The Basics of Shooting Video with your DSLR

 

Shooting video footage with a DSLR camera is no longer anything new and the use of DSLR’s in filmmaking has been adopted by some of the best filmmakers in the industry, including those in Hollywood.

With thousands of accessories, gadgets, lenses and the different combinations of all these elements, it is easy for the concept of DSLR video to be overwhelming for someone who is new to shooting video with their DSLR camera. If this is you, then you have come to the right place!

In this post, I will be taking you through frame sizes, frame rates, shooting modes, and exposure settings that all affect your video in different ways. If this sounds like gibberish to you, then grab a cup of coffee, read this through to the end and I guarantee that you will be well on your way to understanding how to shoot fantastic footage on your DSLR.

The “Technical Stuff”

 

Let’s begin with how the different camera bodies shoot video. The mid-range to higher-end camera bodies will most likely shoot video at 1080p at 25fps. What this means is that the frame size of the footage is 1920 x 1080 pixels (or commonly known as High Definition) at 25 frames per second, which is the video standard in South Africa. Some of the lower range DSLR cameras may only offer video at 720p (1280 x 720 pixels), which is a smaller frame size than 1080p.

If your camera allows you to shoot at either 1080p or 720p, I would always choose 1080p, unless you are concerned about space on your memory card, in which case you might opt to shoot at 720p which allows you to fit more footage onto one card. Some cameras will allow you to shoot at 50fps or 60fps, which is generally not used for normal playback, but rather, allows you to slow the footage down in post production more than you could slow down footage shot at 25fps.

You don’t need to know all the technical details around the frame size and frame rates, but generally you would want to shoot with the best frame size possible at 25fps (which is usually 1080p).

Lenses

The quality of the lens that you shoot with directly affects the quality of the footage you shoot. Most cameras do not allow you to focus the lens automatically while shooting video. I have found that the cameras that do have that feature, normally take a long time to focus and the sound of the focusing motor is audible in your video. This is why 99% of people who shoot video footage with their DSLR will always leave their lenses in manual focus. I know I do.

Using the manual focus ring allows you to track a moving object much more accurately if that object is moving around in the frame. Granted, it does take some practice to get good at “focus pulling” (as it’s called), but it is something that is impossible to do accurately using automatic focus.

Taking control of the exposure settings on your camera will allow you to be creative with your filming. For the most control, I would recommend shooting in manual mode. You can choose to shoot in aperture priority mode or in automatic mode but those modes limit your creative control over the footage you capture. I shoot in manual mode 99% of the time. With your camera set in manual mode, you are able to adjust your ISO, aperture and shutter speed independently of each other.

On a side note, Canon recently launched their STM line of lenses, compatible with the 70D and 7D MKII bodies, the STM motor is silent enough to allow a person to use automatic focussing while filming, without getting any noise on your audio from a noisy focus motor.

Aperture

 

I normally begin by deciding what aperture to use, as I already know whether or not I want a shallow or deep depth of field. This is a creative decision and I like to have full control over it.

ISO

Once my aperture is set I will adjust my ISO. It is at this point however that you have to be aware of two things. The first is that you generally want your ISO to be as low as possible. The higher your ISO, the noisier and grainier you’re footage will be. While it’s often a bit easier to get away with noise in a still image, the same amount of noise may not work on video footage. The reason for this is that the noise moves in between frames (at 25fps) and when you play back the footage it is very noticeable and distracting.

 

Shutter Speed

 

The third consideration is your shutter speed, as it has an effect on the look of your footage. A slower shutter speed will give a more natural motion blur to fast moving objects in the frame and a faster shutter speed will have less motion blur in a frame. As a general rule of thumb, your shutter speed should be double your fps speed. So if you are shooting at 25fps, you don’t want your shutter speed to drop below 1/50th of a second. This will give you the most natural motion blur that is pleasing to the eye.

Using the example below, you can easily see the difference between a fast and slow shutter speed. These are grab frames from moving footage that were shot at two different settings. The first frame was shot using a shutter speed of 1/50s and you can see that there is a nice amount of motion blur on my hand. The second frame was shot with a shutter speed of 1/500s and you will notice that there is almost no motion blur on my hand. In both shots my hand is moving downwards at the same speed as I strum the guitar.

You might be wondering why this is important. Video is all about motion and a bit of motion blur makes the video smoother, more natural and easier to watch.

You would most likely encounter a problem when trying to shoot in bright light with a very shallow depth of field. For example, you are outside in the park in the middle of the day and you want to shoot at ISO 100 and f/2.8 to create a shallow depth of field. Your shutter speed could potentially be upwards of 1/500s. This may not be a problem for you, but if it is, you can combat this problem by using a strong ND (neutral density) filter, which would allow you to drop your shutter speed. If you don’t have an ND filter you may have to be willing to sacrifice some of that beautiful depth of field and increase the aperture to allow less light in, allowing you to drop your shutter speed in order to compensate.

Picture Style settings

Once you have your exposure settings set up you can begin to shoot! If you haven’t played much with the settings within your camera and your footage is looking dull, there may be a way to make your footage look better in camera. Certain cameras have built-in settings called Picture Style or Picture Control settings that are generally used to apply certain saturation, contrast, and sharpening adjustments to your JPEG images. The good news is that these Picture Style settings also affect video files on your DSLR. So you can tweak these settings to find something that suits your needs.

Tripod

There are other things you may need to consider when shooting video. You will need a decent tripod that is sturdy and can hold the weight of your DSLR, because let’s be honest, nothing screams “AMATEUR PRODUCTION” quite like very shaky footage does. Invest in a good tripod (preferably one with a video head) that will allow you to get stable shots with smooth panning and tilting motion. A video head, unlike a photographic head, a video head has built in gears, or a friction system that allows you to pan and tilt incredibly smoothly.

(Find some good options for video heads in the Outdoorphoto suggests column below)

Audio

Audio is another aspect to consider. It depends on what you are shooting. If you are planning to remove all the audio from your clips and put an edit together with a piece of music then this won’t really apply to you. But if you do need the audio that you are shooting, the camera microphone isn’t going to do the best job. The reason for this is because the microphone in your DSLR was never designed to be a high quality microphone and it also records the sound of everything around you, planes overhead, traffic behind you, anything that you can hear will be picked up by the camera’s microphone. You may want to look at investing in a Rode VideoMic Pro if good quality audio is important to you. The Rode VideoMic Pro is a small, portable, shotgun microphone that attaches to the hot-shoe mount on your DSLR. A shotgun microphone is a very directional microphone and will record good quality audio of whatever you point your camera at. It greatly reduces any background noise around you.

Conclusion

With all these things in mind, go out and practice shooting video with your DSLR and experiment with the different settings. If you have never shot video with your DSLR before, it may take some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, you will love the quality of the footage you are able to shoot.

The next step is to download your footage from your DSLR to your computer and to start editing. The post production process is an entirely different kettle of fish, and maybe it’s better to discuss that in another blog post.

If you have any questions or would like me to do a post on editing the footage, please comment below and let me know.

Until next time,

Bradley