Filming evocative video portraits with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Video still of a man with his eyes closed, a woman looking neutral, and a man with arms folded, frowning. Filmed on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.
Canon Ambassador Dafna Tal used a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV to film people's unguarded reactions to sounds associated with different cultures and religions. She then presented these video portraits simultaneously, so the viewer can see different people's reactions to the same sounds. © Dafna Tal

According to experts, 55% of communication is body language. So can precisely-focused candid videos, uniformly shot with Canon DSLRs, capture the often subtle and sometimes complex unspoken reactions of different people to sounds associated with diverse cultures and religions in Jerusalem? That's the premise of an intriguing video portraiture project by Israeli artist Dafna Tal.

"As I evolve as a visual artist I always look for new and different ways to use the mediums of photography, video and sound – each one on its own as well as all of them together," says Dafna. The internationally recognised artist and Canon Ambassador has a background in stills photography, but she is becoming known for her multifaceted installations that explore contemporary themes and ideas with a mixture of photography, video and sound.

You Don't Have To Do A Thing is a series of video portraits examining participants' spontaneous reactions to sounds associated with different cultures and religions. It was shot between 2016 and 2017 using the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and the latest model in the 5D series, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, together with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens (now replaced by the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens).

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"The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV has so many useful features," explains Dafna. "One of the most significant ones for me is the Dual Pixel CMOS AF, which means it tracks precise pull focus transitions in any resolution. Combined with the face detection and improved tracking system, it created unbelievably and consistently sharp video portraits and saved me lots of work in the field.

"The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV's overall improvements [over the Mark III], including the DIGIC 6+ processor and the larger CMOS sensor, result in better performance and improvements in clarity, colour, contrast, sharpness, dynamic range and more, which I could clearly see while filming this project."

Consistency in shooting was key for this series because it helps to emphasise the unique reactions and characteristics of each participant. With the camera on a tripod, Dafna used her Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM telephoto lens with an aperture of f/8 for most of the video portraits. "For colour, I used the Custom White Balance setting in the WB menu. That means I took a photograph of my grey card in my lighting set and uploaded it to determine the desired white balance," she says. "I then took test shots and made a few additional corrections using the White Balance Correction feature."

The whole shoot took place in a studio with dark walls and no natural light. Dafna used three continuous tungsten lights suited for video, along with a large white reflector to light each of the subjects. "The camera was hidden behind a black curtain to allow the participant a maximum sense of privacy," she explains. "Even though they knew they were being filmed, I wanted to allow them to forget it during the session.

A wide view of a video installation in a dark exhibition space, with pairs of video portraits playing on the walls.
A view of the video installation, in this instance in Sydney in 2018, arranged so that the viewer can see different people's reactions to the same sounds. © Dafna Tal
A man wearing a dark blue shirt leans forward, laughing.

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Video portraiture: the project

"This video portrait project is an observation of how people in the Jerusalem area react to different religious prayers – from their own culture as well as others'. It is an examination of the large range of feelings and concepts that are expressed through body language. These are expressively communicated through a series of individual video portraits, presented on vertical TV screens," Dafna explains.

"During the project, I asked a few tens of people to participate in my experiment, telling them they would be filmed while listening to sounds without knowing what they would be. They then sat and listened to sounds of Christian, Muslim and Jewish prayers while their reactions were filmed.

"The project has included not only participants of these three religions and their different variations, but also participants of mixed religious backgrounds. The final work, however, does not give the viewer any information regarding these participants. While some of the reactions are more 'typical', some are much more complex."

The final work is a set of video portraits shown simultaneously on synchronised screens, so you can see several people’s body language and reactions to the same sounds.

Dafna's tips

For stills photographers wanting to incorporate video into their projects, Dafna has some simple advice: "Using crisp, sharp, quality lenses like those in Canon's L-series line, and a video camera with video autofocus and C-Log like the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, will surely make your videos look stunning!

"Other than that, the main advice for a stills photographer who has not yet started to play with video is to just start, and start simple. Take time to learn and experiment, progress at your own pace and don't be worried at this stage about all the extra gear you may need. Remember that if you have experience in stills photography you already have knowledge of lighting, framing, and other important techniques.

"Once you've experimented, possibly choose a first project and learn what kind of video you'd like to make. I would of course encourage you to invest in high-quality audio gear, pro tripods with fluid heads, and gear for camera movement and stabilisation."

On reflection, Dafna says: "I feel that every project idea I engage with evokes its share of doubts and fears. But as I continue working despite them, I not only witness and celebrate my ideas as they turn into tangible artworks, I also enjoy special experiences and gain insights into other people's lives and feelings – ones I will never forget."

Dafna explains that she got involved in the exhibition circuit "mostly by investing in visiting museums, galleries and photography festivals around the world, scheduling meetings with curators, not forgetting to stay in contact with them and to meet them again."

She plans to continue experimenting with video, and has recently shot another project with moving portraits using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. Entitled You're Gorgeous, You're Mad, the project explores self-image and reflection. "I am sure that video will take a prominent part in my future projects," she says.

Autor článku Rebecca Greig

Dafna Tal's kitbag

The key kit pros use to film their video portraits

Dafna Tal's Canon photography kit, including two Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLRs.


Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

This full-frame 30.4MP DSLR captures incredible detail, even in extreme contrast. Continuous 7fps shooting helps when chasing the perfect moment, while 4K video delivers ultra-high definition footage to the DCI standard (4096x2160). "It created unbelievably and consistently sharp video portraits," says Dafna. "It's an asset for any photography and video professional. The quality and colours of Canon are like no other."


Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM

A workhorse telephoto zoom lens with a durable design, a four-stop Image Stabiliser that makes it ideal for shooting handheld in low-light conditions, and ultra-low dispersion lens elements to ensure high contrast and natural colours. "This is a zoom lens that produces the quality results of a prime! A must-have all-purpose lens," says Dafna.

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