Filmmaking may seem like a beast. However, you can learn every aspect of this narrative medium. Let's start by recording a camera.
How to record videos
Now that you have your brush (camera) in your hands, it's time to learn how to paint with it. We're going to discuss three elements in creating an image: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Each one plays a unique role in working together to bring light into your camera and touch the sensor in a specific way. So let's get started.
Now let's start with the basics of what your lens will look like. You will see numbers wrapping around the lens. They usually start anywhere between 1.8, 2.8, 4 and can go up to 22 or 36. These numbers are known as the "aperture" or "aperture" for cinema-grade lenses.
The smaller the number – f2.8 or f4 – the wider the iris opens (lets in more light). When you have a larger number like f22 it means that the iris closes almost completely and lets in as little light as possible (darker). This is nothing more than a way to control the amount of light that enters through the lens.
When do you close or open the shutter? When you find yourself in a bright, well-lit situation – like standing outside in the middle of the day – you should close the iris to avoid overexposing your image. When you're in a darker situation with less light available, you'll want to open the iris. This also gives you a shorter depth of field which means there is less in focus.
Shutter speed / frame rate
Think of your camera's shutter as a gate that closes and opens and light hits your sensor. You can control the speed at which this gate opens and closes, allowing more or less light to come in for your shot. The shutter speed is often measured in seconds. Therefore, commonly used shutters are displayed as 1/50, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, or even 1/1000 of a second.
Long exposures literally keep the shutter open for an extended period of time so that light hits your sensor continuously (or without light). Most photographers take these shots at night to collect enough light for a usable picture.
It's important to understand that ISO isn't just a tool that magically brightens your image. When you increase the ISO you are doing something very specific to your image and there are certainly limits to how much you can push this tool.
To take you on the journey of exposing an image, let's follow the light on its way through your iris. First it goes through the breech and lands on your sensor. The sensor contains millions of tiny vessels of light called photosites. These photo pages pick up the red, green, and blue light and then interpret anything that creates electrical signals that result in the image you see on the back of your camera. Now when you increase your ISO you are essentially amplifying that signal and giving you more information. However, this usually leads to noise and artifacts if you push it too far. It's like trying to work with light that is just not there.
The exposure triangle. Image via BeeBright.
You will hear this at some point, so let's talk about it a little. The exposure triangle is made up of the three components we just talked about: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. These three factors are (almost) all you need to know to properly expose your image. The general idea is that to get a perfectly exposed image, you need to balance these three factors. What does a perfectly exposed picture look like? Well, there are a few ways you can tell when you tweak and play with your camera. Let's start with the histogram.
histogram – – Histograms are a way to check exposure while also acting as a safety net if your eyes are fooling you. You could look at your monitor and the picture looks just fine. However, sometimes different factors mean that you cannot see the part of the image that is slightly over or under exposed. The histogram shows you exactly how your image is read by the camera sensor. Let's see how to read a histogram so you know what the final image will look like.
If you look at a histogram, you will find that it is divided into three vertical sections. The left area represents the shadows in your image. The middle section represents the midtones. Then the right section represents the highlights. These are just the different levels of light in your shot. So, super bright areas of the image are displayed on the right side and the dark areas of the image are displayed on the left. What if the shadows, midtones, or highlights on one side of the spectrum are too far away? The wave extends to the top of the histogram, indicating that the image is either too dark or too light.
However, if you want a perfectly exposed image, you need to keep these sections of your histogram in check, i.e. somewhere in the middle and not too prominent on one side or the other.
What is white balance? An easy way to do this is to see what color temperatures are currently in the lens your lens is pointing at. It can also remove or change unwanted color casts. What is the color temperature?
On the back of your camera you will see that you can change or change the "WB" option. If you are just setting up your camera, you may see "AWB". There should also be some options, represented by symbols of possible lighting situations. For example, you might see a sun, a sun with clouds, clouds, a house, or a sun that is overcast. These are just ways to predict the exact color temperature of a scene based on the time of day or where you might be taking a picture. If all of this is confusing just use your eye and judge what looks right for what you are seeing. Sometimes it's best to just take a look and go belly.
Which camera should you buy?
Choosing the right camera is important. Image via yoshi0511.
The obvious question, which camera should you get? Cameras are constantly updated, reduced in price or made seemingly irrelevant overnight. However, this does not mean that there are quite a few staples that are a perfect fit for this "starter" role. Let's take a look at the best options, starting with the cheapest. Then we will talk about where you can achieve your goals in the future.
A mirrorless camera is different from a DSLR in that it doesn't use a mirror box to send the image to the viewfinder. This just means that when you look at the screen or viewfinder you will see a digital representation of what the sensor "sees". These cameras often stand out for the actual size of the camera body as they don't take up a lot of space, low-level performance, and believe it or not – affordability.
Micro four thirds – – Micro Four Thirds is a mirrorless camera indeed. The descriptor “Micro Four Thirds” only refers to the overall size of the sensor. How big is this sensor exactly? Well, they are often referred to as the middle ground between Super 35mm and Super 16mm (in terms of film sizes). If you've heard the excitement about the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, this camera has a micro four-thirds sensor. If you're looking to upgrade from a mirrorless camera or DSLR camera and don't have enough for a cinema-grade camera, the BMPCC4K is an excellent alternative that I recommend trying out.
DSLR – – A DSLR (digital single lens reflex camera) is probably the cheapest and most available to start your film journey with. How does this camera work? The simple answer is: light moves through a mirror, flips up or down, and hits the viewfinder. That way, you can see the picture you are taking. There is a sensor, and while some cameras have larger, more powerful sensors, they function similarly overall.
movie theater – – If you're reading this article, you probably don't need a cinema-quality camera. These are usually expensive and usually require a large amount of equipment just to support them. However, it is worth talking about because this is ideally what awaits your future! Cinema cameras typically have incredible sensors, color science, and fun features like built-in ND filters and dual ISO. (We'll learn more about ND filters in a moment.)
They're also much larger, heavier, and require a skilled and advanced understanding of cinematography, composition, and color grading to maximize their skills. Check out our article below to see what some of these cameras can do and whether they're ever worth actually buying.
Lenses / focal length / recording types
Now you have the perfect camera, and its features are all you need to create your ideal picture or movie. Which lens do you invest in? With all the numbers (focal lengths), which model and number will suit the visual aesthetics and skills you need?
First, the focal length is a measure of the distance between two focal planes within the lens. A simple view is that large numbers correspond to a greater distance, and short numbers are wider (shorter). So with a 100mm lens, you can see further away. With a 24mm lens, you get a much larger field of view
There are two types of lenses that you will find: zooming and prime numbers.
zoom lens – – Zoom lenses are self-explanatory. You can zoom from a longer focal length to a longer focal length. Here are some typical zoom lens sizes you can see in stores and online:
- 18-35 mm
- 24-70 mm
- 24-105 mm
Prime lenses – If zoom lenses can change the focal length so you can get different looks, prime lenses are the opposite. You have a focal length. For example, if you buy a 50mm lens, you will only be able to record videos with that focal length. The reason these lenses are popular (and even exist) is because of the sharpness of the lens manufacturers who were able to perfect them. I always have 50 mm in my camera bag.
By choosing the right filter, you can capture the right picture. Image via EnriqueDCorral.
Now that we have dealt with the exposure of a shot with the desired composition, let's look at controlling the light and image with the help of filters. There are different types of filters that you can use, whether it is a neutral density, black fog, polarization, or graduated filter. They all offer a different effect or level of control. So let's examine what each type of filter can do to get the image we want.
Neutral density – A neutral density filter reduces the amount of light that hits the sensor without changing the color tones of the image. This allows you to increase the aperture and control the exposure more precisely. Instead of stopping at f22 or however small your lens, you can shoot with a shallow depth of field or something like f5.6 – f8 which will give you a much sharper picture.
Graduated density filter – This filter is often used in photography to reduce the exposure of half of an image. For example, if you are dealing with a bright sky just setting in, the foreground (that is, the ground in front of you leading to the horizon) may be darker. So you want to decrease exposure to the bright sun while keeping the soil exposed. You can find a good video on this in our tutorial below.
Black Pro Mist filter – – These filters give your footage a cinematic, blurry look as they are designed to give the highlights a smooth effect. You will often see this in commercials. It is YouTubers' favorite tool for capturing dreamy footage.
Another way of describing it is that the lights have a very blooming appearance, almost a heavenly glow that is meant to mimic the look of a movie called halation. For a good example of this filter, see this video below.
Polarizing filter – – If you buy a new lens online, you will likely get one for free. This filter reduces the glare caused by blown highlights caused by water, shiny snow, or anything else that reflects sunlight. This filter only helps manage flare that often distracts your viewers and makes your image look less professional.
Types of recordings
When you pull your camera up to take a picture, the picture you see depends on the type of lens and focal length you choose. This also determines how you want to compose your picture, i.e. how things will look in the frame you have created. What place will they take?
A shot of a person can look very different based on the standard methods we use to identify compositions – such as wide, medium, long, extreme close-up, extreme width, etc. So let's talk about some of the standard shots that you will be asked to take or whatever the type of video you're making requires.
A middle shot of Daniel Craig in Skyfall. Image via Sony Pictures.
A medium setting will frame your subject / actor from the waist. It should be viewed as a personal shot as it frames a character in a way that makes the audience feel like they are having a face-to-face conversation with them. When choosing a lens for this type of shot, you are most likely using something between 35mm and 50mm.
So what types of scenes or videos are these good for? Think of interviews (documentaries or companies) and dialogues (narrative and short films) as well as scenes to introduce characters.
Here is a perfect example of a long take in Road to Perdition. Image via DreamWorks SKG.
The long shot often used for landscapes is about coverage. In this shot, you want to get as much of the environment or scene as possible. With your character in the picture, make sure the entire body is in the picture from the feet up. These shots are usually not used for conversation scenes as they are usually impersonal in nature. If you need a good take to start your scene, try a long take instead. What is the best lens for a long exposure? Try something wider like 18mm or 24mm. This should give you more in the frame.
A close up of Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Image via United Artists (now MGM).
A close-up is just that, a close-up of your subject. You can use these for intimate, emotional, or visceral scenes where your audience needs to feel like they're just inches away from the actors. You can also use this technique to highlight an object or something specific that you want to show off, such as B. a hand, a pencil or a book.
Use a longer lens to get this focal length properly set. Something like a 50-200mm will do just fine. If you're using a wider lens for something up close, expect some distortion around the edge of the frame.
Once you've created a good, comprehensive composition, it's time to move the camera. Moving the camera can evoke a wide variety of emotions in your audience. The camera movement follows certain genre rules and meanings that can help increase the emotional effect your story is trying to create. So what are these moves and how do you pull them off? Let's discuss.
pan – – Think of this as a turn of the head. A vortex, if you will. The idea is to start your field of view at one point and then pan along the horizontal axis while your field of view ends at another point. The best way to get this shot is to place your camera on a video tripod with a pan head. This just means that it moves up / down and up or down and left or right.
Tilt – – Tilting would be the opposite of a pan. Instead of moving left to right (or right to left), you are moving from top to bottom (or from bottom to top). For the movement, remember to look down and then up. It's just a spin along the y-axis if you start from the top or bottom and move to the other side. Just like with the pan, using a tripod is the best, smoothest way to pull off a slope.
When would you use this train? Mostly it is a perspective shot, meaning the camera sees what the character would see. The basic idea, however, is to first show one object or subject and tilt it up or down to reveal another.
Zooming – – While panning and tilting physically move the camera, a zoom uses the lens to enlarge the image. So let's say you start with a house and a tree in view. After zooming in, the viewer can only see the house. This movement usually consists of physically turning the wheel of the lens as the glass in the lens is severed, making what is in front of the lens appear to come closer.
There is also the option of performing a digital zoom. It just means that you take your shot in post production and zoom in on the image. If you don't have a zoom lens, this route should be tried out. In the long run, you can save money by avoiding renting an expensive lens for a shot or two.
persecution – – Think of tracking as if you were following your subject or approaching a point in your frame. That movement consists in actually moving the camera forward (or backward), usually in sync with your actors.
Do you remember Birdman and 1917? Those were long, drawn-out tracking shots. You can pull off this type of shot with a gimbal, a steadicam, or on a literal track or dolly. Below are some resources to help you find the cheapest options, as well as a DIY method that you can try cheaply.
Pull focus – This movement is often referred to as rack focusing and it doesn't move the camera so much as it moves the image. You change focus in the middle of a shot to shift the viewer's attention from one subject to another. To do this, you need a shallow depth of field so that the focus shift is clear. If you want to know how to peel this off, first mark where on your lens (you can do this with a sticky note or tape) the first "focus" is, then focus on the second point (mark him with a second tape) note). That way, you know exactly where to turn your lens as you roll.
How to select a memory card
Make sure you choose the correct memory card for your camera. Image via AdrianNunez.
This should come as no surprise, but choosing a memory card can be tricky. Different cameras require different types of cards, and of course there are a variety of brands and sizes to choose from. So let's discuss the basics of what to expect when buying a memory card.
SD card – A digital security card is essentially a memory card. This is what you will be using for most DSLR, mirrorless, and micro four-thirds cameras. Different SD cards are now available in different speeds and sizes. The speed depends on how fast your data transfers are during an offload, that is, when you put your footage on your computer or drive. It is up to you to decide how much storage space you need and at what speed the data should be transferred. Expect more for more space and faster speeds. If you are just starting out I would buy something like a 32GB or 64GB card. This should be more than enough for your first test shoot or footage that you want to capture.
CFast card – The CFast card (the Compact Flash card) will be the more expensive and more powerful memory card for larger cameras. Most CFast cards will have a small clapboard with a number on it. This refers to the minimum / guaranteed writing speed. This number is important as it is the speed at which a camera can write to the card. The card speed required depends on the resolution, codec, and camera you are using. So be sure to check the reviews, specs, and videos of the camera you are watching to make sure the card and camera combo is a good fit.
What equipment should you buy?
Okay, now you have your camera ready to rock. You are not quite done yet, however! How are you going to keep your shot steady? Do you need something smaller, more portable? Or would a sturdy tripod be just what you need? Let's take a look at what to consider when shopping for the next round of gear for your videos.
I know you know what a tripod is – three legs. But there's a reason this staple of filmmaking is still our device of choice. You will always need a good tripod and you cannot set a price for a well-composed, stable picture. A list of the best tripods and tripod systems currently available can be found in our list below.
When you think of a cameraman or cameraman, you are likely envisioning someone with a shoulder rig moving very slowly in a scene (or an actor). The shoulder rig is a classic device that gives the shot a certain degree of stabilization and still gives the operator the opportunity to move freely. The idea is simple: the camera is attached to the front, usually on a plate, with two support rails extending on the left and right and some sort of handle attached. The weight is distributed across your back when the rig rests on your shoulder, usually with some sort of pillow or padding to allow for longer shooting times. This will cause jarring in your shot, but that's fine. Just be prepared for it – it's still more stable than holding the camera in your hands without assistance.
A gimbal is essentially a pivoting support for your camera that moves along a single axis. This keeps the recording steady while the camera rests on a platter. Usually you hold the handle or rig behind it. These have grown in popularity over the past five to six years and are getting cheaper and cheaper.
This is just one way to get a smooth shot that doesn't require a dolly track or steadicam depending on your camera setup. That actually brings me to my next point. Single-grip gimbals are intended for light adjustments, usually for DSLR or mirrorless cameras. You can also purchase larger versions for larger cameras. If you want to know how these rigs work, check out this video here.
A slider is simply a rig or setup that allows your camera to slide either left, right, forward, or backward in a horizontal plane. Typically, you place your camera on a tripod head, hi-hat, or plate that rests on two rails so it can "slide". This movement gives you a sweeping, tracking style take on.
You can buy current sliders or make your own. Either way, the idea is to give your video subtle camera movement that doesn't require a large dolly track, or to spend money on a gimbal.
This may seem obvious, but you will need a microphone. Knowing this, what type of microphone should you get? Better still, what kind of microphone do you actually need? I know this is going to be a shock, but different productions require different microphones of different sizes and quality.
If you want to learn best practices for editing these audio files after recording, check out the full list of the best audio tutorials to follow below.
boom – This is perhaps one of the most iconic devices on a movie set. A boom microphone is simply a microphone that is attached to a pole and is used to get close to your actors or subjects without being seen in the recording. To do this, you usually stretch the bar over your head with your arms straight, outstretched, or rest on your back or torso, tilting in the direction of the dialogue or sound.
Lav – A lavalier microphone is a small microphone that you can attach to your subjects, hide in their clothing or place around the set in props. These mics are ideally designed to be fade out as they allow you to record dialogue or audio without having to use a boom mic. The way these little microphones work is that a receiver is usually connected to an external recorder or your camera. The signal from the Lav microphone will be sent to this receiver and your audio will be recorded.
Manage your audio data with an external recorder. Image via Dimitry Galagnov.
With an external recorder, you can more safely and efficiently control and manage the audio files you record. These recorders usually let you connect the microphone or XLR cable (an audio cable) while controlling the volume and location of the recording. Usually you need an SD card for an external recorder. For a list of some good audio recorders worth checking out, see our list below.
Now I know this wasn't the most detailed look at every step in the production process. The best way to learn how to use a camera is to just start recording. Your footage isn't going to look good at first, and that's fine. So keep shooting and don't be afraid to fail!
For example, suppose you completed these steps, recorded your first video, and now you're wondering what to do with the footage. Good news! We recently released a complete course on how to edit a video from start to finish. Check it out below.
Cover image via Virrage Images.
Find more gear to add to your wishlist with these summaries and reviews: