Auto Exposure in Documentary Films?

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    • #37323

      Having taken a cinematography course, I know, I know that manual everything is “always” better. But what about for documentary work? A few documentary shows I’ve seen, like 30 Days, seem to use automatic exposure for at least some of their shots. But what is the “standard” for documentary work? I would assume that professional documentary film crews don’t run full-auto, but since documentary work can be more impromptu, they have to leave at least some tasks up to the camera, right? Are there any other documentary filmmakers out there that run as least some of the camera’s functions (focus, exposure, iris, shutter speed, white balance, mic level) in automatic mode? If so, which ones do you control, and which do you leave up to the camera?

      This question comes after a great shot was ruined when I was filming in Belize. I wastravelingwith two local students, and when the bus showed up, they rushed outside to jump on. I held the discreetly at my waist while pointing at them climbing through the back door. Upon reviewing the tape, all I’ve got is a blown-out over-exposed white frame. Wish I had switched it to auto before we ran outside. :/

    • #165346

      There is no “standard” for documentary work. You should try to achieve the best production values no matter what you are doing. I personally think it’s annoying when people use “eh, its a documentary” for an excuse to be lazy.

      I’d say the reason why you see documentaries that don’t have the best production values is because documentarians are better storytellers than anything. But I personally think no matter who you are and what you’re doing you should try to shoot and editing with professional results.

      To answer your question about which controls I leave up to the camera, I leave nothing up to the camera.

      I guess the time to leave the camera in auto is when you know you won’t have control. If you have time and control, then take the time and control.

    • #165347

      That’s more or less the response I expected. Since I was on full manual the whole time, I really did get some beautiful shots. Setting them up with the right settings was worth it most of the time. I suppose that when I AM about to run outside to catch a bus, I should quickly hit the auto button so that I can focus on the action rather than a perfect composition.

      Thanks for the advice!

    • #165348
      Grinner Hester

      I shoot a lot of reality and every now and then, the conditions are cganing quick enough that all auto is best, just to ensure I have an image at all times. I am my own editor and I lean on that a lot, knowing I can make anything perfect later but also knowing I may miss a shot if over exposed from the last manual shot I was on. I have to have an image as life is what is happening while a brother is futsing with settings.

      Given time, I always make every shot as pretty as it can be. The truth sometimes there is absolutly no time. Aim, get the shot, rock on.

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