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< Part 9 | Introduction | Part 11 >

The Videomaker's Journey: part ten
Taking the shots.

Use the links in the text to move between sections.


Automatic and manual focus.

Automatic and manual exposure.

Beginners should use automatic control of the exposure and the backlight control switch.

The backlight setting will make the picture significantly brighter - often too much - eventually, you will need to learn how to use the manual exposure control.

The Spotlight Control - which is one of the special automatic exposure controls that will be useful to a beginner - slightly darkens the picture. It is useful in bright sunlight, and will slightly improve the shot where there is some burnout in the top areas of the subject.

The Manual Exposure Control.

You can obtain vastly improved results by using the manual exposure control when:-

Some times you have to adopt a compromise setting. Manual adjustment indoors is always easy, once you know how to do it. Outdoors in cloudy weather it is easy. Outdoors in sunny weather is easy with some video cameras, the view adjusts easily through the various shades of grey. It can be difficult with other video cameras, where the dark parts suddenly turn black or the bright parts suddenly burn out, and you have to guess a bit. But it works. Practice as I describe below.

Practice manual adjustment of the exposure at home and check the results on a TV Set. If you have a large window in your lounge room, hook your video camera up to the TV set. Now practice on near and far trees through the window. Get someone to sit in various parts of the lounge - near and far from windows and doors. Go out into the garden and practice some more.

Some Rules to help you get started:-

  1. Sight on a subject with automatic exposure control.
  2. If the picture needs to be adjusted, switch to manual exposure control. You will see that you usually need to open the iris slightly to get a brighter picture.
  3. If the main subject is other than people, adjust the iris until you can see the leaves or contrast in the trees or buildings.
  4. If the main subject is a person, excessive backlight will cause the face to be dark. Open up the iris until the face is without contrast on the cheeks, then close down the iris until you see some contrast on the cheeks and around the mouth. If the background is far away a light background will burn out. Close the iris so that the burnout just disappears. then make it a fraction darker again. If the main subject is a person in the foreground and is a long-shot or further away, a dark complexion does not matter.
  5. If there is a person with vegetation close in the background, you can often get a good compromise. Adjust the exposure to suit the person’s face, then slightly open up the iris so that the leaves are clearly visible. Remember don’t go too far, you must see some contrast on the face.
  6. If there are scattered clouds and a strong wind is blowing them along at a fast rate so that the sunshine appears and disappears without warning, then you must use the automatic exposure control.

Automatic and manual white balance.

Wide-angle lens adaptors.

The video camera must be set to wide-angle. Do not zoom at all, unless the wide-angle lens adaptor is an expensive one that will allow this - in that case, extreme care is required. Always remove the wide-angle lens adaptor after use, and before the next shot. If the camcorder is zoomed and is on the verge of going out of focus - the operator will not notice this, you can bet on it - you will spoil many video shots.

Shooting "day for night" when outdoors.
This is further advice. A beginner should have some practical experience before attempting this.

You need to rehearse with the video camera and a stand-in for the actor on a day before the actual shoot. Advice on how to do this can be gleaned from technical books, but there is always something there, that is missing - mainly practical experience. I have done some of the camera work required, but I have not used a graduated filter, and this can be avoided.

Switch to manual focus - the reduced exposure may interfere with automatic focus.

Darken the scene by manually adjusting the exposure - close down the iris to get the desired effect - then brighten the scene slightly. This is necessary because if the projector at a screening is set slightly dark the picture will be spoilt. I have had this happen to me. The key to success here, is then to add some light. A blue gel in front of the lights, might not be necessary, but watch for it, the scene will be mostly black and white.

Limit the amount of sky in the picture. The sun will become the moon if it is in the scene. If you have some sky in the scene, use a graduated grey filter, to darken the sky. Better still, if you can select a site where buildings, trees or a hill completely eliminate the sky this is the way to go.

Use strong lights shining out through doors and windows.

Indoor scenes must be shot at night unless you can completely block out the daylight. I am not an authority on this subject - I include this information so as to help you have a go at it.

Night shooting for night.
This is further advice. A beginner should have some practical experience before attempting this.

I have done this very successfully. There were 6 movie making club members lined up with their video cameras. I was the writer and director. I practiced on a day beforehand, with lights, a video camera and an actor. There was a lot of sorting out to be done with the light for the haunted victim. This light also slightly lit up the background. We used a weak light for the ghost, who had a black cloth covering him, except for his face. The correct amount of light was the key to success.

Set the manual focus with sufficient lights on. Then with only the shooting lights on, manually adjust the exposure - keep the subjects slightly bright. If possible, shoot just before sunrise or just after sunset. If the sky shows in the scene, you will need to use a graduated grey filter as the sky will be too bright. I have not yet used a graduated grey filter.

You must rehearse with lights and the video camera beforehand. You are certain to find, as I did that this is essential for success.

I am not an authority on this subject - I include this information so as to help you have a go at it.

< Part 9 | Introduction | Part 11 >

© copyright Arthur Bullock, 2007

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Page updated on 11 October 2011
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