When A Gimbal Is Not Enough

As a videographer, we’re constantly trying to find the best way to get stable shots without limiting our movement. Especially when creating cinematic content, smooth shots without jumps and jolts are important. Obviously, setting a camera up on a tripod will get us the most steady shot, but moving around smoothly with a giant tripod is pretty much impossible.

For a while, videographers attempted to make their tried and true tripods work well for moving shots. Sliders were added to the tripods, then dollies. Finally, the cameras came off the tripods, and steady cams were used. Most recently, electronically stabilized gimbals were introduced to the scene. These have really been a game-changer, especially in the drone footage field.

A lot of people look at drones and think the most innovative part of them is the ability to fly a camera around. In fact, camera flight has been around for a very long time. From our perspective, one of the most novel pieces of technology in drones is the high quality video transmission from the drone to the remote operator, which can be seen from up to a mile away. Getting such a clean HD image from so far away is truly amazing.

The second piece of technology that blows our mind is the gimbal. That’s what’s actually attached to the drone and holding the camera in place, keeping it stabilized during the flight. An electronic gimbal actually undoes – or corrects – all the errant movements of the operator (or, in this case, the drone.) That’s what creates the smooth, cinematic motion in each shot, and that’s what makes drone footage so valuable. Not to mention, that’s what you’re paying for when you use one of these cameras.

Even with all of these incredible tools for stabilization on the market, we still run into issues with stabilization and capturing that smooth, flawless shot every time. In instances like this, it’s time to get creative.

Take a look at this video we recently shot for Subaru:

About The Author

Jon Sherman

Creative Director

We used a Ronin-S to get a walking shot of a technician making his way from his service bay, across a 20-lane service station, and all the way to the parts department. The goal of this video is to show how inefficient it is for someone to have to walk back and forth multiple times a day just to ask for things that they could otherwise get through internal chat (internal chat was a technology service that Subaru was offering to its dealerships, and we were creating promotional content to help them sell it.)

In this case, we had the camera mounted to a gimbal, and were even using fourth axis correction with a spring-loaded arm attached to the gimbal. This allows us to walk in any direction and still capture incredibly smooth content. The problem was, our operator was now going to have to frame the shot and walk backwards for a very long time. That was very difficult to accomplish while still getting a smooth shot. Not only that, but it would wind up being a huge time-waster if we had to shoot multiple takes because of operator error.

It’s a good thing we were filming at a car dealership, because we were immediately inspired by our surroundings. We looked back at the history of camera stabilization, and remembered how well a dolly used to work when trying to move a tripod around. We popped open the trunk of our SUV, and had our camera operator, Jess, sit in the trunk. Voila, a makeshift dolly with a driver who could see where he was going, allowing Jess to face backwards and capture the technician walking through the service area as the car drove forward slowly.

As an added bonus, since the car was driving so slowly, Jess was able to hop out of the car and do a quick spin around the technician and keep following him all the way up to the parts station. Even though a long take like that ended up not making it in our final cut, it was still a really great shot that gave us a ton of options as we were editing.