Chun Ming Huang is an experienced freelance cinematographer who has shot several HD reality projects, including “Trick My Truck” for Varuna Entertainment, the Los Angeles-based production company. He most recently shot their demanding new series “Ski Patrol: Crystal Mountain,” which debuted on truTV this past October.
What were the main challenges of shooting “Ski Patrol”?
It follows the everyday lives of a ski patrol, and we shot for eight weeks up in Washington State in pretty tough conditions. Over 95 percent was shooting outside in extreme cold, and using HD definitely helps to bring out more details as well as helping with the contrast ratio. When you shoot in snow, especially with the sun, it’s almost blinding, but then a lot of times you also have to shoot in dark shadow in the trees, where most accidents happen. So HD helps a bit with the dynamic range being larger. It helps to retain a bit more of the highlights and helps in capturing the footage in the shadows.
Why did you choose the Canon XH G1 HD camcorder?
Because it’s so small and lightweight and we could shoot 60i HD. We knew that we couldn’t go out there with a big, bulky HD camera on our shoulders, as we had to go wherever the ski patrol went. That meant a lot of cliffs, avalanche danger zones and so on, so we had to ski with them as we shot. And the XH G1 HD also has the convenience of a fixed zoom lens, and the zoom range is pretty decent. You’ll get a good wide shot and then you can punch in pretty closely with the zooms it already has. Then we also used Canon’s XL H1 HD camcorder with interchangeable lenses that are fast and very sharp. That’s their bigger HD camera, which you can also put on your shoulder, and we used that on days where we knew we could set up a shot on a tripod and then change lenses as needed. But it was nearly all shot with the G1. We had multiple cameras as we had different teams shooting all over the mountain.
Did you have any problems with the camera gear?
(Laughs) Well, we began with six cameras and ended up with three, which tells you everything. The production team had planned ahead for accidents and falls, and in one incident I was skiing pretty fast in deep snow and took a bad fall. I was unconscious for a few seconds, and the camera went flying. I had to dig it out and the base plate just fell apart, and I could see all the electronics inside, so it was a very tough shoot. But, thank goodness, it was such a small, compact camera. If it’d been a full-size HD camera, it would have been far worse. Often we’d be trekking knee-deep through snow, just to catch up with the ski patrol, but it was a very rewarding project, seeing these guys save lives and make sure it’s safe for all the skiers.