Six Settings To Check Before You Press Record

By October 11, 2013 Uncategorized 17 Comments

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When you’re first starting out, it’s so easy to just set your camera to Automatic and let it make all the choices for you.

But that’s just a tiny robot in there who knows nothing about your story or characters, making a bunch of important decisions on your behalf.

Do you really want that?

Of course not. But like we said, it’s easy to do — because it doesn’t challenge you.

However, once you start feeling more comfortable with your camera settings and switching into manual mode full-time, you’ll really start to feel like a better storyteller with a much more unique voice.

Really, there are just six main camera settings you need to worry about when you’re shooting manually…

Six? That’s all?

What are you waiting for…

Picture Profile

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The camera’s picture profile or “picture style” is something we always set manually, so that we can adjust things like contrast and saturation to fit our story rather than let the camera automatically set it for us. By doing this we have a lot more freedom to change the look of the shot.

In the picture profile, there are 4 parameters: contrast, saturation, sharpness, and color tone.

Contrast. This is one of the most important components to focus on — and much of how we adjust contrast depends on our plans for post-production. We generally keep our contrast down when we know that we can do more in post, and that we’ll have the time and resources available to edit the image. It’s also good to keep the contrast down when light is very dark or very bright. We’ll increase the contrast to add punchiness to the image, or if we know that we won’t be spending very much time editing the image in post.

Saturation. Another setting we often change depending on story. We turn it up for high energy shots — like something athletic with a lot of movement, and we turn it down for lower energy shots — like something scenic.

Sharpness. Sharpness is not something we adjust often, but times when we would dial down our sharpness is when we’re shooting something with a lot of different colors and patterns — like a very busy background, or something with a lot of lines like a set of bleachers.

By reducing sharpness, you’re minimizing the moire, which is the effect that is created by super fine details like lines and dots that can be unpleasing to the eye.

Color Tone. To be perfectly honest, we never adjust this specific setting, because we manually adjust our color temperature by shooting in Kelvin White Blance, which brings us to our next step…

Kelvin White Balance

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Kelvin temperature is the scale for measuring the color temperature of light, from amber to blue.

By manually adjusting Kelvin White Balance mode we have complete control over the color temperature of our footage, which therefore gives us much more control over the look and feel.

It can be hard to wrap your head around what the color temperature of a light source is, but we always remember it this way: sky high.

To balance the cooler outdoor color temperatures that we associate with sky or daylight, we set to 5600 and above.

To balance the warmer indoor color temperatures (Tungsten, incandescent, or fluorescent lights), we set to 4000 and below.

So when you go to set your white balance, you’re thinking about warmer or cooler — the lower the number, the cooler you’re making the image.

Check out the color difference happening here with this cheese hat at 5600 vs. 3200 :

5600

3200

Diving into custom Kelvin White Balance can be intimidating at first, but you’ll find that when you really start looking to adjust the warmth and coolness of your shots, it’s going to empower you as a filmmaker and as an artist.

Frame Rate

We ALWAYS double check our frame rate, because shooting at 24fps vs. 30fps vs. 60fps is going to change depending on the story we’re trying to tell.

Each frame rate accompanies a different type of shooting:

24fps: This is what we shoot in most often, because it’s the closest to how our eyes see things in real life (or so they say). This is a more filmic look, it’s usually what we prefer unless we’re shooting for slow motion.

30fps: This frame rate is more of a home video feel, and it’s not one that we shoot it too often but really it all comes down to visual preference. A lot of people like to shoot in 30fps because they prefer the way it looks.

60fps:
We shoot in 60fps if we’re shooting for slow motion. The C100 doesn’t shoot in 60fps, so checking the frame rate on this camera is only a matter of choosing between 24 and 30.

Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO: The Exposure Triangle

The best way to explain the last 3 camera settings on our list is to talk about them all at once, because in order for one to do its job, they all must coexist in three-part harmony.

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This is what is known as the exposure triangle, and by setting it you’re changing the amount of light your camera is exposed to.

Optimal exposure lies where the brightest part of your image and the darkest both have detail 🙂

Aperture

Aperture is how wide you open up your lens. If you’re in a darker space and need to let more light in, you’ll open up your aperture to expose the sensor to more light. Some lenses can open up wider than others — if you want a lens with an aperture that can give you lots of options, you’ll want something that can range anywhere from f/2.8-f/1.2.

By opening or closing the aperture, you’re affecting the depth of field in your image. The wider open you’re shooting, the shallower your depth of field is going to be, giving you a lot more blur in the background and foreground.

Take a look at the difference between a wide open aperture and a smaller opening:

Here we are at f/1.2:

f12

And when we stop all the way down to f/16:

f16

While aperture measures the amount of light you’re letting in, ISO is what measures your sensor’s sensitivity to that light, which brings us to our next member of the exposure triangle…

ISO

Being that the ISO dictates the sensitivity to light: the higher the ISO value, the more sensitive your sensor is, and the brighter the image will be.

The “normal” range for ISO is around 200-1600, and you adjust this based on the brightness of your environment. So for example, on a super sunny day you’re going to set a lower ISO, around 200 or 100.

As you increase your ISO and go higher, you start to introduce what is called noise, which is a grainy texture over the image that is generally undesirable.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter is open and exposing light to the sensor.

Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second: 1/60 means that the shutter is open for one sixtieth of a second. A speed of 1/500 is faster, and 1/10000 would be like… really fast.

The faster your shutter is opening and closing, the less you have to worry about motion blur in your image. But sometimes you might want motion blur, in which case you’d slow down your shutter speed.

When it comes to choosing shutter speed, our general rule of thumb is to choose a speed that is twice our chosen frame rate.

So, if we’re shooting in 24fps, we’ll aim to set our shutter speed at 1/50 (or whatever is closest — some cameras don’t allow 1/50 exactly).


But how does that affect the rest of the triangle?

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With shutter speed, ISO, and aperture all working together to create a balanced image, you’ll often have to favor one depending on the type of shooting you’re doing. If you’re wanting a slower shutter speed to capture some motion blur, you’ll probably need to stop down to a smaller aperture.

Conversely, if you’re wanting a wide open aperture for a shallow depth of field, you’ll have to keep your shutter speed faster to favor the aperture.

Bonus Setting: Story First

Before we actually check any of these six camera settings — before we even pick up our cameras — we first check to see if we’re putting story first.

By focusing on the story, we can actually have real reasons behind our choices for our six settings:

  • Picture Profile
  • White Balance
  • Frame Rates
  • Aperture/Depth of Field
  • Shutter Speed
  • ISO/Brightness

This is ESPECIALLY true when we aren’t shooting in RAW, and our freedom in post production is much more limited.

It’s always valuable to feel comfortable shooting in manual and allowing yourself the creative freedom of choosing your camera settings rather than allowing the camera to do it for you automatically — so we want you to push yourself to start using these settings if you aren’t already.

It’s only going to make you more advanced filmmaker in the end, and you’re going to tell deeper stories.

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Do you always check these settings before you start shooting?

How do you adjust them depending on your environment?

About maggie

17 Comments

  • Steve Crow says:

    I am not clear about the color temperatures – first you explain your Sky HIgh principle:

    * Color temperatures that relate to shooting outside (with sky), also known as daylight, are 5600 and above.

    * Color temperatures that relate to shooting indoors (Tungsten, incandescent, or fluorescent lights) are 4000 and below.

    So I’m thinking okay – if I want my image to my cooler then I set it to 5600 higher (bluer) and the opposite for warmer BUT your cheese hat frame grabs show exactly the opposite….what am I not understanding?

    • Steve Crow says:

      meant to write “- if I want my to BE cooler then….”

    • Christian says:

      The higher the K temperature, the warmer your scene. Think about it, the sun obviously burns much hotter than a lightbulb. So if you want to “cool” your scene, you have to lower your Kelvin temperature setting. Don’t confuse blue with meaning cold, that’s where your getting confused. No matter what if you’re inside or outside, the more you lower the K temperature, the more blue you induce into the image. Just make sure it makes sense for what your scene is saying

    • Paul Slemmer says:

      Hi Steve! You’re right that it can seem backwards. The important thing to understand is that the setting on the camera compensates for the number it’s set to. 5600 light looks white when your camera is set to 5600, but it looks blue when you set it lower.

  • Steve Crow says:

    Ha ha, got it wrong again: “if I want my IMAGE to BE cooler THEN….” okay third times the charm (I hope) (Feel free to edit my first comment to make the correction, I can’t do it)

    • Margaret says:

      Hey Steve,

      I actually adjusted some wording in the post because I think you asked a great question. The key word is balance: you’re right that sky = cooler, so what adjusting kelvin temp does is warm that up. So when you’re outside shooting in cool temps, you warm it up by increasing the number. It’s easy for the wording around this topic to get confusing, thanks for speaking up!

  • Razi says:

    I like Explaination :-

    Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO: The Exposure Triangle

    The best way to explain the last 3 camera settings on our list is to talk about them all at once, because in order for one to do its job, they all must coexist in three-part harmony.
    APERTURE :-How open or closed your lens.
    ISO :-Cameras sensitivity to light.
    SHUTTER SPEED:-The rate at which your cameras sensor is exposed to light.
    Regards,
    Razi

  • alex says:

    …as always, you guys rock!!

  • alex says:

    oh! , by the way have you seen the canon 70d yet, if so what do you think?

  • Jim Nihart says:

    So, on the color temperature issue. The color temperature is not based on how the sun looks even though it’s really hot and it looks yellow.. It’s based on a black body radiator and the way to think about it is that if you take a block of steel and begin to heat it with a torch, as the metal gets hotter it changes from red to orange to yellow to eventually white. The higher the temp, (say 6500deg.) the color is more blue and the lower the temp (say 3200deg.) the color is pretty much yellow-orange.
    Don’t let the smarty-pants people out there lead you astray.

  • Elliot Gould says:

    With regards to shutter speed, I know you guys use Canon so you may not be aware, but the Sony FS-700 can shoot 1/48th (exactly double the 24 fps).

    • John-Jo says:

      If you have Magic Lantern on your Canon (which you should!) you will have exact shutter speeds for each frame rate; 24fps & shutter speed of 48. 60fps = 120.

  • Steve Crow says:

    I remembered this StillMotion tutorial on this exact topic:

    https://vimeo.com/28669523

    and it reinforced what you are all saying. From what I gathered their suggestion was to do your normal white balance first but then adjust the Kelvin temperature setting up or down in camera in order to achieve a more “creative” setting (or keep it as is).

    In other words using the white balance/kelvin temperature of the environment you are shooting under (outdoor, in a conference room with fluorescent lighting, on a sound stage) as your starting point, if you go DOWN from there (set your Kelvin temp LOWER) it will make your overall image Bluer, if you manually adjust the Kelvin temperature setting of your camera HIGHER than the light source you are filming under it will get WARMER or more yellowy-orangey.

    What I was confused by was if you look at a Kelvin temperature chart – as the numbers get HIGHER thaey also get BLUER, thus the mantra “The SKY is HIGH” makes sense as the sky is obviously high up and its BLUE. Also I knew that Daylight temperature light bulbs had higher Kelvin numbers and were bluer and that outdoor light is often described as being bluer.

    But I see now that this post was really talking about making creative choices in-camera before hitting the record button so it that context the whole thing finally makes more sense to me (if I don’t think too much about it that is – if I do my brain hurts, ha ha!)

  • Brian says:

    Colour Temperature.

    Sunlight at noon on a sunny day is a temp of 5600 (app) degrees Kelvin. The greatest majority of the human brains percieve colour as the correct tonal shade/hue/range under this light. Period.

    Knowing this, film manufacturers made their film shoot the correct colour (daylight film) for most of the people who purchased cameras for family use. They also made film balanced for tungsten light. The reason being that a tungsten filiment, in a frosted bulb, produces light that measured about 3400 degrees on the Kelvin scale. NOTE: A filiment without the frosting on the bulb burns to create light at the very bright RED, or lower temp, on the Kelvin scale. These readings are older than me, and are the excepted temperatures (not heat) of the light from the various sources.

    So, in the days of film, if we shot daylight balanced film indoors under the common light bulb our pictures would be yellow, orange or red. Why you ask? Because the film was balanced for 5600 and we were shooting in light of only 3400 degrees Kelvin. Conversely, if we shot tungsten film out doors our pictures would be blue. These conditions/results existed becaue of the COLOUR OF THE LIGHT.

    The camera manufacturers are simply carrying this history/fact/truth into the sensor of the digital cameras. We now get to chose whether we want to shoot with daylight balanced settings (film) or with tungsten balanced settings (film). The choice you make is based on the colour temp (not heat) of the light you have available, or can produce. If you make an exposure with your flash and the camera is set at 3400 degrees K then your image will be BLUE. Why? You didn’t balance the camera to the light. Now it you put an orange filter over the flash and fire it, the colours will be rendered closer to what you see with your eyes. Why? Becaue you changed the colour temp (not heat) of the light.

    Q. The difference in the cheese-head shots above is why? I know the answer; do you?

    I hope this helps.

    Best regards,

    Brian

  • Peter Proniewicz-Brooks says:

    On the frame rates, 24fps was chosen in the days of film as a standard speed to keep costs down, it was chosen as a compromise between cost and how well it potrayed motion. The only reason a standard was needed was for sound synch issues.

    The reason the look has persited into digital filming is still in part a cost thing, but because of the limitations of early ‘video’ rather than film, various parts of the film look regardless of their reasons for being there became part of the set.

    Oh and tests back in the early days of cinema suggested that projection rates of less than 46fps cause eye strain, to mitigate this film projectors had multiple bladed shutters that resulted in each frame being flashed multiple times.

  • MaaRaa says:

    You know you need a shutter speed of at least 1/500s to get the aitcon to freeze, so you might as well set your shutter speed to that value. Now it’s merely a matter of finding the right ISO speed and aperture to balance everything out. At 1/500s, not that much light is entering the camera, so you had better be using a wide open aperture or a bigger ISO speed.

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