Looking for the “New Hampshire Falls” Film? Click here to watch it.
I love the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I enjoy hiking in the remote wilderness of the northeastern part of the United States. I push my mountain bike into the hills and ride the single track to the base of the mountains in the summer time. I am use to lugging heavy bikes and gear into the wild. So why not TV cameras? The hike is fine, I enjoy pushing myself. I would have to make a few trips because I was alone. One thing I always under estimate are the bugs. I have plenty of blood. If a blackfly wants some, he can have it. But why does the thing have to leave behind a big itchy welt? And why do they fly right into the eyes?
A few days ago, I hauled heavy television and grip equipment into the wilderness because I wanted to bring back pretty pictures from some of my favorite places. The light was ok. Mostly cloudy, so I was dealing with dark, flat conditions.
I really enjoy pointing a camera at water. I find it memorizing, relaxing, and as I stare at it, I notice that patterns in the fluid movement are never the same, the water is constantly changing. I find myself searching for color, composition and reflection in every drop. I love the sound of falling water, the white noise settles the soul and clears the mind. I could spend 8 hours at a place like this, and I did! I had my ipod, so that I could listen to the original score that was created by Tom Salta and Alec Harrison for this film. Beautiful soundtrack.
I own a Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM camcorder and I have a Letus Ultimate 35mm lens adapter. I set the camera to record 720p at 30p with overcranking. This allows me to record 60 frames per second and get fluid slow motion as the water moves down the ravine. I ran the Letus Ultimate at “99″ the entire time I shot at the locations. I had a Zoom H4 stereo solid state recorder to get all the wild sound for the film. I logged each audio clip so that I would know where the falling water and babble brook sounds came from.
I lugged a Vinten Vision 3 on single stage carbon fiber sticks into the mountains. This tripod is lightweight, strong and the Vision 3 head is super smooth and balances perfectly. I removed the ground spreader so that I could extend the legs to get the camera in precarious positions to shoot the waterfalls. I was close by, just in case the legs slipped and the camera took a dive into the drink.
I had a large KATA backpack with all my lenses, wipes, batteries, memory sticks, rain gear, Letus tools, and beef jerkey. The bag is lined with a soft, yellow material. I hiked in every lens I owned, but I only ended up using two. The Nikon 200mm f4 tele and the Nikon 24mm f2.8 wide angle. Next time I will pack lighter and only carry four lenses (adding a macro and the fisheye to the lot).
I found a few potholes where the water was trapped from a downpour the previous day. This water was very still as there was little wind. The sky was overcast with some spotty sunshine and in the calm mirror pool, I could see a pretty sweet reflection. I set up the EX1 to record one frame every one second. I added motion blur by setting the “EX slow shutter” to 16 frames. This flooded the cmos sensors with light so I had to stop down the film lens to f3.5 and add a little ND.
One of my favorite bits of gear is my home made skateboard wheel dolly. I mount the dolly on 1 1/4inch PVC pipe and I have two pieces that are 10 feet long. The thing is build very solid and it is heavy. This is a must for any dolly as I have found that the lightweight version tend to be much less smooth and forgiving!
So how did I get it into the deep forest up the side of the mountain? I hiked the dolly in first, leaving my camera and the rest of my kit locked in the Jeep at the trail head. I taped the two pipes together with hockey tape so that they would be easier to negotiate down the over grown trail and rough terrain. I had the dolly platform in my other hand. Once at the shooting location, I tossed the dolly and track in some brush and ran back down the trail to my car. I then gathered the rest of my equipment and hiked back to the waterfalls.
It is very important that you level out the dolly track the best that you can. If you do not, your shot will not be level throughout the dolly move. I found sticks and rocks are much easier to use and find on location rather than packing wooded wedges. I just lay the pipe in a semi-level location and stick objects under the track to get it close to straight. Just eyeball this, it does not have to be totally perfect.
Sometimes, I find a location that I really want to run track through, but it is simply to hard to level and support the track. The dolly tends to de-rail and you will waste time and energy on a shot that you will never be able to preform in a smooth and usable fashion. In the picture above I failed to get the track in place! After about five minutes, I gave up on a dolly shot at this rugged location. Also, be aware that these pipes must stay protected. If you toss them around and bang up the plastic, these imperfections will show up as bumps in the dolly shot.
The secret to a good dolly move is to have clean wheels and a clean track. Just one blade of grass or a single pine needle will make for a bumpy ride. I also find that by adding moisture to the track can help and hurt you. It can help because it removes static electricity that builds up and attracts debris like a magnet. It can hurt you because if you use too much water on the track, more stuff will stick to it and it is hard to keep dry. So if you are using a pvc pipe dolly, a damp cloth goes a long way when wiping the pipes and wheels clean.
I also use just my finger tips operate the dolly, especially when the camera is sitting directly on the plywood platform. This method gives you excellent control of the ramping starts and stops for usable footage. If on a tripod, I operate the camera at the tripod panhead. I sometimes add pans, tilts, zooms, and rack focuses to the mix. This all takes practice. I try a few takes before I hit the record button.
If you ever leave the tripod unattended and it is on the pvc track, keep in mind that your track is probably not level. You will want to add an object (in this photo above I use my backpack) to stop the dolly from running off the track and dumping the camera. When using this type of Vinten tripod, I remove the ground spreader and the sharp metal spikes at the feet of the sticks bury themselves into the carpeted plywood.
I finished off the short film with a beautiful sunset. I used a 24 mm f2.8 and I slowly panned the camera on the Vinten head right to left. I then hiked my camera out of the mountains, locked it in my Jeep and went back in to retrieve the dolly and pvc pipe. I hiked down the trail for the sixth and last time and tossed the rest of my equipment into the vehicle.
I want to thank Tom Salta and Alec Harrison for the original score on this short film.
You can see the video by clicking here.