Here’s a quick run-through of Thrissur Pooram, a unique festival that takes place every summer in Thrissur, Kerala – my home town:
Here are some important notes:
Everything was shot in 2160p25 in Prores LT. Audio is from camera. I did record audio separately for some events but it wouldn’t have been consistent in the final mix.
I’ve only used the gear listed in this guide, and nothing else.
This was shot in S-Log2 using the wolfcrow system and graded using the new Lumetri color panel in Premiere Pro 2015. I am so used to shooting everything in S-Log2 I forgot this project was a case study for Cine1.
The morning ritual
A few of the shots have an ugly color tinge to them, caused by cheap filters that I forgot to take off. I did notice it eventually on the monitor and took them off. Unfortunately, I had to grade the good footage somewhat to find a suitable matching point. I’m not sure I succeeded.
This was shot in Cine1, AWB at about 10-11am in the morning.
I love how the skin tones look for Indian skin in Cine1, which is why I prefer it. As you can see from the blown out highlights (crowd in the sun), it doesn’t have the dynamic range of S-Log2.
The only way I could have improved it somewhat is by custom white balancing the scene. This was AWB, shot in the afternoon. Entirely ungraded.
Kodamattam – war with umbrellas
Shot in Cine1, AWB. The A7s has no trouble catching the most natural look (to my eyes). This was shot in the late afternoon and went on a bit after sunset. The A7s can actually eliminate the dark and through some creative exposure I could have made it all look like the same time!
This is something only the A7s can achieve.
The Shogun didn’t have any problems with display in these extremely hot and sunny conditions. The light was changing very fast and such a sequence is difficult to grade. This sequence is entirely ungraded.
This was shot on a mobile phone in 2012. And it is scarier and louder than it looks.
If you are interested in learning more about Thrissur Pooram, here’s an article I wrote about it.
The making, and shooting an event with the Sony A7s
Thrissur Pooram happens over a 24-hour period, during the hottest part of the year. Still, crowds in the hundreds of thousands, including hundreds of foreigners, arrive from all corners of the globe to attend this unique event.
Most of the channels and agencies covering the event had multiple broadcast cameras. The biggest agency had 16 cameras covering the entire event. There are many rituals in different locations across town that all culminate in the umbrella war, and then the fireworks war. Me arriving with one camera was like bringing just a fork to eat steak.
We can’t do much about the lighting, as it’s bright and ugly for most of the day. In the evening, things get really interesting. I had a media pass so I could access any location – but as is usually the case, there are fights for the best spot. Many camp for hours, chain tripods or light stands, and generally resort to any tactic to get their spot. There were also two Red Epics and an Alexa on location – filmmakers who wanted to record the action for some reason.
I was assisted by my assistant Pranjal and my cousin, Abhijeet, who recorded audio separately (none of which I used). Pranjal took the BTS stills and video on my 550D.
Here’s what it felt like (very short BTS):
A few notes on each event:
The morning ritual
We arrived late, and got a high vantage point but was right behind a tree. A lot of the footage was unusable because I would be doing a slow pan or tilt and somebody would bump my camera. That’s why broadcast cameramen use heavy duty tripods, because bumps are inevitable when cameramen are cramped together.
We arrived two hours early to get this spot. I was sacrificing prime real estate for the next event for this one, because I’d never seen it before. By the time this ended, there was no way we could make it up to the media scaffolding (which you can see in the video). I did send Abhijeet to find a spot early, but he couldn’t get in – it’s cut throat, and you have to be prepared to posture.
Of course, ultimately, no one really fights – or they risk not getting the shot – and not getting paid the peanuts they are getting paid anyway. Being a broadcast camera person in India is depressing and thankless.
There were some shots where I had to pan left and right, and this was almost impossible because there were cameras on both sides. You couldn’t even free your arms. There was one funny moment when a large photographer (6′ 4″) walked among us looking for a spot, calling out “low profile” (small footprint, because he had a gitzo tripod). Even camera persons have form factors! I am definitely not the right body type for this job.
Kodamattam – war with umbrellas
This is an unforgiving event to cover if you don’t have multiple cameras at high vantage points. I was forced to take a spot near the temple, which was dangerous. At the end of the event, when people started moving quickly, we had a small stampede, and I was almost thrown off the side (a big drop under the VIP section), gear and all. I was protected by one policeman and Pranjal, who certainly saved my equipment from catastrophe.
Still, it was that or nothing. I was standing on a slope, and people kept bumping into me throughout the shoot.
One of the downsides of covering the Pooram is you can’t go out to get something to eat or drink, so you have to carry supplies. We did carry many bottles of water, but had nothing to eat until late at night when we returned home. I also injured my toe standing at an awkward angle the whole time, but that’s part of the job description.
We also had some interesting media news this year, with Pamela Anderson writing to the Chief Minister of Kerala asking him to replace all the elephants with paper elephants.
Lots of people in awe of the A7s camera! Pranjal was eternally vigilant, making sure my stuff was not stolen.
The event ended well after sunset and we had to walk for more than an hour with all our gear. They don’t allow vehicles within the periphery of the Pooram for fear of a terrorist attack. You can see they had deployed almost every policeman in the district for this festival – which is probably the most important one in Kerala.
Because I had injured my toe, the prospect of walking another 5km just to get to our spot, and then wait for a couple of hours till the fireworks show started at about 2-3am, I decided I didn’t want to cover it. It would sure have looked spectacular with the 14mm.
It is scarier than it looks in the video. By the end you are not sure if something terrible has happened or if you’re alive or not.
If you ever have the inclination to visit Kerala in April or May, then visit Thrissur during the Pooram (Pooram means festival) because this as unique an event as any. I don’t know if they’ll still use real elephants five years from now, or if the fireworks will be so crazy then.
My thoughts on using the A7s as an event camera
Many people complained when I stated in my review the camera is not a good choice for event work. To my friends who asked me to recommend a camera for event work, I told them to get the GH4, and they are all happy.
The A7s is a prima donna. It needs caring, a careful eye on focus, good filters and an understanding of color science. The broadcast cameras around me had just one setting, and they’re off.
Not so with the A7s! You could try to rig it to make it work, but you’ll always be pining for the things that matter most – servo zoom, lock-on focus, depth of field, lack of rolling shutter skew, ergonomics, long record times, etc.
On the other hand, I’ve found it also offers some important features: a big monitor, excellent imagery, shallow DOF and the ability to rack focus, mind-blowing low-light performance and the ability to mount any lens you please.
Still, I wouldn’t recommend the A7s to a professional for event-based work. Time and expectations of the customer take precedence over ultimate image quality. If your customer doesn’t care, and is only paying for your time, then as a business person all you need to do is satisfy your customer in the fastest way possible. That’s why you need broadcast cameras even today – an Amira would have helped, but it too lacks many of the ergonomic benefits of a broadcast camera.
You can also see how it is impossible to demand perfect colors by shooting Cine1, or by tweaking Cine profiles in-camera without a broadcast monitor in controlled lighting conditions (read studio).
Keep things simple, and you will be happy.