Tips and tricks for making great videos and taking great photos.

One of the first concepts learned when diving into the world of manual photography is the relationship between the big 3 settings: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. There are many other important settings that a camera operator should know, but these are the main 3 that will affect what kind of raw image you will be getting. Each of these settings has its own unique impact on the final image, but they all work together to affect the amount of light that reaches the sensor and, depending on the settings, can result in wildly different creative outcomes.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is the most obvious of the 3 as to what is being affected: how fast the shutter is clicking. It is measured in a fraction of a second, but most cameras list it as a single number for ease of reading. So if your shutter speed is showing on camera as 50 what this actually means is 1/50th of a second. This seems really fast, however, in handheld photography, the lowest shutter speed recommended is 1/60 or else new photographers won’t be able to get a clear image due to hand shake. Now that we know what shutter speed is measuring, let’s talk about how it affects the final image; the faster the shutter speed, the less movement you will see in your final shot. Think about any sports photo you’ve seen. They typically have no motion blur because they are shot with a very fast shutter speed. Have you ever seen a night sky photo where it looks like the stars are lines in the sky? This is because the photographer used an extremely long shutter speed in order to capture the star movement across the night sky as the earth rotates. Shutter speed is an important variable used to impact the creative outcome of any photograph, but in video it is significantly less flexible. Typically, video is shot in either 24 or 30 frames per second (fps). Slow-motion footage (also known as high-speed footage) is shot in 60fps or higher. This is important because the shutter speed is directly tied to the fps of a clip and should always be double the fps. So if you are shooting in 24fps then your shutter speed should be 1/50, if you are shooting in 60fps then your shutter speed should be 1/120, etc. When these two settings slip from this relationship, the final image tends to have an unpleasant stuttering effect as if the frames are sticky.

ISO

ISO stands for International Organization of Standardization. This setting, however, doesn’t actually refer to the organization itself, but the sensitivity to light. This setting is also referred to as film speed and if any of you were into film photography, you will remember that when you purchased a roll of film it had the speed listed on it. Film speed has also been called ASA and DIN in the past. These were combined together to create ISO, but they all basically had the same meaning: how sensitive is my sensor or film to the light coming in? ISO speeds are measured as whole numbers and on digital cameras can range anywhere from ISO 50 up to ISO 4,000,000! Not only does it affect the sensitivity to light, but it also affects the amount of grain that can be seen on the final image. A lower ISO will have very little or imperceptible amounts of grain, whereas a higher ISO speed will result in a grainy look to your image. Creatively, this can be an interesting effect to add to a shot depending on what you want the final image to look like. However, with the many advances in post-production software, if you don’t shoot to have film grain in your original, you can add it in while editing. On the flipside, if your photo has more grain than you wanted, it can also be smoothed in post, but it isn’t quite as quick of a fix as adding grain.

Here you can see that a high ISO was used and the dark colors have a heavy grain to them

Aperture

While shutter speed and ISO are settings that are camera-based, aperture is a setting that is dependent on the lens you have on the camera. The aperture size is often referred to as lens speed, and the lower the aperture a lens can achieve, the “higher speed” the lens is. Aperture is measured in f-stops: the ratio between the diameter of the lens opening and the focal length of that lens. This affects how much light ultimately comes through the lens and lands on the sensor of the camera. Aperture tends to be the setting that new photographers have the most trouble understanding because the numbers are counterintuitive. With shutter speed the larger the number, the faster the shutter click and with ISO the larger the number, the more sensitive the sensor is to light. However, with aperture, the smaller the number the larger the lens opening; an aperture of f/1.8 is much larger than that of f/22. The way aperture affects the end result of an image is through depth of field. The larger the aperture the lower the depth of field of an image. So if you are wanting an artistic image where only a small portion is in focus you will want to use an aperture of f/4 or larger. If you are shooting landscapes or commercial stock footage, typically you will use a very small aperture of f/10 or smaller to capture the details across the whole horizontal plane of the image. When shooting interviews, there is a depth of field line that needs to be walked. It is pleasing to have the background of the subject blurred out, but if you have too large of an aperture your subject might fall out of focus when they lean forward or backwards slightly while speaking.

How they work together

We’ve learned how each of these individual settings affect the light hitting the camera sensor, and the creative properties of each setting, but how do they work together? First you have to decide the look you are going for and base your settings off of that creative vision. Say you want a long depth of field and no motion blur. You start with a fast shutter speed to stop the motion of your image, then you choose a small aperture so that the depth of field is across your whole image, then based on these settings you would adjust your ISO in order to properly expose the image based on these other two settings. Once you find a combination that is exposed properly you can create a chart of exposures to quickly and easily adjust to change the look of the final image. Aperture and shutter speed can easily be adjusted together. If you increase the shutter speed by one stop you can simply decrease the aperture by one stop and the image should remain exposed perfectly. There are many combinations of these three that can result in a properly exposed image. Ultimately,  you need to decide which path you are going to take to get to an exposed image that fits your creative vision. 

How we see

The average human eye has the ability to perceive about one million unique colors and it plays a huge role in our lives and in video. To learn more about how the eye works, check out this link to the National Institute of Health.

How it works

Different camera brands are known for their different styles of color science. Here at Illuminate, we shoot on Sony cameras whose built-in color profiles tend to have beautiful purple undertones. Most brands of cameras offer several options for color profiles to film in depending on the lighting that you are shooting in and the look you are wanting for your final product. 

Many production teams choose to shoot with the in-camera color profiles because the post-production time and cost are cut down significantly since there isn’t a need for a colorist. There are many other factors that affect the way a video will look, and one of the most influential settings is white balance. 

White Balance

Cameras generally have generic settings to help you choose a white balance based on your lighting environment: cloudy, direct sunlight, shade, tungsten light, etc. However, a more precise way to balance your whites and make them match across multiple cameras is to use the Kelvin Scale. Some cameras give the operator the option to change the temperature of the light with this method. So if the scene lighting falls somewhere between the generic settings, the camera operator will be able to precisely match the in-camera light temperature to that of the scene.

Even if the operator uses a color profile and compensates for white balance, sometimes footage still needs some assistance either to look more natural or to match other clips that are going to be in the video. This is where color correction comes in.  There are several programs available to correct color, but often video editing software has powerful color tools build in. 

Ungraded vs graded

A video that is shot in an ungraded color profile will come out of the camera looking lackluster and very dull.  All the colors will be muted and have a very similar tone to them. In our Sony cameras, the ungraded footage has a grey tone to it. The benefit of shooting in this style is that the colorist can use this neutral canvas to curate a specific look for the overall video.

For example, in Scorsese’s, The Aviator, he uses a Two-strip and Three-strip Technicolor palate that creates the same effect as that of the color film technology available in the 30’s and 40’s. Here at Illuminate, our only ungraded project currently in the works is the Rosehill Farms Documentary. 

LUTs

Ungraded footage can be colored in a couple of different ways, but one of the more popular ways to color it is with the use of Look Up Tables, or LUTs. There are thousands of generic or custom LUTs that can be found online, but they can also be created within adobe software. For our Rosehill Farms Documentary, I have been creating custom LUTs for each clip in Photoshop and exporting them into the project.

Creating a custom LUT in photoshop

LUTs are an extremely valuable tool for editors’ ungraded footage, however, if used incorrectly they can negatively impact the overall quality of a video. LUTs are meant to be used on properly exposed and balanced footage, so if you are trying to use them on footage that is underexposed or too cool/warm on the Kelvin scale, more than likely the image will not result in something pleasing to the eye. 

So next time you are working on a video or commissioning a job from us at Illuminate, take a second to think about the color feel of the final product. We’d be happy to help you achieve that look!

Over the years, we’ve compiled a list of our top performing content that we make for our clients. Here they are, in order of popularity.

Whether you’re a business owner, artist, executive, or buyer, spending your resources on a video for the first time can be a daunting process. There are many creative components and opinions to consider. On the technical side, it’s just like any other project, so even the most basic project management skills can apply here.

Determine your goals

Before you begin to think about the video itself, consider why you’re shopping for a video at all. Videos are increasing in popularity each year. They come highly recommended and are incredibly useful. In order to maximize your effectiveness, you need to put your goals first. A video isn’t a magic wand, so it can’t solve every problem. However, it can solve a great many of them and can be designed to help you if you are clear about goals.

Do you want to raise brand awareness? Increase leads? Onboard new clients? Educate staff or contractors? Reduce incidents and accidents at your facility? A good video can accomplish all of these needs.

Determine your constraints and resources

Time. How long do you have to present or distribute a final video? Weeks? Months? Determine this constraint first. If you are outsourcing, some services will charge a rush fee or may not be available at all. Oftentimes, creative professional services can be booked weeks to months in advance. A professionally produced commercial with animation, professional narration, and custom music could take 4-8 weeks.

If there is no definitive answer, decide on a realistic or optimal time frame and set that as your deadline. You can use this to your advantage later if you need to move the deadline to adjust for a different project constraint.

Economics. Do you have a budget already set? Great. Consider presenting this information to your production service of choice so they can organize their own constraints and resources accordingly and present options. Having a budget upfront will also help you determine if a company partner or vendor is the best fit, sometimes right away. It may also tell you if you have reserved too much or too little. If you have more budget than you realized you would need, consider hearing out the production partner or vendor on how they would use it. This may lead to a major camera upgrade or additional videos. If you have less budget than you realized you needed, it’s ok to take a step back and consider other paths to your goal until you’re ready to buy. In the long run with business or commercial services, it’s better to do it right.

Logistics. Are all people, locations, equipment, clothing, and props going to be in the right place at the right time?

Decide how to produce

You can spend the budget on a variety of options. Let’s narrow it down to the three core categories:

  • Professional, turn-key video service
  • Insourcing: Hiring an employee or volunteering a current one
  • DIY

Professional Turn-Key Video Service

If you chose a great company who is the right fit, you’ll end up with a low-hassle project that leads to profits for many years. For tips on how to choose a great video production company, check out this article. It may come as a surprise, but outsourcing your video or photo production needs is sometimes the least expensive option. Read on to learn why.

Insourcing: Hiring an employee or volunteering a current one

One of the top reasons a company starts their own media production department is to produce a high volume of media at a lower cost. If you are a first-time buyer, it is strongly recommended you start with one video and forego considering adding a media production department.

If you are still wanting to pursue this option, you can check out our article on insourcing here. We’ll cover all of the pitfalls you might hit while pursuing this.

Warning – if you aren’t a seasoned media production professional – prepare for difficulty in judging and coaching this person’s work. And especially in determining their work load.

DIY

Is learning how to make videos going to be the best use of my time?

Will it save you money? Maybe. Maybe not. Beware, too much DIY can lead to you becoming your own video production department. The first question you should ask yourself is “Is this going to be the best use of my time?” If you are doing this to save money, consider the following –

You start with an inexpensive DSLR video camera, but after filming a short segment of someone speaking on camera, realize it doesn’t sound very good and it’s hard to understand what the person is saying. You realize you’ll need to purchase additional audio equipment and all of the accessories. Now you need better lighting. Next you’ll need a better computer to process all of this data you created. Finally, you’ll need more experience and knowledge in the video production process. This will lead you to understand why your equipment isn’t giving you the results you expected. And it’s probably because you need more expensive equipment to get the look and sound you loved so much in that one video you saw online.

If learning how to make videos is going to be the best use of your time, you should check out our favorite resources:

If you have additional questions before purchasing a video, don’t be shy! Reach out, we’re here to help –