This is the first in a series I’ll call “Meet the Shooter” where I interview video production professionals. I think you’ll enjoy this one with Benjamin Eckstein. After you read his answers, make sure you watch his reel at the end of the article. Awesome stuff.
As always, I hope you find this helpful!
What kind of video work do you do?
It varies a lot, fortunately. Mostly in the corporate realm, whether it’s profile pieces, fundraising or marketing. That’s the bulk of my work, and I get involved in some broadcast and documentary work as well. Throw in the occasional music video or short film and it keeps me from feeling stuck in a rut.
I like to think of most of my work though as documentary-focused, with an advertising spin. Which is to say that I like to work on stories of people and companies, etc. but I like to think of interesting visual ways to tell those stories and I find I get a lot of inspiration from advertising in different ways to do that.
I shoot a lot of interviews, as that is sort of the core of what I do, and fortunately I enjoy the technical and visual challenges of shooting interviews. I think it can be very creative, and I also think the mastery of lighting and composing for different styles of interviews can translate to shooting people for scripted, narrative work. In many cases, a lot of the same rules of lighting can be applied.
What equipment do you use?
Currently I am using the Panasonic AF-100 as my main camera. I also own a Sony EX-1 and a Canon 7D.
The Panasonic is really a combination of these other two cameras, and I enjoy having a camera with all the audio, monitoring and control conveniences afforded in a professional camcorder, with the advantage of a larger sensor with shallower depth of field.
I still use my EX-1 for some shoots, and still think it’s an amazing camera. SUPER sharp images, great color, and just an overall beautiful image. It was an eye-opening camera when I bought it and looked truly High Definition.
I love cameras, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I switch again within the next year, but we’ll see what happens.
Lens-wise, currently I’m using two Olympus 4/3 zooms on my AF100. I like zooms for the type of work I do, where a lot of lens switching is impractical. The 2 lenses are the 14-35 and 35-100. They are both f2 lenses which is very fast for a zoom, and they’re quite sharp. I’ll use my Nikon primes on some stuff, but 90% of the time I’m sticking to these zooms.
For lighting my main kit is an Arri Softbank kit, which I’ve had for about 10 years and is extremely versatile. I own a Kino and some LEDs but I think the tungsten lights have the best look and are the most versatile. You really can’t go wrong with tungsten fresnels.
Can you tell me the story of how you got into video?
I studied film in college. Sort of. Well I designed a film major at a liberal arts school without a film major. It was certainly a different type of education than at a more established film school, but ultimately it worked out well for me.
After college I got a job at a new production company (I was the first employee) and there I got the first taste of video production in the professional sense. I learned a lot about the business side of things, and went out on my own in 2007 and have never looked back. I love what I do and wouldn’t trade it for anything.
How has your shooting changed through the years?
It’s changed a lot I think, and when I look back at old stuff I shot I sort of cringe. The technology has played a part to a certain extent in bringing about more of an understanding of lens selection, depth of field, etc. Certainly my lighting skills continue to improve with every job.
But I also think my style has maintained a lot during the years. I tend to think of shots more photographically and, for better or worse, don’t incorporate a ton of movement into my shots. I like things to move within the frame but to keep the frame the same. That said, I’m always up for changing it up, and I do find I constantly go through phases where I’m shooting differently than I used to.
I definitely find I watch a lot more stuff whether on TV or online and really dissect how things are shot and I try to incorporate things that I like into the way that I shoot stuff.
Some of my viewers are interested in becoming professional video shooters themselves. What kinds of things would you tell them?
I think there is a lot of work to be had. Video is hot and I don’t see that ending soon. I think the key to succeeding professionally is to be versatile and take on skills of producing and editing as well as shooting. While I am lucky to often pair up with other producers and editors, having done all three makes me a better shooter (or editor or producer).
I also think there is a lot of creativity to experience in areas of production that may not seem so glamorous or creative. I think a lot of people look down on corporate video as boring or uncreative, but I think in reality it can be quite interesting, and frankly I am typically hired to make things creative and interesting.
The tools exist now to enter the industry rather inexpensively, and I think that it’s also pretty easy to learn by watching a lot of videos, talking to people and practicing. You have to make a lot of mistakes along the way to figure out the right way to do things.
Benjamin Eckstein’s Reel
Don’t forget to check out Benjamin Eckstein’s website.