Working on your next video production masterpiece? Keep production costs down with these inexpensive tripods, mounts and rigs.
The advent of cheap digital video cameras and accessible editing software
has opened up the world of filmmaking to anyone with a few hundred dollars and an ample amount of free time. Of course, as is the case with most creative industries, the sudden influx of amateur footage has made the distinction between well-shot and poorly-shot film drastically more obvious.
The trademarks of the novice filmmaker are many: shaky footage, poor lighting, terrible audio, choppy editing, and that's to say nothing about the plot itself or the acting. Shooting high-quality footage isn't as hard as you might expect, and it doesn't require a second mortgage to pay for brand new, state-of-the-art video equipment. Well-shot video from a $250 camera is much preferred to crappy footage from a $18,000 Red One
In hopes of teaching you how to shoot your own professional-grade video on an amateur-grade budget, we're featuring several posts that will highlight DIY
projects to help improve your filmmaking. To kick things off, I thought we'd take a look at various DIY camera rigs and mounts. The first step in shooting quality video is to capture smooth, steady footage -- unless, of course, you're going for that in-your-face, cinema vérité look, where the more your camera shakes the better.
Following are eight projects that will help steady your camera, and give you the flexibility to shoot from a variety of unique vantages.
- This simple device, made from little more than a few metal pipes and an old dumbbell weight, will do wonders for your on-the-go video shots. The purpose of a steadycam (if it's not already obvious from the name) is to stabilize the camera while the person holding it is walking, running, climbing stairs, or simply moving in general. This model allows you to mount the camera on top, for typical moving shots, or on the bottom, for unique low-slung shots. When used properly, this steadycam makes an ideal alternative to a bulky, more expensive dolly system. Make sure you check out the sample videos
to see the $14 steadycam in action.
Body brace steadycam for less than $40
- This steadycam variation utilizes a body brace to help stabilize the camera. In comparison to the $14 version above, this model doesn't offer quite as much mobility, but for straight forward moving shots, it should be more than adequate. The bottom part of the brace rests on the user's stomach, which may cause stability problems from breathing, so a good work-around would be to increase the length of the body brace so the bottom portion rests on the waist instead. If you're working with a large, cumbersome camera, this steadycam will definitely save you a lot of energy.
$60 camera jib
- Many people aren't familiar with camera jibs (also called camera cranes), but they'll immediately recognize the effect one creates
. In essence, a jib is basically a long stick (or arm), secured to a tripod or dolly, with a camera attached to the end. There are literally hundreds of plans for DIY camera jibs on the internets, but the one I liked best was the $60 "poor man's jib" from ClosetFilms.com. This particular jib's light weight and compactness makes it ideal for filmmakers who don't have a lot of space and are looking for ultra-mobile equipment, but if you're looking for something a bit more robust, you might want to give one of these
Back-seat-view car mount
- I'm sure you've seen this shot before: two people in the front seats, chatting away as the camera captures their witty exchange from the back. The biggest challenge with getting a shot like this, however, is keeping the tripod from falling over when the driver takes a turn too sharply. Luckily, this tutorial demonstrates how to set up a secure camera mount to the rear dash (assuming your vehicle has one), making it much easier to film from this unique perspective.
Exterior car mount
- This mount is perfect for getting shots of either the car in motion, or for capturing fast-moving action (i.e. filming alongside someone on a motorcycle or bike). The mount is incredibly sturdy (it's made from 2x6's) and requires a vehicle with luggage racks. With a long enough microphone, you could easily mount the camera so it's focused on either the driver or passenger, making for a cool "outside looking in" perspective on a conversation going on inside the vehicle.
- If you'd feel more secure mounting your digital camcorder to something that doesn't go quite as fast as a car, then maybe this bicycle-mounted steadycam will be right up your alley. The footage is still a bit too bouncy for my liking, but I could see it coming in handy if the viewer knew they were watching video filmed from a moving bike (i.e. a documentary about a bike ride across the US
). The design of this steadycam is also simple enough that it could easily be ported to other, less-bouncy vehicles... like a Segway... or... that's all I got.
PVC pipe Fig rig
- At first glance, you might look at a Fig rig and wonder what purpose it serves. In fact, you may continue thinking that on your second and third glances as well. This stop-sign-shaped contraption's usefulness is hard to comprehend until you hold one in your own two hands and experience how fluidly it allows you to move about with a small digital camcorder. The Fig rig is named after director Mike Figgis
, and is probably one of the easiest stabilization mounts you can build for your camcorder. If your camera weighs less than 5 or 6 pounds, this might even be a more economical solution than the $14 steadycam (by a whopping four whole dollars).
Underwater camera housing for $70
- If your film is begging for a cool underwater sequence, these two
waterproof camera housings will save you from spending all day trying to find condoms big enough
to fit over your camcorder. Personally, I think I'd go with the $70 model simply because it looks a little more watertight than the $50 version. I'm not implying that the $50 model won't work, I'm just saying I'd rather have two handles on my underwater camera housing rather than just one... and sticking your $400 camera inside a repurposed thermos is kinda asking for trouble.
If you're serious about shooting higher quality film, build one or two of these projects and see how your footage turns out; your audience will thank you for it!
And that does it for our first installment of DIY Film School. Join us again next time for a look at DIY sound and lighting projects.