In this article, you will learn how to start creating videos, but I have to start with photography first. It was hard to be a professional photographer 25 years ago. Analog cameras, manual setting, the need to previsualize the image. You couldn’t just snap a photo, see how it looks on the screen, and adjust the settings were just some of the reasons why most of the people couldn’t make professional photos. Then digital cameras arrived and it quickly all went the other way.
Nowadays phone cameras are mighty tools even in the hands of the complete amateur. Depending on the creativity of the individual they can produce various images, therefore cutting the need for a professional photographer. Sure, professional photographers are still irreplaceable in some fields. There is a great need for them in most genres for sure, but we are all aware that times are changing. One more thing evolving with photography is the video. Video is becoming more popular every day and it’s capacity to tell a more complete story is helping its dizzying growth. Producing a good video was even harder than making a good photo. Recently even that has changed, but still not as much as in the photography world.
I noticed a lot of photographers upgrading their knowledge, starting to shoot videos in order to expand their market. Some do it more successfully than others. I would like to help everyone who is stuck in that transfer to overcome the barrier and start shooting video. In this article, I will explain the simple things you need to be aware of to make a seamless move from photography to start videography.
How to Start Doing Videography – my experience
My way into videography was pretty spontaneous. I used to do photography only, but after some time I started making time-lapses. Soon after I felt the need to tell a more compelling story through the video format. The first step was to buy a camera that was able to shoot video. Just to put it into context, it’s 2013 and my Nikon D300 had no such capability. The idea of upgrading to D4 just to be able to shoot video was outrageous for me (5,000$). After searching a bit, I found out that Canon had a very affordable 600D model, capable of shooting 1080p video.
It didn’t take too long to adjust to the new B-camera and I was slowly becoming fascinated by the video. I started shooting videos in no time and quickly I found my way into wedding videography. Quickly, I started creating sports videos, commercials, and corporate films, etc. To be honest, a very typical entry into the videography world. Fast forward to today and I own a video production company, working more as a producer than a cinematographer, and enjoy working on all my projects.
Videographer vs Cinematographer – what is the difference?
Now, let’s get back to the actual topic. I’ll start with a clarification of the difference between a videographer and a cinematographer? Both create a video, but the cinematographer is usually a part of a bigger crew, where often he/she has one or two assistants: 1st and 2nd AC. (working as camera operators, focus pulling, and handling a camera) On the creative side, a cinematographer is working closely with the director, light, and a grip crew as well as set designer, costume designer, etc. Such crews can have anywhere between ten and a hundred members on a single shooting day. Another name for a cinematographer is director of photography, of DoP for short.
Videographers, on the other hand, are usually a part of a smaller crew, sometimes they work alone: shooting video, audio, and directing by themselves. However, usually, the videographer has an assistant, sound recordist, and sometimes a director to work with. There are also often A and B videographers shooting the scene from two different angles, allowing for a better edit.
There is no definitive line that splits videographers from cinematographers, but I hope I allowed you to see some of the differences.
In the next part, I will give you the key things you have to have on your mind when you start shooting a video. These segments will be very condensed, but they will allow you to understand the basics better. To become a good videographer you will have to extend your knowledge on each of these topics.
Basic Rule of Shooting Video You Should (almost) Never Avoid – 180-degree exposure rule
Everything starts with defining the framerate. If you are in the NTSC region (USA, Canada, Japan, S.Korea…) you should work with 29.97, 30, or 60 fps, however, if you are in a PAL region choose between 25 or 50fps. This is not as important as it used to be, but still, if the electricity network is 60Hz, setting to 25fps will easily give you the unwanted flickering effect. The common ground might be 23.974 or 24pfs.
Once you define the framerate you want to shoot with, there is this 180-degree exposure rule. It’s simple to follow. Your shutter speed has to be 1sec divided by 2x your framerate. If you are shooting 25fps, your shutter speed has to be 1/50s, or if you are shooting 60fps it has to be 1/120s. This rule originates from the global shutter on film cameras decades ago, but it was kept as standard because it more produces a natural motion blur effect on video. If you shorten the exposure it will result in choppy video losing the cinematic look. Extending it, on the other hand, will produce too much motion blur, therefore making a video mushy.
I hope you can see the difference in these samples.
You only want to break this rule if you are sure that the look of the footage will actually contribute to film you are making. For example if you want the fight scene in your film to look a bit more dramatic, having a shorter exposure might help there.
Best way to realise the importance of motion blur is to see it in realistic example. Here are two videos, but with the different detail shot. As the detail is closer to the foreground motion becomes noticeable and you will see how irritating it is when there is a lack of motion blur. Take a close look at the second shot in this video.
While the 180-degree rule is very important, there are a few other things you should follow along the way, too.
Shoot flat. If you are using a DSLR or mirrorless camera search for the neutral, flat or some LOG format (D-log, S-log, or C-log). Since you are probably recording an 8-bit image, not raw or 10-bit you will need to squeeze every bit of information for the sensor to record. To be clear, video is nothing else but the sequence of images, compressed down to 1080p or 4k resolution. When you shoot video your camera process the image in the following way:
RAW images are recorded off the sensor (16-bit raw) > they are sent for processing, where they are adjusted according to your set image profile > compressed 8-bit or 10-bit video (some cameras are capable of recording the 10-bit video without the external recorder. Some can’t do it even with the external recorder). So if you set the standard camera profile it will add more contrast. This will push your whites and blacks toward the limit, or even beyond the limit. On the other hand, a neutral picture format will keep those exposed better. This will allow you to adjust the contrast and saturation later in the post-production, ultimately resulting in a better video.
Maybe the difference between these bit depths doesn’t sound like much, but the difference is enormous.
Image bitrate explained
The 8-bit image can capture 256 shades of red, blue, and green
The 10-bit image can capture 1024 shades of red, blue, and green
The 12-bit image can capture 4096 shades of red, blue, and green
The 16-bit image can capture 65536 shades of red, blue, and green
I have simplifyed this. The cameras usually captures either 12 or 14-bit images, but then they downscale to 8-bit or upscale to 16-bit according to the format you choose to record with. I hope you can see the difference in the amount of information between these formats.
Camera Sharpness Settings
Since we are talking about picture format, there is one more parameter you need to take care of – sharpness. In-camera sharpness should always be set to the minimum value available. Sharpness in the video world is not the same as in the photography world. A bit softer video can be sharpened in post-production, as long as you focus correctly, but you can never make oversharpened footage look good.
Use Manual Focus
I’ve mentioned focus, and you might be surprised when I tell you that when shooting video, it’s best to pull the focus manually. Yes, these days cameras have sophisticated autofocus capabilities, but they are still making mistakes such as focusing on the background, then focusing back on the subject, or just having a hard time focusing from one subject to another. If you want to make a cinematic experience you will have to do it yourself. It’s good to have some follow focus tool: a manual one or wireless with a motor, but in the end, you can focus using only the focusing ring on your lens, but that way you are prone to missing the focus more quickly.
If you like adventure and you own a Canon camera, visit magiclantern.fm. This is the tool that allows you to shoot RAW video on old models of Canon cameras. I don’t recommend this for any commercial shoot since it’s not a stable workflow, but it can be a great way to learn more about the video.
Buy the right equipment for shooting video
First, invest in a good ND filter or even better IRND. A set of good quality fixed ND filters is better from the image quality aspect, but it is less practical and more expensive than the variable ND filter. Variable ND filters are just fine, to begin with, and if later you invest in some good fixed NDs, you will always have it in your backpack as a backup filter.
If you haven’t realized yet, you need that ND filter to follow the first rule. In some light situations you can shoot with the 1/50s exposure without the ND, but good luck with that at noon, in the middle of the sunny summer day.
The second most important tool for a videographer is good quality, sturdy tripod with a fluid head. Often, people underestimate the importance of a good tripod. Don’t do that. Stabilizers such as shoulder rigs, gimbals, or glide-cams are tools for a specific use. Tripod is a mandatory tool for every videographer. My take on this is that for the beginning you don’t need anything else except a good tripod and ND filter, to begin with, video. Get out there and start shooting. Only once you find out what is your niche, focus on acquiring the appropriate equipment for such topics.
If you start filming nature my advice would be to buy a motorized slider, a good set of prime lenses, CPL, and graduate filters. On the other hand, if you want to start shooting run-and-gun documentary style you should probably buy fixed-aperture zoom lenses, a practical shoulder rig, maybe a gimbal, and a good power supply (or bunch of batteries).
What I’m telling you is that you don’t want to start buying then shoot, rather start shooting and then buy the RIGHT equipment.
Content is the king
Onto the most important thing. You might do everything perfectly on the technical side, but if the content of your video is weak, the overall audience impression will be bad. I’m not saying you should underestimate the technical aspect, but the actual content is always more important. Think about the story you want to tell and plan accordingly. Prepare properly, make a list of shots you need to tell a story.
To make a compelling video, you’ll need to learn the film language. The best book I would suggest is “Grammar of the film language” by Daniel Arujan.
This book will teach you a lot of things you were probably unaware of. First off, you will learn how to support your story with camera placement, shoot angles, movement of the subject and the camera, lens choice, etc.
Did you know if you wanted to emphasize the length of the walk or movement of the subject towards the camera you should use the telephoto lens? On the contrary, if you want to emphasize the speed, use an ultra-wide lens. Or, were you aware that if the subject moves from left to right in the frame it psychologically moves with less effort than if it was moving from right to left? Those are just some small tricks (or to be precise rules) you will learn from this book and they will be very helpful when you try to tell a more compelling story through your video, no matter what your topic is.
Bonus Tip on Using Time-Lapse in Videos
Since I mentioned time-lapse, I’d like to elaborate a bit on the topic. If you own a camera incapable of shooting video you probably can start with timelapse. It requires you to have either a built-in intervalometer or to buy the standalone one (~$15), a good sturdy tripod, and a fairly strong ND filter. Motorized sliders bring your time-lapse game to a whole new level, but they cost a lot and you don’t want to invest such money before you are sure it will pay back its cost.
A time-lapse video is made by stitching multiple photos and playing them back in 24 frames per second. Shooting a time-lapse video requires a lot of time, so be patient, find a rather interesting subject (a busy street, nice landscape, or an interesting patch of the night sky). Bring water with you, something to sit on, appropriate clothing, and something to work on or a book/magazine to read. When you start shooting the time-lapse there isn’t much to do. And prepare a lot of memory, both on your card and your hard drive.
I can advise you to use the following interval (time between your shots), but do not take this as a rule, rather experiment yourself.
- 0.5 – 2 seconds – fast-moving clouds, traffic, and crowds
- 2 – 5 seconds – sunset, sunrise, or normal cloud movement
- 10 – 30 seconds – longer time-lapse on a clear day
- 20 – 60 seconds – night sky time-lapse / stars or milky way galaxy
Exposure should be set to 1/2 of your interval, but this is one thing you have to experiment with as well. Different subjects demand different exposures. (1-second interval – 1/2 seconds of exposure, 30-second interval – 15 seconds of exposure)
I can’t emphasize this enough: Set EVERYTHING manually, white balance especially. If you don’t have plenty of memory shoot JPEG or smaller resolution RAW, but I would always advise you to shoot full-resolution RAW.
The time when it was very hard to start doing video is long gone. Even our phones are capable of doing so much, so there are no excuses, especially if you are already a photographer and you own some gear. Just get out there, shoot some videos, download them to your computer and edit them out. Edit them with any software you already have like iMovie or Windows Video Editor (both included with your OS, respectively). If you want more freedom try out Final Cut Pro or Premiere Pro (included in the Adobe Creative Cloud all app subscription), or download a free version of Davinci Resolve. Yes, there is a completely free version of this NLE with almost no limitations (available both for Windows and Mac OS). Then shoot some new projects again and again and again. Learn from your mistakes.
Force yourself each time to tell a more compelling story than you previously did. That’s the only way you will ever become a true videographer/cinematographer.
And for the end – don’t be discouraged if you are unsatisfied with your result. You are a photographer. You have told dozens, or even hundreds of stories just through your photography sets and you can do it through the video as well. It takes time to learn, practice, and perfect the art of motion picture. Don’t give up easily. Get out there and create something beautiful!
Want to learn more?