Video 101: Shooting on location

Tips and ideas for getting better videos while on location
Today we hit the road. Our goal will be to make an interesting 3 minute, home video using a readily available action camera, still cameras and homemade accessories. Our raw video will be edited on consumer level software; we will add sound effects, and zippy music. We will make a gift copy for the owner, and show video at the club meeting. As a bonus this video will go into the viewing cue at the Children’s Museum.

We wanted to visit Bill Ralph’s Porcupine Gulch, first place winner in the Small Garden Railway competition. (See
Garden Railways June, 2016) After visiting as part of the National Convention, we asked to return for filming on a less crowded day.

Make planning checklist

Making a video on the day of a person’s open house seldom works. A day or two before or after is usually much better. Here’s our on location checklist. Assemble everything in a portable container, charge batteries, bring extras,  check camera operations, pack extra media cards.  Confirm the time and duration with owner and crew; Check the weather forecast, plan the route and parking. Include time to visit with the owner prior to the shoot.

Pack your bags
We will be working with some new equipment. We built a 4 foot jib supporting two cameras. We are bringing a steady cam. We are packing a radio controlled engine and camera mount flat car to create front end look-backs. We pack the big flat car with its flexible platform for the onboard perspective.  We pack two small tripods for flybys.  Not least, duct tape and zip ties.

On location, get the story
Visiting with the owner we asked:
What is the story of this railroad?
What photograph locations do you recommend?
What should we be sure not to miss?
Do you have some favorite equipment and structures to include?
Is there a way we can work you into the video?
Are there any sounds we need to capture?
Where can we get a panoramic view to orient the viewers?
Bonus content!

The Photographer’s Notebook:

The Porcupine Gulch is an environment, not just a train layout.  In our initial interview with Bill, he pointed out that his collections include authentic railroad artifacts from around the state, and he has incorporated prototypical pieces into the layout, the walls, and scenes that surround the trains. We will be sure to include not only the trains but the backgrounds in our short video.

We are testing several pieces of video equipment in this on-location shoot. In post production, images of the video apparatus have been inserted into the video frames so that the equipment and the views it creates can be seen together.

THE JIB was the most successful accessory in creating both following shots, and smooth lifts. It is a home build made from plans we found on YouTube. At 5 feet in length, it does not transport easily, but we will take it with us as often as possible.

THE STEADY CAM was not so steady. It will take lots of practice before we feel that it can smoothly follow beside a moving train. Editing the clips with a slow motion filter helped remove some of the bumps, but we are not going to use this device very often. We will be looking into the new hand held motorized gimbals to steady our cameras on future videos.

ON BOARD VIDEO was created with our action camera attached to a flatcar. We added some space between the camera and the engine.  Using a tall boxcar or coach in front of the camera creates a blocking wall, while a short flatcar with an interesting load creates a foreground and perspective that we like.

FOR LOOK-BACK SHOTS, Bob brought his battery-powered locomotive to pull our camera car in front of the train. We thought the views of not only the train, but the scenery in this context were some of the most interesting, and we saved them for the end of the video.

SOMETHING UNUSUAL. Few layouts we know of have a working volcano. We used Bill’s recommended location at the north end of the layout with the volcano in the foreground to provide a lift shot that established the location. We also used this view to provide a visual summary at the end. The owner knew his layout well, and recommended this location for both video and still photography.

We wanted to include the owner in the video. We asked him to grab an oil can from his collection, and lube up the drivers in preparation for our final dash around the track. It was a spontaneous moment that concludes our visit to the Porcupine Gulch, and it reinforced Bill’s “story” that he has created a railroad environment, not just an elevated train board.


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