8 Mistakes Photographers Make When Shooting Video With A DSLR
DSLRs may be designed for still photos, but they make for some pretty powerful video tools too. The problem is that photography and videography don’t always speak the same language. Concepts get lost in translation over to video and great photographers with great gear end up making pretty crummy video. While the gear might be the same, the process of shooting video with a DSLR is actually quite a bit different, with an entirely new set of rules.
With so many concepts getting lost in translation, photographers often make a number of different mistakes when trying out video. When Jeff Shaffer added video to his commercial photography business a half a dozen years ago, he hit a number of them himself, learning through trial and error. Now, he’s sharing the biggest mistakes photographers make when shooting video with a DSLR — and what to do instead.
1. Starting without a plan.
Even a short three minute video is much more involved than a single still image. Planning is a good idea for photography, but a must for videography. Before starting with a video, photographers need to ask, What story am I trying to tell?
With the main idea identified, there are a few other things that help make for a well-planned video. A shot list helps add variety to the video and gives you an idea of what you need to shoot when. In many documentary type videos, listing the interview questions well ahead of time will help capture what you need when.
2. Moving around too much.
Photographers should move around to get variety to their compositions, but the same idea doesn’t apply to video — at least not while the camera is rolling. Next time you sit down to watch a movie, count how many times the camera moves or zooms versus how many times the scene changes. Professional videographers very seldom move or zoom the camera because it tends to make viewers feel a bit seasick.
Getting variety is good for video, but it’s often better down through stringing multiple clips together instead of moving while actually recording. Some smooth panning is fine, but most photographers heading into video tend to overdo the motion — so if in doubt, keep it steady.
3. Forgetting audio entirely, or forgetting to monitor audio.
Videography brings an entirely new but essential element: sound. Many photographers shooting video with a DSLR forget that there’s an audio element — or simply assume the camera will record it. While DSLRs are great tools for video, they aren’t so good at picking up audio. Adding an external mic kit doesn’t have to get outrageously expensive, but offers a big boost in an often forgotten element.
But simply adding a mic isn’t going to cut it. Along with proper planning and gear for audio, photographers need to continually monitor the audio while recording video with a DSLR. Over-the-ear headphones or visual meters are essential tools to making sure that the audio you were picking up from the start is still coming through. Learning audio is a bit like learning lighting — there’s a lot to learn and there’s a bit of a science to it. While distance will play a role in audio so will the shape of the room and even the insulation inside the walls.
4. Using the wrong shutter speed.
Shutter speed is pretty flexible in photography, but not exactly in videography. While it’s possible to use a big range of shutter speed settings, it’s not a good idea. The shutter speed actually needs to be double the frame rate, or the video will have an odd, choppy quality to it. If you’re shooting at a 60 fps frame rate, the shutter speed should be 1/120; for 30 fps, 1/60 and for 24 fps 1/48 or 1/50.
Matching the shutter speed to the frame rate obviously limits the camera’s exposure settings. Often, shooting video outdoors during the day, you’ll need to use a neutral density filter to avoid overexposure, since a 1/30 and 1/60 shutter speed isn’t very fast. Adjust the aperture and ISO as needed, but that shutter speed needs to stay put.
5. Neglecting white balance.
White balance isn’t a new concept for photographers, but while many photographers can almost live in auto white balance if they shoot RAW to make minor corrections later on, it’s not the case for video. When shooting video with the auto white balance setting, the white balance could actually change mid shoot. If you’re outside and a cloud happens to move in front of the sun, for example, the white balance will adjust automatically and you’ll be able to see your colors change in the video.
The solution? Set a custom white balance. Thankfully, setting a custom white balance for video is the same process as setting it for a still photo by photographing a gray card or something white and seleting that photo in the custom white balance settings. In some shots, using color temperature or a preset can work too.
Just like when shooting stills, it’s also important to consider how multiple light sources mix. If there are light sources with different temperatures, set the white balance for the main or key light.
6. Not checking the focus.
Focus is just as important in video as it is for stills, but it’s a bit trickier. Manual focus is often preferred because it gives you the ability to draw something in or out of focus while the camera is recording, for example, allowing you to switch focus between two people during a dialog. Many DSLRs also use a contrast detection autofocus, which will hunt in and out until it finds a focus point, which is quite distracting in video.
When using manual focus, it’s important to keep checking the focus. Even if the subject doesn’t appear to move, minor movements can create a soft focus. Forgetting to keep a close eye on the focus is a common mistake photographers make when shooting video.
7. Setting the aperture too wide.
One of the biggest reasons to shoot video with a DSLR is for the depth of field. That larger sensor makes DSLRs great for adding a cinematic affect to videos without the big cost of high-end cinematic video cameras. But that big sensor is often enough and many photographers trying out video go overboard with the depth of field.
To keep an interview subject in focus, Shaffer suggests using an aperture of f/5.6 or narrower. While that f/1.8 may be great for a dreamy portrait, to keep the subject’s entire face focused while talking on screen, stop that lens down a bit more than you would for a still.
8. Not shooting enough B-Roll.
While a single image often tells a story, a single video is often made up of multiple shots strung together in post processing. The B-Roll is those less important shots that help tell the story, sharing bits of different parts of the scene or a different perspective. In an interview video, the B-Roll is those extra shots of the subject walking or laughing or shots the objects, places or people that they are talking about.
When it comes to the B-Roll, most photographers don’t shoot enough, Shaffer says. While there’s no rule to how much you should shoot, most wish they had more when they sit down to edit the video — so shoot until you think you have enough and then shoot a little bit more. You may not use every second of it, but getting a variety will help add interest to your video. Keeping the story that you want to tell in mind, jot down a list of several different shots, objects, angles or actions that would help flesh out that story with the smaller details.
DSLRs are great tools for video, capturing high-quality footage that’s otherwise impossible without a very pricey cinema camera. And since photographers already have a DSLR on hand (not to mention knowledge of lighting and composition), it’s a great way to expand a business or a hobby. But video is a very different beast speaking a very different language — which means photographers tend to make a lot of mistakes when first experimenting with video.
Shaffer has been there before — that’s why he’s heading up a new extended DSLR video class, Start to Finish DSLR Video Production. The ten-week class covers everything photographers need to know about shooting video with a DSLR from planning to production. Starting in September, the four hour classes allow photographers to explore moving pictures with a now video veteran to give them one-on-one feedback. To learn more about shooting video with a DSLR — and avoiding those newbie mistakes — visit the class page for details.