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Camera considerations: putting it all together

Chris Osborn
June 3, 2016 by Chris Osborn Alum

Phew! We’ve come a long way together, and I’ve got some final best practices to keep in mind.

1. A good camera won’t save you from bad lighting  

Cinematography literally means “capturing movement and light.” Ultra high-end cameras cannot do the heavy lifting with poor or inappropriate lighting. Understanding ISO and knowing how to manage your sources of light means the difference between a meh shot and a gorgeous shot, no matter what you’re shooting on. (Luckily, we’ve got lessons like this one on lighting to help you!)

2. Filters, filters, filters 

Once you’ve got your camera and a few lenses, you can ~**accessorize**~. Digital images are, by their nature, ultra clear and crisp. In some situations, this level of detail is necessary, but in others, you’ll want to find ways to smooth out the image.

Here’s a real-world example from the heart: for my newest short Sisters, my DP Ava Benjamin utilized diffusion filters, particularly Tiffen’s Soft/FX and Ultra Con series,and Schneider’s Hollywood Blackmagic, to bloom out our lights in a manner befitting of the supernatural story. Taking time to test and choose the right lenses and filtration will give your video a look of its own.

3. You can’t fix everything in post, but... 

Few images you see these days exist as they were captured by the camera; color correction has become a necessary step of post-production, not just to correct and unify visuals, but also to create tone and atmosphere that is often too costly (or time consuming) to build entirely on set. So, think about dynamic range and bit depth, as this will help determine how smooth your post process will be. A camera that can shoot RAW or Log C will also give you more latitude when creating the aesthetic of your film in post.

Most editing software offers a simple correction tool, but Blackmagic Design’s line of Cinema Cameras currently come bundled with a copy of DaVinci Resolve, a color correction/finishing software used by many post-production houses. Sweet deal!

4. Read and watch and repeat

The best DPs I’ve worked with are voracious readers and watchers. They’re constantly doing research on their craft, logging away key info, and taking notes. Even in their downtime, everything they study informs their next gig.

Train your eye by watching films and videos you admire, maybe with the sound off so you can see how the story is told visually. Read up on how the creators pulled it off: publications like American Cinematographer and websites like Cinephilia and Beyond are fantastic resources for learning how the greats do it, as well as our Now Playing section on this very blog, which is packed with interviews, inspiring videos, and our all-new podcast. Plus, our Cameras & Gear category is filled with tests and tutorials that may inspire your creative choices.

And as you watch cool Vimeo videos, feel free to comment (succinctly and respectfully!) to ask the creators for more details of their production. Chances are they’ll respond! 

As I mentioned at the very beginning of this series, no amount of gear can replace a good eye, marvelous taste, and a clear creative vision. While your budget for purchasing and renting equipment may be limited, your access to information is but a click away.

Special thank you to Allison Anderson and Ava Benjamin for their fact-checking help!

  1. 1.
    Budget. Sensor size. Lenses. Ack! We cover all the bases in this four-part series so you know what to factor in when making a purchase.
  2. 2.
    Untangle the world of resolution, sensor size, and lenses to better inform your purchasing decision.
  3. 3.
    In which we dig into compression and recording formats, plus the sonic component to video making.
  4. We've gone from pre-planning to lenses and beyond, and now, some final tips for making sense of all the things.
    00:24

8 Comments

Yayoi L. Winfrey

mahalo for the info! i'm a visual artist who's great with colors/tones, framing, strong storytelling; but i hate anything mechanical that's fussy to work with. any suggestions? t.y.

Chris Osborn Staff

Thanks for reading! You don't need to know everything—I certainly don't—but I do encourage all filmmakers to have a basic understanding of the technical side of their craft, primarily so they can speak the same language as their director of photography. I find that even the most cursory knowledge of the mechanics actually frees me up, allowing me to better describe what I see in my head to my crew, and be more creative on-set.

That said, a good DP will always know how to pick the right tools for the job. A close collaboration with someone who possesses the technical know-how will ensure your vision is fulfilled and your project is a success!

Yayoi L. Winfrey

Chris Osborn, i'm sorry i'm only now acknowledging your advice. i've been on the road twice, filming, and am now editing. what i learned is that all the tech stuff will start making sense once you get used to it. it's kind of like when we all first learned how to operate computers--back in the days when it was so hands on that you had to create directories every time you installed new software and 'frag' every two weeks for clean up. i'm hoping that eventually cameras will become as smart as computers so that i can just push a few buttons and not have to fuss with all those settings. thanks again!

10,000 Victories PRO

There is simply so much to learn with video. Once you can take a good photo, you have only the first step of video. It is fun to learn, imagine what is possible, and then try to do it!

Chris Osborn Staff

Of course! Fortunately, many of the same skills and technical considerations still apply between stills and video. If you understand the core tenets of photography, you have a good head start! :)

Arleigh Jenkins

Great series! As a non-technical content creator this is exactly what I need!

olga pichugina

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