Tools to succeed

Working with volunteers can have it’s challenges.  Most of them aren’t professional camera operators and only touch a camera or piece of gear once a month or less.  Luckily there are things we can do to set up our volunteers up for success.  Most of these things are simple and don’t require much money, just a bit of time to get them wired up.

Tally: A tally light is a nice indicator that tells an operator when they are live.  There can be a lot going on in a production and there is little time for questions,  A tally light is a cut and dry way to let your operators know when they are live and when they are not.  Typically most cameras have Tally inputs, if you are using more of an ENG camera for your studio operation, be sure your viewfinder monitor has a tally light on it and wire it up.  When you wire up the Tally input on a camera it will also trigger the Remotes for your shader, so your shader knows what camera is live and which one is not.

Most cameras have 2 tally’s, Red and Green.  The Red Tally indicates what is live and the Green tally indicates what is in Preview (some cameras even have a third Color). I’ve never worked on a system that has had Green Tally’s wired up, but I believe the Red tally is a must!  If you have a Hand Held in your IMAG situation, I think it is a must for this operator!

Other than Cameras, If I can, I always have a monitor for my CG operator with a Tally light on them too.  That way if they need to send an image or get ready for the next item, they know if they are clear to load or not.  I had a small Data video composite monitor that I used in a facility once and it had a Tally input but it wasn’t powered.  I went to radio shack and bought a cheep DC power supply and just wired it in, it was little in cost but the reward was substantial.

Most people are using Multi-viewers these days to do a majority of your monitoring,  If your Multi-view is not built into the switcher, then make sure you get the necessary options to get Tally into the system using either a serial connection or by using traditional contact closures.  I think it is less important for the TD to have Tally’s than the operators but I know I have caught myself a few times leaving something up, so setup tally’s on any device that will allow it.

Return Video:  Broadcast cameras have what is called a Return video input.  This allows the camera operator at any point to see in their viewfinder what is on Program.  This is very helpful for operators to know where graphics are, to see who is live at any moment in time, and see the shots other operators are getting so that way they can find you something different.  The great thing about return video is it doesn’t have to be pretty!  I usually take a loop out from a deck, or monitor and loop it through all the cameras.  It just has to be there.  In a perfect situation I usually pull Return video off of a router feed so if I need to send something specific I can.  New cameras can have up to 4 return video inputs per camera.  Feel free to get creative depending on how many feeds you have.

Shading Station:  All of your cameras should be irised and colored by your Shader. Your camera operators should be focusing on finding shots and smooth operation, they shouldn’t also have to worry about adjusting the iris, nor should your director/ TD.  Have a dedicated person with a nice fancy monitor and scope with the ability to change between sources adjust the iris and color settings of the camera.

Proper Lighting: Lighting is one of the most important aspects to quality IMAG.  Be sure that your lenses aren’t all the way open and that you have plenty of front light.  The more the iris is open the harder it is for camera operators to focus, and the more uneven your lighting is the more your shader will have to adjust levels quickly leaving room for error.

Proper Support:  Tripods that are too small leave plenty of room for error.  Be sure to spec the proper tripod for the application, keeping in mind that with IMAG you are running from a distance.  A tripod with a bit of play in it will be very noticeable at the end of a lens.  I always look at the weight specs and spec a tripod at the low end of the weight spectrum rather than the high end, leaving plenty of weight on the tripod open.  When you get to the max weight on the tripod it tends to be unstable and shaky, it will still work but becomes much harder to operator.  Set your operators up for smooth operation with a proper tripod.

Noise canceling headsets: Events can get Loud!  Without the proper headsets it can be difficult for operators to hear calls.  Find quality headsets that cancel out room noise and make sure your com system gets loud enough for the operators to hear, keep in mind to also purchase headsets that are comfortable too.

Most cameras allow for com through the cameras, but some of the older ones don’t get very loud, maybe purchase a pack and run a separate line to ensure that the Com system is loud and clean.


These are all very simple things, but for your operator they can be the difference from a smooth production and a rough production.  I have done shows without all of these things and mistakes always happen, preventable mistakes.  Be sure to set up all of your operators for a win, give them the tools they need.  It starts when you select your gear, make sure the cameras you buy have Tally inputs for both Studio and Hand held operation, and that shade controls are available.  Add in a converter for Return Video if needed, make sure you have the proper monitoring in place and choose Com systems that are loud and clear.  No matter what you currently have in your system make sure you have as many tools as possible at your operator’s disposal to set them up for a win.

I just did a show where all 4-camera operators had never touched a camera before in there life.  I made sure that all these tools were in place to help them succeed and with the proper training I was able to get Great results from them.  They succeeded my expectations!  And I know it all started with giving them the right tools to succeed.  It took much longer to setup and caused a few headaches (you should see the gear I had to use) But it was worth it!

About brhoda

I freelance doing a few different thing in the video and live production market. I worked for a church for 5 years directing services and designing control rooms.
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