A sports production will utilize a variety of camera types, unique point-ofview shots, extremely long telephoto lenses and different kinds of camera mounts.
However, the best equipment is useless in the hands of an unskilled camera operator. One of the keys to being a good camera operator is the ability to listen to the director and to anticipate where the action is going and the type of shot the director wants to include. The following article outlines the various shots, camera moves, composition often used, and touchs on basic care of a video camera.
Camera shots are relative to what you are shooting and must be defined by the director. Camera shot categories are loosely defined. A long shot for one director in a stadium may be a medium shot for a studio director.
The long shot (LS) establishes the scene. This shot shows the audience and director the over all context in which the action is taking place. The distance from the camera to the subject is relative to what you are shooting. For example, a long shot of a person would show the entire person from head to toe. A long shot of the field of play may show the entire field of play.
The extreme long shot (XLS or ELS) is further away than the long shot. Using the examples under long shot, an XLS shot of a person would show the person and their immediate surroundings. An extreme long shot of the field of play may be a blimp shot capturing the entire stadium.
The medium shot (MS) generally tells the story. This is the main shot that shows the subject as well as some of the context. A medium shot of a person may capture them from the waist up. A medium shot at a stadium may include the whole person or even a couple of people.
The close-up shot (CU) adds drama. It is a close shot of the subject being discussed in the program or a person's face. In a large stadium, the close-up may be a shot of a person from the waist up.
The extreme close-up shot (XCU or ECU) intensifies the drama by showing the viewer details of the object being discussed or capturing the emotion on a person's face. ECUs dramatically increase the communication of the emotion.
The following are the primary reasons why camera movement is used during an event:
• It gives a unique perspective of the action that can't be seen any other way. For example: a helicopter or blimp shot puts the field of play into perspective geographically. A camera mounted on a motorcycle allows the director to stay with the leader throughout a marathon.
• It provides the viewer a feel for the motion of the action. A tracking camera can move alongside sprinters enhancing the viewer's perception of their pace, or a dive camera can drop with a diver capturing impact into the water and the speed of descent.
• Camera movement can pull the spectator into the event. A crane shot can continuously move from a wide shot, with the camera showing the audience, to a close-up of action occurring on the field of play. A Steady-cam, moving with an athlete from the locker room to the field of play gives the viewer an intimate view of the athlete's perspective of an event.
A variety of camera and lens moves are used by camera operators to capture the desired coverage.
Zoom. A variable focal length lens. This lens has the ability to continuously go from wide angle to close-up. Directors will sometimes use the word "tighten" to zoom in and "loosen" to zoom out to a wide shot.
Pan. Refers to moving the camera left or right on the camera support's axis, for example, pan right, pan left.
Tilt. Refers to moving the camera up or down on the camera support's axis, for example, tilt up, tilt down.
Arc. Refers to the movement of a camera on a curved path. Arcs can occur on a dolly track, hand-held or Steady-cam, for example, arc left or arc right.
Truck. A camera and mount movement to the left or right, for example, truck left or truck right.
Dolly. A camera support that allows a camera to move in different directions. It can also refer to an actual camera move (dolly-in or dolly-out). Dolly-in refers to moving the camera and support forward. Dolly-out is when the camera and support moves backwards.
Crane up/Pedestal up. A crane/pedestal movement is when the camera is moved up or down utilizing a crane or pedestal. Cranes have become an accepted and even expected part of sports coverage. The crane allows continuous movement from a close-up to a high, wide angle giving an entirely different perspective of the event.
As we mentioned earlier, the director will assign the crew to specific cameras and also dictate the type of shot that the camera operators must capture. The camera's viewfinder may not display exactly what the director is seeing in the truck. It is not uncommon for a camera operator to find that centered for their camera may not be centered in the truck. The director will instruct the camera operator on composition. The camera operator should stick with the director's instruction, even if it looks a little off on the camera.
The wider a camera shot, the easier it is to follow the action. However, the wider the shot, the less exciting the image is. Many times directors will ask camera operators to start tight and then widen the shot as the action proceeds. It is important to remember not to get too tight making it impossible to follow the play.
Another advantage of the wide shot is that it is easier to shoot steady handheld images. Telephoto lenses amplify camera movement; movement is less noticeable with a wide shot. Hand-held camera operators should get as close to the action as possible while still using the wide angle shot. Of course, in sports, it is not always possible to get close to the action. For this reason, cameras are equipped with long lenses and always placed on heavy-duty tripods to ensure steadiness.
A tripod substantially increases the stability of the camera and allows more accessibility to the camera's remote controls, even on an ENG type camera. Without a tripod, it is difficult to focus, zoom, tilt, and pan at the same time.
For beginners, keeping the subject in focus can be incredibly difficult. However, with experience, it becomes second nature. There are primarily two methods of focusing in sports follow focusing and zone focusing.
Follow Focus. Follow focus, also known as critical focus or tracking focus, means that the camera operator is continually adjusting the focus in order to keep the subject in focus. This is particularly critical when using a telephoto lens.
Zone Focus. The zone method of focusing means that the camera operator pre-focuses on the field of play, knowing that anything that comes into a specific area will be in focus. There are a number of variables that determine the effectiveness of zone focusing. First of all, if a wide angle lens is being used on a bright day, the zone of focus, or depth of field, may be from 1.2 m to infinity. The longer the lens, the less depth of field it can cover. Many times there are not enough cameras to allow cameras to focus only on one zone.
Anticipation is the key to composing shots for sports. The camera operator must anticipate where the competitors are going next in order to capture an image that means something to the viewer. Although good composition is relative to a person's perspective, there are certain composition standards. Good shot composition allows the viewer to have a better understanding of what is going on, makes the viewing experience more enjoyable and can significantly improve the entire production quality.
Composition for Action Shots
• Make sure that there is enough headroom.
• Always keep the subject in the frame (with fast moving action, this can sometimes be incredibly difficult).
• Keep the competitors centered in the frame. However, when the player or team is in motion, always shoot with lead room.
• Watch the background. Ensure that it adds context to the shot.
• Make sure that the horizon is straight for all cameras. This can especially be a problem for handheld cameras.
Composition for Interviews
• Make sure there is enough headroom.
• When needed, compose for graphics. A graphic may need to be inserted below or beside the head.
• Always watch the background. Look for elements that appear to pop out of the talent's head (flags, trees, etc.).
• Whenever possible, interviews should be shot in context. The background should add something to the interview. It should tell you something about the person being interviewed or the event being covered.
• Do not show too much profile.
• Make sure that there is lead room, space for the talent to look toward.
Caring for the Camera
Cameras are very fragile and it is essential to treat them with the utmost care. When working remotes, camera operators and assistants must be especially mindful of the following conditions which could damage the equipment.
Weather. Cameras must be protected from extreme heat, rain, and snow. Extremely cold temperatures reduce the life of equipment and batteries. Condensation can form when moving equipment from cold temperatures into a warm room, rendering the equipment useless.
Water. Cameras cannot be submerged in water without the appropriate underwater gear. If a camera does become submerged, it is generally irreparable.
Dust/Sand. Dusty situations wreak havoc on equipment, especially record/playback heads. When the heads become dirty, recording and playback is impossible. It is generally impossible to repair a lens or camera that has been dropped into sand.
Drops / Vibrations. Equipment must be carefully packed in shock absorbent material (foam or a padded case) when travelling. Airplanes, cars, and all other types of transportation will vibrate the camera, often loosening boards and screws. Cameras cannot handle the jolts from being dropped, which can cause video/audio heads and CCDs to go out of alignment.
Magnetic Fields. Videotapes must be kept away from magnetic fields. This can erase or deteriorate the image on the tape.
It is essential to have all cameras properly adjusted for optimal image quality. Video operators (VO), sometimes known as shaders, are responsible for shading or adjusting the cameras. Cameras need constant attention, especially when shooting outdoors. As the weather changes or as the sun and/or clouds move across the sky, the lighting can change drastically on the same field of play. Video operators work in the video control area of the mobile unit, using the camera control unit (CCU) or remote control unit (RCU) to adjust the various components of the cameras. Generally an RCU is used to control the CCU.
Video operators adjust cameras for correct color, white balance, and contrast. VOs use master black (pedestal) and the white level (iris) for camera adjustments. They use an oscilloscope and wave form monitor to enable them to create the best quality video image.