Shooting ultra-minimalist on location with David Alan Harvey

I’m currently producing a series of web shorts about photographer David Alan Harvey (National Geographic, Burn Magazine).  He liked my fly-on-the-wall shooting style and invited me to travel with him on his recent ventures through the Western US.  The goal of the shorts is to provide a glimpse into his struggles and insights as a veteran documentary and art photographer.

The first clip I produced, “On Getting Lucky”, was shot entirely on two Sony RX100 compact cameras (acting as simultaneous A and B cams) with the MemoQ MR720 voice recorder as audio.

Though I was happy with the overall image quality of the cameras in dim light, the autofocus was unusable as it would lose face tracking on any subject who wasn’t well-lit.  To avoid hunting, I switched to manual focus and enabled focus peaking, which highlights the in-focus areas in white.  Racking focus via the focus ring was a bit awkward when operating two cameras simultaneously; thankfully, my subjects were rather static. The key to maintaining good framing with two cameras at once is to constantly check back and forth between them like a never-ending tennis match. Otherwise it’s all too easy to let one cameras’ framing slip while focusing on another.

The cameras shoot only 60p, which I then dropped into a 24p timeline in Premiere to conform the framerate without stretching it to slow motion.  I synced the audio from the voice recorder in post via pluraleyes, which was a snap for this shorter project.

To add a vintage film feel, I overlaid some film burns as a second layer in Premiere with the composite mode set to either “add” or “overlay”, depending on whether I wanted the burns to brighten or increase contrast in the image, respectively. I played with opacity to vary the visibility of the burns.

I also added some simulated grain and film slippage with Magic Bullet Suite and some blurring and distortion of certain frames in the timeline with the directional and gaussian blur filters.

For the second video, “On Torture”, I shot the opening with the RX100’s, then the remainder of the evening with a combination of RX100’s and the Sony NEX-5n + Konica Minolta 50mm f/1.4 lens.  I used the RX100 as my wide lens and the NEX-5n as my portrait lens.

I wore the NEX around my neck with a standard camera strap, and I wore the RX100’s on my waist with a neoprene belt case. I used this particular camera case because it is comfortable, allows quick access via a velcro closure, and has a zippered pocket that fits my MemoQ voice recorder and a spare battery.  With two of those cases on my hip and the NEX around my neck, I was able to capture wide shots, closeups, and dual-camera dialog scenes.  And since all these cameras shoot 60p, I could conform any clip to slow motion.

Rigged for shooting

I am carrying three cameras and four wireless microphones, plus a dozen legal releases and plenty of spare batteries.

The best part of this setup, however, was that it drew no attention in the nightclubs where I filmed.  

To the casual onlooker, I appeared to be carrying a single compact camera around my neck and a cell phone or something on my belt.  No camera bags, bulky lenses, or rigs. I could socialize normally (instead of being “the camera guy”) and then resume shooting when the moment was right.  And if I needed to spontaneously mic a subject, the MemoQ recorder clipped easily on a shirt.  I didn’t have to awkwardly run a lav mic up a stranger’s shirt.

For David’s audio, however, I went back to my trusty Sony ICD SX712 recorder + lav mic because I needed all-night reliability. I set the audio level to auto mode at “medium” level.

In post, I did minor color treatment with Magic Bullet Mojo and Premiere’s Three Way Color Corrector (mainly to desaturate and warm the image).

Both these videos are or will be featured on, Harvey’s excellent online photography magazine.  There are more webisodes to come.


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Latest Comments
  1. Lee Mackreath

    You mention that in your first video you shoot at 60p and confirmed to 24p in post.. With this in mind what shutter speed did you use while shooting at 60p?.. Was it constant at 1/100 or 1/50 or variable?

    • Brandon Li

      In the first video, I set the shutter speed at varying speeds from 1/60 down to 1/30 because of the low ambient light. Anything I knew I wouldn’t be slowing down (dialog mostly) was shot at a slower shutter. Though this breaks the 180-degree shutter rule, I’ve found that a 1/30 shutter can look acceptable provided there isn’t too much movement of the subject or camera.

  2. Bob Krist

    Great post and re-design of the blog. That you are doing such great work as a one-man band with a couple of simple cameras (and a ton of talent and experience) , and then sharing your technique, is an inspiration. Thanks!

    • Brandon Li

      Thanks so much Bob! Glad you enjoy the site. Appreciate your support.

  3. Dave

    Awesome video buddy!

    One question, can you replicate that kind of video with cheaper software such as FCP X? Or when you’re playing the professional game do you need Adobe?

    • Brandon Li

      Pretty sure FCP X can do everything I did. If you’ve updated to 10.0.6, it’s pretty much a full-fledged pro product. Here’es a gorgeous video made with a single Canon 7D, one or two lenses, FCP X, and nothing else: There’s an associated video about how the color correction was done as well. Look in the video description for the link.

      • Dave

        Very interesting, thanks very much buddy!

  4. db

    You’re the Bruce Lee of videography! Bare bones efficiency, improvisation and awesome results! Great site.

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