If you have a late-model DSLR, chances are your camera shoots HD video. And even if your aspirations don’t reach beyond capturing the big moments of everyday life, it’s still worth setting your camera to record, if only to see what beautiful movies you can make using the tools you already own.
For all the differences between still photography and motion pictures, each is about making images. And you already know how to do that; every time you shoot, you compose carefully and expose deliberately to tell a story. In the most basic sense, a video is just a lot of pictures—a high-speed slide show of stills.
So how do you begin making movies? Vincent Laforet
, the New York Times
photographer-cum-director, says the trick is connecting those frames. “Your audience can choose how long to stare at a [still] image, whether it’s a few seconds, minutes or hours,” he says. “Motion is all about putting shots or images together in a sequence—holding your audience’s attention throughout.”
Laforet knows a thing or two about making movies with DSLRs, having turned a lucky chance with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II prototype into a career as a director. For him, preparation is key; thinking about shot sequence well before a shoot can be especially helpful.
Laforet suggests watching favorite films, remote in hand. “Pause and rewind,” he says. “When you see your favorite sequence or a scene you like, really watch it, shot by shot, and break it down in an academic fashion. Figure out why the director chose this angle or this camera movement; why they chose this sequencing and this pacing and why it’s effective.”
On the flipside, you can learn just as much from bad productions as you can good ones. Identify the elements that don’t work, and avoid them. Corey Rich
, an adventure sports photographer and director, suggests learning from the video you see every day: “Even on crappy evening television, you can watch the way the camera is moving and analyze how they do it,” he says. “You don’t see the camera shaking, ‘Oh, they must be using a tripod.’ Wow, when the camera goes from left to right, it’s pretty smooth, ‘They must be using a fluid head.’”
Often the easiest way to produce a good video is to start with a strong visual concept that informs every creative decision you make. While shooting an impromptu music video for his friend Moruf, professional video editor and freelance shooter Adam Saewitz
decided to incorporate formal design principles into the work. “I was in a phase where I was drawn to 90-degree angles,” he says. “I wanted it to project confidence—to present it in a bold, evocative way.”
He shot two takes, one handheld and one on a tripod, all the while composing his shots to incorporate the visual themes he wanted. The result? Powerful images with strong lines that communicate Saewitz’s interpretation of Moruf’s music.
With his professional experience as an editor, cutting together a bunch of short clips was simple for Saewitz, but longer takes will save you time editing your final product. The catch? It’s much easier to lose a viewer’s attention when you leave more time between cuts.
Since Saewitz’s video was a live performance, the musicians took care of their own audio. But for a shooter just starting out, a high-quality hot-shoe-mounted mic like Røde’s VideoMic can provide enough clarity and noise reduction to add a bit of polish.
Most cinema and video shooters scoff at the idea of autofocus for video, much as photographers did upon its advent in photography. And it’s true, there is something to be said for the ultra-smooth focusing rings on the fast prime lenses currently flooding the market—you just can’t recreate that action using autofocus.
But AF technology is constantly improving. The video AF on Canon’s EOS Rebel T4i uses stepping motors to track subjects and keep them in focus automatically, in micro adjustments. It won’t give you the smooth transition of a follow-focus rig, but it might be good enough to convince you to set it, forget it, and concentrate on other elements of your production.
A neutral density filter helps keep shutter speed in check
You can also expand your capabilities without cutting-edge technology—neutral density filters can help you shoot at wide apertures in full daylight. Shooting video, you have less flexibility with your shutter speeds. Shoot any faster than 1/60 sec, and you’ll start to notice choppiness. Buy several ND filters and stack them as needed; a single variable ND filter can do the job, but can cost upwards of $300.