I have a huge library of footage from my years of cinematography that I’ve wanted to put up on microstock sites like Pond5.com and so I’ve committed to process at least 10 clips a day for 30 days. I’m now 10 days in and exceeding my daily quotas but I’m also learning a few new things which also happens to be one of the key reasons you should always review your footage, preferably sooner after you’ve shot it than a full year.
The key lessons I’m learning now revolve around image stabilization. As a former FCP7 user, I had limited post production options in that suite to stabilize footage. It pretty much came down to their smooth cam filter or figuring out After Effects. Now that I’m a nearly satisfied Adobe Premiere Pro user, I’m having a lot of fun and satisfaction using both the Rolling Shutter Repair and Warp Stabilizer filters that come built in. Ideally, you will have perfect conditions and perfect equipment. You only want to use these filters when you really need to. The footage I’m working with right now, though, was shot anywhere from 100mm to 800mm on a Canon 7d (which has a 1.6x crop factor so multiply by that). I was shooting up in Churchill, Canada for Polar Bears International
in less than ideal conditions. The winds on the tundra can be brutal and in order to prevent being eaten, we are confined to a “Tundra Buggy” which is kind of like a short white school bus on monster truck wheels. Only occasionally do we get down on the ground and then only briefly and with lots of eyes looking out for hungry bears. The long and the short of this combo, long lens + wind + unstable platform, is that a lot of my footage is less than stable. The wind adds in some rolling shutter artifacts and all of a sudden my footage could be unusable and unsellable. With the afore mentioned filters I can fix a lot of these clips and keep them in my library. Howevvvvver....the stabilization process actually begins before you press record and here are a few things you can do to help the process if you know you are in a tough situation. You may not be able to do all of these but doing what you can may make the difference between usable and unusable.
- Garbage in, Garbage out. Do everything you can to keep the original shot stable, especially if you are really reaching out there with a long lens. Use as heavy a tripod as you can. Find a lee or make a lee with your body or jacket or something if the wind is blowing. Once you press record, take your hands off the rig. Your body can be a big source of jiggle on long shots.
- Forget about moving the camera. As mentioned above, your body can add jiggle on long shots but more than that, even a super smooth pan can challenge the filters. The more constancy in your frame, the easier it is for the software to find fixed points and orient to them. Think about this when you get to post as well. Trimming out the original shake from when you pushed the record button or that last 5 seconds of the botched pan-tilt-zoom move you tried even though you knew it wasn’t going to work can get you much better results from the software. Keeping your frame as static as you an lets the software avoid trying to stabilize movement that you intended to be there.
- Double your shutter speed. On DSLRs and other cameras where the shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second rather than degrees, I typically try to shoot at 1 over my fps times 2. So for 24fps, I shoot at 1/48 (or 1/50th on some cameras). That sounds fast but it really isn’t. If the wind is blowing your lens around and you are at 800mm, the subject is really moving around that frame and creating blur. In some cases this is a nice effect but it really challenges the warp stabilizer filter. And for that matter filters like Twixtor that adjust speed. These filters take the image you give them and make a lot of algorithmic guesses. The cleaner and crisper the frame, the better the guesses are, i.e. the better the results. One of my pet peeves is DSLR shooters shooting at 1/500th in order to cut down exposure. It looks terrible but if I think I’m going to be applying stabilization in post, I’ll double my shutter speed or even quadruple it, depending on light. It’s a judgement call but it will give you a cleaner frame.
- Use a stabilized lens. This goes along with number 1 above but if you can, use a stabilized lens. These lenses can take out a lot of the smaller shakes and bumps.
- Shoot as wide as you can. As I’ve indicated above the physics of shooting at long focal lengths makes stability even tougher. If the wind is howling and you don’t need to count the hairs on the polar bears ears, consider picking up those wider shots. You’ll reduce the relative movement in your frame and have a steadier shot.
- Shoot at higher resolutions. One of the things the stabilizer software does to work it’s magic may be to increase the scale of your image. If you are shooting at 720p instead of 1080p, it may mean a 20%digital zoom instead of a 5%. Shooting at higher resolutions will also give the software more information (pixels) to work with.
- Buy a powerful computer that can process these clips. It will save you time. You’ll be doing a lot of analyzing, rendering, tweaking, and repeat and that burns up time quickly when you have lots of clips.
- Finally, don’t shoot interlaced. Ever. Sure it adds additional challenge to the software because it’s not providing a complete image but the real reason is that it just looks terrible, and it’s antiquated (also don’t make people watch anything on DVD for the same reason, please!).
And there you have it. Obviously, you want to avoid having to stabilize your footage at all. We’d all love to shoot perfectly every time but occasionally, or maybe even more often than that, we’ll be out in the wind with a long lens and giant polar bears are slapping each other around 100yds out. It’s nice to know that with a little forethought, you can actually get some useable footage.