Make your Video Look Like Film

How often do we still hear the term, filming, when everyone really means videotaping? While we easily forgive friends or even clients as they repeat this misnomer, there is a certain underlying expectation that is hard to quantify. Projects shot with film simply look better. In most cases, the look that only film offers is synonymous with quality, large-budget productions.

Read the full article Getting That Film Look.

Video Transcript

For Videomaker, I'm Brian Peterson. This is going to be explaining a little bit more about how to make your video look more like film and what we're gonna concentrate on today is shooting outdoors. It's something we didn't really focus on too much in the article, so we're gonna make it a little bit more clear on actually how you do this in a regular outdoor environment. In fat, today is a perfect example because we've got some sun, we have some clouds, so in fact, you may see exactly what we're talking about.

Right now, we 're in full sun. It's getting close to about midday, which, as we know, is the worst time to shoot. If we had control of, say, just shooting in the early morning, in the late afternoon hours, that magic hour, everything would be fine but that's not reality. So let's take a look at reducing the dynamic range, because there's nothing more telltale than looking at a video that has hotspots or areas that are blown out. Film just doesn't do that, it has this great latitude to expose the very low end and the very, very high end, the very brights, the very darks. We just don't have that luxury with video. So what we're gonna do is control our environment.

Now, we have a setup here with a young lady, it happens to be my wife, thank you very much, Susan, and we're going to do two things, very, very simply, we're going to shelter the sun that's hitting her hair, that's blowing out, and then we're gonna fill her a little bit to fill in some of the dark shadows. Now, right now, we're next to a large wall, which actually is serving as a large reflector in itself, so her face actually looks pretty good, as there's this nice broad reflection coming from the wall. However, the wall happens to also be yellow, so she's getting some coloration here that we wouldn't want. So we're gonna use a white card to fill that in and then a scrim to fill – to actually shield her from some of the sun right now.

So what we're gonna do is we're gonna start with a clapboard. Any time you're using more than one camera, recommend you do that. Also slating whatever your scene is, another good idea. So we're gonna start with using a scrim. Now, all this is is some very thin, translucent nylon. You can get this at any store, any fabric store. In fact, I've seamed this together. I am not a seamstress, and in fact, if you look very closely, you'd see that. So it's something you can easily do.

Now, there's other materials you could use if you don't want to go to this effort. In fact, there are some manufacturers – thank you, some manufacturers that actually do the work for you. This one is a 5-in-1 reflector and does the work of just five different materials. We've got a gold side, a silver side, and if you open it up you see that we actually have the same kind of material. Now, this is translucent and will serve the same function. I just happen to like the square format, it makes it a little bit easier for me to work with my grip material, and so I'm using this. This is called a scrim Jim and actually breaks down into a really small area as well. So I'm gonna put this off to the side. All right.

And actually, this is another good example, what has just happened, we actually have her head in a little bit of shade right now, the sun's moving, but you'll see the effect nevertheless. So let's put this up over her head. One of the big things to make sure that you do, and you can't see this in the shot, but I have sandbags on these stands. Any time you put something over talent's head, you want to absolutely make sure that you are protecting them, protecting yourself. You don't want to hurt this beautiful head, and I would hear about it if I did. So I have got 25-pound sandbags down there. If it's at all windy too, that's another problem. If you find that your wind is moving this around, you may actually want to tie the corners of this with some string and actually tie the sandbags to those. So another way.

Now, you can see right now that we've created this nice, even light, and in our main camera shooting Susan, we can see her face looks pretty good, it's a little bit yellow because of the reflection from the building, but at least here, the top part of her hair now is completely correctly exposed. We've reduced the dynamic contrast, and so this is exactly what we're looking for. All right.

The next step, we're gonna head and just use foam core. Foam core is our friend. This is a white side and if you want a little bit harder side, I've actually just spray painted this with some silver, and this is real simple to do, probably $0.50 worth of paint and you have a hard side and a soft side. We're gonna use the soft side on her right now, and I'm gonna come over here and I've already prepositioned where I knew the sun was going to be, but you would want to kind of waggle this around a little bit to see where the best spot was.

So now we can see we've got a little bit more color neutrality to her face, not a lot because we still have some reflection coming from the building. If we were really going to be meticulous about this, I would probably drape the building or at least this section of it with a white bed sheet or something so that we weren't getting a lot of that color contamination.

All right, so now we can see Susan. She has got some nice fill from the bounce card. She has got very, very even and lower light on her hair so it's not hot. It also blends with the background pretty good. The background tends to blowout anyway a little bit when you're doing this with talent, and a nice thing about this setup is that generally the talent's not going to be squinting because you're not blasting her with a bunch of light that's just unnecessary.

So we've reduced the dynamic range, our video is looking a little bit better. Now let's talk about something else. Let's run over here to the camera. I'm gonna move the camera here, just for a moment, and go back to our second shot. Now, we've got a mat box on here and this mat box allows us to put filters, two different filters in, and the mat box does several things; one, the filters, of course, do their own thing, we'll talk about that in a minute.

But the mat box, as you can see, has a flag on it and this flag keeps extra sun from hitting the lens, and it's amazing how much different this will actually look. It does a couple things. It reduces the stray light coming from different parts of the scene, especially from up above, from the sun, and it also, in doing so, increases the color saturation just a little bit. Now, you'd probably have to look at a vector scope to actually see the intense or that real difference specifically on a scope, but I think you'll notice, also, your images, this will look overall just a little bit nicer, a little bit crisper, red's a little bit more saturated, green's a little bit more saturated. Now, this flag is adjustable, you adjust it down to where you're shot – it's not in your shot. There are also side flags that you can get as options to put on these. So the mat box, itself, without any filters is actually gonna go a long way to helping you get nice shots.

Now, let's go ahead and do one thing that is going to reduce our contrast even more. We're gonna take a graduated filter, that was the wrong one, and this grad has a neutral density of .06, which is about equal to two stops. Now, this, as you can see, and we'll put it in another camera here in just a moment, goes from two stops down to clear at the bottom. So what we're gonna do is put this in the front filter holder because the front filter holder does not rotate and we don't need to rotate this one. And I got to click it in.

All right, I'm gonna go ahead and turn this camera back to our talent there, and we'll show you the effect of the filter. Now, there's Susan. We're gonna drop in the grad at this point, and there we are, all the way in. Now, you see what happens, the top part of her face just got a little bit too dark. Now, that's not appropriate, so I'm gonna slide it up a little bit and then lock it in place. Now, this isn't a really good example of how a grad would help you out, but say, for instance, this were no head and we had a talent against a background of let's say a horizon or the sky, that neutral density at the top edge would bring the sky into a range that is a little bit more capable of being resolved by your video camera. So a grad really most appropriate to use outdoors, horizon and bring it up a little bit so it doesn't really bring down the exposure of your talent too much, but it will help with above the talent. So here not quite so much of an issue.

But overall, it's a fabulous filter to have, one of – if you only have money for two, I would say absolutely get the other one, and this is something that you could almost leave on your camera at all times, is a polarizing filter. Now, this one is a square four-by-four. You most likely see them in the round style. And you want to make sure that you rotate these to the angle of the sun. Now, the angle of the sun right now is almost up and behind Susan and that's not the appropriate angle that we're going to use this for.

What we're actually using this is for a neutral density, and this is equal to about a two-stop neutral density gel, as we slide it in there it's gonna do a couple of things. It's going to create an underexposure, if you will, on our talent that we're gonna have to open the aperture up for. So if we're at, say, I think – let's see, let's take a look, we are at F11, so that screams video, in other words, everything's in focus. We've got this huge, huge depth of field, we want to reduce that down to bring the viewer's attention to our subject, and by doing this that's what's gonna happen.

So let's bring out our second stage here, put in the polarizing filter. Now, you can get these filters just as neutral density, but frankly, since you only have two filter holders, it's probably a best idea to have a filter that does more than just one thing, so a polarizing filter will do that. And make sure you get not a linear but a circular polarizer. It has something to do with the automatic focus and just the way video cameras split the light into a prism, that the circular polarizer is necessary for. So let's go ahead and slide that in, and you'll see again that Susan goes a little bit dark, in fact very dark, so let's go ahead and open up our iris and there we go. Hair is nicely exposed, background is just a little bit hotter.

Now, I'm gonna go ahead and rotate the polarizing filter. It's not gonna have a huge effect, but it will have a little. The way that you get the most effect is by going the gun position, you point your finger right out at the sun and where your thumb is pointing is the angle, perpendicular, to where you want your camera to focus. So if the sun were up here, the best place to put my camera would be over here. Now, I'm over here so it's really not going to be effecting. So again, I'm using the polarizer as primarily a neutral density gel. But let's go ahead and rotate it just a little bit and see what we get. All right, as I turn slowly, and there's not much. We're seeing a little bit of effect on the greens, but again, the angle isn't appropriate so we're using this primarily, as I said, as a neutral density gel and that works fairly well.

All right, so those are the three things to limit your dynamic range use a scrim to bring the light down on the subject's hair, use a fill to bring in some of the light on the face without blowing her out. Try to get a hold of something like a mat box, they come in all sorts of quality, they range in price all the way down from a couple hundred to a couple thousand. So I'm sure you can probably find one in your range. And then the last is using a few different types of filters, a neutral density graduated filter for those horizon scenes and then a polarizing, a circular polarizer for areas where you want it to do two things, increase some of the color in your image and have your exposure down a couple stops so that you can open your iris up to reduce that depth of field, to make it look more like a film camera.

For Videomaker, I'm Brian Peterson.

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