Shooting a conference video
I'm bidding on a conference video shoot. Our camera needs to be positioned in the back of the ballroom which is 100 feet away. There will be people speaking from a podium and also a few panel discussions.
I'm struggling on what cameras to use. Any suggestions?
Greg Ball, President
Ball Media Innovations, Inc.
To me it's not the camera that's the big concern... it's the glass.
At that distance I'd suggest at least 200mm lens... maybe even 400mm.
Canon makes an EF mount 100-400mm that might fit the bill... but it's slow as molasses (don't remember exactly, somewhere in the f/4 or f/5 neighborhood), so let's hope your venue is very very well lit. That's not a fault of that lens, all lenses that long and especially zooms are going to be slow.
As for cameras, I'm personally partial to the Canon "C" EOS series (since that's what I shoot myself). My original C300 will go up to ISO 80,000 and I think the newer Mark II version will go even higher. Now, I certainly wouldn't recommend shooting that high, but having that ceiling might be helpful depending on the lighting.
Obviously it goes without saying that you'll need a rock-solid shooting surface and really good tripod and head (especially head... this might even be a job for a geared head) with a lens that long.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
Hi Greg, First off, if the client wants good video I would - after your bid is accepted - fight for better camera position. And try to go at least two cameras - a locked wide shot and a moving camera to cover the talkers.
Otherwise while I can't suggest a specific camera - but having done similar shoots to this - probably thousands of times - as a recovering television journalist, I'd say look for something similar to what newsrooms are using. Something with a good long zoom lens and some weight to the camera, and a good set of sticks to brace it on. A lot of the cameras I'm seeing in production shoots these days are way too light to get the job done. You might also be on - and should be on - a riser to get you over the heads of the audience, so site scout and make sure that thing is solid. Or stay off of it. I'd have redundant audio - your own dependable microphones plus a feed from a professional sound company or, lacking that, taking a chance on the local sound system. I usually found good audio was a bigger problem than good video at these.
If I'm telling you stuff you already know my apologies in advance. Hopefully something here is helpful
The Dean Group
We'll help you get your story out!
Aaaach!! So many potential pitfalls with this type of shoot. I agree with Todd and Dennis, especially the part about having a riser. To that I will add one thought: rope-off the riser to assure that it won’t get bumped. I’ve been at conferences where someone hanging around at the back of the room thinks that the riser looks like a good place to sit. Disaster for a long shot. The other thing about risers is that you are best to have two, one for the camera and one behind it for the camera operator to so he or she doesn’t introduce any shakes.
As to lighting (or lack thereof) I would never bid something like this without a careful review of the AV company and its plan for the event. I’ve worked at conferences where the stage is well lit and even some with a follow spot for kinetic speakers. Also beforehand verify that the AV people will be able -- and willing -- to provide a board feed for the audio.
But I’ve also had to work at conferences where those putting on the event are CHEAP and consider the regular room lighting adequate — even when they dim it for the inevitable PowerPoint.
Protect yourself. It’s better to pass on a job than to walk into a potential disaster.
As to the lens, like Todd I frequently use a Canon C series camera and among other lenses have the 400mm, f4. For a well lit stage ISO 640 is easily do-able with even a little depth of field to spare.
I would question why you would want a S35 camera such as the Canon C300 on a job like this. A 2/3" ENG camera would have a lens that could easily shoot from the back of the room, especially with a doubler. Generally they're f1.7, to boot. The advantages of the larger sensor don't really come into play in a situation like this. My HDX900 has a new life now that I got an Atomos Shogun - solid state recording and it works as a fabulous studio finder. Perfect for a conference. A 400mm lens on a C300 might get you the reach you need, but it's not a zoom so you can't adjust the shot.
`Good comments on audio and a riser. I've used a Spider Pod, and they work really well. 2 if not 3 cameras would be nice. Even a GoPro at the back of the room or on a corner of the stage would add something.
And the inevitable powerpoint... I'm just going to assume there is one... If you can get away with a 2-shot (podium and screen) then you're in luck. If you have to edit the slides in then there's some complexity. And you can curse the fact that many powerpoint slides don't convert to video very well.
Ballrooms are often horrible places to shoot. The house lighting is often poor, of the wrong color temp, there are sometimes windows and backlighting to deal with, and/or placed in unfavorable places.
Or there are panels, grilles, lights, and other distracting junk on the walls behind the speakers, which should have been addressed with pipe and drape, but these nuances are often overlooked these days.
The sound systems are a crapshoot. You may or may not be able to tap in, and half the time, the feed is so full of noise you might as well run your own parallel system. Ambient audio and noise is highly variable.
Back of the room telephoto shots are okay if the speakers are welded to their lecterns and never roam from it. But if you have to track them as they perambulate across the room, the long throw gives away every little bump and wiggle while tracking the speaker. Depth of field and shot compression by the long lens will also mess with shot composition, cropping out the distractions or irrelevancies while getting the key images can be more difficult. And some tall goof will always walk thru your long shot at the wrong moment, unless you use risers. I concur with Peter's suggestion of a dedicated ENG style camera over DSLR's. Budget for wireless lavs on all speakers, and plenty of batteries for them.
So fight hard to get a second camera closer-in, preferable you want three cameras but a good team who knows each other's moves and who have experience at this can make two cams look like three or more, by carefully overlapping when they make their angle changes so something is always covered. If you can't put a manned camera up closer, try for a PTZ job, controlled remotely.
[Mark Suszko] "Ballrooms are often horrible places to shoot. "
Mark says it best. Going into a live event with anything other than the right tool for the job will be a bad result. If the speaker is at a podium/lectern and not moving around, and ENG camera with a long lens and studio controls on a solid tripod on a riser with house audio is your friend. Anything less than this is going to be a problem.
Stage needs some lighting - stage wash at a minimum, directed spotlights focused on the speaker is preferred. Is there a DSM for the speaker to look at for the slides? That helps the person not have to stare into the lights or turn to look at the projection screen.
If the person is moving around like a TED talk, then you need multiple cameras with experienced operators. I attended a TEDx event and they have two cameras FOH and a 3rd stage right alternating between a side view of the speaker and audience reactions. The crew seemed like they had done this type of event before because the switching was tight.
Going back to the typical podium setup, find your shot and let go of the camera. Stay wide enough that if the speaker moves left to right a little you don't have to chase them.
If hiring a camera operator, make sure it is someone with some experience working in a dark room with potentially boring content. I have evicted camera operators for falling asleep or checking Facebook during an event. If you need to bring the person an espresso a couple times a day do that.
As for the audio, get a feed from the audio board, and if you can split it and record a different level in Ch 1 and 2 that gives you some safety in case the person changes their volume.
If you need to sync to slides in post, point a 2nd camera at the screen for reference, or ask the AV company to record that feed to a KiPro or similar device, with audio, and half the work is done for you.
A small camcorder, DSLR or any camera without an ENG style lens is not useful in this situation.
As for camera position, often the back of the room (FOH) is your only choice so get a riser and rope it off.
[Mike Cohen] "Stage needs some lighting - stage wash at a minimum...."
On a complete side note... if you haven't already, I heartily suggest watching David Letterman's new Netflix series "My Next Guest Needs No Introduction."
They have the most phenomenal and beautiful stage lighting that you'll ever want to see in a situation like that. And it's very understated. And it's very backlit, with the key lights definitely being upstage, not downstage. It just gives a really pretty and interesting look.
Not that you'll likely get the opportunity to shoot a conference lit like that, but it just goes to show how lighting can change the look of anything and make it interesting. These shows are shot on bare stages, no set pieces or anything (other than two chairs), not even any draping or rear drops or cycs (in the first two that I've watched so far, you can see all the way upstage to the bare back wall of the theatre), and it's just unbelievably interesting.
Their camera placements and moves are also killer.
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
To Mike's point, shooting the Powerpoint (they are always there) on a second camera is critical. That camera can be almost anything, as all you want is reference points to cut in your slides in post. I never try to shoot quality images off the screen from a projected powerpoint. Synchronizing camera starts and having audio is important to make the editing easier. You can just line up the two waveforms from both cameras.
Another audio trick (for safety). In addition to the master line feed off the house board, I attach a lavalier to the podium mike, and secure it with black tape. I use this as my second feed, so if the house audio fails (or I get a line hum), I still have quality audio (not a shotgun, which is awful if you are in the back of a room).
[Mark Suszko] "a dedicated ENG style camera over DSLR's"
FYI: Canon's C-100, C-200, C-300, etc. are NOT DSLRs. They are real cameras with real shutters, real audio and a huge range of ISOs. They are also MUCH lighter and in many ways easier to work with than the traditional ENG-style cam. I use both but in many cases the C-series camera is a better choice. (IMHO.)
I meant as general policy.