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Tech: Shoot a Better iPhone Adventure Video With Tips From Camp 4

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If you spend any time watching adventure videos and films, then you know Camp 4 Collective. The powerhouse production team includes some of the world's best climber-photographers—Jimmy Chin, Renan Ozturk, and Tim Kemple—shooting in the world's most extreme, least seen places. Last week they released The Denali Experiment, featuring an all-star crew of mountaineers, skiers, and snowboarders blending their skills to climb up and shred down North America's tallest peak (definitely a must-watch). The Camp 4 guys are total pros—both at staying safe on the most grueling, exotic adventures and shooting incredible footage. 

Recently, Camp 4 conducted another experiment: They shot a music video on a camera phone. While normally this would sound like a waste of time for filmmakers of their expertise, that was not the case. Shooting on the iPhone 4S, with its 8-megapixel camera and 1080p hi-def video, the team produced great results.

"The first digital video cameras we took with us into the mountains four years ago—to Pakistan—were shooting lower resolution and weighed significantly more," says Tim Kemple, who directed the music video featuring singer Gillian Chase. "But even bigger than that to me is the idea that you can always have this camera with you—no set up, no setting down your backpack." Pretty ideal for documenting your adventures.

Here are Kemple's tips—including how to stabilize your shooting, optimizing for iOS5 features, apps for extreme environments, tethering to send dispatches, and dealing with low light—so we all can shoot more like the pros. Just don't forget to put your iPhone in airplane mode. —Mary Anne Potts

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Adventure: Why did a bunch of hardcore climbers want to shoot a music video?

Tim Kemple: It was a fun project we did in a couple afternoons after work. Everyone we knew was talking about these new fancy cameras from RED and Canon, and we were excited for them, too. But that got me thinking … I wonder what this thing in my pocket can do? It was also a way for us to get out of the studio and come together to make something creative.

The first digital video cameras we took with us into the mountains four years ago—to Pakistan—were shooting lower resolution and weighed significantly more than the iPhone 4S. But even bigger than that, to me, is the idea that you can always have this camera with you—no set up, no setting down your backpack.

A: Shooting at the Great Salt Lake for the music video was a beautiful, fairly controlled environment. But have you have also tested the iPhone in extreme conditions?

TK: You'd be amazed at the ways that modern adventurers are using the iPhone in all sorts of conditions. It captures beautiful still images (I've had iPhone images from expeditions run editorially), and the quality of the video is excellent. But just the idea that it's always with you means you end up using it when you'd least expect. Here are a few examples I can think of personally:

1) We used the Star Walk app to show where and when the sun and moon will rise for our timelapses. On the iPhone shoot, we knew the exact position and time of the setting sun on our horizon. How cool is that?

2) Most people have seen Alone on the Wall with [free solo rock climber] Alex Honnold … what most people don't know is that an hour before his freak out on the ledge, we were all huddled inside a cave on the side of Half Dome stuck in the middle of a scary thunderstorm. I was able to pull out my iPhone and see the satellite imagery of the storm, see the red dot on top of us, and see that it was clearing. Without that weather knowledge we would have bailed.

3) In Patagonia this past year, I had the entire Climbing Guidebook as a PDF on my iPhone. So when the clouds parted I could simply flip thru my iPhone to find the desired (dry) route, and we had all of the beta. On the summit I was able to capture a Panorama/Stitch image that ended up running as an editorial image in Rock and Ice.

4) We've tethered the iPhone in places like Namche, Newfoundland, and others to upload dispatches and trip reports in the past year. It's usually faster and always way cheaper than any sat modem!

A: What are three filming tips you can pass along?

TK: The biggest one: keep it simple—we went out to experiment with a new camera and that was it. We didn't try to overly complicate things or try new techniques.

Number two: the biggest key to a good-looking footage is stable shots. They don't all need to be super stable, but nobody likes watching non-stop shaky videos. A simple tripod goes a long ways. Attaching the camera to something heavier (like a beefy tripod) is a great way to get steady looking walking and hand held footage.

Number three: shoot a subject that you are passionate about. It's the subtle details that you capture when you are shooting something that means something to you that really makes any video (or still image) stand out.

A: The golden light in the music video is so peaceful and artistic. Is this all shot just with the standard video camera on the phone? Or with an app?

TK: All of the video footage was shot with the normal video camera. We intentionally shot in the evening hours when we knew the light would look beautiful—and as amazing as the new camera on the 4S is, the new software update (iOS5) available on any iPhone really let us play with the camera in ways we couldn't before. The new iOS lets you lock focus/exposure/and White Balance. That really let us control the look of the footage we were getting.

A: How did you keep the shots so steady? It that just because you are pros? Or did you have something else helping?

TK: We experimented with all sorts of toys to keep the footage steady. In the end we took as much equipment as we could from the studio out to the location. We used a lot of the hand held footage (the new camera has image stabilization), tripods on the ground, tripods carried in your hand (to give the camera weight). We also dusted off our 18' crane that we normally use on commercial shoots—it was ridiculous honestly … but that was the point. Seeing a little iPhone at the end of a big crane was classic!

In order to mount the camera to the tripods, we used standard 'super clamps' and also experimented with the Joby Gorilla Pod for iphone … there might have been some duct tape involved at certain points, too.

A: What editing program did you use? What was that process like?

TK: We treated this footage just like any other footage that comes back from a shoot. We used Final Cut Pro to transcode the footage from H.264 to ProRes. I edited the piece in Premiere Pro and used Magic Bullet Colorista to do pretty minimal color work (mostly to get the clips to match as best I could).

A: How did you handle the audio? You clearly got rid of all the ambient noise.

TK: The audio in the video was recorded at home using Garage Band by Gillian. We then put the music on an ipod and played it over speakers when we on location. She played/sang over top of the iPod. Once it came time to edit I dropped in her master and was able to sync the footage up using the recorded audio from the phone (looking at the wave forms).

A: Let's talk more about the approach with the blown out color. How did you get the effect? Post production? Why did you want it? 

TK: This look was accomplished entirely in camera. To me it looks a lot like one of the looks that's popular on Instagram right now—and I dig it. To get the footage to look how we wanted we shot Gillian backlit nearly the entire time. Then we would focus and expose on her guitar or face (which was in the shadow). Because the camera thought it had to expose for the darker area, and we were able to lock that exposure, when we recomposed to include the sun it gives it that great washed out, ephemeral look.

It was the combination of the song and the landscape that really made us decide that we really wanted to achieve the dreamy look.

A: Because you were shooting on a phone, did you have to sort through a lot of footage you couldn't use?

TK: Honestly because we had such little time in the couple days we shot, there wasn't too much footage at all. I did have to remember to put the phone in Airplane Mode though!

The timelapses were a little more involved in that we had to import all of the photos into Aperture, export them as color corrected Jpegs, and then create a movie out of them in Quicktime before we could start editing them.

A: How does the resolution hold up? What's the largest size this film can be played on?

TK: The footage from the camera is 1080p—and in the right conditions you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between it and any other camera. It's really not until you try and do heavy color work or if you shoot it in dark situations (where the small sensor shows it weakness) that the footage starts to fall apart. We chose to edit this video in 720p because it gave us the freedom to crop in on some of the shots, do zooms, as well as fix any crooked horizons. We've watched it here on our big television at the studio, and it looks fantastic.

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