Week 5 Reading

Week 5 Reading log

The Reading:

  • Rabiger, M. (2004) Directing the Documentary, London: Focal Press. Ch.20: Camera Equipment and Shooting Procedure

With information from:

This was reading week for all disciplines. There was limited reading material as there was no workshop or lecture to read on and so this week was used to get me more prepared for actually shooting the film.

Camera equipment

The chapter opens with describing that “good documentaries can still be made with modest equipment” pp.287, and this is a sentiment I have always agreed with. The most common excuse for not filming is ‘ugh my equipment can’t do X’ or ‘Isn’t good at Y’. As long as one has a device that films, one can make a film. This chapter will hopefully cover all of the technical sides to the practicality of filming and not simply the variation of equipment (as I only have access to the equipment provided to me). It is also important to note that this book was originally published in 1987, therefore some of the detail and modern advances may be out of date for 2017.

Camera Body

This section describes the shoulder mounted camera is the best for documentary shooting as most documentary films are shot hand-held, Rabiger cites the Éclair NPR film camera here, “The last models designed by Eclair in the early-1980s came too late to save the company from bankruptcy and were hardly produced” (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eclair_(company) ). This is obviously out of date but some of the ideas are still useful to note, such as the inclusion of a fold-out colour screen which can be tilted vertically to frame a subject from where ever the camera operator is. This is an aspect of the Sony xdcam pxw-x70 camcorder 1080p, the camera I am filming my documentary with. The addition of this fold out screen is perfect to frame shots in the exact way I choose.


This section is again full of interesting information about the size of a lens to remove instability, how to use focal length to a filmmakers advantage and so on, but I do not have the option to change out the lens of my camera for each scene or shot. In some ways, this makes filming easier as I do not have to worry about disorienting changes in a shot which can happen with a constantly changing lens, however it does mean that I do not have the range to get an effect I may desire. For instance, if I wanted to use a wide angle lens in a small room to show the audience as much as possible, I would not be able to do this. I understand the importance of lenses and focal lengths, but I am unable to take advantage of this feature of a camera for my documentary.

Exposure control, Gain & Colour balance

Rabiger stresses the importance of manual exposure in this section, how f-stops should be used to maintain a shot’s exposure, this is an important note for focus too. Automatic focus and automatic exposure will attempt to adapt to a shot as it changes, the example Rabiger gives is of a woman in a white dress walking through the scene. The exposure should be kept steady throughout the shot to maintain audience engagement, any noticeable change in the films exposure will take the audience right out of the film.

Rabiger notes the importance of white balancing. This is to resent the camera’s knowledge of true white in a scene as the warmth of two locations may differ, cold blue white in one location is opposite to a warm yellow white in another. He does admit automatic white balancing may be useful when tracking a subject “walking through different colour zones in, for instance, an airport.” pp.291

Gain on a camera is another way of getting light into an image. An increase in picture noise is a by-product of adding gain and so if this is not essential the feature should be avoided. This I don’t think will be an issue for me however, as I am shooting outside or in set-up indoor locations, light should never be an issue for me in my documentary.

Power supplies

The Sony xdcam pxw-x70 camcorder uses a “DC In: 8.4 V, Battery: 6.8 V / 7.2 V” according to its website. ( https://www.sony.co.uk/pro/product/broadcast-products-camcorders-xdcam/pxw-x70/ ) The shooting time for this battery I believe is around 120 minutes. As I am only allowed the camera overnight, I am not concerned with battery life.

Camera support systems

One camera support system I do have access to is a tripod, yay! This will give me the ability to film static shots, choosing the hight and angle of the camera to frame my subject how I need to exactly. I do not have any high-tech equipment such as a hydraulically damped tilt heads so tracking shots may be ‘wobbly’ as they will all be human controlled. Rabiger has tips for the budget filmmaker in here too such as using a wheelchair as a dolly or simply shooting outside of a car when a track-dolly is out of the budget. (As my film has no budget I may utilise some of these tips).

I do have a spreader or a spider which is a bracket attached to each leg of a tripod used for stabilisation and for preventing the legs spreading out or “denting an expensive floor” pp.292. I again do not have access to a wide range of equipment and have no budget to spend on the film at all. I am limited to the equipment I have and my imagination for how to use it.

Shooting logs

Rabiger gets into how to shoot effectively and get the shots you need. He lays out two types of log:

  • Camera log, to get the shots in order and ensure all the shots needed are filmed
  • and a sound log, to do the same, but for sound

Logs in action

Rabiger discusses a higher budget shoot than mine with multiple cameras. For my shoot, the log will be used to check the shots I have already filmed and those shots I still need to film as I have only one camera. The sound log will be an interesting exercise to take part in as I have not used one before, previously I have used the sound in the shot, used music over the film or recorded all ambient sound to use over what I need to. I have never used a sound log, and am excited to be so professional.

In Conclusion

A lot of this section did not apply to my film in particular as I have no budget, cannot choose my equipment and am limited in the amount of my film I can alter. However, I this section fascinated me as the procedures and choices Rabiger lays out in this section apply to professional shoots. In the future when I have more control over the technology used in my film, and a budget, I shall revisit chapter 20 of Rabiger’s Directing the Documentary. Next week is back to full reading and getting into production of my documentary film. Finally!

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