The iPad is a wonderful personal productivity, entertainment, and still photography too, but now for filmmaking as well. We often forget the best advice given on the subject of cameras, “The best camera is the one you have with you.” It is equally true now for videography, just as it was then for still photography. The iPad can comfortably help the social documentarian capture those moments, no matter where you go.
However, the iPad as a film tool is very different from traditional cameras. It lack any real depth of field (DOF), is very light weight (often making video shaky), fixed aperture and shutter (you must live within the given lighting conditions), and limited to 720p/30fps. So, you need to think ahead when using the iPad as a social filmmaking tool.
A Few Tips to Consider:
>> Hold the iPad with both hands and position it to the left/right of your center, just under your chin. This creates a tradition off axis interview that is fairly stable. Trying to hold the iPad at head level is very awkward, inducing lots of motion as well as making the interviewee feel uncomfortable.
>> Start recording before you start the actual interview. Electrons are pretty cheap these days, so using the extra footage is not going to cost you anything. The worst thing to happen, during that once in a lifetime interview, is to miss that great initial comment because you did not press the red start button in time.
>> Make sure you get 30-60 sec of background sound. In post, you will need to cover some of the edit with audio, so take the minute and roll some extra footage to capture the ambient sound.
>> Stabilize your footage in post. Once you comp the scene into place, stabilize it. We often don’t have the luxury, or equipment, to put the iPad on a tripod and even the sturdiest of hands will still induce some motion. Take the 5 min in post to stabilize the shots. I use the Stabilization algorithm in After Effects CS 5.5, which produces great results out of the box.
>> Use an external microphone, if practical. This is a luxury I plan for whenever possible. The iPad audio is pretty good, but piping in a shotgun or lavaliere mic will make the interview even better.
>> Clean up the audio in post. If you can’t use an external mic, then do some post audio clean up one of your favor audio tools. I use Adobe Audition since it is integrated with Premiere Pro and has excellent spectral touchup tools.
>> Field edit with iMovie. Don’t be afraid to review you dailies and create a few edits in the field with iMovie. While I would not necessarily cut my final documentary in iMovie (some have…very interesting), it is a great field tool to review footage and cut out the junk. So take advantage of the time between protests.
>> Add DOF in post. Lack of DOF is a dead giveaway with it come to creating a film look. Cameras like the Canon 7D and Red Epic have it, while iPads and iPhones do not. Not to worry, because you can create a virtual DOF in post by adding a masked lens blur. In After Effects, this is a simple as creating an adjustment layer, adding a camera lens blur, and creating an animated mask around the subject.
I recently put all these tips into play during the Occupy Philadelphia protest. With iPad in hand, armed with my three core questions (who are you, why are you here, and what do you want to change), I produce a few interviews capturing the moment. Please check out Occupy Philadelphia: Money is Wrong.
So, what is missing? Do you have any tips and experiences as it relates to smartphone (iPad/iPhone) filmmaking? Is so, please leave a comment.