After working with this setup for over a year, I wanted to share it with you, having gained full knowledge of its advantages and disadvantages. It is what works for me at this time, in my particular situation, but it may help you as well, if like me, you make your own videos and don’t have a team working behind the scenes.

This 3-4 camera setup is what I use to film my wife’s shows: Ligia’s Kitchen and De Vorbă cu Ligia. For my own videos I use a more basic 1-2 camera setup, since I have to be both in front and behind the camera.

Let me state the advantage and disadvantages first and then I’ll give you the exact list of equipment.

The advantages:

  • The big iPad displays allow for proper framing, focusing and exposure control. I always disliked those tiny screens on DSLRs and video cameras.
  • The iPads have big batteries (except for the iPod Touch) that allow for hours of filming.
  • The featherweight iPod Touch can be mounted  in all sorts of unusual spots (including overhead).
  • Live viewing and control of the video feeds (things such as focus, exposure, white balance), including instantaneous switching between the feeds, from a master iPad. One person can manage all of the cameras at once. This setup allows up to four angles at a time.
  • Lightweight, small and highly portable setup.
  • With the aid of dedicated apps, you can get very good control of the video quality and look, right in the camera, without having to resort to a lot of post-editing.

The disadvantages:

  • Video quality isn’t on par with what you can obtain from a good DSLR with a good lens or better yet, from a dedicated, professional video camera. The dynamic range isn’t there, the noise levels are fairly high, the focus isn’t crisp enough. What you’ll need to do to compensate is to make sure your lighting is as good as you can get it.
  • The battery life of the iPod Touch is terrible. Have an external power source (plug or power bank) readily available if you need to record more than 30-45 minutes of video.
  • Also, the iPod Touch has a much slower processor than the iPad, so don’t attempt to use it as a master controller or for video editing. Use it only as a slave camera and be prepared to wait for good, long times when it updates itself with new Apple software and apps.
  • The on-camera (iPad Air and iPod Touch) microphones don’t offer good sound. The iPad’s microphone is passable from a close distance when nothing else is available, but that of the iPod Touch sounds tinny, no matter the situation. Use shotgun, dedicated or lavalier microphones for better sound.
  • You’ll need good WiFi signal in the room where you’re recording video, if you’re going to want to manage the video feeds from each iPad camera on a master iPad.

The equipment list:

  • 4 iPad Air units: mine are 128 GB first-generation models, I got a great deal on them at B&H Photo about 1 ½ years ago, I think they were old stock and they were making room for the 2nd generation iPads. I went for the largest capacity available because I wanted to be able to record lots of video without needing to stop and download. It just so happened that they also had 4G LTE, which was a nice plus. It was the right decision.
  • 1 iPod Touch unit: I got this because it was small and I wanted to use it for overhead angles, where a heavy camera might fall on my head. I didn’t want to use my iPhone, just in case it ever fell from its rigging. (An iPod is cheaper to replace than an iPhone.) It was the right decision. The short battery life and slow performance were unexpected and disappointing, but it does its job when needed.
  • 5 iOgrapher cases for the iPads and iPod Touch: check out their website, they keep working on their cases and have developed new ones to fit the new gadgets from Apple. I love their cases because they work both handheld (they have two big handles on each side) or mounted on a tripod. And they have mounts for external microphones and lights, right on top where they’re needed.
  • 5-6 iOgrapher lenses: I use a mix of Telephoto and Wide Angle lenses made for the iOgrapher cases, they use a 37 mm mount. They’re not pro-level lenses and they have a bit of distortion and chromatic aberration around the edges, but they’ll do the job.
  • 2 Rode smartLav+ lavalier microphones. This is where our iPhones are useful. We put them on Airplane mode, plug these mics into them, start up the Voice Memos app and slide them in our pockets. We get to record great audio with little fuss.
  • The following iPad/iPod Touch/iPhone apps: the built-in Camera app that comes with iOS, RecoLive MultiCam and Filmic Pro.
  • 1 or more video lights. There are a ton of options here. We use this one. Its advantage is that it comes with interchangeable color filters that shift the temperature of the light.
  • 2 or more softboxes mounted on C-stands for each set.
  • 1 hair light such as this one. I mounted it on a C-stand that I extended to its maximum height and lateral length. You may need to use some sandbags to stabilize the stand.
  • We also use the room’s own lighting for effect and illumination. I tend to use cold temperatures for the studio lights (white CFLs and LEDs) and warm temperatures for the room lights. I know people say you shouldn’t mix light colors when you’re shooting video or photos, but I like it. When they’re mixed the right way, they give me a “live” white balance, an in-studio “look” for my video, which is better than doing it in post.

If you have any questions or if I’ve forgotten to mention anything, let me know in the comments. I hope this helps you!

Thoughts

My favorite vantage point for photography

I was invited by the folks at Light, who are working on some pretty interesting camera technology, to write about my favorite vantage point. I explained to them, as I’m explaining to you now, that I don’t have one. I get bored with shooting the same locations and I’m always on the lookout for new things to shoot.

Then I realized that over the past few years, I’ve been working in the exact same location, putting in lots of time and effort, being happy with the challenges offered by that very same spot and enjoying the beautiful results. But you didn’t know about those photos, because I haven’t published them on my website, and it didn’t occur to me earlier that it was a vantage point. I’m talking about my studio work for my wife’s printed books, in other words, about my food photography.

My favorite vantage point over the past few years has been the whitebox (the official name for it is a seamless tabletop background sweep cyclorama). Here’s what it looks like:

whitebox.jpg

That’s where I’ve been spending my time. Lots of my time. Here’s one example of my work:

RPOP-2015-05-1335.jpg

This is one of my wife’s raw desserts. It’s a raw vegan whipped cream, mint and strawberry cake. You can find the recipe for it in her Raw Desserts book.

And here’s another photo from the same book. I apologize if it leaves you drooling. It’s a raw vegan brownie with a raw chocolate glaze.

RPOP-2015-05-0139.jpg

Here’s how I work. I don’t have a set position for the camera or for the speedlites. I work handheld and I vary my camera position, angle and lens until I find what I think is a good frame for the photo. Then I’ll shoot a few photos to see how the lights fall on the subject and whether I need to vary their positions as well, in order to bring out the colors and sculpt the dimensionality of the photo with lights and shadows.

I use three independent speedlites triggered by the on-camera flash, which I sometimes choose to also fire or to only have it act as a remote for the other speedlites. For this photograph, I worked with my Canon gear: one of my three Canon cameras, an EOS 60D and three Canon speedlites. I love my EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM lens and I tend to use that a lot for my studio work. I also use ambient light from within the room itself (I turn on wall and ceiling lights) and I use a mix of warm and cold lights. I know most people say you should use the same temperature lights, but I prefer to mix them in order to get a warmer ambient light. The speedlites overwhelm the subject with their cold light, but there’s a hint of warmer light all around the photo, which I like, and this comes out when I edit the photo as well. I suppose I started doing this when I began to shoot video. People leave a lot of work for post-production, but I do like it when I capture the mood light of the video live, as I shoot it, so I fiddle less with it in post.

I’d like to say I’m the set designer as well, but for my food photography, I leave that to my wife. She’s the award-winning raw chef with seven published books and I’m the photographer. Sometimes we’re inspired and we love the results, and sometimes we’re not happy with what we get. So we re-do the photo shoot at another time. There have also been instances where we’ve re-shot certain recipes for later editions of her books, because we weren’t happy with the photographs and as our skills improved, we knew we could do better.

I wish I could be more helpful than this but for me, every studio photo is a new challenge and I vary my angles and lighting in order to get what I think are the best photos of my subjects. My wife and I then cull through them and pick the ones that’ll go into her books. I then edit each one carefully, add it to the collection designated for that book in my Lightroom catalog and carry on doing this until we’re ready to turn things over to the publishing house.

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