G(irl)photographer: Nikon Music Video Bootcamp

Precision Camera hosted the three-day Nikon Music Video Bootcamp class last weekend at their north location. It was a jam-packed weekend of inspiration, information and hands-on learning, led by Chicago-based filmmaker, photographer and Nikon Ambassador Chris Hershman

Having worked with bands like Switchfoot and Company of Thieves, Chris has swiftly amassed a portfolio of big names and exceptional work. His work in film is visually engaging, terrifically creative, and stunningly beautiful – an artist and a storyteller who does not need to rely on expensive technology or high-dollar effects. I was stoked and slightly intimidated to be learning from a standout entrepreneur in the industry. But Chris is as approachable as he is brilliant, pairing inspiration and real-life anecdotes with practical, useful material that is valuable for students of all levels. It is clear that he desires to see his students grow and find success in their respective niches.

My interest in the class was a no-brainer, given my personal background in concert photography. I’ve dabbled in film, but I’ll be the first to admit that I am nowhere close to an ‘expert.’ I was suitably excited to expand my filmmaking horizons, particularly with an instructor of such caliber. 

I stepped into our first Friday evening class to discover I was surrounded by an exceptional group of peers, all equally as enthusiastic. Friday’s evening session set the stage for the full-day classes ahead. We learned a little about Chris’ background, discussed some basic principles of film and music video creation, examined production timelines and workflows, and took a behind-the-scenes look into some of Chris’ bigger film projects with Shure, Nikon, and artists Emily Blue and Company of Thieves. His down-to-earth narrative of first-hand experiences made the learning curve surmountable and our class time thoroughly enjoyable.

Saturday’s class began with an immersive discussion about camera gear, followed by a walk-through of camera settings appropriate for filming live music videos. Once we’d squared away basics like shutter speed, audio, ISO and aperture, Chris walked us through his own camera rig, patiently explaining how and why he’d built it that way. This segment was particularly valuable in demystifying the technology barrier many of us encountered stepping into this class. Conversation continued; stabilization tools, tripods, gimbals, and techniques for filming with multiple cameras. 

Finally we brought in our guest musician, Houston-based Steven Wells of Birthday Club. Chris walked us through the setup of 3-point lighting on set, as well as how to pair your camera to various color temperatures. This was immeasurably valuable to me, as I’d entirely ‘winged it’ where most previous video lighting was concerned. Good to know I wasn’t completely off-track! Finally, we were set to start filming. A highlight for me was the chance to command Chris’s camera. Sitting behind a ‘real’ camera rig was an opportunity to see myself in a place I’d only ever daydreamed about.

I was effervescently sold on the deal by the time I relinquished that camera to the next student. It was the first time I’d really thought of filmmaking as something truly possible for me, and not just a far-off pipe dream. After numerous takes, several of Steven’s best acoustic renditions of his current hits (the guy is insanely talented – check him out), a handful fails and a few more successes, we wrapped for the day and I headed home with a memory card full of my very own music video content.

I later chatted with Chris, eager to learn a bit more about his background, inspirations and motivation; and, well, figure out how to be exactly like him when I grow up. He chatted enthusiastically through some of his own experiences filmmaking; creating unprecedented concepts, following and documenting the one and only Joe McNally, running high-dollar/high-stress productions, and sharing the joy and successes he’d seen in teaching other aspiring filmmakers. 

I asked him what he hoped to impart on his students, particularly those that felt a little out of their league in taking his class. Without skipping a beat; “I’d tell them that everything is figure-out-able. It’s all possible.” He went on to give examples of his own sources of doubt, stating; “if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.” His unwavering faith in his students’ abilities is a rare trait. I predict that Chris will also see unprecedented success in further educational endeavors – as if he needed to add that to a mountain of accelerating film accolades. 

Sunday was our ‘Post-Production’ day, where we walked through the intricacies and workflow of taking raw video content and transposing it into a work of art with Adobe Premiere. We discussed both hardware and software, efficient workflows and the actual process of piecing together a video. This was the area of filmmaking that I had the most experience, so it was immeasurably useful to tack on Chris’ workflow tips, shortcuts, and expertise to my previous experience. As a self-taught nerd, it also made me feel a little more confident in my own working knowledge, like I was on the right path.

To be entirely honest, the class was over far too soon. I learned so much and could have sat in that classroom a full week. Which probably means that I need to immerse myself in similar classes — which I fully plan on doing. I am incredibly grateful to Precision Camera for bringing us yet another incredible learning opportunity – one that also happened to coincide so relevantly to my own passions in the music world.

As a self-taught and incredibly over-enthusiastic photographer, I generally suffer from impostor syndrome of the worst variety. I know that my passion for photo and video work far outweighs my actual life experience and sometimes I wonder if I deserve to be where I am today. Handling a ‘real’ camera rig and subsequently walking through everything necessary to create a finished product made me feel like this was something I could really, actually do. 

And having the opportunity to sit among others who come from a similar background makes me realize that we’re all on a learning curve, and that it’s okay to know what you don’t know. It’s a good thing. When I can walk out of a classroom and feel more at home in my chosen passion, and more driven to continue learning and growing as a Creative, I can thank only the folk that put together the opportunity in the first place. Classes like this are such a tremendously valuable resource for our creative community. Once again, I am absolutely floored that I can just walk into Precision Camera and take part any time I choose.  

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go harass all of my music industry friends to find someone who might tolerate me following them around with a camera for a few hours…

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