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So – you have a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) and you’ve toyed around with shooting photos with it. In fact, you’re practically a professional now. But shooting professional video with your DSLR camera? That’s a whole new story to tell.
Now is your time to learn how to shoot the best looking cinematic footage with your DSLR camera. Fortunately, nearly any modern DSLR will have the ability to shoot video with manual settings. And don’t let the word “manual” scare you away from reading further into your new profession!
Here are the steps to creating professional videos with your DSLR Camera:
The first step to creating professional, cinematic videos with your DSLR is switching your camera to MANUAL mode.
You may be thinking, “How do I shoot video in Manual Mode?” Switching to manual mode is as simple as switching your camera’s dial to the “M”.
This will allow you to have complete control over each scenario and scene that you film, while maintaining the most buttery smooth look for each one of your clips.
If you’ve never taken the dive into manual mode, check out our very own Mastering Manual Mode (coming soon!).
Having complete control over your camera and its settings will give you much more confidence in shooting challenging or new scenarios.
The second step to mastering DSLR video is deciding which frame rate you’d like to use. Frame rate refers to how many individual frames (or photos) your camera is capturing for each second of video.
Frame rate can be noted by frames per second, or “fps”. The most common frame rates that most DSLR cameras will have is 24 fps, 30 fps, and 60 fps.
My personal favorite, and the industry standard for cinema is 24 fps (or 23.976). This will give you the smooth, natural looking style that you see in movies or nearly any professional video.
If you’re looking to shoot slow motion (slo-mo), 60 fps will be the best option. This frame rate is also used more commonly used for reality TV shows because it presents a look similar to the way that our brain interprets things.
Some higher end DSLR cameras will also allow shooting in 120 fps, which is even better for slower, smoother slow motion footage. For this specific example, we’re going to use 24 fps as we move forward.
The third piece to the professional video puzzle, and arguably the most important, is choosing & maintaining the correct shutter speed. Shutter speed works directly with frame rate to obtain the buttery smooth style that we all love to feast our eyes upon.
Choosing the correct shutter speed is easily figured by using a simple equation : FRAME RATE x2 = SHUTTER SPEED.
This means that if we decide to shoot our footage in 24 fps, we would choose a shutter speed of 1/50. If we decide to shoot at 60 fps, we would choose a shutter speed of 1/120, and so on.
The reason for this is that when footage is recorded at higher shutter speeds (1/200, 1/400, etc), it creates a very jarring, unnatural look that is not very good looking. Shutter speed is so key to getting professional looking footage!
Now for one of the most fun decisions of shooting DSLR video – aperture.
The aperture of your camera is similar to the pupil of an eyeball. The wider open the aperture is, the more light your camera is allowing in, while the smaller it is, the less light is being let in.
Aperture is also responsible for the depth-of-field, or the beautiful looking blurry background of your footage. The aperture that you choose is very dependent on which lens you’re using, the brightness of the scene you are shooting, and personal preference.
With a shutter speed of 1/50, you will learn that many of the scenes that you are filming will be fairly bright in comparison to shooting a photo of that same scene.
The most common aperture that I personally shoot with is 3.5, 4.0, and 5.6. Once again, all of this is dependent on if I’m shooting indoor vs. outdoor, daylight vs. dusk, high action vs. stationary, and so on.
I currently use a Sony a7Riii – if you use a Sony DSLR camera as well, check out Sony’s take on how to manually adjust the aperture and shutter speed when recording movies.
The next piece of the puzzle for DSLR filmmaking is choosing your ISO.
The simplest way to explain ISO is that it adjusts your camera’s sensitivity to light. At ISO 100, your footage will be darker, and at ISO 800 your footage will be brighter.
Since higher ISO causes grain, artifacts, and unwanted noise in your footage, it’s always best to keep your ISO number as low as possible.
If you’re very new to creating videos with a DSLR, or shooting scenes with variable light, shooting with your ISO on AUTO may be a good option for you.
One major piece of filmmaking that often gets overlooked is white balance.
White balance refers to the “color temperature” of the image, ranging from cool (blue) to warm (yellow/orange). This is a huge help when making a scene look natural and can help to fit a certain mood or style.
When shooting video, using a custom white balance is a huge advantage. To do this, go into your menu settings, find white balance, and navigate to the custom white balance setting, where you’re able to change the temperature.
Temperature is measured in Kelvin or “K” and in numbers from roughly 3000K to 6000K. The rough standard for measuring in daylight is 5600K while indoors is 3200K. I will typically change these depending on the type of light and what artistic style I’m looking to achieve.
If you’re looking to enter into the more professional side of filmmaking, selecting the best picture profile will be of HUGE assistance when color grading in post-production.
Picture profile refers to the contrast, color profile, and overall “look” of your footage straight from the camera.
Typically filmmakers will choose to shoot in a more flat & muted picture profile, which allows for further tweaking and control when coloring the footage in post-production.
Have you ever noticed footage just SLIGHTLY out of focus? Or maybe terribly out of focus? It can be very distracting, and take away from a film or video.
Getting your focus dialed in is a huge part of getting that crispy, sharp look. On many DSLR cameras, manual focus will be your only option. Although, auto-focus for video on newer, more expensive DSLR cameras is becoming more and more common and accurate.
Choosing between AF (auto focus) and MF (manual focus) is highly dependent on personal preference, and even more-so, your camera & lens’ ability.
As you get further into shooting professional video, there are many handy tools and accessories that make focusing on your DSLR much easier and accurate, such as motorized & manual focus controllers.
Getting started with shooting professional looking videos on your DSLR may be easier than you think.
It’s easy to get caught up making sure you have all of the best gear and equipment to make sure your videos are perfect, but that is NOT what it is about. Get comfortable with shooting in Manual Mode, explore your own camera’s settings, and put your ideas into fruition!
Thanks for taking the time to read about how to make professional videos using a DSLR. These steps are all very important to getting a professional look, but starting with WHATEVER gear you have is completely okay. And most of all – just begin to create!
Nothing is ever going to be perfect, and everyone has to start somewhere. Finished is always better than perfect. Please leave any questions or comments you have below, and I will be happy to get back to you.