Correctly exposing your videos is the first step towards achieving a cinematic look.
There are various settings that you need to get right, all of which will be working together to achieve a perfectly exposed image.
The first technique we will be looking at is the exposure triangle.
The exposure triangle is all about balancing your Shutter Speed, Aperture & ISO, to control the light that is reaching your sensor.
The first thing you want to do, is to set your frame rate. 24 FPS is the standard frame rate for most films, but for me in the UK, I usually shoot in 25 FPS as the UK is PAL based. Shooting in the standard frame rate for your country can help reduce flicker from TVs, Monitors and Lights.
Europe & Australia are PAL based, whereas Japan & North America are NTSC based.
There are many other frame rate options for you to choose from, such as 30, 60 & 120 FPS, but at the end of the day, this all comes down to personal preference. If you are shooting slow motion, go for a higher frame rate.
Now that you have set your frame rate, we need to adjust our shutter speed.
Typically, you want your shutter speed to be double your frame rate, so if you shoot at 24 FPS, you’ll want your shutter speed to be 1/48th of a second, or as close to that as you can get.
As I shoot 25 FPS, I go with a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second.
If you are shooting 30 FPS, you’ll set it to 1/60th, 120 FPS will be 1/240th, and so on.
Next, you’ll want to set your Aperture.
If you are shooting in darker conditions, having a wider aperture – a smaller f-stop – will help to bring in more light to your sensor. This will also give you a shallower depth of field, resulting in more bokeh.
Typically, you will want to have some bokeh in the background when shooting people, but again, this is all down to your personal preferences.
When shooting grand vistas, capturing beautiful landscapes, a smaller aperture, or larger f-stop, will help you to get more of it in focus.
If you are shooting outside, and want to have a shallow depth of field, then you should definitely be investing in a Neutral Density Filter.
ND Filters are basically sunglasses for your camera. They stop down the light that is hitting your sensor, giving your more control over your aperture.
There are two types, you have standard ND Filters, that come at different strengths, or you have a variable ND Filter, that can be adjusted on the fly.
Variable ND’s tend to be worse quality, but depending on your style of filmmaking, they could be a more versatile option for you.
I have a video going over this on my channel, so do go and check that out.
Finally we have ISO.
ISO controls the light sensitivity of your sensor. Every camera has an ISO that it will perform best at, but most modern cameras have a good range of ISOs that you can shoot in.
The higher the ISO, the more noise will be in your image, so I would recommend testing with your camera to see which ISO is the max you will go to.
Higher ISOs can be great when shooting in low light situations, but it is generally better to add light sources to your scene if possible. That way you can keep your ISO low, and reduce the amount of noise in your footage.
Checking Your Exposure
Now that you know what settings will affect your exposure, how do you know if your footage is correctly exposed?
Most cameras will have tools such as an exposure meter, histograms & waveforms, which allow you to see if any part of your image is over exposed.
With my camera, I always use the histogram to make sure that I am not over exposing my highlights.
Typically in cinema, the highlights, or brightest part of the image, is correctly exposed, preserving the details. If your highlights are over exposed, then they will be blown out and bright white.
With the Histogram tool, make sure your highlights – the right hand side of the graph – are not pushed right up to the edge. If it is right up at the edge, then your highlights will be over exposed.
Likewise, you generally do not want your blacks to be under exposed – pushed up along the left hand side of the histogram. As you will lose details in your shadows.
Try and keep your histogram in the middle, so that it is not over exposed or under exposed.
Higher Dynamic Range cameras will preserve more information in your shadows when exposing for your highlights.
The final step to correctly exposing your videos is white balance.
Adjusting your white balance will make sure your video is neither too warm or too cold, too green or too magenta.
If you are wanting your video to be cold or warm, then it is generally best to do this in post, when colour grading your footage, as it will give you more flexibility over the look.
To white balance your camera, I’d highly recommend getting a grey card, such as this, the Datacolor Spyderchekr 24. The great thing about this is that you can white balance for middle grey, which will help to improve skin tones.
Alternatively, you can use a white piece of card or paper.
Hold it in from of your subject, take a photo, and set a custom white balance from within your cameras menu.
So there we go, that is how you can get the perfect exposure for your footage, and while there are standard ways to get your perfect shot, remember that you can always be creative with these settings, so long as you are doing it for a reason.
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