“For me,” Dennis Schmelz begins, “filmmaking is about creating a story and producing emotions. You can make people laugh or cry, just with pictures and audio. It is such a powerful medium that still fascinates me every day.”
Dennis began using Sony cameras in 2017, and one of his favourite projects he has worked on since then was a travel video showcasing Greenland. “The trip really was a one-in-a-lifetime experience,” he says. “The country fascinated me from the first few moments, because it’s so isolated from the rest of the world.”
Dennis used two Sony cameras to create the film, the Sony Alpha 7S II, which he used for its ability to capture incredible detail even in low light conditions, and the Sony Alpha 6500, which he used with a gimbal thanks to its small size.
To begin with, Dennis adapted lenses from his old DSLR to use with his Alpha 7S II, and used the Sony 10-18mm and 35 f/1.8 lenses with his Alpha 6500. “The two APS-C Sony E mount lenses are super small and light, perfect to use with a gimbal.”
Now Dennis has fully converted to Sony lenses and uses the FE 16-35mm f/2.8, FE 24-70mm f/2.8, FE 70-200mm f/2.8, FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 and FE 24mm f1.4 - all Sony G Master lenses, which for him has made a huge difference. “The autofocus combined with Sony lenses is just incredible,” he tells us, “and I never want to go back to using a DSLR!”
“I especially like the focus tracking and Eye AF,” Dennis says, “it’s unbelievable how good it is. But I do also like the manual focus, to play around and get an organic feeling. There are lots of tools in the Sony cameras to make sure you can manually focus quickly and precisely, such as Focus Peaking and the Magnifying feature.”
Travelling with all the kit required to shoot video can be a burden, but Dennis has a useful bit of advice: “I love using Clear Image Zoom,” he explains. “It allows you to crop into the picture with almost no loss in quality. So, I can get 1.5x closer in 4K and up to 2x closer when shooting in Full HD. It means that I can often travel with just a small selection of fixed focus lenses.”
Despite the cold temperatures of Greenland, Dennis had no problems with his cameras and kit, he tells us. However, “one key tip for protecting my kit in such cold conditions is to make sure to keep your batteries close to your body so they stay warm.”
In amongst his kit is the equipment Dennis uses to record audio, including the Sony ECM-B1M to record the in- camera audio. Because the B1M attaches via the Multi-Interface (Mi) Shoe it means that you don’t need to connect any cables in to the camera mic socket, so one less thing needed for travel. For more intricate sounds, Dennis uses an external audio recorder and by recording lots of different ambient noises on his travels he has built up a huge library that he can use in projects.
“Music is another super important part of my film making,” Dennis explains. “I source music from a number of different places, but for my latest travel short ‘White Angels of Camargue - Europe’s last Cowboys’, I worked together with an audio composer who wrote the score music just for this video. This was a totally different workflow. But usually, for videos like this Greenland video, I spend hours on different music platforms and try so many songs until I finally find the one.”
Being prepared physically and mentally for shooting in a harsh environment is important, but equally you have to be prepared creatively. “Before I start the journey, I have a rough idea of the type of travel video I’m going to create,” Dennis explains. “I research a lot to get an idea – but it’s also important to leave some space for spontaneity.”
And what advice would Dennis offer to those wanting to make travel videos like his? “Just do it! Preparation is necessary, especially in countries like Greenland, but leave some space in your schedule so you can be creative and impulsive. There is always a story to tell and fresh perspective to be discovered.”
"There is always a story to tell and a fresh perspective to be discovered"