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Shooting & Editing with Multiple Cameras

Once you’ve shot your first few productions you’re going to be keen to develop your skills and improve the overall quality of your work. Introducing a second camera to you live event coverage brings many advantages but also introduces another level of complexity.

Safety Camera
The greatest benefit of a second camera is that you always have a shot to cut to. It will typically be locked off, on a tripod, in wide or semi-wide framing. The safety camera allows you to recompose and focus your camera without having to worry about the end viewer seeing. Being able to cut to a safety shot gives you the freedom to experiment, pull focus, kick the tripod etc., safe in the knowledge the second camera is there to cover your back. Even if you are working with a second camera operator you should use a third camera in the safety camera role. It’s sods law that you’ll both be recomposing at exactly the same moment – it happens all the time.

Higher Production Values
Watching video shot from one viewpoint gets tiresome surprisingly quickly. If you’re shooting a wedding ceremony at the front (always from the right so you’re looking at the bride) it will add immeasurable interest to your production to be able to cut to a view looking up the aisle. I would go as far a to say there is no live event that wouldn’t benefit from a second (or more) cameras.

Technical Considerations
To be able to cut easily between shots they need to look similar. You should set all cameras to the same white balance and ideally shoot on similar equipment. Video shot on good quality domestic camcorders will cut reasonably well with professional video cameras. But they don’t work so well with shots from DSLRs. The different contrast range, colour rendition and depth of field can make cuts visually jar. The effect can be greatly reduced by good grading in post-production – which is fine you’ve the time and budget but not fine for the rest of us. If you’re shooting your main video on a DSLR you’ll be best served by using one for your safety camera too.

Sound Base
A second camera also provides another opportunity to record sound. You should capture your primary audio where you are located. Either to your camera, an audio recorder, or both. It has to be where you are because you have to be able to monitor it. Your second camera can provide an “if all else fails” backup. It can also be used as an ambience mic. Many times I’ve had funny heckles from guests during the wedding speeches totally inaudible on the speakers radio mic, but clear as a bell on the safety camera. As the main mic is usually recording speech it is nearly always in mono. Bringing up the second cameras ambience mic just a little in the mix will add some nice stereo width to your soundtrack.

Easy “Big Wins”
A great crowd pleaser of a shot is the set up and run your safety camera before people enter the room. In post you can reduce the 10 minutes or so it takes everyone to fill the room in to a 30 second high speed clip. I like to add a little motion blur and end by switching to real time just as the bride walks down the aisle. It looks good and is easy to do.

Editing multi-camera shoots in NLE’s
With the exception of Final Cut Pro 10.0, all the major NLE’s (Avid, Premiere Pro and Grass Valley Edius) provide powerful multi camera editing. The basic idea is you line up your camera video clips with each on their own track on the timeline, put the software into multicam editing mode and simply click the image or press the button that corresponds to the camera you want to switch to. It becomes rather like directing a multi-camera live shoot, but with the benefit of being able to go back and correct edit points by simply dragging them on the timeline. Just like all editing, there are is a real art to knowing when to switch between shots. The secret of any good edit is that you shouldn’t notice it. Don’t wait for the ends of sentences or other natural pauses. This will draw much more attention to the cut. Like everything with video – it’s practice practice practice.

Synchronisation
So you’re going have at least two video tracks and probably a separate audio track recorded on a field recorder. Most DSLRs have fairly short maximum recording lengths, typically around 20 min per clip. With wedding ceremonies and speeches often running between 30 and 60 min you can end up with a number of separate clips where the camera has had to be stopped and started during a natural pause. When we put all the video from each camera on one track on the timeline there will be slight jumps where the camera wasn’t recording. The second camera will have exactly the same but in different places and the audio recorder will usually have one continuous file. The real issue becomes how to synchronise all these separate media clips so they can be cut between.

The traditional way of doing this is by synchronising all the devices together to a master clock. However this is complicated cumbersome and expensive. The way it usually ends up being done in low-budget productions is by looking at the audio waveform and finding matching peaks and troughs. It’s exactly why clapperboard is used in movies where audio is nearly always recorded separately to the picture. For the video clips it’s also possible to look for visual cues, like a flash going off, but that’s not going to help you synchronise the audio track. So three or four separate clips per track on the timeline on two separate tracks and a continuous audio track. Fancy manually aligning those anyone? Of course it can be done but now there’s a better way.

See my Plural Eyes Review for more…