Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Camera Techniques For Professional Results

By John Barrow E-StarTV

 

Your New Camera

 

Ok, so you have a few days off work, you’ve got your new camera and you have decided to make a movie of your trip to the mountains.! Don't jump in the car just yet, I may be able to help you out with a few simple filming techniques.

Film making has become very popular and the quantity of videos being produced is increasing. The quality of the video is getting better. But the quality of the shooting is not getting better.
The difference between a badly shot video and a one that is shot well is just a matter of attention. By paying attention to a few simple camera techniques you can shoot like a pro in no time.
Camera - Photo of my old camera
My Old Camera, Still Makes Beautiful Videos!

 

Read The Manual

 

People have a tendency to pull the camera out of the box and start shooting. The manual is only looked at when you run into a problem. This may work for a new TV or alarm clock. But trying to figure out how to work the camera when there is great action happening is a downer!

A great camera operator knows the camera instinctively, the camera becomes a part of you! Being able to change setting without taking your eye from the viewfinder will improve your ability to capture any moment. This can take a bit of time but knowing your camera inside and out really helps. So read the manual then read it again! 

 

Some Helpful Accessories

 

There are times when a problem can send you home before the job is done. Preparing for a shoot can make the difference between a great movie and no movie. Before hitting the road make sure you have;
  •     All your batteries fully charged, knowing how many you need helps.
  •     Enough recordable media. As soon as your SD card or tape if full, thats it!
  •     Lens cleaning equipment.
  •     A tripod. Do not leave this behind.
  •     Battery charger/power supply.
  •     An extension cord for the power supply.
    camera - Photo of a Lens Pen Pro Kit
    Click to Purchase
Lens cleaning is essential and you can't go past the Lens  Pen. They are the best, easiest and most effective device on the market. I use one every time I get my camera out! They're not expensive and Amazon have them!
 
I also make sure I have a portable monitor handy, especially if I’m shooting with a DSLR. Most video cameras have an adjustable viewfinder, shooting low angle shots or in tight spots isn’t much of a problem. DSLR cameras can be a bit tricky in these situations because the viewfinder is fixed to the back of the camera. A small monitor is really handy!

Some of the newer DSLR cameras have addressed this problem with swiveling viewfinders.

Take everything - microphones, filters, lenses, remote shutters, reflectors etc. If you have it, take it! It seems to be a law that if you don’t take something you will end up needing it.

 

A Tripod is More Than You Think

 

Camera - Photo of old Manfrotto tripdo
My Old Tripod

You can get away with a bit of shake in a video but if every shot is shaky your audience will lose interest real fast. Those big panoramic vista shots should be rock solid and the only way to achieve it is with a tripod.

I have always found the humble Tripod to be a most versatile tool. With the legs together it can be used fast like a monopod. Leaving the Tripod attached to the camera and holding it just below the head makes for a pretty effective steady cam. Being able to pan and tilt the camera is also a nice feature of a tripod.

Some lenses have stabilizing technology that works well. It can help take out those long lens jitters you can get even on a tripod. I cannot recommend digital stabilizing. I would prefer to use editing software stabilization in post production and have a bit more control of the outcome.
I have a small Manfrotto Tripod its 25 years old but its light and very rugged. The one device I added to it is a leveling device. This allows me to quickly level the camera without having to adjust the legs  

Camera - Photo of my leveling device
Leveling Attachment for My Tripod
If you have to shoot without a tripod try and brace yourself against a solid object.

The old beta-cams I used for television were heavier, they sat on your shoulder and you hand was strapped to the lens, you could even brace it against your head. Modern cameras are much lighter and a lot harder to hold steady.

There are some really cool rigs made for smaller cameras. Check this one out!

 

Lighting

 

Lighting is a topic that could take up volumes so I’m only going to touch on the basics here. Cameras are getting better at low light shooting all the time. But you will always get a drop in quality as the light level drops.

I have used tradesman’s lights to great effect and I have also used camera mounted lights. Having the lights offset from the camera always looks better. Don’t be afraid of having pools of light instead of blanket lighting. But remember to manually expose your subject and let dark areas be dark.

As the light drops, your depth-of-field will decrease so watch your focus and don’t use auto focus as it may hunt a bit.

Outdoors you pretty much get what you get. You can use reflectors or camera lights if the light is a bit flat. The golden hours just after sunrise and just before sunset are great times for interesting lighting. We would always shoot our pretty landscapes and moody shots during these hours when possible.

Experiment with strong backlighting but make sure you shield any direct light from the front element of your lens. You may need to reflect a bit of light in to add detail to a heavily backlit subject.

Play around with lighting , it's a lot of fun!

 

Camera - Rode Camera Mic PhotoAudio Can Make Your Movie

 

Camera Mics Suck! Get yourself a camera mounted shotgun style mic. They are not expensive and will make all the difference. Get a mate to hold the mic and point it at the sound source but watch handling noise. There some great stand alone mics that can record surround sound as well as stereo, you can also set the record angle for live recording of groups and multiple sound sources.

Get Buzz Tracks! These are audio atmosphere tracks of the environment you in. They are incredibly valuable when editing and they can cover a multitude of sins. Make sure you get nice long buzz tracks, several minutes minimum.

If you don’t have a microphone jack on your camera, don’t be put off just make sure you get some good buzz tracks with the onboard mic.

 

Framing Your Shots

 

Camera - Photo of me shooting an sequence
Me Hard at Work!
I started out behind a studio camera and on occasion we would have open days where the public could have a go on a studio camera. It was interesting to watch who had a natural instinct for framing and who would have to work at it.

There is a tendency for some people to frame things in the center of the frame. This just doesn’t look that great. There is a guideline called the “Rule of Thirds”. I don’t like rules but it pays the learn this one before you start breaking it.

I found this video that explains this the “Rule of Thirds”.

The frame should feel comfortable and well proportioned. Of course, if you're feeling creative, you can always throw this rule out the window.

 

Features To Leave Alone

 

Some handy-cams come with a load of digital features. Digital zoom, film effects, camera fades and digital stabilizer to name a few. DO NOT USE THEM! All these things can be done with editing software and you will still have clean footage. But if you shoot with a film effect it will always be that way!

 

Setting Your DSLR For Video

DSLR cameras are designed for taking still photos. The presets are also set for still photography and they don’t work well for video.

You need to get rid of digital sharpening, lower the contrast and lower the saturation. I posted a really good video by Philip Bloom and Andrea Allen in my post Setting up your DSLR for shooting movies.

The other thing to consider when using your DSLR to shoot movies is keeping the shutter speed constant. But this limits your ability to decrease the amount of light hitting the sensor. The way to fix this is using a variable ND filter. For more information on on this check out my post “Constant shutter speed on your DSLR camera”

 

One More Trick You Should Know

 

We called them “Cut Aways”. When you shoot live action or an interview or anything really you are going to need shorten the sequence. Quite often you will need to cut away from the action and you will need something to cut too.

Interviews are easy, while the journalist is chatting to the interviewee, pre recording, you can grab all sorts of shots like a close up of the interviewees hands or an over shoulder 2 shot from behind the interviewee. Any shot where you can’t see lips moving can get you out of trouble when editing.

The classic is the Noddy. Its the shot of the interviewer reacting to what is being said. The noddy works best when shot at the end of the interview, you will know the range of reactions required. You will want to match the shot size of the Noddy and the person being interviewed, for this to work well work well.

Big wide shots, closeups, crowd shots, extreme close ups, all come in handy when editing. Along with your buzz tracks to cover any holes in the sound and your production will have the polish of a professional production.

Its a lot to think about but as you start editing you will soon find out why these things can make life a lot easier!

Good Luck Have Fun And Enjoy The Process!

John Barrow E-Star TV

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