Architectural Video

A rather special architectural Video project. Helter Skelter Studios were commissioned by RGB Group to produce a video to help market a property development in Shrewsbury. The Old Glassworks is a converted church opposite the river and the conversion is spectacular, blending the old and the new to fantastic effect. This was a real opportunity to bring my architectural photography skills to bear on a different medium.

The process of an architectural video isn’t that much different to an architectural photo shoot. I visited the location with director and editor Vivianne Howard, noted the features we felt should be in the video and then sat down to devise ways of filming them.

This is where the process deviated spectacularly from a normal photo shoot. We storyboarded the shoot, noting transitions and key shots so that we had a structure to shoot. With an architectural photoshoot, I would set out with my Canon 5D Mk IV, decent tripod, a wide-angle lens, a tilt-shift lens and a 50mm for catching the details, knowing that I could get the variety of shots to fulfil the brief in a single session. For the video shoot, the shot list and the kit list were vast.

  1. Canon C100 Mk II Video Camera with a Canon 17-55mm lens (the bulk of the shoot)
  2. Canon 5D Mk IV with a 24mm TSE lens and a 50mm lens (details and exteriors)
  3. DJI Ronin RS2 Gimbal (Dolly Shots)
  4. DJI Phantom 4 Pro drone with Polar Pro ND 8 Polarising filter (fly in from over the river, glide  up the bell tower)
  5. DJI Pocket 2 Video Camera (up the steps and into the lobby)
  6. iPhone 11 & DJI Osmo Gimbal (Details)
  7. Two tripods (Manfrotto video tripod with 502 Fluid Head and a Giottos with 3-way head)

The other thing that differentiates architectural video from architectural photography is time. Time repeating the shots until they are perfect, time in editing. I can do a photoshoot in half a day and spend another half day editing. This video was shot over three days and edited in two, including the client’s amends.

When shooting began, the method was similar to a photography shoot. We had our shot list, some shots were weather dependent and had to be shot when the sun was in the right place. We were fortunate to have accurate weather forecasts though the fly in over the river was a very small window of opportunity – about twenty minutes. Happily, I nailed it the first time. I did three other sequences but the light had changed and the first sequence was the best angle so we used that.

In video, the so-called “money shots” are the ones that make the viewer’s jaw drop! There were three sequences I was really happy with this video, the glide up the bell tower, the dolly shot “through the bathroom wall” and the camera movement from the skylight to the wardrobe.

The Drone Shot

I actually took off from the balcony outside one of the flats. This short was hazardous and typical of architectural video. I wanted to be close to the bell tower and with wind gusting at up to 15mph I needed to carefully monitor the position of the drone. I could not have done that effectively from the ground. The problem was always going to be landing the drone in a small space with gusting winds. Thankfully, we managed to get it down to within 6 inches of the take-off position.

The Dolly Shot

This one was improvised on the day. What makes the shot work is that the viewer doesn’t know what is being shot until the bathroom is revealed. Architectural Video is a constant battle between the space available to shoot in and the bulk of the equipment. I was braced in a doorway as I wanted to get the door frame, the wall and the radiator in close up before opening up into the room itself. To get the shot I used an iPhone on a DJI Osmo Gimbal. I have to say, the iPhone camera is a work of art and perfect for this type of shot.

Complex Camera Move

This type of move is ambitious. Architectural video relies entirely on the pictures to create the narrative. Moving from ceiling to wardrobe, maintaining focus and ending with the wardrobe dead centre and vertical in the frame is a challenge. I practised the shot several times before I tried to record it and once I felt comfortable with the move pressed “Record”. The sequence was enhanced in post-production by accelerating the last few seconds.

DJI Ronin RS2

This gimbal was new to the kit bag and I really didn’t exploit its capabilities to the full. Three things I might have done differently.

  1. Manual Focus pulls with Canon photography lenses are rarely as smooth as I might like. It generally takes me five or six shots to get it right. The Ronin can handle these easily.
  2. Pre plotted Paths – like the drones, you can set waypoints on the Ronin, making it possible to get those tricky moves the first time.
  3. Time Tunnel – just because the Ronin can do somersaults, doesn’t mean it should!

I’ll be writing a review of the Ronin presently, once I’ve got to know it a little better. The potential is amazing.

Last Thoughts on Architectural Video

This project was an eye-opener for me, translating architectural photography into architectural video with choreographed movement and rhythm is difficult. In photography it’s about the lines and the textures, the dynamic tension that works in a photograph needs to move in a video, so that tension comes from the movement. I was fortunate to have a great editor in Vivianne Howard who really understands video, in her hands the video became like a dance, it has rhythm and moves like a slalom skier. I’m excited about the potential for this type of work, it’s difficult and physically demanding but also exhilarating if you love architecture!

If you’re a photographer, you might also be interested in the Photographers Guide to Shooting Video.


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