Your Equipment Does Not Define You or Your Skills























(originally posted on my Run and Gun Video Blog , but seems not too many people follow that one, so sharing it here)


I noticed my book cover on Amazon along with some of the related ones being promoted (and their covers) which reminded me at the same time of the many postings I’ve seen of people’s equipment. Some nice stuff and some Frankenstein monsters, but the underlying message (despite what was being said) was usually, ‘look at me’.

You know, the guy posts a shot of a whole load of expensive stuff with the caption: ‘off to do a blah-blah shoot’. Since surely nobody cares that he’s off to do a shoot, the obvious intended message is ‘look at all my cool stuff and be envious’.

Now look at the cover above.

That was very deliberately posed. Of course there was a humorous analogy with and throughout the book of the camera being a gun (so the Marlboro man hat and coat forwarded that), but note that the relatively small and unfancy camera is just dangling from the hand as if it were a 6 shooter and he’s off to shoot some vermin on the ranch that are stealing his chickens–or off to the OK Corral  to dispatch Billy the Kid for that matter.

The gun, the camera are tools, they are not the man.

They come out when it’s time to do the job and the pro doesn’t care what you think about them.

They’re taken care of, oiled and cleaned as any professional would treat his equipment, but except for a few of the narcissistic crazies, they don’t sleep with them, pose with them in the mirror or caress them fondly when no one is looking.

They’re just tools.

And look here: The gun that killed Billy the Kid didn’t even have a laser scope on it.



Order of importance: 1) story, 2) technology

Technology is wonderful these days.

So many plugins, so many transitions, so many effects.

So many stabilizers, so many drones.

I don’t know about you, but I see so many videos these days showing off all these wonderful things that don’t tell story. Well, if there is a story it’s ‘look at me, look what I’ve done’.

Who cares?

Use them to tell a story and forward a message and people might actually watch and enjoy them.

(The picture? Just a lake in the early morning near where I live in southern France.)

A Key to Professional Camerawork

 Intention is senior to Mechanics.

When you mean to do something, no matter how small or big, no matter how simple or impossible, if one truly and purely intends to do it and then does it, it was the intention that carried it through to completion. It was the intention that guided all of the mechanics necessary to get it done. And by mechanics is meant tools and materials and stuff–and even the human body itself.

A short story:

I was once interviewing the employees of a rather bigger-than-life character.  A couple of the lads were on the back of his yacht shooting at targets in the sea with a .45 hand gun. They weren’t having much luck. And they weren’t aware they were being watched. Suddenly the old man tapped one of them on the shoulder and said, “Give me that”.

He took the .45 and “BLAM, BLAM, BLAM”, hit all three of the targets.

Then he handed back the gun and said, “Just hit it”, and left.

It reminded me of the Nike slogan, “Just Do It”.

You can add all matter of complexity into anything, most of which will prevent you from getting anything done–

If you think about it, all the best things you ever did or accomplished and which brought the greatest joy were driven by the purest of sheer intention. If you waver, you miss. Or you take a long time. Or produce a less than desired result.

I’m pretty sure this applies to Martial Arts and to the apparent miracles pulled off routinely by the best sportsmen and women around the world.

Intention is senior to mechanics.

So how does this apply to camerawork?

I had already sort of figured this out earlier in my camera career. By treating the camera as an extension of my eye and keeping my attention outward (whether I was on a tripod head, crane, dolly or hand-held) I was essentially eliminating a certain number of mechanical “vias” (like going from Point A to Point B via Point C, rather than going direct).

The trickiest was the Worrel geared head, and that’s where I sort of perfected my approach. With a geared head (designed for the heavy cinematography cameras) you’ve got one gear that does the pan and one gear that does the tilt, and you have to operate them together regardless of different speeds or degrees of movement of either the pan or the tilt. If you thought about it much, you simply couldn’t do it.

I’m sure you can think of similar complex actions that, once practiced, you execute “without thinking about it”. And when you find yourself thinking about it, you mess it up.

Another thing that complicated it was the need to hold your eye to the viewfinder on those big cameras–added to the fact that as you panned or tilted, sometimes the viewfinder was hard to keep your eye on–in which case you had no choice but to aim the camera like a gun.

So I used to sort of consider that cross hair in the viewfinder as a target that I would draw across the scene. I was well aware of composition needs, but by then that was second nature and tended to fall in place as I guided the cross hairs (and I’m talking about complex camera moves involving changing planes on multiple axes (plural of axis).

The advent of video assists suddenly eased some of the mechanics (no need to twist and crane your head and neck).

When I later heard the “just hit it” story, the full simplicity finally dawned on me. But it was with an understanding of the meaning of that statement.  Intention is senior to mechanics.

So in camerawork, what are the “mechanics”?

It covers the camera itself and all of its mechanisms, the lens and the subject of optics, film and the subject of exposure, the camera mount (tripod, dolly, crane, etc.) and head,  your hands, legs, eyes and everything else that holds that all together. And then there’s the stuff (people, objects, spaces) that move within your frame.  It’s all the physical stuff and there’s lots of it.

When you’re brand new, you worry about all of these things and you might say that you’re introverted into the mechanics. Your stuff probably even looks mechanical. But with knowledge, practice and experience, your attention goes more and more outward and the mechanics just become an extension of your intention when framing and composing scenes.

And that’s what it takes–knowledge, practice and experience.

Even this is a rather complicated explanation of something which is itself a simplicity when it comes to explaining good camerawork.

The short version is:

Just shoot it.


Just Do It!

The Mysteries and Intracacies of Lighting–NOT

I just received the following comment from Claudia Oliveira on the tutorial I posted today, “Lighting For Video That Doesn’t Suck, Part 2; 3 Point Lighting”  

“I’ve been doing 3-point lighting but end up spending too much time tweaking the set up and wasting time. As a lone operator myself, time and agility is essential to most of my jobs. Having rules of thumb such as the ones you shared will definitely improve my ‘thinking on my feet’.”

I told her that made the whole thing worthwhile for me.

It also reminded me of a story.

I used to work with both film crews, and later video crews. The video crews were 2-3 man teams of which I was the director/cameraman.  In both cases, there were gaffers (the lighting people). In the video teams, one of the two or three on the team was the gaffer.

Now I don’t say this critically, because if I was a gaffer, I’d treat my job the same way. But as a director, one has the responsibility of getting things done quick. Yet gaffers had the ability to spend the ENTIRE time of the shoot setting up and fiddling with lights, no matter how much time was available.  Naturally framing the camera comes first. But it would get to the point where there should have been plenty of time to get the thing lit so I could get the show on the road, so invariably my attention would turn to lighting which would often be holding up the show for very mysterious and technical reasons.

Eventually, in self defense, I learned how to light.

Now here I am doing tutorials on lighting. And while I haven’t covered all the bases yet on the subject of lighting fundamentals (which I have referred to briefly in the first two videos so far), one of those fundamentals is something I  haven’t even touched on yet–and plan to in greater detail.

But I’ll mention an important fundamental datum right now. And that’s on the even more basic subject of ART itself.

There is a purpose to art, and that purpose is COMMUNICATION.  I touched on this in the first video.

The reason one composes or lights, or creates sets, costumes, makeup, etc., or records sound, music or edits or any other part of videography or cinematography (not to mention any other formal art) is TO FORWARD A MESSAGE, i.e., to COMMUNICATE something. When all the parts contribute to that communication, you’ve got a screaming communication with emotional impact. You know it when you see or experience it.

Ok, that’s one thing.

But here’s a qualifying datum that is often overlooked:

There can be a wrong target or wrong emphasis in any art–and that would be the seeking of technical perfection.

Technical perfection is NOT the target. Communication is.

So how far do you take your technical application? You take it as far and as high as you can until you achieve the communication. Once you’ve achieved the communication, there’s no point in driving technical any higher (short of self-satisfaction).

In  a practical and business sense, yes, you certainly want to achieve a high technical standard,

Just remember, it’s more important to (the purpose of your activity) to achieve a high level of communication.

Once you’ve achieved that, you’re DONE.

On the other hand, if your technical rendition is inadequate or poor, it will DETRACT FROM THE COMMUNICATION.

So you have to achieve that balance where you have a high communication value.

The question becomes, “how good does the technical rendition have to be?”.

The answer (in any field of art) is: Good enough to achieve an emotional impact with the intended communication.

So back to the gaffer story:

I could, as director and cameraman, light the scene faster than the gaffer. Why? Not because the gaffer was incompetent, but because I knew when to stop. After all, I was responsible for the overall communication of the scene.

Which brings me to the point of what I eventually hope to achieve once the whole Lighting Tutorial series is complete.

By covering the fundamentals of each topic as well as the underlying fundamentals of art itself, I want to help people achieve the understanding and judgment involved with being able to perform their craft rapidly and competently with a minimum of kit (equipment) and to a truly professional result.

In the lighting series (and future camera series, etc.) I’ll eventually get to practical examples of “lighting in the real world”, including a real time set up of an actual live lighting situation. But I want to get the fundamentals in place first. Then we can get into tricks and shortcuts. But, as the saying goes, “you’ve got to know the rules first. Only then can you break them.”

And when you do break them, it’s all toward forwarding the communication. NOT just calling attention to yourself (which detracts from the communication, doesn’t it?).

Here are a couple of earlier articles on “Message: and “The Rules”:


“The Rules”

I’ll take these up and expand on them in a later video.

Thanks Claudia! You’ve got me going.

Rather Than Complain About Amateurs…

(written for a Linkedin Video Group)

Like many of you, I follow quite a few related blogs on Linkedin and elsewhere.

So this is not a criticism of this one.

But doubtless you’ve seen your fair share of soulful but utterly irrelevant chatter about amateurs driving down prices and quality of video production.

If you take a moment to check out the actual work of the complainers (on their sites), you probably won’t very often find the work of a true professional. I’d wager you never will.

So rather than complain, if you are a professional, why not teach what you know?

With some 30 years experience in the fields of cinematography and video, I learned a few things from a combination of study of the basics texts on the subjects, mentoring from a master and then years of working it all out in the real world.

After a year or two of reading too much aggravating drivel about amateurs, I decided to start a blog called “The Video Whisperer” (

More recently I started to focus it more toward exactly what I said above:

Why not teach what you know?

A month ago I started with the first video tutorial series  “Lighting for Video That Doesn’t Suck”.  The first one dealt with the fundamentals behind lighting.  I got some great feedback from professionals and amateurs alike. Many noted that there was information in there that they had never heard before. And so it will be with the rest of them.

This week I’m going to complete several more in that series, the first one specifically on 3 point lighting.

I’d like to invite anyone who wants to learn the basics cinematic lighting to subscribe to the blog so that you are the first to know when the new videos are up (which should be in a few days). Meanwhile you can watch the first one that’s already up.

The Lighting series will cover the fundamentals of lighting, the mechanics of 3 point lighting, lighting in the real world, kit and some vital technical subjects which themselves are fundamental to lighting.

Later series will cover the subjects of camerawork and composition–including, I promise you, things you will probably never have heard before.

And all of it will both give you the fundamentals and techniques which will enable you to produce professional cinematic-quality video without having to spend thousands on kit.


Subscribe at

Warm regards,


The Video Whisperer


Beware of “professionals” who whine.

As a member of Linkedin, I subscribe to a number of groups relevant to my profession as a videographer, one of the great benefits of Linkedin. I’ve learned a lot from some of the postings on these groups.

But one thing that makes me turn heel and run is whiners, complainers and (most of all) name-callers.

These are so-called professionals who blame their woes on Apple, or untrained johnney-come-lately “YouTube trained” videographers with low rates.

First of all, Apple is one of the most successful companies in the world. Not because they have factories in China where labor rates are low. But because they are innovative and produce products that are well made, beautifully designed, which work well, are user friendly, intuitive and which people love. By doing this, they changed the world. Nobody’s perfect, but they did change the whole way both consumers and businesses look at computers and the interchange of information. After all, who are all the other Big Guys trying to catch up with or out-do these days?

As to the YouTube trained videographers with low rates, well, you can partially blame Apple for that too.  Not that Apple makes high quality low cost HD video cameras, but because by doing things to make technology easier to access and use, they helped  break down the barriers that used to exist with more complex programs and hardware by creating programs and tools that anyone could quickly learn to use to create things once only professionals and geeks could do.

That doesn’t automatically make everyone a professional. For it does take some study and perhaps years of practical experience with the basics of any given professional field to be able to produce a truly professional product. So why would real professionals be threatened by a new or young videographer who never learned these things like camerawork or editing or lighting or editing or sound recording or mixing?

One can only wonder if they are really professional themselves.

Or is it that the amateurs, who never learned the basics of the field, are producing a similar or better quality that these “professionals” do?

Real professionals don’t worry about these things.

They, like Apple, forge forward with new and innovative ideas based on a solid understanding of the basics of their own field and of the needs or desires of their consumers.

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