21ST CENTURY TAI CHI
Tools and Ideas for updating your practice
21ST CENTURY TAI CHI
Tools and Ideas for updating your practice
A 3 part series about online resources, equipment and learning skills for the Tai Chi practitioner..
Traditionally, Tai Chi practitioners would chat about dojo decoration, incense-flavours, hair-cuts or Kung-fu slippers. Nowadays, the emphasis has shifted away from clothing accessories and glove sizes to more technical issues, such as cameras, microphones and green screens. In this 3-part series, the teapotmonk is going to explore 3 main areas of online resources for both the student and teacher of Tai Chi or other movement based practice: Hardware, Software and the Distribution Platforms. But first up, let's ask the most obvious question:
Why should we be recording our Tai Chi Practice?
What equipment do you need and how much should you pay for it?
Whatever reason you have for recording your progress, start with the equipment you already have in this 5-Point Essential Hardware Guide.
1. The Smart-Phone Camera
THE OLD CAMERA PHONE
I used an iPhone 5s. (See images below) to create 2 complete Tai Chi courses - the Beginners Tai Chi Sword and the Complete Tai Chi Course. I've no great affiliation with Apple, so don't think you need to get one of their devices as most smartphones have pretty decent cameras these days. I'm just pointing out that the Phone 5s is now pretty old, but still can do a decent job. The important thing about a camera is quality of build and not just resolution. This is why iPhones tend to still be good cameras even when they reach a ripe old age. Obviously resolution is important and do try to record yourself at the maximum resolution you can, as you will always be able to reduce it if need be, but never increase it. Remember that these days, not everyone is watching on a small screen, some people (crazy I know) have cinemas inside their houses.
FRONT OR BACK CAMERA?
Though the back camera often has better resolution, the reason you'll want to use the front camera is to make sure you are in the shot. If you use the back camera - you cannot see if you are still in frame so may waste a lot of time and energy recording a wall or a sofa, as unknown to you, you have moved outside the screen area. You could of course get someone to film you and use the back camera, but be prepared to treat them to something nice after.
OLD CAMERA MINIMAL SPEC
This old 5S camera phone has a back facing camera of 8 megapixels and max recording at 1080p, and although the front facing camera is only 1.2 megapixels and records at only 720p (a laughable stat these days) it can still do a pretty good job and is ideal for sharing with other practitioners or for small classes. You can pick up a 2nd hand iPhone 5s on eBay for about £50 and with it create the sort of imagery, videos and gifs you can see posted below this.
USING AN IPHONE 11
For a more professional use, you would be advised to find something a little newer than the old 5s. I got an iPhone 11 a while back and am impressed with the quality of the image - both for photos and video work. It has a wide angle lens, and both the back facing and front facing camera are 12 megapixels - capable of recording at 4K, which is pretty much tv quality image. Watch out recording at the highest quality with these newer phones as your video files can be extremely large in size. (More on this in part 2 of this series). For my latest course online, the Cheng Man-ch'ing 37 Step Course, I've been using this phone-camera. Watch the video below to see an example of recording quality.
You can pick up an iPhone 11 for about £180 2nd-hand or between 4 to 500 pounds new on eBay.
Most cameras now come with a decent resolution, lighting, audio and a stabilisation to reduce camera shake - But, you may, like me, decide you can always do with an extra hand when recording - and if so you may want to think about a tripod.
Alternative Tripods 2 - the Gimbal
The thing about Tai Chi is that it involves movement. Qigong is not so bad as its pretty static in comparison, or should you be teaching mediation, then you probably won't need one of these. But with Tai Chi, there is always movement. If you need an example, think of trying to capture wide and extensive tai chi sword moves on a fixed tripod. You need to constantly make adjustment steps - unless - you have a gimbal. This is a new toy, that enables me to move around whilst the tripod rotates as it follows the movement of my face. Take look at the example video I shot earlier this year when recording the first stage of the Cheng Man-ch'ing 37 Step Form on the beach in south Devon (UK). See link - https://amzn.to/3AfmTWy
Lighting, for most people, will be a question of simply opening or drawing the curtains. And that is fine. But in the UK where it rains a lot of the time and the light shifts back and forth 3 hundred times a day, it can be disruptive for your filming. For that reason there are 2 light sources you might want to look at.
THE (INFLUENCER) RING LIGHT
These are the newest boys in town and every Instagram or Youtube "influencer" has one permanently in their face. They are light-weight, emit with a blue or yellow light and are easy to set up, very portable and cheap to acquire. See link.https://amzn.to/35Ncx2e
However, I’m not convinced they are that good. I find the supports unstable and build quality poor (certainly with the ones I have used) But, they are quick and easy to assemble, and give a decent lighting for head and shoulder shots, but not much good for anything else.
STANDS AND LIGHTS
These are for a more professional use, and vary in prices. They are more customisable and give stronger light and are well built. They enable you to alter and displace shadows by angling the light - but on a downside, they take forever to set up, are far more bulky to carry around (and they generally come in pairs) Check this link for prices - https://amzn.to/3dfp5Ud - You can pick them up, often bundled with a few backdrops for about £50. Now, Speaking of backdrops....
At some point, you will be faced with the problem of having to film inside due to bad weather and then, you are going to search everywhere for a wall that does not have a plug socket or portrait of granny in the middle of your shot. You may of course have a film studio in your house, but most of us don't so need to adapt what we have. And the is where a good backdrop comes in - especially a green screen.
So that concludes part 1 of this mini series. Part 2 is out soon on software for editing and video creation. Now, obviously do remember to shop around. I’ve scattered a few links for you though this article as examples, but prices change all the time. If you are working on a real budget - just use your camera-phone for everything - camera, audio, lighting and if need be, balance it on a wall or a table if you want to save money on the tripod. All this is possible, just take care not to let it fall and be prepared to edit out extraneous sounds. If you want to buy one thing, and you already have a smartphone, then I would suggest the tripod, or maybe a lapel mic. ( I know, that's 2, but hey). They will improve substantially the quality of your endeavours. Ok that's it for this part of the series. See you for part 2 soon.
Let me know what you are using and if this has been a useful article.
Next in this series will be software in which I will be giving tips on how to edit and create using (mostly) free software: If you liked this - you might want to check out the links mentioned in this article -
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