Fieldwork notes - test films

I will be adding more from my fieldwork notes shortly. This gives information on the roads and locations visited and any films made, along with technical observations etc.

The trips made so far: Saturday 1st of July, 2006. Test trip Garbole to Farr in Inverness-shire, Highland Region. This was essentially an experiment using an older mini dv Canon camera that if it fell off onto the tarmac it would not be the end of the world. I had done a bit of research on mount options and ended up buying online a vacuum mount with tripod head attached. My wife, Talitha, took it back with her from her trip to the USA in May. At work I fixed various still cameras onto the mount attached to the side of a tall metal cabinet to try it out. I had an old armchair placed directly below in case the mount detached itself and all came crashing down. This might not constitute thorough scientific testing, but the strength of the connection and the fact that no camera came off, was enough to give me confidence to try the mount on a car.

custom camera mounting

This was our first trip north for a while and after a visit to pay our respects in the churchyard at Dalarossie in Strathdearn (several miles off the main A9 near Tomatin) I set up the vacuum mount on the bonnet of the hired Skoda. I added two bungee cords as insurance in case the vacuum pad failed. Then it was a question of framing the shot and hoping that it would be right. I drove a short distance up the glen road and reviewed the footage, checking the framing. Once satisfied, I drove on to the start point of my first road, from Garbole to Farr - 7 miles of little used single-track hill road from Strathdearn over the Monadliaths to Strathnairn, on the Glenkyllachy Estate. The road is known locally as the Cor na Heasach (the spelling & meaning of this I am uncertain about). I took some still photos of the road signs and road end.

The road sign at the Garbole end of the road to Farr, July 2006

Talitha was co-pilot and gate opener (there were several forestry gates across the road). We started out at 13.50 and arrived at Farr at 14.13. The road itself was a bendy, narrow route climbing steeply through wooded land up onto the open moor with glimpses of the wind turbines of the new wind farm in the distance to our right hand side. My eyes were equally on the road and the camera mounted on the bonnet of the car, and after a while I relaxed a bit as I began to realise that it was not going to come off. The last stretch of the road was a light and shade striped tunnel-like experience through trees, before finally emerging into a junction with the B851 in Strathnairn at Farr. I pulled into the layby and with Talitha continuing to work on her Lopi jersey knitting project I went to examine the camera and the mount, and playback the tape to examine the scenes. The motion of travelling seemed faster on playback than it had felt to me as I was driving - but Talitha seemed to think it was accurate. Perhaps there is a different perception of speed if you have the control of a vehicle than if you are a passenger? However, from what I could see on the camera playback, it looked possible to film a road journey successfully from a camera mounted externally on the car. I packed the equipment away and we drove on into Inverness. I was thinking about how I could get a good quality video camera that would be able to record to a sufficient standard and also about all the roads I’d like to drive down and film, and what exactly was I going to do with these films? Didn’t come up with any anwers right then, but I knew that I had enjoyed the test trip and wanted to do this again - it was fun!

Friday 15th of September, 2006. Test trip in Glen Lyon, Perthshire. This was a test trip with the new Sony HVR-A1E HD camcorder, and two new mounts, ahead of the main trip a few days later. The hired car this time was a light metallic blue Peugeot 407. I arrived at the start of Glen Lyon around 2pm. Parked the car as far off the road as I could on the opening straight to nip out and take some stills of the road signs. When I turned around a few moments later, there was a huge lorry mounted crane that emerged from the glen and was never going to squeeze past my car. I jogged back to the vehicle and reversed back up to the junction. The driver seemed unbothered by the delay and gave me an sociable wave of acknowledgement. I pulled in just a short bit further up, just before the road started to wind through the wooded slopes, and set about trying out the two new mounts. Mount one was a monopod with Manfrotto ball head, which I set up in the passenger seat space. This monopod had two adjustable arms with suction pads to stick to the windows or dashboard to brace the main support. Bit of a fiddle to get it in right spot. Set the Sony camera on top and framed the shot through the windscreen. Banged my head a few times in the process. Eventually, set the camera to record and I drove on up the Glen. The first part was very narrow and winding through natural looking woods - I wondered just how the crane driver had managed? The camera seemed secure on the monopod mount and after a good few miles, I stopped at a parking layby.

Interior of Peugeot 407 with two camera mounts, Glen Lyon 2006

Here I took some time to review the footage in the camera’s viewing screen. Seemed steady enough, but lots of reflections of the dashboard on the windscreen in the bright sunlight. Decided to get out and stretch my legs. Put the camera on its tripod and spent a happy time recording sunlight and ripples on the surface of the river Lyon. Somewhat refreshed, I decided to fit up the headrest mount - essentially a bar that is secured horizontally across the upright headrest support bars and has a tripod mount at one end. This gives the camera a view very similar to that of the driver’s eye. Framed the shot (could not get it wide enough to include the whole windscreen view) so I went for a tighter shot. Set off on the road and drove steadily.  The sun was still very strong and there was hardly a cloud in the sky which threw the road surface into deep shadow or bright searing sunlight. Reached the  tea room and shop just before the Bridge of Balgie. By this time, I was well ready for a pot of tea and a couple of scones and jam, taken at a table outdoors in the proximity of a group of serious looking cyclists. I had been up here many years before with a friend and fellow photographer from Edinburgh, Alex, on our Peugeot 10 speed touring bikes. It was a memorable cycle run, and I mused wistfully on the possibility of filming from the handlebars of a bike? Anyway, had a review of the video footage taken from the headrest mount and groaned at seeing every so often my head and ear come into the shot - did I really move about so much when I was driving.? You would have thought it was the lorry mounted crane I was maneouvering rather than the sleek Peugeot 407!

Took a wander with the stills camera over the bridge and along the road that would take you south over Ben Lawers down to Loch Tay, but with the full on sunlight, I knew that it would not work for video. Instead, I kept the video camera on the headrest mount and drove back down Glen Lyon, with the sun behind me now and this gave a much better light to the road and the landscape and reduced the reflections. I also managed to keep me head out of the shot! All in all quite a tiring day, by the time I got back to Edinburgh (with a stop for a fish supper at Dunkeld en route). However, I did learn how to use the two new mounts and get familiar with the camera. I also learned how important direction of light was going to be in successfully filming these roads. And filters - I’d have to think about those.