DSLR Photography to Video Tips

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DSLR Photography to Video TipsAssuming you understand the basics of photography: how to balance exposure, compose a shot effectively and you can focus accurately, you can transfer all of this to video.

Shooting video with a DSLR comes with its own ‘quirks’ though, but once you understand the limitations and short comings of DSLR video, you can focus on the benefits of it. Namely the low budget requirements and the beautiful film-like video you can get out of them.

Form Factor/Rigs

The first shortcoming of DSLR video is the form factor. For simple shots this can be overcome with a fluid head video tripod, but if you need more advanced camera moves then you’re going to have to invest in some way to move it smoothly. You need to focus on avoiding the small shakes inherent with the DSLR form factor; favour longer shakes that are similar to the longer form factor of film cameras.

You can achieve this by using a DSLR video shoulder rig. There’s a wide variety of these but it’s all down to personal preference and whichever one allows you to shoot the easiest with the most control. A rig that’s focused around the shoulder can alleviate the weight, but it might make it harder to focus accurately. It’s all about compromising between all of these points.

Steadycam/Glidecam

Another option is using something like a steadycam or glidecam to get smooth results, this can be a great tool if there’s lots of long motion shots, perhaps going through buildings or gaps where a dolly wouldn’t work. These tools isolate the movements of the camera operator which keeps the video smooth when walking, or even running. With enough practise, you can achieve a floating look to your camera moves. This is at the cost of restricted focusing/camera control though; any time you touch the camera, you risk adding shake. There are advanced options to deal with this, like wireless follow focuses (more in the next paragraph on follow focuses), but they’re relatively special use and quite expensive too.

Focusing

Once you have your camera stable on a rig that’s comfortable and relatively easy to use, you’ll have to figure out a way to manually focus efficiently since most DSLRs don’t offer video auto focus (or its unreliable). Turning the focus ring of the lens will likely add shake as you take your hand from the rig, so it’s a good idea to mount a follow focus next to your lens. Some rigs are designed with this in mind; others will take trial and error with placement. You should keep in mind that it’ll be very hard to ‘run and gun’ when you first try this, you might have to mark where you intend to focus to and from, to make sure you get it sharp each time.

Exposure

Exposing for video is very similar to photography, but it’s much more limited depending on what you’re trying to achieve. Ideally you want to keep the ISO as low as possible to avoid noise. Some Nikon cameras have slightly more appealing noise/grain, but you’ll want to avoid it as much as possible anyway to keep your video clean for editing/post production.
If a shallow depth of field is important in your shot, you’ll want your aperture wide open which leaves you with only shutter speed to control the exposure. This will likely cause your shutter speed to be very high, resulting in the video being too smooth/sharp with no motion blur. Motion blur is an important part of the ‘film look’ so we’ll look at correcting this in the next paragraph.

ND Filters

One of the most difficult scenarios would be trying to get shallow depth of field on a sunny day. Your ISO is already as low as possible, aperture wide open at say F2.8 and you’ll likely need to have your shutter speed very high to expose the image properly. The only way you can drop your shutter speed to a film-like motion blur would be to reduce the available light. This can be achieved with ND Filters in front of the lens, they effectively work like sunglasses; allowing you to bring your shutter speed down to 50 to achieve a film-like motion blur on moving objects. If you’re interested in why a shutter speed of 50 results in film-like motion blur then check out Tyler Ginter’s blog post which explains it perfectly: http://tylerginter.com/post/11480534977

Moiré/Aliasing

Due to the way the sensors scale down the image to HD (technical information on how this works here: http://nofilmschool.com/dslr/aliasing-and-moire/), there can often be artefacts in the image in the form of aliasing or moiré. While it’s not possible to remove these entirely, it’s possible to avoid situations that make it an obvious problem. Things like striped t-shirts or complex patterns will cause moiré, finely detailed objects might result in aliasing. One way you can help minimize this is by setting your camera profile to neutral, turning down the sharpening, contrast and adjustments that your camera adds while shooting. Turning down the in camera contrast will help when you come to colour correct the video too, giving you more dynamic range (information) in the highlights and shadows.

The Upside

There’s quite a list of downsides and limitations to these cameras when shooting video, but they’re not always a problem. It’s just better to be aware of all the short-comings in case you encounter them. Either way, you’ll still be getting beautiful film-like video on a very small budget compared to the cameras used for movies. You just have to keep in mind that these cameras were never designed to shoot video, so that’s why you need to buy a few tools to overcome the limitations. Here’s an excellent look at what can be achieved once you understand how to use these cameras to their full potential: http://vimeo.com/38775602

Mark Dolby is a professional wedding photographer based in Leeds.

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