Category: video

TV look with crew

Achieving the TV look on an online budget

It’s 2016 and the marketeers are telling us to invest in online video. We are hearing many reasons for this:

“It will help your SEO”

“It’s cheaper than TV advertising”

“Your audience can be targeted on their commute, at home and at work

All very good reasons, sure. But once we have accepted that we need to invest in online video, how can we make sure that our content looks good enough to be on TV yet stays within the realms of an online budget?

Whilst anyone can in theory take out their phone, shoot a video and upload it in seconds to their website and social media channels, businesses who care about their image and production values (I imagine that’s most of us) will certainly get better value from investing in professional online video. Gone are the days of dull looking corporate videos. We’re in the age where online advertising should look as good as TV!

So, how could you get the TV look on an online budget?

Through utilising cost effective technology.

TV look Ronin

Getting the TV look (or even the film look!) with the nimble DJI Ronin

One of the major benefits of opting for online content rather than broadcast media is that the fast moving digital landscape is allowing technology to be more affordable than ever before. You’ll have already experienced it with your electronic devices at home and the same applies in the video production industry. Cameras that produce beautiful images fit for broadcast are now within reach. As a result we use everything from larger cinema cameras to tiny DSLRs to portray your business in the best light. To keep things economical we buy some of the equipment outright whereas other bits are more cost effective to hire. This ensures that we can provide quality equipment all year round and still have access to anything specialist or brand spanking new when you need it, getting the best of both worlds.

Another example is in the aerial photography world. As HD cameras have gotten smaller they have been easier to attach to UAVs – aka drones! Only a few years ago aerial photography was too expensive a venture for most businesses; drones are obviously much more cost effective than helicopters!

If you have an interest in tech then you might like this article on how to choose the right camera.

It’s not just the camera: lighting & sound are important too.

One of the cons of this technology becoming affordable is that suddenly everybody considers themselves a Video Producer. Some think they can just buy an HD camera and become a professional without considering other areas of video production. What contributes immensely to creating a high value production or the ‘TV look’ is lighting and sound and at flyCreative we respect that. Just because you may be considering a less expensive option that doesn’t mean your product should be cheap!

A little bit more on lighting:

Only fairly recently have many cameras started to become good in low light conditions. However despite this, even big TV programmes today still require the use of lighting rigs. Next time you are watching X Factor take a look at the background of the wide shots. You’ll often see a large film light of some sort. Apart from being able to see the subjects, lighting is used to make people look good! Don’t you want your business to look good?

With an untrained eye it can be easy to accept a TV image as ‘real life’. Trust us though, you’ll notice the lighting when it’s gone. Or if it’s bad!

Music to the ears: 

The other half of achieving the TV look is through getting good sound. When it’s not good you’ll notice it and will wish that you’d hired a professional. To maintain TV production values on an online budget we also take our sound very seriously, using broadcast quality microphones and recorders to ensure clarity and noiseless recordings. Some projects require their own sound recordist, just as in TV.

As online productions are usually smaller in scale than big TV shows, there is less of a requirement for large lighting rigs, mixing desks and huge teams of personnel which can add substantially to the cost of a production. Portable lighting kits, solo sound engineers and self shooting producers are more widely used than ever before. The number of crew required will depend on your individual requirements, but generally speaking the crews are small for online content.

Through planning and creativity, except you are in control.

Creating content for broadcast can sometimes be a little restricting. All of the major broadcasters such as ITV and SKY have strict broadcast guidelines regarding what can be considered ‘fit for broadcast’. Whilst legal issues such as libel, defamation and copyright breaches aren’t exactly blown under the carpet when it comes to producing online, the truth is by not having so many restrictions and guidelines to meet you can effectively have a lot more freedom when it comes to the kind of content you want to produce, how long that content should be and when you want to release it. With broadcast advertising you may also be competing with many other organisations, all after the same airtime. This can once again hike up the cost. Obviously, to get the most engagement from online distribution you should have a well informed social media and marketing strategy in place.

The beauty of having freedom to create whatever you want (within reason!) means that it’s easier to innovate and choose an idea that hasn’t been done before. This can increase the likelihood of your content being shared and for some, can even mean going viral. Remember, it has been accessibility to content on social media that has helped many adverts (that were originally made for broadcast) go viral. Do you think the Old Spice adverts would have had as much success if they weren’t shared on social media?

Need some inspiration? Take a look at this promo for Virgin Holidays where we got a bit creative. Cinematic slow motion cameras were used to capture members of Cirque du Soleil performing acrobatics on the streets of London.

https://mustard.film/portfolio/virgin-holidays/

The finishing touches to the TV look: post production.

To get the TV look it’s not just about the shoot itself but what we do to the footage afterwards. Colour grading, as part of the editing process, is used to enhance the images so that they help evoke a certain emotion from the audience. This can make your brand stand out from the crowd. Once this is done titles, text, motion graphics and animation can be added to further enhance the production.

The video below is a good example of how a project was really brought to life through post production. Not only did we shoot a range of material to promote London in the summer through the use of steadicams, drones and slow motion filming, but we added warm flashes of colour throughout to give off a summer flavour and produced some small animations along with the text. There’s a lot going on here and it certainly looks fit for TV.

https://mustard.film/portfolio/visit-london-summer-in-the-city/

Don’t forget..optimise your content for your chosen demographic!

Just because you’ve got your content looking like it should be on the telly you must not forget one of the key reasons for choosing to advertise online in the first place. Your creative freedom and a flexible online budget can allow you to customise your content for particular audiences; from simply adjusting the title cards for each audience to creating specific ads for each demographic. Once again, timing of release is crucial here too. What time of day are your customers most likely to be online? With so many options available, it’s down to you to decide what you would like and we will help you realise your vision.

And another thing..

The recurring theme here and the key difference between producing content for TV and online is the scale. Whilst there are many technological savings to be made and in ways a lot more freedom to produce the content you want for online, you will still have to consider the scale of your production. Hiring 50 extras to star in the background of a promo in London Victoria Station is still going to cost a fortune, regardless of whether it is for web or TV. If you are prepared to think big but balance it with realism then there is no reason why you can’t make substantial savings and still walk away with an incredible advert for your business.

To find out how we can achieve the TV look in your online production come on by and say hello!

 

5 ways to get better value video

In Britain we do love getting good value for money. However, investing for business can be a bit of a minefield. Whether or not video content is at the top of your list you can’t ignore the fact that the marketeers claim video is more crucial than ever. This is especially important where online presence and SEO are concerned. It’s true though; in an increasingly competitive world video can play a huge role in helping businesses stay ahead of the game. Simply put, they can engage, inform and entertain current and prospective customers much more efficiently than text.

 

One question many newcomers to video ask is:

How do I know I’ll get a return on investment?

The truth is, nobody can promise this. Every business investment you make, regardless of the cost and scale is a risk. However without risk there is no gain and by hiring specialists, such as a Video Production team, you can benefit from their expertise and experience in order to significantly reduce the risk and increase the likelihood of ROI.

But isn’t video expensive? 

Yes, sometimes it can be, but it doesn’t always have to be. With a well defined strategy for how your video will be used, who your audience is and by using time effectively there are ways to get exceptional value out of your video content. With a bit of knowledge and planning you can get excellent value. Suddenly you’ll find your venture has been transformed from being a costly expense into a cost effective investment.

So, if you’re still on the fence about investing in video here are a few ideas how you could get more video for your money with flyCreative:

1. Give as much notice as you can.

The more notice we are given about your project the better the end result will be. Whilst we could simply turn up on the day and hope for the best a better approach might be to help you develop your idea into a script and a story board beforehand so the filming is seamless. There are also many logistical elements that are better (or only possible!) with time too; booking a good room to film in at your premises, securing people for interviews, hiring specialist crew or equipment etc. Whilst we’re no strangers to last minute projects, the more notice we are given the better the end product will be and the happier you’ll be.

Our Alumni film below for the University of Brighton would never have happened if we hadn’t have given Fatboy Slim a little bit of notice. He’s a busy man!

https://mustard.film/portfolio/uob-alumni-film/

The bottom line: Booking a video production company is like booking train tickets, do it in advance (except we’ll actually turn up on time)!

2. Get the most out of your filming days.

When you hire us to film, you get us for the full day. Why not, if you’re not already, utilise us for the time you’ve paid for? Even if you have captured everything by lunchtime, there is often so much potential for content to be captured that may be useful at a later date you might as well get it there and then! Here are some examples:

  • If you’re getting a promotional video made, why not schedule in some testimonials too? These could be included in the main video as well as released in their own separate videos. This means more content for your Youtube channel and consequently improved SEO (you hear that Google?!)
  • Filming a 1 shot interview? Let us film the subject in their day to day work to get ‘cutaway’ or connecting shots which can be used to hide cuts (so we can take out the ‘ums’ and ‘ers’). It’s OK, we don’t need to be invasive if they are busy. Interesting ‘cutaways’ are always worth getting because using them can make content more visually interesting, pacier and ultimately increase the chances of higher audience retention. They may also be useful in future content.

Not to say that we don’t ever want to go home, but utilising us effectively will give you better value in the long run and it’ll raise the bar too.

Another one for the University of Brighton; we live streamed their graduations alongside producing a highlights video for them by capturing footage in the breaks. We just love a bit of efficiency!

https://mustard.film/portfolio/university-of-brighton-winter-ceremonies/

The bottom line: We always prefer to have the footage and not need it than the other way round!

3. Release your videos at the right time & spread multiple video releases over time.

Showing off new content as soon as it’s finished can be very tempting. However, to get the most impact from a release the timing is crucial, especially where social media comes into play. Do you think your customers will more likely notice your release on a Sunday evening or a Monday morning?

If you’re releasing multiple videos (separate testimonials or FAQs for example) then sometimes it may be more beneficial to release them gradually over time as part of a carefully planned marketing/social media strategy. A video a month or even a week will have customers coming back to your site regularly which once again is great for SEO and website traffic in general. If your content is engaging and has been produced professionally, your subscribers will value your output more and will await your next release with anticipation. Even for longer videos, a 30 second teaser could be easily produced to get your audience interested in your upcoming content through social media.

We produced a series of makeup tutorials for professional make up artist Ruby Lonsdale. Just 1 days filming resulted in numerous tutorials and is a great example of how content can be used to build up an audience over time. See one of them below.

https://mustard.film/portfolio/thebodyshop/

The bottom line: Good synergy between video production and marketing is essential for getting good value.

4. Allow the professionals to produce your video content for the entire process.

We know it may be tempting to get a student to edit your video for ‘experience’ or to just shoot it on your iPhone (sigh). However if you try to cut corners then you’ll probably end up coming to the pros anyway sooner or later. ‘If you buy cheap you buy twice’ as they say and in video production there is no exception. We can’t make your shaky, grainy phone footage look or sound good I’m afraid. By getting it right from the start you can benefit from the many years of experience and industry standard equipment that the pros (us!) can offer. Maybe your project could do with some quality motion graphics or your event could be live streamed? Services such as these can really elevate your output which will impress your current and future clientele.

Fun animation and motion graphics are great ways of impressing your customers and will really show that you mean business. Here’s one we did for King’s Education:

https://mustard.film/portfolio/kings-education-pathways/

The bottom line: show your business in the best light from the start!

 

5. Build a relationship with your video production team.

What’s so great about working in this industry for us is that it is all about building relationships. Think about whenever you pay for a service, such as when you go to get your car fixed. How often do you find yourself going back to the same provider of the service? You may find yourself even going out of your way so that you can have that service; you know what to expect and you can trust the provider to always make you happy. For us in video production it is very much like this; many of our clients come back time and time again to use our services for that very reason: trust.

How can you benefit from this relationship? There are actually many ways! A good video production team will get to know your business, your market and your target audience much better when working together long term. We may not be experts in your field but after a period of collaboration we’ll know your business much better than if you were to hire someone new and start all over. Even on a practical level; if we already have footage, logos and an understanding of your brand, it is far easier and less time consuming for us to re edit or reuse these materials in future content than it would be to pass it on to someone else. Further down the line, retainer contracts can be excellent for both parties; you can get a set amount of video content on a regular basis at a good price. You get better value and we get the security of regular work. It’s a win win situation for all.

After producing two videos for Visit Britain we followed them up with one for Visit London. Understanding the brand values and bringing them to the screen in a creative way helped us land this one:

https://mustard.film/portfolio/visit-london-summer-in-the-city/

The bottom line: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Just build on it!

Ready to increase the value of your content?

A bit of creativity and an effective marketing strategy are the real secrets here to getting better value video. Just having video content isn’t good enough this day and age; you have to stand out from the crowd. With a claim that 300 hours worth of content is uploaded to Youtube every day, there’s a lot of content to compete with. If you make good creative and marketing decisions from the outset your content will become more shareable which means a greater chance of return on investment, no matter which industry you’re in. Little things such as adding tags, descriptions and even subtitles can also help you grow your audience and improve your SEO for not much extra effort.

We may not have the secret to going viral. However we do know how to make videos that will excite, engage and entertain your audience, whoever they may be. To find out more about how we could spice up your video content in London, Brighton or further afield then drop us a line today.

 

 

How to prepare for your video interview

Whether you are preparing for your first ever interview on camera or you’ve been filmed a few times before, the prospect of being interviewed, for some, can be a little daunting. Even if you do know what to expect, the most confident and experienced of people can still find themselves stumbling as soon as the camera rolls. If you find yourself a little nervous that’s OK, you’re not alone. However, filming doesn’t have to be a strenuous task and with our guidance we’ll have you speaking confidently on camera in no time.

The purpose of this article is to give you a few quick tips about the filming process so that you don’t just leave your shoot with engaging material but you also enjoy the experience.

First things first: eyeline

Talking head Most corporate, promotional and event video interviews are carried out with the interviewee looking away from the camera rather than into the lens. Unless you are delivering a presentation or presenting a show then this is usually the best way to do it. Without having to look down the lens your interview has already become much easier as you can look directly at the person asking the questions, whether that be the videographer or someone from your own organisation. This approach helps you to forget that the camera is even there. All that it’s really doing is documenting a conversation.

Talk about what you know

It should be safe to assume that you’re being interviewed about a subject that you’re highly knowledgeable about. You will probably be saying things that you regularly talk about in your day to day work. So if there are any questions you’re unsure about, speak up and let your videographer know. Some questions might be better for a colleague!

With these first two points you may find that the interview process is already much easier than you initially thought.

Full sentences please

Now this is where it gtalking head studentets a little trickier. Although we should treat your interview as the “documenting of a conversation” the truth is for most promotional videos this conversation is actually going to be quite one sided. To keep up the pace of your video and deliver the crucial information, we need to cut out the interviewer’s questions so that we only hear you. To make this work, you’ll need to answer the questions in full sentences so that your answer still makes sense when the question is removed. This may involve you repeating the question in your answer.

Here are some examples.

The incorrect method:

INTERVIEWER

Do you enjoy working in video production?

ME

Yes, I do.

This isn’t suitable because if we inserted this into a sequence nobody would know what I was saying yes to!

The correct method:

INTERVIEWER

Do you enjoy working in video production?

ME

I enjoy working in video production because it’s a fast moving industry. It can be competitive and challenging at times, but ultimately it’s very rewarding work.

This answer is much better. Notice how I’ve expanded on my original answer a little bit and as a result it is much more interesting.

Technical matters

There are a few other things to bear in mind before you start filming. If you’ve hired video professionals such as flycreative, you won’t need to worry about the technical side of things. That’s what we’re there for! However, it is good to have some awareness of what we will be doing so it doesn’t surprise you on the day.

We want you to look and sound your best. To achieve this and avoid a costly reshoot we aim to capture the best material possible whilst we’re there. From a technical standpoint there could be a number of reasons why we might need to stop, solve an issue and repeat the question again. Our lighting might need adjusting or our microphones may be picking up a loud conversation outside the room otalking head wwtwr humming from the air con. We may ask you to repeat your answer but shorten it slightly, rephrase it to avoid repetition of certain words or allow a slightly bigger gap between the question and your answer so nobody is talking over each other. Sometimes it’s good just to have options when it comes to the edit. If your videographer does intervene, don’t worry, this is perfectly normal.

 

Practice makes perfect

Because filming can require a bit of setup time, you can actually use this to your advantage. If you allow yourself enough time whilst the videographer is setting up you can actually practice what you’re going to say before the camera rolls. Even if they are operating alone and are asking the questions themselves, they will still need to test their audio levels, so this is your time to practice and to talk with them about your answers. You’ll soon feel at ease.

Example interviews

If you still need a bit of reassurance, why not see how others have done it? In our Signature Airlines promo we shot multiple interviews and achieved a fast paced, informative video through applying these techniques. It may not be obvious, but the majority of the people in this video had never been filmed before!

For the purposes of the edit (e.g. pacing) your full interview may not make it into the final video. This shouldn’t alarm you; usually there isn’t enough time to feature everything in a 3 minute video! Being concise and to the point is key and our Signature Airlines video demonstrates this perfectly.

Ready to do your interview?

Remember that the beauty of video production is that you can always stop and answer your question again. There’s no need to worry, even professional actors rarely nail it on the first take!

Now that you’re armed with these tips you can relax and go into your interview feeling like a pro.

To find out more about getting a professional video made for your business drop us a line today.

 

So you shoot video…but can you do stills?

Many times I have been on a shoot and the client has asked if I can do photos too. Now I imagine this is a popular question for the majority of other videographers too but for me it has always been a bit difficult to answer. I’ll explain why.

Whilst it could appear that a digital professional who works in one visual medium would probably be competent in a similar one, the truth is that video and stills photography aren’t always as close to each other as many may think. In theory, anyone can take our their phone and take a picture and shoot some video with relatively no skill at all but most businesses wouldn’t choose this option if they wanted high quality content. Assuming that your photos and videos could be done by the same person is also not always the best thing if you want the highest quality from either, however it’s easy to see why those outside of the creative industries might pair the two up.

The reality is that the skills and experience required for the role of videographer and photographer are completely different, despite an overlap of certain techniques and equipment.

Hold on! There are some similarities..

Technically we – the video guys – can do your stills. The single biggest reason why is that we actually use DSLR cameras to shoot our videos! Using dedicated stills cameras for video may seem absurd but one of the main benefits can be that we have the ability get high quality images at excellent value. The Sony A7Sii and Panasonic GH4 are both good examples of DSLRs that offer 4K video capability at an affordable price and as 4K online video is still in it550D food filmings infancy it’s not economical for the majority of us to invest in top of the range 4K video or cinema cameras so these types of DSLRs are sensible purchases. Adding to this, many DSLRs have large sensors meaning that they are exceptional in low light which is great for event videos and can offer cinematic bokeh (background blur) which can make videos look stunning. DSLRs are also perfect for shooting high quality timelapses which can add another interesting element to video content. With these considerations it makes absolute sense that online content producers have DSLRs at their disposal.

Shot composition, framing and an understanding of the technology behind the respective crafts are essential regardless of whether someone shoots video, stills or both. Colour temperature, exposure and shutter speed (or angle) are further concepts that must be grasped by either professional.

A whole lotta’ differences..

Apart from the obvious one that videos are moving and stills are not, there are actually many other less obvious differences between the two which maybe mean no, us videographers can’t (or choose not to) do your stills.

Camera on slider

Motion from the camera or from the subject helps to make a sequence more engrossing.

It boils down to the key ingredients for each craft which are in turn, completely different. Video needs motion, whereas photography is all about light (well actually, premium video is about light, which I talked about in an earlier article but the absolute bare bones of video production is motion). Successful business videos engage with an audience, encouraging them to react (i.e. with a like, share or comment on social media) and to help with this motion is essential to keeping their attention. Even if the subject isn’t moving a cut to another angle can be enough to create at least an element of movement. Sound is the other key skill in video production that often gets overlooked but it really is an art in itself.

City of London

Landscape photography – being in the right place at the right time..and having a bit of patience!

Photography however is all about capturing perfect moments in the best light, whether that be using natural or artificial sources or a combination of the two. Capturing a single moment that’s sharp, interesting and exposed well is an entirely different art to shooting video and for a picture to paint a thousand words, it has to be something special. Landscape photography is a good example of how difficult it can be; to get the perfect image photographers may have to wait for hours to be in the right place at the right time in order to capture the best natural light.

The post production process can be drastically different too. Photographic editing often involves retouching, fine adjustment and layers upon layers of edits even just for a single image. Car photography in a studio is a good example; to make the various parts of a car look perfect all at once each part has to be lit separately and all of the images blended together in post production to only show the best bits from each setup. Whilst this can happen in video too it is much more time consuming and processor intensive as multiple layers of correction would require key framing (and bearing in mind that PAL video is made up of 25 frames per second, that’s a lot of frames to consider!) and so only suitable for the highest end projects.

“Could you take a still image from the video?”

Another question that I get asked often. Yes, this is possible, however as the majority of online content is shot in HD, not 4K, doing this means that you will have a smaller resolution image than you would have done if you had used a designated stills camera (and not in video mode). Megapixels are more important in photography than video for sure and as a result many camcorders will have a much lower pixel count, plus if there is any movement in your video taking a still frame might leave you with a subject that’s got a bit of motion blur. For some web purposes it may be fine extracting a smaller image from a video (including in a blog for instance) but if you wanted to zoom in, enlarge the image greatly or print it professionally then it wouldn’t be a suitable option.

So in practice yes, but if you want the best quality then no.

Wedding shooters: similar equipment, different style.

Wedding DSLR

5Dmkiii – a popular choice of camera for both wedding photographers and DSLR videographers

A good example of the differing styles of a videographer and a photographer would be at a typical wedding. The photographer will be capturing the key moments of the day but will also be herding the guests so they can set up and take memorable portraits that can be cherished forever. With only one opportunity to get these people together they are very much in the limelight during certain parts of the day. They would certainly need to be a people person!

The videographer however will be the complete opposite; rather than being noticeable and central to the day they will most likely be blending into the background so that they can go unnoticed. They would capture the day but not intervene with the order of events so that when the happy couple come to watch their video back they actually see the day from a whole new perspective. Events can be unpredictable so being able to foresee what’s coming and then be able to simultaneously capture the best audio and visuals is something that can take years of mastering.

C100 wedding

Canon C100 – where stills and motion overlap. A camcorder that uses interchangeable DSLR lenses.

The editing styles of each wedding shooter role differ immensely too; the photographer will spend days editing potentially hundreds of photos whereas the videographer will most likely be editing in camera, shooting as linearly as they can on the day to keep the editing time affordable and sustainable in the long term. This is especially important as data processing could take almost as much time as the editing itself due to the large file sizes involved and the process of burning the final (often hour long or more) videos onto multiple DVDs for clients.

The bottom line

Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely no harm in offering both video and photographic services but the point of this post is that there are different skills, workflows and to some extent, even personal qualities that can be applied to each craft and more often than not the best practice is to hire the relevant specialist. On the contrary, many experienced cinematographers in film production have backgrounds in stills photography, as do many photographers venture into video production, so there is no set rule. At the end of the day it certainly can’t hurt to have an interest in both fields but knowing and being honest about where your strengths and weaknesses lie is vital when it comes to maintaining strong working relationships, regardless of the industry you work in.

So if we were to answer to the original question: “Can you do stills?”, well yes; here at FlyCreative we rely on a trusted network of talented freelancers with a range of talents to assist us in fulfilling our moving image and other digital needs. If we can’t personally meet your requirements then we’ll certainly be able to recommend you a trusted professional.

Get in touch today to find out more about our services.

Why we use external recorders to record video

It’s rare to be able to just turn up on set, take a camera out of it’s bag and start shooting straight away. With such a vast range of accessories available to shooters for all manner of shooting situations it’s hard to keep up with, let alone afford all the technology available to us. However, one tool that appears to be cropping up more than most are external recorders. In fact, they’ve been around for a little while now yet they continue to be growing in popularity. For those who may have wondered what the point of these devices is, read on.

What is the point in recording video externally?

1. Edit friendly codecs

Do you know which codec you should be editing in?

Do you know which codec you should be editing in?

This is the primary reason why anyone would record externally. Many consumer and prosumer cameras, notably DSLRs (except for a few exceptions), compress footage using codecs that are good for keeping file sizes down and easy playback but aren’t so good for editing and colour grading.

The Canon 5D mkiii for example records internally with the H.264 codec and it’s files can be opened easily on any computer. However, editing using this codec can prove troublesome, often resulting in glitchy or delayed playback. When colour grading the limitation of this codec results in a relatively small dynamic range, meaning that pushing or pulling the image a great deal will result in substantial noise and lack of ability to recover the highlights and shadows. Even with the likes of non linear editing applications such as Adobe Premiere allowing you to conform almost any type of video file to the editing timeline, the limitations of the original codec do not go away. Edit friendly codecs, most notably Apple Pro res 422 (and the numerous variants of it) are a good solution to improving workflow for those who often find themselves batch converting lots of files, being particularly useful for projects with a tight turnaround. These codecs can be found on all good external recorders.

ninja blade conference

Atomos Ninja blade mounted to Canon 5D mkiii for a conference. Extending the record time to over 30 minutes, using mains power and recording to Pro Res LT made the filming and editing infinitely easier.

2.Higher bit rates

The bit rate required for video footage can vary greatly, depending on what it is that you’re shooting. Live event filming may require lower bit rates for storage whereas commercials would need broadcast quality. Many lower end cameras however are limited in the bit rates that they offer, often not qualifying as ‘broadcast quality’ because their bit rate is too low (by broadcast quality, I’m referring to the minimum bit rate required for HD footage broadcast on the BBC which is 100Mbits/sec). External recorders allow cameras to deliver higher bit rates by using codecs such as pro res 422, as mentioned above. Without compressing and uncompressing footage, digital artifacts that can plague footage for broadcast can be eliminated.

External recorders can also help for those going through an offline and online editing process. Although you’ll need more storage space for footage shot with higher bit rates, shooting directly with them still allows you to use proxies (lower quality versions) so editors who are cutting large projects with substantial amounts of information can edit using lower quality files and then reconnect them with the higher quality files at a later date for colour grading and delivery. This is much more efficient and less processor intensive than editing with colossal amounts of high quality data from the outset. Although you still need to downscale to the proxy, you have one less job to do and the amount of time saved by not having to batch convert masses of data to a high quality codec can be better spent editing.

For more information on the pro res codec and the variants of it, including their effective bit rates, check out this useful article on the matter.

3. Monitoring solutions

No need to record externally with the Amira, however the PIX-E5 by Video Devices made a useful monitor. It c

No need to record externally with the Amira which records ProRes internally, however the Sound Devices PIX-E5 made a useful monitor for me. It could have also been used for low res recording for quick assembly edits.

Excluding the Atomos Ninja Star, most external recorders include a screen for monitoring purposes. Most of these are in fact larger than the inbuilt LCD screens on most cameras which make them incredibly useful even if you aren’t recording to them! For those situations when you can’t reach the viewfinder or see the screen, or another person needs to see the screen such as an assistant or client, having an extra screen can speed up the filming process.

Now, whether recorders are a suitable replacement for professional, colour accurate monitors or not is another topic entirely, however for the purposes of most shoots the extra screen is rarely going to be a hindrance. What’s more, inbuilt tools and scopes for exposure (waveforms, false colour and zebras.) and achieving critical focus (peaking and magnification) are usually offered in addition to the screen. Even if some of these features are included on the camera, the chances are there will be more on the recorder (and they will be much easier to use!).

4. Cost efficient & reliable media

Most external recorders store files on readily available HDDs and SSDs*. The former is more cost effective per gigabyte whereas the latter is often faster and more reliable with no moving parts. Either way, both these methods of storage are easy to find, purchase and change, unlike some storage media that can be extremely expensive (e.g. red mag SSDs and SxS cards). If you’re going to be recording hours of footage at high bit rates, affordable and reliable storage should be at the top of your list of priorities.

*The Atomos Ninja star is an exception, using ultra fast and reliable C Fast cards. This ultimately comes at a premium.

5. Compatible powering solutions

Dual batteries on the PIX-E5

Dual batteries can be a godsend

Not a primary reason for using but models offered by Atomos and Video Devices in particular are well noted for their compatibility when it comes to power and in some instances can out last the camera (5D shooters, take note!). The Atomos Ninja Blade for example can be powered by Sony NPF, Canon and Nikon batteries, as well as with an AC unit. Adding to this, dual battery slots are a common feature in most recorders and allow for continuous use on location.

 

 

 

 

Do we need external recorders for every shoot?

conference and ninja blade

A quality recorder can be a useful asset as well as a costly, glamorous add on. The question is, do you need one or want one?

The answer to this, as I would say about any other bit of equipment is no; there is always a time and a place. Sometimes it is simply easier to turn up with your camera and shoot. News gathering, weddings and sports are just some examples where it might just be easier to shoot in camera, especially if it means the difference between getting the shot or not. However, this is all relative to the camera you’re using in the first place (if you need some help choosing a camera it may be worth checking out an earlier article on how to choose the right camera for the job).

External recorders have been designed to get an extra lease of life out of cameras old and new and to make content producers’ lives that little bit easier. However despite this, we shouldn’t forget that every extra gadget needed to get our desired results is another item that needs to be powered, mounted, connected, protected in transit and supported with compatible media; all of which usually come at extra cost. Ultimately it’s down to you and what you shoot to determine whether a recorder is a suitable investment for you or something to hire on occasion.

In the case of the Sony A7S mark i, an external recorder was a solution to a camera that couldn't record 4K internally

In the case of the Sony A7S mark i, an external recorder was a solution to a camera that could record 4K video but not internally

 

Prices for external recorders can range from a few hundred to several thousand pounds, depending on the features, connections, maximum resolution and frame rates offered. Below are some of the popular manufacturers:

Atomos

Black Magic Design

Convergent Design

Video Devices

 

 

How to choose the right lens for the job

Following on from my earlier article about how to choose the right camera for the job it made sense to follow up with one on how to choose the right lens, a major factor that will help you with your choice of camera. The two go hand in hand and your decision on which camera to choose could actually be dependent on the lenses you plan to use.

My stance on choosing lenses is very much the same as cameras:

No lens is perfect. But, for each job there is a perfect lens (or lenses).

Even then, it is subjective.

You see, just like cameras, lenses have their own quirks and variants that make them ideal in certain situations and a nightmare in others. It would be easy to assume that cost alone would be the main consideration but just spending more on a piece of glass doesn’t necessarily make it perfect for your project.

Consider your situation. Do you have a short term brief to meet or a long term investment to consider? If you are stuck choosing a lens for your camera, here are some factors to consider before your investment becomes a money losing opportunity:

Video Production Brighton

mmm, such choice!

Price

First and foremost. What’s your budget? Typically, lenses become more expensive the better they are in low light, the less they breathe when focusing and the sharper they are. Image stabilization, build quality and brand can also affect the cost of the glass considerably.

Return on investment

Are you shooting a one off job or a series of projects? Knowing exactly what you need, rather than what you would like will narrow your choice down and then it’s a matter of working out how likely you would be able to make a return on your investment with the options left to you. Is a £3K cine prime really your best choice to buy when you mostly shoot talking heads? On the contrary, is spending a little bit more going to mean that your lens will outlive your next 2 cameras?

 

Mount type    EF mount

This is a big one. Different lens mounts have varying choices that go along with them and this will of course affect your choice of camera. Here are just some of the options available to you:

 

 

EF (Canon) – Popular mount choice for Canon cameras and some third party cameras such as the Black Magic Production Camera.

F – (Nikon) – Another popular choice of mount with a huge range of lenses available to choose from and numerous adapters to adapt them for other systems.

A & E (Sony) – Both A and E mount lenses are rising in popularity due to the likes of Sony cameras such as the A7S and FS7, although some would argue that there is less choice here than some of the other mounts.

PL (Arri) – Geared towards cinema, originally designed for 16mm and 35mm film cameras. Extremely high quality but out of reach for most who are looking to buy.

IMG_9025

Is your 24 really a 24?

Angle of view and crop factor

There are countless combinations available to you when it comes to choosing lenses and cameras so it’s important to understand field of view and crop factor before you accidentally make the wrong purchase.

Crop factor refers to how much a lens magnifies the image when a camera’s sensor is smaller than a full frame sensor or an equivalent 35mm film camera. Most lenses are designed using full frame as a reference, however it’s the sensor size that determines what your actual angle of view would be.

For example, a 24mm lens on a Canon 5D, which has a full frame sensor, will give us an angle of view equivalent to 24mm (73.7 degrees to be exact). However, on a smaller sensor camera such as the Canon 600D (APS-C sensor) there is a crop factor of 1.6 meaning 24mm is magnified by 1.6. Our 24mm now gives an angle of view equivalent to about 38mm on a full frame sensor (or 51.9 degrees). This is quite a jump when you think about it, so making sure you know what angle of view you need before you decide is crucial.

70-200 devils dyke

Could you do with a little extra reach?

Crop factors can be a disadvantage when you need wide angles, such as in this example, but on longer lenses they can give you much greater range which could work for you. It’s also good to know that there are lenses designed specifically for crop sensor cameras, so wide angles aren’t limited to full frame users alone.

To learn more about crop factor check out this excellent field of view calculator from Abelcine.

 

Type of production

What do you currently shoot or plan to shoot? This will determine which lenses will fit your needs best. Consider the following:

  • What size screen your project will show on – any optical imperfections will naturally be magnified in a cinema
  • Sharpness required – you’ll get more sharpness for your money when choosing primes over zooms
  • The size of the camera crew – do you have someone to help you change lenses safely?
  • Project turnaround – do you have time to change lenses for every shot?
  • The location & portability – do you like to travel light?
  • If you need to zoom – how unpredictable is your subject or location?
  • Your lighting conditions – are you shooting a lot in low light?
  • Screw in filters or mattebox – what kind of ND, polarisers and other filters will you be using?
  • The grip you have available – will you always have a rig or is image stabilization essential?
  • Follow focus – to attach or not and if so, how?
  • Aesthetics & personal preferences – is beautiful bokeh (background blur) or minimal distortion a priority? What about the way a particular lens handles contrast and saturation?

With answers to these questions you should get a clearer idea of whether you need primes, zooms or perhaps a bit of both.

Examples

As you can see there is a lot to consider when making a lens choice. In fact, you may just be a little more stuck than you were before. However, have no fear as here are a couple of practical examples of lens/camera combinations I’ve used and the pros and cons of these choices.

WWTW

The 24-70. Good for close ups..

Walking with the Wounded: Cumbrian Challenge

The brief: 3 minute highlights video of fundraising event. Positive and engaging.

Location: The Lake district

Camera: Canon C100 with Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L & Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS L

 

Screenshot 2016-01-28 11.07.55

..and for GVs.

The C100 has a crop factor of 1.3 so my 24mm became a 31.2mm and my 200mm became a whopping 260mm. Being in the great outdoors having zooms covering this range was excellent and being able to get shots of the walkers from a great distance was essential. The widest angle was still wide enough to get establishing shots; anything much wider probably would have weighed me down unnecessarily.

 

Screenshot 2016-01-28 11.08.28

The 70-200 was good for flexibility on the mountainside..

In fact, talking of weight, the telephoto lens was a beast. As it opened up to f2.8 it was quite heavy but being in the great outdoors during the day meant that I never needed this extra stop of light. In this case, the 70-200 f4 IS would have been more suitable as it is smaller and lighter (as well as cheaper). Image stabilization for me was a must on the telephoto though as it wasn’t always easy to use a tripod and it was quite windy up on that mountain.

 

Screenshot 2016-01-28 11.28.28

..which resulted in a good variety of coverage

Other suitable lenses:

Canon 24-105 f4 IS L – This would have given my 24-70 greater range and image stabilization at the expense of 1 stop of light and some sharpness.

Canon 28-135 f3.5-5.6 IS – If I only wanted to take one lens this may have been the best option. Incredible range and image stabilization at the expense of aperture and sharpness.

 

Noose

Brief: Short horror film. Moody and suspenseful.

Location: Hotel interior

Camera: Canon 5D mkii with Zeiss ZF primes and EF adapter

A short film I did a few years ago. Full frame was the choice for this project because low light ability, shallow depth of field and a wide angle of view were essential to getting a cinematic look whilst showing the space within the rooms. The Zeiss set hired included an 18, 25, 35, 50, 85 and 100mm so were a fantastic range for drama and being primes, were very good in low light. What’s more, their sharpness and very aesthetically pleasing bokeh (background blur) made them an exceptional choice for the project.

Screenshot 2016-01-28 11.54.47

The 18mm showed the space of the hotel perfectly without distorting the edges

Screenshot 2016-01-28 11.50.02

The Zeiss lenses have exceptional bokeh

On the flip side changing lenses slowed us down on what was already an incredibly tight schedule plus there were no focus gears on the lenses themselves (we had some complicated camera moves) so we had to apply and reapply focus rings quite often. What’s more, being Nikon mount we had to also attach and reattach EF adapters which once again, slowed us down. Of course, we could have chosen to use a zoom lens to speed things up but our maximum aperture would have been lower and there would be a greater chance of distortion in the corners of the image.

At the end of the day image quality really mattered here and by looking at the stills you can see why I would choose Zeiss primes again in a heartbeat.

Other suitable lenses:

Canon EF cine primes – Incredibly sharp and optimized for cinema with manual iris, focus rings and no ‘breathing’ when focusing, these lenses would have been an excellent choice. The EF mount would have made them quick to change too, however, all of this would have come at a much higher price.

Canon L series primes – These would be around the same price to hire as the Zeiss but with the Canon mount for convenience. No focus rings again and aesthetics that are in my opinion not as pleasing (this is just personal preference) but they are certainly a good economical choice, especially for sharpness.

 

These are just a few examples to get you thinking and of course these are just my own opinions, but as you can see it’s a bit of a minefield out there. There are so many factors to consider and what one person needs in their lenses may be unnecessary for another so ultimately it’s down to you to decide what your priority is. It also doesn’t help that new lenses are being introduced regularly, although fortunately nowhere near as much as new cameras are.

One thing to remember though is that old lenses aren’t necessarily bad lenses! If they are free of mould and scratches and the like, they could be perfectly usable. In fact, newer lenses with electronically controlled apertures (Canon are particularly guilty here) limit your choice of format unless you’re prepared to buy expensive powered adapters such as Metabones. However, older manual lenses such as the Nikon M42 variety can be used on many modern cameras (with adapters if necessary) usually at a much lower cost but sometimes rivaling the quality in areas. In fact many vintage lenses have characteristics that make them rare and unique (this deserves an article in itself) hence their appeal to collectors and photography lovers.

At the end of the day do your research and only get what you need. By concentrating on producing high quality work and making sensible choices you’ll realise it’s not just about the camera or the lens, but the person behind it.

Video Production London

10 things they don’t tell you about working in video production

Universities, film schools, specialist courses – all can be a great place to start if you want to equip yourself with useful skills for a job working in video or film production. However, there are some things that just can’t be learned in an educational environment. Only by talking to those already working in the industry and gaining experience yourself will you learn some things that no book or lecture could ever prepare you for. So listen up, we’ve got a few industry insights here. Some are positive and some are not, but if you want to work in this industry you had better listen to the pros first before you dive in at the deep end.

Video Production Company Brighton

Fatboy Slim appreciated the gig!

1. Every new job you land, no matter how big or small, becomes a huge personal victory.

This is especially true to start ups and freelancers. It is much harder to get new clients than it is to get repeat business from an existing one. Even landing little jobs that only last a few hours can give you that warm feeling inside that something is working because people want to hire YOU. This in turn will help you stay driven and motivated. Enjoy it!

 

2. How tremendously adaptable you sometimes have to be.

To get where you want to be in your career you may find yourself sooner or later doing something that you don’t really want to do (well, that’s life!) but you’ll realise that it’s a necessity to making any sort of progress. Whether it be learning a new skill in an area you’re not confident in or taking on work in a completely different industry just so you can survive until your next video job comes in, if you really want to succeed you’ll do what it takes. You may just find it character building too.

3. Marketing is so incredibly, ridiculously important.

Whether you freelance or run your own business, you simply can’t avoid the subject of marketing or you will fail. Word of mouth is often described as one of the best ways of getting work in an industry as small as this, and this is true, but first impressions count and knowing who it is you are trying to work for and how to target them is key to starting new working relationships. Included in this is the ability to sell yourself, plus with growing demand for online video content the marketeers out there should be your best friends!

4. GAS.

Not the poisonous kind, unless you let it get the better of you. GAS stands for gear acquisition syndrome. It is actually a thing. In the western world we are suckers for consumerism and just love to own stuff but this is especially true in video production for cameras are sexy, lenses are bokehlicious and a DJI octocopter – well, who wouldn’t want one of those?

Video Production Brighton

I’ll take them all please

It’s very tempting to spend lots of money and think your career will instantly bloom but if you’re not careful you could get stuck in a never ending process of continually needing to buy stuff and never make any money as a result. For some of us of course it is important that you buy the right tools for the job but perhaps consider whether you really do need that new flashy gizmo or if hiring would be a more sensible option. And don’t forget, your talent counts for something too.

There’s some brilliant advice on the matter in this filmmaker magazine article by DOP Sean Porter including one bit that really stuck with me:

“We have to be very cognizant about the impact, however minute, we make when we mix our creative responsibilities with enterprise. Your gear is a powerful influence on your work, both good and bad. I think stepping up means knowing which is which, even if it’s not the answer you want to hear.”

Wise words.

5. How to balance multiple jobs.

This for me, and I’m sure many others, is probably one of the hardest things about starting off in this industry that’s on this list. I’m not just talking multiple film or video jobs; I’m referring to balancing the self employed work with the employed. The paid with the unpaid. The desirable with the reliable. The big question that nobody seems to have the answer to is:

How can you get experience without a job when you can’t get the job without experience?

You have to start somewhere. Maybe you’ll be working part time so many days a week so you can focus on the video work on your days off – if you can afford to live off part time wages. But then, what if your perfect job comes up while you’re at work and you could be potentially missing out on your big break? If you keep trying to get time off from your reliable work are you likely to keep that job for long? On the contrary if you always keep your diary open, how do you know that you’re definitely going to land more video work to pay the bills? Juggling the reliable and the desirable work can be an absolute nightmare and it’s one thing that no educational institution can ever prepare you for.

My advice is to keep your options open and explore the different possibilities available to you until you find something that works. Everybody needs to earn somehow but what ends up working for one person may not work for someone else. I recently wrote about how my non video job helped me learn new transferable skills but the most important thing to understand is you have to be prepared to work your socks off, whichever path you decide to tread.

Oh, and one more thing. Dealing with a clash of job offers never gets any easier.

6. When to say no.

I must refer again to the article mentioned earlier by DOP Sean Porter, who deals with this point in great detail. Knowing when to say no can be another one of the hardest things to deal with in this industry. Taking on too much work could leave your clients unsatisfied or affect your personal life and relationships in a negative way. It’s another thing that can only be learned through experience and through applying a good level of judgment every time an opportunity arises. We’ve all accepted those jobs we’d wished we’d declined but it’s all about learning from these mistakes so that our future selves won’t curse our present selves into oblivion!

money

Budgeting can be hard when your income fluctuates

7. Steady sources of income can disappear suddenly and you may not know why.

A client may go on sick leave or change premises, marketing budgets may be slashed or a competitor may offer your clients better value. In fact, there are a whole host of reasons why you might lose a steady client and it can be very hard and frustrating when this happens, especially if you don’t know why.

The answer? Don’t take it personally, avoid complacency and learn to be like a gecko – adapt! Don’t stress and remember that factors which are beyond your control can be a blessing as well as a curse in your work life. It also pays during busy times to save for a rainy day.

8. How to manage your taxes.

Tax returns, accounting, filing..yawn. It may be boring but unfortunately it’s something that none of us can avoid doing, whether we freelance or run a business. Not to suck the fun completely out of the creative industry at hand but the more you learn about tax returns and the like the earlier on in your career the easier it will be for you to stay on top of your money and make sensible decisions throughout. You wouldn’t want any nasty surprises now!

The first place to look for information on all things tax is the HMRC website.

9. Your competition may also be your friends.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Working in such a small industry means we often bump into familiar faces and that includes the competition. The beauty of this, unlike most industries, is your competition could not only help to keep you on your toes but they could potentially be a reliable stand in for you when you need a helping hand or could loan you equipment and vice versa. There’s also a thing called referral fees for the business minded among us!

Video Production Brighton

Time to take a break?

10. How to switch off and relax.

Last, but certainly not least. You spend so much of your time and energy hacking away at your career that no matter where you are on the ladder, it can be nigh on impossible to switch off from work when you’re worried about things like where your next pay cheque is, if your clients will like your work and what your competitors are up to. Whether running a business or working for yourself and with dangerous cross overs between work and play on your social media accounts, switching off from the world of work can be very difficult indeed. It could be viewed as a good thing as we are just that determined to succeed, but don’t let it consume you. Allow yourself some ‘me time’ and enjoy those rare opportunities to turn off your phone. Your other half will appreciate it!

There is no real single secret to a successful career in any of the creative industries, but hopefully these insights will help you make the right decisions early on. If you make mistakes along the way however, that’s OK, it is part of your professional development no matter what career you decide to embark on (except for the tax issues – we wouldn’t want you getting in trouble!).

Light meters – do we need them for video?

It was my birthday earlier this week and one of the presents I received from my family was a light meter – a Sekonic Flashmate L-308s to be exact. This little gizmo is hardly the most glamorous gadget in the arsenal of video gear and probably nowhere near the top of most camera peoples’ wishlists, but nevertheless I decided that it was time to get one. Now I shoot quite a lot of video and you may be wondering why I would ever need a light meter when most video cameras have histograms, wave forms, zebras and other exposure aids built in. It’s perfectly valid to question why anyone would want to spend more money on an item that is, in theory, debatable as to whether it is really needed in these modern times.

In this digital age and with the rapid advancement of technology has the light meter become more of a relic from a bygone era rather than an essential video making tool? Do photographers even need to use them anymore now that most shoot digital? Do we really need light meters for video?

The short answer is yes. But it’s not as simple as that. Depending on what you shoot, the answer may actually be no. To decide if you do need a light meter or not it’s worth considering the reasons why one might have one in their kit bag. You may be surprised at how many reasons there are:

sekonic light meter

Sekonic – a widely adopted brand of light meters

1. To get the most accurate exposure:

First and foremost and the most obvious reason for owning one. I’m not discounting inbuilt light meters in digital cameras but the truth is a quality light meter will always be the most accurate way to measure exposure because that is their primary purpose. Inbuilt light meters usually feature modes that rely on averaging the exposure by taking several readings across the frame. Using an averaging mode can sometimes result in the camera been tricked into the wrong exposure because it averages the whole scene rather than taking a reading of the subject you are focusing on, meaning your subject could end up over or under exposed. Using a light meter here can allow you to expose the correct area of the frame first time round.

To control the highlight in this image a flag was held partially in front of the light source so it didn't wrap around the face too much.

The back light here was deliberately over exposed so that it was unrecoverable in post but if I wanted to I could have measured it so it was specifically 1 or 2 stops over the rest of his face.

2. It is easier to control your contrast:

Once you have established optimum exposure of your subject, a light meter can be used to balance the other areas of the frame to help create the look your production desires. For instance, you may want everything to be flat and even for a corporate video or high contrast and moody for drama. You could always judge by eye but knowing exactly how many stops over or under areas of your image are you can have confidence knowing that you’re being accurate. What’s more, if you know the dynamic range of your camera you can expose your images in a way that lets you have a greater degree of flexibility during colour grading if you want it.

Can you rely on the natural light alone?

3. You can have a more efficient location recce:

When you visit a location how do you know what equipment to bring if you don’t know how good the natural light really is? Our eyes can be deceiving and lead us into thinking the natural light can do all the work but really the only way to be fully prepared is to measure that light and then make the decision.

 

talent and lighting

Metering will improve your efficiency in setting up.

4. You can light a scene before the talent arrives (and quicker):

This is a very important point. If we could only light when the talent (or a stand in) was in shot we would never get anything done. Of course, once the talent is in the frame you may want to make some small adjustments but being able to set the exposure beforehand will help save you and everybody else’s time and money. Adding to this, if you have to run back and forth between adjusting a light and viewing the histogram or waveform this can be quite time consuming.

 

which camera?

It doesn’t matter which camera you decide to use, a light meter could assist you with exposure for any model that lets you set exposure manually

5. Video & photography skills often overlap. Embrace this:

For the DSLR video shooters out there, you’ve probably learned a thing or two about photography whilst you’ve been at it. You may have tried out long exposure and timelapse photography out of curiosity, the latter of which can certainly add an interesting element to your videos. Much of this may be a result of simple trial and error until you get pleasing results (this is certainly how I used to do it), however using a light meter can help you to reduce this method and once again save you time. What’s more, you could go further down the photography route later on and so having a greater understanding of exposure and light now could actually make you more employable in the future.

 

 

dog 35mm film

This photo of the old family dog ‘Dolly’ was taken on my old pentax 35mm film camera. Although it’s a lovely photo, if I had taken a reading off of her fur rather than relying on the inbuilt meter to average it out then it wouldn’t have appeared slightly over exposed, as being a golden lab her fur was actually a shade darker.

6. You open up the possibility of shooting on film:

Ever had that burning desire to go old school? We all have. With Kodak’s recent announcement of a new (yes, new!) Super 8 film camera you may just get tempted further into experimenting with film.

Now, many 35mm stills cameras have inbuilt spot meters, as do super 8 cameras, however, once again they may not always be the best option for you, especially if these meters calculate an exposure based on averages. Of course with digital cameras you can readjust your exposure and snap again but with rolls of film this can be an expensive thing to do so you have to be much more conservative with your shots. Taking proper exposure readings will eliminate the need for guess work and ensure you become comfortable with the format.

And finally..

7. You look like you know what you’re doing:

In other words, you look like a pro. That’s a good thing, right? Oh, and you can give accurate orders to an assistant (this is invaluable)!

So, taking these points into consideration, what kind of video shooters could benefit from using a light meter?

I believe the answer is anyone who wants or needs to light their productions to a high standard. This includes those who work in (but is certainly not limited to) commercials, drama, green screen and stills photography. Aspiring DOPs certainly need one, hence why I got one. For conferences, weddings, run and gun documentaries and corporate videos, you probably won’t need one. In these instances you can simply rely on your camera’s exposure aids and you won’t have to fork out for an expensive item that may just end up gathering dust.

At the end of the day the decision of whether you need a light meter or not is down to you and it all depends on what you shoot and/or what you want to shoot. Light meters aren’t the cheapest tools out there so, as with everything else, only get one if you really need it. If you decide that you do need one however, it could be one of the most important investments you’ll ever make in your video career.

If you would like to find out more about lighting check out this article on why good lighting can sometimes be more important than the camera and how a cheap reflector could be your most important lighting accessory (after the light meter of course!) .

Why a reflector is your most important lighting accessory

The 5 in 1 reflector: cheap and incredibly useful

Cheap, light and with so many uses, your 5 in 1 reflector is a lighting accessory that should accompany you on every shoot.

Lighting in video production is not just about flicking switches. When I was just starting out as a freelancer I was guilty of believing this; that lighting simply had to be turned on and that was that. I recently wrote about how lighting could actually be more important than the camera itself and that lighting can sometimes be deceptively simple but what should be noted here is the idea that the subject isn’t always referring to the lights themselves but to the modifiers as well. In fact, I’d say that half of lighting is actually modification. Flags, floppies, bounce, scrims, nets, diffusers..there seems to be so many different lighting accessories about that it’s hard to keep track of what they actually do. These items are all examples of lighting modifiers, however in this case I’d like to focus on the simple 5 in 1 reflector – a low cost, multi use modifier that really is an essential tool for any film maker.

But it’s just a reflector?

No it’s not. If you’re thinking that, you probably haven’t explored the many uses even the cheapest of 5 in 1 reflectors has to offer. Having 5 different sides allows you to do a lot in a variety of shooting situations whilst remaining portable and convenient.

Lets take a look at the different sides of a typical 5 in 1 reflector and how you might use them in your moving image productions:

White

Tip: If you need something bigger to bounce, polystyrene board is cheap, light and in your local DIY store

Tip: If you need something bigger to bounce, polystyrene board is cheap, light and available at your local DIY store

Any white reflective surface is often referred to as ‘bounce’, the reason being that a hard light is bounced off the surface and onto the subject to create a nice soft light with minimal shadows. Your hard light source could be a powerful tungsten lamp or the sun.

Soft light is commonly used in corporate environments

Look at the difference between a hard light shone directly at the subject (left) and a hard light bounced off a reflector (right)

Look at the difference between a hard light shone directly at the subject (left) and a hard light bounced off a reflector (right)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bounced light can be used as the key light (main light source) when even lighting is required or as fill (to fill in shadows created by the key light) when a higher degree of contrast is needed. It is commonly used in all matter of video and film productions for a flattering image.

Black

Tip: If you need a flag to block out a large area such as a big window a tarpaulin is an effective solution.

From experience, you can never have enough flags.

Your matte black surface is vital in situations where you want to cut out light. This could be to control exposure, shape light or even remove light from the image entirely. It is often referred to as ‘flagging’ or providing ‘negative fill’ and you would be surprised at the number of situations that you might find the need to do this.

 

For situations where your reflector might not be big enough a tarpaulin is a great way of flagging a large area such as a full window

For situations where your reflector might not be big enough a tarpaulin is a great way of flagging a large area such as a window.

Can't see your screen? A flag would be handy here..

Having difficulty viewing your LCD screen? A flag would be handy here..

The problem with powerful key lights is that it’s easy to lose control of them, in that light can get in some areas of the image that you don’t want it to. Some lights have barn door attachments which can help but this may not always be enough to control the spill. Simply holding up a flag can make all the difference. The other thing to consider is how long you are filming for and if natural light likely to change throughout your shoot. Flagging any uncontrollable light sources allows you to start from scratch and build your lighting design from the ground up, even allowing you to shoot night scenes during the day!

To control the highlight in this image a flag was held partially in front of the light source so it didn't wrap around the face too much.

Without a flag partially cutting the back light, the beam here would have over exposed half the actor’s face.

Diffuser

Tip: There are many different types of material that diffuse light in varying amounts. One popular and cheap method of diffusing large sources on low budget films is to use a shower curtain.

Tip: There are many different types of material that diffuse light in varying amounts. One popular and cheap method of diffusing large sources on low budget films is to use a shower curtain.

Sometimes you may not want to directly cut out light but soften it instead, so it creates more subtle shadows. Hard light sources such as direct sunlight can create strong shadows and too much contrast as a whole, in which case placing the diffuser between the light source and the subject can make it appear much less harsh. The surface of your diffuser may appear similar to the bounce but on closer inspection you’ll find it much more translucent.

lighting at kinetico cropped

Hard light shone through a diffuser is softened but without a huge reduction in overall output.

4X4-TRACE-FRAME-460x346

The diffuser is essentially a cheaper (and more portable) version of a trace frame.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By diffusing a hard light source you are able to soften the light but also keep the spread. Moving the diffuser further away from the light source will soften the shadows even further.

Tip: Another popular low budget method of creating higher contrast is to use tin foil.

Tip: Another popular low budget method of creating higher contrast is to use tin foil.

Silver

Silver is incredibly useful in creating contrast quickly, by making certain parts of the image ‘pop’ out from the rest. Whilst it must be used carefully to avoid blinding the subject, it has a surprising number of uses such as creating highlights (areas of the image that are deliberately over exposed for creative effect), filling in shadows and for creating texture (such as a rippling effect from light reflected off water).

 

 

 

 

 

Silver - a bit more kick to your fill than normal bounce.

It can provide a bit more kick to your fill than normal bounce.

Silver can be used to create a rippling water or a 'glow from the TV' effect.

The uneven texture of silver means it can be used to create effects such as that of rippling water or a glow from the TV. Easiest to see in a moving image (yes, watching breaking bad counts as work!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tip: Although not as powerful as silver, gold can help increase the contrast in your image too.

Tip: Although not as powerful as silver, gold can help increase the contrast in your image too.

Gold!

Always believe in your..

Ahem.

In my opinion this is the least useful of the 5 for the moving image, but it still has some useful applications. Gold is mostly used for creating a warming sunset effect or for texture and can be particularly flattering in fashion and beauty films.

An up lighting effect for warmth.

A subtle up lighting effect for a bit of warmth.

So there you have it – your reflector has so many uses that it really is your most important lighting accessory – and I’ve only begun to touch the surface. Bouncing, diffusing and flagging each deserve their own articles but just knowing how you can start doing these modifications with your reflector will take you a step closer to raising your production values, and that’s whether you’re in a studio or on location and working in controlled settings or operating run and gun.

If you care about production values then there are really no excuses for leaving your reflector at home. In fact, once you start utilizing one you’ll probably want another (and if you need to google how to fold it back into its bag, that’s OK – we’re all guilty!).

Happy shooting!

12 stocking filler ideas for filmmakers

Every Christmas I’m told that I’m difficult to buy for (usually by the missus) and that I’m fussy and/or everything I want is expensive. Well, yes the A7S mk ii is expensive, I explain, but it really is such good value for money because..*rambles on about techie stuff again*

Filmmaking and video production, whether just a hobby or your career can be an expensive thing to get sucked into, however there are so many smaller, less expensive items that are so incredibly useful that might not necessarily be at the top of our shopping lists, yet when we get them we wonder how we ever survived without them. So to all the partners and families of the filmmakers and techies out there, here are some big hints for stocking filler ideas – 12 to be exact – one for each day of Christmas. Some are practical, some are a bit more fun. Now you’ll never be stuck for prezzie ideas ever again!

 

  1. Step up and step down rings
IMG_7048

Tip: Make sure you buy the filter the right way round. The first number will be the thread size of the lens it attaches to and the second number will be the thread size for your filter.

Nothing is more annoying as a camera operator than being out on location setting up the perfect shot when you decide you need to use a filter but it doesn’t fit the lens you’re using. Step up and step down rings allow camera ops and photographers to adapt their filters for use on other lenses with a different thread size. It’s a much cheaper option to buy these little rings than buying the filters a second time. The trick to this though is knowing what size filters and lenses the person you’re buying for has, so a bit of investigative work is needed here!

 

 

 

Where to find them: Amazon, eBay

2. Camera cleaning accessories

camera cleaning kit

Tip: Camera cleaning accessories often come in kits

Inexpensive yet invaluable, having the means to clean a lens out in the field is essential, no matter if it’s a camcorder or DSLR. Rain, dust and fingerprints all provide unwanted artifacts and blemishes in images and every shooter should be prepared.

There are several options here for the buyer including lens pens, lens tissues and cleaning fluid and blowers. Essential items for your film making friend that won’t break the bank.

Where to find them: Camera stores, Amazon, eBay

3. The Guerilla Filmmakers Handbook

Guerilla filmmakers handbook

Tip: This book also includes forms, documents and software on a CD, making it exceptional value for money.

If the person in mind is serious about film making and hasn’t already got this book then let’s just say you’ll be doing them a big favour. Packed full of interviews and information about pretty much every role in the film industry from pre production to exhibition, this book is a goldmine for tips and invaluable advice for those looking to make independent film.

Where to find it: Waterstones, Amazon

 

 

 

Love film

Tip: Love Film and Amazon Prime Instant Video claim to have over 70,000 titles available, old and new.

4. Love Film or Amazon Prime Instant Video gift subscription

With probably the biggest selection of films out there to rent, treat your loved one to a bit of film catch up. If they’re planning their next film then believe it or not, this would actually help them do some work and with options of 3 month, 6 month as well as 12 month subscriptions it doesn’t have to cost the earth.

Where to find it: Amazon

 

5. Multi tool

multitool

Tip: If you can’t afford a Leatherman then have no fear as there are some great multi tools out there at very affordable prices.

Not just useful at home but invaluable on a film set. Whether they need to cut their gels or change camera plates a multi tool is so useful that it doesn’t just make your loved ones’ job easier but makes them look more professional too (plus if you live with them, they might help out with DIY more often!). A perfect practical stocking filler.

Where to find it: DIY stores, Amazon

 

 

 

 

bond poster

Tip: If you decide to get a poster, make it a goodun’!

6. Film posters

Everybody loves a poster of their favourite film and your loved one is no exception. Just hope that their tastes aren’t too obscure! If you’re feeling extra nice you could always get it framed too. A perfect present for home or office.

Where to find it: Online, HMV

 

 

 

7. Intervalometer

intervalometer

Tip: Of course you’ll get the right one so it fits the lucky person’s camera, yeah? Do a little homework first.

Intervalometers or remote switches can open up a DSLR to the wonders of timelapse photography. By being able to set intervals between shots and not shake the camera when taking stills you’ll be giving them a whole new range of creative opportunities. Branded ones can be expensive but there are a host of third party offerings online at much friendlier prices.

Where to find it: Camera stores, Amazon

 

 

 

 

8. Roll of film

Pentax and film

Tip: Check which format they shoot on first. 35mm and medium format film are most common.

Yes, some of us still shoot on film. Not because we’re not up to date with technology, but because we love the aesthetics and the grain that film gives us. It’s pretty expensive to shoot everything on film nowadays in this digital landscape, but a role of 35mm film only actually costs a few pounds and can usually allow for 24-36 photos. Save them a few quid, and if you’re feeling extra generous look out for online deals where processing is included.

Enough to show you care, not too much to make you poor, but if your loved one shoots analogue they’ll be forever grateful.

Where to find it: Camera stores, Boots

 

 

9.  Subscription to a magazine

Tip: Hint hint, if anyone reading this knows me, I wouldn't mind this! Err, a tip..the ASC magazine does a greener digital edition too..

Tip: Hint hint, if anyone reading this knows me, I wouldn’t mind this! Err, a tip..the ASC magazine does a greener digital edition too..

Whether it be a trade journal or an amateur film making publication there are a host of magazines out there that would make a creative very happy indeed. Which one would suit your loved one best?

  • American Cinematographer (print & digital)
  • Videomaker
  • Sight and Sound
  • Total Film

(These are just a few examples)

Where to find it: A good old Google search (as with everything else really)

 

 

 

10. Multi hot shoe adapter

Tip: Adapters with 3 hot shoes are also available

Tip: Adapters with 3 hot shoes are also available

One hot shoe just isn’t enough. What’s a hot shoe I hear you ask? It’s a little slot on top of a camera where you attach accessories for your camera. The thing is, there are many incidents where a videographer or photographer might want to put on more than one item. A flash and a transmitter, or a light and a radio mic. I have no idea how I ever survived without this. Now, go help a brother out!

Where to find it: Amazon, camera stores

 

 

11. Grey/white balance card

grey white card

Tip: As with most things these cards come in sizes big and small.

Getting an exact exposure and perfect white balance should be the highest priority for any aspiring DOP or photographer. These cards are inexpensive, portable and scream professionalism. Buy these to brush up their skills and make them look good. A perfect little stocking filler.

Where to find it: Amazon, camera stores

 

 

 

 

12. Thermos flask

flask

Film making often involves getting up at the crack of dawn, hanging around on location for hours on end and battling the elements. If your loved one loves their hot drinks then this is probably one of the best items you could buy them. Keep them going through those dark winter months and they’ll never forget how awesome you are!

Where to find it: Supermarkets, Google!

 

So there you have it, now that you have a few hints for stocking fillers go and get that Christmas shopping done!