early Gothic cathedral where Christians have worshipped (in some spaces) for over 1,000 years. It is a classic layout, a long nave, ending at an altar area (whereupon was built staging for the choristers) with trancepts to each side, and continuing through the Choir to the High Altar. The good news was that, being a favorite BBC location, lighting and adequate sound have been installed. The bad news is that the lighting and drop points for flying the mics are really way up in the air, and obviously were built at a time when people were 5'4, not 6'1. We had great help and cooperation from the Vergers (the people who really run the place)... get to know them, be nice to them, and you're golden.

    We flew the Gefells centered from a crossing line (tied off to the rigging for the lighting), at about 90 degrees angle L/R, and dropped 18 feet. After it was all up, I would have dropped another 10 feet or so, but it wasn't worth the effort. They sounded fine, just a bit distant (25 feet or so above the platform). The NT4 was more than adequate for enhancing the detail, and the organ (which began above the console, which was 20 feet in the air stage left) sounded fabulous. Since there was a smaller chorus (200 or so), the festival director opted for a brass octet to complement the dual pianos and organ. It also sounded fabulous. The R0DE was positioned (final concert) between players 4 and 5 in the octet, pointing into the choir, and the combination worked brilliantly when balanced out. We'd had trouble getting enough choir last year at Coventry with a L/C/R setup high in front of the orchestra when the brass and percussion got cooking. Much better solution this year.

    The weather was overcast, the windows gorgeously stained glass, and the 3200K lighting, once tweaked for our setup and balanced front-to-rear through the lighting desk, was beautiful. Standard 3200K filter, preset, and we were there. Gotta love it.

    The RF audio and video monitoring setups were the same... we just got to work with installed gear instead of renting. Best bonus: The Refectory (cafeteria) where we ate lunch, dinner and had our afterglows and final party, have their own beers (a nice Lager and a nicer Ale, brewed for the cathedral in Manchester) as well as red and white wines. My kind of church.

    4.) The Events. When I do these things, my goal is to tell the story of the festival week in words, music and images, to provide a souvenir video for participants as well as a useful promotional tool for the festival. Very little is scripted. We try for "man-on-the-street" interviews, primarily reactions from participants vis-a-vis the welcome banquet (where there are representatives from every country at each table), the rehearsals, the venues, the sights and afternoon trips, and the experience of singing with 200-300 people under the baton of Sir David Willcocks (Queen's Jubilee, Charles and Diana's wedding) and Paul Leddington Wright (Coventry Cathedral, composer, lots of choral music recordings and a principal BBC producer for "Songs of Praise" and "Daily Worship"). Since we never know where the "best" moments of the music will occur (or the bits we need to cut), we tape all music front-to-back. And, since I must control audio to tape, audio to the house, shoot the occasional digital still for the website, and provide a useable master shot, I tend to not call the second camera too closely. Fortunately, my first wife and second camera operator Carol has learned to frame and move and focus well, and is musical enough (she teaches piano at a small college here in Nashville) to make those moves in a way that make sense with the music. I watch her shot on the large monitor to make sure I don't get the identical shot on mine, and we do a very nice dance together. Is it a TV show, with exquisitely cued moves and takes? No. But as a document of a dynamic and sometimes surprising event (the Romainan youth choir's liturgical dance at Chester to a song about the creation was stunning) from which we excerpt 45-odd minutes of performance from 10 hours or more of source material, I think we do OK.

    5.) Traveling hints. Pack very carefully. Know your gear. In our case, we have backup for nothing (except that if one camera goes down, we still have two... we just lose the cutaway potential of the conductor-cam), so I test everything before we pack it. Until you know your requirements, take more tapestock than you think you'll need. MiniDV is widely available in most European cities (and probably in the Orient), but elsewhere might be dicey. And the $4.60 Premiums I buy from tapeonline (www.tapeonline.com) here in Nashville, cost me SF 9.99 at retail in Bern... that's about $7.50 or so.

    Buy adequate cases that are designed for the gear you're traveling. I hand-carried a 3-chip Toshiba Hi-8 the first trip. Not a good idea. Now the big guys have ATA-rated foamed cases. Loose circuit boards notwithstanding, I've been very satisfied with the packs. Be sure your voltage converters are adequate. I really like the Radio Shack 90-240vac/12vdc boxes I use. Almost everything in my kit (with the exception of the mixers, for which I bought additional 240vac power supplies) runs on 12vdc. Cameras, monitors, RF mic receivers. And the Radio Shack units work everywhere. You'll need plug adapters for nearly every different country into which you go.

    If you are taking more than a compact camcorder and a small tripod, and if the gear can be construed as "commercial" or "professional," seriously consider getting a Carnet. It makes Customs hassles largely disappear (unless there's no one there to execute the counterfoils at arrival or departure... a common occurrence in England, I fear) and keeps you from having to wrangle VAT or other import/export duties and fees into and out of countries. You wouldn't travel without a passport... if you're doing a commercial job or schlepping pro gear... investigate. www.roanoketrade.com or 1.800.CARNETS

    Thanks for reading. Hope there was something of value here.


    PS: I was introduced to "real beer" on this trip. Not that "fizzy stuff" as my pal Paul Smith from Manchester calls it, but real, hand drawn beer. Favorites were Greenalls and Cairns; favorite pubs in Chester: The Albion (near the Roman ampitheater) and the Pied Bull, just down from the City Hall, past the Odeon theater. Cheers! 

    Harry Butler / HBP
    Photography - Videography - AudioVisual Production

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