have been produced as part of PARIPs (Practice as Research in
Performance) ongoing research into the documentation of performance.
The notes below contain guidance and suggestions for the recording on
videotape of live performance with the assumption that the resulting
camera tapes, or rushes, will be subject to some form of postproduction
or editing processes. Much of this practice-based research work takes
place in UK higher education institutions and the guidelines have been
tailored to reflect the likely resources and expertise available to
the practitioner/researcher working within these institutions. Some
limited technical knowledge has also been assumed. Each piece of performance
research is different and the production of a definitive set of documenting
rules would clearly be inappropriate. Rather these guidelines
are presented as a collection of instructions and points to consider
when undertaking a video recording of a live event.
If you are considering doing a multi-camera shoot try to work with the
same format and make of camera if at all possible to ensure compatibility
between the pictures.
Check that any/all of the cameras you intend to use are correctly calibrated
and match as far as possible in format / colour / saturation / luminance
etc. Other than having an engineer calibrate the equipment for you (costly
and not always necessary) the best way to check a similarity between
camera images is to use an external monitor (which should have its chroma/luma
correctly set) and to send signals from the cameras filming the same
colourful object and compare the images for chroma/luma differences.
The absolutely correct way to do this is if the cameras generate colour
bars to send these signals into a mixer and then into an external monitor.
Using a partial horizontal wipe on the mixer you can compare the 2 signals
top and bottom. Unless there is an engineering fault with the cameras
these should look similar if not identical.
To make sure that you are going to have pictures from a number of cameras
that match you will also have to make sure that each camera is set up
and operated similarly. The next step is to check that the cameras are
set up identically. Most cameras have internal menu settings that can
alter the way they function, picture quality etc. You will need to go
through these menu settings to ensure that they are the same across
all machines. Some of the presets you might encounter are:
turn this off so as not to disrupt the performance
Zoom not normally advisable as it gives a pixellated
only if you want a pseudo wide screen effect for your material
- A Zebra
Pattern setting is worth using as it will show areas of over
exposure in your view finder.
- The EVF
or view finder settings are also important as these are a way of ensuring
colour compatibility between the camera screen and your natural vision.
You may need to alter these the EVF settings to get a better match.
To begin you will need to decide on a colour temperature that most accurately
represents your live event, again best done using a picture feed to
an external monitor although if your camera viewfinder is correctly
set up this might be satisfactory. Cameras often have interior (light
bulb icon) and exterior (sunshine icon) presets and these might give
you an accurate colour balance. However, this may not be the case, particularly
under gelled theatre lights or in mixed lighting situations. Under these
circumstances it will be necessary to do a white balance under the dominant
lighting conditions and then check, using the external monitor, the
degree of discrepancy this gives between natural vision and camera image.
It might be necessary to try a white balance several times and once
you have achieved a satisfactory result this process should be repeated
with all the cameras you are working with to maintain a continuity of
colour representation between them. If you are working on a promenade
show or in a situation where the light may vary due to the use of many
different lighting states, it might be possible to use the cameras
own automatic WB choice. This will ensure that even when the light varies
there will be compatibility between the cameras colour temperatures.
You will need to check this automatic selection with your own vision
and even set a white balance to see if it is adequately accurate. Some
cameras have memory settings that can store different white balances
for different circumstances for use over a number of days and these
might prove useful.
/ MANUAL SETTINGS
Many cameras provide a fully automatic operating function but this is
not totally advisable for shooting live work. Neither are the automatic
presets (such as auto exposure/auto shutter) that some cameras provide.
What is most often needed is a partially automated camera that allows
you to override certain settings for certain situations.
Although it is tempting to leave the focus up to the cameras auto
focus function this is not advisable because it can result in shots
ruined by the hunting effect of the lens moving back and
forth to find its focal length. It is better to alter the focus manually,
which means zooming in on your subject, taking focus and then re-framing.
Obviously in a live shoot this is sometimes impossible because it would
disrupt the shot. Therefore a slow tweaking of focus can be employed
a slightly soft shot is preferable to a totally unusable one
and if in doubt keep the frame wide as any softness will be less
apparent. Some cameras give you a useful manual option which can also
flick to infinity and an auto focus check. If using such cameras it
is probably best to leave the camera on manual and just auto check when
there is a change in focal length. If you are an inexperienced operator
it might be best to leave focus on automatic.
Until recently performance documentation has often suffered from a lack
of available light to give properly exposed video pictures.
However, with the advent of improved CCD technology and the new generation
of digital cameras performance in low-lighting conditions can now be
remarkably good. Indeed it can present documenters with the opposite
problem: that action which is intended to occur in near darkness can
be clearly visible in the video record. How you choose to select an
exposure for a particular performance, or performance moment, is very
much a matter of operator/director choice, however there are a number
of factors which one should be aware of:
- If doing a multi-camera
shoot inconsistencies of exposure across cameras can cause incompatibility
between the different camera pictures.
- If you have a
constant lighting state for a performance, select an exposure setting
for all cameras which reproduces the tonal range (from light to dark)
of the performance area and leave it fixed.
- However, most
performances occur under changing lighting situations and for this
reason it is probably best to leave the exposure on some sort of automatic
setting to ensure compatibility across all the cameras.
- Exceptions to
this are backlighting situations and action intended to occur in near
darkness. In these instances it will be necessary to compensate for
too much backlight by opening the aperture. Or, if the camera is particularly
good at functioning in low light but you wish action to appear obscure,
it might be necessary to close down the aperture. Often cameras have
a setting which allows you to temporarily override the automatic exposure
to compensate and then return to automatic.
- If you are involved
in a single camera shoot it might be possible to be more positive
about your exposure choices, but a general word of warning: too much
aperture adjustment mid shot can render material unusable. Cameras
which have electronic apertures step the aperture adjustment
so that the exposure of the picture changes abruptly from dark to
light (or vice versa) and because of this it looks like some one-off
screen is randomly switching lights on and off (alright for The Turner
Prize, not alright for performance documentation).
- The ND filter
only needs to be used in cases of prolonged subject exposure in bright
sunlight. Zebra stripes in the viewfinder will show you areas of over
exposure. Do not worry too much about these unless a large part of
your picture or the subject is covered by stripes. In this instance
close down the aperture a little until the picture recovers.
Best left to the camera again for compatibility reasons except if there
is a lot of fast action which you wish to capture, in which case you
might want to select a higher shutter speed. However, be warned: fast
shutter speeds make the action look quite strange and strobed.
Audio recording of live performance is a whole subject in its own right
and can be as complex as the visual recording. Here I will deal briefly
with the most likely scenarios. Most digital video cameras come with
onboard microphones and the quality of these can be very variable. Depending
on the action and environment you are shooting in the sound captured
with these microphones might be acceptable, but will obviously be determined
by the placement of the cameras in relation to the action and the perspective
of the microphone. Often cameras can take one or two external audio
inputs and these can be useful if one wished to attach a better quality
and more directional microphone to the camera to improve quality and
coverage. It might also be possible, using these inputs, to introduce
a feed from a microphone placed in the performance area independently
from the camera, either a static fixed mic or an operated one. Alternatively,
or in combination with other inputs, a line can be taken from the sound
desk as a mixed output feed. In an ideal world one would use a number
of microphone feeds going to an independent operated sound mixing desk
outputting a mix of the performance either to a separate sound recording
device such as mini disc or more conveniently to the audio tracks on
the video cameras.
If doing a multi-camera
shoot with cameras which can take external inputs it would be possible
to record a number of different sound sources and to use these separate
tracks as sources to produce a mixed audio version of the performance.
If performer dialogue is important (and it normally is) and this cannot
be covered with standard microphones it might be possible to use radio
mics inputting to the cameras either directly or via a desk. It is advisable
to monitor the audio to the camera via headphones to ensure good quality
or be informed if there is an audio problem, particularly if using an
external feed. Audio levels adjustment can be done manually on some
cameras but in reality it is very difficult to operate and adjust levels
at the same time so therefore it is probably best to leave this to the
camera, (or to a separate audio operator) unless of course you have
a very consistent audio environment when, like the exposure, it might
be possible to set one level for the whole event.
Prior to shooting, if necessary, make sure you have focused the viewfinder
eye piece. Furthermore, sometimes the lens cap gets in the way
so it is best to take it off, right off so it does not bang on the side
of the camera.
If you can write a customised TC to a tape do so. For example, start
with 01.00.00.00 and increment for each tape and keep a note of what
TC is from what camera and what day. If you cannot write a specific
TC to a specific tape (and this is the norm for most consumer or pro-sumer
cameras) you will just have whatever TC numbers the camera decides to
give you, normally starting at 00 hours. This means if you are using
more than one tape and/or more than one camera you will have to keep
a good record of your tapes. DO NOT BREAK THE TIMECODE. This means recording
in one continuous take for an entire tape or if you stop and start recording
and particularly if you are working with the same tape over a number
of days and powering down the camera you need to be assured that there
will be no breaks in the TC signal. Be warned, different cameras will
function differently in respect to writing TC. Some when powered down
will create a gap between the last material recorded and thus break
the TC when recording recommences. Find out how your camera works. For
example, it maybe necessary to use something like record review to pick
up the TC from the last recorded take, and/or be prepared to rewind
into previous material to pick up this TC and extend it for the new
material (for this reason it is a good idea to shoot long tails on the
end of your takes). I have read that recording black (i.e. recording
the entire length of the tape with the lens cap on) prior to shooting
material will ensure continuous and stable TC throughout the tape for
mini DV but I have not personally tested this idea.
Because shooting a live event does not afford an operator the sort of
control they might have over a conventional film/video shoot (i.e. once
it is started it will not stop), the whole process therefore becomes
much more like a performance in itself. For this reason it is beneficial
to have a plan of action in place which all the operators are familiar
with, preferably one which you have tested out in a dry run. Once the
show begins communication with one another is difficult unless the operators
are on intercoms and it becomes impossible to know what each operator
is videoing. Therefore this must be known and understood in advance
in order to avoid duplicating or missing action. Ideally the operators
would be familiar with the show prior to documenting it as this allows
them to pre-empt action, etc.
If possible record 1 minute of camera bars before commencing with documentation
and, even more unlikely, accompanied by a minute of tone. Whatever you
do try not to use the first 1 minute of any tape for any significant
material as it is not reliable.
The key to shooting live work is to try to create the impression of
a fairly static shoot as much of the time as possible. This
means making framing, focussing and exposure decisions either very quickly
so as not to cut into ongoing action too much or making these changes
very slowly so that they are not perceptible to the viewer. Potentially
every moment you video might be of interest/use to the final user (editor/director
etc.). Therefore you need to minimise overt picture alterations.
If in doubt keep wide this gives you a better sense of what is
going on over the whole space. When it is clear that the action has
settled into a particular pattern or space for a time then
it is possible to gently zoom in to focus more particularly on specific
performers / objects / audience etc. It is a good idea to keep wide
at the beginning of a piece (unless of course your plan says different).
Be alert and pre-emptive.
If you can develop the ability to look through the viewfinder with one
eye while looking about the space with the other (?!) so much the better
this will allow you to prejudge movement, scene changes, etc.
and alter your camera framing to pre-empt or follow action. Avoid altering
your shot too often. Do not feel the need to follow the action constantly:
at times it is better to let things happen in front of the lens and
then move out of frame as this gives an editor a cut point and an operator
a chance to reframe, focus etc. Likewise subjects moving into frame
It is mainly camera
movement and poor framing and focussing which make material unusable
in an edit. All these can be overcome by positive operating. For example,
if you know what you have got is significant but not well framed you
can readjust quickly so at least the end of the shot is useable. Or
you can do the opposite and readjust the picture frame slowly so it
is less perceptible and hopefully the material will still be useable.
You can also work with a combination of these two approaches.
The same goes for
focussing (see above). The odd blurry moment does not necessarily make
a shot unusable so if you can rapidly or subtly check and/or change
your focus do so. Start recording before an audience enters. If you
can get a front of house clearance cue so much the better. Likewise
run until after an audience has exited. If it is necessary to change
tapes during a show make sure you have removed the plastic wrapping
prior to starting (difficult in the dark!) and if you are shooting over
a number of nights try to avoid changing the tape at the same moment
every night (this can be done by staggering your start time).
Last word: if in doubt keep wide and try not to alter your shot too
obviously, too often.
27 May 2002