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Shooting in the Snow in Japan with A Canon 60D – by Al Jazeera's Matthew Allard

Unforgiving Winter from Matthew Allard on Vimeo.

It was not a story that immediately inspired great visuals. Correspondent Harry Fawcett and I had to do a story on Japan’s rapidly declining population. Our producer Aya Asakura suggested we head to Takane Village, high up in the mountains in Gifu prefecture, central Japan.
With a declining birth rate and younger people moving away to large cities, small rural areas like this have seen schools close and businesses shut down. Traditionally, young people would look after the old in Japan. But with far fewer of them around, the elderly population is left alone and has to fend for itself during the harsh winter. In Takane, a large proportion of older people live together in former teachers’ accommodation during the winter months. These visuals would be used to illustrate our story.

I chose to shoot this on a Canon 60D. The correspondent had just bought it and I hadn’t used one before. To be honest I could have shot this on my broadcast camera, a 5DmkII, 7D or a 1DmkIV, but I’m always up for trying new things.

The first thing that struck me about the 60D was how much easier it was to use with the flip-out LCD screen (no more lying on the ground to get a low shot!) It took a while to get used to the controls as most of the Canon cameras are configured differently. The other thing that greatly helped was the fact that I could put a radio mic receiver directly into the 60D and manually control the audio. This worked well for some things but not for others. The 60D audio set up is supposed to be the same as the 5DmkII with the new firmware, but I found the 60D reordered sound was quite noisy compared to the 5D. I’m not sure why this is the case as I know Dan Chung has not found the same problem.

I recorded in both 1080/25p and 720/50p depending on the shot I needed. I also found myself having to shoot in 24p as Japan is 60hz and I was getting flicker under fluorescent lights. It was snowing quite heavily and I wanted to show the beauty of the snow falling in slow motion. The other thing I did notice – not having shot in the snow with a DSLR before – was that exposing for the snow was quite tricky. It is hard to tell correct exposure just using the camera’s onboard screen when the majority of the scene you are shooting is bright white. I compensated for this by shooting the same shot with different exposures.

Cold?

Over all I was quite impressed by the 60D. For a sub $1000 camera I found it by far the easiest to use out of all the DSLRs. I was also very impressed that despite being in -15C temperatures and getting covered in snow, then going straight indoors to a warmer place, the camera never once stopped working.

This short film is just a collection of some of the shots I took for the story while I was there. I hope it tells a story without needing words. I wanted it to look beautiful yet isolated, cold and remote. I’m not usually one to do much colour grading but I did so with this one to try to get a slightly surreal look. It was all shot on a Canon 60D using a Tokina 11-16mm f2.8, Canon 50mm f1.2L and a Canon 135mm f2L. Edited in Final Cut Pro and graded in Magic Bullet Looks and Apple Color.

About Matthew Allard, Aljazeera Senior Field Cameraman, Kuala Lumpur:
Matt has been a Camera/Editor in TV news for 20 years, previously working for both Channel 9 and Channel 10 in Australia. Twice Network Ten Australia’s cameraman of the year as well as being a Walkley Finalist for outstanding camerawork in 2006 (for coverage of the Cronulla Race Riots) and a Logie Finalist for outstanding news coverage 2006 (Bali 9). He has covered news events in more than 30 countries, from major sporting events to terrorist bombings. Based out of the Kuala Lumpur broadcast centre in Malaysia he is an avid user and follower of new technology, shooting stories on HD broadcast cameras as well as new Canon DSLR’s.

Affordable Shoulder Rig

Posted on January 27th, 2011 by Matthew Allard | Category: Canon Eos60D, Journalism |

8 responses to "Shooting in the Snow in Japan with A Canon 60D – by Al Jazeera's Matthew Allard"

  1. bobsacha Says:
    January 27th, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    This is really lovely. Is there a link to the piece that aired? Love to see how this beautiful footage worked in a news report.

    Congrats on a great job!

    Bob Sacha

  2. Matthew Allard Says:
    January 27th, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    Hi Bob,

    The story hasn’t gone to air yet. It will in the next week or so. I will post it up on Vimeo and get Dan to put a link to it on here. Thanks for your kind praise.

  3. mdrewpix Says:
    January 27th, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    This is what I love about the new world we’re living in. Every day we find new ways to tell our stories. This is gorgeous stuff that will add emotional depth to your final story. And yeah, I love the 60D. I’ve been shooting with it as cold as minus-30C here in southern Alberta and it keeps cranking right along. Thanks for sharing this piece.

  4. Heath Cozens Says:
    January 28th, 2011 at 5:01 am

    Lovely stuff as always, Matthew.

    That flicker issue is a bastard to deal with – and amazingly poorly understood.

    The 60hz flicker is of course, something that you can normally get rid of by shooting at 1/60th of a second.

    Not with these DSLRS.

    I discovered this when trying to shoot a PAL documentary in Osaka, and confirmed it when shooting a documentary for Singapore TV in Kyushu.

    I did a rough demo of the problem here:
    The http://vimeo.com/14885028

    Essentially it means that anyone shooting PAL in a 60hz area will get flicker under old florescent lighting.

    Kway-zy…

  5. Heath Cozens Says:
    January 28th, 2011 at 5:04 am

    By the way, it’s basically a West Japan issue.

    The country’s divided into two zones, one running on 50hz, and the other on 60.

    From Tokyo eastward, you’re OK shooting whatever.

  6. Johnnie Says:
    January 30th, 2011 at 8:26 am

    In some places in Japan shooting with “PAL” mode, 1/50 shutter is just fine (no flickering), in others, even when going to 1/60 (when in PAL mode) or change to 24p (PAL mode) will not solve the flickering. The solution is to change in the camera menu to “NTSC”. Then stay on shutter 1/60. Please pay an extra attention to the fact that the default in “NTSC” mode is 30 frames for second. Change to 24p if that is what you are after.

    Thanks.

    Johnnie

  7. spiritll Says:
    May 14th, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    I have been considering a longer lens. I have been vacillating between the Canons 135mm f2L and the 70-200 f2.8L IS. The differences, IQ and extra stop on the former vs flexibility and IS on the latter, are well discussed on various photography sites. I believe my need (documentary, interviews, street scenes, the occasional fast moving subject, but not sports) could be served by either, but would one be a better it over the other. I see that you made use of the 135 f2L on this piece ( I use a Canon 7D), and was wondering how you decided on one over the other. For instance, is it your practice to always shot on a tripod, so not having an IS on the longer lens is inconsequential to your shooting?

    Thanks

  8. Paul Mckelvie Says:
    March 31st, 2012 at 8:06 am

    Hiya there guys, really glad I found this post. Thanks Johnnie for the info above.

    I am doing a shoot on Monday in the UK, for Japanese television and will be using NTSC for the first time.

    From what I can find, 24p is the broadcast standard for television there right…? Other than the 1/50 and 1/60 issues with flickering are there any other pitfalls to look out for?

    Thanks Paul

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