When Less Gear is More. A Case Study in Namibia.

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When you start talking on big filmmaking projects, travel is often an integral part of bringing it to life. Gear envy, and wanting to bring everything with us, is a problem we often suffer from whether we shoot locally or not.  Travel adds in the complexity of needing to transport the gear, baggage fees, plus we often have smaller crews. In this post and tutorial we’ll share some key ideas on how you can tell a stronger story while bringing less gear.

One of the scenes in #standwithme takes us to Africa, to the middle of the Kalahari Desert. To get there, we had to make 4 different connections, from plane to plane, to plane to Land Rover. And as if that wasn’t enough, we still had the harsh desert environment to deal with once we got there.

So here we are with the opportunity of a lifetime. We are following somebody who just won Humanitarian Photographer of the Year, we get to travel to the incredibly inspiring country of Namibia, and this will be a huge scene in our first feature length documentary. How do you not bring everything in your arsenal?

 

In this tutorial we’ll take you along for the ride as we travel to Namibia and share our approach to packing, where less is more.

 

A film is made well before the cameras roll. You can always do more with less as long as you take the time to plan it out. By looking at what we were trying to say and seeing how it fits into the overall story we were able to break it down, scene by scene, shot by shot, to see what tools we needed to bring. Less gear means we could move quicker, save on luggage, and most importantly – always be present and focused on the story, instead of being overwhelmed with two many options.


 

Here’s how we travelled to Namibia with nothing more than carry-ons. Don’t believe us? Below is a rundown of what we brought, and how it worked for us (spoiler: it all worked out!)

Camera/Lenses

  • Canon EOS C100

  • 24-70mm f/2.8

  • 100-400 f/4-5.6

  • 35mm f/1.4

  • 50mm f/1.2

Camera Support

  • Freefly MoVi

  • Manfrotto Monopod

  • Induro High-Hat

Audio

  • Rode Video Mic Pro

  • Sennheiser G3 Wireless kit

  • Countryman B6 Lav wireless mic

Light

  • Zacuto Z-Finder

  • Westcott Ice Light

  • Westcott 4-in-1 Reflector

  • Tiffen Graduated ND Filters

 

We had one shoulder bag that held the cameras and lenses. Another shoulder bag for the Movi disassembled. Then our backpacks held the lighting, audio, and camera support (oh, and all of those personal items like clothes).

Next time you’re planning for a shoot, even if it’s local and you don’t have to travel far, don’t automatically throw everything in the car. By taking the time to think through it, it’ll force you to be more proactive as supposed to reactive, and really know what you’re going into.

 

Here are the big questions to ask yourself;

 

  • What do you want to say? What is this shoot actually about and what are you hoping to get out of it. Push yourself to know what would make a ‘perfect shoot’ and then use that to help determine the essentials of what you need.

  • For Example: We knew we’d want Lisa interacting with the Himba, we’d need an interview of her in the field, and we’d want to celebrate the challenge of travelling so far for her work. It all needed to be real, we needed to let her do her thing without stopping or slowing her down. These few points offer so much insight into all of our gear choices.

 

  • What scene are you coming in from? And what scene are you going out to? Often we do a shoot as part of a larger project. Push yourself to really know how this shoot or scene fits into the overall project so you can plan exactly what you need and start by making that happen.

  • For Example: We knew this scene would plan in the beginning of the movie. We’d hear the story of Eric & Alex seeing the image in the gallery that started all of this, and then we needed to setup Lisa as a character and everything that goes into bringing her images to life. We’d then go out to her on stage at TedX as she talks about the power of a photograph to inspire action. Knowing this gave us some strong ideas for shots to open and close with, as well as the added bonus of how to frame her interview.

 

  • What kind of environments will you be dealing with? Story first also means being practical and knowing your limits. Think about how much space, time, and crew you’ll have and make gear decisions that are realistic.

  • For Example: We’d have small Cessnas, 4×4’s, and be trekking through the Kalahari. These small, tight, and hot environments really narrow down what’s not possible to bring, and what gear choices could maximize their impact for the amount of space they take up (such as the reflector).

 

  • How do you want it to feel? Try to make gear choices that enable you to do just that instead of having the option to everything, just in case.

  • For Example: We wanted this to feel big, epic, and adventurous. Lisa has travelled to over 100 countries for her work, often for months at a time to the most remote places on earth. We needed this one scene to attempt to convey that to the audience. And these days, we spell epic with a M, O, V, and I.

 

It’s amazing what you can accomplish with a small crew and not a lot of gear. A film is made well before the cameras roll. That means pushing yourself to know what you’re trying to say and to focus on saying just that, but saying it in a really remarkable way.

We believe your approach to filmmaking is the most important thing you can develop as a storyteller. If you’ve enjoyed the ideas we’ve shared here, join us to discuss a day full of approaches on how to tell a remarkable story. The Storytelling With Heart tour runs from Feb 3rd – April 7th.

37 Comments


    Hi Still Motion,

    I loved watching your behind the scenes footage from the documentary you guys shot. It is so interesting to see the choices of equipment you brought to shoot with, and the reasons why you guys chose it.

    The Movi footage looks so great! Did you guys bring the Movi 5 or Movi 10 with you?

    - Taby


      We shot that with the MoVi M10. Can’t wait to get our hands on the M5 tough

      P.

    Clifford Minor

    hey guys,
    thank u for the BTS, & very helpful gear information very helpful to me thanks,

    clifford

    Nikolaj

    Really nice post Patrick. I Really love this blog, so many good tutorials.

    Looking forward to see your guys movie. I from Europe, when will it be available on the internet?

    I have a question about the C100, which picture profile did you shoot on? Did you shoot on the C-log, and which one do you recommend.

    Nikolaj


      Hey Nikolaj

      Thanks for joining us here.

      The film will be available to purchase shortly :)

      We used the WideDR profile and then used Colorista2 in post.

      P.

    Roy

    Wonderful and informative BTS- I certainly don’t envy you and your crew as you fought the elements. Looking forward to viewing the film in Madison Wisconsin, especially to see how the image holds up on a big screen. Could you comment on post workflow and your experience creating a DCP for Cinema projection.

    Roy


      Hey Roy,

      We shot mostly straight to cards, converted to ProResLT, then cut in FCP7. For post we did most grading in Colorista 2 with some special shots in Davinci to take care of issues or really make something pop.

      Tugg.com – the platform that is hosting all of our screenings – is handling the DCP process for us. We sent them the file and they are delivering to all theaters, so it has been pretty easy so far.

      P.


    Hey Patrick

    Do you really like to transport Movi disassembled? Have you tried any other options? Cases etc. Could be definately easier to just take Movi and run. Especially at the weddings ;)


      Jarek

      When you are flying internationally…and carry-on only, I don’t think you have another option. When on location, we never took it apart. It worked well to leave assembled in the car, or to carry from location to location. Taking it apart was when we changed countries more than anything else. If you can check a bag, there are other options which can let it be setup quicker

      P.

    George

    Hi from Finland,

    Thank you so much for sharing. Your passion is something I feed upon on daily basis. If you don’t mind I would just put my bag recommendation as have definitely shot in a location on or two (maybe not as hot as yours) but high up, low down and definitely out and about at -20 C. Pelicases are a no brainer but a great back up system is Fstop’s Mountain series. It’s very modular with their ICUs and while being very difficult to get (might even get to wait for months) they are a good and flexible investment. I personally prefer the Tilopa BC pack with a medium and small ICU and just use the one I need. If you need more I’d recommend using a large one even if you can fit the S+M in the bag. For Joyce the Tilopa frame might be to big and she’d probably prefer the slightly smaller Loka bag. Anyway I am no way affiliated with Fstop but we use their Mountain bags all the time and have been very happy with them, especially that they can be used as normal bags as well (less is more for us).

    Dan Carr has beautiful reviews of the bags and you might want to check them out.
    http://dancarrphotography.com/blog/2011/06/01/f-stop-bag-review-index/

    Love your passion & spirit. High fives & keep having fun.


      Thanks so much for sharing George. A great resource for us all to check out

      P.


    What did you do for memory? How many cards did you bring? Did you backup while you were there? Did you record to two cards at once?


      Great question Kyle – we missed that in the post.

      We brought 32gb SD cards for the C100. We backed up to a 13″ macbook air which travelled in my backpack with my clothes. The battery and size were unreal for downloading and cutting while in the back of a Cessna. We also had a portable HD, a slimline WD one, that helped to get a second copy – though we did bring enough memory that we should have been able to last the whole shoot without running out of space.

      P.


    Great post.
    Out of curiosity, why not a 24-105 lens?
    It seems that with the decision to use a zoom and the bright conditions, that the 24-205 would give you a greater range and you wouldn’t be limited by the F/4. Also the image stabilization is a dream for things like the night dance, when you were handheld.
    thanks again,
    j


      Hey Jason,

      We certainly considered it. When you add in all the moving vehicles, the IS certainly wouldn’t hurt.

      Going to theaters with #standwithme we ultimately felt like the sharpness, clarity, and image of the 24-70 V2 added more than the IS or the extra range. We also did have several environments where that additional stop helped. Shooting on a cropped sensor with a zoom, I do miss the ability for shallower depth of field like a Mark3 and 50mm f1.2 can offer, so the f/2.8 on the 24-70 was also a way of keeping more depth over the f/4

      P.


    Hey guys,

    Great blog post, gotta love the gear posts!

    A bit of a boring technical one, sorry! but I felt it worth mentioning none the less.

    I really struggled with this new flash player on my MBP retina, entering full screen it zoomed the image; it didn’t scale like a full screen should. It took a few seconds to work this out, I was thinking to myself “this composition isn’t usual SM standards!”

    I think the custom vimeo embeds worked great. Personal touch but still a familiar ground.


      Hey Tim,

      We are testing out Wistia as a video player because they have some amazing features that can’t help us all understand how people are receiving our videos better. Letting people join our Stillmotion Storytellers right from the video, or clicking to the tour are both very helpful.

      But we can also log in and see where the audience is dropping off in watching a piece and use the analytics to make our storytelling stronger.

      None of this should come at the expense of your experience of course. I do appreciate the comment and they mean a ton. Because Wistia adds so much to what we do, I’d ask you how we can make your experience better?

      Sounds like you solved what was up with the player, but what can we do to avoid that, and what else would make it smoother for you?

      Thanks so much Tim

      P.


      Hey Tim,

      I’m bummed to hear the video player gave you trouble. We (Wistia) enjoy and admire the stories Stillmotion tells, and we’re really pumped to be behind-the-scenes players in it’s distribution. That being said, we’re failing in our jobs if a glitch in the experience prevents the viewer from being swept up in the content.

      If you are interested, I’d like to get some more info from you that might help me reproduce and ultimately fix the issue you experienced. Please drop me an email: jeff@wistia.com

      Thanks in advance Tim,
      – Jeff

    Owen

    For the interviews was the lav on the interviewer also used to record audio from the subject?


      When Lisa was speaking to somebody there, we used either her lav or the on camera shotgun mic for their audio. The Himba people don’t wear clothing that would make it easy to conceal a lav, and the language barrier certainly would make it hard to place something like that, plus they aren’t speaking english, so the levels can be softer and a tad noisier compared to a regular interview.

      P.

    Paul

    Patrick, I’ve been shooting a doc on a C100 for over a year now and one of my biggest gripes is the color inaccuracy of the on-camera monitor. I just don’t trust it very well. How do you overcome this while shooting run and gun when you can’t have an external monitor attached? Additionally do you not worry about the AVCHD compression on camera? I’ve been using the Ninja for all my interviews as my intended target is theatre/broadcast and I worry that the AVCHD isn’t going to be good enough. It’s a pain to set up though.

    Thanks.


      I’ve found the LCD to be a solid representation. Some of the team needs to get used to the levels and be careful not to make their image a 1/4 to a 1/ stop over, but other than that the color seems spot on.

      I would also add that the peaking often makes the image feel as though it has a tint. We used a strong blue peaking for a while and it often felt like we were running our white balance too low. Toggling the peaking on and off when you use the red or blue setting really shows how much it affects the feeling of the white balance.

      As for the compression, we focus on getting the image right in camera and it hasn’t been an issue. Expose two stops under and the AVCHD will certainly be tough. Excited to see the film in a theatre Feb 1st and see just how well it holds up

      P.

    Nick

    Which Countryman B6 did you use? W4 or W5 model?


      We used the W4 for this shoot

      P.

    Daniel Eggert

    Hey Stillmotion Team,
    Thanks for sharing this wonderful video!
    I personaly still would have packed quite differently for such a shoot.
    For example the Edelkrone Slider V2 is just perfect for such projects
    and I was wondering why you used no primes (because of their small size and the less distracting effect for the native people).
    Anyway huge greetings from italy :)
    Dan


      Hey Dan,

      The story you’d tell would be different than the one we did, so I’d certainly hope you would pack differently.

      We didn’t bring a slider – it really wasn’t needed with the Movi, and it certainly wouldn’t have helped inside a chopper or on a 4×4.

      We did have primes. We used primes when we had time, the 24-70 when we didn’t, or when the environment called for it, and the 100-400 for some great long lens footage from more of an observer POV of several of the people and landscapes.

      P.

    Shelly

    Thank you so much Patrick for this post. Can’t wait to see #standwithme in DC! What did you do for recharging batteries while in a place with limited/no energy source? Thank you.
    Shelly


      Hey Shelly,

      Alex just mentioned that below. We mostly had enough to charge every few days.

      Can’t wait to see you in DC as well.

      P.


    Amazing as always what you can do with the right tools! How was the battery situation and how were you able to keep everything charged? A ton of batteries or a solar powered solution?

    Thanks,

    Alex


      Alex – we actually looked in to solar solutions but didn’t end up needing them. The place we stayed at – which was entirely remote, had a large solar panel attached to each room, so it also had power. We charged overnight and we had enough battery power to go 2-3 days without needing a charge.

      P.

    Jared

    What was the bags you use for carry on? What do you do when the monopod gets all dried out?


      Hey Jared,

      We used a Lowepro Nova shoulder bag for this shoot, plus the other Kata bag, which was the perfect size for the Movi disassembled.

      We brought WD-40 just for this shoot, and used it daily after going in the Kalahari. There are some better options than WD-40 for long term solutions, but this worked well and is easy to source.

      P.

    Brian Hosan

    Do you pack any of your backup gear in other bags or put all of it in carry-ons? I always worry about getting hung in the field so I tend to overpack a little, but try hard to keep it light. If there is anything “extra,” what gets placed into your checked baggage?

    Brian


      In this case we had zero checked baggage. Normally, we try to make checked baggage either all or zero gear, to avoid showing up in the field with something back at the hotel room.

      P.

      Brian Hosan

      Makes total sense. Thanks for sharing!

    Paul

    Thank you for sharing this info. Did you have a DSLR as a camera back up? I’m sure it was a tight squeeze as it was.

    Paul


      We had a 1DC as backup and for BTS. Ended up relying on the C100 as much as possible and it held up like a champ.

      P.

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