If you’d asked me this question last week, I would have said no. What a difference a few days makes. Ruslan Pelykh, a New York City-based videographer and photographer, is creating outstanding video with a Leica D Lux 6, a 10 megapixel, $600 point and shoot. This post is a kick up the butt for anyone hanging on for a piece of gear as being the reason they can’t create with what they have. Welcome to creating more, with less.
Ruslan Pelykh, originally from the Ukraine, has been in New York less than a year but is already making his presence felt. He shoots and edits all of his own work, having started out only a few years ago. He quickly moved from shooting DSLR video like 'Angel', a video he shot two years ago on a Canon 7D and with one 24-70mm lens and 2 simple continuous lights with a couple of soft boxes on them.
Why Gear Doesn’t Matter (Much)
Of course gear matters - to a degree. It does not (and will never) define what you are able to create for yourself. While many won't admit it, this article aims to show it's not so much about what you have, but what you do with it that counts.
As I mentioned in last weeks article about film maker Salomon Ligthelm’s latest project, Anomaly, the new world order of creating great work and putting it out there is working well for the new swathe of film-makers who are not letting their gear or small budgets stop them from producing great work.
Coincidentally, both Ruslan and Salomon starting making films with the original Canon 7D.
'Angel' was Ruslan’s first important portfolio piece. It not only got him invited recently to an international Fashion Film Festival hosted in California (the owner of which chose the fashion film to feature in the official festival program), but it set him on a whirlwind path to producing bigger projects. Ruslan found himself being commissioned to take on fashion, music and art-based projects where the gear was becoming more powerful, more techncially advances and more expensive. Ruslan began using the Sony FS700, utilizing the 120 and 240 frames per second rate capability to shoot art and fashion films like Poison and Road
In turn, these videos led to music video commissions for him to work as both camera operator and director.
Larger budgets meant Ruslan began to opt for higher end gear, like the Red EPIC for his work, as can be seen below
You would think that access to larger budgets and better gear would have lead to a continuation of larger projects with more complex and technically advanced gear. But Ruslan is currently shooting with a point and shoot that he paid $800 for (and is on sale for about $600 now) - so what happened?
Freedom From The Gear Shackles
One year ago, Ruslan came to visit New York and shot his first video shot here, based on how the city inspired him.
Suddenly everything was different. Ruslan wanted a small, inconspicuous camera that wouldn’t attract lots of attention, so he could shoot and move around easily. Hiring a Red EPIC and lenses is also far from cheap, and requires a good stack of paper work. He needed to free himself from the shackles of heavy, cumbersome and expensive gear.
His aims were:
1 – He wanted something small
2 – Wanted the low cost solution
3 – Wanted something very unobtrusive
After much research, Ruslan came up with the Leica D Lux6. With this, he could shoot full 1080p HD video at 60 frames a second (something my Canon 5D Mk3 still can’t do). The D Lux 6 has since been discountinued but you can still pick up one almost like new in B&H's used department for less than $600.
Ruslan is able to manually adjust shutter speed (with a range from 1/30 o 1/16000) and is able to interpret his footage to 24 frames a second from 60, and get nice smooth slow motion.
Low light capability is limited (he generally doesn’t shoot above 400 ISO or else it gets too noisy) and manual focus doesn’t exist – so if he has to move around his subject he shoots with a wider focal length and stops down a bit to give himself some depth of field latitude, which is exactly what he did for the opening shot of Fly Away
'Sharper Image', the first New York video Ruslan produced was shot with the Leica.
You can really see how the small compact nature of the camera allows for lots of free flowing movement. Ruslan is very inspired by the city and you can get a sense of that from this video:
What Can We Learn?
1). Shoot With The Edit In Mind
The best gear in the world won’t help you tell your story. Ruslan takes what he can from the tools he has, and elevates it through the hard work he puts in through his creative post work. The camera is really only half the story, particularly in the world of video because the edit and post work is so critical to the finished look and polish.
Ruslan has a complete video gallery that sets out all of the projects he has shot with the Leica. You should take a look if you're in any doubt about what this little camera can be made to do.
2). Create Dynamic Movements In Your Shots
One thing that’s evident is that Ruslan makes great use of movement in his work.
I love dynamics. Almost in each shot (even if the model static, without motion), the background behind model always has life and moves. This layering helps create volume and dynamics. During shooting I am disconnected and always in motion or looking for motion in some way.
Ruslan told me he sees no difference when shooting with a point and shoot and a larger camera. In fact, in many ways he prefers the Leica.
I feel the freedom when I shoot with this small camera. I’m much more in the moment. With a larger camera like a Red, or when using sliders, cranes, jibs and so on you have to constantly change lenses, setting, places and it takes so long to move the camera to where you need it to be, and then to execute the shot. This is so much more freeing.
One thing to utilize in editing, especially if you are using Premiere, is Warp Stabilizer. It can often be a very effective tool for introducing stabilization in your shots when you are handheld, or the camera is moving but not stabilized. Although the way it works can be a little strange at times, I've used it consistently since Premiere 6 and it's an amazing additional plug in for the softwate. Ruslan explained he also used stabilization software to maximize the production value of his work, most of which is shot completely handheld.
3). If You Don’t Know How To Do It – Learn
If you think that Ruslan’s work looks like it has a much higher production value than it should, you’re right, it does, but that’s because the video is only half the story with intensive post production work being the other side of the coin.
Ruslan is a self described “maniac” when it comes to his post production, not trusting anyone other than himself to handle it. He spends about 1-2 weeks of full time work working on the post side of his video work, and says he’s even been known to spend up to a month of certain projects.
Ruslan put together a short video (below) that shows the extent of post work he will go to, including retouching skin, clothing, and color correcting individual elements in the shot. The fact he is working on individual frames or portions of the video is really incredible - video retouching has not yet become big news, but it is absolutely going to bcome massive over the next 12 to 24 months and Ruslan is well ahead of the curve here.
The most interesting thing here – and something we can all take away from Ruslan - is that he is completely self taught when it comes to video post production, explaining that he “watched a lot of tutorials on line” to learn his craft. None of us have any valid excuses anymore about not being able to create what we want; it’s really just down to us and how much time we are prepared to commit to the process.
It’s a new year, a time to plan and prepare creative goals for the year ahead. Usually around this time, we feel inspired by new possibilities and opportunities to create. However, this can eventually fade as the year progresses. We convince ourselves that our inability to create is because we need some type of gear. It's often nothing more than a crutch.This article hopefully demonstrates that Ruslan is clearly not letting his gear (or lack of it) hold him back from making professional grade, highly creative, high production-value pieces.
Ruslan’s aim is to shoot larger commercial jobs, fashion commercials and to eventually shootfeature films. The challenge he told me he has set himself is “to shoot something that looks like a Dior commercial but to shoot it with minimal equipment, and work with the smallest camera possible, and do a lot of creative post work”.
He might not be there just yet, but I can only imagine with his determination, artistic flair, creativity and work ethic, it won’t take him too long.
I’ll leave you with a final thought from Ruslan, that sums up perfectly why he seems to be doing just fine (and enjoying the creative process more) by shooting a camera that cost him $800.
[When I shoot with the small camera], I feel complete freedom and independence from both equipment and crew. I am ready to shoot in any place, at any time. I can shoot quickly, as soon as I see interesting moment or feel an interesting emotion, and from any angle. When I work with new models, they look at my camera and are shocked - often a number of times during the shoot! But then they see the finished product, they see the style of the work and what I've done in post production – then they finally understand and ‘get it’.
Special thanks [Ruslan Pelykh]