Getting a clip of yourself landing a new trick can be tricky – pun intended.
If you have ever tried filming yourself playing kendama, you know it’s true. Sometimes it can be hard to be both kendama player and cameraman at the same time. When filming alone, it can be hard to set up the right camera angle, making sure you are playing within the frame, making sure you are in focus, and also if the camera is even still recording at all.
Smartphones are the primary way that most kendama players record themselves getting tricks. Most smartphones today can record high definition video that can be trimmed, edited, and uploaded to Instagram in minutes. That being said, it doesn’t mean that the clip won’t automatically come out completely watchable. However, there are steps you can take to make sure your mobile device records video that looks professional.
First things first: make sure your phone has enough space to record for a while! It can be a bummer to battle for a trick and finally get it only to run back to your phone and see that video recording has stopped due to not enough memory. So before you start recording, delete old pictures, videos, and unused apps.
Spot selection is key when it comes to filming a clip by yourself. There are many things a player should consider such as the background, lighting, and framing. Many players film tricks inside there bedroom with low lighting that makes the trick hard to see, and dirty laundry spread out across the floor that no wants to see. So go outside to film! In the good old outdoors, you can find natural or urban spots that can make a useable background. Also outdoors, the sun can be used as the ultimate lighting source.
Smartphone cameras are able to use accessories like wide angle lenses and Bluetooth enabled tripods so you can frame your shot exactly how you want it. Flexible tripods for mobile devices are perfect for filming in an outdoor location as you can wrap the bendable tripod legs around a fencepost or tree branch so you can get different angles.
POV or point of view, is one of the most popular ways of filming tricks when you are also the camera operator. The coolest part is that the POV is first person, giving the viewer the illusion of what it’s like to play from your perspective. POV video is done by using an action camera strapped to your noggin. There are plenty of Sol Kendamas videos that use this technique. If you haven’t done this before you may feel silly at first, but the results can be worth it!
When filming POV, the ground becomes the background. Consider where you are standing to play and think about how the contrast between the kendama and the texture and color of the ground. If you are playing a green kendama on a sunny day in a park standing on green grass, it may be hard for the viewer to see the full trick you are doing.
One thing most players do is underestimate and overestimate the wide angle lens that is used inside of action cameras. Often times, players record shots that are either too low or too high to get the full trick in the frame.
You have to adjust the camera and find a sweet spot that isn’t too high or too low that gets the entire trick in frame. It may require a few test shots and after you review the footage on the camera you can adjust accordingly
If you are aiming to achieve maximum quality and want a straight on shot of you doing a trick, then using a DSLR camera with a tripod is the way to go. Newer models of these cameras are designed with a flip out LCD screen that you can flip around to face you, which can be extremely helpful when recording yourself. This method however, is the most difficult to achieve as there are more manual factors that go into getting the perfect shot especially when you are filming yourself.
May of the same techniques that go into using mobile video to record yourself can be applied to filming with a DSLR, such as find a good background and using a tripod. However, mobile phones are designed for selfies, and DLSR’s are not.
The most challenging part of filming this way is getting the focus and framing right. DLSR’s are meant to be used with manual settings, so when you do not have a camera operator with you, how do you frame your subject if you are the subject?
In the movie business, a stand in is someone who “stands in” for the lead actor so the camera crew can adjust their framing while the actor is preparing for his performance. Since you are the camera crew and performer when filming a kendama trick, you have to find a stand in for yourself.
Here’s an example; If you are filming at your local park, find a tree that can act as your stand in. Try to estimate your height and tilt the camera accordingly. Now that you can gauge some line of framing, it’s time to get in focus!
Although it may seem like a good idea to use auto focus when you step out into your play position, however auto focus is deemed unreliable. Even if you framed your shot and the auto focus seems focused, as you start to walk out to do the trick the camera can start adjusting the focus as you appear in the frame at different depths of field. And since you can’t see the LCD screen, you can’t really be sure if you are in focus or not.
So the best thing to do is use manual focus. You can frame up your stand in tree or bench and then also focus on it. Once it is in focus, pan the camera to the left or right so it is no longer in the frame. After you press record, walk up and align yourself with the stand in that is outside of the frame.
Here's an example of Chad using a 50mm Canon lens to achieve this shot:
You always want to make sure that your shot is right, so after you framed and focused it, record a 15 second test of yourself doing an assortment of basic tricks like high J-Sticks and low Big cups where you end your knees. Then go back and review the test footage on the camera and see if you’re in the frame and in focus.
DLSR cameras are meant to use interchangeable lenses that allow the photographer different options when it comes to finding a shot. Focal length, depth of field, and zooming can all be customized with different lenses. You can also use wide angle lenses and fish-eye lenses on DLSR cameras so ensure your trick is in frame. Some lenses have such deep depths of field that focusing isn’t as difficult because it captures a larger area in focus, giving you room to move around in the shot.
Getting a well composed kendama clip can be challenging, and hopefully this guide can set you up for the perfect shot. You don't need to be a fully professional photographer to get a cool trick on camera, but knowing a little bit about how modern photography tech works can defiantly be beneficial. Now let's see those clips!