Look Ma’… No Hands!

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

Back in the very early days of Steadicam, Garrett had conceived the device as a stunt rig to be used for fast paced action shots.  Early films like “The Shining” changed this forever.  The collaboration between Kubrick and Brown realized the potential of Steadicam as a precise tool, that could be use for even the most dramatic & deliberate movements.

The original operating form conceived by Garrett was a one-handed technique.  In this technique the left had (if wearing the rig in “regular mode”) would be used for panning, tilting, controlling roll & booming the camera.  As the equipment was pushed toward the other extreme – that of control & precision – the two handed form was adopted.  Here the left hand would not only be used for panning, tilting & controlling roll… and the right hand would be introduced on the gimbal to boom the camera.

But does “Two-Handed” form completely replace the old “One-Handed” form?

The “Zen” of Steadicam is one in which we (the operator) can fly the rig with No Hands!  This is a rather crude method of positioning the camera since it doesn’t allow us to pan, tilt, etc.  But ultimately, we should always be flying the right with our body.  The hands are there only to impart that subtle force required to position camera.  So what are the benefits of using one hand or two hands to achieve this?

I started to experiment with the one-handed form for running/action shots.  This indeed proves useful.  Here, your other arm can hang by your side, or even slightly behind you to counteract the significantly higher amounts of momentum you’ll be experiencing.  It’s also useful for moving extra’s out of your way in a pinch.

Next thing I knew, I found myself using this one-handed operating more & more.  It wasn’t only on running shots anymore… was I getting lazy?  When I look back at the operating its as good, if not better than it has ever been!

So when should I use two hands instead of one?

  • Its always better to boom when operating with two hands.  Applying a large force to the post is not a great idea… its much better to do that at the gimbal.
  • Slow and Dramatic really requires two hands.  Your operating hand (the hand on the post) should be applying as little force as possible to that post.  So you really need that booming hand to be on the gimbal controlling lens height.
  • Stairs & Curbs are a must… anytime your height is changing (or your subjects height is changing) you need to have your hand on that gimbal to adjust your boom height.
  • Lock-offs require two-handed form as well.

When can I try one-handed operating for myself?

  • Running definitely works well one-handed.  Just try running a short distance full speed in both one-handed and two-handed form and see which is easier to stop in?
  • Fast action, especially when walking backwards over large distances at a faster pace.  Just make sure you don’t have to boom and that you can maintain a complimentary lens height on the subject without applying significant forces on the post.

It takes a little practice… and certainly a full-grip on the post.  But once you get used to it (and the initial guilt of breaking the two-handed form) you’ll find it a useful technique to include in your bag of tricks.

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