Commercial shot on 5D MK II Explained

HG & Director Richard Topping

My goodness it has been a krazy with a capital K time since my last post… I have been busy shooting a mixture of productions on a range of camera formats (no, not just pointing)…

From an MTV reality shoot ‘My Super Sweet’ (yes I have no shame) shot on Digi Beta – ‘Digi Beta!’ Yes, they do still sell the tape stock and yep I am keeping the old school alive!

To a project for Nokia featuring music performances shot on two HDSLR’s 5D MK II & 7D and finally some high end channel promos shot on a massively huge stage for a new sports channel, oh plus two very sweaty days of filming landmarks of Abu Dhabi in 50+ humidity, which was all shot on RED with the MX sensor woohooo!

Oh yer, I threw some tilt shift lenses in the mix, inspired by Vincent Laforet’s Photographic work!

Vincent Laforet Tilt Shift Photography

Beautiful Photography, looks just like a toy town.
There will be a full interview with Vincent about his work with HDSLR’s on the blog in the next couple of weeks! Very Exciting!

Anyway, as promised THIS POST is about how I shot the Gulf Air (GA) commercial using the 5D MK II, so I should get on with it!

There is currently a Revolution in our industry and HDSLR (high definition single lens reflect) cameras are at the center of it!

Yep, the little camera that looks and feels like a stills camera, well is a stills camera… that has an incredible video function and due to this has muscled it’s way past all the big fellas and safely found a spot in our industry.
Some people think this is a good thing like DP Gale Tattersall who shot the Season 6 finale episode of ‘House’ on 5D MK II and Philip Bloom who has championed them from the get go…whilst others are not so keen…

This DP Versus Producer video is great:

I love these types of videos, really funny, I can’t help but chuckle like Beavis all the way through..!

HDSLR’s are not just replacing HDV Cameras like the EX3, but competing against big players like RED… Now, if you compare the stats, they do not compare!  RED shoots 4/4.5K

The Canon 5D MK II records in H264 (normally a delivery format), but the shallow depth of field that can easily be achieved due to the full frame sensor and lenses available does make your footage look beautiful and that can not be denied.
It’s this filmic look that all of us are trying to simulate and that is one of the reasons Director Richard Topping and I chose to shoot on it for the 1min GA spot. Other reasons were so we could shoot time lapse in stills mode, keep our kit small and light weight as we moved around our location, Gulf Air’s hub Bahrain Airport, and the final reason it’s very cheap…

Top Tip #1

Record your time lapses in stills mode

You can shoot very high quality STILLS (not video) in RAW.  These stills can then be edited together to make a sequence. Using this method dramatically cuts down on the amount of material recorded and thus data space.  It is the traditional way to record time lapses and as such they will have a different feel to just sped up video.
Use a timer remote – Experiment taking different amount of frames per second over different durations.

Kitted up with x2 5D MK II, Canon 24-70mm & 70-200mm F2.8 lenses, a set of Nikon Carl Zeiss Primes and a cheap adapter ring, 2x Z-Finders, matte box, 4×4 straight ND’s, ND Grads and some screw on ND’s, 2x Vinten pro 5 tripods and the Canon stills remote we set off to shoot.

The 5D is a small and light weight kit compared to regular HD kit, which is cool, but two things I miss on the 5D MK II is that the camera does not have any peaking or zebra functions that most people who are used to shooting video would expect!
Using an expensive piece of plastic with a magnifier really helps judge focus and exposure, the best one I have found and used on this job is the Zacuto Z-finder.

HG with 5D MK II

As it was sooooo bright in Bahrain, you need to be able to view your LCD screen away from light, true you can put a black cloth over your head, but that can get a little hot and doesn’t allow you to look for any oncoming planes… The Z-Finder works as it provides you a magnified clear image of the LCD screen away from any stray light or reflection, which is a massive help when judging focus and exposure.

Top Tip #2
Use the Z-finder so you can clearly see your image

For Focus: Use the + button (on the right of the camera near the shutter button) it works as an expanded focus control, which means it zooms into your image to help you check focus.

For Exposure: Use the scale at the bottom of the frame to help find the correct exposure. If unsure very slightly under expose. As digital recording is all about 0’s and 1’s over exposed footage will record less/ no detail, slightly under exposed material can be graded up, although beware if too under exposed and ‘pulled up’ it will look very grainy.

+ = Expanded Focus

The Gulf Air spot was initially meant to be 80% stills time lapse and 20% video, but Richard and I decided that it was imperative to shoot more video and change this percentage around, due to the nature of the airports activity. If I had known this at the start I might have pushed to shoot the 1min spot on RED like I did the profiles, but I am glad we didn’t as it was another opportunity to push and test the 5D to the max.

I am always keen to shoot as wide open as possible i.e F2.8, by doing this you can easily stitch yourself up as focusing becomes much harder (see previous post ‘Tough Focus‘) and for this part of the job I didn’t have a focus puller (even though it would have been good) I did not really need one as the camera was always static.
I love using focus creatively to draw the audiences attention to a specific area. To do this you need to be able to correctly expose your shot, adding ND (neutral density which is essentially sunglasses) will help you do this. If you are from a stills background you might be tempted to increase the shutter to get the F stop you want. With video this has negative effects on everyday normal speed motion and makes it look staccato like. If you watch the part of the commercial where two vehicles cross each other (approx 20 seconds in) you can see where I have done this… Personally, I wouldn’t have put it in the final edit, but being the DP and 98% of the time not around for the offline edit you have limited or no input, unless you make a special effort or notes for the Director.

Top Tip #3

Use Screw on Filters

If you do not have a matte box use screw on filters. These are cheap and do exactly the same job. You can even screw one on top of another. This way you will be able to reach the correct exposure and prevent increasing your shutter speed.  For regular action, avoid increasing the shutter too much faster than double the frame rate, i.e. 25fps = shutter 1/50.  Over 1/100 you will start to notice the staccato effect.  High shutters are great for fast moving action or if you just want to generate an edgy atmosphere…

As I was using two 5D MK II cameras I set them up exactly the same.  I reduced the Sharpness, Contrast and Saturation and enabled Highlight tone Priority in the menu. This helps keep details in your highlights.

Top Tip #4

Set the Camera Picture Profile

Reducing your Sharpness, Contrast and Saturation in the menu gives your footage a more flat RAW look.  You then have more control in the grade to boost the material and achieve the look you want.

Due to the nature of the shoot I couldn’t light any of the interior locations and I think it really shows…  For us DP’s it’s all about light.  As the DP Vs Producer video illustrates there is a misconception about lighting for HDSLR Cameras.  Many ill informed people believe you do not need to light, this is completely wrong!  Firstly, there is a big difference between illumination and lighting, the later is about creating a look, feel and atmosphere where as illumination is literally what it says – ‘illuminating’ so you can see the image…  Which can lead to boring flat looking images…

HDSLR cameras perform very well in bright conditions, as you can see from the shots of the airplanes, but in low light not so well. The images can very quickly become grainy, which isn’t ideal.

Overall, it’s all about how you use the camera whatever it is.  Every camera can look good in the right conditions.  It is a case of ensuring you have all your settings correct, sufficient and modeled light, and then what you shoot and how you shoot is of most importance!

What are your thoughts?  Let DOP BLOG know!

If you want to hear from Vincent Laforet then make sure you subscribe to the DOP Blog and don’t miss his views on HDSLR filming and explanations on how he shot his films including the Reverie, the very first production shot on Canon 5D MK II…Coming Soon!


The Gulf Air Commercials were Produced by Nick Hamilton CNBC in conjunction with Alchemy Films Dubai