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Do More With Your DSLR II: Building a Rig

Daniel Hayek
February 16, 2012 by Daniel Hayek Alum

After learning the basics of shooting with available light from the Bui brothers, I was totally ready to start rolling. Then, out of the blue, Andrea asked me to build a rig. Not wanting to seem like a total goof, I tried making my own, with disastrous results. Luckily, the Bui brothers appeared once again and saved the day. Let’s see how it all went down:


First off, what is a rig? We found one definition — “a specialized piece of gear or equipment used for a particular purpose” — that is both incredibly vague and not very helpful. But when it comes to shooting video, a rig is any sort of gear that you add to your camera to help you get a shot. In the realm of DSLRs, a rig is often an apparatus that supports the camera and gives you greater control. Here’s a breakdown of what we covered in the video above:

Optical Viewfinder Attachment:
DSLRs are great because they offer a very shallow depth of field, but that along with an LCD screen that’s meant more for photography can make focusing a challenge. By attaching an optical viewfinder to the LCD, you can achieve better focus. Furthermore, holding the camera to your eye will help steady your shot.

Tripods and Monopods:
When it comes to getting a solid static shot, you just can’t beat the classic tripod. Tripods come in a variety of sizes and capabilities, but their most important function is to keep your camera still in the position you choose. Sometimes your shooting conditions don’t leave room for a tripod, or it’s just too cumbersome to carry, in which case you can try a monopod. Monopods are lighter and offer more freedom of movement, but still enable you to get jitter-free shots.

Shoulder Rigs:
Shoulder rigs are great for documentaries, live events, or shooting anything that requires you to move around. By placing the weight of the camera onto your shoulder and gripping the front handles, you’ll be able to stabilize your shot as you maneuver. To make it easier on your arms during long days of shooting, you can attach a counterweight to the back of the rig. This additional weight will help keep your shots smooth, as you’re less likely to get shaky with more weight resting on your shoulder. Just make sure to keep the front and back weights even so you stay balanced.

You can’t talk about rigs without mentioning points of contact. The more places the rig touches or rests on your body, the better. In a typical rig setup, your hands, shoulder, and head (if you’re using an optical viewfinder attachment) all act as points of contact.

Handheld Rigs:
If you find yourself in tight quarters, like in a vehicle or anywhere a tripod or shoulder rig doesn’t fit, you can probably use a handheld rig. It won’t be as steady as either of the aforementioned setups, but the additional weight will help dampen your movements. Plus, it’s always nice to have more camera-handling options when space is at a premium.

Electronic Viewfinder:
Also known as an EVF, an electronic viewfinder helps you see what you’re shooting when you can’t get a good look at your camera’s built-in LCD screen. Another advantage is that you can see the camera’s output at a higher resolution, giving you a truer sense of how your shots look. Additionally, certain EVFs provide more detailed information about how the camera is receiving light, and offer more viewing options.

Follow Focus:
A follow focus is critical for achieving razor-sharp focus, especially when you’re shooting with a shallow depth of field. Essentially, it’s a gear that lines up with the focus ring on your lens and enables you to refine your focus control. Most have a surface on which you can mark different points as references for where you want to repeatedly focus. In addition to the finer focus control, you’ll also find it creates a more ergonomic position for your hand.

A dolly or slider allows you to get smooth camera movements: laterally, front to back, or even diagonally. Using a dolly or slider can help you capture tracking shots and make your maneuvers look pro — and who doesn’t want that?

Additional accessories:
As you get comfortable with your camera, there are a few other gear elements you should consider. With different lenses, you can expand the range of what you can shoot. External microphones will noticeably enhance your video’s production quality. Finally, try using LED lights to brighten up dark shooting conditions and/or fill in shadows on your subject.

That’s a wrap for this rig lesson. We hope you feel more comfortable setting up a basic rig, and that it helps you get the shots you’ve been dreaming about!

  1. 1.
    DSLRs are powerful tools for video-making, but how do you make sure your settings are right for your lighting situation? Learn how with the Bui brothers!
  2. When it comes to DSLRs, rigs are all the rage. Find out what they are, how to use one, and other great tips for keeping your shots stable from the Bui brothers!


Ligia Lotus

Nice, what's the brand of the shoulder rig you guys are using in the video? Thx!

Anna Rodriguez

thanks! do you have any specific rig recommendations for someone who's just starting out?

Ben Wilcox

Good instructional on using rigs, but I was really hoping they would actually show how to build one, instead of different ones available for purchase.

Josh Jones

Agree! Should have been called 'buying your rig'.

Christian Frisk

Hi, what brand of equipment is being used in this video?


nice work. from Venezuela south america.

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