Jul 27, 2010

Sound Blimp Settings

Whether you're using a Jacobson, or homemade Pelican, sound blimps are cumbersome. The only control you have outside the blimp is focus and shutter. You can make a few modifications to the blimp to make things easier on yourself. It is important to make sure your camera settings are ideal for this type of shooting before you lock up your camera. While it's not difficult to open the box and rotate a few dials, there are a few ways to do it less often. Here are the settings I use to make my life a little easier and ensure that I don't have to open the blimp nearly as often.

Set up a "Custom Setting Bank" and a "Shooting Menu Bank"
With the Nikon D300, you can save all the button settings under a Custom Settings Bank.  This is super handy because my settings in the blimp are different than what I regularly use. Also set up a custom "Shooting menu bank." There are some settings in here that also help with shooting in a blimp. Having these banks saved makes it easy to switch between my "Regular Mode" and "Blimp Mode." So before you get started,  switch to an unused bank and name it appropriately.

Custom Setting Menu
Here are the settings I have modified. (Nikon tip: Settings that are not set as their default have an asterisk next to them)
a1 - AF-C priority selection>Release - Allows you to shoot an image if it's not in focus. Personal preference, but I like that option.
a3 - Dynamic AF area>3D 51 points - Gotta love 3D!
a6 - AF Point Illumination>ON - Good to just keep this on. I like being able to see the AF point. It also helps if you're used to the comforting "beep" to tell you when you're in focus. It lights up when it's focused.
a9 - Built-in AF-assist illuminator>OFF - This will do you no good in a blimp.
c2 - Auto meter-off delay>16s - Nice to give yourself a few more seconds with the meter. Good for judging the exposure.
d1 - Beep>OFF - Why add unnecessary sound to your blimp? This is dumb, and it should be off already.
d2 - Viewfinder grid display>ON - Personal preference really, but I like the lines.
d4 - CL mode shooting speed>4fps - You don't need huge bursts when shooting in the blimp. Shoot like a trained hunter. You're not shooting the Olympics here. Or maybe you are. In which case, do what you want.
f1 - Multi selector center button>Playback mode View Histograms - Again, personal preference, but it's nice to check the exposure. Sometimes it's tough to judge the exposure in broad daylight. Sometimes this is faster than finding shade.
f7 - Reverse rotation>OFF
Change main/sub>ON
Aperture setting>ON
Menus and playback>ON
Changing the main/sub allows you to adjust the aperture or shutter with the rear thumbwheel, which is handy because the front wheel is difficult to reach when the camera is blimpified.

Shooting Menu:
Again, be sure to set up a settings "bank" to store all these settings in. Makes life easier.
File Naming - Set this up to be a 3 character nomenclature for the project you're shooting. Helps keep files sorted.
ISO Sensitivity settings - This setting makes all the difference when shooting in a blimp. It will save you from tons of missed opportunities and blurry pictures.
ISO sensitivity auto control>ON
Maximum Sensitivity>3200 ISO
Minimum shutter speed>1/125 OR at least the reciprocal of the lens' focal length.

Body Settings
Continuous Low - This lets me fire a burst if I want.
AF-C - Allows me to track people
Matrix Meter Mode - This may or may not be the best setting. But that's what I use.
Exposure Compensation - A lot of times film is shot with a lot more contrast than the D300 can handle. So depending on the scene, I'll dial in some negative exposure comp to preserve the highlights. The D300 shoots a little hot for my tastes, so I also almost always shoot with -1/3 anyway, but I've shot some scenes dialed down a full stop. It all depends on the conditions.
Dynamic AF - It's not the dumb square, it's the one with four dots and a tiny square in the middle. Coupled with AF-C, it will lock on and track objects.  Super cool!

Shooting Indoors
If I'm inside, I set my shooting mode to Shutter Priority. Then I set my Auto-ISO minimum shutter speed, and my camera shutter speed to at least the reciprocal of the lens' focal length. The beauty of this combination is now your shutter speed will never drop below the minimum you set! When shooting in varying low-light conditions, this is perfect. Instead of the exposure bottoming out when the maximum aperture is reached, it will start cranking the ISO! Your images will stay sharp because your shutter speed never slows, and your images will stay bright because of Auto-ISO.

Shooting Outdoors
If I'm outside, things are different. Unless it's an overcast day, I have plenty of light to work with. For this reason, I will shoot in Aperture Priority. Keep Auto-ISO on, because it won't really hurt anything. This can cover you in case a cloud passes over unexpectedly, or you move locations quickly and don't have time (or forget!) to change your settings. Outdoors, I probably want some shallow DOF, so I'll set my aperture to the desired setting and forget about it. Outdoors I don't have to worry about a slow shutter, but in case the conditions change, it's covered by Auto-ISO.

General Shooting Tips
Set the focus point off center. It makes for more unique pictures. You should be doing this anyway. The nice thing is that with AF-C and 3D tracking, you can recompose your shot and keep the subject in focus.

Shoot Upside down if you have to. When using an off-center focus point and the subject is on the opposite side, just flip the blimp upside down to get your shot. I've done this a few times, they'll flop an action or something, and instead of having to reach into my blimp and fiddle, I can flip the box and keep shooting.

Get rid of UV Filters. When shooting on set you're around a lot of open lights. These filters just add another piece flair, and no one likes flair.

Use Prime Lenses. Low light shooting requires some speedy glass. It's not uncommon for the DP to be shooting at a T1.3! Phew! That's super speedy! You've gotta keep up, AND stop the action. (Note: T/stops are different than F/Stops.)

Stop the action. Motion picture cameras record at a shutter speed of 1/48. Filmmakers love the blur it gives. But blur doesn't look that great on a publicity still. As the stills photographer, it's part of your job to shoot what the camera is, but while stopping the action.

Use the Info button. This is kind of specific to the D300, but it applies to any camera with a top screen. Whenever I have to open the case and change a setting, I use the Info button on my D300 to view my settings on the rear LCD. That way I'm not taking the camera out of the case to see the top LCD whenever I have to change the exposure. It makes changing settings much easier.

Close one latch. I only close one latch on my blimp. One latch means I can open and close it one-handed in half the time! As far as impacting the sound reduction, I haven't noticed a change. Pelican cases have a rubber gasket around the outer edge, and so long as it's flush, the sound proofing works. When I'm shooting I'll give the blimp a slight squeeze anyway, ensuring that the blimp is sealed. If I know I don't need to open the blimp for awhile, I'll shut both, but one latch works great.

That about does it for my advice. Remember, shooting blimp-style is a whole 'nother ball game, and it will take awhile to get used to. Don't give up! I promise it gets easier.

If you have been shooting with a blimp and have some words of wisdom, leave them in the comments!


Tommi said...

Hi there,

Just wondering. Because I'm the sort of person who needs to see the stuff he's shooting (kind of like making a mental note of the effect the settings are having) and needing to see it very frequently, I need either a clear case (hard to get) or, a big glass window where the view screen. Seems a bit weird but aspergers/dyslexia related issues mean that I only really function when I can do that. Any idea what might be the best way of incorporating that into the design? Thanks again, tommi@mpstills.com

Kyle Peters said...

Yes! I built a case with a big glass window in it. Check out the pictures/video/explanation here: http://silentpenguin.blogspot.com/2010/07/blimp-20.html