An Interview with Nikon D800 shooter Lucas Gilman

Nikon is back in the game with their D800, featuring improved low light/high ISO performance and a processor upgrade that has vastly improved on HDSLR woes (rolling shutter for example). One of the more exciting features, and one that Canon’s 5D Mk III is lacking, is the clean, uncompressed 1080P and 4:2:2 color space signal via the HDMI out and captured via an external recorder. Our new pal and Nikon sponsored shooter, Lucas Gilman has started doing just that with his D800 and the Atomos Ninja 2 external recorder.

For the Abiqua Falls video (below), shot prior to his D800 acquisition, Lucas used multiple Nikon D7000s and a Nikon D3s. As is the case for most shooters, live events pose many challenges, particularly the fact that you only have one chance to capture something happening. Such is the case for Lucas’ kayaking waterfall descents which especially fall under this category. His subjects are already facing life threatening conditions so to capture it right the first and only time is critical.

Lucas shares this video and his thoughts below.

The Abiqua Falls First Descent shoot was a collaboration with one of my long time friends and top kayaker Jesse Coombs. The goal in a nutshell was to go out and properly document the first descent of a waterfall in the 100 foot range in both motion and stills.  We spent months researching possible places in the Pacific Northwest. It seemed we had everything go wrong that could: freak snow storms, cold snaps that literally froze waterfalls, closed roads from downed power lines and run-in’s with park rangers who would not issue permits, to name a few.

Shooting big waterfalls is one of the most difficult things to document in adventure sports as generally you need lots of water for the waterfall to be runnable and generally that comes with lots of rain/runoff – so the window of proper levels is very short , and the physical elements are not on your side.

I can’t count the number of hours we spent rigging in the freezing rain and overall just waiting around for the stars to align for that drop to be a “go”. Funny how much time and effort goes into a drop that literally is 3.5 seconds of free-fall.  I’m just glad Jesse is OK. He ran it as clean as you can and still walked away with a cracked rotator cuff and a collapsed lung. Another kayaker ran it about a week later and ended up breaking his back and was close to never walking again. There is so much riding on documenting these amazing feats that you can never ever worry about equipment malfunction. At the end of the day if you miss the shot you you may also lose a friend.

A shot from Lucas' Red Bull shoot with Tao Berman

As an aspiring Kayaker and former Nikon shooter myself I had a vested interest in not only what Lucas has been shooting but also how he’s been shooting it. Lucas kindly answered all of my questions and provided some insight for photographers delving into shooting video.

An Interview with Lucas Gilman

Q\ What was your catalyst into photography, or, why do you enjoy being a photographer?

A\ From a very young age I was the kid who always wanted to take the photos on the family vacation and I’ve always gravitated to all things visual: film, images and the arts. But, it wasn’t until college I realized that it could be a career. I went to the University of Colorado at Boulder School of Journalism and Mass Communication to be a writer – and, figured out very quickly that being a writer was way too much work. I grew up in the mountains of Western Colorado backcountry skiing, fly fishing and climbing and after a introduction to photojournalism class I was completely hooked. I got my mom’s old FM2 and a couple of manual lenses – the rest is history.

Q\ Is there a photograph or photography experience that stands out the most?

A\ The photography experience that stands out the most for me was the day I quit taking images and began making images. I can’t tell you the exact day, but it all happened at once and I began to be able to pre-visualize still and motion images in my mind  seeing the play of light, shadow, color and texture in my mind.

Lucas Gilmna's shot featured in Outside Magazine

Q\ How was the transition from shooting stills to the stills/video hybrid world? Are you primarily shooting stills or is it a mix?

A\ The transition to shooting stills and motion was one that happened for me overnight. Once Nikon produced a camera with professional video quality I jumped in with both feet. I shoot both stills and video and sometimes both on the same shoot.  For instance in the Abiqua Falls First Descent video I had 3 Nikon motion cameras (POV camera, static camera, and a follow camera)  and two remotes that were fired with PocketWizards for the big drop – to maximize my assets. I love producing video content. It’s like I’ve picked up a camera again for the very first time. It’s an entirely new learning experience and I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface.

Q\ What was most challenging aspect in transitioning?

A\ The most challenging thing initially when transitioning  to video was all the additional gear (Jibs, Sliders, Focusing Rigs, Matte Boxes, etc)  that was needed to make a high quality production and finding gear that worked within my workflow. Luckily I found Cinevate products early on. Many of my shoots are remote and I need my camera’s and accessories to be as lightweight as possible and work flawlessly. Many of the things I shoot there is no take two or second chance. I can’t really ask a kayaker to go back up and run a 100 foot waterfall again. And, thats why I choose Cinevate products. I feel we share a common drive, which is at the end of the day, to produce the highest quality product no matter the cost.  It sometimes takes years of planning and 10’s of thousands of miles on the road to get to the perfect spot and document the perfect moment. I can’t compromise on the quality of my gear. It just has to work.

Q\ What advice would you give to photographers starting to make that adjustment?

A\ For photographer starting to transition to video I’d recommend doing your research – spend the time storyboarding and taking care of logistics. Make your time in the field counts and maximize the assets you produce. Choose gear that can grow with you. Buying a knockoff from China to save a few bucks doesn’t save much when it breaks down in the middle of a shoot or is incompatible down the road.

Lucas Gilman Photography

Q\ What shoots can we look forward to seeing from you and where can readers learn more?

A\ I’m currently working on a Surf/Landscape project in Big, California highlighting the beauty of the area and how surfers fit in to the powerful landscape. I’m working with the D800, Cinevate Core Rig, Cinevate Atlas 10 Slider and shooting 10-bit ProRes 4:2:2 HQ with the Atomos Ninja 2 HDMI recorder. And, so far have been blown away with the quality that the D800+Ninja is producing. It’s great shooting uncompressed ProRes 4:2:2 for color grading and getting the overall best quality. The Ninja 2 records to 2.5 inch SSD drives, which are removable so I’m using the 120GB SanDisk Extreme Pro SSD’s which are a great deal at about $145 retail.

I’ll also be at CineGear in LA June 1 & 2 doing a workflow video at the SanDisk booth showing how the Nikon D800, Cinevate Core Rig, and Atomos Ninja 2 all work so well in harmony. In November I’m working on a top-secret gig for Red Bull in Argentina and Brazil that’s going to make quite a stir.

And some more of Lucas’ upcoming workshops.

June 8-10th, 2012
Outside Magazine in Aspen – Adventure Photography Workshop

July 19-24th, 2012
Sports Photography Workshop – Colorado Springs, CO

August 23rd – Sept 1st, 2012
Iceland Photography Workshop

September 22-27th, 2012
Adventure Photography Workshop – Jackson Hole, WY

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4 Responses to An Interview with Nikon D800 shooter Lucas Gilman

  1. Pingback: CineGear LA 2012 Wrap Up | Cinevate – Tools for Filmmakers and Photographers

  2. Pingback: Adventure Photographer Lucas Gilman featured on | Cinevate – Tools for Filmmakers and Photographers

  3. I have had great luck with the Atomos Ninja-2 on the Nikon D4.

    I set up a Rig with the Atomos Ninja-2 on the Nikon D4.

    From my blog:
    Once set up all I have to do is start Live View (in video mode) and start the Ninja-2 recording. When I cycle the Live View button on the D4, the Ninja-2 starts recording when Live View is on and stops when I shut it off. Each time the Ninja-2 creates a new file for the next take. I turn on the Focus Peaking to ensure perfect focus and it stays on the whole time (does not reset when Live View is cycled). Perfection!

    Check out my rig

    Dan at Vigorotaku

  4. Skeptikal says:

    Correction: the D800’s HDMI output is 8 bit 4:2:2.

    Nevertheless, I’m very impressed by the image quality of my D800+Ninja 2.
    Nikon are being too modest about how good the D800 is for video…easily beats my hacked GH2’s!