Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer

Cinematic Excellence at 24 Frames a Second

How To Shoot A Talking Head In Two Sizes At The Same Time

When I first began shooting corporate videos, it was standard practice to have the talent deliver to the interviewer off screen. And this is still the standard practice today. However, with the increasing volume of YouTube videos out there (where people are delivering straight to camera), it is becoming more and more the norm to deliver straight to camera.

All of this is great and easy to do if you are shooting with one camera. But what do you do if you have to shoot a talking head that delivers straight to camera and you need it in two shot sizes? Well, I recently spent the day experimenting with setups and came up with a solution that is easy and affordable to implement.

Why Not Shoot Off Axis?
The traditional approach to a two camera setup for an interview or talking head is to place the second camera off to one side of the main camera. Unfortunately, when someone is delivering straight to camera, it precludes the second camera from being placed to either side. Why? Because the further off axis from the main camera that the second camera gets, the more removed, and less personal, that shot becomes. And the whole point of delivering to camera is to connect with the viewer, as if you are having a one-on-one conversation.

Even with todays small cameras, I've found that placing them side-by-side still results in a close up or medium shot that feels off. So I had to figure out another approach...

Notice how the subject/background relationship, facial features, and lens height all remain the same ...

Why Not Shoot 4k or 5k & Zoom In?
Bleck! I hate that approach! While it technically works when you are delivering in 1080p, it does not deliver the same results. Whatever lens you used for the wide or medium shot retains its properties when you zoom in on the footage. The camera also remains at whatever lens height the original shot was taken at. And that original wide lens, and lens height may not be so flattering on your talent. If you are trying to make someone look their best, accentuating their nose, eyes, and ears with a wide lens is not the way to do it. It is impossible to get the same look that a longer lens, and higher lens height will give you by just zooming in the footage ...

My Approach:
Using my "studio" to set up a test scenario, I grabbed my C100 and a 60D to experiment and came up with this solution (But I think the idea / principle can be applied to many cameras.):

C100 On Top & 60D On Bottom

- C100 On Bottom:
I used the camera that recorded to the better codec as my main wide/medium shot camera. I went this route because the better codec (Ninja 2:ProResHQ in this case) would hold up better at capturing fine detail. And since this camera had the wider lens on it, that was the way to go.

The Connection: C100 cage + Cheese Plate + Noga Arm + Hot ShoeAdapter
While the C100 cage does have a number of screw holes in it, unfortunately none of them were at the right position to mount my Noga arm. So I had to improvise. By screwing a cheese plate to the cage, I could raise the connection point to the height I needed.

Now with a hole at the right height, I attached a Noga Arm to the Cheese Plate and a hot shoe adapter to the other end. The Hot Shoe adapter then allowed me to connect the 60D on top.

Cheese Plate Screwed Into Cage

Noga Arm Into Cheese Plate
Hot Shoe Adapter Attached To 60D

- 60D On Top:
The 60D is just a DSLR that records to H.264. Nothing fancy. Since it is a lower grade codec, and it doesn't hold up well with fine detail, I chose to use it for the close up. Making this choice allows me to hide many of the shortcomings of the H.264 compression, and play to its strengths. So I put the longer lens on this camera, and hung it just above the C100.

And what made this placement really advantageous is that a close up usually means that the camera has to be placed higher in relation to the wide shot. With the 60D sitting just on top of the C100, I found it felt like it was at the right height. 

Notice how my facial features are rendered more pleasantly with the 50mm lens ...

The Importance Of Eye-lines
Now this is the tricky part, and it is where I could have used an assistant. Trying to test this out by myself was rather challenging. I still haven't perfected the art of being in two places at the same time... ;). Anyway, from my crude tests, I found that if I looked at the bottom of the 60D lens it looked like I was still looking at the Close Up and the Medium Shot at the same time. (Is it perfect? Nope- but it is good enough for a proof of concept test.)

If I looked at the center of the 60D lens, I could tell that I was not looking at the camera in the wide shot. If I looked at the C100, I could REALLY tell that I was not looking at the 60D.

Finding the correct eye-line can be tricky- so you'll want to allow for some time and practice before you start recording the talent. It will also help you if you can monitor both cameras on a large screen, as it will make it easier to tell where the talent is looking. Oh, and one last suggestion about eye-line- it may also help if you use bright red tape, or some other marking to show the talent where to look, as it will most likely not be directly into either camera- and for a "direct" to camera delivery, that can feel weird.


---SIDE NOTE: Matching Cameras?
So how hard is it to match the C100 & 60D? Not that hard actually. What I love about Canon is that they have gone to great efforts to make sure their built-in profiles in the C100 match their other cameras. So when I switch the C100 into the EOS profile, and I set the 60D to Standard, I know I get images that intercut almost seamlessly. (The 60D is a bit more magenta, so that has to be removed in post to get an exact match. The example above still has the magenta cast in it.)

However, by using the Standard profile on the 60D, and the EOS profile on the C100, you do lose dynamic range (especially on the C100- not so much on the 60D). But in a studio situation like this, where I get to control the lighting, it works fine. If your goal is to simplify post, and have camera match out of the box, using the EOS & Standard profiles is the way to go.

If you are wanting to get the most out of both cameras, then use the ProLost settings on the 60D and C-Log on the C100, and make sure to shoot a color reference chart (One Shot) so that you can grade the footage to match later on.

Now all you have to do is to make sure to press record on both cameras! Simple as that- an efficient setup that allows you to get your two shots while playing to each camera's strengths. :)

Have you encountered this situation before? If so, how have you solved it? What recommendations can you make?

Until Next Time - Get Out There And Shoot!
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