When transitioning from an audio production to a video production, there are a lot of key changes you need to consider in order for your project to be successful. No matter the project, however, audio is still very important, as it helps give your video that extra sense of professionalism.
Just like with audio, there are many different types of video projects, and the success of your project will depend on how well you know/learn shot composition and how much time you spend on pre-production.
Over the next two weeks I will be working on making a visual montage, and by the end of this post, you will see my full idea and pre-production plan fleshed out. Before this, however, I want to go over some major points about pre production and camera basics so each of you reading can get a better understanding on how to operate a camera in case you have any video projects of your own.
The first chapter of Tom Schroeppel’s Bare Bones Camera Course for Film and Video focuses on camera basics. The camera is the best digital representation of the human eye, though it was not always digital. There were cameras that used film strips and the light captured by the lenses would burn on a film strip and create an image instead of getting electrically recorded on a sensor. Whichever the case, because the lenses are shaped convexly, the light is actually captured upside down, and it is not until the image is processed that the camera flips it upright for us to see. There are also ways to control the camera’s light intake (aka exposure) by controlling the circular door inside the lens known as the aperture. This is a ring that controls how much light is let in, and is measured in f/stops. An aperture at f/2 is at one of its widest settings and lets in a lot of light, whereas an aperture at f/22 is very small and lets in very little light, thus darkening the image. You can also control the color temperature of the camera which allows you to film proficiently at different locations, be it inside a college dorm or out in an open field. Color temperature is measured in Kelvin, and there are color temperature filters that can help set this measurement for you based on where you are filming. These are under your camera’s white balance settings, or the camera’s ability to represent white the way it is represented in reality. Your camera also has a built in light meter that measures how overexposed or underexposed the shot is (or if the shot is too bright/dark). You can control this with your aperture, your shutter speed, and your ISO (electrical light being amplified into your image that can increase/decrease the amount of light needed for a successful shot).
Lenses are also really important when discussing cameras, and without them, you would not be able to produce a shot. There are three types of lenses: normal, wide angle, and telephoto. A normal lens takes a picture that would be the same scale as what the human eye can see. For a full-frame camera, this is about a 50mm focal length (the length between camera’s sensor and the “point of convergence” in the lens, and about 35mm for an APS-C camera, which is what I have (photofocus). A wide angle lens is a lens that has a smaller focal length, such as 24mm or below, and can capture a wide area even in tight spaces, and is best when handheld is required. A telephoto lens is anything with a longer focal length than normal, such as 70mm, and is best for capturing subjects at a far distance. You should then consider focusing your subject. This will ensure that the subject is sharp and thus pleasing to look at. If you have a zoom lens and are using manual focus (which can be preferable over autofocus due to reliability), the best way to capture focus is to zoom all the way in on your subject, turn the focus ring until the subject is sharp, and then zoom out to your desired focal length. The last topic for this first chapter is depth of field. This is the amount of space in front of your camera that is/can be in focus. You can control the size and distance of your depth of field. If you want a really shallow depth of field (a really sharp subject with the background being quite blurry, a popular aesthetic amongst photographers), increase your focal length, widen your aperture, and move your subject as physically close to the camera as possible.
Schroeppel spends chapter two discussing camera composition, and emphasizes that we, the camera people, have the power to choose who/what we shoot and how we shoot it, which will undoubtedly alter our viewer’s perception of the video based on what we show them. There are a few tips in order to get the cleanest composition. The first is to used a tripod whenever possible. This will help make sure your shots are steady, as camera shake can be distractive. Next is the rule of thirds. This rule divides the image into nine equal boxes, with the suggestion being to place the subject at any of the four intersection points to have a more exciting shot. This can usually allow for head room, or giving the subject plenty of space in the frame to look. You can balance your frame a few ways: adding another subject in the frame, balancing the color, and brightening your subject. There are also many ways to add depth to your photos: you can capture your subject at an angle, frame your subject within a frame, or even use leading lines to directly lead a viewer’s eyes toward the subject. Whichever way you compose your photo is ultimately up to you, but before you start shooting, it is best to walk around your setting and get a feel for what compositions look best.
Chapter five discusses camera moves. The three main moves are zooms, pans, and tilts, and each can be used individually or as a combination of each other. Zooming can draw focus if zooming in, or reveal new info if zooming out. Pans are horizontal camera moves and tilts are vertical camera moves. It is best to start and end each camera move with a static shot in order to make things easy for the editor, and in order to make things easy for the cinematographer, it is best if they started the camera move in the most uncomfortable position and ended in their most comfortable spot. Regardless, your move must have a purpose. If not, there is no point to moving the camera. Chapter six briefly goes over montages, which are a series or shots that are related and cut rather quickly in order to save time and summarize information. These work best when the shots in the montage cause something at the end, such as a product being made, and the shots within the montage work best when they are composed differently from each other.
Aside from camera composition, pre-production is also vital in ensuring a successful video project. Jimm Fox goes over 12 steps for a successful project, and mentions that the amount of effort you put in your pre-production will determine the success of your project. Here are the steps:
- Define your business objective. Know exactly what you want to accomplish with this video, or else your video will fail.
- Define and narrow your audience. You’ll have a greater chance for success if you have a specific target audience and cater your video towards the audience.
- Share your budget. Filmmakers and production companies cannot understand the scope of your project if you do not share a budget with them.
- Develop key messages. This is the most important step for a marketing standpoint, as it asks you what you want your audience to know about your product/service and why they should pursue it. You need to know what your audience should remember after watching your video.
- Make a creative brief. This helps when there’s a lot of people trying to collaborate and come up with ideas on a single project.
- Come up with your idea. This is where you create and brainstorm ideas for your project. Why are you making this video in the first place? And what purpose is this going to serve?
- Treatment. This is a one page overview of the entire project. It should be written before any key steps such as storyboards, as the treatment is easier to present to people for approval.
- Storyboard. A step-by-step visualization of the entire project and specifics regarding flow, structure, and addition of elements.
- Plan your distribution. You need to figure out how you’re going to get people to watch your video. Is it getting broadcasted or will you have to pay for promotion on social networks?
- Figure out the video’s length. This helps determine what information is most important to stay in the video and which information can be sacrificed in order to keep the video at a digestible length.
- Get approval if needed. If you’re working for a client, get approval from the higher-ups on your video plan before filming and editing, or else they may want something changed at the very last minute.
- Have pre-production meetings. The amount of meetings depends on the scale of the project, but the better the collaboration is, the better the project will turn out.
- Have strong production plans. Consider many aspects that can make filming go wrong, such as locations, permits, talent, weather, and scheduling.
Mark Robertson dives a bit deeper into storyboarding, emphasizing its importance before any video shoot. If you don’t storyboard, any continuity errors or mistakes in the shots will need to be edited out, which can be a huge pain depending on the type of error. You do not have to be artistic because it is just your production team that will see these, but it is important to be specific, such as including technical details, set location, and time of day for each shot.
Lastly, even if you are an actor, it is important that you know filmmaking techniques, as suggested by Helen Kantilaftis. This can help you appear more adaptive and stand out to casting agents. First is an aerial shot, which is filmed in the sky. Next is the establishing shot, which establishes the location of the upcoming scene. The close-up is the most important shot for an actor, as it has the actor’s full face in frame. This shot helps up the production quality and the actor’s ability to get into character for the shot can make for break it. The extreme close up is even tighter, and thus not as vital because of how uncomfortably close it feels. It is used for intense or intimate emotions. The medium shot is mainly used in dialogue scenes when the body language of a character is also necessary. The dolly zoom is one of my personal favorites as a cinematographer, and it’s where you move the camera relative to the actor in one direction (towards or away from) and rotate the zoom lens in the opposite direction at the same time (zoom out or zoom in). If done correctly, the subject should stay relatively the same size while the background either increases or decreases behind him. The over-the-shoulder shot is a basic shot used mainly for conversation scenes, with the camera being placed over the shoulder of the person not speaking. A low angle shot films low to the ground and looks up at an actor, making them feel more powerful or heroic. Inversely, a high angle shot films down on an actor from a high spot, and makes them feel inferior or weak. A two shot is a simple medium shot with two characters in frame and can be used to highlight a relationship. A wide shot gets the entire character’s body in frame and captures the surrounding environment as well, though the focus is mainly placed on the character. The last shot is the master shot, which every filmmaker (not just actor) should know. It is the main shot that captures every actor in a scene and has the entire scene played out, which is really helpful as a basis for cutting to more specific shots.
In order to gain some inspiration for what types of compositions I want in my visual montage, I have chosen a few clips that have very strong visual compositions.
This film has a lot of fantastic moments, but considering it is an action movie that has an entirely new twist, a lot of the shots have very complex compositions in order to achieve Nolan’s vision. That being said, this sequence is a nice and slow buildup until the car fight scene, one of the most intense scenes in the movie. It handles depth of field very well. Some shots will shift focus from one driver to the next, but in my example at 1:03, the Russian driver says the trucks are in place, and as he says that, the camera shifts focus from his eyes in the rearview mirror to the trucks ahead in formation.
I did not intend to do another car scene, but when thinking of cool compositions this came to mind. This race has Parzival drive backwards and thus under the entire track. This is a good example of leading lines because while Parzival is driving, the green holographic lines are forming above him towards the racing grounds, which lead our eyes to seeing the racers getting demolished by a T-Rex and later King Kong. This is clearly what Spielberg wanted us to see because Parzival is looking on at the action as he drives too.
I played a little bit of this game when it came out, and man, video games in general are getting real good with their cutscenes. I chose to include a video game cutscene because they are getting filmed more and more like real films, with actors wearing motion capture suits and cameras recording their scenes and translating them into the game’s rendering engine. As you can see, there are over 3 hours of cutscenes in this game, but I chose one example of a two shot, which is seen at 28:57. Here, Jin is getting ready to take an assassin’s life. The two characters in the shot are Jin Sakai and the assassin on his knees. Since Jin is young here, he is shorter and thus the scene balances well when he moves close to the assassin.
I wanted to include another music video because they are so fun to listen to, but yet no matter what I keep going back to Alan Walker because the music videos he’s made have been really good and very well composed. Take the very last shot of this film, which starts at 3:30. This is a really great example of frame within a frame. There’s a small opening in the cave and the talent is on a rock that allows the viewer to see her be back lit by the light from outside the cave, which enables us to see her figure stand out from the black cave interior, even though she is silhouetted herself. This shot also follows the rule of thirds with the cave exterior being on the upper left intersection point and the shot suddenly becomes balanced when the text credits pop in.
I would now like to show you my idea for the visual montage I plan on making last week, as well as a fun scavenger hunt with photos that portray each of the various composition techniques discussed.
This is my pre production document for my visual montage. It’s really nothing crazy. I wanted to do a location that was not a park. I was thinking a restaurant or some other place that I feel has not been done before, but then this week hit like a runaway train and I had absolutely no time to flesh out any other idea. Luckily, as you’ll see with my pre-production doc and storyboards, this park is quite expansive and I actually can’t wait to show it all to you on video. The story is real simple, as I just try to get people to go to the park by showing them all of the cool scenic views and fun activities, but let me know if you have any suggestions!
This is my visual composition shot list I decided to make. I had to compose shots of various kinds, from unbalanced ones to very balanced ones; to bland ones to bright and colorful ones; to centered ones to ones using the rule of thirds and framing within a frame. All of the human actors in these shots are indeed me, and I took those shots using the camera’s self-timer. I had no choice to ask another subject because of how last-minute this was, but I do understand every camera-related composition technique and am excited to put them to good use for the video montage!