Steps for getting proper exposure
The standards of broadcast excellence dictate that video should be properly exposed - that is, not too bright and not too dark. To get the right exposure, cameras are equipped with neutral density filters, iris and gain controls. First, determine the lighting conditions. Is it a sunny day where the lighting is direct and can produce harsh shadows? Or is it overcast where the lighting is more diffused and even? Are you indoors where the lighting is bright, or are you at a desk with a single lamp? When there is not enough lighting, then you need to bring extra lights.
The next step is to check the settings on your camera in the following order:
- Neutral Density Filter
- Shutter Speed
Neutral Density Filter: Is the ND On or Off?
When you're outdoors under sunny skies, the ND filter should be ON. Think of the filter as a pair of sunglasses for the camera. ND simply reduces the intensity of bright light. When you are indoors, turn OFF the ND filter just as you would remove your sunglasses. With the ND filter properly selected you will have a greater range of f-stops available as you adjust the iris.
Gain: Is the Gain On or Off?
Gain is used ONLY under low-light conditions. It is equivalent to turning up the audio on speakers, which is why gain is expressed in decibel units. Gain is simply an expression of signal strength. When you turn on the gain, you are increasing the strength of the signal, whether it's an audio signal or a video signal. On the JVC cameras there are three settings for Gain: L, M, H, which are set to certain decibel values. L is always set to 0dB, which is no gain at all, or Off. The M and H settings will turn the gain On so that you can increase the signal strength gradually, depending on the lighting. Usually, the M setting will set the gain at 3dB or 6dB and H will set the gain even higher, from 9dB and above. Remember, the higher the gain the more "noise" will appear in the picture. In other words, as you increase the signal strength, the image could start to get grainy, which is why you don't want to add too much gain. It's better to add more lights than it is to rely on grain to help you see the image better under low light. But it comes at a cost to picture quality.
So if you're shooting under conditions where the lighting is more than adequate, then make sure the gain is set to L, or Off. Sometimes, other students who used the camera before you may have left the gain on, and this could potentially mean that you will not have as much ability to control the exposure if the lighting conditions are bright. Definitely, check your gain before you change your other settings. But start with the gain off and use it after you have adjusted the next settings.
The camera shutter simply determines how long the aperture, or lens opening, is exposed to light. The longer that light has to reach the image sensor, the greater the exposure. The shutter speed is expressed as a fraction such as 1/30th of a second, 1/60th, 1/100th, 1/500th, and so on. A shutter speed at 1/100th is faster than 1/60th. Photographers prefer to use faster shutter speeds to help reduce motion blur in objects that are in motion. But be careful: shutter speeds less than 1/60th of a second will add blur to images, making them look dreamlike and surreal. 1/60th is actually ideal for indoor shoots. When the conditions are bright, you can try 1/100th. If you are shooting sports, even faster shutter speeds will help reduce motion blur. But beware! The faster the shutter speed, the less light that enters the lens. Therefore, the image will be underexposed unless you compensate by opening the iris.
The iris controls the size of the aperture and the settings are expressed as f-stops. Photographers follow this rule: the smaller the f-stop, the larger the aperture, which means more light can enter the lens. Conversely, the larger the f-stop the smaller the aperture, which means less light can enter the lens. The iris is the last setting to be adjusted after you have checked the ND filter, Gain, and Shutter Speed. Look at the viewfinder to gauge the brightness and to determine if the subject's details can be observed. Many cameras show what are called "zebra stripes" to help you determine if the image is overexposed. If the image is overwhelmed with zebra stripes, then there is too much light entering the lens. To reduce the amount of zebra stripes, simply increase the f-stops. But you don't have to fully eliminate zebra stripes. Some brighter areas such as clouds or a light in the distance can still show these lines. The goal is to reduce the lines appearing on the subject, especially on a person's face.
Finally, if the lighting is low, then you can start adjusting the gain to see more detail in the image. But use gain only if the lens is open to its widest aperture - when the f-stop value is at its smallest, and when the ND filter is turned off.
A Note About Audio
Audiences are less tolerant of bad audio than they are bad video. Please review the audio settings instructions above to understand how to control audio. Test the microphones to make sure that they're picking up sound, and use headphones to monitor the quality of the sound. Adjust the audio levels using the thumb wheel controls on the camera. Make sure the levels are strong.
When recording interviews, place the stick microphone just under the person's chin and adjust the levels accordingly. Compose a close-up shot to avoid catching the microphone in view.
The most common cause of bad audio comes from levels that are set too high, distorting the audio in ways similar to cranking up speakers too high. If the audio is distorted there is nothing that post-production can do to fix it. If the audio is too low, then raising the levels in post will also raise any background noise, increasing hums or hisses.
Please get familiar with the camera controls before you take it out for the real deal. The best way to get comfortable using the camera is simply to get practice.
Rule of Thirds
In the fast-paced world of gathering news footage, photographers on the go use a technique that provides for balanced and pleasing compositions. Mentally divide your frame into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Then position your subject of interest at one of the four points where the lines intersect.
Rule of Thirds allows for lead space and proper headroom without leaving much empty, or negative space in your shot. Read below for more on composition.
Shoot more shots than you’ll end up using in your final edit, but don't over-shoot and create more work for yourself. A common ratio is ten shots for every one that appears in the final edit. Or ten minutes of raw footage for every finished minute that is edited. Essentially, don’t leave your location lacking key shots. Shoot each subject more than once. For example, don’t get one shot of the building, but instead shoot it from multiple angles. Take the time to get as many shots as you can while on location because you might not have a second chance!
Below is a sequence of shots taken at CU's Varsity Pond. The subject is turtles that are taking in the sun on a beautiful day. These shots are among some 15 that were shot within a 10-minute period. What you get out of a variety of shots is a sequence that can be edited to tell a story. Your editing will go much faster if you shoot sequences.
When getting these shots of the turtles, it's important to get a variety of angles. Such variety is what creates compelling sequences.
Determine the best shooting angles
first - then photograph.
Get Depth in your shots
How can you make your shots look interesting and unique? When you first arrive on location, take the time to walk around your subject for a couple minutes and look for the best angles. Don't photograph your subjects head-on, making them look flat and uninteresting. Instead, find angles that give your subject depth, giving the illusion of three-dimensions. Be creative. How can objects in the foreground or background help tell your story or complement the subject? Do you see the use of diagonals in the these shots? Diagonals provide depth.
The difference between a two-dimensional versus a three-dimensional world is depth! The TV picture is technically a two-dimensional image, but a good photographer creates the illusion of depth by manipulating the angles in the shot until you see diagonal lines of direction.
Imagine you’re standing on the footpath facing Macky Auditorium face-on so that the footpath leads directly down the middle part of your shot. The image is symmetrical, meaning that you can bisect the shot into two equal halves. But symmetrical shots, even though some can be attractive, are almost always two-dimensional, and can be rather dull. Remember, in TV you’re dealing with a three-dimensional world, but you have to find a way to create the illusion of three dimensions in a two-dimensional medium. A way to achieve depth with the Macky example is to position the camera off to one side of the footpath, allowing the footpath to cut diagonally across the screen. You can find depth wherever you can achieve diagonal lines.
Watch TV shows and you’ll find that, almost always, an establishing shot of a skyscraper (or any tall building) is shot so that it cuts diagonally across the screen rather than going straight up. When the camera looks up at the object, the diagonal provides more depth, which makes the shot more interesting to look at. You can apply similar angles to any subject. Try it!
Hold each shot for a minimum of 10 seconds
When shooting a static scene, such as landscapes, ALWAYS shoot at least 10 seconds of footage. This length gives you with more options when you edit. If there is action in the shot, continue shooting until the action has reached its logical conclusion, which will give you an edit point. Then find out whether the subject will repeat the motion so that you can get shots of it from different angles. Exploit repetitive action in your subject so that you can get different angles of the same action, which you can then reassemble in post-production as a matching action sequence.
Composition - Finding balance in your shots
Your shots should have the appropriate lead space, head room and balance as discussed below:
- Lead Space (also known as 'nose-room')
When the subject faces a certain direction, give them somewhere to go. Don't "box them into the frame." Also, anytime the subject is walking you should always maintain some lead space. Remember, lead space can be applied to any moving object, but also to objects that don’t move such as stereo speakers and TV sets, or a parked car! Anything with direction has lead space.
- Head Room -
Always compose with the appropriate head room. Too much headroom renders the space above the head as nothing more than dead air. Too little boxes the person within the frame of the shot.
- Balance -
Compose your shots so they have balance. Use angles in the scene to your advantage. But use your gut instinct. Ask yourself if the shot feels lopsided. Think of a see-saw: if one side of your shot has weight, the other side should also have some weight to counterbalance.
· Objects that appear close to the camera carry more weight.
· Objects in focus carry more weight and also draw the viewer’s attention.
The camera should ALWAYS be at eye-level with the subject unless, in those few instances, you're trying to be artistic. A person looks larger than life when you look up at them and somewhat diminished and insignificant when the camera looks down. Any artistic shots should be used sparingly and appropriately. Use your best judgement.
Choose a background that complements the subject or is relevant to the topic. In other words, if your subject is talking about horses, then they should be interviewed with horses in the background (if possible) rather than in an office setting.
Use a Tripod
Anytime the camera is not moving you should ALWAYS use a tripod. Buildings or landscapes require rock steady shots. But even shots where there are objects in motion, such as traffic congestion on Broadway, require that you use a tripod.
You should also use a tripod when doing sit-down interviews, unless they are person-on-the-street interviews. See the exception below.
- Hand-held Shots?
Hand-held shots convey a sense of rawness or immediacy to your video. They may represent a particular point-of-view or, taken from a distance, might appear voyeuristic. Depending on your skill level you are perfectly fine to conduct person-on-the-street interviews hand-held. Be sure that you’re zoomed out all the way so that the wide angle portion of the lens helps minimize any of your movements. If you are unable to hold the camera steady, then use a tripod. Never try to do a hand-held shot when zoomed in. The narrow field of view in a telephoto lens is sensitive to even the slightest bump, even to your breathing!
- Pans and Tilts
I recommend that you NEVER pan or tilt while using the camera hand-held. Use a tripod, but even a tripod doesn’t guarantee that you won’t have any jittery moves. If you can’t do a satisfactory pan or tilt without obvious jitters, then you shoot static shots only (where the camera is not moving). Get a few takes so you have at least two that are smooth enough to use. Don’t give up after the first try.
Tips for Panning and Tilting
- Padding - pad out the video at the front and back end of your move (pan or tilt). At the beginning of the pan or tilt, hold the shot for a few seconds before the move. At the end of the move, hold the shot another few seconds.
- The shot at the end of the pan or tilt should always reveal something more interesting than what is seen at the beginning of the move. Keep in mind that there needs to be a purpose for the move. Keep revealing new information as the story progresses.
- Shoot more than one take of the pan or tile to give yourself more options when editing. While editing, choose only the best take.
Change your angles often
You are encouraged to change angles as often as possible. When the camera is fixed in one position, you can change perspectives of the shot by zooming from wide angle to telephoto, to get a wide shot, medium shot, and close-up. When you have the ability to change the camera's location, then move around the subject to select other appropriate angles. Be creative and find the most compelling angle!
For example, when shooting a person working at a computer in an office scene, don't just show their back to the camera. Move the camera so we can see their face. When there's little room in front of the person to put the camera (such as having a wall block your access as is often the case), then get creative! Sometimes placing the camera on the person's desk or tabletop can provide some unique perspectives, even if you can’t fit yourself into the small space behind. Also, don’t forget the obvious close-up shots of the hands typing, or shots of the computer screen so that you can create a sequence.
Creating a Sequence
I can’t emphasize this point enough. You need a variety of shots – wide shots, medium shots, close-ups, that are taken from multiple angles. In the industry, photographers will shoot in the following manner:
Wide shot, tight, tight, tight!
Think like an editor. When you get one shot ask yourself what shot comes next that would make logical sense when you edit the two together. You can’t edit all wide shots together (well, you could, but the sequence would look dull or jarring). A more compelling sequence happens when you edit a wide shot followed by a medium shot. In sports, if you limit yourself to mostly wide shots, and then edit them together, you end up with jarring jump cuts. Cutaway shots, such as the crowd or the scoreboard, will help you avoid jump cuts.
Include shots of people in your story
A photographer is a keen observer, looking for shots that grab your attention. You can find expressions in people that say all that needs to be said about your story, helping to minimize the words you use. You might get a shot of someone walking along the footpath and then suddenly they look up. What are they looking at? As a photographer and editor, you decide how to answer this question. You can get a shot of a bird or a squirrel, maybe even a plane. When the person looks up, you can then cut to the shot of the squirrel! In this example, the shot of the squirrel would be considered a point-of-view (POV) shot. There’s your sequence, which moves the story forward!
For another example, let’s say you’re covering a house fire. It’s not enough to just get shots of the fire. Get shots of those witnessing the fire. The expression in their eyes tell us everything.
To zoom or not to zoom!
Amongst amateurs, zooms are abundant. But professionals are judicious when it comes to zooms. If you must zoom, then make sure it’s for a good reason. Zooms are meant to focus on a part of the image where you’re trying to direct the viewer’s attention. For example, a koala in the trees: The koala is hard to spot in the wide shot, but when you zoom in, the koala in the tree becomes apparent. As with pans and tilts, treat a zoom as a moving shot. Shoot a few seconds of padding at the beginning and end of your zoom. Try the zoom a few times until you are satisfied with the motion. The motion must be smooth, not jittery. If you can’t accomplish a smooth zoom, then don’t use it in your edit!
Get good audio (absolutely a MUST!!!)
Audiences are less tolerant of bad audio then they are bad video, which is why getting good audio is a bit more important than getting good video. For the most part you’re limited to the equipment provided in your camera bag. The stick microphone is adequate for most needs. However, when conducting interviews, try to compose the microphone outside the frame of the shot so that it doesn’t become a visual distraction.
To get good audio the microphone should be positioned just under the person’s chin. The farther away the microphone, the more you pick up environmental noise, and the worse the audio. Use the audio meter in your camera's viewfinder to judge good audio levels. Make sure it's not too high, which can make the audio sound distorted. ALWAYS WEAR HEADPHONES TO MONITOR THE QUALITY OF THE AUDIO!!! Simply knowing that you have levels is not enough to know whether the audio is good. How do you know whether there is static, or if you're hearing too much of the air conditioning? ALWAYS DO A SOUND CHECK BEFORE YOU START RECORDING. Make sure the audio is strong and has clarity to it.
When getting natural sound (NATS) for b-roll, don't forget to check the camera's audio settings to make sure you're using the on-board microphone. NATS that are missing in your final edit becomes quite obvious, and calls attention to your production work. Make sure you mix the NATS appropriately with your reporter track and sound bites.