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Getting Started with Video

Written by Daven Mathies

If you bought a camera in the past few years, there's a very good chance that it shoots video. In this age of digital photography, it makes sense that we should be able to use the same camera to shoot both still and moving images—something that wasn't exactly an option with film. However, this may lead you to believe that shooting video is no different than shooting stills in terms of how you control exposure and handle the camera. You would be wrong. So here are a few pointers that address the more common mistakes and false assumptions photographers make when making their foray into video. And if you haven't tried shooting video yet, you should! It's fun!

There's no such thing as "portrait orientation"

Still photographers love being able to use both "landscape" and "portrait" framing. The camera can be held whichever way strikes your fancy, from horizontal to vertical and everywhere in between. Not so with video. Regardless of who or what you are shooting, you have to remember that your final presentation will be made on a horizontally-oriented screen—so if you shoot vertical video, it will be played back sideways. Now, the one possible exception I can see for this is talking-head video shot solely for use on a smartphone, which most people tend to hold vertically. Certain art installations may use vertically-oriented screens, too, but for 99% of uses, vertical video will make a mess of things.

You no longer have free rein over shutter speeds

In still photography, there is a wide range of shutter speeds acceptable for normal use. A portrait, for example, could be shot anywhere between 1/60th and 1/8000 of a second without noticeably affecting the final image, assuming you could adequately compensate for an accurate exposure using aperture and ISO. Again, this is simply not the case with video. The motion pictures we see on the big screen are typically shot at a shutter speed of 1/48 of a second at 24 frames per second. This is a standard that we have grown accustomed to. This relatively slow shutter speed allows for a subtle amount of blur, smoothing out motion in the frame. A high shutter speed will make everything look like the Bourne Identity—jarring, erratic motion that only serves to mask choreographed fight scenes and confusing plot lines. That is to say, there is a time and place for changing your shutter speed, but only when a specific effect is desired. Here's some simple math to keep your shutter under control: take the reciprocal of twice your frame rate! I know, nobody likes math, so: if your frame rate is 24, doubling that gives you 48, for which the reciprocal is 1/48 (1/50 is the closest shutter speed on most still cameras, which is close enough). If you are shooting at the TV-standard 30 frames per second, your shutter speed should be 1/60. All this said, it's not a bad idea to go ahead and experiment shooting at different shutter speeds so you get an idea of the effects they have.

Stabilized lenses are your best friend

When image-stabilized lenses started making their way to market, the common thinking was that stabilization was a crutch for lenses with slow apertures. Photographers who knew what they were doing would always opt for a faster, non-stabilized lens over a slower, stabilized one. This is because lens stabilization only stabilizes camera movement, not subject movement, whereas a wide aperture would allow for a faster shutter, which would stabilize both camera and subject movement. However, when shooting a video, a fast shutter speed won't help shaky-hands syndrome, since you're shooting more than one frame, but lens stabilization will. It's no substitute for a tripod (you have a tripod, right?) but it does make a big difference—big enough that if you're trying to decide between an f/4 stabilized lens and an f/2.8 non-stabilized lens, you may want to think twice before assuming that faster=better.

Obviously, there are many other facets of a good video production: lighting, camera moves, editing, and more. But the basic tips above should at least point you in the right direction, and hopefully whet your appetite for shooting more video with your camera.

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