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Top 10 Tips for Production Engineering Videography

Okay so you have an interest in production engineering / industrial videography and you want to provide these kind of videos for your clients? We may be able to help you here.

We have filmed numerous production engineering videos for clients, as well as provided industrial photography for their printed marketing materials.

Filming in an environment like this is difficult; it is tempting to run and gun film to get the footage, but it ultimately is a bad mistake as we’ll go through the list of procedures you need to do for filming production machinery etc.

  1. Planning the production, from insurance to filming.
    Okay firstly, make sure you are insured. This is a dangerous environment. We filmed in factories that produce acid-lead batteries – vats of hot lead, cooking at 500 degrees Celsius. The noise was almost deafening, and the use of walkie-talkies to communicate with your crew are near impossible. You’ve got lead and other chemicals in the air, and you’ll need to use eye-protection such as goggles for close up shots of the polishing components of production machines.
    Insure yourself with public liability, and insure your equipment from damage and theft at the specific job location. DO NOT use any generic insurance company, as you can never be entirely sure you’ll be job-specific covered. Make sure the insurance provider can be tailored towards photography and videography jobs.Drone usage: for those whom currently have a PfCO permission (permission for commercial operations), make sure you plan the aerial flight properly, with a pre-flight assessment, and a written on-site assessment when you get to your client. Make sure you are ensured on the day using something like ‘Flock Cover’, and they provide insurance for on the day flying at a location. Check you are flying a drone-safe zone and that there aren’t any airports or restricted flight zones where you plan to shoot aerial footage.Get the permission from the management that you can take off from a safe location on-site, such as the rear-entrance car park etc.
  2. Plan the shoot and make a shot list.
    Make sure you are properly briefed on the shots needed, and the full process of the engineered machine / automation process. These machines are very complicated, and it is far too easy to miss a shot that you’ll need. Write down the shot list and stick to it for each shot. Make sure the client provides you with a shot list in sequential order for the video production.
  3. Set up your equipment, and check your white balance.
    You can use a white balance card for this, and the reason why we start with this is because you’ll be shooting for a good 6 hours. No doubt the factory where you are shooting will have a combination of daylight and artificial light, and this change throughout the entire shoot. We want to get the white balance just right on your cameras, and keep this fixed for the entire shoot, so that post-production is the same and the colours are consistent from the start to the finish of the video production.Avoid plug-in lights.  Although I am a fan of nice big soft boxes and powerful filming lights, it is too dangerous to use them, because they are a trip-hazard and an insurance risk. Instead, invest in decent RGB panel lights that allow you to change the kelvin level from cold to warm light, and make sure they can take the nice big NP-F970 batteries that can last for hours and hours, without you having to worry about them going flat whilst shooting.
  4. Communicate with the engineers at all times.
    If you are not assigned somebody to work with yourself and the engineers, ask the management for somebody that you can work with. You’ll need to ensure the engineers know exactly what it is that you want, and you’ll need to brief them before each shot so that you don’t put your health, safety, or equipment at risk.
  5. Start shooting the footage and for goodness sake – use lighting with softboxes.Even though it’s pretty much health and safety for most manufacturing environments to use daylight 5500k lighting and plenty of it, you’ll still have problems exposing your shots properly without bumping up your iso. You really do not want to do that. Keep your iso native to your picture profile method and if the shot is under exposed, illuminate the section of the production machine that you are currently filming and get the shot.
  6. Use gimbals and sliders (motorised sliders preferably).
    Steady shots make the video production professional, and easy to watch. We don’t mind a bit of shake but you should consider using warp stabiliser in post-production to cut that out. Sliders are essential for production machinery as they operate using conveyor belts; so moving the camera horizontally along with the product is vital. Use manual focus and keep the focus on the product.
  7. Lenses and the shots.
    Shoot at F2 and no higher. If you can shoot at F1.4, the rest will be so blurred that you won’t be able to tell what is going on anyway. Shoot at F2, with good lighting and proper exposure for each of the shots.Use a mixture of lenses and shots. Use a wide 24mm for shooting the initial steps, and start closing in with 50mm lenses for close in on those finer details inside of the automated process. You may even choose to swap to your wide 24mm lens close to the detail. Use decent lenses with good autofocus if you can, especially Sigma Art 24mm F1.4, the Sigma Art 50mm F1.4, and a decent Zeiss 40mm F2 CF (close focus) which allows you to get up close and obtain sharp and fast focus shots. Fast aut0-focus is critical. If you are using Canon, then your lenses should already be pretty damned good with their two point auto-focus system.
  8. Your camera and it’s settings.
    This is your choice, but this also depends on the scene. You won’t be needing to utilise high dynamic range in a factory environent, so shooting with S-LOG 2, or C-LOG (Canon), or V-LOG (Panasonic) would be overkill, and you’ll spend 4 times longer in post-production trying to grade and keep the colour consistent. Instead, shoot in Cine log or Cine4 and make sure the lighting and exposure is the same throughout the shots. Keep your white balance consistent through-out the entire shoot. Pick a decent Cine4 setting like Cody Blue (you’ll need to Google this), and buy some of his lut packs. I also think Daniel Schiffer’s lut packs look fantastic for grading your footage. Keep the colour accurate to a degree, especially for the engineer’s uniforms, and the company’s look and style.
  9. Filming shutter-speed and getting the footage.
    Most cameras such as full-frame mirrorless cameras don’t have a global shutter speed and instead use a shutter speed that you can change. For slow entrance shots, and slow to regular pace movements you’ll want to film at 25 frames per second, with a shutter speed of 1/50. Shoot this at 4K if you can, as you’ll need that resolution nice and tight. Keep your gimbal and slider movements slow and smooth to avoid any rolling shutter.
  10. Slo-motion footage and high frame rates.
    Your client no-doubt will want some slo-motion footage of the process and machinery at work. Now these machines move really fast. The lead-acid battery machine I was filming cul shift over 200 battery plates per minute, on a cast-on-strap process. For these shots, I set my camera to film at the highest frame-rate possible. Luckily I was using a Sony A7III and this will still film at full-frame, at 1080p HD at 100 frames per second, 100 mbps quality. Just be sure that you have to double your shutter speed to work with this so you get silky smooth slo-motion. So the shutter speed will need to be 1/200.Keep in mind that this is A LOT LESS EXPOSURE. When you get upclose to these machines, you’ll find you can’t get close enough along with your lighting, so invest in some small magnetic rechargeable RGB white lights that can be carefully positioned magnetically inside the structured frame of the production machine that you’ll be filming. Stick with the same white balance. In post-production, you’ll be able to speed-ramp your footage and shift from 100% to 25% for a 4-times slo-motion effect, and this will allow the viewer to see the process much slower and see exactly what is happening.