After completing the Navy SEAL movie Act of Valor, my team and I created a workflow and camera etiquette that increased our speed exponentially. I’d like to share some of these pointers with you so that you can also streamline your future productions.
Camera Etiquette and Workflow
1. Labeling the cameras internally is paramount.
When you are shooting multiple cameras in different conditions you need to know which camera is which. To begin this labeling system, shoot a still, take that card from the camera, and then download it to your computer. Next, access the file and rename the jpeg 999. Remove the card from the card reader, load it back into the camera and take another still.
Now the next movie still will be labeled the 1000 series. This will be A camera. B camera will be 2000 and so on. This process is important because if a CF card label falls off mid-shoot, you will always know which camera it came from. This labeling process is also essential for identifying and troubleshooting cameras with dead pixels.
2. Always format your cards before recording on them.
This will implement your internal labeling system as well as ensure that the editor does not receive excess footage from previous shoots or already downloaded media from your production.
3. Labeling your cameras externally.
It is essential to label your cameras externally in order to maintain an organized camera package. I label the camera on the top near the hot shoe.
4. Label your cards with external labels for quick access.
Labeling your cards and having labels placed on the side of your camera for quick and easy access will help speed up your process. During prep, label your camera hand grip with pieces of electrical tape that read, A1, A2, A3 for example. That way, when the card is full, you can take it out, slap the label on and hand it off to your media manager, or place the card into a CF pelican case for storage.
5. Having your ND set by your side.
I personally designed the Tiffen 77mm and 4 x 5 WW ND filters with a pouch so they fit on your belt. This makes your filter change fast. I like to keep my f-stop between a 2.8 and a 4. This gives me a wonderful shallow depth of field.
6. Different size lens diameters.
If you have different size lens diameters, electrical tape will slam that 77mm on any still lens you may have in your quiver.
7. Filtering Zeiss CP2s.
This little trick kicks butt. For all of you that don’t have 4×5 matte boxes but want to use your 77mm filtration, just take a piece of electrical tape and roll it up so that it is sticky all the way around. Now wrap that around your filter ring and stick it to the front element of the CP2.
The element on all of the primes is the perfect size to accept the 77mm stick-on application. I fly without a matte box a lot to increase speed. The non-flaring coating on all Canon and Zeiss glass is pretty exceptional when it comes to contending with the sun.
8. Tape filters onto the front element (RARE)
If you don’t have drop-in filters for long lenses, I physically take 4×5 filters and tape them onto the front element. This will slow down the lens’ ability to intake light, so try and minimize the use of this technique.
9. Build your configurations and keep them at the ready.
Converting your rig takes time. Try and anticipate what configurations you may be using that day. On Sports Authority, I had every rig built with a camera in place. We were able to simply grab the configurations and shoot. If you do not have a large number of cameras, try to at least build the rigs that your camera can easily snap into.
10. A camera cart is essential to maintaining organization.
The camera cart will keep you mobile and provide a place to build and store your configurations. I went out and bought those Rubbermaid carts that cleaning service people use. Put carpet on the top and then screwed plywood to the bottom and attached some cheap Harbor Freight wheels to it.
On your Cart
11. Extra batteries always in your pocket.
Always a fresh batt at the ready will help you maintain a fast tempo.
12. Extra cards in a 940 Pelican case.
A 940 Pelican case with extra cards in your pocket will give you a safe place to hold and store exposed cards. Treat this process like handling film. Your fresh card is an unexposed negative. The card that you just pulled out is exposed negative.
13. Use High-Quality Cards.
Using Hoodman RAW cards are incredibly reliable and make for 3 times as fast downloading. This keeps your speed and accuracy at a higher level. Your Media manager can be viewing the media sooner and give feedback on footage, quickly highlight any problems that they might find with your cameras, exposures, focus, you name it, mine has my back.
14. Keep INFO. BAR visible on the bottom of your screen.
Keep your INFO. BAR up on the bottom of your screen so that you are always double-checking yourself. Make sure you have the desired ISO and shutter speed. There have been many times where I’ve found that the little menu wheel gets bumped and the shutter speed has accidentally shifted away from the 1/50th.
Tape this wheel off for safety and the wheel that switches the camera from manual to auto. Canon issued a lock update a while back, if you send your camera in they will put a lock on the top wheel where you have to push down to be able to move it.
15. Always check your WB on the top of your camera.
Always check your WB on the top of your camera to make sure you are exactly where you want to be and that all your cameras are in sync.
16. Lens cleaner and tissues on your belt speed up your efficiency.
I am constantly dealing with dust and dirt blasting the lenses and filters. Having these items nearby will save you many trips back to your camera cart.
Your toolset should include these items…
In Your AKS (All Kinds of Shit) Bag:
Leatherman, Flashlight, Scissors, Sharpies (Include a Twin Tip Sharpie), Grease Pencil, Velcro, Black Paper Tape, Allen Wrench Set, Screwdriver (multiset is best), Jewelers Screwdriver (multi), Slate Pen (w/ Eraser), Chalk In Holder, Knife, Ball Point Pen. Lens Cleaner and Wipes…
On Your Belt:
Air Can, Small tape roll: 2” Photo Black, 1” White Gaffers Tape, 1 Colored Electrical Tape. Also, when you go out on shoots, it is important to own a surveillance walkie-talkie headset as well.
Never trust the exposure bar or histogram. Those take exposure based on a RAW and or Jpeg still frame, not how your video should be exposed. If you go by the histogram you will continue to deliver footage that is overexposed and looks like video, not digital film. Use your eye or an HP Dreamcolor lighting monitor.
If there is any secret sauce that I have developed, it is my picture style. Personally, I never listen to the camera when it comes to exposing my image.
What does your etiquette look like? What makes you fast and efficient?
Looking for mentorship in the film industry? Schedule a 1-on-1 meeting with Shane Hurlbut, ASC today! This is where you can get expert advice from an industry professional on your career or a particular project.
About Filmmakers Academy Cinematographer Mentor Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Director of photography Shane Hurlbut, ASC works at the forefront of cinema. He’s a storyteller, innovator, and discerning collaborator, who brings more than three decades of experience to his art. He is a member of the American Society of Cinematographers, the International Cinematographers Guild/Local 600, and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Hurlbut frequently joins forces with great directors: McG’s Netflix Rim of the World and The Babysitter, plus Warner Bros. We Are Marshall and Terminator: Salvation; Scott Waugh’s Need for Speed and Act of Valor; and Gabriele Muccino’s There Is No Place Like Home and Fathers and Daughters. His additional film credits include Semi-Pro; The Greatest Game Ever Played; Into the Blue; Mr 3000; Drumline; 11:14, which earned Hurlbut a DVDX nomination; and The Skulls. Notably, his television credits include the first season of AMC’s Into the Badlands.