I figured I'd give you a quick behind the scenes of what I was up to this last weekend. I was commissioned by Outlaw Barbell to capture their team's trip to the American Open - the highest-level weightlifting meet in the country second only to Nationals. This year, because of the "embarrassment of riches" as USAW describes it - qualifying totals were raised and then rules were made even more stringent to allow only 400 lifters over all weight classes to compete. Outlaw Barbell - an extension of the Outlaw Way, an extension of Outlaw Crossfit and the brainchild of Rudy Nielsen (enjoy this 2011 HQ video), has been at work teaching CrossFit and weightlifting since 2006.
This year nearly a dozen Outlaw lifters qualified at local meets to compete at the American Open. Matched with a fresh Nike sponsorship (featuring blacked out singlets), team Outlaw headed to DC to compete.
My job was to capture - in video and photo - the highs and lows of a team competing at the highest levels of American Weightlifting. This isn't going to be an overview of the competition, but a nerd out on the equipment I used and video/photo settings and techniques I experimented with to get the job done. Note a full equipment list is at the end of this post.
This will be more of a nerd tech review and intro about how I ran photo and video for three days.
Here's the tech stuff. I knew Rudy was looking for a long form video to wrap up the whole weekend and photo would really be just a complimentary service. I knew I'd have to be tracking athletes and coaches around the site, as well as shooting stable video of the lifts themselves. I went with the combo of a shoulder rig and tripod that would allow me to stay fairly low profile and mobile, but still be able to capture stable video which I've learned is the name of the game.
For a shoulder rig I've been experimenting for months to figure out what would work well for me. I decided on the P&C rig and customized it to be as run and gun as possible. I attached a photo of my configuration of the rig below - shoulder stock, two rails, mounting bracket, Manfrotto quick release plate, and two handles. On that I attached a swivel arm (I'm not sure the technical name) that then attached a Smallhd DP4 monitor set so it would be directly in my eye sight. On the camera, I switched between a Sennheiser lav for interviews and a Rode pro mic for the run and gun sound.
My initial gameplan was to use the D4 at the middle of all this to capture video and dabble with my D600 (backup second body) for some photo. After day one though, I saw the abysmal light quality and pushing my D600 up to ISO 6400 wasn't particularly feasible for photo, and the D4 at the middle of the video rig was getting heavy. For day 2 and day 3 I switched the setup. I put the D600 at the middle of the video rig where it can easily handle ISO 1600-3200 and used the D4 with the 70-200 for my competition photos.
The quick release plate was huge for the rig. Whenever I needed to shoot the lifting itself, I had the rig mounted onto the tripod with a quick clip-in. When I needed to run into the training room or the warmup area, another quick clip and I was able to take the shoulder rig off and move around.
Being mainly used to shooting photo, I don't think about sound. With video, sound is as important if not more important than the video itself. I used a Rode mic for my general run and gun audio. It works great for capturing what's in front of you and is great at not capturing too much background noise. For interviews and some other behind the scenes stuff I used a wireless lav. Audio settings themselves are an adventure. With a DSLR, you have a manual audio sensitivity in the camera (always set that very very low), then with lavs you have settings on the receiver and the transmitter. For me, that's a near nightmare. I've worked with a few different combinations, but have settled on settings that allow for crystal clear lav audio without picking up all the audio around my subjects. The sound that comes out of the lavs is so far superior to the Rode mic I found myself trying to do everything I could to get lavs on the people I was talking to. This is one of the biggest areas I can see improvement on my setup in the future. I only had one hotshoe mount set on my rig so when I wanted to switch from the Rode to the lav, I had to take off the rode mic and put on the lav receiver. Seems minor, but was a royal pain in under pressure situations. In the future I'll put an additional cold shoe mount onto the rig so I can just leave the receiver on it at all times and plug it into the camera when I need it.
The P&C rig itself worked well. Video was stable and it was comfortable to use. Only issues I had were the foam on the grips started sliding around. I also continue to have an issue with the mounting bracket at the core of the system being very finicky to lock onto the camera and then continue to stay tight over the course of the day. One other issue I ran into was how quick I was chewing through batteries. At all times I needed to have a battery on the monitor as well as the camera, with a third battery on the charger. In the future a few extra batteries (though pricey) would make life much easier. Using the monitor was also a lot of fun and unbelievably useful. There's a slight lag when you hit the record button, but once it gets going it's incredible helpful. Because the camera is offset on the rig, having a monitor directly in front of my face is huge for seeing the image and frame properly. The other huge benefit is focus peeking. If you've not used it before - it basically means you get a hard outline superimposed on the video output on anything in focus. So as subjects move or you're trying to keep eye contact with a subject, it's easy to know if you're still in focus without operating the camera excessively.
Each night I worked to ingest the footage and photo, backup, and put out some teasers. I've been getting more comfortable cutting with Adobe Premiere (after making the jump from Final Cut) so my turn around time is getting faster and the cuts are looking more like I want them to.
One of the big highlights of the meet for me was finally catching up with the legend himself - and one of my big inspirations - Hookgrip. He and his crew were there, covering the event. It was great meeting a real professional who more than anything else truly loves the sport of weightlifting and wants his content to help promote the sport. Make sure to follow @hookgrip on Instagram and Facebook.
I'm always asked for settings so here they are:
I shot in vivid picture control - it adds some coloring and sharpening to the image, which I know video purists hate, but I don't have the time to do an in-depth color grade in post. The vivid setting (punched up a bit more in camera) helps me get a faster final product.
For video, I shot at 720p the whole time and switched between 60fps for any of the lifting and 30fps for everything else. Switching between framerates helps save me substantially in post because the files are smaller, and then switching up to 60FPS allows me to half speed any of the lifting I want to get that silky smooth slow motion. The basic camera settings I had were 1/60th, f2.8, ISO 1600-6400. Also at 30FPS I get a slower shutter speed, squeaking out a little more light in the back rooms. Anytime I was shooting at 60fps, I obviously switched my shutter speed to 1/125th. I generally always used the Tamron 24-70 2.8 VC.
Rode mic audio settings -- In camera manual sensitivity to 2, on mic hi pass filter on and +20 selected.
Lav settings - in camera sensitivity to 4 and I don't remember the lav settings but they were both in the negatives.
For photo I shot with the D4 and a Nikon 70-200 VRII. Settings on the event floor were about 1/640th, F2.8, ISO 8000.
Vanguard tripod legs
Lots of memory cards and batteries
Coffee and Smash Burger
So now begins the long, long process of creating a narrative out of three days of footage. Let the games begin!
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