SUMMARY OF READINGS & JUMPING INTO VIDEO
All cameras, whether they are a pinhole cardboard box or a Sony HDC 2000, work on the same principle. The lens directs light onto a surface which renders a pattern formed by the differences in brightness and color. Each exposure to light forms a record, or in other words captures an image, then stores it. This series of images, also known as frames, are then played at a high speed or frame rate, and SHAZAM! you have the magic ( illusion ) of a moving image. The following post outlines some key concepts from Bare Bones Camera Course for Film and Video. I am sharing my takeaways for shooting digital, as that is the type of recording I will be primarily working with, but there is helpful information in this book for those using traditional film as well.
Exposure is the amount of light that comes through the lens and hits the surface. On traditional cameras the surface is film, on digital cameras the surface is a CCD chip. The part of the camera that controls the amount of light is called the aperture, it opens or closes similarly to an eyelid or a dilating pupil. The aperture uses F/stops to determine how much light to allow. These settings are constructed so that as you go from f/1 to f/22 and beyond, each stop admits half as much light as the previous unit. The higher the number, the tighter the opening and thus less light. T/stops are the same as F/stops except they are a universal measure and not relative to the device. T/stops are considered more accurate.
For consistency, measure the light in your production area with an incident light meter. You may be shooting at different parts of the day or over several days from different angles and the light may change. Light meters only measure shades of grey, from black to white, so only lightness and darkness. They do not react to the color of a subject. To use a light meter, go to your subject, hold it in front (of him, her, it) and point it at your camera. It will provide you with the correct F/stop. This makes perfect sense as what we physically see is really just light reflecting off surfaces.
Light is not the same everywhere, light actually contains hues and can be considered cool or warm. It is important to be aware of the type of light you are shooting in as it will be rendered onto your frames. Color Temperature is a way to identify different colors of light sources. It is measured in degrees Kelvin, after Britain’s Lord Kelvin, who devised the system. The higher the K value, the cooler the light. Color movie films are manufactured for two kinds of light: 3200K-tungsten (interior) and 5400K – daylight (exterior). It is possible to adjust the captured color temperature by fitting the camera with lense filters.
Lenses come in 3 basic range categories: Wide angle for long shots, Normal for medium shots and Telephoto for close ups. While we are on the subject of close ups, there is a special way to focus a zoom lense. Get the camera in maximum telephoto position, then focus the lens even if all you see are pores on the subjects face. After that, zoom out wider and find your final framing, the subject should remain sharp and in focus at any zoom setting.
Depth of field refers to the area in front of the camera in which everything looks sharp and in focus. That varies based on the camera and lense.
Camera movement terminology is really three basic types: ZOOMS, PANS and TILTS. Zooms is when the camera moving toward or away from the subject. In 3D modeling or coding think of it as looking along the z-index. Pans are left to right, right to left horizontally. Tilts are up and down or vertically. I guess this originates from the practice of having a camera mounted on a stabilizing rig (like a a dolly or tripod), so in order to look up or down, you “tilt” the stand. There are two rules of moving the camera: 1. Begin and end every move with a well composed static shot. 2, Always move your body as you operate the camera from an uncomfortable to a comfortable position.
Now that we have the basic mechanics out of the way, we can move on the what interest me the most: Composition.
As a designer, how I present any image is of critical importance to the message. As a videographer or filmmaker, how you control or “frame” the shot is your composition. Tom Schroeppel points to the importance of storytelling in camerawork “…the persons who will look at the pictures you take – will only see what you decide to show them. This selectivity is the basis of all camerawork. The decisions you make will shape reality as perceived by your viewers.”
As the camera person, it is your responsibility to help your viewers understand and follow the story.
Provide them with eye candy, pleasing images that are interesting, but are not so difficult to process that they distract from the primary plot or message you wish to communicate. How you ask? Well, here are some basic guidelines. I call these guidelines because any of these can be disregarded for effect if needed for your specific project. First, use a tripod, keep your footage smooth and steady, for the most part, people appreciate a nice fluid level shot. Use “rule of thirds” where you divide your image area into a grid of nine fields to place your subject. Using the rule of thirds allows you to let your subjects breathe by allowing negative space to the left, right or below the subject according to where they are placed. Using the grid allows the camera person to seek balance of masses in their shots and safely introduce dramatic angles without cutting off something important to the story.
Balance isn’t just for shapes and sizes in your frame, it applies to color and contrast as well. In addition, finding environmental and natural “frames within frames” or objects that help focus the eye on the subject helps. Leading lines, perform a similar function in the sense that the camera finds background or foreground elements that lead into the subject.
Our tools for creating great compositions have really improved in the digital age. We no longer have to squint through camera viewfinders, our compositions can be seen on large monitors and screens like ipads. We no longer have to hope we captured what we needed, we can instantly play back what was just recorded. It gives me whole new appreciation for the craftsmanship of the masters who worked in 65mm to super8.
Finally, don’t be afraid to “stage” your scenes. When you arrive at the production site, take a few moments to walk around and find the best possible strategy to frame your shot. You can even move some things like furniture, lights, or even omit distracting elements by covering them up or placing something more pleasing in front. Have fun, put on your artist beret and get your fingers in a rectangular brackets. For example, if you are doing an interview and there is an ugly electrical panel by the person’s desk, you may want to put a plant in front of it or place a cork board with some “easter eggs” with meaningful items (ahem The Usual Suspects). The more skilled you are at using these techniques, the better your ability to control tone, shape reality and perception and tell better stories.
A great way of learning and exercising your camera abilities is to shoot montages. A montage is a series of related shots used to condense time or distance, set a mood or summarize information. Good montages utilize a variety of angles, compositions and shot set ups to create interest and hold the audience’s attention. The New York Film Academy identifies 12 essential tried and true camera shots that you can use to plan your project. As you visualize your storyboard, work with your cinematographer or set up your shoot, these approaches have been the visual methodology of the masters.
- The Aerial Shot – art from above
- The Establishing Shot – establishes location
- The Close Up (CU)
- The Extreme Close Up (XCU)
- The Medium shot (MS) – captures upper torso of a character
- The Dolly Zoom – moves the camera toward or away from the subject
- The Over The Shoulder Shot – usually used in conversations between characters pointing at the speakers face
- The Low Angle Shot
- The High Angle Shot
- The Two Shot – medium shot with two characters in frame
- The Wide or Long Shot
- The Master Shot (character driven “bed” of scene) – This shot captures the whole scene and much of the action, it is usually the shot that runs the length of the scene and is used to orient the audience as other shots are intercut or overlaid to tell the story.
Video Pre-Production Planning Check-List – 11 Steps to a Successful Project
Planning your project is just as important as understanding light, knowing how to operate your camera and forming great compositions. Please consider all these factors before you begin production, not only will it save you time and energy in post, it will guide the effort and elevate the purpose and final product. Jim Foxx provides the following steps to a successful project. We figured you are exhausted after learning the twelve shots, so we have you a break and dropped one:
- Define your business objective – What do you want to happen when people finish watching your video?
- Define your audience – Who are they? What does this audience care about and how does your product or service relate to those concerns? You may want to get your UX colleagues involved in this one.
- Develop your message – What are you saying with this piece? What specific problem am I trying to solve and how do I communicate the solution to that problem?
- What’s your budget?
- Planned Distribution How are you going to get people to watch your video? This is a critical question for the piece. The medium impacts the creative choices you will make in telling the story, watching a video on a mobile phone is different from an iMax theater experience.
- Concept – What’s the big idea? What is going to happen in the video that is going to communicate your message or tell the story. What effects or techniques will be used and how does that support your message? Also critical to your creative choices.
- Treatment and Storyboard. – I would not advise starting construction on a building without a blueprint, the same goes for directors. Writing for tubularinsights.com Mark Robertson urges anyone planning a video to create a storyboard first “Storyboarding is a visual representation, using drawings and illustrations to map out the flow of your video. This should always be done before you film anything. This is your chance to create a blueprint, a solid plan that everyone on your development team can follow and agree on. This is also the chance to hash out details, specific shots, and get rid of any ideas that will end up being horrible on film. If you don’t do this first, any mistakes or changes to the continuity of the film have to be edited out. That will lower the quality of the film, possibly drastically, as well as make your editor your worst enemy.” Some say that Alfred Hitchcock meticulously planned his films through storyboards, so much so that it is rumored he never needed to look through the viewfinder and felt his real work was “finished” when the boards were completed and finalized. Check them out here.
Interestingly, here is Saul Bass describes how he story boarded “Psycho” and the creative process with Alfred Hitchcock. Mr. Bass discusses how he requested close ups, frame within frames and leading lines. The video itself uses a high angle and medium shot.
- Length of Video – What is the time limit? or How long do you need to get to the point of your video?
- Approvals – Who are the stakeholders and decision makers? What is the measurement of success?
- Pre-production meetings – Who’s input/perspective would really be of value in the planning process? Please note, this isn’t necessarily the decision makers or the producers, it may be the least influential but the most critical to a solid production like make-up artist, location scout or special effects supervisor. Directors need to consider many different perspectives to ensure a effective shoot and post production.
- Scheduling and production planning – Logistics, logistics, logistics! Permits, schedules, crew, talent, the works. Trust me, they don’t have that long running list of names after the movie because they liked them so much.
Yadda, yadda, yadda…JUST SHOW ME!
OK, OK, you don’t have to be pushy about it. Please find below some video examples demonstrating principles of composition. Enjoy!
Leading Lines – 52 Frames, Yosef Adest
In this quick breakdown, Yosef Adest from 52Frames provides analysis of examples from photo submissions from the 52Frames community, as well as beautiful cinematic examples from recent films and television. There are so many examples of leading lines in this short overview it is hard to count.
I would argue that the “Better Call Saul” mailbox scene is actually frame in frame, but that is just me. Perhaps it is both leading and framing.
Leading Room – Motion Array, Jordan Dueck
(see the whole thing or skip to 4:00 for leading room)
In this video we explore a few of the more basic and foundational rules of composition. These include the rule of thirds, symmetry, leading lines, leading room, depth, and size of subject. This is a great overview of all the rules. Well explained and reinforces the readings and other materials.
I especially like the leading room explanation and visual examples because it made me realize that where you place the subject to the extreme left or right of the image and combine that with movement, you are also saying something about that character. For instance, if you want to show hikers leading and making great time, you may choose to place them at the far right of the shot (moving left to right) to make the woods almost seem as they are trailing. However, if you wanted to emphasize that the hikers are tired and falling behind you may want to place them on the left of the composition (also moving left to right) creating the impression that the woods are a formidable obstacle and a force that is holding the hikers back. The leading room becomes part of the story.
Frames within Frames – Paul Thomas Anderson: Frames Within Frames – Philip Brubaker for Fandor
Philip Brubaker explains how Anderson brilliantly uses doorframes, hallways, windows and other naturally occurring frames on location to act as a container to his characters. While not always conspicuous, he removes the audio from the clips and isolated the shots to make the visual frames stand out.
Balance and Symmetry – The Master: A Rorschach Test – Jacob T. Swinney
Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012) has a unique visual presence that can be rather difficult to fully identify. A visual motif seems to be characters framed dead-center, or straight lines creating a “folding-point” down the middle of the frame. In this video, Swinney chooses several instances from the film with such symmetry and then mirrored half the frame, using the exact center as the flipping point. Due to Anderson’s use of symmetry, the results are reminiscent of a Rorschach test–half the frame serving as the ink and the middle of the frame serving as the fold. Once folded over, the “ink” creates an exact mirrored image of itself, birthing an entirely new picture. This can only pass the test if the cinematographer was paying close attention to the balance of the masses, for instance on the park bench, there is actually another person sitting next to him but tthe shot is so well proportioned, when split, it looks like it is just him.
Music: “Sweetness of Freddie” by Jonny Greenwood
Composition and framing for film. RULE OF THIRDS vs THE GOLDEN RATIO. Cinematic aspect ratios.
by Biscuitsalive (real name unposted) who is a illustrator, animator and filmmaker based out of the UK.
This is an in depth look at framing and composition for film and video. I added it because it provides the best explanation of ratios I have ever seen and that truly impacts your composition. This is well crafted, easy to understand and would recommend to anyone as an introduction to this very complex area of film production.
Intro – 00:00
Aspect ratio – 00:38
Aspect ratio for cinema – 01:13
Aspect ratio for TV – 03:12
Composition – 03:42
Rule of thirds – 04:18
The golden ratio – 05:08
Examples of compositions ROT vs Golden R/Phi grid –
16 by 9 – 7:15
2.35 to 1 – 10:15
Summary – 13:06
OK, so this post is already insanely long and I will consider breaking all this information into smaller chunks but I only get a week in grad school to become an expert….. so just watch this video as a review, it has everything we just covered and I just wanted to throw it in…because I just liked it. Well, that is all, if you are interested in learning more, there are references and resources below. Good luck!
Mastering Composition + Cinematography with Will Smith by D4Darious
Featured image: storyboard by Saul Bass, movie stills from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”
Shawn is an Information Technology manager in Washington D.C. and a graduate student at Quinnipiac University pursuing his masters in Interactive Media and Communications.
How to Set the F-Stop on a Camera for Any Photo. (2019, April 03). Retrieved from https://improvephotography.com/49813/how-to-set-the-f-stop-on-a-camera-for-any-photo
19 photography composition tips you need to know to be awesome. (2017, September 15). Retrieved from https://thelenslounge.com/photography-composition-tips
Photography – Rules of Composition. (2019, April 04). Retrieved from http://grayposters.weebly.com/photography—rules-of-composition.html
Video Pre-Production Planning Checklist – 11 Steps to a Successful Project. (2013, April 17). Retrieved from https://onemarketmedia.com/2013/04/16/video-pre-production-planning-check-list-11-steps-to-a-successful-project
Acting Tips: 12 Camera Shots Every Actor Should Know. (2015, March 05). Retrieved from https://www.nyfa.edu/student-resources/12-most-popular-camera-shots-actors-should-know
Storyboarding Tips: How to Plan, Visualize, & Storyboard Your Video. (2012, June 06). Retrieved from https://tubularinsights.com/storyboarding-tips
Myers, S. (2018). “Hitchcock’s Storyboards from 13 Classic Films”. Go Into The Story. Retrieved from https://gointothestory.blcklst.com/hitchcocks-storyboards-from-13-classic-films-239a2a40f2de
Schroeppel, T., & DeLaney, C. (2015). The Bare Bones Camera Course for Film and Video. Allworth. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Bare-Bones-Camera-Course-Video/dp/1621535266
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