Whether you’ve been taking photos since cameras became a common feature of cellphones, or for a few decades longer, you’ve probably noticed the increasing proliferation of video in modern life and wondered if and when you should join the revolution. Here are 10 things to keep in mind as you make the switch.
The element of audio is the largest difference between mediums, and ideally a videographer has a partner in crime running all things sonic — in which case you’ll be either sending a signal to your sound guy or jam-syncing timecode so that your video matches his audio. But in many cases, you could be on your own.
Standard onboard mics are not effective enough to capture quality audio, so study quality shotgun mics — like this Rode or this Sennheiser — and a wireless lavalier mic is another standby to capture audio from a subject.
2. Camera Moves
When shooting video, your camera will often be moving. Common moves include:
Handheld – Just like it sounds, this involves holding the camera in your hand, and the wider the lens, the steadier it will be. It’s very tough to pull off usable handheld video at more than 50mm or 85mm lens length. Ideally, you’re using a lens more in the 16-35mm range. There are lots of shoulder rigs to choose from — a great starting one for lighter DSLR rigs is this one by ikan.
Stabilized Handheld – Again, this is easier on wider lenses, and a there’s a huge range of options — from $1,000 Glidecam HD systems for DSLR to $42,000 Steadicam Shadow V systems for 35mm film and ENG camera sizes.
Tilt – Tilting up or down, achievable with any video tripod system.
Pan – Panning left or right. Again, any tripod will do this simple move.
Zoom In/Out – Here’s where you want to avoid variable-aperture zoom lenses. It’s usually best to use your servo if you have that option, but it all depends on the look and feel you’re going for. The use of zooms in feature films went out of style in the 1980s, and despite Quentin Tarantino’s best efforts, it hasn’t exactly been resurrected.
Dolly In/Out – For this you’ll need a dolly and a dolly grip. Start out with an old wheelchair for your no-budget projects, then graduate eventually to a J.L. Fisher 10.
A Dolly Shot by liveoutloudproductions
Push/Pull – A push-pull or “dolly zoom” is a combination of dollying in while zooming out, or vice-versa. It’s an unsettling in-camera effect in which a subject in the foreground moves or stays the same disproportionately to the background. This sensation has earned it the nickname “vertigo shot.” Hitchcock popularized it, and Spielberg used it as well in Jaws.
Jib/Crane – A very high production-value shot. Once you incorporate a jib into your shooting, you’ll have taken your filming to the next level. First step: $179 4′ Compact Camera Crane/Jib; last stop: 50 ft. technocrane. Scorcese has a signature jib shot that starts high and wide and jibs to a close up, which is instantly recognizable in any of his later films.
3. Frame Rate
The concept of frame rate will also be a new consideration for the still photographer. Typical frame rates include:
24 – (Film ATSC, 2k, 4k, 6k)
30 – (ATSC)
59.94 – (60 ÷ 1.001) frame/sec (NTSC American System (US, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, etc.), ATSC, PAL-M (Brazil))
60 – For slow motion
You have to consider exposure when planning your frame rates. Knowing that your final piece will be viewed at a certain frame rate — in the US at either 24 or 30, in Europe at 25 or 30 — you’ll shoot at that frame rate, unless you want to shoot slow motion — in which case you’ll shoot the highest frame rate your camera is capable of, often in multiples of your exhibition frame rate.
Not to say that you can’t play with time in still photography — your shutter speed, timelapses, and camera motion can all speak to it. But not truly to the extent that you can with video. Still photography pre-dates video, but video will have the longer legacy, in that the still frames of the future will nearly all be frame grabs from a video camera sporting ever-impressive capabilities. Long takes can have severe psychological effects — Hitchcock takes this to an extreme in Rope (1948), and Aleksandr Sokurov takes the long take to another level in Russian Ark (2002), which is one continuous dolly shot.
Other famous long takes include the opening shots of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958), Robert Altman’s The Player (1992), and what’s known in film schools as simply “the shot” from Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990). To those who like to point out hidden cuts, which exist, I’d argue that, if hidden well, the psychological tension created by the long take remains fully intact.
Instead of using strobes, you’ll be using continuous lighting, and having to take into account the movements of subjects and the camera through your lit spaces; your lighting needs will increase dramatically. Your strobes will be replaced by soft fluorescence and LED lights. Depending on the latitude of the camera you’re using, you’ll want to avoid highlights and instead underexpose rather than overexpose if forced to choose. Use your Zebras set to between %70-%80 to inform you of what will clip to white.
6. Shutter Type
The shutter is probably the most prominent element of the camera that is often misunderstood. From rotary to focal plane, or the more recent electronic shutters, different shutter types will have a different effect on your image. In most DSLR cameras, there’s a focal-plane shutter for stills and the CMOS sensor that has its own electronic shutter for video.
This CMOS sensor electronic shutter can be a global or rolling shutter. The global shutter will turn all of the cells (pixels) on and off at the same time, whereas the rolling shutter will turn rows of cells on and off from top to bottom. The global shutter will not have some of the stroboscopic effects that you will see with a rolling shutter. With a rolling shutter, you will also see vertical elements in the frame warp or “jelly” when panning quickly, especially with a longer lens. For this reason, the global shutter is preferred, but is largely only available at frame rates up to 30fps.
7. Shutter Angle
Here, you’ll want to start at 180 degrees — otherwise, you’ll get distorted motion, as the shutter will be open for a different duration at any given frame rate. A fully open, or 360-degree shutter, will give you a fully blurred image of anything moving, whereas if you set it lower, to 45 or 90, the shutter is only open for a quarter or half as long as usual, so the motion will look extra crisp and choppy. A 180-degree shutter angle will translate to a shutter speed of twice your frame rate: 24fps@180 degrees = 1/48 sec. shutter speed; 30fps@180 degrees = 1/60 sec. shutter speed.
Below are a couple of helpful charts. The first shows the concept and effects of shutter angle, while the second one demonstrates the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and ISO.
8. Sensor Size and Crop Factors
You might already be familiar with the crop factor of using a 35mm lens with various sensors. In case you’ve been shooting 35mm film and you’re making a transition to digital filmmaking, common sizes include:
APS-C – Many Canon and Nikon Prosumer DSLRs
Micro 4/3” – Many DSLR’s and mirrorless SLs
APS-H – Canon 1D
35mm Full Frame 36mm x 24mm – Canon 5D, 6D, Nikon D800
While potentially advantageous for your camera’s form factor, having such a small sensor can limit depth of field and latitude, two key elements that separate a rich “film” look from a cheap and flat “television” look.
High-end cinema cameras have much larger sensors, which gives their video a more cinematic look and feel. These sensors are also a more natural transition for those familiar with DSLR cameras.
A video tripod will introduce you to some of those unique motion-picture camera moves, but will also need to be robust enough to hold that heavier camera perfectly still. Much larger legs and a heavy fluid head are necessary for quality work here. Start off with a Manfrotto 504/546 setup and slowly work up to gear like the Sachtler System 60 Plus when you’re ready.
10. Focus Pulling
Set it and forget it rarely applies here. From the moment you hit record, in addition to proper lighting, framing, exposure, and movement, you’re going to have to keep your subject in focus with many moving factors. With today’s large sensors and fast lenses, the standard depth of field is by and large becoming shallower and shallower. That’s why just pulling focus is a person’s job on a film set, and any decent video rig will have a follow-focus mechanism to aid the puller, even if it’s the camera operator himself using it.
As a final note, post-production is another animal entirely. Plan on massive storage sizes vs. what you’re used to with stills. Now that you can get an 8TB hard drive for $250, you’re in much better shape than when I bought a 250GB hard drive for the same price in 2001; Moore’s Law is just about holding true in this case once you adjust for inflation. Editing and effects tools are similarly named in still and motion editing, but consider the complexities of editing every frame of a 2-hour film at 24fps — there are long and arduous hours just to ingest, sort, and categorize, and that’s before the first cut is even made. Don’t be intimidated though — it’s a challenge well worth rising to, and you’ll be glad you did it.