After three weeks of working on this project I’m finally at a point where I have some time to write about it. I’m going to be posting my report in three parts, starting with this one which is all about the preparation and the ride to the event near St Tropez.
The plan with the project was to shoot footage for a short documentary about a group of Harley riders making the trip from the UK to the Event in St Tropez via the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and of course with the last part of the journey through France. Once at the destination I also needed to be able to cover the event for Harley-Davidson so that they could post video clips on their gallery website soon after the event.
Choosing the right bike
I too was riding a motorcycle so I had to spend a lot of time choosing the kit and the bike that would allow me to work efficiently with the minimum of gear. As you’ve probably seen from my previous posts I chose the BMW GS Adventure for this job as it offered everything I needed. Most important was plenty of fully waterproof luggage capacity, the GS was especially great in this department with it’s three fully waterproof aluminium boxes on the back, a tank bag and a lot of tie down points for things like tripods.
I hired the bike for two weeks from Superbike Rental who I have to say were fantastic. The bike was pretty much brand new and the service I received from them was second to none, I highly recommend them if you’re looking to hire a motorcycle in the UK.
The GSA was fantastic to ride, it was fitted with a full satnav system which proved to be invaluable at times but by far the best feature for this trip was it’s heated hand grips, I didn’t expect to be saying that when I hired the bike!
When it came to choosing cameras I was torn between shooting with my trusty Sony EX1 or going with just my Canon DSLR’s. My initial thoughts were that main benefit of going with the Canon’s would be the small size and portability of the little cameras as well as the ability to gather some shallow depth of field footage which I know would work well with the subject matter at times.
After much thought and some testing however I felt that shooting everything with a DSLR wasn’t going to be practical for the project, the main reason for this was the inability to view the LCD from low angles and that I needed to have the ability to shoot both wide and on telephoto without swapping lenses. I know there are lenses out there that could offer this functionality but I wanted to work with what I already own, which are mostly prime lenses other than my 70-200 2.8. Packing 3 or 4 primes soon makes the DSLR package less compact than something like an EX1 as well.
In the end I decided to use the best of both. I packed my EX1 along with a shotgun mic and batteries in one of the bikes panniers and then put the 5D fitted with my 50mm 1.2 prime in the the tank bag. This turned out to be a really practical solution because if I needed to grab a shot quickly I simply had to stop the bike and grab the 5D from the tank bag without getting off.
Occasionally I’d go ahead of the group and they’d give me a few minutes to get set up before passing me, for those shots I tended to grab the EX1 and shoot at 50fps giving me the option of slowmo in post.
I also took two GoPro HD Hero’s with me, the plan for these was to move them around between riders and grab shots of the riders as well as POV shots. This worked pretty well although the plan was a bit thwarted by the weather, more about that in a bit. I build a mount using a Manfrotto super-clamp and a cine-arm which worked well for positioning the camera in different locations on the bikes.
As well as the cameras I obviously needed to take a few other bit’s and pieces on the bike. I was able to send some gear ahead of me in a flight case but I wouldn’t get that until i arrived at the event so I needed to make sure I had all the basics with me for the riding phase. On the bike I had chargers, various cables, a shotgun mic, my NVS2500, two 500GB hard drives, my Miller DS20 tripod, my Glidetrack Shooter, Rode videomic, ND fader & other filters for the 5D, rain covers for both cameras, an LED light, a 5 way power outlet with a Euro adapter fitted, my Zoom H4n and all of the required bits and bobs that those things need.
My kit filled the top box and the biggest pannier on the right side of the bike, the pannier on the left had my clothes and shoes inside with the tripod and glidetrack strapped on top in a Manfrotto tripod bag.
I didn’t want to take my laptop on the bike as a 17″ macBook Pro isn’t the most compact of machines and space was very limited. So, for on the road backups and card emptying duties I used my Nexto Di NVS2500. The NVS worked a treat throughout the whole trip, I’d simply offload every card I’d used during the day and then do a sync of the data on NVS onto an external drive. Once the footage was on the NVS and a backup drive I would empty the cards ready for the next days shooting. I used a 500GB lacie drive for syncing which was powered by one of my Sony BPU-60’s using the adapter supplied by Nexto.
The only time I really missed my laptop when offloading footage was just to be able to view a selection of clips to reinforce to myself that I had the data before deleting the clips from my media cards. To be fair the NVS can do this with SxS cards from the EX1 but at this time I couldn’t do the same with 5D or GoPro footage. I think this is something Nexto will be adding at a later date though. Using GoPro’s is especially hard without a laptop as you have no way at all to see what you’ve recorded. Luckily one of the riders brought along a small macbook so I was able to check the GoPro footage a couple of times.
Batteries & Charging
On the bike I had 2 x Sony BPU-60’s 6 x Canon Lp-E6’s, and 6 x GoPro batteries. The Canon & Sony batteries were easy to stay on top off, I didn’t use a whole battery in either the Canon or the Sony in any given day. In fact I only charged those once during the riding phase of the trip.
The GoPro batteries on the other hand were more of a challenge because I used all of the batteries up each day. To charge a GoPro battery it needs to be in the camera itself which then needs to be connected to a USB port. If I’d had a laptop with me this wouldn’t have been a huge issue but without one it became my biggest challenge each night.
I used a standard iPhone charger to power the GoPro’s as it uses a standard 5v USB output. I planned to take two of those but for some reason forgot one so ended up constantly battling to swap batteries in a goPro during the evenings and night-times in order to get as many batteries charged as possible ready for the next day.
Shooting the riding out phase of the trip
During the planning of this trip I was more than aware that there was a chance that we could get some rain at times so I went to a lot of trouble to make sure my kit could be made watertight. I had all my kit in BMW’s watertight pannier bags which fit inside the also watertight panniers. Boy did that turn out to be a wise decision!
During the ride to St Tropez we rarely saw the sun, it was generally cloudy / stormy weather with pleanty of rain thrown in for good measure, not just regular everyday rain either but torrential rain, hail, extreme winds, cold and even lighting tried it’s best to stop us in our tracks!
The BMW’s waterproof panniers kept everything nice and dry, but the additional waterproof liners were also great because when I had to open the panniers I could do so without the contents getting soaked by the rain. The only things that really suffered a few soakings were my Miller tripod and the glidetrack as the manfrotto tripod bag strapped to the pannier on the left of the bike wasn’t waterproof at all.
The weather was a nightmare on the cameras, the GoPro’s are waterproof, but the footage doesn’t look great with rain drops running across the lens and they have a tendency to fog up when it’s raining too which renders the footage useless. It’s quite demoralising to position a camera on a rider or a bike and then check it an hour later after riding through some amazing scenery to find it had fogged up within the first few minutes.
I still managed to get some nice footage on the 5D and EX1 but the cameras can only capture what’s on front of them which most of the time was just cold wet people riding dirty bikes under dull grey skies. Not exactly what I had in mind for this project.
We rode through some fantastic places, over mountains and through impressive gorges that on a better day would have looked stunning so we did do some exciting stuff, it just didn’t look that good on camera when we were there unfortunately. At one point we were in the alps and the temperate got down to 2 degrees. enough to make the BMW give me an ice warning!
So all in all the shooting of the ride out to St Tropez was defeated by the weather. I did get some nice shots but certainly not enough to make the documentary I’d planned. Maybe the trip home would provide more options, better weather and chances of some decent footage?
In part 2 I’ll be talking about my workflow at the event, my thoughts on using the 5D for event work and how the glidetrack shooter enabled me to offer something new for the client.