Equipment To Get Started

Every so often people ask me what equipment they need to get started producing their own bondage images or video clips. This has changed (for the better) recently so I thought I’d post about it.

The good news is that pretty much any recent camera can do the job. You could even get started with a smart-phone camera, if you have a relatively recent phone. You’ll probably find that quite limiting, but plenty of models are selling videos shot on their iPhones.

The equipment you need is going to depend on what sort of work you’re aiming to produce. If the aesthetic you like and want to produce is “gritty” point-of-view bondage, an iPhone or a GoPro could be exactly what you need. If you’re planning on shooting video and aiming for a higher-quality aesthetic, more like you see on other BDSM websites, then a video camcorder might be right thing. If you think you would like to try stills and well as video, an interchangeable-lens camera like a dSLR will probably be more suited to your needs.

If you’re interested in my work, I’m going to assume you’d like to produce something a bit glossier than point-of-view kidnap videos. In that case the most versatile option would be an interchangeable-lens camera, because as the name suggests you can swap lenses to get different look-and-feel to the footage.

I started to write a mega-long post but then I realised that this literally needs to be a book. I will try to write one next year. I can give a much shorter answer.

Almost any modern digital camera system with fast lenses which covers moderate wide angle, “normal” (50mm equivalent focal length) and a mild telephoto for close-ups will do the job.

If I were starting today, I’d get a Canon 80D, a Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 zoom, a Canon 50mm f/1.4 prime lens, and a Rode VideoMicPro R. If funds were tight, I’d opt for a second-hand Canon 70D instead.

San-disk Extreme Pro are good SD cards, the 95 MB/s versions are fine for all but the most cutting-edge cameras shooting high bit rate video.

If money allows, a boom mic on a C-stand and a radio transmitter/receiver will give even better audio but the shotgun-mic on camera works well for a lot of people.

Tripod

If you are shooting any video at all, you need one. Even arch-technophobe Ariel Anderssen uses one.

Get a video tripod with a fluid head. Moving camera looks cool on video, but shaky-cam is just annoying. Any tripod will do to get started. You will throw it away and buy a better one within weeks, though. You get what you pay for when it comes to smooth pans and solid footage. Something like this would be a decent starting point, but a proper video tripod from someone like Manfrotto will last you a decade.

Lighting

Yes, you need it. You should spend more money on it than you want to, because it is important and a decent set of lighting gear will outlast your camera for sure.

If money was tight I’d buy Tungsten continuous lighting (something like this: tungsten kit )

If funds allow a decent bi-colour LED set up is much easier to use safely. It’s also more versatile, mixing with available light either in daytime or night-time, dimmable for style, and runs cool so danger of a hot light burning anyone. Something like two of these: Lite Panels bicolour. There are cheaper LED options, but the colour rendition may well be crap. Green skin is not a good look.

If you are AT ALL interested in stills, it is worth investing in some flash lighting. Flash is SOOOO much cheaper for the light output than anything you can get for video, and this will make a considerable difference to the quality of your stills. Something like this Bowens kit would be a bottom-end starter. If you’re really serious, look into Profoto or Hensel. I really like the battery-powered studio flash units that you can use on location away from power sockets.

Can you get away with just continuous lighting?

Changing lighting systems is a pain on set. Buying a second set of flash lighting equipment costs money. Would it be better to just buy a really bright set of continuous lighting and use that?

Until very recently the answer was very simple, even for top-end pros: No. Even Hollywood HMI lights didn’t really compare with what you could carry around on your back with a flash set-up.

With the latest generation of multi-colour dimmable bright LED lights like Arri SkyPanels and L10’s, it’s not so clear-cut for top-end pros, but these lights cost mega-bucks.

If you are sure that your primary interest is video, consider spending a lot more on lighting and you can may be able get away without flash. You’ll need fast lenses and a modern camera with good low-light performance.

Personally, I still love being able to carry a battery-powered system with me that can over-ride direct sunlight, and the only thing which can do that is flash.

Safety

Buy several sets of safety scissors (EMT shears) and a set of bolt cutters if you’re going to be doing metal bondage. Take yourself on a bondage or shibari course if there are any near you. If there aren’t, budget to travel to one. You might be able to combine it with shoots if you find a model and/or rigger with studio space.

Computer

I’m sure you can do this on a PC, but all my pro work is on Macs so that’s what I’m going to recommend.

Get a second-hand iMac or MacBook Pro with three external hard drives to store your footage. Use one as working space, one to back up the working space (copy files across as you pull them off the card) and the third as a back-up in a physically separate place that you update after each shoot so at least the raw shots/footage are safe. Don’t wipe the card until you have copies on all three hard drives.

Edit video in Final Cut Pro. You can start with iMovie (which is free) but FCP is a big step up and is capable of growing with you all the way up to full-blown movies so getting started with it sooner rather than later is a good idea.

Edit photos with Lightroom; personally I don’t like Adobe software or Adobe price plans but it is hard to argue with success. Capture One Pro is a great alternative.

Put the rest of your money on-screen

Spend your money on models, studios, locations, bondage gear, clothes, gags… all the things which will appear on screen.

What To Shoot To Get Started?

Shoot video. Open a store on Clips4Sale. It’s much easier to market that way, C4S handles most of the technical side and all the billing for you, and provide a built-in marketplace. You will find you need to update frequently to get much attention.

Stills are harder to sell; bentbox.co seems to be the best platform at the moment. If your heart is in stills by all means go for it, but be aware that the market seems to be smaller and there isn’t anywhere with the critical mass of customers than Clips4Sale provides for video.

In terms of content, shoot what you love, what you personally want to see. That way you’ll be happy to be doing it even if you make no money, and you’ll do a better job of it too. Don’t chase the market, certainly not while you are getting started. Concentrate on making stuff which you think is of good quality, both in technical terms and in terms of showing on screen something which you think is really hot. If you think it is good, other people might too.

Book professional models and ask them for advice, showing them a small number of shots through the day. Do this DURING the shoot, budgeting them time as part of what you are paying them for. (They can’t afford to give you free advice outside the shoot, they need to be working to earn a living, and they don’t want to be bombarded by hundreds of shots). But working with them to improve shots and lighting during the shoot is a very sound idea.

Book a studio or two with their own lighting so you can play around and see what works for you before buying your own kit.

Promote on Twitter. Other platforms may be OK, depending on what you shoot- Facebook is famously unfriendly to nudity, for example, but I know models who get great results on Instagram.

Good luck and have fun!

About Hywel

Particle physicist turned fetish photographer, producer and director. I run http://www.restrainedelegance.com and http://www.elegancestudios.com together with my wife, who is variously known as Ariel Anderssen or Amelia Jane Rutherford, depending on whether she's getting tied up or spanked at the time.

6 thoughts on “Equipment To Get Started

  1. Adding a few of my own thoughts:
    Disclaimer: I’m an amateur who is interested in stills only.

    I’d find a focal length range of 17-55mm to be on the short side for crop-sensor cameras like the Canon 80D. I started (by good fortune) with an 18-105mm on my first DSLR (Nikon D90) and found that I had nearly no use for the 18-24mm range and a good deal of use for 55-105mm.

    If you have a Nikon DX (crop sensor) camera, the 35mm f/1.8 DX is a gem.

    Here in the US, Paul C. Buff is the big supplier of studio flash lighting. The “Alien Bees” line is what I think of as the studio flash equivalent of the Volkswagen Beetle – economical, funky looking, decent for their price, and a good match for college students and bohemians.

    I don’t like Adobe software or Adobe price plans either.

    • I completely agree that for stills one wants to avoid the wider end of that focal length range. For video it’s necessary- at least, it is when shooting in UK-sized locations with a six foot two inch model! If you’re in Texas or Florida and hotel rooms are roughly the size of a small UK village, you may not need it even for video.

      A 24-70mm f/2.8 makes a pretty good starting point on APS-C for stills. Or the classic trio of a 35mm, 50mm, 85mm primes, but again in the UK you’re likely to find a 28mm necessary in typical-sized rooms with APS-C sensors.

      • What reputation do the Canon crop-sensor kit lenses have? Nikon kit lenses have a reputation for being very good for their class. And I can confirm that the Nikon 18-105mm is a good lens – I could never point to any ‘objective’ flaw that a new lens would fix, only to an “I can do better than this” itch.

        But then f/2.8 never seemed like an important feature for me in a zoom. I figure that that’s what primes are for. So I settled on a 24-120mm f/4 as my upgrade from 18-105mm kit lens, backed up by a 35mm and 50mm pair of primes. With a 70mm and 24mm on my wish-list to round out my prime lens quartet.

        • Canon kit lenses do not have a good reputation; I’ve never used one which satisfied me, anyway. They are built down to a very tight budget and sold more or less completely on long zoom range rather than image quality I guess.

          The reason I recommend f/2.8 zooms is video. If you’re lighting with flash (which I maintain you probably ought to at least try for stills) it’s just no issue as you’ll probably end up shooting around f/8 which is where the lenses perform best and the depth of field is about right for head-to-toe sharpness for full-length shots where the model is mostly square-on to camera. With decent strobes you’ll be able to shoot f/8, 1/200th at ISO100 for the best result the camera can do. If that’s your shooting zone, it’s more or less immaterial what camera body or sensor you have.

          But for video you’ll immediately find that shooting at f/8 is impractical with anything other than direct harsh sunlight.

          Indoors, f/2.8 at 1/50th of a second (1/60th if you are in a country with 60 Hz electrics) and ISO 800 is a more normal place to be operating. Losing a stop to f/4 is tolerable if your camera does clean ISO 1600. Going down to 1/25th of a second is tolerable if you don’t mind slightly over-blurry funky motion (it’s not usually much of a problem for bondage). Going down to f/6.3 or something at the long end of a kit lens telezoom starts to make it impractical to shoot without very bright light- either bounce cards from direct sunlight, HMI’s and a ton of diffusion, or really big, really bright LED panels really close to the model. This (and shooting stills in similar low available-light situations) is where the differences in sensor performance between 4/3, APS-C and full-frame really start to show up, too.

          F/1.8 or f/1.4 is useful in its place, but for video the depth of field is so shallow you’d need a dedicated focus puller full time with separate monitor to work from (and probably remote control focussing too). And for the sort of video where you cut between shots and recompose for the next shot, having a zoom rather than swapping primes is a big time-saver. Which is why I use a mild wide to mild tele f/2.8 zoom for video, and why I’d recommend it in a starter kit. Because it’s useful for stills (stopped down to f/8 it’ll probably be acceptably sharp corner to corner) but for video it’s a lifesaver.

          It’s also very useful to have one lens to cover mild wide, normal and mild tele for situations where changing lenses is a pain – on the beach, in the snow, or using a ringflash where you’d rather stay still and zoom to keep constant exposure and changing lenses is a faff (on my ringflash anyway).

          As I said I’d supplement it with a nifty fifty 50 mm f/1.8 or 35 mm f/2-ish for shallow DOF/very low light level stuff, and build up from there.

          For a pure stills-only kit, for studio use, I’d say 35mm, 50mm, 85mm primes.

          Supplement with a 24mm, 28mm, 135mm or 100mm macro depending on what you find yourself using most- if you’re always trying to get a wider angle get a 28mm or a 24mm. If you always want more portraity-looking shots, a 135mm is your friend (especially if have large American shooting spaces to work in). If you’re always trying to fill the frame with detail, get a macro.

          But those three lenses remain my “holy trinity” for stills work, I shot 95% of all RE stills from the Canon days with those, they are the only three lenses I own for the Hasselblad, and I shoot 95% of all RE stills with the Sony on them too. (*obviously add in crop factor, so 24/28mm, 35mm, 50mm for APS-C).

          Cheers, Hywel

  2. Time for a whinge….
    ….but a positive one, I hope. I settled down to read this blog with considerable pleasant anticipation but was disappointed by its (to me) yawn-making stuff about cameras. Going back to basics, we have, firstly, restraint so I expected a discussion of ropes, their material, properties and construction, perhaps with a bit about the lesser known ribbons and tapes. Ideally also something about chain, fetters and similar. With all this perhaps include, a reminder about safety. Secondly we have elegance, so something about (un)dressing a model could be helpful, not forgetting the appearance of others coming within view while shooting. Finally, let us not forget props, which could range from sex toys to furniture, and the setting for the shoot.

    • A fair point, but the question I was addressing was the one I get asked most often, which is how to get started in bondage PHOTOGRAPHY, not how to get started with bondage. I should do an update on the latter.

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