Manfrotto contacted us to shoot the video ad campaign for their newest travel tripod, the Be Free, back in January of this year. It was an exciting new product and they wanted to show it off in the best way possible… a way that would also be true to the products features and capabilities. We needed to think of a great way to showcase how well the Be Free tripod traveled… and could think of no better way than that great American pastime… the road trip.
Planning all happened via email in the couple months that followed. Manfrotto chose Adam Barker as the costar in this series starring the Be Free, and for good reason. Adam is an outdoor and lifestyle photographer known for his advertising and commercial work, and traveling comes naturally to him.
We had the concept, the subjects, and Lan was assembling the crew… all that remained were the locations. There are many factors that need to be taken into account when trying to put something like this together… and California won out on most of them. California has an extremely diverse range of landscapes… beaches to desert to snow capped mountains to thriving cities to raw clashes between the land and ocean… and we wanted to shoot them all. After some conversation with Adam Lan had the locations narrowed down to 6… and the kicker was that they’d be shot in 6 days with travel via an RV (and a passenger van). California also happens to have mostly predictable weather in many of the locations… which was important on the tight schedule we had.
Gear was also important. We needed to be able to shoot mostly outdoors and on the move, but also needed to do interviews with Adam so we knew we’d have to have some lights, flags and stands. We also wanted to shoot a combination of beautiful footage, super slow motion, time lapses and standard BTS footage in all conditions.
The main camera was an easy choice, the Canon C300. Lan used the C300 as the A camera for the feature film Redemption: The Darkness Descending and it proved itself to be a workhorse and perfect camera to shoot this kind of stuff. For slow motion it’s hard to do better than the Sony FS700 (Amazon link) for the cost… and at 240 frames per second at 1080P it could more than handle what we wanted to do. Those two cameras and a couple DSLRs and lenses were ordered from BorrowLenses. For time lapses we had GoPros (Amazon link) and a Canon 7D on a Kessler motorized slider. And although Tyler had another C300 that he was going to shoot BTS on I wanted something smaller, lighter, faster and easier… so I bought a Canon XA10 (Amazon link). It’s tiny… like small enough to just throw in any bag once you remove the handle and lens shade… the quality is fantastic… and it even has an infrared night mode, which came in handy in the desert. All that plus a Canon 5D mkIII (Amazon link) and a bunch of L series lenses and we were ready to shoot.
Manfrotto – Simona – | – Luca – Manfrotto
Santa Monica -> Joshua Tree -> Death Valley (Mesquite Dunes) -> Mono Lake -> San Francisco -> Big Sur
The RV and van:
Manfrotto 504HD MPRO Video Head
Manfrotto carbon fiber 535 tripod
Manfrotto Pump Cup
Manfrotto Pro Microphone Holder
Manfrotto 190 Carbon Fiber Tripod with Q90 head
Manfrotto Black Aluminium 3-Sections Stacker Stand
Manfrotto Combi-Boom Stand HD
Canon 5D mark II
Canon 5D mark III
Canon 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye
Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS
Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS
Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS
Canon 14mm f/2.8L
Canon 24mm f/1.4L
Canon 45mm f/2.8L Tilt-Shift
Canon 50mm f/1.2L
Canon 85mm f/1.2L II
Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro
Canon 400mm f/2.8L IS II
Metabones Canon EF to NEX Speed Booster
Kessler Pocket Dolly
Light panels 1×1 LED panel
Anton Bauer DIONIC HC
R0DE Video Mic Pro
(almost all of the gear you need for a shoot can be easily rented from BorrowLenses)
Day 1: Santa Monica
We all met on the first day of the shoot at 1pm in Santa Monica at Umami Burger. When your Italian clients come to town you must avoid AT ALL COSTS taking them to your favorite Italian place. Burgers, on the other hand, are perfect. Usually when people are about to embark on a week-long road trip together, spending every waking hour in close proximity, they know each other first. Well we had lunchtime to get to know one another, then it was off to the pier to get started!
Santa Monica Pier offers a variety of looks and locations all within a few hundred feet. Adam chose 2 main shots and went to work, with us behind him shooting the entire time. This first location was a good way for us to get some gorgeous sunset shots as well as set up how we’d all be working together as a team to create the main ad videos, Adam’s still photos of each location, the behind the scenes videos, the product photography and the behind the scenes photography all at once. There were a few catches… the main one was that Adam would be shooting the photos on his own camera, but for the ads we were using a 60D which was more suited to the audience. He used the Manfrotto Be Free tripod with both cameras, but when the light was best and he was getting his shots… we needed to get ours, which involved switching cameras. Luckily with the quick release plates that job was quite fast.
We wrapped up our shots, had a quick Mexican dinner then wheels were up and we were off to Joshua Tree.
(a note about RV travel: It might sound like this awesome thing, sitting and relaxing in the back of an RV instead of being cooped up in a little car… but that’s only because you aren’t taking into account the fact that it will be completely TERRIFYING in the beginning, especially if it’s night, and especially on twisting turning bumping roads.)
Day 2: Joshua Tree
The day mostly consisted of scouting. Joshua Tree is a HUGE park, so driving around took up lots of time. Adam and Lan settled on a rock formation location for sunset, a spot for a night shoot, then the well photographed and loved Cholla Garden for sunrise. Bigelow Chollas are not nice cacti. Their needles may look like soft fur from a distance, but they are ridiculously sharp and have barbs so once they are in something (shoes, pants, Aaron) they don’t want to let go. Almost all of us were using my Leatherman to pull Cholla balls from our shoes… but only Aaron took a full hit through the leg. Not fun. But funny.
Day 3: Death Valley
Death Valley is the lowest and driest area in North America. It also holds the record of highest recorded natural air temperature ever recorded. A fun place to visit for sure… but we were luckily coming during the cooler part of the year. We headed straight in and to the Mesquite Sand Dunes. They are beautiful and if not for the mountains in the distance you’d believe you were in the Sahara instead of the Mojave Desert.
One of the important things for us on a shoot like this is to stay as mobile as possible. Although we had the RV and van and could bring a ton of gear, some of our locations weren’t accessible by car and we’d have to hand carry everything we needed. With the help of some unreleased Manfrotto gear bags we were able to create our mobile kits that would go with us when we needed to leave the accessibility of the vehicles.
All of our tripods on this shoot except the Be Free were carbon fiber Manfrotto tripods, which are really lightweight, so most of our weight was in lenses and cameras. Watching Ryan carry the massive Canon 400mm f/2.8 in its case across the dunes reminded me of the scene in Spaceballs where Lone Starr pulls the GIANT hair dryer out of Princess Vespa’s matched luggage they are carrying across the desert and says, “What’s this? I said take only what you need to survive!” And, similar to what Lan would have said of this GIANT lens, Vespa replied, “It’s my industrial strength hair dryer, and I can’t live without it!”
We finally caught up to Adam where he’d stopped during his scouting, and started to shoot. We did a few scenes, Adam shot some beautiful photos, and then someone jumped off the edge of a dune.
When you notice someone doing a flip off the edge of a sand dune there are many things you can do in response… but in this group there was only one correct one… grab the FS700 and shoot some slow motion captures at 240 frames per second. We did a few with Lindsey and Nate, then Simona and Luca said they’d do a jump… and like any responsible people would tell their clients in the middle of the desert far away from emergency services and cell phone signal… we said hell YES!
Day 4: Mono Lake
We drove out of Death Valley in the morning, picking up along the way a cool shot that Lan happened to notice of Adam walking down a long stretch of road, and headed for higher elevation.
Mono Lake wasn’t at all what I’d expected, not because I hadn’t seen photos of it before, but because those photos were mostly taken during a different time of year… namely spring. The landscape we came into was dry… and the shrubs around the lake were a pale gray. There was no color in the landscape except for the blue, cloudless sky. We walked around and scouted a little bit until the sun was getting close to the mountains then scrambled to catch the last bits of sunlight. That’s when it got really interesting, though. After the mad rush to catch the last rays of sun before they disappeared I actually looked up and saw that I wasn’t even on Earth anymore.
It’s amazing what you can do with an iPhone… even years after I started shooting on one daily it still amazes me. This photo was done with the iPhone camera app, just put in pano and pan it! This topic came up a lot during the week, and although we all shoot photos and post amazing (but tiny) landscape photos to Instagram… there is still no substitute for a proper DSLR on a tripod if you want to share your photos any larger than about 1000 pixels square.
We shot until it was dark, then left for the only dinner in the area, good ol’ American diner food.
Day 5: San Francisco
We headed to San Francisco with big goals in mind. The iconic Golden Gate Bridge shot, some travel shots on a trolley, some travel shots at a bus stop, a dusk shot at Twin Peaks with car taillights streaking past, and some amazing sushi. Noble goals, and all attained.
The Golden Gate shot happened on the way in, followed by a bus stop we just happened across. We then made our way to Twin Peaks and after a brief scout Adam had his shot location and we set up the time lapse cameras and started shooting. The Be Free tripod is also great for timelapses. It’s small and light and fit anywhere we needed it to, and whether we put a 7D or a GoPro on it, it was easy and perfect!
After getting the shot we took Ryan’s suggestion and went off to Goemon sushi, and it was AWESOME. A fun atmosphere, fantastic sushi, sake enough to drown in and great company all made for a memorable dinner. Tipsy and tired, we called it a night.
Day 6: Big Sur
The day started at another San Francisco location, actually. We hadn’t had time for the trolley shot the day before so we wanted to grab it first thing in the morning. I set up the FS700 with the 400mm on a Manfrotto NAME tripod so I could get a long shot of Adam on the trolley and the rest of the team jumped on the trolley to ride with him and get the rest of what we needed. It’s one of my favorite slow motion shots of the entire shoot.
this is the look you hope for on your clients face during the shoot
After nabbing the trolley shot we took off out of town and down the coast. If you’ve never traveled down the California Coast then you haven’t been making enough progress on your bucket list. It’s breathtaking. Unfortunately we couldn’t stop every 10 minutes like we would have if we had ample time… and had to settle for 2 main stops. One was at a light house Lan just happened to notice which had a parking lot right next to a nice small field of flowers. It was the perfect spot for a few shots.
After that we headed down to the final main location… McWay Falls in Big Sur.
It was beautiful, not crowded, the weather was nice and we were in good spirits. A fantastic end to a productive shoot. We milked the falls for all they were worth… photographically at least… and when the light disappeared so did we.
Day 7: The Drive Home
The morning began with an outdoor interview setup right where the RV had been parked all night. It was perfect for the look we wanted and after a little reparking and lighting gaffed by Ryan, we were ready to shoot. Afterwards we took a nice group photo to commemorate the trip and hit the last stretch of road.
We thought we’d take it easy on the drive home… but it started about as hard as an RV day can start. Up until this morning the RV had been on some rough roads, but none as steep and bumpy as the driveway up from the little RV parking area we chose in Big Sur. And after a week of use… the toilet belched a little… and we all scrambled to the windows to try and keep our breakfasts down. A quick turnaround and emptying of the tank later… and we were back on the road. Less in love with RV travel than ever.
The coast was wonderful… but we had our shots and we were beat… and wanted to make it to LA in time for dinner… so we didn’t stop much and just gunned it down the state. We stopped at Lan’s house to clear some gear then went out for our final dinner together as a team. It was a bittersweet celebration… the shoot had been awesome, for some of us the best trip in a long time… but now that it was ending we were all going to be splitting up and heading home. Me to Stockholm, Adam and Nate to Salt Lake City, and Simona and Luca to Italy. A week on the road will make you into either great friends or great enemies, and we counted ourselves lucky to have landed on the former.
In Part 2:
Day in day out, we all read about what gear to use, what the best new cameras are, what cameras and rigs to use… and we all seem to be concluding the same thing now. The cameras are pretty much all good enough. We (The Bui Brothers) want to start talking more about actually booking more work, how we book work, and how you too can book more work. There are plenty of people talking gear. Lets start talking about making a living from this stuff. We will answer the following questions in part 2…
So, let us know what you want to know about how we did this shoot (or anything else really)… and make sure you are on our mailing list so you get notified when part 2 goes up: