Framing For Symmetry
Published : 27th June 2006
Are there any special techniques for aligning the camera and set for a symmetrical frame?
After asking the set dresser to nudge a row of library tables for 15 minutes, we were not able to get it quite right before it was time to roll. I'm wondering if reference marks on the floor might be helpful?
Thanks in advance
DP Los Angeles
There can be so many variables that I usually find a laser pointer and a portable LCD TV for the videotap to be the best and quickest tools. Unless the camera was on a nodal head, set at the exact center of the room, did not pan a millimeter, etc., then it is more important to appear symmetrical than to actual be so.
The appearance of symmetry is the key here.
Do you use a laser pointer other than as a way to indicate?
Byron Shah writes :
class="style11">>Do you use a laser pointer other than as a way to indicate?
Rarely, but a few times I've stepped onto set and bounced the laser off a filter in the mattebox to use the reflection as a lineup tool. Don't know if it was really any faster or more efficient but it sure impressed the client and the cute scriptgirl.
class="style11">>Rarely, but a few times I've stepped onto set and bounced the laser off a >filter in the mattebox to use the reflection as a lineup tool... it sure >impressed the client and the cute scriptgirl.
Way cool. Never seen that done. Must work great with a Pancro in the slot.
Of course, it also helps for the beams to be parallel to the film plane. I've usually measured equal distances from the lens as a starting point.
class="style12">>...a few times I've stepped onto set and bounced the laser off a filter in >the mattebox to use the reflection as a lineup tool...
I always wondered if one of those laser levels (carpenters) would be useful for setting up a shot...
David Perrault, CSC
I used to shoot spots for a director for whom symmetry was a key part of his comedic style. On exteriors he'd have bushes planted in a V behind where an actor was to stand, he loved to give people 'hats' with roofs of houses, and so on. It was pretty funny and I got what he wanted, but my own taste is quite the opposite so it was frustrating.
We never did find a completely satisfactory way of getting things lined up exactly. There are variables in, say, the alignment of the tube of a video monitor, or the way an actor holds his head, or how square the doorway in a house is really built, much less how dead-on-square the camera is to a subject, that can (and did) drive us crazy.
The most critical thing is to have one person, hopefully YOU, looking through the lens and lining things up so they look right. Having multiple people look through at monitors making judgements is going to waste time. Make some basic measurements to try to get square to the subject, level yourself and then lock the camera off and line things up to camera. At that point throw out the level and tape measure and be the autocratic DP you've never dared to be before!
I work with a DP on a regular basis, that will insist (if the shot is designed as such) on having the camera position central & square to the set.
If the camera is pointing at a free-standing wall, he will want the camera perfectly centrered to that wall. I have used my Disto to centrally position the camera to a building from across a busy street. Just sight it up & tell the grip "Put the camera here!". If the set is small enough, I'll make sure the camera's cross-hairs are on the centre of the rear of the set, then lift one of the filter trays, hook my tape measure to the spring clip retainer, which is the centre of the optical axis of the lens if you are using an Arrimatte box, & the triangulate to the edges of the set. If the measure is the same, you are centred.
My 2 bob.
ADOPT, ADAPT, INVENT, DESTROY !
My way for getting spot on centred on and exactly perpendicular to a wall is to have someone hold a smallish mirror flat against the wall at the exact spot that I want to be opposite and move the camera until I can see its reflection in the mirror through the viewfinder.
Rarely, but a few times I've stepped onto set and bounced the laser off a filter in the mattebox to use the reflection as a lineup tool.
Maybe I'm too full of mince pies to think straight but what exactly do you mean here?
class="style12">>Maybe I'm too full of mince pies to think straight but what exactly do you >mean here?
Okay, say I frame up a shot with a table on the left of frame and I want another table on the right to perfectly balance it. In theory, if the camera is perfectly straight on and the filter is flat to the film plane, I should be able to walk to the table edge on the set, point my laser at the center of the filter and see where the reflection lands on what would be the right side of the frame. It's like shooting pool (or do you say billiards in you parts?); angle of incidence equals angle of reflection.
Paul Hicks wrote:
class="style12">>My way for getting spot on centred on and exactly perpendicular to a wall >is to have someone hold a smallish mirror flat against the wall at the >exact spot that I want to be opposite and move the camera until I can >see its reflection in the mirror through the viewfinder.
This reminds me of a similar method that still photographers used to ensure that the film plane and the subject plane were precisely parallel for reproduction work.
They used a rig that consisted of two mirrors and a string. The first mirror was partially silvered (although I'm not sure why it couldn't be clear.) and fit on the taking lens like a filter.
The second mirror was placed on the subject plane.
In the center of each mirror was a small hole through which the string was threaded and then stretched tight. The camera was adjusted by looking through the lens, so that when the string appeared as a dot, the film plane and the subject plane would be parallel within some barely measurable amount, and the camera would be centered on the mirror.
IA 600 DP
This is how I first learnt the technique, lining up repro, copy cameras and rostrum cameras back when I did a lot of multi-image ( lots of slide projectors with sometimes film or video projectors) work in the 70s and 80s..
Multi image was a lot of fun because it combined stills of all formats, film, video, graphics, sometimes 3D, and often multichannel sound. I can remember doing 6 channel surround and effects in 1981 running off an 8 track Teac.
I remember doing car jobs for multi-image where you first shot the large format beauty stills (transparency), then the medium format detail shots, then, because you had the car in the studio anyway, you shot some video promo stuff, and then you went on location and shot all the moving footage on 35mm along with some more stills.
All this could be inside 10 working days for a range of new cars.