DSLR’s are awesome for video. They’re a great way to get great cinematic looks on a budget. They pack alot of power in a small package. These are cameras that we, as consumers, can purchase on our own, yet they are powerful enough to make Hollywood movies. The DSLR revolution has brought out tons of new filmmakers that are trying their hand at making some cool stuff. I bet that most of the videos uploaded to Vimeo are shot with a DSLR.
But, like all artforms, there are a few things that make the rookies stand out like sore thumbs. These are 3 simple problems that, as long as you think about them before you shoot, can be easily fixed.
1. Shaky Footage - DSLR’s have a poor center of gravity and they’re small, so they receive every tiny hand shake and amplify it. Seeing shaky, jittery footage usually makes me turn the video off before I get a headache from watching it.
How to solve this: Get some sort of support. I don’t recommend relying solely on a tripod, as you are limited and can’t walk around or get different angles. Monopods are great for keeping your camera steady, especially during long events. Monopods are a godsend when I shoot weddings. You can also invest in some sort of shoulder rig to go mobile, although it may wear you down after a long period of shooting with it.
People always try to cover up jittery footage with a stabilizer effect in post, but it usually looks horrible. So fix the problem in production so you don’t have to deal with it in post.
2. Too Shallow DoF - DSLR’s are awesome in the fact they they give you a super shallow depth of field. Depth of field is the plane that is in focus. The shallower the DoF is, the more blurred out the background will be. Deeper DoF will get more things in focus.
So the shallowest DoF is better, right? Wrong.
Yes, you want some nice DoF, but one the biggest problems that I see around the net, it too shallow DoF. A common mistake for newbies is to simply crank your aperture open all the way, so you get some “nice” bokeh and the burry “film-look.” This is a problem, especially if you are shooting an event, and have to pull focus as your subject constantly moves.
How to solve this: Don’t shoot wide-open. Ever! Well…..very rarely shoot wide-open. On the Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens, if you have your aperture at 1.4, you’re liable to leave your viewers wondering what it is that they’re watching. If you’re shooting a person’s portrait at f/1.4, the tip of their nose may be in focus, but the bridge of their nose will be blurred out of focus. That’s too shallow. If I’m looking for shallow DoF, I usually tend to shoot at least a half-stop up from wide-open, if the subject is contained and not moving around much. If the subject is walking, I’d go at least a full stop and a half up. Yes, the shallowest DoF may make the background look ridiculously blurry and bokeh-y, but not at the expense of proper focus.
3. Poor Exposure - Another very common mistake by newlyweds to DSLR’s is bad exposure. Especially over exposure. It may look good to you on the tiny 3″ screen, but to the image sensor, it may be completely bown-out. When an image has spots that are too bright, it peaks and has no color information. Trying to color grade footage that is blown-out is a nightmare. So, once again, fix it in production so you don’t have to deal with it in post.
How to solve this: Watch you histogram! Before every shot, yes I said EVERY shot, check your histogram to make sure you are not peaking over the top, or suffering with too much lost at the bottom. This will help you to get proper exposure. Most DSLR’s can access the histogram by pressing the INFO button a couple times to overlay it over your video. But don’t worry, it’ll hide itself once you press record so you can see your subject.
Also, you will benefit greatly with an external monitor to simply show you a bigger picture of what you are shooting. External monitors will not only help with your exposure, but your focus and composition as well.
There are many more steps to becoming a great cinematographer, but these are 3 simple steps that can make your footage better.