1. Establish a baseline frame-rate for your project.
- 24P is the best only if you anticipate theatrical projection release. If your projects are for the web, 30P is a good choice. Pick a frame rate and stick with it for the whole project.
2. Video looks best at a shutter-speed that is double your frame rate.
- I suggest shutter-speeds of 1/50th of a second for 24P and 1/60th of a second for 30P. You can go up to1/125th in a pinch for either basic frame rate but avoid going higher. Conversely, in low light conditions you can drop to 1/30th but no lower. Ever. Stick with your baseline shutter-speed at all times and control your exposure with Aperture, Neutral Density filters, and ISO adjustments ONLY.
3. Consciously select an appropriate Picture Style
- Most professional Canon filmmakers use Neutral or Faithful Picture Style for the best latitude in post process color grading.
- Experiment with the other Picture Styles to see if there’s one that you prefer.
4. Don’t use Auto ISO.
- Auto ISO will change as you pan your shot across different degrees of brightness within the scene. Not good. Select your ISO for a good exposure in the most important part of the scene.
- When shooting outside, you’ll likely need to use the lowest ISO your camera has due to the relatively long shutter-speed I’m suggesting. Odds are your aperture will be somewhat high (f11-16 or higher) in direct sunlight but a more reasonable f5.6 or so in open shade. No worries though as a little extra depth-of-field based sharpness will help with maintaining good focus.
- If you desire shallower depth-of-field for a visual effect, acquire a variable Neutral Density filter to reduce the incoming light. I suggest the Tiffen VariND that will reduce the light by 2-8 stops.
5. Don’t use Auto Aperture.
- When indoors, shoot for an aperture of f5.6 and a shutter-speed of 1/60th and manually adjust the ISO up or down until you get a good-looking test frame. I strongly suggest ignoring the meter and shooting still photo “test frames” until you’re happy with the look.
- If you use any of the automatic exposure modes the exposure of the scene can constantly and annoyingly change as you shoot. Again, not good.
- Take a few minutes to establish a good exposure through test frames. Adjust the ISO to work with the mandated shutter-speed to get a reasonable aperture. Target an aperture between f5.6 and f16 to have a good chance of maintaining focus on moving subjects. Try different ISO settings and adjust to taste. Don’t worry too much about what the meter suggests – it’s just a machine; you’re a person with taste and good judgment…
6. Do use Auto White Balance…,
- But only until you truly understand how to set a Custom White Balance from a Kodak White or 18% Gray Card…
7. Always shoot more than you need.
- Anything worth shooting is worth a minimum of 15 seconds of rolling – pixels are cheap. When shooting dialogue, listen to what people are saying and don’t cut before they finish their thought.
- Establish where you are with a Master Shot that clearly illustrates where you physically “are”. Get a Medium Shot to isolate the most important action. Capture Close-Ups for emphasis or Talking Heads. Gather Cutaways & Reaction Shots from observers of the main action. Your Editor will love you for this.
8. Always wear ear-buds or headphones when shooting sound!
- When recording dialogue with an on-camera shotgun microphone, work as close to your subject as you comfortably can – this will help minimize background noise.
- When possible, take the microphone “off-camera” and place it near your subject. This will allow the camera to freely move while the microphone stays close to the subject.
- On the topic of background noise, always endeavor to move your interview subject to a quieter place when you possibly can. Use those headphones or ear buds to identify and avoid annoying background sounds. Again, your Editor will LOVE you…
9. Make your interview subject comfortable.
- Encourage them to relax and gather their thoughts while you take the time to determine exposure or check sound.
- People automatically assume that a camera pointed in their direction is always rolling. It isn’t. Tell them that you’re getting ready and that you will let them know when it’s time to start. A simple but important thing..
10. Compose asymmetrically.
- Put your interview subject to either side of the frame and avoid bulls-eye composition. Conduct your interview from the opposite side of the frame so that their look is slightly towards the emptier portion of the frame.
11. Structure interviews so that the interviewee does all the work.
- Instruct them that when you say, “the camera is rolling” that they should identify themselves (and, when appropriate, tell you where they are) and then immediately launch into their experience or complaint. Never pose questions that can be answered “yes” or “no” unless you plan to include your questions in the final edit.
12. Create compelling scenes.
- Find cool backgrounds and set-up in front of them. Use indirect window or door light whenever possible. Look for interesting light. Use a small fill light when possible but be subtle in its application – it’s not a powerful tool unless you are really skillful in its usage.
- Think about the psychology of lens placement – do you want to look down on your subject or shoot up Heroically from a lower angle? How will your camera placement choices affect what the viewer feels when they see the finished cut?
- Telephoto lenses compress facial features in a flattering way and pull the backgrounds in closer. Wide angles exaggerate the size of the nose and diminish the size of ears and are not very flattering when used too closely. These same wide angles can help to graphically isolate a figure from a background by pushing the background away.
- What do you need to do in service to “The Story”? Think, think, think…
13. Use verbal slates whenever you change locations or subjects.
- Flip the camera around or jump in front of the lens and describe what you are about to shoot. Don’t worry about sharpness, or exposure – just get the all-important Who, What, When, Where stuff onto the card.
14. Back up your cards!
- Carry a laptop and sufficient external hard drives to have a minimum of three copies of your footage. If you can afford enough cards to do the entire shoot without reformatting your cards for reuse, that would be great. Even then, create two more back-ups.
- Create sequential descriptive folders dated as follows:
20130819_ Bob_exterior alley
- One card per folder ONLY! Transfer the entire root camera folder into the Descriptive Folder. NEVER REMOVE THE INDIVIDUAL SCENE FILES FROM THE ROOT FOLDER. To do so could destroy the files index system and the formerly friendly Editor will want to KILL you.
- When shooting on distant locations, you and another traveling companion should each be charged with the responsibility of protecting one back-up drive each. I keep mine in my cargo pants pocket. Always. Right next to my Passport. I never leave it in a car or hotel room…
15. Tell great stories and most of all, have fun!