Remote cameras open up a lot of possibilities for photographers. Whether you want to capture a moment from two different angles, or with two focal lengths, remotes can provide us with images that otherwise wouldn’t be possible for us. But, for the most part, remotes are thought of as a difficult task, and so we think remotes are only for magazines like Sports Illustrated or ESPN the Magazine. They’re not.
While covering a game between the Phoenix Mercury and Detroit Shock, I did a video segment on remote setup basics. It’s easier than you think, so read on, and check out the video. Before you know it, you’ll be able to set up your own remotes.
First things first, let’s look at a checklist of what you need to do a remote, and then onto the video:
- Safety. This involves using the right cables, asking permission, and being insured. You need all of this before you even attempt to do a remote of any sort. If you can’t meet these requirements, don’t bother.
- A spare camera and lens. Remotes are usually manually prefocused, and lenses are set to higher apertures, so you don’t need an expensive setup. The main image above was with a 20D and 17-40. Combined, you can get them used for less than the price of a new 40D. Lighter lenses are preferred for easier balance. This is why I use a 17-40 rather than a 16-35.
- A wireless transmitter and receiver setup. Pocket Wizard units are the gold standard, but there are other options.
- A pre-trigger cable. This connects your wireless receiver to the camera and keeps it ready, akin to holding down the shutter halfway. Good pre-triggers come with a switch to turn this on and off. When it’s on, you cannot access the menu features of the camera, since it’s in a ready to shoot state.
- A camera stand. There are all sorts. You need one that will support the weight of your lens and camera, and permits movement of the setup so you can adjust the angle. For basketball, I made my own. Total cost: under a buck. Wanna know more? Check the video.
- Gaffer tape. If you don’t already carry a small roll, make your own. I use it to bind my stand to my camera, and also to mark my spot, so if I need to move my remote, I can put it back down in the same general spot, no guesswork. You also need it for your lens, to tape down the settings.
- An angle finder. It’s like a little periscope for the viewfinder on your cameras. If you need to put your remote on a floor, or field, or in an awkward place, the angle finder will really help. Or, if you have a newer camera, you may have some live view feature on the camera. That’s good too.
- Large capacity CF card. I drop an 8 or 16gb card in my setups, so I don’t have to go changing cameras in the middle of an event. If your remote is also in an awkward place to get to during the event, a large card makes sense. They’re cheap now too, and I’ve written about where to get them.
- Fresh batteries. AA’s for Pocket Wizards, and freshly charged Li-Ion’s for my camera. That way you don’t have to worry about changing those out mid-event. And if you don’t notice your batteries dying, then you may keep on shooting without knowing that the remote is not functioning.
- Time. Show up early to do all of this. It’s easy once you get the hang of it. Pressed, I could prop one up in a few minutes. But the first time, it took me a while. And when I shot the video, the chaos that was all around, plus the video segment itself, made it a lengthy process. Had I not shown up two hours early, I might not have pulled it all off. Better to be done early, and relax, than rush to get it all set up.
Lengthy list huh? This is why I did the video. It does a fine job of showing how the above list of items all comes together to produce a remote, but I’m sure there will be more questions, so feel free to email me and ask me anything about the video, the list, or any specifics. I’ll be glad to answer them.
I’ve embedded the video, but you can also download it, just do a save as.