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An Online Guide for Beginner Filmmakers : Lesson One

Going from photo mode to video mode.

Most cameras (and all phones) have a little switch on the back that holds the power to quickly change from photo to video mode.

Have you switched over and dabbled in the video mode, maybe capturing a bit of your own footage but never really knew what to do with it after the fact?

Perhaps you have hundreds of clips on your iPhone but they just sit there for years, never again seeing the light of day.

Many lifestyle photographers are tapping into the emerging market of lifestyle videography by adding family films to their photo packages. With interest in video being so high and the easy access to gear that can capture it, there is an amazing opportunity for photographers interested in adding this niche to their skillset.

I do believe it will be the next wave within the family and newborn photography world. Not to mention, it’s just fun to do. So what exactly is it?

Lifestyle videography is a style of filmmaking that aims to capture people in the most natural and authentic way, often using creative techniques to tell a story through video.

Interested in learning how to start making your own videos?

In this quick introduction, we will cover the following topics:

1 | What is a lifestyle video?

2 | What do you need to get started?

3 | Steps you need to take to begin making your own lifestyle films.

This post is designed to help any number of you looking to improve your skills either as a photographer, videographer, or hobbyist. Throughout this series, you will learn not only how to craft a compelling story, but also exactly how to shoot video using a DSLR camera.

While this guide is mostly geared toward DLSR camera shooters, it does not mean that you have to have one to follow along. As you’ll see in just a bit, these principals can be applied across any medium of shooting video - even if it’s simply a cell phone or GoPro to start with. First let’s chat about what it even means to shoot in the lifestyle genre.

1 | What is a lifestyle video?

This style can apply to a number of different video genres, not just family or personal films.

Businesses are using this type of video marketing to evoke a certain feeling of connection to their consumers all the time.

Nike is a master at this technique. Take this video for example. Notice that it is not a direct advertisement to go out and buy Nike shoes. Rather it tells a story. It has a narrative and a plot that draws you in. Don’t you feel connected to the main character?

Nike has an entire campaign of videos just like this one, highlighting individual athletes and their journeys.

This style is also often referred to as content marketing. Rather than highlighting a specific product for you to go and buy, they are giving you something interesting to watch, all while heightening your awareness of their name and credibility.

Lifestyle Family Films

Where do you think Nike got this approach from? The real thing. And why? Because it’s so effective. Real videos about real everyday moments and the people in them. No gimmicks or ulterior motives, just capturing the memories. That is what we aim to capture with lifestyle family films. Take this one from a recent family trip to Bozeman, Montana for example.

This is a short montage version, but you’ll get the idea (you can catch the extended version here).

It’s a collection of short clips set to some nice music that takes me straight back to our family trip last fall. I will always remember the sound of my little girl’s voice when she was two years old. And how in love she was with the two barn cats living under the loft where we stayed. And even the length of her hair just six months ago (it is already so much longer!).

These are the little things.

This is the power of video.

Journaling through film.

My daughter's films are the stories I'll tell her throughout her life - the sound of her very first cry, the look on her daddy's face as they laid her on my chest, the extra time we spent in the NICU. It was difficult and unexpected, but it's part of our story. it bonded the three of us in a way I never could have imagined and I wouldn’t trade it.

Being able to literally watch her birth, and first few days, weeks, months of life brings me a kind of joy I can't really put into words. There is something powerful about film. It takes you back in a way nothing else can - to the sounds, the movements, and the feelings.

That is the point I am trying to get at: lifestyle videos as a whole are about capturing real and candid moments in a beautiful way so you can go back to those memories time and time again. This might be something you do simply for yourself, or you may be filming videos for your clients - either way your motives are generally the same.

Capture moments big and small.

So far I have shared a few big moment examples. But what about the simple moments? Is there a way to capture the ‘everyday’ stuff in an interesting way as well?

Here is a short and fun little series that I made to capture our little one’s first taste of food. Set it to a little upbeat music and there you go, another simple way to enjoy and share for years to come.

The sky is the limit for ideas like this - it could be a morning routine with little ones, bath time or meal time fun, baking cupcakes, playing at their favorite park, you name it. As long as it’s personal, you can make it work.


This post does contain Amazon product recommendations. As an Amazon associate, I receive compensation for qualifying purchases, however any commission that I earn comes at no cost to you.

2 | What do you need to get started?

Making your own family films doesn’t have to be hard or overly complicated. You don’t need a fancy camera, lights, or microphones. I have one camera that stays with me all the time, two lenses (one big and one small) and that’s really about it. For paid gigs I may carry a few extra small things, but we can get into those details later.

For everyday life, you just need a camera of some kind. The rest will come as you begin to grow your skills as a filmmaker. If you are interested though, I made a post on my favorite cameras for shooting lifestyle videos that you can check out.

Have you seen the new apple commercials made using only an iPhone? Our phones are such a powerful tool that most of us already have.

The point is, not everything has to be perfectly lit or color corrected. Above all else, it is most important to tell a clear and compelling story.

If you have an iphone, a DSLR, or any other type of video recording device, then you can craft a story.

If you’re willing to stick with me for a bit, I would love to walk you through my own process of planning and producing family films from start to finish. We’ll start with the basics of storytelling and move on to technicals a bit later.

3 | Making your own video : Crafting a Story

It’s all about the story.

This is going to be our mantra for a bit in case you hadn’t already noticed. Even with the fanciest of cameras, if you can’t use it to tell a compelling story then all you have are a few fancy images amounting to pure fluff. We have all seen an example or two, am I right?

In our next lesson we’ll get into the basic building blocks of how to tell a story through video. I’ll break down for you my exact process from start to finish of how I plan all my family films. Here are just a few things we’ll take a look at in our next lesson.

Coming up in the next lesson: How to tell a story with video

That was a lot of information to start with. We have a lot of ground to cover, so don’t worry if you feel a little out of step at this point.

We will dive into a lot more detail in the next few lessons. I’ll show you step-by-step how to use your DLSR to shoot video and tell great stories.

I hope this introduction guide has given you a good understanding of exactly what a lifestyle film is and whether it may be something you’re ready to add to your bag of tricks.

In the next few posts, I will walk you through each and every step of the process in thorough detail. By the end you will be well on your way toward making your own incredible films.

What's next?

I want to make these lessons actionable for you. I don’t want you to just skim the words and go on with your day. I want the information to sink in, but in order for that to happen, you have to take the steps yourself. You have to pick up your phone or your camera and practice. Don’t be afraid to try, even if you have no idea what you are doing at first.

Your homework for this lesson is to think about what videos you dream of making. Maybe make a list of exactly what you want to accomplish with your films. Who is your audience, who are your characters, what is the main subject? Maybe it’s simply your family in everyday life. That’s perfect! Or perhaps you would like to shoot professionally in some way. Make some goals for yourself and jot them down.

If you have any questions about what we have discussed here, go ahead and leave it in the comments below. Your feedback is critical to helping me know when things are making sense. Go ahead and let me know if there are specific topics you would like to learn about in the future as well.

Thanks as always for your support and happy shooting!

GO TO LESSON TWO: HOW TO TELL A STORY

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Lesson Two: Crafting a Story with Video

Where to start?

Have you ever set out to film a video, but just didn’t know where to start? Maybe you’ve wanted to make a simple video of your kids at home or on vacation, but were just never quite ready for the moments when they actually happened.

You missed the spontaneous laughs that simply can’t be reproduced. You always felt one step behind and just couldn’t seem to catch up.

Or maybe you’re getting the moments, but they just seem to fall flat once you put them together. Maybe you’re not sure how to put them together.

How do we capture all the right moments in just the right way? How do we take our videos from simple home videos to cinematic lifestyle films that feature real people?

In this lesson I will walk you through a few go-to methods that I use to make sure I get exactly what I need to in the important moments. I’ll show you how to capture shots in interesting ways and use them to tell an effective story that people will understand and be drawn to.

1 | Use at least 3 camera angles

If you learn nothing else, this is my most important tip: capture a variety of camera angles, at least three for every scene. To illustrate the power of camera angles, I want to show you a few examples in action. Watch the following clip first:

This is part of our evening routine each and every night. Nothing too exciting in itself, but it’s one of those things that can actually be pretty cute if you capture it the right way. And it’s exactly the type of thing that a mom might want to remember down the road.

As you just saw, using only one camera angle makes the video boring and one dimensional. You may have noticed the surroundings, the two girls in the tub, the action taking place. But was it anything special?

This is typically what we do when we want to film something. We grab our camera and we just start following the action. But there’s no plan there. There’s no story.

Now watch this example:

Did you see how much more dynamic and interesting that was? Same setting, characters, and plot as before. We simply added a variety of camera angles to make things way more compelling.

This may seem like one of those things that just feels too easy. But let me remind you of just how easy it is to forget to grab all these angles when you are in the moment. You have to get in the habit of doing it every time.

That’s why I always set a rule for myself : grab at least 3 angles of the same scene every single time. Obviously you can’t pose real life, so you have to do the best you can in some situations, but as a rule of thumb, I try toadhere to this rule as much as possible.

There will be times when you can't and that’s ok. If you do it even 50% of the time, you’ll immediately notice a huge difference in the quality of your videos.

LET’S BREAK DOWN OUR EXAMPLE

In the bathtub example, we had one main scene: the girls in the tub. I made sure to capture at least three angles of this scene: an establishing shot, a few wide shots, medium shots, and close up shots.

It took me a total of maybe 10 minutes to film and I didn’t have to write anything down. I just remembered that I needed to capture at least 3 different camera angles. Different actions took place in each of those angles, and that’s just fine. See how well they still came together?

The great thing is, you could absolutely shoot a scene like this on your iphone. It’s so easy!

When I was ready to edit my film, I had so many options to work with. Of course, you won’t use all the shots that you took, but that’s exactly the position that you want to be in when you sit down to edit. Not every shot will end up working out or coming together in a natural way, so you want to give yourself plenty of flexibility when you get to the editing phase.

It can also be jarring to cut between two shots of the same angle, so you need to ensure that you have several options to make your editing feel natural.

TYPES OF CAMERA ANGLES

Let’s briefly look at some of the most common camera angles that you can use for your films.

Establishing Shot: This will be the first shot that your viewer sees either at the beginning of the film or at a change of scene. This redefines for the viewer where we are and what is about to happen. Without a clear establishing shot, your scene transitions will feel jarring and confusing. It can be as simple as a hand turning on the faucet and then water coming out, as you saw in our example before.

Wide Shot: As the name suggests, this is a shot that is taken from far away and includes a lot of information in the frame, typically the length of an entire person from head to toe or wider. It’s important to grab a few of these as they are often great to use either for establishing shots or ending frames.

Medium Shot: This is typically the length of a person’s waist to head. It’s the most common camera angle and captures most of the interesting action happening within our shots.

Close Up Shot: Again, as the name tells you, this is the tightest camera angle. It is used to specifically highlight any interesting actions, like the baby’s hands splashing in the water or the sisters holding hands. It often creates a feeling of connection with the action or character in the scene. This shot can be particularly powerful if you use it the right way. You can subtly share something very specific about a character’s personality without using any words.

(Note: there are many more camera angles out there, and you can get as creative as you want with them. These are a just starting point.)

Now that we have the most basic framework for setting up our story, let’s move on to something a bit more complex.

2 | The 4 P’s - People, Place, Plot, Purpose

With the four P’s, we will answer the most important questions for our audience, which will build the storyline for any video.

Who is in our story, where is it taking place, what journey is about to happen, and who cares? These are the most basic building blocks to forming a full and cohesive story.

FILMING A FAMILY VACATION : AN EXAMPLE IN ACTION

Let’s say you’re going on a family vacation to the mountains. Your opening scene may involve you packing some bags (remember to get 3 shots: close up, wide shot, overhead shot) and throwing them into the back of your car.

Maybe your family is super neat and regimented. Your bags are like perfectly packed puzzle pieces in the trunk. Or maybe your family flies by the seat of your pants. Your bags are stuffed to the brim haphazardly. These are the details you need to include with your shots.

With this little series of shots, you have not only developed the personality of your characters a bit, but you have also built some anticipation. This begins to answer thepurpose part of our question for the audience: we are going on a trip.

Once you’re on the road, grab a few shots looking out the window of the car (your viewer will feel like they are there with you), a few shots of the driver - maybe they love to drink coffee (include that little piece of valuable detail), if you have kids make sure you grab some of them doing whatever it is that they do (chatting, laughing, sleeping).

All of these shots continue to establish our purpose and also have begun to define the people portion of our story. Including all these details about the people in our video is what we refer to as character development. It will draw your viewer in and make them feel connected, as if they know the characters.

For family films, it’s the most important component. After all, these are the little defining details you want to remember.

You will then move on to the main body of your film. This will include whatever details you want from your trip. You’ll use the same exact framework to film each and every scene: establishing shot, medium shot, wide shot, etc.

Be observant and make sure you include the little details about your main characters within the shots. Then move on to the next scene, rinse and repeat.

One more example. Here’s a family video I shot last year recapping our family vacation to Yellowstone. Take a look and see if you can spot some of the things we’ve discussed in action. I’m not perfect and I didn’t adhere to my own rules all the time, but notice when I did what a difference it makes in telling a good story.

When all is said and done and you get back home, you will have collected all you need to get ready for the next step: the editing process.

EDITING YOUR FILM

Honestly, it’s my favorite part of filmmaking and we’ll get into it in thorough detail in the coming lessons. For now, just know that it’s where you get to make your story truly come to life.

You’ll learn how to weave together a cohesive and dynamic final edit of your scenes that sparks emotion and speaks to your audience.

You’ll learn to pick just the right music to set the tone, how to make smooth transitions between scenes, use natural sounds to add another dimension for your viewer, etc.

When all of these elements come together, your audience will be fully connected and in the moment once again.

3 | Know your gear

Now that we’ve established a framework for the type of shots we’ll need to capture, it’s time to start talking about what equipment you will be using to shoot your videos.

You need to become familiar and comfortable enough with your gear that you aren’t fumbling around with settings or equipment when it comes time to grab the action.

These will be the main topics in our next few lessons:

4 | Homework

Your homework for this week is to shoot a scene using at least three angles, but you can of course shoot more than that.

Pick something easy like bath time, dinner time, kids reading with dad, etc. Once you’re done hold on to your videos. I’ll show you how to piece them together in the next few lessons.

As always, I am here for your questions. What type of stories are you ready to tell? Comment below and let me know what you’re working on. I’d love to hear from you!

GO TO LESSON 3: TOOLS YOU NEED TO START FILMING

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Filmmaking for Beginners - Crafting a Story

Lesson 3: Best Cameras for Beginner Filmmakers

My three year old has this little pink polka dotted blanket that is her absolute most prized possession. Last year, she became obsessed with making sure it was perfectly neat and flat at all times. It was such a cute little quirky phase.

It was one of those little things that I never wanted to forget. So I filmed it. In fact, every month I create a little family film of my girls. These little monthly films contain memories that I will treasure forever.

I use video as my primary form of journaling everyday life and I love it. It’s a creative outlet, plus a way to preserve priceless memories.

If you are a parent, then you likely have the same desire to capture your own memories through video. I created this series for you. I’m sharing everything that I have learned along the way from my background in filmmaking and how I apply it today as a mom and as a filmmaker.

In this lesson, I want to get right into the details of exactly what kind of camera gear you’ll need to start filming your own videos.

In case you missed it, be sure to check out the previous lesson on how to tell stories using video as well.

Here are the main topics that we will cover in this post:

1 | Finding the right camera for shooting family videos

There are a few key features that you need to consider when picking the right camera for filming lifestyle videos:

  1. Auto Focus: An essential tool since you will be filming on the move, oftentimes handheld, and shooting subjects that are in motion and mostly unpredictable.
  2. Footage Quality: 4k or HD? Obviously we want the image quality to be as good as possible, but this comes at a cost. It’s all about finding the right balance for you and your budget.
  3. Photo Capabilities: When I travel, I like to just have one camera with me at all times. Since I am a photographer as well as a videographer, it’s important that I have a camera that is capable of capturing both.

I scoured the internet and found what I think are the best camera options for filmmakers in 2019 based on those features. I have divided them by price to make things easier to navigate.

This post does contain Amazon product recommendations. As an Amazon associate, I receive compensation for qualifying purchases, however any commission that I earn comes at no cost to you.

Entry Level // Most Affordable Options

If you are just getting started, it’s likely that you may want to start with a camera that won’t be too expensive. That’s not a problem! Here are a handful of options all in the range of $300-$1000.

Serious Hobbyist Level // $1000-2000 range

*Any camera will do.

If you are in the market for a new camera, any of the above options would do you well. However, these are simply suggestions to help you get started. Like I discussed extensively in my post about how to craft a story through video, the type or quality camera that you own isn’t nearly as important as the creative tools you use to tell your story.

Shooting on an iPhone or Smartphone

You can absolutely start capturing excellent footage to make your films using simply your iPhone.

By the way, if you do choose to stick with your iPhone, there is are two extra accessories that I would highly recommend.

  1. Hohem Gimbal Stabilizer for Smartphones : This handy little stabilizer is excellent for smoothing out handheld video clips and adds an extra element of cinematography to your footage.
  2. Rode Compact Microphone : I would actually recommend this microphone to everyone - camera or iPhone shooters alike. It’s the perfect sidekick microphone that discreetly sits on top of your camera for professional quality audio.

2 | The best lenses for shooting your own films

Choosing the best lens for shooting a lifestyle film depends on a few factors - mainly the type of camera that you own, but also on the feeling or style of shooting that you plan to capture.

In my kit, I have three main lenses that I use for lifestyle videos:

Here are some general feelings or styles and what type of lens you may consider for each of those approaches. You’ll need to do a bit of research to make sure you find the correct lens to fit the type of camera you own or you can always shoot me a message below and I’ll be happy to respond.

Documentary Style

In general, a 35mm lens is going to give you the most ‘documentary’ or ‘in the life’ feeling because it most closely mimics the distance and scope that our eyes see in every day life.

Light and Airy, with Blurry Background

If you want to capture that beautiful dreamy bokeh (aka blurred out background) with soft, light colors, you need to make sure you purchase a lens with a wide aperture. At least f2.8, but even wider is better. I own the Canon 35mm f1.8 and it’s wonderful. I have also shot with the Canon 50mm f1.2 and it too is incredible.

3 | My favorite editing software

The Options:

  1. Premiere Pro ($20/month with Adobe Cloud Suite)
  2. Final Cut Pro ($299 one time fee)
  3. iMovie (free)

When I first began editing videos, I used iMovie. It was simple basic, and easy to use. When I was in film school, we were required to use Final Cut Pro. This was back before Adobe Premiere Pro existed. Final Cut Pro and Avid were the industry standards.

When Premiere Pro finally did come around, I resisted it for years. I knew Final Cut like the back of my hands. You’ll learn that with editing, all the keyboard shortcuts and personal preferences become like second nature. Transitioning to a brand new platform was tough. But finally, I did. Here are a few reasons why I made the switch to Premiere Pro and why I am happy that I did:

In the end it’s up to you.

Like all the options in this post, they are merely that: options. You have to evaluate your own goals and personal situation to decide what is going to make the most sense for you. For the vast majority of my tutorials and lessons I will be demonstrating on Adobe Premiere Pro for my edits, as well as my Canon DSLR for video examples.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make your own tools work just the same. If you want to start with iMovie and see how it goes before you purchase anything further then that’s completely fine! You really don’t need anything too sophisticated to edit amazing family films. And I am here to help. Let me know what you’re exploring. Leave a comment below and I’ll send you my thoughts.

Homework

Your homework for this lesson is to select what gear you’ll be using for your films and get it all ready to go. If you need to purchase any new equipment or software, go ahead and spend some time researching what is going to be the best fit for you. Please reach out to me if you need any help during this process. I’d love to answer any questions and help however I can.

In our next several lessons, I’ll be walking you through some real life examples of how to shoot and edit your films. It’s going to be fun! What specifically do you want to learn about? Leave it in the comments below and I’ll see you soon!

GO TO LESSON FOUR: BEST CAMERA SETTINGS

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3 essentials for dslr films

Lesson 4: Best Camera Settings for Filmmakers

Now that we have covered the essentials of exactly what type of gear you need and how to tell a story with video, it’s time to jump into the fun stuff.

Here are the top DSLR and mirrorless camera settings to achieve a cinematic film look with your videos.

Mastering Manual Mode = Creative Freedom

I remember when I first started shooting (in auto mode, of course). I had no idea what all the buttons on my camera controlled. But I fumbled through it, learning as I went, and slowly began putting the pieces together bit by bit.

I started playing around with my settings one by one so I could learn each individually. I suggest you do the same. Keep all else the same and only alter one function of the camera at a time (i.e. just aperture, just shutter speed, just ISO, etc). You’ll learn what they all mean in a moment.

As I continued to experiment, I realized that my work was becoming so much better, just as a result of getting comfortable with my settings and fully understanding what each one controlled.

If you stick with it, I have no doubt that it’s going to be the same for you. Not only will you not waste time in the moment trying to fumble with your settings, they will soon become like second nature and you’ll find yourself lost in the moment, enjoying the process of capturing.

It can be overwhelming at first, but with a little practice, you’ll get the hang of it.

We’re going to start with the basics. We’ll cover exactly what each setting does and I’ll share with you exactly how I set up my camera.

For family films, you really want your footage to look as cinematic and authentic as possible. Using the correct camera settings will help you to achieve exactly that style.

Here are the seven important settings we’ll cover:

  1. Frame Rate
  2. Aperture
  3. Shutterspeed
  4. ISO
  5. White Balance
  6. Picture Style
  7. Program Modes

1 | Frame Rate

What is frame rate?

A video is a series of images (or frames) that are put together in a sequence. We’ve all seen the old flip book cartoons, right?

With video, you can alter the number of frames that are within each second of footage. The most common options are 24 frames, 30 frames, 60 frames, and 120 frames. They are often referred to as ‘fps’ or frames per second.

For real time footage, you should set your camera to shoot 24 fps. This is the same frame rate that true film cameras shoot on and it will feel the most cinematic.

It’s a subtle difference, but shooting in 30 fps is going to look more like the old school home videos from the 90’s. Think ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos’ or your favorite soap operas 😉

For slow motion footage, you want to set your camera to shoot either 60 fps or 120 fps. This will likely be determined by the type of camera you own since not all of them can shoot in 120 fps.

Yes, the higher fps means it will be slower motion. I know this seems counter intuitive, but when you think about slowing down time, you need more frames per second to fill in the gaps. So 120 fps will be the slowest motion, while 60 fps will be less slow motion... faster motion? You know what I mean.

2 | Aperture

close up aperture in lens

What is aperture?

Aperture is defined by how open or closed your lens is. This determines how much light is allowed to enter your camera through the lens.

More importantly it also determines how much depth of field your camera will capture.

What is depth of field and why is it important?

Your background and foreground can all be completely in focus (this is a wide depth of field). Or your subject can be completely sharp and in focus, while the rest of your photo is completely blurry (this is a shallow depth of field).

When to use Shallow Depth of Field

Using a shallow depth of field will most likely be your go-to setting for any family or lifestyle filmmaking. Here are a few reasons why.

  1. Draws attention to your subject: It can help your viewer focus right away on what is important in the frame.
  2. More aesthetically pleasing: Here’s that cinematic look again. With a blurry background or foreground, you get that dreamy, film-like style.
  3. Rack Focus: We’ll get into what this means in more detail later down the road when we learn the ins and outs of specific shooting techniques. This is a technique very common among filmmakers when you want to move from one subject to another within the same shot. You can ‘rack focus’ to change your focus point from point A to point B. It’s a very distinct way to make a point in your video without having to say any words.

When to use Wide Depth of Field

  1. Landscapes: Imagine a beautiful mountain lake scene with a child skipping rocks in the foreground. You may not want to lose all that beauty in the background or the motion of the rocks skipping on the water. Using a wide depth of field allows all these objects to be in focus at the same time.
  2. Sunny outdoor scenario: I have also used a wide depth of field to my advantage in very sunny situations outdoors when I can’t see what’s on my camera screen. If it’s difficult to see what’s in focus because of the glare, you can widen your depth of field to ensure that the majority of what’s in your frame will be in focus even if you can’t see it very clearly.
  3. Fast moving objects: great examples include following a running child, using a handheld gimbal, or capturing a child on a swing. In these situations, your auto focus may not be able to keep up with the speed of your subject. Using a wide depth of field will dramatically increase your chances of keeping your subject in focus.

Best settings for aperture?

Settings for aperture are called ‘f-stops’. The numbers can be a bit confusing, so stick with me here.

The higher the f-stop (f22), the smaller the opening.

The lower the f-stop (f2.8), the larger the opening.

3 | Shutter Speed

What is shutter speed?

Shutter speed is how many fractions of a second the light hits the sensor of your camera. If your shutter speed is too slow, your footage will have a laggy, motion blur to it. If your shutter speed is too fast, your footage will have a jittery and intense feeling to it.

Best Setting for Shutter Speed (for cinematic looking footage):

You want your shutter speed to equal 2x your fps (frames per second).

Shooting 24 fps = shutter speed of 1/50-1/60

Shooting 60 fps = shutter speed of 1/120

Shooting 120 fps = shutter speed of 1/240

Your shutter speed doesn’t have to match these guidelines exactly. I would never let it go under 1/50, but this is one setting that I am generally the most lenient with.

4 | ISO

What is ISO?

ISO controls how sensitive the sensor on your camera is to light. The lower the ISO, the darker your image. The higher the ISO, the brighter your image. However, ISO will add a certain amount of grain or visual ‘noise’ to your footage. You want to limit the amount of ISO that you use whenever possible.

I typically open my aperture as wide as it will go and slow down my shutter speed as low as I can before adjusting the ISO

Best Settings for ISO

This again will depend on your camera. Higher end cameras can shoot at higher ISO numbers without you noticing the grain as much.

But, in general, you should try to stay below 1000 ISO if possible, staying below 800 is even better.

5 | White Balance

What is white balance?

This can get super technical, so I’m going to keep it simple for our purposes. Each source of light (the sun, a light bulb, etc.) has a color and that color is determined by a temperature (measured in Kelvins). Different lights have different temperatures which will cast color hues in the correct or incorrect direction depending on how you set your white balance.

We’ve probably all seen images that look a little bit funky - way too blue or way too orange. Our eyes immediately tell us that it’s not what real life looks like. That’s an incorrect white balance in action.

Cameras are dumb. Or at least they’re not as smart as our eyes. You have to tell your camera what temperature the light source is where you are shooting.

It’s extremely important to get this setting right, because fixing it after the fact can be pretty difficult.

Best Settings for White Balance

Auto White Balance: If you aren’t sure, you can start here. Most cameras are pretty good at detecting the correct white balance, but you can always adjust if you notice that it looks off. I use this setting inside my house.

Sunny/Shade Auto Setting: My Canon camera has a preset option for these environments. I almost always just simply switch over to these once I’m outside and all is well.

If things still aren’t looking right, you can adjust manually. Here are the numbers to remember:

Natural Sunlight: switch to 5200-5500k

Indoors with Incandescent Bulbs: switch to 2000-4000k

6 | Picture Style

What is picture style?

Picture style sets the amount of sharpness, contrast, saturation, and color tone in your footage.

Some cameras have preset options. Canon’s options are: auto, standard, portrait, landscape, neutral, faithful, and monochrome. We aren’t going to use any of those presets. We are going to create our own. If you own a Canon, go down to ‘User Def. 1’ keep ‘color tone’ right in the middle, but slide all the other options down to zero.

If you own a different brand camera, the process should be very similar. Find where the picture styles are located and slide all the options down to the lowest possible setting (other than color tone).

If your camera allows you to shoot in LOG mode, do that.

Note: this is going to make your footage look very gray, soft, and not-so-great straight out of the camera. But trust me, this is the best way to shoot.

Shooting in LOG or a very neutral setting like this is going to allow your camera to capture the most information from your surroundings. You’ll capture the darkest blacks, the whitest whites, and all the shadows and colors in between. This will allow you the most freedom to edit the colors and exposure correctly in post production. I’ll show you exactly how once we start getting into our editing process.

7 | Program Modes

close up program mode dial on camera

What are program modes?

Here’s another one that may vary a bit depending on your camera, but they all have something similar so it should still apply. These are all the little options that appear on the top left dial of your camera (on Canon anyway). First of all, I want you to go ahead and never shoot in any of the little icon modes. You may as well shoot in auto mode and lose all control of your own creative choices with these.

However, there are some very helpful ‘Creative Modes’ that I’m going to explain.

What are creative modes?

The Creative Modes on your camera are Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual Mode.  On most cameras, they are marked P (program), A (aperture priority), S (shutter priority), and M (manual mode).

Canon cameras will show “P, Av, Tv, M” for the same exact modes.  “Av” is Canon's version of Aperture Priority, and “Tv” is Canon's version of Shutter Priority.

If you are just becoming familiar with how your camera operates and how to shoot in manual mode, then these are about to be your best friend. I am really only concerned with two of them and here they are in detail:

Aperture Priority

Ok, here’s my favorite setting of all time. Honestly, it makes things so easy.

Basically what this setting does is it allows you to be in control of your aperture setting and then it automatically sets your shutter speed and ISO for you.

I like to start with this mode and then if I notice that my shutter speed is too slow or my ISO too high, then I will hop into manual made and adjust accordingly.

If you are just learning, start here. Shoot in aperture priority for the next month. Only alter your aperture setting and let your camera do the rest. Notice what happens to your footage when you shoot in f2.8 or f4 versus f22. How did your depth of field change? Did you notice any grain or a slow shutter speed when you shot at f22?

Experiment in this mode until you start to feel more comfortable.

Manual Mode

How are we feeling? You’ve made it to the end of the list. Congratulations! Seriously, that is a lot of information to take in. Manual mode is a bit obvious - you have complete control of your camera settings. Like I said in the beginning, after lots of practice, especially in aperture mode, start working your way into manual mode.

Homework

Your homework for this lesson is to pick one subject that will be easy to film for the next few days. It could be a child, an animal, or anything else that’s easily accessible for you to film. Start with shooting in Aperture Priority mode on your camera. Play around with your f-stop and see how it changes the footage. Keep playing with those settings and pay attention to what happens.

Now try manual mode. If your image is too dark, think through which setting you can change to make it brighter (aperture, shutter speed, or ISO?). Keep doing this.

I’m not gonna lie, it takes time and practice. Don’t give up. Keep doing it. I’m telling you, it will become like second nature, you just have to give it time.

Practice, practice, practice.

I know I keep saying it, but it’s only because it’s true. The only way to become a master of manual mode is by practicing. Let yourself experiment and make mistakes. That’s the only way to learn. And trust me, you’ll get there.

I’m here for questions, so leave yours in the comments below. Have fun and happy shooting!

In our next lesson we’ll dive into the top 10 easy and most creative filming techniques for getting great shots with any camera.

GO TO LESSON FIVE: CREATIVE CAMERA TECHNIQUES

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How to Make Your Home Videos More Cinematic Using Easy Camera Movement Techniques

Let’s start with an example.

It’s a beautiful, hot, sunny day outside and your kids are cooling off in the pool. They are splashing and laughing and having a ball.

What do most of us do to capture it?

We pull out our phone or our camera, place our kids in the frame and start following the action. We hold our arms out in front of us, stand still, and take a short video of them jumping into the pool. Maybe over and over again.

The problem is that without adding any thought to our camera angles or camera movement, this method will be boring and one dimensional. There’s no variety, no creativity.

Yet, isn’t this typically what we all do when we want film something?

In today’s post, I’ll share with you my absolute favorite camera techniques that anyone can master to add visual interest to any scene.

We are also going to get into some specific tips on how to smooth out your shaky, handheld shots - so stay tuned!


This post does contain Amazon product recommendations. As an Amazon associate, I receive compensation for qualifying purchases, however any commission that I earn comes at no cost to you.

1 | Rack Focus

What is rack focus?

Rack focus is one of my favorite techniques for shifting your audience’s attention from one subject to another. Using either manual or auto focus on your camera, you simply ‘rack’ the focus to make the lens shift the focus from one subject to the next. Here’s a few examples in action:

How to achieve rack focus?

Lately, I’ve been spoiled by my Canon 1DX. Since it has autofocus, I simply tap the touch screen on the back of my camera to shift focus between subjects. If you have a DSLR with autofocus, you can take advantage of this ability as well.

However, for years I didn’t have this luxury. I had to manually focus all my shots. It’s not easy and takes a lot of practice, but eventually it will become second nature. You need to practice with your lens. Memorize which way you need to spin it to bring the focus closer and further away. Practice going back and forth between two different objects and you’ll see what I mean.

Make sure your aperture is wide open.

If you recall from our last lesson, we spoke in great detail about depth of field. What it means and how it’s going to affect the way that your shot looks.

In order to rack focus effectively, you need your aperture to be as wide open as possible so that your depth of field is very shallow. This will allow an object close to you to be on a different focus plane than something further away from you.

With a narrow aperture, everything in your frame will be in focus and there will be no way to ‘rack’ anything in or out.

2 | Free Lensing or Lens Whacking

Ah, and we have arrived at my FAVORITE creative technique. In fact, I love it so much that when I first learned this technique, it began to dominate my work. It was great for a time, but one of the lessons I learned was to use it in moderation. So, what is it?

What is free lensing (also referred to as lens whacking)?

We’ll simply refer to it as free lensing here. This is a creative technique where you actually remove the lens from the body of the camera. Holding the body of the camera in one hand and the lens in the other, you pivot or tilt the lens close to and then further away from the camera body.

It’s best to use a small, easy to hold lens since you’ll have to maneuver it using just one hand. Here’s my favorite lens to use for free lensing. Also great because it’s a very inexpensive lens, so no worries if it’s exposed to air or dust in the process.

What does it do?

By detaching the lens, you are essentially creating your own tilt-shift lens. Yes, they make these types of lenses, but they can be quite expensive and, like I said, it’s not a lens you would use all the time. Unless you were me in 2011, of course.

The effect is really amazing. Because the lens is detached, light enters the camera in very unique and surprising ways. You get buttery pink and purple lens flares, natural vignetting around the edges, and a super soft and shallow depth of field. It feels like vintage film. Did I mention that I love it?

It’s the epitome of cinematic. And it works great for adding a little something extra interesting here and there in your films. It’s great for portraits and other kinds of close ups. The lens flares also make really great natural transitions between shots.

Here is an example of a full video that I made back in my free lensing hay day:https://player.vimeo.com/video/34912776?app_id=122963&wmode=opaque

3 | Using Objects to Add Perspective

Here is a super easy technique that you can use just about anywhere to add a lot of depth and interest to your shots.

Simply find an object very close to you - a wall, a chair, a tree branch. Position your camera directly behind the object, start your shot and then slowly move out from the behind the object until your subject is in focus.

This simple move can be executed by anyone on any camera. It’s great for filmmakers using their phone or a go pro to capture footage since you really don’t need any extra equipment to take advantage of this technique.

It also works as a wonderful natural transition between shots. You can start your shot or finish your shot by moving out from behind a closer object.

4 | Get Low

Here’s another great idea that anyone can try. Get low.

I literally mean, get down on your hands and knees and put the camera as close to the ground as possible. This is going to give your film a whole new perspective, literally and figuratively.

It will add interest and contribute to the story line when you use it deliberately. Try it out and see how it changes the look and feel of your video.

Have your subject walk right by you. Get very close to your subject and put the camera on the floor. This also works if you set the camera on a table. Not only that but you can use the table or floor to stabilize your shot.

5 | Follow Your Characters

If you are filming a moving subject - a child for example - stay right on their tail during whatever action it is they are doing. If they are running on a path, run right behind them. Get low again and film their feet. Now turn around and film them coming towards you. Film them from the side running past you. Now run next to them.

If you are attempting this technique handheld, your shots are sure to be jerky. That’s ok in some cases. I have so many useable shots that are shaky. Depending on the type of film and the feeling behind it, your viewers will forgive a lot of that movement. Especially in cases where there is a lot of energy and action happening.

Go ahead and skip down to suggestion 11 if you want more tips about smoothing out those handheld shots as well.

You may also choose to use a handy little gimbal on your iPhone or camera, like this great one.

Here’s another great choice for a gimbal if you need something a little more heavy duty for a slightly bigger dslr camera.

In any case, following your characters is going to create a sense of intimacy in the film. It will directly connect your subject to the viewer, making them feel like they are there too. Perfect for lifestyle videography.

6 | Dolly with Gimbal or Handheld

A dolly movement is when you move the entire camera forwards and backwards, very smoothly. With large productions, this is often done on a track or motorized vehicle of some kind, but is now completely and easily accessible with a gimbal, slider, or even handheld.

To achieve this effect, it’s most important that the movement is completely smooth and that you move forward or backward in space. It isn’t simply a zoom in or out with the lens.

The action doesn’t have to involve a ton of movement, and in fact, if you are attempting to dolly while holding the camera with your hands, your best bet are small, slow, easy movements to keep things as smooth as possible.

Here’s my favorite choice for a nice small gimbal, perfect for small cameras, phones, or GoPro cameras.

And the perfect choice for an affordable, fun accessory - a remote controlled dolly on wheels. Check the price on Amazon, this one goes on sale often.

7 | Truck with Slider

The trucking movement is very similar to a dolly from back to front, except that you are moving from left to right. This can be achieved in the same way a dolly can be - a gimbal, slider, or short and steady handheld movements.

My favorite choice for an affordable and high quality slider here.

8 | Tilt

A classic and simple movement, but one that will never go out of style. Tilting is a simple camera movement from down to up or up to down while the base of the camera stays steady.

It’s a great technique for introducing a new scene or character, especially something grand or surprising. This is best done using a tripod, but you can also pull it off using your hands with a little practice. Go slow and use your elbows to stabilize your arms or wrists on your torso.

You can see an example below. I used speed ramp (done easily in Premiere Pro) to speed up the time in the middle and make the shot a little more interesting.

9 | Pan

Another very basic camera movement is the pan. This is simply when you move your camera horizontally, from left to right or right to left. It’s a great way to define a new location or a new action coming into your scene.

This one is also best done with a tripod, but you can use your entire body to slowly pivot as well. Try to keep your arms fixed to your body and simply rotate your shoulders and hips.

10 | Combine Movements

While this technique is going to involve the most amount of skill and practice, it also gives you the most ‘cinematic’ bang for your buck. Using a gimbal is probably the easiest way to combine movements, but it can also be done using a slider or handheld.

A few examples might include following your character in a circle using dolly and tilt movements at the same time.

It could also be trucking out from behind an object to give a slow reveal. This could easily be done handheld or of course with the use of a dolly or gimbal.

11 | Hacks for ‘faking’ smooth movement

In all reality, especially with lifestyle films, since you are filming reality, you won’t always have the time or access to fancy equipment. Sometimes the moments happen quickly and you have to just do the best you can. Here are a few tricks that you can implement to get super smooth movements without any extra camera tools.

1 - My favorite tool for smoothing out shaky footage once it’s already been shot is the Warp Stabilizer tool in Premiere Pro. It doesn’t always work, so you do have to play with it and review your clips carefully, but 75% of the time it saves a lot of my shaky shots. Here’s a little video I made if you want to know exactly how to use it.

2 - Shoot in slow motion. When the footage is slowed down, the exaggerated movement will be half as noticeable to your viewer.

3 - In body stabilization. Check to see if your camera has this feature. Not all cameras do, but many have it these days and it can dramatically improve the smoothness of your shots.

4 - Ok, confession, I was a marching band nerd. What does that have to do with anything? Well, we had to learn exactly how to walk super smoothly without bobbing our heads up and down. When you are walking with a handheld camera, it’s best to walk forward by rolling your feet from your heels to your toes as if you are balancing a book on your head.

5 - Create your own dolly. You don’t necessarily have to purchase an expensive slider or gimbal. You can experiment with a skateboard, roller blades, anything with wheels really. Safely place your camera on the skateboard or object and play around with your shots. Obviously this doesn’t work for every shot or in every location, but it’s worth a try when you can.

6 - Use your hips. You may look funny, but it will work. When you hold your camera out just using your arms and hands, the shake and movement is going to be heavily exaggerated. Instead use your own body like a tripod. Keep your arms and elbows locked in and use your body to sway in different directions to keep your movement more steady.

Recommended Accessories for Under $100

Best gimbal for camera phones: Hohem Isteady Mobile

Fun little remote controlled dolly for phones and small DSLR cameras: Tarion AutoDolly

Affordable slider for DSLR cameras: Neewer Carbon Fiber Slider

One recommendation above $100 - Best gimbal for DSLRs: Zhiyun Crane V2

Concluding Thoughts

I hope these suggestions give you some fresh ideas for your footage. Your homework for the week is to go out and shoot at least three varieties of camera movements between your shots.

Also remember to shoot each scene from three different angles, like we discussed in our crafting a story lesson. While you’re at it go ahead and think of a short story line that you can put together with your shots. It could be as simple as an afternoon outdoors eating popsicles or a hike with your dog.


Thanks for checking out a few of my favorite things. As an affiliate, I receive compensation for mentioning my favorite resources, however any commission that I earn comes at no cost to you. In fact, it goes right back into maintaining this website so I can continue to offer fresh content. Thanks as always for your support!

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