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Steadicam Tips and Tricks

written by: Andrea Smith•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 6/27/2011

A few pointers for the beginner steadicam operator.

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    In order to give an audience the full range of viewing on a story, a steadicam is employed. Special users, who have studied the ins and outs of the steadicam technology, operate the steadicam. Since the steadicam is so intricately designed, it is capable of doing what ordinary cameras cannot.

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    Tethering

    It’s pretty difficult to fly a steadicam in harsh wind or rain. Some good practices for these types of weather are a good tight harness to start, and loads of tarp ready for use. You want to post tarp in the direction of wind to minimize shaking.

    For rain you can buy or make your own shield. Most operators just improvise and make their own shield to guard against water beading. Cardboard and some rubber bands will do just fine. Some even opt for a little tarp to cover the top, but most find that more a hindrance than anything.

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    Difficult Shots

    Some operators have difficulty performing some shots because they believe they are too dangerous. Mapping out the shot before hand will eliminate this problem.

    Example:

    The Ladder Shot- One hand on the ladder and one hand on the Steadicam.

    It will create a polished crane-like shot that will have audiences wondering how you did it.

    Why?

    You don’t have a jib arm, but want an impressive boom-down shot from above.

    How to do it?

    It is highly recommended that you walk through the shot a few times, and remove all possible hazards. Once you have locked how you will be moving, gather your equipment and do the real deal. Use one hand to grasp the steadicam securely. Use your other hand and guide yourself up the ladder until your hips are even with the top step. Analyze your shot and then check it out in your viewfinder. Watch for too much or too little headroom. Since you're up high your camera should be pointed downward so holding onto the gimbal at this point is necessary.

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    Additional Tips

    If you’re a newbie wanting to capitalize on some crash course learning be sure and familiarize yourself with some common terms you’ll be hearing about in the steadicam world.

    Important terms-

    *Articulated arm- this is the spring arm that supports the weight of the camera on all of the Steadicams but the Steadicam JR. Its official name is the "Double Hinged Exoskeletal Articulated Spring Support Arm.".

    * Center of Gravity- The point at which an object's weight is in balance in all directions, and from which an object can be manipulated with the least additional motion.

    *Don Juan- an operating position where the operator walks forward but the camera points backward. This position is good for filming actors’ faces when they are in motion.

    *Missionary- an operating position where the camera lens points generally more or less forward.

    *Post- The central, telescoping post, which separates the camera from the battery and monitor, thus bringing the center of gravity out of the camera and into the reach of the operator's hand, and spreading the mass of the rig so that it is more resistant to rotation.

    *The Sled- This is the electronics portion of the Steadicam, on the opposite end of the post from the camera. The Sled contains the battery, the monitor, any support electronics for the monitor, and hook-ups for such accessories as video transmitters, wireless remote focus receiver and mini video recorder. Named "sled" because this portion of earlier Steadicam models had a toboggan-like shape. Modern models are now built slightly differently than the original that gave the sled its name.

    *Vest- This is the portion of the Steadicam that distributes the weight of the system to the operator's body. The articulated arm fits into a socket just above the waist, which can be switched from the right side (for right- handed operation) to the left (for left-handed operation).