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21 Common Mistakes DSLR Video Shooters Make

DSLR Video Rig
DSLR Video Rig image courtesy Wikipedia

With the power provided to them by the latest video capable DSLR cameras, many young photographers are now into shooting video. But for a beginner with little or no prior experience at video shooting, capturing decent video footage with a DSLR camera could be challenging. A major portion of aspiring film makers feel disappointed at their initial efforts and quit. And the remaining masters the art via trial and error; committing many mistakes and learning things the hard way. I admit that mastering DSLR video has a very steep learning curve. But you need not make mistakes to learn them, you could instead learn from mistakes committed by others. Here’s a list of most common mistakes made by DSLR video shooters so that we could learn the craft and minimize the chances of us repeating those in our projects.

21 common mistakes DSLR Video Shooters Make

1. Using DLSR On the Wrong Type of Project

DSLR cameras have great video shooting capabilities, but being a camera not primarily designed to shoot video, they have their fair share of disadvantages; lack of autofocus is one such thing. Trying to shoot live presentations where the subject moves a lot and shooting events that are longer than your DSLR could handle could land you in trouble. As photographers you should understand your equipment thoroughly, understand their strengths and weaknesses and capitalize on their strengths by using them on the right kind of job.

2. Not Using Stabilization Solutions for DLSR

DSLRs are very compact and light weight cameras when compared to dedicated video cameras. They also do not have a handle like camcorders. While being compact and lightweight could be an advantage in some respects, when it comes to getting steady shots, it is a huge disadvantage. You just cannot shoot video handholding a DSLR and expect decent footage; there are too many axis rotations working against you. Always use some stabilization solution like a shoulder rig or better a steady cam to control camera movement.

3. Working With Auto-Exposure

Most beginners rely on the camera's auto exposure function to shoot video. But this will only result in evenly exposed shots which fail to convey the mood of the scene. The camera’s meter will always try to achieve a proper exposure; but depending upon your scene and story you might want an entirely different feel to your shot. To shoot video on DSLR cameras one should understand how exposure works and use it creatively to tell your story effectively.

4. Get it Right in Camera.

Correcting video in post-production is a much complicated affair than correcting still photographs. Video editors have very little margin for manipulating the footage and certain corrections like cropping or enlarging could be very taxing.

5. Don't Shoot Verticals.

Don't turn the camera sideways; there aren't too many vertical TV sets and monitors.

6. Sensor Dust

Always check your sensor for dust (lenses too); unlike still photographs, retouching video involves a lot of time and effort not to mention the costs.

7. Shooting Wide Open All The Time

One of the biggest advantages that DSLR cameras have over camcorders is the ability to achieve super shallow depth of field. Most of us love this effect, but it is easy to get carried away and overuse the same. Remember you should employ depth of field creatively and use shallow depth of field only for those situations that suits it. Certain scenes like an establishing shot where the filmmaker is trying to convey the context of the story to the viewer require large depth of field. Use your better judgment when choosing depth of field required for your shots.

8. Using Movement in Every Shot

This is by far the most common mistake committed by those who are new to video. They tilt, pan or zoom in every single shot. But one should understand the craft of video making works differently.  It is usually a sequence of one wide shot (which serves as an establishment shot), change location and take a  medium shot, change location and take a close shot. Zooming is a technique never used and panning is reserved for panoramic views to convey a sense of place; also done only on sturdy tripods with fluid heads in a slow, smooth way.

9. Controlling Exposure With Shutter Speed

Unlike still photography you do not have much control over shutter speed when shooting video. The rule of thumb for DSLR video is to calculate your shutter speed by doubling your frame rate. So if you are shooting with a frame rate of 25fps then you’ll have to set your shutter speed to 1/50. Otherwise the motion will look wrong on playback, strobe-y if the shutter speed it's too long, choppy it it's too fast.

Once you have set your shutter speed, you control the exposure either by adjusting aperture (or using faster prime lenses) or by adjusting ISO. To knock down light levels video shooters use ND filters.

10. Using the Built-In Mic

The audio recording capabilities or DSLR cameras are poor and could not be depended for any professional purposes. It is better to use a dedicated audio solution when shooting video with DSLR cameras.

11. Don’t Turn Camera Mic Off

It is always a good idea to capture audio using the built in mic of the camera even if you are using independent sound capture devices. The audio captured by the camera could be helpful when you need reference points to sync the video and sound in post.

12. Not Providing Accurate Clues for Audio Sync

You should always provide accurate audio sync clues which the editors could use to sync the video and audio captured separately. A simple method is to clap your hands in front of the lens (you should be able to see them in focus as the palms touch), this will provide a visual clue in the footage matching an audio spike that you can line up in post.

13. Incorrect Picture Styles

Familiarize yourselves with the various picture styles your camera has preset. It is better to choose Flat, Neutral or Faithful settings for achieving professional results white shooting video. This will ensure that your video footage is not overly contrasted or saturated and any enhancements needed could be done later during post.

14. Playing Solo

The lightweight and compact DSLR camera with excellent low light shooting abilities makes many people think that they could handle it single handedly. But remember two is always better than one and having others to assist you will not only make your job easier but also provide creative suggestions that could improve the final quality.

15. Craving for More Gear

Most beginners crave for more and more gear, assuming newer camera bodies and lenses would make them a better shooter. But in reality the quality of video produced by an entry level DSLR available today is much better than some of the professional video cameras available 2 years ago so don’t just sit around and wait for more gear, start shooting now with whatever you've got.

16. Don’t skimp on your shots. 

You will need lots of shots to effectively tell your story, shoot from different angle using different focal length lenses, you should ensure that you are providing the editor with enough options to better narrate the story.

17. Let the Camera Roll

Don’t think in “moments in time” and start shooting video too late or stop shooting too soon, let the camera linger a little bit longer.

18. Don’t Forget About Sequencing

Don’t shoot video with the mindset of a still photographer. Think about the movie in your mind’s eye. Think about the flow of the story, what are we trying to tell with this shot, what was there in the previous shot and what is it that we are going to tell next? Always shoot sequences with a beginning, middle and end. If not you’ll end up with a disconnected mess that won’t be easy to edit.

19. Not Keeping Track of Your Frame Rate

Always keep track of your frame rate and how that will affect workflow and editing.

20. Not Choosing the Right Output Type and Format

Consider the intended final use of your video. There are dozens of file formats and codecs in video; you should choose the one the best suits your target audience and viewing platforms.

21. Not Backing Up Your Footage

Back up your video footage to at least two different hard drives. A crashed hard drive has crushed the future of many beginner filmmakers. Just image you having to tell a client that you can’t deliver the project because your computer crashed and you didn't make a backup.
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