Moving pictures: A brief overview of my take on videography – Part 1

I love video. I love planning, shooting, and editing my videos. You have to love editing because it can get pretty tedious and if you don’t love it, you will have a hard time completing your projects. It’s taken many years, much study, and lots of trial and error to get to where I am today. And I still feel like I’m at the beginning of my videography journey. There is just so much to learn.

One of my favourite places to learn about directing and motion pictures is the website MasterClass. What a gem of website. So insightful and so accessible to the masses. I’ve taken classes by the great documentary film director, Ken Burns. I’ve also followed a class by the inimitable Martin Scorsese. One of the best was by Jodie Foster, teaching directing. I just finished Spike Lee’s class on directing last week. All of them were fantastic and all as unique as their movies. I also loved the Master Class by James Patterson, Carlos Santana, and Sarah Blakely. I just started the class by Metallica – I just had to as soon as I learned about it. So far, it is fantastic. I sometimes watch my lessons over lunch, thanks to working from home and eating alone.

There are many other sources of inspiration and instruction, such as The Slanted Lens website and countless YouTube channels devoted to photography and video. Photography and videography go hand in hand in my opinion, though each with their own peculiarities and challenges. The key is finding instructors you relate to and who can teach you something. I’ve also completed two certificates from the online school, The Photography Institute.

After trying different brands and different approaches, I’ve standardized on Panasonic’s Lumix brand of cameras. I have nothing against Sony, Canon, on Nikon but for video, I just really like the Lumix. Out of all the major brands, I consider them the most reasonably priced too. Another reason I like them is that they almost all have a rotating viewing screen – important for filming yourself on a budget. I own the full-frame (35 mm sensor) DC-S5 and the micro four thirds (17 mm sensor), DC-G95, which I recently purchased. I have my eye on the highly anticipated micro four thirds GH6 coming out next Spring but with a purchase price as high or higher than my S5, I may end up just getting a second S5. I feel it’s important to have the same brand of camera for multi-camera shooting because each brand tends to have it’s own look. It also makes it a lot easier from an operational standpoint because the two Lumix cameras I own are about 85% identical in their user interface and operation.

I was hoping for a little more uniformity in output between the G95 and S5 but I am way ahead of where I was only a month ago. Refer to my videos of my friend, Mike Drolet, the Mountain Bike commissionaire. One camera was a Canon M50, which I got rid of right after that interview and the other was my S5. The output from both was so vastly different that it was off-putting, not to mention the M50 has unreliable Autofocus for video. I even had it worse, before I got my Lumix S5. I used to shoot with the Canon M50 and a Nikon D5500. I still own that Nikon. It’s great for stills but it struggles (I find) with video. Finding the right camera and video gear is an iterative process of trial and error, much like finding the right guitar and amp combination. I especially didn’t like mixing the Canon and Nikon cameras. Adding in a GoPro was even worse. It’s amazing to me how different the output from all these digital cameras looks. They all handle light so differently. It wasn’t so bad when I was using the GoPro for occasional B roll but I find GoPro really does struggle indoors, at least my Hero 7 did. I sold that one too because as mentioned before, I’m trying to standardize.

Camera gear is just one piece of the puzzle. And I haven’t talked about lenses yet! That is a whole other can of worms that I won’t get into, but lenses absolutely affect your camera’s final output. It really is worth looking into which lens best fits the shot you are attempting to achieve. Other parts of creating video content include composition and framing, lighting and sound. Each one of these components are studies unto themselves. All these elements combine to make your video a success but if I were to choose one, I would say sound is the most important. You can get away with so-so video (especially if you post to social media, as most of us do, because all those platforms compress your video anyway) but if you have bad sound and nobody can understand what anyone says, well then you have a real problem. Let’s break it down into sections.

Image

For me, getting the image right involves getting the exposure right first and foremost, even if you are using a smartphone or point and shoot camera. Exposure is directly dependent on lighting so getting that right is key. Lighting will help your exposure but lighting’s other role is to help paint the scene. By painting the scene, I mean how warm (yellowish) or how cool (bluish) you want the image to appear, as well as how flat or dramatic (cinematic) you want the lighting to be. Flat lighting means almost no shadows and the face of your subject is very evenly lit. A more cinematic appearance would introduce a little shadowing across the face, for what is called Rembrandt lighting for example. There are other types of cinematic lighting but Rembrandt lighting is one of the most common in video and photography. Shadows in the rest of the scene will also affect the dramatic quality of the video. Think of the difference between a news cast or interview on late night TV, and that of a dramatic movie, such as The Godfather. For my videos, I like to fall somewhere in between the two extremes. Lighting is a vast and complicated field of study but furthering your understanding of it will help you improve your videos.

Setting exposure involves what is known as the exposure triangle, which consists of the ISO setting (or the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor), aperture, and shutter speed, just as is the case with photography. Your smartphone or point-and-shoot camera will typically adjust all of that for you but some smartphones – my iPhone for example – allows me to adjust frame rates and have some control over fine tuning exposure. But when you are using interchangeable lens cameras, such as a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you can adjust some or all of those variables yourself and therefore, have a lot more creative control on your camera’s output.

Most of the advice I’ve seen about shooting video, in instructional videos or read about, says to set your shutter speed at two times your frame rate (the denominator of your shutter speed should be twice that of your frame rate, to be precise). For example, if you shoot at 24 frames per second (fps), set your shutter speed to 1/50 (most cameras don’t have a 1/48 shutter speed). If you set your frame rate to 30 fps, set your shutter speed to 1/60. Then adjust your ISO and aperture accordingly to achieve the exposure you are looking for. Most of us will want our exposure to fall in the middle of the exposure spectrum.

The aperture function controls a second variable as well: depth of field. A shallow depth of field will cause the background to fall out of focus to varying degrees, depending on the setting. A deep depth of field will result in more of the background remaining in focus. The higher the number, the lower the aperture (the smaller the window your shutter shoots through). So an aperture of f/2.4 is considered wide open and will let in lots of light to your camera’s sensor, and will give you a very shallow depth of field. An aperture of f/11 is a much smaller aperture setting, letting much less light to the sensor and giving a far greater depth of filed, often abbreviated to DOF. Think of aperture as a fraction – the bigger the denominator, the smaller the number. You also have to make sure to (and I’ve made this mistake) not set the aperture low to get shallow depth of field but end of with very soft focus of your subject, even with Autofocus. As with most things related to video making, setting your aperture is a balancing act.

Much of the advice I’ve read and seen suggests setting the frame rate to 24 fps for a more cinematic look. I’ve tried it and honestly, I prefer 30 fps for normal shooting. I find the 24 fps trick gives me a muddy looking picture, similar to a muddy sound when your EQ is out of balance on a mixer, stereo, or guitar amp. The other consideration is will you shoot in 720p, 1080p, or 4K resolution? I don’t think many people bother with 720 much anymore but we still do have the choice between 1080p (1920 x 1080 progressively displayed pixels), High Definition or 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels), Ultra High Definition. 4K really is cool to look at, giving you the impression you’re looking through a window but I often wonder if it’s really necessary for the videos I shoot.

Just remember that 4K footage takes a lot more storage on your SD card or other memory device, and is much slower to download to your video editing software. It is also much slower to render down to your final MP4. I typically use 1080p, 30 fps. The iPhone let’s you set frame rate and resolution as well, when you shoot video. I imagine other smartphone brands do too. Just search around your phone’s settings to find out how. Like lighting, exposure, resolution and frame rate settings are a matter of personal preference and artistic decision-making.

In Part 2 of this article, I will discuss sound and composition.

To see Part 2 of this series, please click on the link below:

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