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Creating Behind-the-Scenes Content That Sells

Saturday, July 1st, 2017


BTS on a Budget: 3 Steps for Creating Behind-the-Scenes Content That Sells with Phillip Blume

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I remember standing on my tiptoes staring down in shock and awe at the man squatting in the dirt. I was nine years old, and he was Javier Lopez, star catcher for the Atlanta Braves—and my hero. What is it about celebrity that turns a man playing catch in the dirt into a cultural icon? It comes down to face time. I saw Javier everywhere I looked: on TV, baseball cards, even on my T-shirt and lunchbox.

As photographers and business owners, we need to be celebrities of a sort—potential clients need to know and trust us so they feel confident enough to hire us (and rave about us to others).

It’s time to start creating your fame through behind-the-scenes content. Here’s where to start.

Start Small

If you mistakenly think of behind-the-scenes content creation as producing a reality show, you’re likely to become overwhelmed. Don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself. Even if the content we create never approaches Hollywood caliber, that’s all right. Our viewers understand that we aren’t operating on a million-dollar budget. In fact, they’re more accustomed than ever to consumer-grade content blended into their professional entertainment and nightly newscast.

So if you’re a perfectionist like I am, loosen up on the “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all” attitude. I’ve taken that mantra too seriously throughout my life, and it just causes me to freeze up. My new mantra—the one that has found me a lot more success—is “Done is better than perfect.” Go get it done.

Where do you start? Pick up your camera. You’re a photographer, so you’re already ahead of the curve. Yes, we’re going to discuss more of my favorite gear for behind-the-scenes (BTS for short) content creation next. But you can start now, with almost any camera you have.

Start with still photos—especially on Instagram, where BTS photos of you at work should make up about 10 percent or more of your posts. But remember, video is king for online content. Video intimidates many of us, but hear me out. My first ever video camera was a Flip HD. Do you remember that camera, with its max 720p resolution, easy one-button recording and built-in USB adapter? No one dared imagine Wi-Fi for such devices back then. Flip was a hot commodity before iPhone showed up and transformed the market.

We apprehensively attempted our first video project in 2011, armed only with my old Flip and a new consumer-grade Nikon video camera. The Nikon D700’s we shot professionally then did not even have video functionality, so you can see our Flip footage interwoven into most of the BTS promo videos on our About page at

Even as we advanced to DSLR filmmaking, video was so much easier to learn than I had feared. Some of you already know the story, how our freshman attempt at video shockingly resulted in a feature-length documentary that toured the U.S. and helped a cause we believe in. That experience alone was enough to inspire me to keep doing video production forever.

But there’s more to the story that few of you know, an unexpected ending that I can only tease you with for now. Later this year, a Hollywood movie is coming to theaters near you inspired by the story we told through video—and even containing our original video footage. The screenwriter honored me with a cameo speaking role, too; but that was probably against the casting director’s better judgment. Don’t worry, closer to the movie’s release date, we’ll share more and give exclusive behind-the-scenes access to all of you who are part of our Blume photography online community.

Get ready for big possibilities when you simply take action and put yourself out there. You don’t have to create a feature film to sell people on the value of your business, or even to change the world. Just pick up your iPhone and go.

Watch my video segment at the end of this article to see how I shoot for the edit with just my phone camera.

Gear Up

Of all the gear I’ve purchased or have received on loan to test, here is what I like best. I’ve compared so many options, and for my workflow, these tools are the most cost-effective, portable and simple to use. And I get killer results. Watch my video segment at the end of this article to see me demonstrate each.

DJI Osmo Mobile.

My phone is my favorite camera for BTS. It’s always handy, it’s easy to use and the results are high quality. The only thing it lacks for video is cinematic motion and stability. That’s where the Osmo comes in. It’s loaded with the best gimbal technology from DJI’s famous drone family. It’s basically a motorized handle or selfie stick that attaches to your phone. For stability, it’s so intuitive that you’ll use it out of the box like a pro. But the features go way beyond that. With Osmo and the DJI app, your phone camera is suddenly able to track your movements, too: Mount it, and the camera follows you and stays focused while you’re in action shooting or pacing. You can create precision motion time-lapses, something I couldn’t do before without investing thousands of dollars in high-end sliders and custom motor tracks.

I prefer the Osmo Mobile over its bigger brothers (Osmo+, OsmoPro), mostly because of the cost difference. It’s just $299 compared to $600 to over $2,000. They’re similar, but Osmo Mobile doesn’t have the small built-in camera; it uses your phone. There are a couple cheap Chinese competitors on the market that I’ve tried, but their less reactive software and cheap plastic build aren’t worth the small savings. Osmo Mobile is made of sturdy aluminum alloy and just works. Because it’s not limited to a DJI camera, my Osmo Mobile is upgraded (not outdated) anytime I upgrade my phone.

Zoom H1.

If you’re looking for a pocket-size quality audio recorder, I have several for sale. That’s because I’ve purchased quite a few makes and models that were recommended to me. Not that there was anything wrong with their quality, but I found the H1 to be the most compact and intuitive to use, without sacrificing quality. As a perk, it’s also one of the more affordable in its bracket, and its stereo-positioned dual microphones are well protected when I toss it in my backpack. I have two of these, one of which I tape to the side of a mic during wedding toasts as audio backup so I’m not at the mercy of a DJ’s unpredictable soundboard. If you want to hide the recorder and add a mic, be aware it has only a 3.5mm line input and no quarter-inch XLR. But that’s no problem if you use the next item I’m recommending.

Rode smartLav+ (and adapter).

Rode designed this quality lav mic (the kind you clip discreetly to your shirt) to fit the unusual headphone jack on Android and Apple smartphones. Yes, using your phone’s voice memo app is a legitimate option of audio recorder, but not useful if your phone is already tied up as a video camera—the drawback of a multifunction device. At about $79, it’s a good value among lav mics. Also get the $15 SC3 adapter so you can use this lav with your H1 and other recorders, as well as smartphones as backup.

Whatever you do, don’t miss my hack for wireless audio in the video. It might save you $1,000.


There is nothing like a GoPro for all-terrain, wet-and-wild, creative BTS shots. I’m a big fan of the new touchscreen models, but I still don’t own one. I’ve been happy with my old Hero, which must have been out of date when I got it because it came free with a Vimeo subscription. The simpler ice cube-size Hero Session is now just $149. So worth it. With adapters to clip the GoPro to your camera or shoulder strap, you’ve got first-person perspective of your photo shoots in the bag with no effort at all. I love the integrated GoPro adapters Spider Holster is introducing for users of its camera holster systems. (I’ll show you my unexpected solution for a GoPro stabilizer in the video below.)

Mobile phones and accessories.

We’ve already established that your smartphone is a multimedia studio in your pocket. Take advantage of it. But treat it kindly. Invest in a good protective case. If you’re a heavy BTS shooter, keep a good power core nearby for recharging on the fly.

Cell carrier plans are getting more competitive. Verizon now offers us a phone upgrade every 12 months, something I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t happen to walk in last week, ask about it and leave with a free iPhone 7 Plus. I’m loving my free new camera with 4K and stabilization. Check your plan.

DJI Spark.

Drones are dropping fast—and I don’t just mean GoPro Karma Quadcopters falling from the sky. They’re dropping in size and cost. Drones like DJI’s brand-new Spark are shaking up the industry. It fits in your palm and shoots stabilized HD with hands-free features that track you as you go. That’s good for BTS footage. But battery life is still low, only 16 minutes in-flight for the Spark. Yes, aerial footage is now expected in many videos, but think before you bother with it for BTS. Unless you have just a couple specific shots in mind, the price, starting at $499, may not work for you. But prices for new technology are always coming down.

Publish Smarter

All your behind-the-scenes still and video footage is only worthwhile if it sells you. The first step to selling yourself is knowing where and how to publish. I live by the “80/20 rule.” Eighty percent of the payback you receive for your marketing efforts (time and money) usually comes from just 20 percent of the marketing channels you use. As you become more strategic, you can focus all your energy on just those channels that work best. Then you’ll experience huge returns, and almost none of your time or money will be wasted.

It helps to know that Instagram, more than any other social media site, is a lifestyle medium. Polls and research tell us users who interact there love BTS photos and stories. It’s why they’re on the platform. In other words, start telling your BTS story on Instagram, and you’ll gain a larger following. Otherwise, you aren’t using it to its fullest potential.

Facebook promotes video content now through its algorithms. Take advantage of that while you can. Ads that contain your BTS video footage actually cost less than photo ads with a similar reach.

Focus first on an “about me” video that makes potential clients feel like they’ve met you, which can do the job of an in-person first meeting. But don’t let that video sit and rot on your About page. Link to it in your email signature. Make it the featured video on your Facebook page.

Maximize your efforts. Don’t be shy if you feel the video isn’t up to snuff. Remember, done is better than perfect, and potential clients know the difference between your pro work and promo work. Done is better than perfect for BTS. In fact, it’s incredibly powerful.

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

Wedding Video for Photographers: 5 Tips for Getting Started

Friday, April 28th, 2017


Wedding Video for Photographers: 5 Tips for Getting Started with Ning Wong

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the May issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


When I started my wedding photography business seven years ago, I never imagined I would become a videographer as well. The Canon 5D Mark II had recently been announced, and the DSLR video revolution was born. When Canon added the ability to capture video on the DSLR, it was a game changer: Now you could create cinema-quality films using your DSLR, lenses and accessories.


After a dozen or so requests for video, I felt that I should start adding it to my business. I was tired of losing these leads to others. So, about five years ago, I went for it, and it was one of the best decisions of my life.


I apprenticed under a local videographer, took workshops and learned through trial and error. The learning process never ends. Even now I am still learning new techniques and ideas that help elevate my wedding films to another level. I encourage you to reach out to fellow videographers. On-the-job experience is extremely valuable, teaching you things you can’t read about online.


If I could go back in time and give myself five tips for getting started in wedding videography, here is what I would tell myself.


  1. Know your gear.


Knowing the ins and outs of your gear is crucial. You don’t want to be fumbling around on a wedding day trying to figure out how to change the ISO or white balance. If you know how to use your gear, you can concentrate on shooting the wedding.


If you aren’t confident with your gear, practice whenever you can. Go out, shoot stuff, read the manual, look for tutorials. Practice makes perfect. Look at it like this: If you were a concert pianist, you would spend countless hours practicing your music before a concert. You wouldn’t wait until you got onstage to start practicing.


Think of the concert like your wedding. Don’t practice when you are “performing” at the concert. Spend all the time before your event to practice so that when it comes to your client’s wedding day, you are ready to perform.


  1. Use a tripod or monopod.


Shaky footage is not your friend. One of the biggest beginner mistakes is to not use proper support for your camera. Whether it’s a tripod, monopod or gimbal, use something that will help keep your footage steady.


If you want a simple way to add production value to your film, keep your footage stable. While you’re at it, once you have a good shot lined up, focused and exposed on your tripod, leave your tripod and camera alone. Quit fidgeting with it—you don’t want to ruin a perfectly useable shot just because you couldn’t keep your hands off your camera.


  1. Shoot for the edit.


When you’re shooting different kinds of shots throughout the wedding day, keep in mind what each shot will be used for. Don’t just take a shot that doesn’t have any purpose. You want each shot to help drive the story of the wedding.


Shoot for transitions. That means using a slider or a pan/tilt movement to bring your viewer into the scene.


I encourage everyone to edit their own footage. That way, you can critique your shots and work on improving. If you do the editing yourself, you’ll quickly learn how to shoot certain shots and shoot for transitions, and how to make your life easier.


  1. Anticipate the unexpected.


A wedding photographer should be able to anticipate when the moments happen—things like the first kiss, a relative crying during the vows and the first look.


Shooting video is tougher because you have to be ready to shoot the moment something happens. If you always keep your eyes peeled and ready to go, you’ll be able to anticipate the unexpected.


Of course, make sure you still shoot the safe shots first so you get what the client expects. But you also want to wow them with those creative shots they weren’t expecting.


  1. Shoot B-roll.


B-roll (for “background roll”) is extra footage that is used to enhance your film. Some great examples of B-roll are audience reaction shots, your groom/bride getting ready and funny bridal party portrait shots.


B-roll boosts your storytelling. Instead of having talking heads yakking throughout the film, cut to B-roll for depth.


B-roll also helps you cover up messy transitions or unusable shots. You can cut from your main shot to B-roll, and then back to your main shot. That allows you to smooth over a jump cut or missing footage. You can also use B-roll during a voiceover to control your storytelling.


Bonus tips:


  1. Show up early.


The early bird does, in fact, get the worm. If you want to get a head start shooting the day, show up early.


You’ll quickly learn that videography takes a lot more gear and prep than photography does. Take the extra time to get your gear ready, to shoot B-roll and details, and to establish rapport with the wedding party before anyone else gets there.


  1. Use licensed music and content.


When you create your client’s wedding film, you may be tempted to use the latest song on the radio. But if you can’t properly license that song, don’t use it.


Musicians are artists, just like us. How would you feel if someone ripped off your work? Don’t do that to someone else—use only licensed music.


Several websites offer great licensed music. One of my favorites is SongFreedom. They offer mainstream artists like One Republic, Imagine Dragons and Lady Gaga, along with a plethora of new and upcoming artists.


I purposely didn’t tell you to know your audio and lighting, because these are basic things you should know before you start offering videography to your clients. These two elements are just as important as knowing how to shoot video on your camera. Learn how to properly capture audio, and use lighting to mold your wedding films.


Hopefully these tips will help you get started in the world of wedding videography. There will be so many things you’ll have to learn and adapt to, but if you’re willing to do it, you’ll be able to start offering wedding videography to your couples too.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the May issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

iPhone Wedding Filmmaking with Joe Switzer

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016


iPhone Wedding Filmmaking with Joe Switzer


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the August issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


How could a mobile phone provide satisfactory results for a wedding? This is not a joke. I’ve always believed it was inevitable that the day would come when the iPhone is taken seriously as a professional filmmaking tool. That day is today and the time is now. There is no barrier to entry for both photography and filmmaking. Everyone you know has a mobile phone or iPhone. It’s a Hollywood film and photography studio in their pocket. In this article, you will learn how you can remain a relevant filmmaker or start your video company today with little more than your iPhone.


Apple sells about 35,000 phones an hour. Since the inception of the iPhone, the company has sold almost 1 billion units, and they keep innovating with faster and better devices. If you’d asked people if a phone could film in 4K just a few years ago, few would have believed you. Innovation isn’t about to stop with mobile phones, especially at Apple.


Planning the iPhone Wedding


We have been planning the iPhone wedding for about 12 months. Waiting for the perfect couple in the right location was crucial. An outdoor wedding in Colorado with superb lighting and epic backdrops sounded like the best opportunity.


We planned to create a compelling music film of the wedding event. We wanted to show sizzling candy shots with a great song. The two- to three-minute music video concept is no different than what we create for all our wedding films. We were curious to see if there’d be a big difference if we used all our same tools and style that we use for standard shoots.


We normally shoot with only two filmmakers per project, but for this, we brought one extra person because we had never done this before. We also wanted three to four aerial video shots, so we hired Charles King for the day after the wedding. The final video ended up having five aerials, and every other shot in the video was taken with an iPhone. Next time we will have to duct-tape the iPhone to the drone so it’s 100 percent iPhone.


The tools we used were a Ronin-M, Manfrotto tripod/monopod and Rhino motorized track. The three of us used 501 plates attached to Mefoto Sidekick 360’s plus mounts that allowed us to swivel and attach our iPhone to all the tools. We used two iPhone 6S Pluses and one iPhone 6 Plus. For aerials, we used the DJI Phantom 4. The lenses were all made by Olloclip. For two shots, we used the Olloclip macro lens. All the other shots for the video were captured using the iPhone lens itself and the Olloclip Telephoto + Wide-Angle lens.


iPhone App


To get the most out of our iPhones, we used a $10 app called Ultrakam. It allowed us to record with more flexibility than just using our iPhone camera app. It let us choose our focus areas, ISO and shutter speed. We shot in 24 fps/H.264/16:9 mode. To help save space on our iPhone, we didn’t record any audio. Our music videos rarely have audio, so it was no big deal. When the bride was reading a letter, we did turn the audio back on to record just in case we wanted to use the sound in the final edit. It’s simple to quickly turn the sound off and on.


One of the coolest modes on the app was for time-lapses. It gives you options of taking a photo every second and up to one photo per hour. After you stop your time-lapse, it’s ready to go. It combines all the photos in a video file similar to what our time-lapse app does on our Sony A7s cameras.


But we had some problems with this app that we will discuss as I take you through the wedding day.


Wedding Day: Estes Park, Colorado


We were concerned with having plenty of time on the wedding day, so we showed up hours before hair and makeup to get a few time-lapses. Just like on a typical wedding day, we started early to position ourselves for success. TJ, Kristin and I captured a few establishing shots and found a good location for groom prep. We were struggling to find some good natural light for him, and eventually found an area outside the hotel on a deck.


Never hesitate to ask your bride or groom to move to the good natural light. When you have conversations before the wedding with the couple, tell them you want their hair and makeup as close to natural light as possible. They trust you and want great photos and video, so they will do what they can to keep near natural light for you. Guys are usually super flexible, so you can always move them to find good light in any situation. Just ask.


For wedding preparation with iPhones, we used our Fiilex lighting when working with the bride. Normally we just use natural light, but one thing about iPhones is that they don’t work well without plentiful light. Unfortunately for this wedding, the bride was trapped in a small room with mixed artificial lighting. After filming for about 30 minutes, we decided to just scrap our shots and have her and the makeup artist do the final touches in the bride’s hotel suite, where we actually had room to move. We tried using the tripod, monopod, track and Ronin-M to get some variety for preparations.


After working a while, we realized the track and the monopod were the best tools for prep. You can move quickly and get variety. We used the Ronin-M for a few shots, but not necessarily for bride and groom iPhone prep. We were fortunate to have a first look for the bride and groom before the ceremony. Weather conditions were perfect, with plenty of shade, sun and clouds. The first look was about an hour before the wedding. After we finished this scene, we realized we were going to have two serious problems: battery life and hard-drive space.


Problem #1: Battery Life


About an hour before the wedding, two of our phones were down to almost 5 percent battery. The third iPhone had less than 60 percent power. We quickly started charging our phones. Thank goodness the day before we bought some portable battery chargers. For the rest of the day, we could shoot and charge our iPhones at the same time. You will need a portable charger if you’re going to use your iPhone professionally for weddings.


Problem #2: Hard-Drive Space


The three of us started with 80 gigs of available space on our phones. After filming bride and groom prep, we had only about 30 gigs per person. We hadn’t anticipated using up that much space. We didn’t even know how to get our video clips off the phone, back them up or delete them, but thankfully, with a few minutes to spare before the ceremony, we found out how to transfer the footage from the iPhones to another hard drive so we could free up some space. We were able to film all the ceremony video clips we wanted, but when it was over, we were all down about 10 gigs of free space again. We had to quickly transfer our iPhone footage from the ceremony to the hard drive to prepare for the reception. We had time to free up only one phone because of transfer speed.


For both the ceremony and reception, we used the Ronin-M, tripod, track and monopod. Of those tools, our least favorite was the tripod. The monopod was stable and did anything the tripod could do. We filmed the post-ceremony creative shots just like we would any other wedding.


One fun surprise were the rams that jumped up on the rock by the bride and groom. We filmed the animals jumping off and running away in slow motion. It was simple to change to 240 fps in the app. A glitch in the app was that it either overheated or couldn’t handle the frame rates. It crashed every time we tried to film slow motion. Later in the night at the reception, even recording at a normal frame rate, the app crashed a few times. It was crucial that we’d brought our lights and had them on full power at the reception. IPhones cannot film in low-light conditions. Bring your lights. We are obsessed with the portable battery-powered, water-resistant Fiilex lights.


The next day, we took the bride and groom out for a rock-the-dress session. This is where we spend a few hours with them in their wedding attire getting some epic creative video shots that we normally couldn’t get on a wedding day due to time constraints.


This is the day we brought the Phantom 4 drone with Charles to get the beautiful establishing shots. We went to a beautiful mountaintop for one of the best backdrops I’ve ever seen in my life. The post-wedding video shoot could not have gone any better. We had so much variety: mountains, golf courses, rivers, snow and elk. If you don’t offer rock-the-dress sessions, you should start. We all got to see the beauty of Colorado and bond with the bride and groom during moments we will cherish forever.


On the way home from the shoot at the airport, I started to get organized and go through the footage. This was when I found the last issue we were going to have to deal with. A big issue.


Problem #3: Inconsistent Frame Rate Recording


Almost all the video clips had dropped frames and random frame rate recording. Sure, the app recorded in 4K and gave us flexibility with ISO, frame rate, focus and shutter speed, but even though we thought we were recording at 24 frames per second, we were actually recording anywhere from 12 to 24 frames per second. This caused severe damage to motion video shots and just about all of our video clips. Every 1.5 seconds or so, the footage had a dropped frame in addition to these random inconsistent frames. I reached out to the app company for solutions. No response. No solution. Do we go home and cry to our mommy? Was the entire iPhone wedding video shoot ruined? No.


The Edit


It would’ve been easy to give up and call this a failure. As catastrophic as it was to see the footage with the unacceptable frame rates, we are not the kind of people to throw in the towel. We believe there is always a way to make anything work.


The video and project files were over 542 gigs. This took way more time, hard-drive space and tweaking than originally planned, but we were able to produce a compelling edit. The workaround for the video files was to use shorter clips and a fast-paced song. Many of the video clips in the final edit had dropped frames and were recorded at about 16 fps. This is noticeable to the professional, but with the music and timing of the editing cuts, the average person viewing this on YouTube or Facebook is not going to notice the flaws.


If we had to film this iPhone wedding again, we would use the normal camera app, an Olloclip and a Mefoto Sidekick 360 adapter. You can use all the standard video tools, like the Ronin-M, Monopod and track.


After watching the film, I’m sure you’ll agree that the iPhone can be taken seriously as a filmmaking solution for professionals. At the end of the day, I’m still thankful to have our Sony A7s cameras and lenses. Filming this wedding with the iPhone made me appreciate what we have.


We won’t be filming with our phones professionally this year, but now we know that anyone with an iPhone can make a product comparable to our traditional shoots. That’s incredibly scary—and exciting.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the August issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


Filmmaker Lighting 101 with Joe Switzer

Friday, July 1st, 2016


Filmmaker Lighting 101 with Joe Switzer


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


Over the years, we have found a combination of both artificial and natural light is best. Letting each shoot and situation tell us what to do has been the best approach. Our style is quick, with limited time to film each scene. This month, I show you how to light both weddings and corporate event. The goal is for you to achieve consistent, beautiful lighting with some epic flare. Here are the Top 5 must-knows about lighting the Switzerfilm way.


#5 – Working with different lighting temperatures in the same room


If you film or photograph weddings, this is something you’ll run into consistently. On a typical wedding day, when you walk into the bridal suite, there can be three or four different-colored lights in the room—lights on the ceiling, lights on the walls, some window light and a bulb light from the makeup artist blasting on the face of the bride.


When we were first getting started, we would just film and hope we could change the color in post. That approach didn’t work. The color of our videos was inconsistent and unflattering. To avoid trying to match up all the different lights, we have learned to always move our subject. In almost 100 percent of all situations, there is always a window with some natural light.


We arrive early and work with the makeup artists to help them bring their equipment to the light. More often than not, the hair and makeup professionals are happy to work with us. After we get our main subject near the window light, we turn off all other lights. This allows us to keep our subjects bright and the background darker. Natural light looks beautiful, and you don’t have to mess with any artificial lights in tight spaces.


Avoid filming with different lights on in a room. Find a way to get to the natural light and turn all the other lights off when you can. If the hair and makeup artists need a light on, it’s okay to have one light on for the rest of the room to keep everyone happy, but less is best in these situations. A good rule of thumb is to take the bride to a window and turn off all the lights. In extreme situations, we have changed rooms or moved the bride or groom to the hotel lobby. Take action and get rid of all the mixed lighting.


#4 – Wedding reception light


What do you do when the DJ turns on his blue, green and red lights? You could do nothing, and have a bride with a red or blue face for all the reception video shots. That’s not an option. You could ask the DJ to turn off his lights. That’s not going to happen without a fight. Adjusting the settings in your camera for five or 10 minutes that you don’t have won’t help much.


Receptions are dark, so you have no natural light to work with. The only solution in these situations is to have your own lights ready to go. We’ve tried a half dozen different lights. Our vision for artificial lighting was something small and powerful. This wasn’t really possible until LED lighting technology became available.


For 100 percent of all our artificial light solutions, we use Fiilex lights. The model we use is the S282 Mini All-Weather Interview Kit. This light is portable, bright, water-resistant and small. We can quickly adjust color temperatures and change the brightness. Our photographers are ecstatic when we turn on these lights. The lights have a barn door, so we can control the size of the light. This works wonderfully for dances and speeches because the reception venue theme and look remain the same and the subject is in beautiful light.


The next time a DJ uses his rainbow lights on the dance floor, you won’t have to worry if you have the Fiilex light setup. Your light will overpower his, and you’ll have the consistent beautiful light you want. For our shoots, we carry two lights and stands with a set of extra batteries. We want to be portable and never worry about plugging into an outlet. If the reception is outside on a beach and it’s raining, the Fiilex lights are weather-resistant and the batteries last for hours. No more struggles with wedding reception lighting. Make it easy on yourself and go get a Fiilex S282 kit.


#3 – Lighting etiquette


It’s likely you’ve worked with a photographer or filmmaker who had no clue about what’s right or wrong at a wedding reception or other event. Remember that planners, designers and coordinators have worked a year or more on these events. They have themes, colors and details that are important to your client. Those clients have spent the majority of their budget on that, not your video services. You could be ruining the ambiance of the party with your oversize video lights if you’re not careful.


This is not always about what you want or need. It’s about the team you’re working with and the client. Take a step back and realize that what you shine at the reception can do damage if it’s too much. Keeping lighting to a minimum has worked well for us. For the major events like first dance or a speech, we crank the brightness higher. When nothing is happening, we turn the lights off.


Put the lights in a low-traffic place so people don’t notice or trip on your expensive gear. The ultimate goal is to not ruin the mood of the room or moments with your dorky video light. Good common light etiquette goes a long way, and you’ll get referrals from planners, DJ’s and other photographers when you show your team-player attitude.


#2 – Looking for the light


I’m always looking for light in every scene. My first step is to look at the ground and then factor in the sky. Ultimately, your camera will show you what looks good. Over time, you’ll get more comfortable finding light more quickly. When I’m looking for the perfect light positioning, I use edges of lights that a building might cast in a city. In a park, a shade tree gives a beautiful light flare when shooting a subject in motion. If I’m shooting into the light, it’s a given that a Ronin-M or track should be used.


The look of sun flare and motion look epic. Have your camera set to manual so you can control the exposure. If you’re filming into the sun on AV or auto mode, it will change the exposure and take away your sun flare. On just about every video shoot, we walk on set and ask, “Where do you want us?” Before you answer that question, let the light tell you what to do.


For close-ups of people, I look for shade so they’re not squinting. The same can be said for interviews. When we’re filming adventure or action, we want all the sun flare we can get. It’s easy to forget about background lighting like bokeh, which is the out-of-focus background light. The lens and background you choose determine how your bokeh looks.


One of our favorite lenses for this is the 85mm, but as long as you have a long lens or a lens with a lower aperture option, you’ll be able to maximize bokeh. The most typical example of good bokeh is candlelight. On our recent shoot inside a spa, we were able to position the subject where the background had all the candlelight, which maximized the bokeh.


Always be thinking about how to maximize your natural light and background light to get the results you’re looking for.


#1 – Controlling the schedule


We always try to schedule our filmmaking around the “magic light” times. That means early or late in the evening.


A good example of this is the workflow and scheduling of our most recent photo and video shoot in Pennsylvania. During the heat of the day, we filmed inside or in shade. Most of the shots were outside hotels, in spas and by pools, on golf courses and beauty shots. For lighting to look dreamy outside, it’s crucial to get your scheduled shoots during the first two hours in the morning and the last two hours of sunlight in the evening.


Mornings worked well for golfing because the grass sparkled with dew in the rising sun. It has a glistening effect, and looks incredible in wide shots. Sometimes you get those puffy white clouds and sunshine that can look great at high noon. Always work with your client to get the most of your weather and natural light conditions.


Design the schedule in your favor. When you run into rain or extreme weather conditions, you can go to your backup plan for inside or under cover. Don’t let your corporate clients or wedding couples determine the schedule. Plan for lighting success with a good game plan to take advantage of weather, sunrises and sunsets.


On your next shoot, don’t settle for average lighting. Move your subjects, turn lights off, have your artificial mobile lights charged and ready. Take control of the schedule and look for those shadows and sun flare. Move quickly, and remember: No matter what situation you face, you can always find good light.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the July issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

Baby Birthday Video with Joe Switzer

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016



Baby Birthday Video with Joe Switzer


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the June issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


Not many photographers specialize in baby birthday sessions. This month we look at the five most important factors that go into shooting and editing a compelling birthday film.


We used my daughter Sloan’s first birthday to show you our process. The photos and video you see are from two separate days. One was from baby Sloan’s photo/video shoot, and the other was from the actual birthday party with family and friends. Photos were taken by Ashley Becker Photography and Leanna Rolla Photography. Switzerfilm (myself and Kristin) captured the video clips. The final video we created shows baby Sloan Switzer in a way that we will treasure forever.


#1 – Offer video.


Either press the record button yourself or find someone to work with you on your birthday shoots to capture these beautiful moments that don’t last long. Some of the most precious years with your kids are when they are babies, and birthdays are a perfect time to capture them.


Photography and video go hand in hand, and it’s time for you to start doing both. Your clients want both services, and if you make it easy for them, they will almost always buy both. Switzerfilm has about a 90 percent booking rate for both photo and video. It doesn’t take any more planning or time for clients, and that makes it easy for them to say yes.


A great way to start offering your video services for baby birthday parties is to do it for your own child. Share a short clip on Instagram or Facebook, and before you know it, everyone is going to want it. I see photos in my social feeds all the time, but rarely do I ever see video. This is an untapped market. If parents have spent all the time and money planning a birthday party and photo shoot, they might as well add video. It’s hard to offer this service if you don’t have any demos or samples to share, so either film a baby video of your own family or give a friend a good deal. Once your followers and friends see the possibilities of video, they will want the same for their kids.


#2 – Don’t do everything on your own.


Props, baby, photos, locations, themes, schedule, video, editing—so many moving parts. Delegate responsibilities. Baby Sloan Switzer’s birthday shoot was much easier with the divide-and-conquer approach. Sloan’s mom, Ashley Switzer, was in charge of the props, theme and locations. Ashley Becker, the photographer, was responsible for a backdrop and a few props. Kristin, Leanna and I just showed up and filmed separately at each shoot. All of us creatives are in different situations, so take care of yourself and balance the workload. You can’t do it all with one camera by yourself.


#3 – Film the in-between moments.


Keep that camera rolling. With photos, you’re always trying to get the most perfect moment. With video, you’re looking for the moving/motion/in-between moments. Examples are filming babies finishing getting dressed, cake being carried out to the party, props being set up and Mom picking up and comforting a crying baby.


A photo is all about the perfect shot. With video, our goal is to show the audience what’s happening and what it took to get to this point in time. Your video edit will have a great flow when you not only film the posed shoot but also capture the in-between moments.


#4 – Keep the edit short.


Even though this is the cutest baby ever, you don’t need a seven-minute video. Don’t be worried about audio or telling a story. Maybe you just want to make a slideshow with a few iPhone video clips as a fusion video. Your final product should be no longer than three or four minutes. We broke ours up into a 15-second Instagram and a three-minute video to post on Facebook.


Let your video clips and music dictate the length of the video. Most of our videos are synced with music, and it’s so important for the music to match the feeling of the birthday. The song is going to connect your video clips with your viewing audience, so take your time and choose wisely.


Photographers tell me they use the same song for slideshows all the time, and nobody is really watching them. Why? Maybe the photographer is using the same song over and over or just not choosing a fun song that matches the event. Remember, your social media fans want to see you being creative, always customizing and producing content that is unique and different. You should almost never use the same song in any video.


Ingrid Michaelson, One Republic and Colbie Caillat have amazing music I recommend for birthday videos. You are at a huge disadvantage if you’re not using for your edits. It’s the only music licensing company that has genres other than indie music. Keep your video clips short. Use a variety of wide, medium and close-up shots. Make sure your video clips are cut to the beat of the music. Your template for the edit you’re using is the song. Let it tell you what clips to use and when.


#5 – Streamline your workflow.


Babies are unpredictable. You might have two minutes or two hours with a birthday baby. You’ll want a tripod and a track. A baby is so small, you’ll need to get low angles, and a track allows you to do just that. For a cake smash, you can multitask and use both. Using two cameras, you can put one on a tripod and use a track for your other shots. Record with both of them so you don’t miss any moments.


If you don’t have two cameras, just use your iPhone for the wide shot, giving you more options with angles and moments. Keep your batteries fully charged and have formatted cards that can record for long periods of time. I found myself using a 90mm macro, an 85mm and a cropped 10–18mm. Those lenses give you all the variety you’ll need to get plenty of usable shots for a fantastic film.


Chances are you will be working with another photographer on the shoot. For the staged shoot with props and the birthday cake smash, set up your tripod next to the photographer so you don’t block their shot. Tell her she can go in front of the tripod if she has to because you’re shooting two angles. Your other angle is great for a track, and the 90mm macro to focus on close-ups.


I’m always changing lenses because the goal is video variety. If you have an outdoor venue for the actual birthday party like we did, you can get motion video shots, party details, and friends and family having fun. It is all about the baby, but when the final video is being edited, you will have a more interesting video when you see everything that happened and not just a cake smash.


Nothing can complement your photos better then video. Almost every shooter I meet offers only video or photography, but not both. If you don’t want the stress of wedding filmmaking, offering video services for babies and kids could be a fun and rewarding way for you to create special experiences that nobody in your market is offering.


Remember that people buy emotionally, and when you connect photo and video and moments, you have all the right ingredients for final deliverables that parents, friends and family will want to share and have forever.


What a way to make a living, filming precious babies eating cake, crying, giggling, in the cutest outfits and settings with so much love. You have the greatest job in the world, and it’s time to capitalize on it with video.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the June issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


iPhone Filmmaking with Joe Switzer

Sunday, May 1st, 2016


iPhone Filmmaking with Joe Switzer


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the May issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


For years, I’ve laughed at the concept of filming or taking photos with an iPhone. My team and I have teased all the iPhone camera people we encounter. I’m sure you’ve seen a guest at an outdoor wedding in harsh sunlight using a flash with their iPhone. Or how about the guy at a pro sporting event recording with his iPad and trying to zoom in from 400 yards away? All I’ve ever done is laugh at these people. Until now. I’m starting to second-guess myself, and have been thinking the iPhone is a movie studio in our pockets that can change the video world as we know it.

Here are the top five reasons you need to start using an iPhone on your shoots.


#1 – Easy to Use and Share

The iPhone is the ultimate camera for capturing photo and video moments. Last month, we filmed the wedding of two pro photographers in Las Vegas. Many of the guests were legends in the wedding photo world who had the latest state-of-the-art cameras and lenses with them. But many of them were taking photos with their phones, including the groom.

This makes sense to me. It’s easy. Your phone is always in your hand or pocket. You can quickly share on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. Your cameras can’t compete with the ability to capture and share moments instantly. The convenience of your iPhone makes it more likely you will capture the most real, emotional, funny and glorious moments on the fly.

Anytime my family and I go on a trip or to a family function, we rarely take our professional cameras with us. We don’t want to lug around equipment. If it’s good enough for family gatherings and vacations, is it good enough for your clients? Maybe it is. One thing is certain: Throughout my life, I’ve shot the greatest, most fun, epic, beautiful, exciting moments on a phone and not a camera.


#2 – Video Tools

The iPhone works with the professional video tools you already have. We found it worked perfectly with tools like the motorized track and Ronin-M. If you want to be more than a handheld iPhone filmmaker, video tools that will take you to the next level.

Taking your iPhone filmmaking seriously means mastering the way you use your device with the different tools. Grab a MeFOTO or Manfrotto iPhone tripod. The MeFOTO is great for off-roading adventures and travel. If you are going to use your iPhone for interviews, weddings or time-lapses, try the more stable Manfrotto.

You can even use your existing tripods with the right adaptors. When filming motion video shots, we used our Ronin-M with the wide-angle lens, and were pleased with how stable and beautiful the shots were. Motorized slider time-lapses with moving clouds looked almost as good as with our professional cameras.


#3 – Inexpensive

For less than $300, you can get everything you need to capture professional-looking footage.

You probably already have an iPhone or something similar. The Manfrotto iPhone tripod is only $75. The MeFOTO tripod kit is $149, and the MeFOTO SideKick360 Plus adaptor is $35.

The Olloclip 4-in-1 Lens combines a fisheye, wide-angle, 10x macro and 15x macro all in one for only $79.99. Olloclip’s other two options are the Active Lens and the Macro Pro Lens. We experimented with the Macro, and found it difficult to get close enough to the subject to get video shots. To film your eye, for example, the camera lens has to be about an inch away from your eye. The Macro won’t work for everyone, but if you’re into filming bugs or something in the medical field, it could be useful. The Active Lens is our next purchase because it gives you an ultrawide and telephoto lens in one for $99.


#4 – Simplicity

The iPhone is the easiest camera to use. What other camera in the world can every 5-year-old pick up and use to take photos and video within seconds? What makes it easy is that you don’t have to worry about customizing functions or navigating tedious menu systems. It might have limited functions, but it does the basics really well and produces tremendous results. It’s the most efficient camera on the market.

With other cameras I’ve owned, I would always press the wrong button and wind up in some weird setting where I couldn’t focus or take photos. With the iPhone, there are no buttons, so you won’t get lost in settings. The basics like focusing and exposure can be locked in by just touching the screen.


#5 – Sophistication

The iPhone is loaded with cutting-edge technology. The iPhone 6s Plus can film in 4K and shoot 12MP photos. You can even take still photos while you’re recording. It has the largest video screen I’ve ever held.

Not enough to get you excited? I’ll keep going then. The iPhone can shoot 240 fps slow motion. It can time-lapse without an intervalometer, and you can zoom in while you’re recording. You can live-stream on Facebook as well.

Could you imagine if a camera company came out with a DSLR or mirrorless camera that could do all of this? We will always want smaller, faster, better. Apple has given us the winning combination of the technology we all want in the smallest package.

Try out your iPhone with your existing tools and see how you like the results. It’s the video tools and techniques that are the most important thing for you to focus on. Other camera phones may be just as good. If you want to see the iPhone in action, watch the video with this article. We filmed it entirely on an iPhone. Motion, time-lapses, tripod and track shots with a few of the Olloclip lenses looked really great.

Still don’t want to try video on your phone? Imagine going to a photo or video shoot with your camera and lenses in the same pocket, a camera as thin as a pencil and lenses as small as ChapStick. I’ve seen three major evolutions in video in my life. The first was high definition. You could really see and feel the difference with those cameras. The second was when filmmakers started using DSLRs for video. This allowed mainstream filmmakers in the wedding industry to have a chance at producing Hollywood-quality content.

Now the time has come for the third evolution in the last two decades. It’s time the creative world woke up and embraced mobile phones. A movie studio is in your pocket. What are you going to do with it?


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the May issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

Top 12 Tools for Wedding Filmmakers in 2016 with Joe Switzer

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016


Top 12 Tools for Wedding Filmmakers in 2016 with Joe Switzer


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the April issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


#12 Monopod


For our weddings, this is our most-used tool. It’s easy to carry around and get quick video shots with on the fly. You miss fewer moments using a monopod. Over the years, we have filmed with about 10 different ones. The one we are most comfortable with and endorse is the Manfrotto MVM500A. It moves fluidly and is stable. We have used it as a tripod with lenses as long as 200mm with our hands off of the camera, and the monopod won’t fall over. We use two monopods on our wedding-day shoots, one monopod for girls’ prep and the other for guys’ prep. Once the ceremony starts, we go down to one monopod for the rest of the day.


#11 Tripod


When I was getting into this business, a photographer friend told me to buy a good tripod and it will last forever, and he was right. Our carbon-fiber Manfrotto has lasted about eight years now. Sand, ice, saltwater, and wear and tear from thousands of shoots has had no impact on this tripod. If you have the budget, get one.


On wedding-day shoots, we typically use the tripod for the ceremony and reception with longer lenses like the 200mm and the 135mm. In creative filmmaking, it comes in handy for macro video shots and any motion moments with the track.


Our tripod isn’t small, so we carry it in the Manfrotto tripod case. The durability and convenience of the case has made carrying it so easy that we now use three of the cases to carry the other monopods. You can fit both your monopod and tripod in the same case. The tripod remains one of the most underused video tools. For your weddings this year, use a high-quality tripod. You’ll have better close-ups, macro shots, time-lapses and more angles with your track/tripod combo.


#10 Track


We have been through at least a dozen tracks over the last few years. Last year alone, we went through three tracks, and thought we had found the perfect one until a new track disrupter became available last fall. The company Rhino came out with the EVO carbon motorized slider. The slider moves electronically and takes out any chance of human error. It can be used for motion time-lapses, and by solo filmmakers who want to interview someone and also use motion without hiring another shooter. One of its movements goes back and forth in a loop.


In the past, technology like this had to be powered by an electrical outlet. This Rhino slider is battery powered and lasts all day—finally a game changer and some innovation in the slider space. If you purchase this, get the 24-inch for weddings. That makes it easy to carry with you and keeps the weight down. If you want the perfect movement with no human error, this is what you’ve been waiting for.


#9 Sony a7S/RII


We will continue to use two Sony a7S’s and one Sony A7RII for our weddings. We like the low-light capabilities of the Sony a7S. The Sony A7RII films in 4K, which we sometimes use for our motion shots so we can crop afterward. We film 95 percent of wedding video on the 1080p setting. I suggest a 128GB card and the duel battery pack attachment for all your cameras. With that setup, you will have to change batteries only one time throughout the day. The last thing you want to worry about is changing batteries during the ceremony or a speech.


Pick up your camera by the tool and not the camera. If you have your camera powered on and you move locations by picking up the camera instead of picking it up by the tripod, you risk failure of the SD card. You will still have the video content on the card, but you will not be able to use the card the rest of the day. Always have extra cards handy in case you find yourself in a situation like that. With two of us filming all day, we have the third camera set up on the unmanned tripod for the ceremony and reception. This way, we always have a safe angle to cut to. For post-ceremony creatives, we use the extra camera for time-lapses.


#8 Instagram


This year, small companies will likely be able to pay to start advertising photos and video with Instagram. With monthly average users now over 400 million, this social media company has become too big to ignore. Videos are limited to 15 seconds, making it more likely people will engage and finish watching your video posts. We use Instagram to post the wedding teasers and show behind-the-scenes. It’s easy and free to make a movie trailer of your weddings to build interest and anticipation.


#7 Vimeo


We upload all our weddings to Vimeo. This is the best way to back up your content in the cloud. When your clients lose their DVD or jump drive, you can always download the file. Vimeo also looks great when you embed your wedding videos on your website.


#6 Final Cut Pro


This is how our films come to life. We have edited with Adobe and we like it, but just not as much as Final Cut. If you are not part of the Apple ecosystem of iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and Mac, it might be best for you to use Sony, Avid, Microsoft or Adobe editing tools. We prefer Final Cut because you can use all types of footage without having to convert anything. If you had to, you could use footage from your GoPro, iPhone, Sony and Canon cameras. You can put it all in Final Cut and start editing right away. We use MacBook Pros with Final Cut to edit all of our films, giving us the flexibility to work on projects anywhere.


#5 Sony Time-Lapse Apps


Rarely do I ever hear anyone talk about these Sony apps, so I’m guessing most don’t take advantage of them. If you want to save time and enjoy technological convenience, this app is for you. To download it, go to the Sony app store when you have a Wi-Fi connection with your camera. The apps are only a few dollars. Purchase both the star and regular time-lapse apps. Now you don’t have to worry about intervalometers or editing photos together in post—the apps do all of this for you.


Two examples of time-lapses for weddings would be a church with clouds in motion and a reception venue at night with cars and stars making a streaking motion over the venue. Capture and edit time-lapses with one push of the shutter button.


#4 Slack


If you work with multiple people and have multiple projects going on, Slack is something to consider. Rather than sending hundreds of texts and emails, and wasting time on conference calls, you can connect with Slack instead. This is one of the fastest-growing technology companies on the planet. You can sign up for free and start your group.


Slack makes it easy to organize threads for each of your weddings. Just click on each person’s wedding and get all the info. Instead of trying to find the email with the time and locations for a particular wedding, you can organize all inspiration and information in Slack and have all of your clients’ information organized. Save time and collaborate together in the most simple way.


#3 Ronin-M


Say goodbye to all the other motion stabilizers. This product is a category killer as well as the most fun and rewarding video tool I’ve used. On a wedding day, we use the Ronin for prep, ceremony, post and reception. The lenses we use on this device are the Sony 10–18mm and the Sony 55mm. This gives you the variety you need with wide- and medium-composition video shots.


If you purchase this, be sure to get the updates and balance it right. After you initially set it up, you won’t need to take the stand or remote with you on wedding-day shoots. We are rough with the Ronin, and have gotten it wet, frozen, dropped it and shipped it in suitcases. It looks fragile, but it’s rough and tough. The battery will last you all day. The only must-have accessory is the thumb remote.


#2 Facebook


Facebook is the clear king of social media. If you combined Canon, Sony, Panasonic, GoPro, Nikon and Disney, you would find that Facebook is bigger then all of them combined. With our advertising and marketing dollars this year, we will invest 100 percent of it with Facebook.


When we meet our brides, the first thing all of them tell us is that they stalk our Switzerfilm fan page. Videos we produced for weddings and corporate last year received over 500,000 views on Facebook. Posting your wedding videos on YouTube is fine, but you can connect faster and easier with your bride and groom using social media.


Some say Facebook can be a distraction, and they’re right. Limit how many groups you join and focus on your business page. Most filmmakers tend to spend their social time talking shop or gossiping in groups while spending little or no time on their company page. Be genuine, show interest, connect and communicate with people/companies that inspire you and your clients. Invest money and time in Facebook.


#1 SongFreedom


Music is the template for all our films. The feel of the video and the engagement all depends on the connection between music and film. All the music we license is from SongFreedom. Without it, we would sacrifice our quality and just have random songs that mean nothing to us or our clients, who have deep connections with all types of music.


When we need help finding that perfect song, we can rely on SongFreedom to provide the perfect customized playlist for us to share with our clients. In a world without SongFreedom, I wouldn’t be able to use mainstream music. We measure the success of our weddings by how well our product engages with the couple and the public. Our most recent wedding video has over 110,000 views, and it wouldn’t have that traction without the music.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the April issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

Filmmaking in Extreme Conditions with Joe Switzer

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016



Filmmaking in Extreme Conditions with Joe Switzer


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the March issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


We’re taking you behind the scenes on our Pennsylvania shoot in the Laurel Highlands. The shoot took place in the most intense, epic, challenging and extreme environment conditions we have ever faced. This storm goes down in the history books as Winter Storm Jonas. Jonas produced 32 inches of snow in the area we filmed. In this article, I show you how to face down the perfect storm.


The video gear used for the shoot was a Sony A7s, Sony A7R2, GoPro Hero 4, GoPro attachments and a handful of both Sony and Canon lenses: 50mm, 55mm, 100m macro, 16–35mm, 10–18mm, 14mm and 200mm. Other video tools included a tripod, monopod, track, Ronin-M and a DJI Phantom 3.


Surprisingly, all the equipment held up and functioned rather well. The Sony cameras were a little difficult to use with gloves on, so we had to have one glove on and one glove off most of the time. This allowed us to go through menu settings, focus with the lens and press Record.


A few times during the peak of the storm, our Sony A7s menu quit. We weren’t able to scroll and change the frame rates. The camera still focused and recorded, so we were just stuck with whatever the settings were. All the snow made it nearly impossible to change lenses. I just stuck with a wide lens, and the other filmmaker, Kristin, used the 50mm.


There was just no way to change lenses and not get the sensor or inside of the lenses wet with snow. Kristin focused on close-ups using a tripod and monopod. I used handheld with my wide lens during the blizzard. When the storm was over, I was able to turn on the Ronin-M and get all the motion video. Using handheld was a first for me—as many of you know, I’m not a fan of that technique. Even though we wanted to use the DJI Phantom in the snowstorm, we waited until we had light snow showers. At the top of the mountains, the outside temperature was near zero, and not one battery gave us any trouble except the Sony batteries. We use the dual battery pack that allows us to shoot with two Sony batteries, so even when one would drain quickly, we were still fine. The GoPro cameras are of course made for storms like this and did really well. We put them on helmets, skis, snowboards, snowmobiles and even the sled dogs. As extreme as the conditions were, our gear did not let us down.


Next, let’s go behind the scenes on our two-day shoot in Pennsylvania.



Day 1: Nemacolin Woodlands Resort


It was the middle of the blizzard. Snow was dumping up to 2 inches an hour on us. Our mission was to film dog sledding, tubing, skiers, animals and the beauty of the resort in the wintry weather.


First up that day was the dog sledding. We wanted to film the dogs getting their gear on and lined up on the sled. Normally we divide and have one filmmaker get track/tripod/monopod shots, and the other uses the Ronin-M for motion. With snow waist deep and still coming down hard, we couldn’t use the Ronin or track. The track was frozen and the snow would’ve eventually ruined and frozen the Ronin. We had to film the first scene with a monopod and handheld.


The reason for the handheld was because of the difficulty setting up a tripod in the snow and all the dogs moving around. Minutes after we started, our LCD screens went black from the cold, or perhaps the snow did something to it. We had to film the majority of the scene looking in the viewfinders.


When something like this happens, don’t worry about fixing it. Just keep getting your shots and worry about fixing your gear later. Sony A7s cameras allow you to record and zoom focus at the same time. This function was clutch for the conditions, and we used it all day for the skiers, animals and establishing shots.


One of my favorite things to film is animals. Filming them in the snow was a first for me. We were dressed plenty warm, which allowed us to be patient and wait to get the look we wanted, which was the white tiger charging us.


The final scene of the day was the ski area. The top three tools for this were a simple clamp mount for the snowmobile, a sticky on a ski and the Rhino GoPro 360 swivel mount on a drone. We mostly focused on the snowmobile since the skiers and tubers couldn’t move much in the knee-deep snow.


When we were about finished with the GoPro shots, the snow started to dissipate. This gave us a chance to launch the drone. Charles King was our pilot and photographer. Fortunately, the light snow showers didn’t impact the drone. The biggest struggle we encountered was operating the drone with gloves on. Charles had a tough time feeling his fingers to operate the remote. We also had to clear a launching pad by shoveling snow off a patch of concrete. Next time, we’ll have someone assisting the drone operator by handing them gloves and hand warmers when they need them.




Day 2: Seven Springs Mountain Resort


We wanted to focus on aerials, time-lapses, unique resort actives and motion on the slopes. This wouldn’t have been possible without help from Britton Wasmer and his partner in crime, Mark, who flew in to help. Mark and his friends were the talent for the video, and they also helped us film.


We started at the top of the mountain for drone and time-lapses. The sun was being stubborn about coming out, and the wind chill factor was in the negatives. With no communication (my iPhone was frozen), our teams were able to divide and concur. It’s so important that everyone on your team can separate and handle themselves independently. We filmed festivals, ice carving, sleigh rides, snow boarding and skiing, time-lapses, GoPro point of view, more snowmobiles and aerials of all the scenes. We did all this with little communication. The teams just rolled with it.


Whenever you’re planning your shoots, get ready for when things do not go perfect. Know that your batteries, schedule and techniques will fail. You will have to adjust. So roll with it. We had other issues that day with GoPro attachments not sticking, but electrical tape fixed that. The weather was so cold that we went through about eight batteries, but we had 15 extras charged and ready. Everything we carried with us was on our hip or in our hands, which allowed us to film anything quickly. We used the Ronin-M without a stand or calibration. Its battery lasted all day, and, even after crashing with it on one of my skis, it performed flawlessly.


Final thoughts


Know your situation and prepare. Pay attention to weather conditions, especially in winter. Think about where your shoot is and how you can make it easy on yourself to get places and follow through with results. Pay the extra money to stay as close as possible to your shoot. Driving 50 miles in a blizzard doesn’t make any sense. Wear layers of clothing and boots. You can always take a layer off, but if you’re underdressed, your day is over before it begins. We dressed like we were going on a skiing trip, and the goggles helped us with all the wind and snow.


Pack light and have all the video gear you need with you. You might not be able to get to your lens bag all day. Have your video gear on your hip or in a bag that attaches to you. Charge your batteries, format your cards, have your lenses and sensors cleaned before the shoot. Prepare yourself so you start the day running and not assembling, charging, formatting or looking for your tools.


Your success depends on how ready you are to seize the day. You should use this mindset on all your shoots, especially when conditions are unfavorable. You will eventually be presented one of Mother Nature’s extreme weather situations. Things will go wrong no matter how much you prepare. React and roll with it. Think quickly and enjoy the challenge. This was the most extreme shoot we’ve faced. This is why I’m in this game. I hope to have a chance to attack another situation like this again.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the March issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


You Are Likely Flying Your Drone Very Illegally with Rob Adams

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016



You Are Likely Flying Your Drone Very Illegally with Rob Adams


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the February issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


It seems like everyone in the photo and video world has a drone these days. We can now get amazing perspectives and high-angle shots with superb image quality, allowing us to take our productions to a whole new level. But you may be surprised to hear that if you are flying a drone like the insanely popular DJI Phantom series of quad-copters, you are very likely breaking the law—federal law.


The Federal Aviation Administration just enacted new regulations for small UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) that cover all drones weighing between .55 and 55 pounds total, between the aircraft itself and any payload. Many of us (including me, before I dug deeper) thought that all we would have to do is register our drone via the Federal Aviation Administration website when the time came, pay our $5 fee, affix our registration number to the drone and off we fly. Wrong.


The new drone regulations that went into effect on December 21, 2015, the ones everyone has been talking about, legally apply only to hobbyists, not commercial users. Commercial users operate drones for profit, so we are bound by other, more stringent regulations and operational license requirements. According to the FAA website (, any person or business that flies a drone for commercial profit must apply for a Section 333 exemption from the FAA, which allows them to operate their small UAS under more specific guidelines.


That’s not all. The new UAS regulations stipulate that hobbyists who register their drones must abide by certain rules. They must maintain a flight ceiling of 400 feet in elevation above sea level (not 400 feet from where you are standing), not fly within 5 miles of any airport or government building, and not fly directly over people or highways. The exemption further states that drones must not fly at a speed greater than 80 MPH, and that users maintain visual line of sight at all times, fly only during daylight hours, never around stadiums or sports complexes, and always have a dedicated observer during all flights to keep visual track of the UAS.


But wait, there’s more. Commercial drone operators who are granted the Section 333 exemption must also obtain and carry a Certificate of Waiver, issued with a granted Section 333, and must obtain an FAA Airman Certificate. That’s right, you need a pilot’s certification to fly your drone commercially. Don’t shoot me, I’m just deciphering the federal law. You can see screenshots of the UAS registration information on the FAA website in Figures 1.1 through 1.4.


What this means is that the new drone regulations basically don’t apply to any of us using our drones for commercial purposes, and we must still jump through hoops that have always been in place in order to fly and capture images with our drones legally. So the new regulations are basically only for enthusiasts who got a drone for Christmas this year and fly only for fun. Depending on where you live and your local laws, you may need to visit a local flight school to become certified for the Airman Certificate.


The FAA’s website shows examples of Section 333 exemption applications that have been submitted, and also letters of approval so you can see who is actually licensed to fly their drones and what permits are pending. The information is very specific. Each applicant is required to list the type, model and serial number of the drone they intend to fly, for what purpose and what the final payload will be. If accepted, the FAA will authorize specific permission for what you have listed for a period of two years. You can see a portion of one such approval letter here detailing the permissions granted.


You’ll have to affix your registration number someplace on your drone where it is plainly visible, and there is a $5 fee to obtain the registration certificate. No sticker is provided, just a number that you can put on the drone by means of a marker, label, sticker or etching.


The FAA is also getting serious about giving everyone the right to declare their property, residential or commercial, as a “no drone zone,” providing logos on its website that people can download to put on signs and stickers.


For a videographer like me, the new regulations pose a glaring issue. I’m not a pilot, nor do I think I will be taking a certification course to become one. Have you seen what it costs to learn to fly? It’s cheaper for me to outsource my drone work to someone who holds the certifications, and let them assume all the risk and responsibility. For as little as I use my drone for wedding work and commercial ventures, I certainly won’t be jumping through these hoops unless absolutely necessary. I won’t be flying my drone illegally, either. You will likely find it listed for sale on Close5 or eBay soon.


Here’s the text from the FAA’s website detailing Section 333’s requirement for the pilot’s certification:


By law, any aircraft operation in the national airspace requires a certificated and registered aircraft, a licensed pilot*, and operational approval. Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA) grants the Secretary of Transportation the authority to determine whether an airworthiness certificate is required for a UAS to operate safely in the National Airspace System (NAS).

*This authority is being leveraged to grant case-by-case authorization for certain unmanned aircraft to perform commercial operations prior to the finalization of the Small UAS Rule, which will be the primary method for authorizing small UAS operations once it is complete.


The Section 333 Exemption process provides operators who wish to pursue safe and legal entry into the NAS a competitive advantage in the UAS marketplace, thus discouraging illegal operations and improving safety. It is anticipated that this activity will result in significant economic benefits, and the FAA Administrator has identified this as a high priority project to address demand for civil operation of UAS for commercial purposes.


This is pretty clear, and it’s a blow to all of us videographers and photographers who’ve been having great fun producing stunning aerial images with technology that is only getting better as demand increases.


In my video in this issue, I speak with Ray Adams, who’s an FAA spokesman and president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association Northeast Region (and also my older brother). We discuss these regulations and the misconception that commercial drone operators are required to do only what’s required of hobbyists.



Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the February issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

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