BTS, DoP and Nikon Ambassador Pep Bonet unravels the art of videography: from movement styles, the importance of manual mode and why spontaneity often works best
“I am a storyteller,” Pep Bonet starts. “I am known for making stories which are difficult and dramatic — stories based on conflict and human suffering.” As a photographer, filmmaker and co-founder of photo agency NOOR, Pep has worked in conflict zones around the world for two decades and spent eight years shooting heavy metal legends Motörhead.
Videography sparked Pep’s storytelling. “I became frustrated with how the media used our photography to illustrate their own stories and agenda, rather than share my own story through photography,” Pep explains. “So, I started making multi-media films on my Nikon D 90. I discovered the power of filmmaking and being able to film my interviewees instead of writing photo captions.”
Pep’s most recent work includes creating behind the scenes documentaries for The Climb, an HBO series with Jason Momoa, and the Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon. His documentary Into The Shadows is currently showing on Netflix across Europe and he recently returned from Spain to shoot The Movement for Nikon; a limited series that follows nine creators as they embark on a trip around the west coast of Spain with the new Nikon Z 8.
He's clearly a busy guy — so how does he approach videography?
Gather the right gear
“The Z 8 is a perfect companion for high-end productions but also productions where the Z 9 might be too big, and you want something a little more compact to be unnoticed. The Z 8 has a very quick and improved autofocus — it’s the Z 9 in a smaller package. I also love to work handheld, and the stabilisation on the Z 8 is really great which helps when you’re moving around a lot.”
Pep adds: “My favourite accessory is the MC-N10, a tripod pan handle, which allows you to separate the camera from the handle, so you have all the options of your camera in a very nice grip. It also makes your aperture click-less.”
Always shoot more than you need
“A common mistake people do when they move from stills photography to filmmaking is making the clips too short — they are too used to taking stills,” Pep says. “Making the clips too short doesn’t leave much room for editing so I always suggest to make the clips longer and learn camera movement.”
Learn camera movement: think handheld, gimbal, crane
“Composition doesn't really change from stills to filmmaking — what changes is that you have to move the camera unless you have a locked shot on a tripod.
“The real challenge when you change from stills to videography is camera movement. There’s so many possibilities with movement — you could shoot handheld, with a crane, slider or gimbal. Movement is the key to filmmaking.”
Shooting handheld offers a realistic in-the-moment perspective Pep adds, but for smoother, more cinematic movement use a gimbal.
Telling a story with Pep
Decide what movement will suit your film
“First understand what kind of film you want to do and what you’re after and then try to find out if what will work for your film. Perhaps a steady shot or a lock shot is best, or a handheld-moving camera or a very small camera movement.”
Then decide what lighting will suit your film
“I love natural light, but I also love to bounce natural light with a filter, but this depends on the production you’re making. Generally, if it’s fiction you can work with more lighting, and if it’s a documentary then work with what you have.”
Use manual mode
“Don’t let the camera do the work for you. Always understand what you’re after and make the best use of your camera by going manual — everything has to be manual from white balance, aperture, your shutter speed to your ISO and autofocus,” Pep says.
“Sometimes when you’re on a gimbal, it’s easier to track the eyes using autofocus but that doesn’t work for everything. You must know what you’re after and you have to adapt and put all of your knowledge into your story and filmmaking methods. For example, I made documentary films on human trafficking and modern slavery. And I was doing everything from sound to directing to DOP, all at the same time. Is it ideal? No, but you can absolutely do it.”
Know the difference between the main shoot and BTS
“There’s a big difference between BTS and the main shoot,” Pep says. “If you’re a DOP then everything has to be planned, there’s a lot of teamwork involved, everything is organised. There are a lot of people to consider, from focus pullers, actors, sound, camera operators and things have to happen when they are supposed to happen. Behind the scenes is about going with life as it happens, so the only thing you can really prepare is your gear.”
For BTS, be an observer
“The first thing I would say”, says Pep, “is to believe in what you do. Don’t censor yourself. Get out of your comfort zone and be clear about what you want to achieve. Be open, talk to people, tell them what you want to do and be open-minded. After that, be unnoticed. You are an observer.”
In other words, a show-don’t-tell. “I rather feel less is more,” Pep adds.
“For The Movement, I observed the photographer’s work and how they moved around. Along with the editor we made a musical piece which changes for each creator to give them a sense of who they are through the footage and the ambient sound.”
For BTS, sometimes spontaneity works best
“I don’t like planning,” Pep says. “I believe in learning as you go and failing as you go. That’s the magic of life. When I was shooting documentaries about really tough issues like conflict I never did lots of research. I might have Googled the weather! For the rest I wanted to go without any ideas or prejudices. I’m an observer. It’s more about the magic and the surprise. What am I going to find out? What will make me tick? That’s what it’s about behind the scenes.”
You can check out Pep's guide to behind the scenes here.