Gimbals have become increasingly popular and it’s obvious why. Moves that required master camera operators can now be done with significantly less training. Add the fact that gimbals are becoming more powerful, more affordable, and more features rich, and you have a winning tool. That being said, gimbals still require a learning curve. This series of tips is here to help you get the most out of our gimbal on your next shoot. We got our resident gimbal expert Oleg Balzanov and a super talented dancer, Danielle Stephen to help us teach you these tips.
For this tutorial, we used three pieces of kit. A Manfrotto MVG460 gimbal, a dedicated remote, and a monopod style accessory called a Gimboom. The 460 is a great gimbal with tons of nifty features and a really good payload capacity. AS for the Gimboom, if you have seen their FAST tripod legs, it’s basically a single leg of that tripod. It’s nice to see that Manfrotto saw how monopods are used in tandem with gimbals and created a dedicated product for it.
So without further ado, here are our top 13 gimbal tricks:
Use longer lenses
Most videographers starting out with gimbals got for wide lenses like a 24mm. This is ok, but the magic really happens with longer lenses. Your footage will look significantly more cinematic once you use a 50mm or an 85mm lens. Longer lenses take away the phone-like look by both creating a creamy bokeh and creating better parallax.
Parallax is the name for different planes in the shot moving at different “speeds”. Those “speeds” are based on the plane’s distance from the lens. My best suggestion to you is to learn the ropes with a wide lens and slowly work your way up till you find the lens that suits you best.
Use a lower sensitivity
When you’re starting out there is a tendency to use the highest sensitivity that the gimbal provides. What you should do is have the sensitivity set to the lowest possible number. Why? Because big movements are easier to control. Small fast movements will have you fighting with your gimbal’s computer. Higher sensitivity will result in more jitter. Lower sensitivity will be much less responsive to those small mistakes, resulting in a smoother shot. Sure, there are times when high sensitivity can be used, but for a cinematic look, you want to stick to smooth moves.
Walking backward has been an industry secret for years. When you walk backward you get to control the speed of your subject. This makes it much easier to frame them. But best of all, your best interest in walking backward is how your knees bend to give you smoother shots. Walking backward allows you to step slightly softer.
Keep the gimbal close to your body
It hurts my
heart back to see people holding gimbals with arms straight out. Obviously, gimbals have come a long way and they have gotten lighter, but that does not mean that you have to make them heavier again. A gimbal that can hold 4.6 kg like the 460 can weigh about 5 kilos fully loaded. With your arms extended, it will feel like much more and muscle fatigue will kick in very fast. Bring your arms in by bending your elbows. There will be less leverage and the gimbal will feel lighter. This will also give you the added bonus of another degree of freedom in controlling your gimbal.
Monopods & cranes
Crane shots are classic shots in movies. Hollywood really loves getting those high to low (or opposite) shots. Good news though, with a gimbal and a monopod (or a gimboom) you can basically achieve the same thing. Slapping a gimbal on our gimboom allows us to elevate the gimbal to much higher places. We can also start low and end high. Whatever direction you take your gimbal and your monopod, you will definitely get a new perspective from this tip.
Drone shots are pretty straightforward. You can attach the gimboom to a tripod or a (well secured) light stand and extended it all the way to get a really high vantage point. This is what we did with our dancer. Obviously, the onboard controls of the gimbal are out of reach, so use the 460 remote to frame your shot, or even track it if you want.
Low angle shots
Here is something we don’t see too often. Low-angle shots can be super powerful in a movie. They show a different perspective than we’re used to. But the low-angle shot can also be hard on your back. Some operators use a top handle to get the camera closer to the floor, but this is very demanding on your back. Another option is to use the gimboom as a pole with a gimbal at the end of it and get it really low. This takes off so much strain from your back, so you can go lower and for longer times.
Use L mode to attach
I like to think that I invented this next tip. When I need to screw in the gimbal into something, I like to shift the gimbal into L mode (lock). This means the gimbal will noא react to any movement of the handle. Screwing in the handle now becomes so much easier, and it takes away the redundancy of picking up the thing under the gimbal. When you’re done screwing it in, revert to your mode of choice and you’re done!
Using more Axis is more cinematic
This tip connects straight with our tip about Parallax. But it’s also about control. Adding more degrees of movement means that you are in full control of the frame. You can choose what to show for how long and how much of it. moving along more axis also adds depth to the shot since you benefit from the parallax on every axis.
If you are like me, you may suffer from the “need” to get really close to your subject. Getting close with your subject has some advantages but on fast-moving shots, it’s really hard to frame and track. It’s better to be a little more open than mess up the framing. You’ll find yourself getting more of what you want by going slow. This lets the subject guide the frame and not your path.
Use your torso to turn
This is definitely the most common mistake I see with beginners picking up a gimbal. Trying to force the movement of the gimbal by turning their wrists. The other, better option, is to guide the movement by moving our torso. It may feel weird at first, but once you take into account the rest of the tips (bringing the gimbal in closer, going slower, and using lower sensitivity) you see that this falls right in. You have to use your body to make bigger, smoother, movements with your gimbal. And this is a GOOD thing. You want to be in full control of the movement of your gimbal and this is the way to do it.
Another incredibly unique shot you can with your monopod and your gimbal is a lateral shot. It might be a little heavy but you’ll get a unique perspective of a shot that would otherwise be pretty hard to nail. The way to do this is to set the gimbal on the poll facing down, and leaning it on your heaps. Then you have a good anchoring point for going side to side and “drawing” an arc.
Start and stop points
You know how you see gimbal operators going crazy sometimes and you think it’s just luck? Well, the truth is that most of the time, gimbal operators will pre-plan their shot with clear start and stop points. This little tip is key to understanding how to be in full control of your shot. Don’t spray and pray, plan and execute to get exactly what you want.
We really enjoyed shooting this tutorial and want to extend our thanks to Manfrotto for sending out the 460 gimbal, the Gimboom, and the remote, they definitely made creating this tutorial a smooth experience.