It took me a long time to recognize the appeal of video shooting. Even in a job where I have to use a camera’s video features, it was only fairly recently that I moved beyond just taking short clips (essentially stills with a little bit of movement in them) and started to think in terms of using video and editing to tell stories.

Given that most modern cameras offer at least rudimentary video tools, I wanted to share my experiences and perhaps encourage others to start thinking about shooting at 24 or more frames per second.

The good news is that a lot of the things you learn as a photographer are immediately useful as you take your first steps in video shooting. But, as I discovered, at almost every stage I encountered differences and additional factors to consider. Many of which I wished someone had told me when I started…

Stop shaking the camera, you’re making me feel sick

The first thing that became apparent when shooting video for the first time was the need to keep the camera steady. I remember my Dad teaching me how to keep my camera steady and be aware of my breathing when shooting relatively long exposures, but no amount of good breathing technique or bracing the camera against a pillar is enough to give steady video.

Even if your camera is hand-holdable, don't expect that to mean you'll shoot it hand-held.

This makes sense, of course: most stills shooting only requires you to hold your camera steady for fractions of a second whereas video lets the viewer see how steady you’ve been for seconds or minutes at a time.

What I've learned is that in-camera stabilization can be enough to stop your footage looking unwatchably juddery, but unless you’re aiming for a ‘run-and-gun’ aesthetic, you’ll need to use a tripod or some sort of stabilization rig.

Exposing some limitations

Exposure is another area where the lessons I’d learned from stills photography are useful but incomplete. You still get to control the same variables, but the range of control you have is somewhat restricted. It’s still a question of managing light, but with a greater risk of finding yourself with too much of the stuff.

For me it’s a question of shutter speed, which has a more obvious impact on the appearance of your footage than is usually the case in stills shooting. A fast shutter speed in stills photography will freeze motion, a slow one will allow the subject to blur but there’s often a large range in between these two extremes. In video, there’s a narrower range before the viewer starts to notice the difference.

The 180 degree shutter ‘rule,’ where you use a shutter speed that’s half the duration of each frame (so 1/48th seconds for 24 fps shooting) isn’t an inviolable law, but the further you stray from it, the more jarring or muddled your footage will look. This can be a creative choice, of course, but only counts as such if you've consciously made it.

This made me think back to when I was first experimenting with stills photography, and getting a feel for the boundaries set by the longest shutter speed I could hand-hold, the widest aperture I had available and the highest ISO setting I found acceptable. Once I was familiar with these, one of the first purchases I made was a faster lens (that’s right: a 50mm F1.8) to get more light to extend these capabilities.

With stills shooting, one of the first things you buy is a bright lens to get more light, with video it’s an ND filter, to get rid of it.

With video and the further restriction over the fastest shutter speed I’m willing to use, it’s a decent ND filter I need to buy, to reduce the light level to fit your boundaries.

A neutral density (ND) filter allows you to use use wide apertures and the relatively slow shutter speeds that a lot of videographers favor. An adjustable ND filter provides even more flexibility.

A return to JPEGs

Added to these exposure limitations has been another throw-back to my first days as a photographer: having to revert to an 8-bit, compressed shooting format. Having spent some time learning the distinctions between video file formats, the main lesson has been that none of the ones I'm likely to encounter are anything like Raw.

Once you've been spoiled by the seemingly endless dynamic range that can fit in a 14-bit Raw file and the ability to set and adjust the white balance at the ending stage, it's a shock to go back to having to get exposure and white balance perfect when you shoot.

Flat tone curves and Log profiles provide a means of squeezing a bit more useable DR into those 8-bit files, but this can make it even harder to judge correct exposure. I'd highly recommend shooting some test footage and trying to grade it back into something useful, before committing yourself to the flattest tone curve you can find.