When people ask Oklahoma-based photographer Kenneth M. Ruggiano what he does for a living, he responds by telling them that he’s a “Professional Emailer.” If it weren’t for all that emailing, Kenneth wouldn’t be able to say his work has appeared in many national magazines including ESPN The Magazine, Sports Illustrated, The Hollywood Reporter and Golf Digest, to name a few. Most recently, Kenneth tackled a project that required some unique solutions and some very lightweight gear. Find out his outside-the-box solution for mounting a camera to an Olympic-style crossbar.
Dead-lifting the GoPro Hero 4 Silver
by Kenneth M. Ruggiano
As creatives we all have a strong desire to do something we haven’t seen before. In my case, it isn’t to say that I was “the first” but, rather, to prove to myself that I’m capable of creating something original. I was once told that there are only about twenty ideas in the world and everything else is just a variation. Most of the time I can’t find much fault in that statement but that hasn’t held me back from trying to come up with a few original thoughts of my own.
I was recently hired to shoot stills and video for a spring lifestyle/workout clothing campaign primarily appealing to the CrossFit community. The company is in the process of marketing to a wider base and showing that people who CrossFit have more than one interest. They wanted to combine elements of CrossFit and skate boarding for this particular campaign. It was a great day of shooting, despite the 25 MPH wind, but there was just one shot for the video that I really wanted to get and we nailed it!
My vision was to shoot at the point of view of the barbell but, to be honest, I didn’t know how to make it work at first. The Olympic-style bars that are used in CrossFit are designed to allow the athlete to move around the bar fluidly from the ground and through the lift, so everything spins. Consequently, everywhere I tried mounting a camera, gravity would take over and spin the weighted item to the bottom. While funny to watch happen, it wasn’t the desired effect and wasn’t going to get me my shot.
I spent an afternoon prior to the shoot doing test shots. In my mind there was really only one type of camera that was going to work for this job. A GoPro Hero4 Silver was the perfect choice to me not only because of its superior video quality and rugged case but because it was ultra-light. The GoPro Hero4 Session would have offered a similar video quality (not 4K but that wasn’t a requirement for this shoot). At only 2 ounces, less weight would have seemed like the obvious choice when attempting to minimize weight. The problem was that the GoPro Hero4 Session camera does not have a LCD review screen and needs another device, such as a tablet or smartphone, to frame the shot. I didn’t want to rely on yet another piece of equipment when working. Using the GoPro Hero4 Silver alleviated the need to fumble with an additional accessory and the LCD screen on the Hero4 Silver was well worth the additional two ounces. Another deciding factor was that the bar wouldn’t be off balance once the camera was mounted in place. Between the GoPro Jaws Clamp and the GoPro itself, the weight was significantly less than anything else I could have put on the bar.
Once we had the GoPro Hero4 Session mounted, the second concern was keeping it stable and upright during the shot. I tried mounting it to a variety of places on the bar but, again, due to the nature of the bar everything spins. In the end it became apparent that the camera would have to be held some other way. Physically holding the camera during a lift can be treacherous for the lifter. If I was to hold the camera mount and not lift in unison with the athlete, I could throw off the lift and that could potentially result in terrible consequences for the athlete. This was apparent when I was holding the mount on the beginning of a lift and caused the athlete to slam the bar into his knee. Surprisingly, the solution was elegantly low tech.
I tied some pink Paracord onto the GoPro Jaws Clamp and stood on a surface above the athlete during the lift, drawing the cord in and out during the lift – Fifty cents’ worth of Paracord tied around several hundred dollars’ worth of equipment! Now that .50 Paracord can be $5 because it’s “Photocord.”
You can see in the behind-the-scenes video that I just got into a rhythm with Bryan as he was lifting. I would allow the weight to pull to cord back out and would just apply enough pressure on the way up to prevent the camera from swinging down. Ultimately, the lift you see in the behind-the-scenes video wasn’t used due to how shaky it was, however, I did become more practiced on this new technique and did use the footage on a variety of different lifts and push-presses you see in the final video.
Is all this effort worth the two seconds of screen time? For me it absolutely was. Even if the shot didn’t make the final video it still would have been worth it. I believe that it is an important part of my process to try new things even if they don’t end up working. If I hadn’t tried I wouldn’t have known if it was possible. Now I know and I can add it to my toolbox for something down the road. Probably not significant enough to call it one of the 20 “first ideas”, but I’ll keep trying.
For more on sports portraiture check out these posts:
- Red Bull GRC Action Sports Photography with Garth Milan
- 10 Sports Photography Gear Tips
- Shoot Pro-Video for Children’s Sports