Over the years I have developed a few tricks for shooting video from a rope that have made my life a whole lot easier and saved my legs from hours of blood circulation torture. One of the most common questions I get from new videographers is “How do you shoot video from a rope and how do you keep the camera steady!” As a result, I put together a blog to cover the essentials of rigging and shooting from a rope for a simple scenario like sport climbing.
There is nothing worse then a wobbly angle of your bro crushing his project to ruin a potentially great climbing film. Follow these simple rules and you will come away with something you can show your mother.
Gear you will need:
Camera – Make sure you bring a couple lenses up with you or at least a zoom that can give you a nice variety of focal lengths while shooting. It can be nice to have two cameras, one with a long lens and one with a wide angle, so you can maximize your time on the rope.
Tripod – For video, this is still essential and will drastically improve your shots and keep them relatively steady despite hanging out in space. Invest in a decent fluid head and make sure your legs can extend out fully from the center point.
Camera backpack – A sturdy camera bag that you can clip into your anchor point will save you some time and effort. If you take up multiple cameras and lenses you will enjoy having a bag to keep things organized.
Static Rope – I use a 9mm HTP Static from Sterling rope. I have a 50m line that acts as my work line for all my shooting jobs. It is SUPER light and very durable and has almost no elongation at all. It’s a beast and is certainly one of the best static lines on the market.
Painter’s poles (x2) – You can find a nice set of poles at your local hardware store and they usually cost between $20 and $30 each for an extendable fifteen footer. Go with the most stable kind you can find and don’t buy the cheap aluminum poles. They can bend under your weight and send you flying around on the wall and you will look like a serious newb if your poles break.
Belay seat – I use a Black Diamond Bosun’s belay chair, which is very important in this rigging technique as it provides stability and a connection point for your poles, rope, and tripod.
Gri-Gri and Locking Carabiner – For top down shooting from a simple bolted anchor the Gri-Gri is the best tool for the job and can be used for rapping and ascending.
Harness – Any harness will do since you are sitting in a chair the majority of the time but something with a little more cushion won’t hurt.
Ascender Kit (x1) – As described in the previous blog (http://jonglassberg.lt11.com/video-and-photo-techniques-how-to-ascend/) take your ascender kit consisting of single ascender, aid ladder, locking carabiner, and wire gate.
Carabiners (x8) – I take up an assortment of single free carabiners to use as attachment points for my gear to keep them from falling to the ground.
Two Foot Slings (x4) – It is nice to anchor your gear to yourself so that in case you drop something, it is attached to your setup and will not fall to the ground and kill someone. I have a variety of 12mm dyneema slings from Sterling that are lightweight and do the trick.
Sport draws (x6) – Depending on the steepness of the route you will need to clip into the wall occasionally when you are rapping in and setting up. It is a good idea to take a few extra since you can always use them if you get desperate.
- I typically get 100% ready to shoot on the ground so that when I am in position, all I have to do is build my shooting station and I’m ready to go and not fumbling for gear.
- Put on your harness and assemble your ascending kit, quick draws, and Gri-Gri.
- Girth hitch your tri-pod and camera with two-foot slings and use single carabiners to attach them to your camera bag so that you won’t drop your expensive gear.
- Flake your static line, tie a knot in the end and assemble your Gri-Gri onto the rope for rapping.
- Since this blog only covers a simple rappel from the chains scenario I will assume that there is a bolted anchor from which you will be rappelling off of to shoot the route.
- Tie a figure eight on the end of your rope and clip into the anchor with two sport draws or slings with locking carabiners for extra safety.
- Check your Gri-Gri and tie a back up knot in the rope just past your Gri-Gri so that if you get out of control getting onto the anchor, you are still backed up.
Lower into Position
- Carefully lower yourself into position on the anchor with your backpack, poles, belay chair and gear all ready to go on your harness.
- Lower yourself down to a good vantage point where you can shoot directly onto your subject and keep in mind what’s in the background and foreground of your shot.
- Once at a bolted stance or free hanging position, you are ready to get set up for the shoot. Make sure you are at least 15 feet or so away from your last clipped in point on your rappel so that when you set the painter’s poles you will be able to push out a bit from the wall. If the last clip in position is to close there will be too much strain on the poles and it will be difficult to push out into position.
Set up for the shoot
- Pull out your ascender kit and attach ascender, aid ladder, and helper carabineer to the rope above your head.
- Remove your belay chair and attach the seat to your locking carabineer on the ascender.
- Get situated in the seat and get comfortable while lowering into it for max comfort.
- Grab each pole and attach them to the inside corners of the seat with carabiners.
- Carefully extend the poles to just under maximum length and walk them out from the wall so that you are pushed out and away from the cliff and spread the poles a bit so that you can shoot between your legs and not have any interference.
- Attach your camera to tri-pod and clip both the camera and the tri-pod to the belay seat so that they are backed up and cannot fall.
- Take your camera and tripod setup and extend two on the legs to maximum length and leave one leg short. Spread the two long legs as wide as you can and rest them on the painters poles in front of you and put the one short leg between your legs on the belay seat. This keeps the whole setup solid and gives you a base to shoot off of. It is nice to have a good video head on your tripod so that from that position you can swivel and pan smoothly and capture all the action.
- You are ready to shoot! Pray that your climber sends!!!
Shooting Action – (TIPS)
- When shooting video from this position make sure that you make subtle movements and gently adjust your shots so as not to shake the camera too much. It is always nice to have a couple cameras to shoot with so that one camera is recording the action wide and another camera is shooting tighter.
- You will have to work with a willing climber to get all the angles and make sure they look good. It can take some time to get used to this system but you will be able to get a steady shot this way and be out from the wall for maximum shock value.
- I like to pair top down shots with shots from the ground or from the side to keep the edit flowing and provide the viewer with as much information about the route and the surroundings as possible.
- If you rappel really far down the route and need to move up quickly from this position you are all set to do so with your ascender already in place and ready to go. Simply take down the poles, unclip the seat, clip your rope into the helper carabineer on your ascender and begin a quick ascent. Once you are in the next shooting position, get back in the seat, set up the poles re-rig the tripod and get back to shooting!
You will not become an expert shooter overnight but with some simple guidance and a bit of practice, you will be nailing the shots in no time. Be patient and shoot your subjects in good light and have the climber repeat moves for the best angles. If you have any questions or comments that I did not cover in this article, please feel free to leave a comment and I’ll make sure to answer it! Happy shooting!