8 Essential Tips for Shooting High Speed with the Phantom Flex4K
Cinematography can be full of magic. It's a process that creates imagery we typically don't see in everyday life. For me, that's what's so exciting about high speed cinematography. From music videos, to commercials to feature films, the use of high speed has become prevalent due to recent technology in cameras, lights and optics. Before we move on, what do I mean by high speed cinematography? Well, shooting in high speed is typically any frame rate faster than your typical 24fps frame rate (as most common). So, if you shoot at 60 fps, 120 fps or even, dare I say, 1,000 fps, you're shooting in what we consider to be high speed.
The Phantom Flex 4K specializes in high speed capture and we were lucky enough to partner up with ShareGrid member, Charles Bergquist, a Phantom Flex4K operator and owner, to highlight 8 essential tips when shooting high speed. We rented amazing anamorphic lenses from ShareGrid member, Mark LaFleur and plasma lights from Hive Lighting.
1. You Need More Light Than You Think
If the budget allows, having as many lights with high output as possible, is a safe play for the day of the shoot. For example, if you want to diffuse a 10K light for product shots you will lose a lot of light...FAST. So, be prepared with more lights than you initially felt necessary. This allows room for adjustments on the day and avoids having to make creative compromises due to lack of light.
This is especially true if you need to shoot at a deeper stop, in order to allow a fast action to stay in focus. The more "closed" your iris is, the more light you'll need.
2. AVOIDING FLICKER
It can be argued that both tungsten and HMI lights are best for color reproduction. However, tungsten lights (for example) can pose issues for high speed shooting. When shooting high speed, especially over 500 fps and upwards of 1,000 fps, you want to shoot with at least a 2K tungsten light. Or 2,000 watts. This is because you can't see the cooling of the filament in the light at that high of a wattage. These are elements that the naked eye typically cannot see. However, a high speed camera, such as the Phantom Flex4K, can easily pick up the unwanted flicker from light sources. This is why we avoided tungsten lights for this particular shoot.
Be sure to test the light before shooting as older fixtures can still pose problems. There are a number of advanced lighting systems that we recommend for lighting high speed. LED and plasma being two of them. Combined with the Rolling Shutter of the Flex4K specifically, in the past year Vision Research has introduced Global Shutter versions of the Flex4K that mitigate this effect.
In this shoot, we chose Hive Lighting plasma lights for a few reasons. They don't flicker. They don't require a lot of power. Yet, the amount of output relative to its wattage is high. Seen here, the HIVE WASP 1000 Plasma Par is only 1,000W. With an output of 75,348 lux. Which is similar to that of a 2,500W HMI. Though a higher draw of wattage, HMI lights can work as well. However, you want to make sure you have a flicker-free ballast. And you need to be aware of what some call "arc-wander." Which is usually a green to magenta shift in color.
3. THE SUN IS FREE
It's far more cost-effective to shoot outside when possible. Large frames of diffusion and bounce are always helpful to supplement the sun's exposure and help shape the light. Furthermore, the sun is bright, requires no electrical wattage and most importantly, it's free.
4. YOU NEED QUICK MOVEMENTS
The Phantom Flex4K captures moments that the human eye normally can't see. There are a lot of subtleties in everyday life that we take for granted. Such as pouring coffee, fire forming or in this instance, welding. And because the Phantom Flex4K magnifies the time these moments take, it is strongly encouraged to capture fast moments that the naked eye simply can't compute. Otherwise, capturing moments with not a lot of movement will feel far less dynamic and less interesting.
Further, if you can move the camera while the action is occurring you are now adding more dynamic elements to the shot. If you decide to move your camera mid-shot, you need to amplify your movement speed in order to compensate for the high speed camera.
5. WIDE SHOTS = LOWER FRAME RATES
When shooting a wide, your subject's actions tend to appear slower than if captured in a closeup. This wide shot, for example, is captured at 666 fps.
Whereas this closeup shot is captured at 938 fps.
So a good rule of thumb is to lower your frame rate for wides and increase your frame rate for closeups. Plus, when shooting wides, you can save data because you are shooting at a lower frame rate.
6. REHEARSAL IS KEY
A lot of times, you're dealing with the unpredictable. So, repeatable actions that are easy to set up are ideal. However, sometimes explosions, breaking of glass or other stunts are restricted to as little as one take. So, you'll want as many "soft" rehearsals as possible in order to be ready for the big moment. In this example, we were luck enough to have simple actions that we could ask our welder to repeat. Though a luxury, sometimes repeatable actions can guarantee the perfect shot.
7. A GOOD FOCUS PULLER
If you can afford to achieve a deep stop, that's awesome. However, more often than not, high speed shoots will be closer to wide open with a shallow depth of field for both aesthetic reasons and exposure reasons. Therefore, if you are shooting "wide open," a good 1st AC or Focus Puller will help land the shots. But again, this requires repeatable actions and a lot of rehearsal. So, a deep focus or depth of field will help, however, as stated earlier, it requires more light...
8. YOU NEED GOOD STORAGE
For hard drives, you need to use at least high speed SSDs, RAID with a thunderbolt connection. In short, the fastest data storage possible. This is because you are saving your footage much faster than your computer can transfer it. And these types of hard drives are not cheap.
A 4TB RAID Thunderbolt drive can cost $1,800 - $2,000. And each shot can average in size from 64GB to 128GB. So, on an ideal drive like the aforementioned, it can take an hour and half to get one 2TB card offloaded. Not to mention another hour and a half for the backup. Due to the nature of the software related to the offload process, a Media Manager with specific experience with Phantoms is highly recommended.
If you follow these tips, you will be setting yourself up for a successful shoot. However, shooting high speed takes years of practice and experience. So, you can't live by these rules alone. You need to practice, fail, test and learn in order to truly understand what it takes to become a High Speed Camera Operator. But once you do, the rewards of capturing imagery like this far exceeds the work it takes to get there.