Tips for Shooting Better Video

17

Once upon a time, the ability to shoot video with a digital still camera was one of those “gee whiz” gimmicks camera makers seemed to include just to have a reason to get you to buy a new camera. That hasn’t been true for many years now, as the video quality of many digital still cameras has gotten quite good. Indeed, feature films have been shot entirely or in part using Canon dSLRs. The company really ups the ante by incorporating video capabilities that have been enhanced or simply not available with previous Canon still cameras.

A stellar example is the relatively new Canon Log feature, which was added to the EOS 5D Mark IV in 2017 as an extra-cost upgrade, but which is built in to the R5 and R6. It provides advanced color- and tonal-correcting capabilities to a lightweight but powerful camera that can capture 8K (R5 only), Ultra HD (4K), and HD-quality video while outperforming typical modestly priced digital video camcorders—especially when you consider the range of lenses and other helpful accessories available for it that are not possible with more limited video-only devices.

Using an External Recorder/Monitor

If you’re truly becoming an advanced videographer, you’ll probably be working with the ability to output “clean” non-compressed HDMI video to an external monitor or video recorder, including the Atomos Shogun lineup, which includes versions that are quite affordable, at least in terms of professional video gear. You can choose models both with and without an external LCD monitor, and capture to solid-state drives (SSD), a laptop’s internal or connected hard drive, or to CFast memory cards (the latter chiefly as a nod to those still using the “fast” version of Compact Flash cards. Note that these are different from the R5’s CFexpress media.). Such equipment allows very high transfer rates and is certainly your best choice if you’re shooting 4K or 8K video.

Probably the best of the lot is the Atomos Ninja V, an extremely portable unit with a 5.2-inch screen and a $600 price tag that’s currently the lowest for this type of device. Its size is a definite plus—if you’re shooting video with a smaller, lightweight camera, you’re going to need an equally compact recorder/monitor, such as the roughly 13-ounce Ninja V. Add a battery, HDMI cable, and a 2.5-inch solid-state drive, and you’re ready to go.

The Ninja V has HDMI input and output jacks on its left edge, which you can see in Figure 17.1. The latter allows you to daisy-chain an even larger monitor or other device. A power button, headphone jack, microphone/audio input, and remote jack reside on the other edge. The touch screen enables you to view your video and access the monitor/recorder’s menus and controls, which is convenient (except outdoors in cold weather when you’re wearing gloves and might wish you had a few buttons to press instead). The only other “defect” of the unit is the noise produced by its fan; even when you’re using an external microphone, the fan noise may be picked up in a quiet room.

If you simply want a monitor and don’t want to record your camera’s output, the $300 Atomos Shinobi is a lightweight 1920 × 1080 HDMI monitor introduced in February 2019 that has the same display as the Ninja V, but lacks recording capabilities. It does have a headphone jack so you can output to an external recorder if you want. Like the screen on the Ninja V, the Shinobi can display full HD or 4K video (despite its native 1920 × 1080 resolution) with 10 stops worth of dynamic range, and includes presets to adjust the display for Canon Log output.

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Figure 17.1 The Atomos Ninja V monitor/recorder.

Why use an external monitor or a monitor/recorder like the Ninja V, when your camera has its own nifty monitor and can store quite a lot of video on its memory card? From a monitor standpoint, an external unit’s screen is larger, easier to see, and offers more flexibility in positioning. The Ninja V’s screen tilts up or down; mounted on a ballhead like the one in the figure, you can adjust an external screen to any angle, including reversing it to point in the same direction as the lens, so vloggers can monitor themselves as they record or stream their video blog.

But the best value may come from the recording capabilities of such a device. Internal video is saved to your memory card in the standard H.264/MPEG-4 as an MP4 file, which compresses that stream of images as much as 50X. Standard video has only 8 bits of information: good, but somewhat limited in the dynamic range that can be included. Depending on your scene, you may lose some detail in the highlights or shadows.

Fortunately, your camera can record 4:2:2 10-bit Canon Log and Log-3 (H.265) video plus 4:2:2 10-bit HDR PQ (H.265) video internally, and direct video output through the HDMI port in “clean” uncompressed 4:2:2 10-bit resolution. You really get your two-bits’ worth of information: 8-bit output gives you 16.8 million possible colors; 10-bit output is capable of more than 108 billion hues. If your video stream to the external device uses Canon Log or Log-3, the dynamic range (overall different tones that can be captured) increases dramatically. The View Assist feature I described in Chapter 16 enables you to view Canon Log view with a more contrasty “normal” rendition.

TECH ALERT

Unless you’re venturing into professional videography, you probably aren’t obsessed with all those numbers in the previous paragraph. However, if you’re terminally curious, the important things to keep in mind are:

  • Transfer bit rate. This is the speed the camera outputs its video to your memory card or external recorder. High transfer rates (such as the 144 megabits per second required for 4K ALL-I video, as mentioned in Chapter 15) require fast memory cards; an external recorder should be able to suck up video as quickly as your camera can deliver it.
  • Encoding. Although the “clean” video output to the HDMI port is not compressed, it is encoded using a procedure called chroma subsampling, which does reduce the amount of information that needs to be transferred. Chroma subsampling takes advantage of the fact that human beings don’t detect changes in color (chroma) as easily as they do for brightness (luma). The designation 4:2:2 simply indicates that the full amount of brightness information is passed along (“4”) while the two chroma values are sampled at half that rate (“2:2”). Subsampling in this way reduces the bandwidth of the otherwise uncompressed video signal by as much as one-third with no visual difference.

The HDMI port on the camera accepts an HDMI mini-C cable. Canon offers the HTC-100, but I prefer to purchase less-pricey third-party cables, which I buy in convenient lengths of 3 feet, 6 feet, 10 feet, or longer. The cable can be connected to the monitor, recorder, or other device of your choice.

But producing good-quality video is more complicated than just buying good equipment. There are techniques that make for gripping storytelling and a visual language the average person is very accustomed to seeing, but also unaware of. After all, by comparison we’re used to watching the best productions that television, video, and motion pictures can offer. While this book can’t make you a professional videographer, there is some advice I can give you that will help you improve your results with the camera.

There are many different things to consider when planning a video shoot, and when possible, a shooting script and storyboard can help you produce a higher-quality video.

Lens Craft

I covered the use of lenses in more detail in Chapter 7, but a discussion of lens selection when shooting movies may be useful at this point. In the video world, not all lenses are created equal. The two most important considerations are depth-of-field, or the beneficial lack thereof, and zooming. I’ll address each of these separately.

Depth-of-Field and Video

One thing that makes digital still cameras so attractive for professional video shooters—especially now that cameras support 8K or 4K video—is that they have relatively large sensors, which provides improved low-light performance and results in the oddly attractive reduced depth-of-field, compared with many professional video cameras.

But wait! you say. No matter what size sensor is used, isn’t the number of pixels in that video frame exactly the same—1920 × 1080 pixels for, say, full HD? That’s true—the final resolution of the FHD video image is precisely 1920 × 1080 pixels, whether you’re capturing that frame with a point-and-shoot camera, a professional video camera, or a full-frame digital model like the R5 or R6. But that’s only the final resolution. The number of pixels used to capture each video frame varies by sensor size.

For example, your camera does not use only its central 1920 × 1080 pixels to capture a full HD video frame. If it did that, you’d have to contend with a significant “crop” factor, and the field of view of a wide-angle lens would be sharply curtailed. Instead, it captures a full HD video frame using the full width of its full-frame sensor, trimmed to the proportions of a 16:9 area, producing a negligible crop factor. (As I described in Chapter 16, other crops are available and used for different video image sizes.) Your wide-angle and telephoto lenses retain roughly their same fields of view, and you can frame and compose your video through the viewfinder normally, with only the top and bottom of the frame and a little off each side cropped off to account for the wider video aspect ratio. That’s why your camera gives you such great video quality, and why your video images retain roughly the same field of view and exact same depth-of-field you get with full-frame still images in Full HD mode.

Figure 17.2 shows at upper left the approximate capture areas for still photos, and video captured using the full width of the sensor. Also shown in lower and right sides of the picture are the video capture areas for some professional video sensors, the sensor in many snapshot cameras, and the APS-C sensor found in non-full-frame models.

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Figure 17.2 Video capture areas.

As I noted in Chapter 7, a larger sensor calls for the use of longer focal lengths to produce the same field of view, so, in effect, a larger sensor has reduced depth-of-field. And that’s what makes full-frame cameras attractive from a creative standpoint. Less depth-of-field means greater control over the range of what’s in focus. Your camera, with its larger sensor, has a distinct advantage over consumer camcorders in this regard, and even does a better job than many professional video cameras. With a really fast lens, such as the Canon 85mm f/1.2 or 50mm f/1.2, some sensational selective focus effects can be achieved.

Zooming and Video

When shooting still photos, a zoom is a zoom is a zoom. The key considerations for a zoom lens used only for still photography are the maximum aperture available at each focal length (“How fast is this lens?), the zoom range (“How far can I zoom in or out?”), and its sharpness at any given f/stop (“Do I lose sharpness when I shoot wide open?”).

When shooting video, the priorities may change, and there are two additional parameters to consider. The first two I listed, lens speed and zoom range, have roughly the same importance in both still and video photography. Zoom range gains a bit of importance in videography, because you can always/usually move closer to shoot a still photograph, but when you’re zooming during a shot most of us don’t have that option (or the funds to buy/rent a dolly to smoothly move the camera during capture). But, oddly enough, overall sharpness may have slightly less importance under certain conditions when shooting video. That’s because the image changes in some way many times per second (24/30/60 times per second in NTSC mode), so any given frame doesn’t hang around long enough for our eyes to pick out every single detail. You want a sharp image, of course, but your standards don’t need to be quite as high when shooting video.

Here are the remaining considerations:

  • Zoom lens maximum aperture. The speed of the lens matters in several ways. A zoom with a relatively large maximum aperture lets you shoot in lower light levels, and a big f/stop allows you to minimize depth-of-field for selective focus. Keep in mind that the maximum aperture may change during zooming. A lens that offers an f/3.5 maximum aperture at its widest focal length may provide only f/5.6 worth of light at the telephoto position. If shooting wide open you may want to retain the same maximum aperture regardless of focal length, so depth-of-field (and, along with it, focus) will increase or decrease more predictably from shot to shot, because the focal length has changed (that is, going from wide-angle to tele, or the reverse), and not because the effective aperture has changed, too.

    In that case, you’ll want to use a constant aperture lens (sometimes called a fixed aperture lens, which can be interpreted two ways). Often, such lenses are Canon L lenses; with less expensive optics with a similar focal length range having a variable maximum aperture. A typical example is the RF 24-105mm f/4L. The L lens’s maximum aperture is f/4 from 24mm right up to 105mm.

  • Zoom range. Use of zoom during actual capture should not be an everyday thing, unless you’re shooting a kung-fu movie. However, there are effective uses for a zoom shot, particularly if it’s a “long” one from extreme wide angle to extreme close-up (or vice versa). Most of the time, you’ll use the zoom range to adjust the perspective of the camera between shots, and a longer zoom range can mean less trotting back and forth to adjust the field of view. Zoom range also comes into play when you’re working with selective focus (longer focal lengths have less depth-of-field), or want to expand or compress the apparent distance between foreground and background subjects. A longer range gives you more flexibility.
  • Linearity. Interchangeable lenses may have some drawbacks, as many photographers who have been using the video features of their digital SLRs have discovered. That’s because, unless a lens is optimized for video shooting, zooming with a particular lens may not necessarily be linear. Rotating the zoom collar manually at a constant speed doesn’t always produce a smooth zoom. There may be “jumps” as the elements of the lens shift around during the zoom. Keep that in mind if you plan to zoom during a shot, and are using a lens that has proved, from experience, to provide a non-linear zoom. (Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to tell ahead of time whether you own a lens that is well-suited for zooming during a shot.)

Keep Things Stable and on the Level

Camera shake’s enough of a problem with still photography, but it becomes even more of a nuisance when you’re shooting video. The image-stabilization feature found in many Canon lenses (and some third-party optics) can help minimize this. Any of them make an excellent choice for video shooting if you’re planning on going for the hand-held cinema verité look.

Just realize that while hand-held camera shots—even image stabilized—may be perfect if you’re shooting a documentary or video that intentionally mimics traditional home movie making, in other contexts it can be disconcerting or annoying. And even IS can’t work miracles. As I’ll point out in the next section, it’s the camera movement itself that is distracting—not necessarily any blur in your subject matter.

If you want your video to look professional, putting the camera on a tripod will give you smoother, steadier video clips to work with. It will be easier to intercut shots taken from different angles (or even at different times) if everything was shot on a tripod. Cutting from a tripod shot to a hand-held shot, or even from one hand-held shot to another one that has noticeably more (or less) camera movement can call attention to what otherwise might have been a smooth cut or transition.

Remember that telephoto lenses and telephoto zoom focal lengths magnify any camera shake, even with IS, so when you’re using a longer focal length, that tripod becomes an even better idea. Tripods are essential if you want to pan from side to side during a shot, dolly in and out, or track from side to side (say, you want to shoot with the camera in your kid’s coaster wagon). A tripod and (for panning) a fluid head built especially for smooth video movements can add a lot of production value to your movies.

Shooting Script

A shooting script is nothing more than a coordinated plan that covers both audio and video and provides order and structure for your video when you’re in planned, storytelling mode. A detailed script will cover what types of shots you’re going after, what dialogue you’re going to use, audio effects, transitions, and graphics. A good script needn’t constrain you: as the director, you are free to make changes on the spot during actual capture. But, before you change the route to your final destination, it’s good to know where you were headed, and how you originally planned to get there.

When putting together your shooting script, plan for lots and lots of different shots, even if you don’t think you’ll need them. Only amateurish videos consist of a bunch of long, tedious shots. You’ll want to vary the pace of your production by cutting among lots of different views, angles, and perspectives, so jot down your ideas for these variations when you put together your script.

If you’re shooting a documentary rather than telling a story that’s already been completely mapped out, the idea of using a shooting script needs to be applied more flexibly. Documentary filmmakers often have no shooting script at all. They go out, do their interviews, capture video of people, places, and events as they find them, and allow the structure of the story to take shape as they learn more about the subject of their documentary. In such cases, the movie is typically “created” during editing, as bits and pieces are assembled into the finished piece.

Storyboards

A storyboard makes a great adjunct to a detailed shooting script. It is a series of panels providing visuals of what each scene should look like. While the storyboards produced by Hollywood are generally of very high quality, there’s nothing that says drawing skills are important for this step. Stick figures work just fine if that’s the best you can do. The storyboard helps you visualize locations, placement of actors/actresses, props and furniture, and also helps everyone involved get an idea of what you’re trying to show. It also helps show how you want to frame or compose a shot. You can even shoot a series of still photos and transform them into a “storyboard” if you want, such as in Figure 17.3.

Storytelling in Video

Today’s audience is used to fast-paced, short-scene storytelling. To produce interesting video for such viewers, it’s important to view video storytelling as a kind of shorthand code for the more leisurely efforts print media offers. Audio and video should always be advancing the story. While it’s okay to let the camera linger from time to time, it should only be for a compelling reason and only briefly.

Above all, look for movement in your scene as you shoot. You’re not taking still photographs! Perhaps your ideal still picture of an old castle in Segovia, Spain might be to show the edifice in its modern-day surroundings, but a movie needs to show something moving, like the hang glider that soared overhead when I captured the image shown in Figure 17.4. The juxtaposition of old and new added an interesting contrast to the video image (and later narration). If you’ve seen too many travel videos that looked like they could have been assembled from a series of still photos (a “slide show” so to speak), you’ll know that motion is what brings many otherwise static scenes to life.

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Figure 17.3 A storyboard is a series of simple sketches or photos to help visualize a segment of video.

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Figure 17.4 Movies need motion to come alive.

It only takes a second or two for an establishing shot to impart the necessary information. For example, many of the scenes for a video documenting a model being photographed in a Rock ‘n’ Roll music setting might be close-ups and talking heads, but an establishing shot showing the studio where the video was captured helps set the scene.

Provide variety too. If you put your shooting script together correctly, you’ll be changing camera angles and perspectives often and never leave a static scene on the screen for a long period. (You can record a static scene for a reasonably long period and then edit in other shots that cut away and back to the longer scene with close-ups that show each person talking.)

When editing, keep transitions basic. I can’t stress this enough. Watch a television program or movie. The action “jumps” from one scene or person to the next. Fancy transitions that involve exotic “wipes,” dissolves, or cross fades take too long for the average viewer and make your video ponderous.

Composition

In movie shooting, several factors restrict your composition, and impose requirements you just don’t always have in still photography (although other rules of good composition do apply). Here are some of the key differences to keep in mind when composing movie frames:

  • Horizontal compositions only. Some subjects, such as basketball players and tall buildings, just lend themselves to vertical compositions. But movies are shown in horizontal-format only. So, if you’re interviewing a local basketball star, you can end up with a worst-case situation like the one shown in Figure 17.5. If you want to show how tall your subject is, it’s often impractical to move back far enough to show him full-length. You really can’t capture a vertical composition. Tricks like getting down on the floor and shooting up at your subject can exaggerate the perspective, but aren’t a perfect solution.
  • Wasted space at the sides. Moving in to frame the basketball player as outlined by the yellow box in Figure 17.5 means that you’re still forced to leave a lot of empty space on either side. (Of course, you can fill that space with other people and/or interesting stuff, but that defeats your intent of concentrating on your main subject.) So, when faced with some types of subjects in a horizontal frame, you can be creative, or move in really tight. For example, if I were willing to give up the “height” aspect of my composition, I could have framed the shot as shown by the green box in the figure, and wasted less of the image area at either side.
  • Seamless (or seamed) transitions. Unless you’re telling a story with a photo essay, still pictures often stand alone. But with movies, each of your compositions must relate to the shot that preceded it, and the one that follows. It can be jarring to jump from a long shot to a tight close-up unless the director—you—is very creative. Another common error is the “jump cut” in which successive shots vary only slightly in camera angle, making it appear that the main subject has “jumped” from one place to another. (Although everyone from French New Wave director Jean-Luc Goddard to Guy Ritchie—Madonna’s ex—have used jump cuts effectively in their films.) The rule of thumb is to vary the camera angle by at least 30 degrees between shots to make it appear to be seamless. Unless you prefer that your images flaunt convention and appear to be “seamy.”

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Figure 17.5 Movie shooting requires you to fit all your subjects into a horizontally oriented frame.

  • The time dimension. Unlike still photography, with motion pictures there’s a lot more emphasis on using a series of images to build on each other to tell a story. Static shots where the camera is mounted on a tripod and everything is shot from the same distance are a recipe for dull videos. Watch a television program sometime and notice how often camera shots change distances and directions. Viewers are used to this variety and have come to expect it. Professional video productions are often done with multiple cameras shooting from different angles and positions. But many professional productions are shot with just one camera and careful planning, and you can do just fine with your camera.

Here’s a look at the different types of commonly used compositional tools:

  • Establishing shot. Much like it sounds, this type of composition, as shown in Figure 17.6, upper left, establishes the scene and tells the viewer where the action is taking place. Let’s say you’re shooting a video of your offspring’s move to college; the establishing shot could be a wide shot of the campus with a sign welcoming you to the school in the foreground. Another example would be for a child’s birthday party; the establishing shot could be the front of the house decorated with birthday signs and streamers or a shot of the dining room table decked out with party favors and a candle-covered birthday cake. I wanted to show the studio where the video was shot.
  • Medium shot. This shot is composed from about waist to head room (some space above the subject’s head). It’s useful for providing variety from a series of close-ups and makes for a useful first look at a speaker. (See Figure 17.6, upper right.)

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Figure 17.6 Shot choice provides different perspectives on a scene.

  • Close-up. The close-up, usually described as “from shirt pocket to head room,” provides a good composition for someone talking directly to the camera. Although it’s common to have your talking head centered in the shot, that’s not a requirement. In Figure 17.6, center left, the subject was offset to the right. This would allow other images, especially graphics or titles, to be superimposed in the frame in a “real” (professional) production. But the compositional technique can be used with videos, too, even if special effects are not going to be added.
  • Extreme close-up. When I went through broadcast training back in the ’70s, this shot was described as the “big talking face” shot and we were actively discouraged from employing it. Styles and tastes change over the years and now the big talking face is much more commonly used (maybe people are better looking these days?) and so this view may be appropriate. Just remember, the camera is capable of shooting in high-definition video and you may be playing the video on a high-def TV; be careful that you use this composition on a face that can stand up to high definition or 4K resolution. (See Figure 17.6, center right.)
  • “Two” shot. A two shot shows a pair of subjects in one frame. They can be side by side or one in the foreground and one in the background. (See Figure 17.6, lower left.) This does not have to be a head-to-ground composition. Subjects can be standing or seated. A “three shot” is the same principle except that three people are in the frame.
  • Over-the-shoulder shot. Long a composition of interview programs, the “over-the-shoulder shot” uses the rear of one person’s head and shoulder to serve as a frame for the other person. This puts the viewer’s perspective as that of the person facing away from the camera. (See Figure 17.6, lower right.)

Lighting for Video

Much like in still photography, how you handle light pretty much can make or break your videography. Lighting for video can be more complicated than lighting for still photography, since both subject and camera movement are often part of the process.

Lighting for video presents several concerns. First off, you want enough illumination to create a useable video. Beyond that, you want to use light to help tell your story or increase drama. Let’s take a better look at both.

Illumination

You can significantly improve the quality of your video by increasing the light falling in the scene. This is true indoors or out, by the way. While it may seem like sunlight is more than enough, it depends on how much contrast you’re dealing with. If your subject is in shadow (which can help them from squinting) or wearing a ball cap, a video light can help make them look a lot better.

Lighting choices for amateur videographers are a lot better these days than they were a decade or two ago. An inexpensive incandescent video light, which will easily fit in a camera bag, can be found for $15 or $20. You can even get a good-quality LED video light for less than $100. Work lights sold at many home improvement stores can also serve as video lights since you can set the camera’s white balance to correct for any color casts. You’ll need to mount these lights on a tripod or other support, or, perhaps, to a bracket that fastens to the tripod socket on the bottom of the camera.

Much of the challenge depends upon whether you’re just trying to add some fill-light on your subject versus trying to boost the light on an entire scene. A small video light will do just fine for the former. It won’t handle the latter. Fortunately, that versatility comes in quite handy here. Since the camera shoots video in Auto ISO mode, it can compensate for lower lighting levels and still produce a decent image. For best results, though, better lighting is necessary.

Creative Lighting

While ramping up the light intensity will produce better technical quality in your video, it won’t necessarily improve the artistic quality of it. Whether we’re outdoors or indoors, we’re used to seeing light come from above. Videographers need to consider how they position their lights to provide even illumination while up high enough to angle shadows down low and out of sight of the camera.

When considering lighting for video, there are several factors. One is the quality of the light. It can either be hard (direct) light or soft (diffused) light. Hard light is good for showing detail, but can also be very harsh and unforgiving. “Softening” the light, but diffusing it somehow, can reduce the intensity of the light but make for a kinder, gentler light as well.

While mixing light sources isn’t always a good idea, one approach is to combine window light with supplemental lighting. Position your subject with the window to one side and bring in either a supplemental light or a reflector to the other side for reasonably even lighting.

Lighting Styles

Some lighting styles are more heavily used than others. Some forms are used for special effects, while others are designed to be invisible. At its most basic, lighting just illuminates the scene, but when used properly it can also create drama. Let’s look at some types of lighting styles:

  • Three-point lighting. This is a basic lighting setup for one person. A main light illuminates the strong side of a person’s face, while a fill light lights up the other side. A third light is then positioned above and behind the subject to light the back of the head and shoulders. (See Figure 17.7, top.)
  • Flat lighting. Use this type of lighting to provide illumination and nothing more. It calls for a variety of lights and diffusers set to raise the light level in a space enough for good video reproduction, but not to create a mood or emphasize a scene or individual. With flat lighting, you’re trying to create even lighting levels throughout the video space and minimize any shadows. Generally, the lights are placed up high and angled downward (or possibly pointed straight up to bounce off a white ceiling). (See Figure 17.7, bottom.)
  • “Ghoul lighting.” This is the style of lighting used for old horror movies. The idea is to position the light down low, pointed upward. It’s such an unnatural style of lighting that it makes its targets seem weird and “ghoulish.”
  • Outdoor lighting. While shooting outdoors may seem easier because the sun provides more light, it also presents its own problems. As a general rule of thumb, keep the sun behind you when you’re shooting video outdoors, except when shooting faces (anything from a medium shot and closer) since the viewer won’t want to see a squinting subject. When shooting another human this way, put the sun behind her and use a video light to balance light levels between the foreground and background. If the sun is simply too bright, position the subject in the shade and use the video light for your main illumination. Using reflectors (white board panels or aluminum foil–covered cardboard panels are cheap options) can also help balance light effectively.

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Figure 17.7 With three-point lighting (top) and flat lighting (bottom).

Audio

When it comes to making a successful video, audio quality is one of those things that separates the professionals from the amateurs. We’re used to watching top-quality productions on television and in the movies, yet the average person has no idea how much effort goes in to producing what seems to be “natural” sound. Much of the sound you hear in such productions is recorded on carefully controlled sound stages and “sweetened” with a variety of sound effects and other recordings of “natural” sound.

Tips for Better Audio

Since recording high-quality audio is such a challenge, it’s a good idea to do everything possible to maximize recording quality. Here are some ideas for improving the quality of the audio your camera records:

  • Get the camera and its microphone close to the speaker. The farther the microphone is from the audio source, the less effective it will be in picking up that sound. While having to position the camera and its built-in microphone closer to the subject affects your lens choices and lens perspective options, it will make the most of your audio source. Of course, if you’re using a very wide-angle lens, getting too close to your subject can have unflattering results, so don’t take this advice too far. It’s important to think carefully about what sounds you want to capture. If you’re shooting video of an acoustic combo that’s not using a PA system, you’ll want the microphone close to them, but not so close that, say, only the lead singer or instrumentalist is picked up, while the players at either side fade off into the background.
  • Use an external microphone. You’ll recall the description of the camera’s external microphone port in Chapter 2. As noted, this port accepts a stereo mini-plug from a standard external microphone, allowing you to achieve considerably higher audio quality for your movies than is possible with the camera’s built-in microphones (which are disabled when an external mic is plugged in). An external microphone reduces the amount of camera-induced noise that is picked up and recorded on your audio track. (The action of the lens as it focuses can be audible when the builtin microphones are active.)

    The external microphone port can provide plug-in power for microphones that can take their power from this sort of outlet rather than from a battery in the microphone. Canon provides optional compatible microphones such as the Canon Directional Microphone DM-E1 (around $240, see Figure 17.8); you also may find suitable microphones from companies such as Shure and Audio-Technica. If you are on a quest for superior audio quality, you can even obtain a portable mixer that can plug into this jack. Or, you might be using an Atomos recorder with professional microphone jacks. One good thing about Canon still cameras is that so many pro videographers are using them that a wealth of add-on video gear, from monitors to cages and stabilizers, is available for it.

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Figure 17.8 External microphones can improve the sound quality of your video.

  • Hide the microphone. Combine the first few tips by using an external mic, and getting it as close to your subject as possible. If you’re capturing a single person, you can always use a lapel microphone (described in the next section). But if you want a single mic to capture sound from multiple sources, your best bet may be to hide it somewhere in the shot. Put it behind a vase, using duct tape to fasten the microphone, and fix the mic cable out of sight (if you’re not using a wireless microphone).
  • Turn off any sound makers you can. Little things like fans and air handling units aren’t obvious to the human ear, but will be picked up by the microphone. Turn off any machinery or devices that you can plus make sure cell phones are set to silent mode. Also, do what you can to minimize sounds such as wind, radio, television, or people talking in the background.
  • Make sure to record some “natural” sound. If you’re shooting video at an event of some kind, make sure you get some background sound that you can add to your audio as desired in postproduction.
  • Consider recording audio separately. Lip-syncing is probably beyond most of the people you’re going to be shooting, but there’s nothing that says you can’t record narration separately and add it later. It’s relatively easy if you learn how to use simple software video-editing programs like iMovie (for the Macintosh) or Windows Movie Maker (for Windows PCs). Any time the speaker is off-camera, you can work with separately recorded narration rather than recording the speaker on-camera. This can produce much cleaner sound.
External Microphones

The single most important thing you can do to improve your audio quality is to use an external microphone. The camera’s internal stereo microphones mounted on the front of the camera will do a decent job, but have some significant drawbacks, partially spelled out in the previous section:

  • Camera noise. There are plenty of noise sources emanating from the camera, including your own breathing and rustling around as the camera shifts in your hand. Manual zooming is bound to affect your sound, and your fingers will fall directly in front of the built-in mics as you change focal lengths. An external microphone isolates the sound recording from camera noise.
  • Distance. Anytime your camera is located more than 6 to 8 feet from your subjects or sound source, the audio will suffer. An external unit allows you to place the mic right next to your subject.
  • Improved quality. Obviously, Canon wasn’t able to install a super-expensive, super-high-quality microphone, even on an advanced camera. Not all owners of the camera would be willing to pay the premium, especially if they didn’t plan to shoot much video themselves. An external microphone will almost always be of better quality.
  • Directionality. The camera’s internal microphone generally records only sounds directly in front of it. An external microphone can be either of the directional type or omnidirectional, depending on whether you want to “shotgun” your sound or record more ambient sound.

You can choose from several different types of microphones, each of which has its own advantages and disadvantages. If you’re serious about movie making with your camera, you might want to own more than one. Common configurations include:

  • Shotgun microphones. These can be mounted directly on your camera, although, if the mic uses an accessory shoe mount, you’ll need the optional adapter to convert the camera’s shoe to a standard hot shoe. I prefer to use a bracket, which further isolates the microphone from any camera noise. One thing to keep in mind is that while the shotgun mic will generally ignore any sound coming from behind it, it will pick up any sound it is pointed at, even behind your subject. You may be capturing video and audio of someone you’re interviewing in a restaurant, and not realize you’re picking up the lunchtime conversation of the diners seated in the table behind your subject. Outdoors, you may record your speaker, as well as the traffic on a busy street or freeway in the background.
  • Lapel microphones. Also called lavalieres, these microphones attach to the subject’s clothing and pick up their voice with the best quality. You’ll need a long enough cord or a wireless mic (described later). These are especially good for video interviews, so whether you’re producing a documentary or grilling relatives for a family history, you’ll want one of these.
  • Hand-held microphones. If you’re capturing a singer crooning a tune, or want your subject to mimic famed faux newscaster Wally Ballou, a hand-held mic may be your best choice. They serve much the same purpose as a lapel microphone, and they’re more intrusive—but that may be the point. A hand-held microphone can make a great prop for your fake newscast! The speaker can talk right into the microphone, point it at another person, or use it to record ambient sound. If your narrator is not going to appear on-camera, one of these can be an inexpensive way to improve sound.
  • Wired and wireless external microphones. This option is the most expensive, but you get a receiver and a transmitter (both battery-powered, so you’ll need to make sure you have enough batteries). The transmitter is connected to the microphone, and the receiver is connected to your camera. In addition to being less klutzy and enabling you to avoid having wires on view in your scene, wireless mics let you record sounds that are physically located some distance from your camera. Of course, you need to keep in mind the range of your device, and be aware of possible signal interference from other electronic components in the vicinity.

WIND NOISE REDUCTION

Always use the wind screen provided with an external microphone to reduce the effect of noise produced by even light breezes blowing over the microphone. Many mics include a low-cut filter to further reduce wind noise. However, these can also affect other sounds. You can disable the low-cut filters for some units by changing a switch on the back from L-cut (low cutoff) to Flat.

Stills from Movies

You cannot capture stills while shooting movies. You must stop video capture first, take your stills, and then resume movie shooting. However, you can grab an 8.3-megapixel 3840 × 2160 JPEG still image from any 4K video or 4K time-lapse movie captured by the R5 or R6 during playback, using the camera’s Frame Grab feature. This capability can be useful if you can settle for relatively low-resolution stills. However, the R5 ups the ante considerably by allowing Frame Grabs from 8K video—with an astonishing 35.4 megapixels of resolution. That’s right: individual frames extracted from an R5’s 8K video can be as good or better than conventional still photos taken with the R6 or other cameras with sub-30MP sensors.

Just follow these steps:

  1. 1. Press the Playback button and select a 4K movie/time-lapse video. They are designated with a 4K icon on the shooting information screen. Press SET to begin playing the video.
  2. 2. As the movie plays, the movie playback panel appears. Press Pause to stop the movie on the frame you want to grab.
  3. 3. Use the directional controls to select the Frame Grab icon (see Figure 17.9). It’s located at lower far right, next to the Scissors icon.
  4. 4. A message “Save as a New Still Image” appears. Highlight OK to save that frame as a still JPEG.

image

Figure 17.9 Grab a still frame from a 4K video.

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