Maintaining Image Quality With Your Documentary

Capturing moments in life, and all that plays into making the moment true to its existence, can be nearly impossible when shooting with a camera. You can only get so much from so many different angles using even the best high-end cameras. This was paramount when shooting my latest documentary, SEADRIFT vs. The Big Guy.

When I decided to direct this documentary, my original premise was to follow the story of Jeff McAdams, a funny, larger-than-life character who decided to tackle the Texas Water Safari. Arguably the toughest canoe race in the world, it’s a non-stop, 260-mile race with a 100-hour deadline. However, the story I originally set out to capture, was not what I ended up shooting.

Logistically, covering a canoe race of this magnitude was a difficult task, and we used a number of different cameras to enhance the storytelling. By the end of the shoot, we had used a total of 25 cameras in 17 varieties. Our equipment list included the JVC GY-HMQ10 4K compact handheld camcorder, traditional HD camcorders, DSLRs, and sunglass camera systems. We even relied on iPhones when one competitor pulled a surprise marriage proposal and an iPad when Jeff was laid up in bed after back surgery.

Maintaining Image Quality

I know what you are thinking. Image quality could never be consistent when using such a variety of cameras and you are right. With so many sources, color matching was definitely a challenge in post. Even with color correction, the finished product was not consistent. Had this been a documentary on butterflies, for example, the lack of perfect accuracy would have hindered the experience, but this is a story about human triumph.

When making a documentary, I am telling a story, a story that moves people. The audience will forgive images that are slightly different as long as general tones are similar. The audience is whom I always make my films for, not for the technical critics.

What makes this documentary compelling is emotion and I had to capture that the best way possible. Sometimes all I have at the time is an DSLR and sometimes I get lucky enough to use a 4K camera. I am known in the industry as an High Definition purist. There is a good amount of truth to that. I desire to capture the very best images possible with the highest quality tools.

Ultimately, I am a content purist. I care about the whole package and content is king. If the only way I can give my audience the thrill of battling through the Texas Water Safari from inside a canoe is a Go Pro camera, then Go Pro is my tool. It is not about compromising technology, it is about not compromising the story.

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Randall Dark co-founded DarkMania Productions. Prior to DarkMania, Randall founded HD Vision in New York City. He received The Pioneer Award in recognition of extraordinary contributions to high definition. He is a member of the Television Arts and Sciences Academy and is one of a select few members of the Consumer Electronics Association’s Academy of Digital Pioneers, a group recognized for their efforts implementing Digital Television in the United States. Follow Randall P. Dark here @WeAreDarkMania and

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