If you're a young videographer just starting out, you might be tempted to invest in the latest and greatest camera. But there's one piece of equipment that has been a staple of Hollywood cinematography for decades that you shouldn't overlook: the shoulder rig.
A shoulder rig is a device that attaches to your camera and allows you to support it on your shoulder, making it easier to hold steady and control. It's a simple concept, but one that has been used by some of the greatest cinematographers in the world to capture some of the most iconic shots in cinematic history.
So why then do so many people these days opts for handheld shots without any sort of rig? I think the answer is size. You see, years ago any type of cinema camera was heavy, anywhere from 15 to 50 lbs. That's a lot to hold in front of your body. Hence the birth of the should rig. Cinematographers could move freely on set and get all kinds of creative shots. It was a revelation for filmmaking. But as time and technology marched on, cameras got lighter. First came digital sensors. Then stabilized digital sensors. And what used to be 25 lbs became 5 lbs. It only makes sense to shoot in the easiest way possible - just grab the naked camera body and run around with it grabbing shots as you please. Freeing? Yes. The absolute best method for handheld work? I beg to differ.
You see, the problem with this "new" approach to handheld is that no electronic stabilization is reliably perfect. There are often little movements that today's modern cameras, as great as they are, cannot compensate for with their software. And when they do compensate, they often crop in the image to achieve a smooth result, which is obviously not ideal. And in cases where handheld footage is electronically stabilized perfectly it can often feel sterile, lacking life.
The entire point of handheld is to make the viewer feel like they are in the world, in the scene along with the characters. This requires naturalistic movement. It requires subtle dips, weaves and bobs, just as we look at the world as we move our heads side to side, as we walk around, as we crouch, as we look into another person's eyes.
Using a shoulder rig is the best way to achieve this natural feel to your footage.
Another reason many new videographers balk at using should rigs is they complain of back or shoulder pain. This is the result of an improperly balanced rig. When your rig's fulcrum is perfectly centered, it's a pleasure to operate. It almost becomes an extension of your body.
Of course, not all shoulder rigs are created equal, and there are many different models and styles to choose from. Some are designed specifically for smaller mirrorless cameras, while others are better suited for larger cinema cameras. Some are lightweight and portable, while others are heavier and more stable. It's important to do your research and choose a shoulder rig that best fits your needs and budget.
While it may be tempting to focus on the latest and greatest gear, young videographers would do well to take a cue from Hollywood and invest in a shoulder rig. With its stability, control, comfort, versatility, and professional look, a shoulder rig can help take your footage to the next level and set you apart from the competition. .