Over the years I’ve shot over 1000 musicians and bands from The Grateful Dead to The Sex Pistols, The Police, AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and more. Directors used to say that they liked having a woman shooting concerts because we operate more smoothly. We can finesse the shots. To me, it’s all about understanding what you are doing and having the right equipment to execute the shots.
I studied piano as a child and I’m always watching videos and music clips to study the framing. When you are shooting music performers, you need to understand the music and the emotion and be able to go with it. Sometimes you have to run full out and then stop on a dime. You have to be able to watch the performance, know where the entrances and exits are, and often anticipate where the song is going.
When I’m on a camera with a long sports lens, I need a really good head to support me. Vinten support is simply the best for rock and roll. When I’m on the house camera, there is a lot of panning. More panning than zooming. That house camera has to be rock solid. And, thanks to Vinten’s Perfect Balance technology, they are extremely smooth. Sometimes, when I’m on the end of the lens, even my heartbeat and how I hold the handles can affect that shot. A director can see an operator exhale or inhale, when we’re at the end of that lens, it’s so sensitive. So I need an extremely steady head.
Vinten is the only one that I trust. Some heads, after a quick pan, tend to settle. Vinten will hold at the point and be able to move quickly.
In rock ‘n roll shooting, the style of the drag is vital. Drag varies from song to song. With the Vinten I can tighten or loosen on the fly because it isn’t a step dial. If I need more drag for a song – easy – because I don’t have to slip weights in.
The pan and tilt knobs are clearly labeled and easy to adjust. The head pan and tilt lock levers are easy to see without looking all around the head or feeling around in to dark. And, since we are always operating in the dark that is important.
I often just lock the tilt when I take a short break so someone can still pan the camera out of the way if necessary. With the locks visible, I can lock and unlock on a moment’s notice. I can even jump on, pan and unlock without a “kick” to the picture!
The push-button head lock for overnight storage is very simple and clearly marked, a silver button and lock pin on the right side.
Most important, knowing how to lock and unlock quickly and adjust the drag easily on a head is one less thing to be concerned about when shooting a live show! Some heads are so complicated that they are a distraction to figure out and that is the last thing I need as an operator when everything you do goes immediately to a live audience.
I recently had a once-in-a-lifetime experience of shooting a Beatles reunion. It was a 90-minute live broadcast over the G4 network. Sir Paul McCartney, Ringo Star, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison came together for the World Premiere of The Beatles: Rock Band, a first-of-its-kind music-based video game. When I walked onto the set and saw the Vinten Vector 70 head, my heart skipped a beat. “YES!” I was reassured that having the Vineten would make my operating all that much better.
It wasn’t a rock concert. But it was rock stars. And an incredible experience. We had a challenge, keeping the awesome set, which detailed the video game, and the legendary participants in frame, panning from section to section, as Sir Paul McCartney, Ringo Star, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison took the stage, introducing Dhani Harrison who conceived of the game and Giles Martin (son of Beatles music producer George Martin) who brought the music to the project. My pans and zooms were super smooth, thanks to the Vinten head.
If I had my way, I wouldn’t operate without Vinten as my support.
Susan Campbell is a veteran of over 1000 music performance production. She’s shot concerts all over the world, working both house cameras and shooting hand held from catwalks and other unusual places. Although she continues to shoot concerts, Campbell has moved into the burgeoning field of Digital Imaging Technician, working with the latest in digital camera set ups.