The DSLR Filmmaker’s Handbook: Real-World Production Techniques, Second Edition (2015)
Chapter 9. Troubleshooting
Having to troubleshoot unexpected problems is not unique to DSLR cameras, but the specific problems and tips in this chapter are unique to these cameras. Before you go out and shoot, make sure to read this chapter and make a cheat sheet for the known problems with these cameras. Be aware of the limitations so when you create the type of shot you want, you don’t create one that the camera cannot capture for you. There are problems and limitations, but they’re nothing that you can’t work around. Knowledge is power in this sense, and the more you know, the more you can craft the way you shoot your film so you can be successful.
Avoiding Problems: What to Do, What to Take
In this section, we give you a few ways to avoid problems in the first place, by having the right gear along or by planning ahead.
These are some “make the shot work or die” items for your kit:
Figure 9-1: Tiffen variable neutral density filter
1. Zoom Lens Shooting with prime lenses is the most common choice for most feature films. However, in tight spots with limited time, having a zoom lens that you can snap into framing and hit Record is priceless.
2. Variable ND Filter If you are shooting outside in a sunlight/shade mixture, then moving back and forth between different ND filters can really slow down the shoot. If you have a variable ND filter (Figure 9-1), you can just dial into the proper ND amount and hit Record.
Figure 9-2: GorillaPod with a DSLR camera attached to a railing
3. Tripod or Camera Support Stand-ins Tripods are an essential part of production. However, since DSLR cameras are small and light, part of the fun is using them in locations not possible with traditional tripods. Get your hands on a GorillaPod (Figure 9-2) or other support system that allows you to stay small but still have some control as to where you point the lens.
Figure 9-3: You can keep an empty sandbag in your travel case and fill it up with something upon arriving on location.
4. Sandbag Don’t want to buy a GorillaPod or other small support gear? You should have a sandbag (Figure 9-3) on set anyway. Throw the sandbag down and place your camera right on top. The sand is somewhat moldable, so you can finesse your camera into position without costing you a dime.
5. Pocket Level When you use a sandbag or other unusual support or mounting system, it is easy to end up not having a level shot. A lot of times you are unable to look directly through the camera if you have the camera rigged in a tight or abnormal location. A simple pocket level (Figure 9-4) can help make sure you haven’t tilted your camera in a way you didn’t want.
Figure 9-4: Three-way bubble level you can place on your camera or camera support to check your horizon line
6. Car, Skateboard, or Cart Depending on your budget (or if you improvise a last-minute shot), you may not have access to a dolly or Steadicam. No worries—be creative and use a car, skateboard, or cart to help you get the moving shot you need.
7. Batteries Did we mention batteries? They’re not just for the camera; you’ll need batteries for any portable lights, remote starters, microphones, and so on. Make a list of all the types of batteries your various gear requires and bring extras.
8. Color-Correction Cards and White-Balance Cards Have a folder with a white card and color card (Figure 9-5) on standby. Whenever you set up at a new location, go ahead and shoot each card before your first take. You never know what might help in post.
Figure 9-5: Color-correction and white-balance cards
1. Tape, Sharpie, and Plastic Zip Ties for Emergency Follow Focus Office supplies might seem out of place for the production crew, but on set you never know what will come in handy. Make a little kit with tape, Sharpie pens, zip ties, twist ties, clamps, paper clips, and Ziploc bags.
2. Black Duvetyne/Black Cloth Ambient light on your monitors sometimes can’t be totally flagged or blocked. If you have some black Duvetyne, then you can throw it over the camera or monitor and see exactly what you are getting in the shot. Focus, color, and exposure are infinitely easier to achieve when you are not fighting ambient light on your monitors or LCD screen on the back of the camera.
3. Hardware Store Lights and/or Small Adjustable LED Light Panel Since DSLR cameras are so light sensitive, it never hurts to have some good old-fashioned flashlights, lanterns, and car spotlights in the trunk. You never know when a little splash of light will complete your scene. Battery-powered, portable, and small are key features (Figure 9-6).
Figure 9-6: Switronix TorchLED Bolt light
4. Extension Cords That Work in All Weather Don’t use old extension cords from around the house or that are frayed or kinked. Borrow, rent, or buy some high-quality, durable cords that are somewhat weather resistant.
5. Umbrellas and Plastic Bags News flash—meteorologists are not always right. Bring extra umbrellas for both the equipment and the crew. Also, don’t just bring the small pocket umbrellas. If you have your camera on a tripod with a long lens, a tiny umbrella is of little use. Have at least one large umbrella for each camera you have on set. Size matters. Also, have a supply of garbage bags and rain covers you can drape over set pieces and equipment (Figure 9-7).
Figure 9-7: Petrol Bags rain cover for the C100
6. Fold-up Reflectors Sometimes all you need is a little bounce. Having a large foam core bounce card is sometimes impractical or unnecessary. Get a set (Figure 9-8) of fold-out reflectors (white, silver, and gold), and in seconds you can have a light, portable, and flexible reflector to help you get the perfect shot.
7. Black Wrap and Clamps When shooting with cameras that are so light sensitive, sometimes it is more about subtracting light than adding it. Using some black wrap (Figure 9-9) around a light can help you take away some light or light leakage from your scene. It’s cheap and easy to use. Make sure it’s part of your preproduction checklist.
Figure 9-8: Polaroid reflector/bounce kit
Figure 9-9: Rosco Cinefoil black wrap—it’s like aluminum foil but helps you control light spill.
Figure 9-10: Regular table-lamp dimmer from the local hardware store
8. White and Black Poster Boards Just as fold-out reflectors have their place, so do large white-and-black foam core boards. You can add these to help set up a large, soft bounce source or create a barrier to keep out light.
9. Dimmers and Low-Wattage Bulbs You would be surprised how bright a table lamp is if it has even a 13w/60w CFL/incandescent bulb in it. If it has a 27w/100w CFL/incandescent bulb, it is even worse. It is nice to have a box of low-wattage bulbs that you can change out in lamps, ceiling lights, and chandeliers to help you get the correct lighting for your scene. If you don’t have low-watt bulbs or if your low-watt bulbs are still too bright, then having a cheap $10 dimmer (Figure 9-10) from Home Depot will save you. Have a couple on hand, and you can put all the incidental lights on a dimmer and in minutes have all the lights balanced and matched. Please note that only certain CFL bulbs can be dimmed so test them in advance to make sure.
10.Extenders and Extension Tubes If you have only a few lenses, then don’t forget to get an extender and extension tubes. An extender can take your 100 mm lens and turn it into a 200 mm or 400 mm lens and help you get the long shot you didn’t think you could get. Conversely, if you don’t have a macro lens and need to get a close-up of someone writing a letter or the cursor on the computer screen, an extension tube will change your focal plane and make any available lens able to focus at a much shorter distance.
Figure 9-11: Good old trusty greenbacks
11.Print It Out Print a copy for yourself and a backup copy. Of what? Everything: the script, schedule, crew contact sheets, actor releases, and so on. With everyone having a laptop or portable device, sometimes you forget to have a printed copy you can hand to someone. If you run out of batteries and don’t have a printed copy, then you are out of luck. Again, it’s just another backup that you will be happy you have at least once during your shoot.
12.Coffee and Bribe Money Never underestimate the power of a cup of coffee or a few extra dollars in cash (Figure 9-11). You will without a doubt be thanking numerous crew members and people from whom you secured locations, props, or equipment. After a while, you might need a little extra help to finish a shot or ask someone to stay just a little longer. Always make sure to have fresh, good coffee (at all hours of the day) and an envelope with some cash. $20 to $50 might get you the resources you need at the last minute and help you finish your day.
iPhone/iPad Applications for Filmmaking
There are many great applications on your phone or tablet. Here are some super handy ones you might want to get before you start your shoot:
1. MatchLens This app helps match 5D and 7D with 35 mm motion-picture lens focal lengths.
1. pCAM This program gives you field of view and depth of field of all formats. It’s absolutely essential in figuring out hyper focals as well as field of view for crane shots, long lens shots, and so on.
1. Aspect Ratio Calc This calculates video aspect ratios and pixel ratios.
1. Artemis Director’s Viewfinder This app gives you a fast field of view with a live video feed that shows you a box that represents your field of view. Beware, this app has burned us with not being accurate with 7D, 5D, and 1D representations.
1. The Weather Channel This indicates what weather you may be dealing with.
1. Sun Seeker This sun-tracking program gives you the arc of the sun on your iPhone’s camera. Very cool.
1. Helios This sun-tracking app works very well and gives you the ability to find the location of the sun at any time and at any place on the planet.
1. Weather Bug Elite This app has given us the most accurate weather out on location that we have ever experienced. It keeps us in the loop with forecasts and alerts.
1. Pocket LD This is a very informative lighting program that offers photometrics and a wonderful selection of lights to choose from. Pocket LD is a photometric database and calculation tool for theatrical and TV/film lighting professionals.
1. Flashlight This is an emergency flashlight for on-set use and digging around gear bags.
1. PhotoCalc This is a nice, general-purpose app with depth of field, sunrise/sunset, exposure calculations, and so on.
1. PhotoBuddy This is an easy-to-use and extensive all-purpose calculator for many useful things that relate to DSLR.
1. Storyboard Composer This is a storyboard app to keep your ideas on track.
1. Power Load Calculator This is a mobile app and web app to keep track of your power load on circuits so you don’t blow anything.
1. Video Space Calculator This is a mobile app and web app that gauges how much space a video format will take up on a disc.
1. pCAM Film + Digital Pro This one does it all, quickly and accurately. If you don’t want to mess around with any other calculator or app, this is the one to get.
1. Cut Notes When you actually do get to time codes, you can use this app to take notes.
1. DSLR Slate Bring your slate with you, in your pocket.
1. MovieSlate This is an all-inclusive slate that provides a lot of features, including notes and logging capabilities.
1. ProPrompter Use this when memorizing lines is a problem.
1. Producer App This is a way to keep track of your production on your phone or iPad. This app is a work in progress, but having a centralized location for crucial information can save headaches.
1. Screenplay It always helps to have a backup script along for the ride.
1. Celtx Celtx is the mobile scriptwriting app that syncs with the Celtx desktop software and Celtx Studios, making it easy to write your film, AV, theater, comic book, and audio play scripts from any place at any time.
1. Scripts Pro This is a screenwriting application for the iPad and iPhone.
Planning for Sufficient Power
Many DSLR shoots do not use equipment that has as big a draw on power as regular film or video shoots. This is because they use different lighting setups that require a lot less power. Therefore, it may be easy to overlook power requirements on set. Before you head out on set, make a list of all the equipment that needs power (both battery and traditional AC power); talk to an electrician and make sure you have enough power for your gear on set. A large shoot will still require a large amount of power, and a generator may be required. If you can’t calculate the power draw or don’t know an electrician who can help you, then at the very least make sure you test the electrical so you won’t blow circuits while shooting. Trial and error is still a good way to go.
DSLR sets are often highly dependent on computer or monitor setups for quality control and data management. Battery charging is a crucial part of every shoot, so plan for a charging station area. Make sure that there is a battery backup and power surge protection system in place. As you evaluate these concerns, plan for the moment when the power goes out or surges, and make sure that your equipment is protected.
Have a car charger adapter. If you are on a “run-and-gun” shoot, it is worth the minimal expense for a battery charger adapter to run power off a vehicle.
Shooting problems range from equipment issues such as audio limitations, sensor issues, and shutter speed to user issues such as white balance and exposure. Here are some ways to help minimize or eliminate operator-caused or equipment-related issues.
Rolling Shutter Dilemmas and Sensor Problems
When video is being shot with a DSLR camera, a physical or mechanical shutter is technically not used (even if it is used for the still shots); the shutter is an electronic generation of and controlled by the sensor. Currently, DSLRs that shoot video use a CMOS sensor that utilizes a rolling shutter while shooting video. Shutter speeds are identical between mechanical and electronic shutters, but the image geometry may not be. The design of the electronic shutter will create different problems than you would have with a mechanical shutter or even with a different type of sensor.
Here we focus on CMOS sensors and rolling shutters. CMOS sensor-controlled shutters for DSLR video do not allow for the entire image to be fully or globally exposed in the same moment. Instead, the sensor controls which aspects of the image will be exposed and then rolls through the entire sensor, exposing as it passes along line after line of pixels (which is why it has the moniker rolling shutter). The entire exposure happens very quickly, usually in a fraction of a second, and is usually not a problem; however, in some situations, it just isn’t fast enough.
Correcting Rolling Shutter
Rolling shutter is the likely culprit if any of these items occur:
· The image is described as having a wobble.
· The image is skewed by bending one way or another.
· The top part of an image is not in direct line with the bottom (something highly distracting when the distortion makes it look like a person or major part of the shot is made of Jell-O!).
· Lines are completely curved when they should be straight.
· You have sensor problems like blooming and smearing.
You can’t completely avoid rolling shutter problems because they are a result of the design of the camera sensor. The best thing to do is to try to not shoot visuals that are particularly susceptible to noticeable rolling shutter problems. Skew means the lines are curved or slightly off (Figure 9-12). The Jell-O effect looks like an extreme version of skew. Often the entire object is dramatically curved or completely off-kilter. Both of these problems are found in similar situations, mainly in quick-motion scenarios where either the camera or the parts of the shot are moving rapidly.
You can do two things to potentially fix these problems in shots with motion. First, avoid lines that are in focus in the background of your moving shots. These lines can be buildings, tree trunks, walls, brick patterns, or anything that has a repetitive regular geometric sequence, especially vertical straight edges. As you pan, you move the camera, or the shot moves in other ways; these lines will skew and can be visually distracting. If there is no way to avoid having a distracting bending object in the background, the second way to fix this is to have that part of the image out of focus. The rolling shutter will still be there, but because of the blur and softening, it may be less noticeable or, better yet, not discernable at all.
Figure 9-12: Notice the light poles “leaning” to the left of frame as compared to the shorter fence farther from the camera.
One way to fix the problem of skew in a pan is to altogether frame out anything that is skewing in the foreground. Another way is to move the camera farther away from the objects in the foreground. By moving the camera back from the foreground objects, you are making the objects smaller in the frame and therefore minimizing any potential skew effect. If the foreground images are critical for adding movement in the frame—for instance, showing a fence while someone is running that assists in adding a feeling of speed—you can use ND filters, lower your f-stop, and move the object or actor you want the audience to focus on farther from the foreground objects. Then when you focus on the object or actor in your scene, the foreground objects are out of focus and are less noticeable if they have any skewing. If you have the ability to slow down your pan or the action in the scene, thus slowing down the camera movement or action, this will also minimize or eliminate any potential skewing.
You can do several things to disguise the Jell-O effect or skew:
· A moving scene like in a car may respond well to a fish-eye lens. The rolling shutter distortion in the shot can blend into the fish-eye lens effect, thereby masking that there is unwanted skew in the shot.
· Clever framing or cuts in the edit can draw the eye away from the problem.
· Changing the shutter speed of the shot can also help lessen the conspicuousness of rolling shutter Jell-O tendencies. The rolling shutter problem will still be present in the shot, but a slight blurring may mask its appearance and make it less noticeable.
Because rolling shutter problems of skew and the Jell-O effect are the result of the sensor’s response combined with movement, shots without movement—especially without quick movement—will not be affected. Make sure that any moving shots that do occur are fluid and smooth by using camera support or Steadicam; this can help keep the shot smooth so any distortion is not added on top of jittery camera work. Cutting shots with quick movement may make the skewing feel like part of the action. If there must be movement—and let’s face it, movement is part of many shot designs—you can play with slowing down the action or maybe even speeding it up until the rolling shutter isn’t on the forefront of the audience’s mind when they see the shot. As the moviemaker, you are directing your audience’s eye with how you set up your shot and action, so direct the eye away from the rolling shutter. This will lessen the effect that visible rolling shutter will have on your overall piece.
Some people bring in an entirely different camera to shoot scenes with rolling shutter problems. This may be a great option if you are a big-budget production, but for many moviemakers, it is the most expensive workaround, and unless your production is set up for a dual-camera shoot, shooting a handful of shots on a different medium may not be the best choice. However, if your key shot is plagued with rolling shutter and you can’t get over it, consider the ease of getting that shot on film, or if you are on a lower budget, get a CCD sensor video camera.
Correcting Bloom or Smear
If you are having blooming or smear problems, you may also have to switch out cameras, avoid certain types of shots, try blocking the light sources even a little or diverting them from hitting your sensor, or reframe your shots. Blooming occurs when bright, circular, halo-like light appears around your subject and there is little or no information in these areas. Smear occurs when bright streaks start showing up, usually in highlights. Both of these appear most often with bright light sources or brightly backlit images. Strangely, both of these effects are more common with CCD sensors, so this is one area where the typical DSLR CMOS sensor is advantageous.
Difficulties Achieving Sharp Focus
DSLR cameras can give everybody the ability to shoot a cinematic movie look. The reason for this is that they have great capabilities for shallow depth of field and low-light shooting. However, when you are shooting in such low light situations there are several issues with focus. The biggest issue is that all of the shallow depth of field in low light is fabulous, but if the actor moves or you are pulling focus in low light, the shots have a high ratio of focus problems. The large sensor gives you the ability to get these amazing shots but also creates situations where pulling focus is nearly impossible. Pulling focus with an f-stop of 1.2 on a full-frame sensor in low light is a recipe for insanity. If you decide to set up shots like this, know that you are going to be in for a long day. If possible, take your gear out and check to make sure you can achieve focus on your planned shots.
Using Viewfinders to Aid in Achieving Focus
A viewfinder is a highly useful addition for consistent accurate focus. Certainly your camera came with a basic viewfinder and an LCD screen on the back. These can be used to set focus; however, while you are shooting, they may not be enough for you to tell whether your shot is in focus. Often the viewfinder on the camera will not be available while you are shooting video or in movie mode. A distinct problem for focus is that DSLR cameras do not allow the eyepiece to be used in live view or movie mode. Additionally, even if you could use the viewfinder on the camera, it was designed for the body position of a still photographer. It is not ideally located to use while shooting and moving the camera for the shot. The operator is often leaning at an odd angle to look into the viewfinder or at the LCD screen, and this can contribute to unsteady camera work.
Actually being able to see the shot is an obvious key in getting proper focus. Light can wipe out the detail on the camera’s LCD screen and, even with an articulating screen as you change the angle, can cause problems seeing the LCD screen. Achieving focus is a complete gamble if you can’t see what is supposed to be in focus. This means that light hitting the back panel of the camera when you are looking at focus is a major challenge. As the shot progresses, you need to keep checking focus, and the easiest way to do this is to get an eyepiece, loupe, or viewfinder that blocks the light and allows you to put your eye right up to the camera to see the focus more clearly (Figure 9-13). This is probably the one gear item that gives you the biggest bang for your buck.
Figure 9-13: A viewfinder in action with DP John Peters on the set of Memphis Beat
Using External Monitors for Sharp Images
External monitors will also be necessary if you are using some camera support systems like Steadicams, and they are nice if you are using a system with rods, such as shoulder-mounted rigs or other camera support rigs. Attaching your camera feed to monitors that are mounted on your rig gives a larger and more ideally located visual for checking focus (Figure 9-14). Additionally, you can use large external monitors or a computer monitor to double-check your test shots, and you can use them to check every shot on part of a larger shoot. A simple way to aid in comfortable, accurate viewing of your shots on a set is to use a viewing tent or vehicle. If you have a smaller set, this can be done by investing in a few yards of Duvetyne or other black-out fabric and setting up your own viewing tent. Duvetyne is a great, reasonably priced option that you can quickly throw over the camera setup, monitors, or viewing area to minimize light spill on your monitors, screen, or viewfinder.
Figure 9-14: An external monitor setup
Another focus problem for some is that autofocus is often not available while shooting DSLR video. Obviously, there are some notable exceptions like the Nikon D700 and the Canon 70D, but most of the time autofocus is not a given. Videographers usually are accustomed to shooting with autofocus and even relying on color-peaking or pixel-magnification tools. These features ensure that their shots are in focus. Filmmakers expect and usually require manual focus because they are familiar with using focus for artistic purposes. In fact, filmmakers likely will turn off autofocus as soon as possible if it is an option. Why? Movies are told through selective focus. The cinematic look is achieved by picking your focus, whether it is a shallow depth of field, rack focus, or another focus decision.
Even if the camera has autofocus, it likely will be a hindrance for shooting your movie. The autofocus will take time to find focus as the shot moves and may focus on the wrong parts of the image. Autofocus systems work by moving the lens back and forth until the camera calculates where it thinks focus should be. While the camera is searching for focus, the entire image is out of focus or moving in and out of focus. When using autofocus while panning, the camera will constantly adjust the focus. Additionally, if any items in the shot change distance or move, the autofocus may adjust. If you are familiar with autofocus and feel comfortable, start by focusing your camera in still mode and moving it to movie mode while keeping the same focus. This will allow you to practice checking your focus. Selective focus is a major creative decision when you are choosing what to show your audience. Don’t let your camera make the creative decisions for you: get over the lack of autofocus problem, and if you do have autofocus, don’t use it.
Practices for Getting Consistent Focus on Set
You can do several additional things to help make sure your shot is in focus. Often there is no hard-and-fast rule for achieving focus other than the obvious: double-check your focus all the time. This is because how you plan to make sure your shot is in focus depends on what type of shot it is. If it is a moving shot, you may have to use several methods to make sure the elements of the shot that you need in focus are in focus. If it is a close-up shot of an actor, focus may depend on the physical control of the actor to limit movement. Ultimately, it is useful to have several methods to help with focus and adjust your practices on set as best suited for the shot.
There are also times when perfect focus is necessary for success. If your movie is going to be projected, focus is an even bigger issue than normal. Nothing ruins a scene more than an out-of-focus main actor blown up larger than life. That is why having the eye in focus is a key element for determining critical focus in many scenes. You can measure from the eye of the actor to make sure the eye is the point of critical focus. Also, when you are checking focus with monitors or magnification views on the camera, always look at the eyes of the key players in the scene.
In the end, it is often also best to simply mark out where your focal plane is for the shot. This allows everyone on set to see where focus is and make adjustments. Sometimes the only option may be to change focus capabilities by changing the lighting, the f-stop, the actor position, or the equipment (such as changing lenses or adding ND filters).
Multiple Levels of Magnification
When you are in live view mode, most cameras allow for the operator to have several close-ups on the scenes to make sure that small parts are in focus. If you are having focus problems, use this tool to keep double-checking your focus.
With 5x image magnification
With 10x image magnification
Moving shots are challenging for focus, and they often involve a focus change in midshot. Follow-focus units are also a key to maintaining focus for moving shots (Figure 9-15).
Figure 9-15: Manual follow-focus unit in action
Make sure your focus puller and operator have practice time and are able to work in sync. Using a focus whip is great because it allows the person pulling focus to be farther away from the camera and gives the operator a little more space to work. Adding gears to the lens will give a little more focus throw and help you achieve beautiful and smooth focus pulls if you are using still lenses.
You can also get your still lenses adapted to work more like cine lenses, and often the adapted still lens will be easier to use for focus than a still lens with an aftermarket external gear (Figure 9-16). Cine lenses have great gears and are easily adaptable to many follow-focus units, but the DSLR market is flooded with follow-focus options. As you do your test shots, if focus is a problem, a follow-focus unit may be your best solution.
Figure 9-16: Geared lens adapter on a still lens so you can use a follow-focus unit to pull focus
There are additional reasons why a cine lens can help your focus. Cine lenses also are designed for movement and so that the image can be blown up and projected; this means they are designed with extreme sharpness in mind. Your focus problem may be partially helped by a lens switch. Cine lenses are also designed with gears that allow for movement and a wide range of motion for smooth focus changes and focus pulling. Still lenses are built so that the shooter has the easiest access to adjusting focus, but a cine lens is designed so that the focus puller doesn’t even have to look at the image to pull focus (Figure 9-17). This is a huge advantage in many situations with tricky focus. If you have complex blocking or a lot of movement, a cine lens by design will allow for easier focus pulling.
Figure 9-17: A Zeiss CP.2 cine-style lens with remote follow-focus unit attached
Artifacting occurs because the camera is sampling parts of the image in order to make a complete frame. This is done by taking the information from only some of the pixels in a quadrant or row at a time and using that information to extrapolate the entire image. Essentially, image capture is a puzzle where the pieces are being created and put together in nearly an instant. This sampling is often referred to as pixel binning when referring to the process that DSLR video undergoes as it is being shot.
Pixel binning and line skipping are done to reduce the amount of data that must be read from the sensor in order to get the image. Only part of the information from the sensor is going to be read, or it is going to be combined. This is done to speed things up because the chips that were originally designed for still images and video require that the information be read at much faster speeds.
Often all is well and the aliasing is not a noticeable detractor, but sometimes problems show up in the image. The same process that keeps images sharp and lets the camera “read” the data fast enough for video has a downside. The problem is that any artifacting may appear on your image as an aliasing problem.
Artifacting shows up when something is not recorded, something is distorted in the image, you see shimmering effects such as off water, you see lines that wave when viewed during playback, or an optical illusion is created as a result of the pixel binning that isoccurring. This can appear as aliasing, jagged lines, moiré patterns, details that don’t completely line up to the real-life image, or temporal aliasing like the wagon wheel effect where moving images look as though they are moving in the wrong direction. Artifacting is at its worst in the following scenarios:
· Items with small patterns or stripes, which is especially distracting if it appears in the clothing of your actors
· Lines that intersect, such as with brick or fences, especially square images
· Lots of small things in motion such as grass or waves
· Computer monitors or other projected images
Aliasing or other artifacting effects may not show up until there is movement in the shot, which means you have to look through the entire shot to find out whether there is a problem and what is causing it. The bricks may appear fine until it starts raining, but the rain and brick combination may be a moiré nightmare; the shot may look fine until you start the pan, and then you may see all sorts of shimmer. If you see aliasing in your shot, you may need to check the whole thing to see what factor is causing the distraction. Aliasing on the still image may just look like part of the image, but if there is motion, the artifacting can take on a whole new level of craziness.
Moiré is a particular aliasing problem that moving video is particularly prone to. Moiré patterns look like waving grids over parts of your image and can appear as a strobe effect, usually in the parts of the shot that have patterns with similar color tones (Figure 9-18). The pattern can often get worse as the part of the shot with the moiré pattern moves. Moiré will usually affect only part of the shot; primarily, the critical plane of focus is where it will mostly be noticed.
Figure 9-18: Still image from a scene with moiré
If you look at the brick and shutters on the walls in the background, you should notice blue-like lines. This is much easier to see when watching a video than looking at a still image in a book. The reason for this is how some DSLR cameras capture video; they skip every other line when shooting video. This causes a gap of information in the video and the image cannot be displayed properly when straight and or fine lines are present. This is a limitation that each DSLR camera maker is trying to eliminate with faster camera processors and cameras that don’t use line skipping when recording video.
Aliasing is a double-edged sword; without it, the image lacks sharpness, but with it, some highly distracting and unreal effects can occur with your image (Figure 9-19). The foremost goal is to shoot around the potential problem whenever possible and soften when you can’t.
Figure 9-19: Still image from a scene with aliasing
Just as with moiré, aliasing is difficult to show as a still image. It acts in much the same way as moiré but appears more as odd-colored pixels in the sweet spot of your focus. This problem is also caused by the way some DSLR cameras capture video but eventually will be eliminated altogether.
If you run into artifacting problems, what you do can depend on what type of problem you are having. Aliasing problems can be addressed by first making sure that sharpness is turned down or any automatic sharpening is turned off. It is often better to try to reframe a shot if aliasing is particularly bad. This is not going to get rid of aliasing, but it will lessen the effect by allowing the slight softness to disguise any harshness.
As you work at eliminating aliasing problems, think about softening. Usually areas of sharpest detail are most prone to aliasing. Changing your focus—for example, by dropping your depth of field or moving your field of focus off any affected areas—can get rid of many noticeable aliasing problems. You can also try softening with a diffusion filter. You can use anti-moiré filters if there is no other option for changing focus.
The best thing to do to reduce moiré is to avoid having shots where it will show up in the first place. Watch for patterns, especially repeating tightly defined patterns that occur anywhere in your potential shot, and test them. If moiré shows up while on set, soften, change focus, or cut out the offending area. If you are seeing moiré in post, check your footage on your final product medium to make sure the moiré isn’t being caused by your computer monitor.
Aliasing is always present; the key is to make sure that the aliasing is not distracting. If you end up with a shot where aliasing is present and you can’t reshoot, there are a few post-production options that may help. One option is to apply a light median filter in post. Set it to less than a pixel. This will soften the entire image, but it should be subtle enough to minimize or disguise the moiré. If you have access to a program like After Effects, you can use the Chroma Noise Reduction filter and see whether that clears up the problems at all.
Another option if you have Photoshop (CS6 or newer) is to open the movie file as a smart object and apply the Noise Reduction filter to your clip. This helps reduce or remove color noise from items such as water and human hair, places where moiré is commonly a problem.
Avoiding Color Cast or Mismatched Color Balance
As you shoot, you may notice that your footage has a slight overall color cast to it, or maybe it shows up most visibly in skin tones or white areas of the shot. You can also test for a color cast by shooting a white or gray card before beginning the shoot. Use lighting as close as possible to the lighting setup of your projects with proper white balance while double-checking all settings, and also shoot some test footage. If there appears to be a color cast, then you’ll need to adjust the color balance of the camera. This should be adjustable under the white balance area in your menu. You adjust by tweaking the color to the opposite of the color prominent in the color cast. So, you correct a yellow cast by shifting it more toward blue, and you correct a red cast by shifting more toward green. This color adjustment should correct any color cast or sensor color preference and should be adjusted for the remainder of shooting.
If you are using multiple cameras for a shoot, you may find that the footage from the cameras doesn’t match exactly. It is important to color match the white balance on all of the cameras. It is helpful to have a properly calibrated monitor to do this matching.
To match multiple cameras, first pick the master camera you want as the standard for the other cameras to be adjusted to and then white balance it. Double-check to make sure you have a proper read on the monitor. Then, while using the same settings on both the master camera and a second camera, focus both cameras on the same object. Put both images on the monitor and adjust the second camera until the images match perfectly. Check any picture-style settings using the same system. It is helpful to focus on an image that looks most like the majority of shots in your project—for example, if you are shooting people, have a person in the shot for white balance and color matching. Skin tones are tricky for color, and making sure that they match is crucial. It is also important to note that different lenses can influence the color of the shot; if you are shooting with a variety of different lenses, check the white balance and color matching on the different lenses.
Adjusting Shutter Speeds and Frame Rates
A motion-picture film camera has a rotating shutter that is often set to a 180-degree angle; in other words, it looks like half of a circle (Figure 9-20). (Some cameras like Panavision are set to 200-degree shutter angles as a default.) This shutter spins around as the film is getting fed through the camera, and it spins fully one time for every frame that is exposed. That is why the shutter speed and the frame rate are linked for exposure; as the shutter is covering the door, the film is being moved and fed into place to be exposed, and the speed of the film controls the frame rate, which affects how much time the film is being exposed for. When the shutter is not in front of the door, the film is being exposed; when the shutter is blocking the door, the film is being moved into place and not being exposed.
Figure 9-20: A 180º motion picture camera shutter as it spins around the film gate
Video cameras generally default by design to the 180-degree angle, so most videographers have never dealt with the interaction between shutter speed and frame rate. In a motion-picture film, the cameras have a variable-degree shutter that you can adjust. On a movie camera, you can crank the film speed up or down, and you can use different combinations. The rule was determined from the standard 180-degree shutters that were in use, and that is why it is called the 180-degree rule. If you follow the 180-degree rule, your footage will turn out looking natural; if you want to break the rule, check the effects by testing first, looking especially at the feel of the movement and light requirements.
Excessive Sharpness or Video-like Sharpness
If your shots are looking like video, you need to check your shutter speed. Video has a very crisp, everything-in-focus look that film doesn’t have. Check your shutter speed to make sure you are shooting at 1/50 or 1/60. These shutter speeds will give just a slight bit of smudge or blur to your image, but this will help create video that looks cinematic in terms of what you are accustomed to seeing with a typical movie shot. Many films use different frame rates in combination for special effects shots or visual appeal, but these decisions are best made after you understand how to shoot a typical shot. As you watch the motion shot with 1/50 or 1/60, you can see that it looks smoother than images shot at higher shutter speeds. The shutter speed will control the amount of blur that you get in your shot. If you shoot at higher shutter speeds, that crisp video look may start creeping into your footage.
There is an interaction between shutter speed and frame rates. The formula for picking shutter speed is to double your frame rate. So, if you pick a frame rate of 24 fps, your shutter speed will be 1/48 (on many cameras you must use 1/50 because that is the closest you can select), because you would pick the shutter speed that is the closest to twice 24. This general rule will help you make decisions about shutter speed while on set. If you want to play with the action speed and look, keep this formula in mind and remember to adjust exposure, lighting, and so on accordingly.
The main reason to adjust the shutter speed is to add or limit the amount of motion blur in each “frame” of the video. A faster shutter (that is, a narrower angle) will minimize motion blur, whereas a slower shutter (that is, a wider angle) will increase the amount of blur. If you want a cinematic amount of motion blur, stick with a 180-degree shutter or a shutter speed of 1/50 second.
Flickering Image and Lights
If your image starts flickering or flickering lights appear in your footage, your shutter speed may be the problem. Some lights will flicker slightly at high speeds, and this can show up on your footage as either a flickering effect or an odd color flicker through your shot if you don’t have proper shutter speed. Also, depending on the country where you’re shooting, the different electrical schemes can cause flickering. This problem should be immediately apparent as you look through your viewfinder or LCD screen. Often a simple shutter speed adjustment will take care of the problem immediately.
Power Line Frequency
Check the electrical power in the country or location where you intend to shoot. In any country that uses 60 Hz power, you will get a vertical band that slowly crawls down your footage if you are shooting at 1/50 of a second shutter speed. You need to change to 1/60 of a second to eliminate the problem. The opposite is true if you are shooting at 1/60 of second and using power in a country that provides 50 Hz power. It is easy to remember, because you just match the power frequency to your shutter speed, and you are safe.
Noise is always irritating. Noise can be an issue with DSLR video if you are shooting at certain ISOs in low-light situations (Figure 9-21). Obviously, the best thing to do is to change the light and change the ISO, but that is not always a possibility on a “run-and-gun” shoot. The tricky part with noise is that some higher ISOs may have less noise than lower ISOs. If you are having noise issues, try moving the ISO up one notch to see whether that helps.
Figure 9-21: (a) Scene shot at 6400 ISO on a Canon 5D Mark II with lots of noise. (b) Notice the green noise patterns on the actor’s face. (c) Same scene with a de-noising processing to clean up the image. (d) Notice how the green noise pattern is all but gone but there is some softening of the image.
If noise is going to be a problem in your shot, try to eliminate or lessen parts that show a single wide swatch of color or shadow. If you break up the color or shadow, you may disguise the visibility of the noise. You also have the option of changing picture-style settings or even adjusting exposure, maybe potentially overexposing slightly or clipping, in order to avoid some visible noise. In general, it is easier to recover some highlights than to get rid of noise in the shadows or recover anything in the darks. Obviously, this is somewhat a matter of experience and opinion, but if you have noise issues, playing around with exposure can be very useful. In shadows, underexposure will create the potential for big noise problems, but always keep the shot and the importance of highlights in the shot in mind. There are times when it is better to underexpose because of the needs of the shot and predominant darks or shadows. You’ll need to play around with any of these options on set to see whether they help; this is truly an area for experimentation.
Some people have had the experience of increased noise when the camera heats up. If you notice that the noise is increasing as you shoot, it can’t hurt to let things cool down a while. When in doubt, let your camera and card cool down. If you are forced to shoot with more noise than you would like or if the noise is more noticeable in post, you can use software to reduce the noise in post.
Banding, Line Noise, and Posterization
DSLR video is prone to posterization, otherwise called banding. The major reason for this propensity is the shallow depth of 8-bit color that is inherent in DSLR video. Technically, banding is a type of noise, but it has some unique attributes that cause it to operate and show up differently than other noise issues.
This particular type of noise can be more distracting than overall noise. Banding looks like an abrupt change of color that usually appears as a line; it happens when tones or colors meet, and instead of a smooth gradient, there are distinct color lines and abrupt changes in tone or brightness. The reason that this problem is separate from other noise issues is that banding occurs most often in different settings and is fixed in different ways than other noise issues. Banding can occur more often at higher ISOs and underexposed images, but with a DSLR, banding is most common when the subject is brightly backlit (Figure 9-22). Banding is easily seen visually, and the histogram will show large gaps between tones.
If this issue comes up, you can check your exposure and try to reduce it by changing your ISO, ensuring sharpness is turned down (which it likely should be to reduce any other noise issues). Most importantly, change your lighting, especially with backlighting. Banding is not easily fixed by adding overall noise to the image or by adding filters, and even changing the ISO may not fix the problem, but these are worth attempting. Ultimately, you may have to fix any banding issues as best as possible in post.
Figure 9-22: Notice the banding in the light behind the actor’s head.
Working on Exposure
Exposure is a major issue if not done correctly but luckily can be solved by tweaking the lighting or adding an ND filter. The reason that DSLR filmmakers run into exposure problems more frequently than other filmmakers is that they’re often pushing the limits of light. Shooting in available low light is possible with these cameras. However, having some control over the light will definitely help if you find you aren’t getting the exposure that you want in order to use the f-stop you need or you aren’t getting the richness of the image that is made possible by lighting the entire shot. You can often control the light in these cases by simply adding some small mobile light sources or even bounce.
Exposure problems with DSLRs may not show up until post if you have not checked to make sure that the image you are using to set exposure looks like the image you are actually getting. For example, using a monitor to check for exposure means you need to check to make sure the monitor’s image matches the image you are getting with your footage. You can check this by properly calibrating your monitor and shooting test footage. The good news is with a little practice you will find that often the back-of-the-camera LCD provides very accurate images in terms of exposure. If you are using the LCD screen for exposure checking, make sure you have set the proper brightness on the screen. Often when in the movie or video-capable mode, the camera will automatically adjust the LCD brightness and darkness to compensate for exposure changes. It is also important to look at the screen with a minimum of light spill and to be careful during night shoots that you don’t overcompensate for what looks like a very bright image simply because you are completely in the dark while viewing the screen.
When you first get your camera, check to see what metering mode or pattern the camera is using to set exposure when automatic exposure settings are used. The metering mode is usually an evaluative or overall sort of metering pattern when the video functionality is in use. You may need to override the camera’s exposure recommendations depending on the desired look of the image, but checking the automatic exposure settings can give you a basis from which to start your adjustments.
If you are having exposure problems of any kind, double-check the histogram. What is it telling you about exposure? Now consider what elements you can adjust and what elements you are locked into. For example, you may be locked into lighting that is not adjustable; this means all of your tweaking will involve ISO settings, f-stops, or minor tweaks with frame rate. It will be helpful to check your dynamic range and to identify what part of the shot must be in perfect exposure. While shooting on location with no control over lighting, you may decide to reframe the image, move closer to or farther from the action, or just pick part of the image to have perfect exposure.
You must take into account what your overall lighting in frame is as you look at the histogram. For example, when you are on location in a dark evening, if you have decided to expose for the actor’s face, you may have a background that crushes to black or a noisier image than is desired, but for the shot, the key visual is the element that the story needs and so some picture quality suffers. Sometimes a moviemaker has to make these types of decisions and provide a best-case scenario instead of a perfect scenario.
Exposure Seems to Magically Change during the Shot?
If you notice that your exposure seems to be shifting during the shot even if the lighting is not changing, the problem may start to drive you crazy because adjusting the lighting or controls won’t fix it. Usually this problem is most noticeable when panning, but it may happen in any shot. On Canon cameras, an Auto Lighting Optimizer control may be on; turning it off should help with this exposure change.
There are no hard-and-fast methods to achieve perfect exposure in all situations. Control what you can control, and work around the rest. Find creative framing or use the tools in your arsenal—bounce cards, ND filters, small pocket lights, and lenses with appropriate f-stops or the ability to split f-stops—to help give you options for times where exposure is a problem.
It is always better to plan to shoot night shots at night and day shots during the day; however, sometimes schedules are not accommodating. If you must choose a scenario, shooting day for night is possible, and shooting night for day is a nightmare that involves re-creating the sun. If your day-for-night shots have a dreamlike quality or will undergo color grading, this can be a seamless process. You can throw a day-for-night filter in your kit and have excellent results, and this may be a good emergency item to consider adding to your kit. When shooting day for night, keep in mind that contrast and color temperature are key elements. The dark shadows need to look darker, and the light needs to be explained by the moon, stars, or directional light available in your scene. It is also important to pay close attention to the actors’ faces or key visuals; these shots will have the exposure brought down, so make sure you use proper lighting, bounce cards, and so on in order to ensure that the key elements are visible as the shot plays out. It may be helpful to think about bouncing light toward faces rather than over-lighting them; after all, it is supposed to be nighttime. Also, keep track of shadow length and size. Sun shadows can look distinctly different from any shadow ever seen at night even with a full moon.
If you are going to shoot day for night, then the goal is to darken your image, change the color temperature of your white balance, and keep out any elements that will tell the audience you are not shooting at night, mainly the sky. There are two main ways you can achieve this: you can add a filter to give a bluish hue universally, or you can just adjust the white balance of the camera. You can manually set the white balance and adjust your Kelvin settings, or you can set your white balance with an orange-ish card, which will add a blue tint to your image. Then change the overall brightness by stopping the exposure way down for the entire shoot. This will allow you to adjust while still keeping consistent lighting in the scene. If possible, it is effective to further adjust day-for-night shots in post-production.
When shooting day for night, avoid shooting the skyline. Never put the sun in any part of your scene. Additionally, you need to show little to none of the sky.
Dealing with Limited Control over Naming Clips
Naming clips with a DSLR can be a nightmare, especially on a multicamera shoot. The shots are automatically given a sequence of letters and numbers, but these are not unique to the shot, simply unique to the particular shot with that particular camera on that particular card (Figure 9-23). There are many ways of tweaking the naming so that you can differentiate between shots taken the same day and with different cameras, but this is often a complicated and time-consuming process (Figure 9-24).
Figure 9-23: Folder with the native filenames off a Canon 7D
Even if you slate each shot, if shots are accidentally named the same, they can be rewritten; if there is any confusion, you are stuck looking through every shot and cross-referencing with the slate. Also, file numbers on your computer can be complex holders with several hundred or thousands of files all named with these tricky letter/number names. It can take time to go through the files on a logging process to make sure that everything is easily editable and most importantly not in danger of getting missed. In the end, data management is going to be a major job, and making sure that this job is covered by a competent person is key. You don’t want to have your entire movie on a myriad of cards that all look the same with unmarked potentially duplicate-numbered files most likely spread throughout the various pockets or bags of your crew members. Take data and file management seriously.
We discussed this in more detail in Chapter 8, “Organizing and Storing Data in the Field.”
Figure 9-24: Label your cameras on a multiple-camera shoot.
Preparing for Lack of Audio or Time Code
DSLR cameras do not record audio of a high enough quality to be used on most movies or productions. The built-in audio should be viewed more as a reference source than a usable audio track. Also, using external microphones connecting directly to the camera sometimes doesn’t yield high-quality audio. A separate audio recording system is necessary. If you simply must use the onboard audio, plan for quiet sets or dubbing and, in the end, audio that may be problematic. Can it be done? Certainly, if there is simply no other option. The cameras do not have extensive abilities to check audio levels and cannot always be hooked up to the external audio system simply because of physical limitations. We covered sound in more detail in Chapter 7, “Sound on Location.”
There are also not going to be any time-code capabilities on many cameras. More cameras are now being offered with time-code options but they are not yet universal. There are several software programs you can use to sync sound, but don’t get accustomed to the safety of time code being stamped into each shot. Sometimes in “run-and-gun” shoots, using a slate or clapper is also impractical; in these cases, make sure there is a way to match the audio recording in post, and if there isn’t an easy option, plan on doing some creative audio matching in post. It may be time-consuming, but it can be done.
Run “rough audio.” Run the camera’s audio while shooting to make any matching problems easier. You can simplify matching a clip and audio files if you have the camera audio to use as a marker. Take wild audio seriously; make sure you use wind guards if you are in a location where wind may affect your microphones, and check to make sure you are getting the best possible audio. This audio may not show up on your final project; however, not only will matching be easier, but it is your emergency backup for any voice-over work, and your Foley artists can use it as an auditory inspiration for their work.
Turn off the image stabilization (Canon) or vibration reduction (Nikon) feature for sound. The lens’s internal stabilization can cause whirring noises to record on all audio files and can render all audio on the camera useless even for matching purposes.
The following are common hardware problems.
Troubleshooting Spots on the Lenses
At some point in the shoot a spot is going to appear in a shot. The first thing to do is to find out where this spot is coming from. First, check your lens since that is the easiest thing to fix. There may be a water spot, hair, or dust on the lens, and a proper cleaning is a simple fix. Make sure that condensation isn’t building up anywhere on the lens or camera; water is an electronics killer. If it isn’t a lens issue, check to see whether it is a dead or stuck pixel. Now check for sensor dust. If the spot seems to be coming from something on the sensor, the sensor (or technically the filter on the sensor) will need to be cleaned.
The next step is to run a camera-cleaning cycle to see whether that fixes the problem. To examine how your camera runs an automatic cleaning cycle, check the camera manual. Often your camera will run a sensor clean when it shuts off, but there is usually a way to run a longer cleaning cycle manually. The cleaning cycle will use high-frequency vibrations to try to shake debris off the sensor and also may map the dust for later cleanup with the camera software. The cleaning itself will not fix any dead pixels, but it can cause stuck pixels to reset or help the sensor deal with hot pixels. How it helps pixels is a bit of a mystery, but all we can say is that we have found the cleaning cycle can fix many problems when spots show up on an image, so it’s a great thing to attempt.
If your camera needs a physical cleaning, you can decide where your comfort level is in cleaning it. Many people have all physical sensor cleaning done professionally, but in a pinch or on a set you may need to clean the sensor yourself. We personally prefer to clean the sensor by blowing off the sensor with a special blower designed for cleaning cameras (Figure 9-25).
Figure 9-25: Rocket Air Blaster to manually clean the camera sensor
Any dust that is blown off the sensor may remain in the camera and end up back on the sensor, the mirror, or the rear lens element, but we have had pretty good luck with this method. On set, we also have static chargeable brushes as well as solvents and cloth for wet cleaning, all in a camera-cleaning kit specially designed for DSLR cameras. Cleaning the sensor is a nerve-racking task for many people and could result in a permanently damaged sensor if you do it incorrectly. This is one area where you need to decide what you are comfortable with and make preparations prior to going on set. If you are in a bind, decide whether the sensor needs cleaning or whether you are willing to do some workarounds in post.
Take care when changing lenses or having the camera open for any reason. The sensor attracts dust, and avoiding dust in the first place is a nice goal.
Bring your camera instruction manual or have it downloaded on a computer so that you know how to make sure that your mirror is locked up and you can access the sensor for cleaning.
Figure 9-26: (a) Notice the red hot pixel in the scene. (b) A hot pixel on a black background. (c) A dead pixel on a black background.
When you are shooting video for long periods of time or in extreme heat with a DSLR camera, overheating can become a problem even if you aren’t aware of it. The camera may give you an overheating icon warning and will likely shut down if it gets overheated. However, even before you get to this point, you may have overheating problems with your footage. The biggest indicator of overheating is that suddenly your image will have increased noise. To solve overheating, keep your camera out of live view mode as much as possible, give your camera breaks, and if possible have multiple camera bodies on sets with intense shooting times. If there is overheating, sometimes a quick battery or card change can help take the heat off, and potentially using a battery grip or pack can take some of the heat away from the camera. With a little planning, overheating should not be a major issue on your shoot.
Pixel Problems: Dead, Hot, or Stuck
It’s bound to happen to everyone; suddenly a small colored dot in red, green, purple, or blue will appear in every shot of your footage. Hot pixels can happen more frequently when the sensor heats up, but stuck or dead pixels can pretty much happen at any time (Figure 9-26).
· Dead pixels are simply pixels that are no longer functioning properly. At some point, the pixel broke.
· A hot pixel is a pixel that looks too bright in comparison to the surrounding pixels. Hot pixels have higher electric charges than the surrounding ones, because of manufacturing, breakdown, or increased current leakage on a pixel level at high ISOs or high temperatures.
· Stuck pixels are pixels that got stuck in the on position and are just there letting light through but not changing or transferring further information.
There usually is no good visual way to find out whether the pixel is stuck or completely dead. Stuck or hot pixels tend to be easier for the camera user to fix, and large amounts of dead pixels mean that your camera may have to be sent back to the manufacturer. The terms are often used interchangeably on set.
To test for this problem, go to a low-light or black setting and take several shots, ideally with motion, at various ISOs; if you can’t get to a dim area, just shoot with the lens cap on. Most likely problems will show up in the higher ISOs. These cameras have huge numbers of pixels, and it can be acceptable to have a few bad pixels; however, if you are seeing a large number of them, it may be time for some camera remapping work with your camera manufacturer. Before you do that, though, try doing a longer-running sensor clean on your camera or a camera remapping option; your camera should have one or both options in one of the menus (Figure 9-27). Also, check to make sure that what you think is a pixel problem is not, in fact, a problem with dust on the lens or sensor. The good news is that this is relatively easy fix in post.
Figure 9-27: Manual cleaning mode on the Canon 5D Mark II
Ensuring Monitor Accuracy
Field monitors are often used for DSLR moviemaking. They allow for easier focus control, playback, and larger screen size for easier shot visualization.
As you set up the shot or watch the footage, the color is a major component to check. Making sure that your field monitor is accurately translating the colors is an important step to ensuring accurate color.
Always make sure that the monitor is warmed up (it’s usually a good idea to have it warm up for 20 to 30 minutes before you judge color using the monitor) and that you are calibrating it in proper lighting so that you are able to accurately judge the colors. The best lighting for color calibration is usually in a darkened room with gray or black backgrounds; in a field setting, minimize as much ambient light as possible and make sure to avoid bright lights or glare on the monitor.
Depending on the type of monitor you are using, your monitor may or may not have built-in color bars. If your monitor does, then use the built-in color bars to adjust your color settings accordingly.
Cover the Monitor
If you do not have a tent or area where you can get out of the sun, make sure to have a black cloth (Duvetyne works great) that you can drape over you and the monitor. In a pinch you can use a blanket. Ambient light that hits your monitor has the greatest impact on degrading how you perceive color, contrast, and exposure.
Avoiding HDMI Cable and Converter Box Pitfalls
On some DSLR cameras, when you plug in a HDMI cable or 1/8-inch mini-plug, the following scenario occurs: The camera outputs the image to the external monitor, and the LCD screen on the back of the camera goes black. This is an obvious problem if you are relying on the LCD screen for viewing. Suddenly, if you need to be able to view a monitor onboard the camera as well as send a signal to another monitor, then you are dealing with long cable runs and converter boxes.
Many newer cameras are offering the ability to send a signal to an external monitor while still maintaining an image on the LCD screen.
HDMI cable is a consumer cable type not designed for high use and abuse. These cables were designed to plug various electronics into your home theater system and be left alone. When attaching and running extra cables to multiple monitors, the frequency with which the cables are plugged in, removed, rolled up, stepped on, pulled out of the camera, tripped over, and countless other issues that arise on set are magnified. The HDMI cables are prone to breaking and shorting out. The small pins in the cables can break, twist, or get bent. It is vital for you to have multiple cables on hand if you rely on the external monitors to shoot. You don’t want one bad cable stopping your shoot. Make sure you have backup cables on your next shoot.
Additionally, if you are working with multiple monitors, you are dealing with HDMI splitters, HDMI extenders, HDMI signal boosters, and in some cases HDMI converter boxes to move you from HDMI to a more reliable cable such as SDI or CAT5. If you use these powered devices or converters, be aware they too were not made to be used and abused in the field. They are normally plugged in behind your home entertainment center or in some air-conditioned production studio where they are never touched. These devices can be fragile and tend to be the first things to break down on set. Again, have backups for each device if it is critical to have multiple monitors running. If not and one breaks down, then drop down to just one monitor, and you can keep shooting. Just be prepared for the worst.
Have extra cables on hand. Cords are often the first thing to go or give you problems; buy and bring extras even though the price may make you shudder. It’s worth it.
Running Out of Hard Drive Space
If you are in an emergency situation and running out of space, there are a few things you can do to maximize your space. Don’t record any audio files on the camera; even though they don’t take up much space, they still take up some. Non-shaky footage or very stable footage takes up less space per take (this happens when you select certain types of compression that analyzes your footage to see what changes from frame to frame), so make your shots more static, lock them down, or use a tripod. You can look into using cloud storage as a last resort, but that can be tricky or highly impractical based on Internet speeds and or file sizes. Find out what you have available for space including extra laptops, thumb drives, and so on. Use your cards for the last shot as the backup, but whatever you do, make sure everything is backed up.
All of these tips are really emergency-only solutions. In general, the best solution is to just buy more hard drive space. It’s the one thing that skimping on is only going to cause you to spend more money while trying to find workarounds.
We prefer using G-Tech storage devices and have found them to be very reliable and durable.
Clearing Error Messages
Your camera may suddenly give you an error message. This is a rare occurrence, but having your camera guidebook with you is helpful. At the very least, you can do an Internet search of what the message may pertain to. If you can’t figure it out, make the following changes; they solve the three most common messages:
· If your camera and lens are supposed to be electronically communicating but suddenly aren’t, an error message will occur. Turn the camera off and on, press the shutter button down halfway, try taking a still photo, and then turn it off and on again. This is the equivalent of hitting the TV to improve reception; mysteriously it sometimes works. We blame trolls.
· Clean the area where the lens contacts the camera at the base of the lens. Reattach. Try another lens that doesn’t have electronic communication with your camera if possible. Make sure your lens connection didn’t cause an odd lockup issue with the camera by trying several lenses.
· If you are using extension tubes or other lens-related items, remove them and retry using the camera. Does everything look clean and dust free?
· Try formatting the CF card or using another CF card if possible. Check to make sure that the card isn’t full.
· Replace your battery with a fully charged battery. If you are using a battery pack or grip, disconnect it and try using a single battery.
· Redo all of your settings. Try everything on manual with no auto functions.
· Disconnect any cables connected to the camera.
· Turn on the camera before connecting any cables or monitors.
· Change your clock.
· Make sure your camera didn’t overheat and turn itself off.
· Before you give up, try turning it off and turning it back on.
Always shoot the last shot as something you can throw away. There have been reports that if a shot gets screwed up on a memory card, it is often just the last shot. Because low-budget productions often have the best shot as the last shot, instead always take a throwaway shot as the last shot.
Ways to Save the Shot
If you are short on time and money, then there is a good chance that at least once on your shoot it will be up to you to save the shot. You will have an actor who needs to leave, a location that shuts down early, lighting that changes too quickly, or any of potentially hundreds or thousands of issues that will force you to shoot in less than ideal conditions. Here are some quick “cheats” to help you get through your rough moment and still be able to tell your story in post:
1. Change perspective. A change of lens quickly changes your field of view. If you lose an actor, have a major continuity problem, or have only enough light to illuminate a small area, you can move to a long lens and go in tight for coverage. No one has to know that the only thing in the frame is the only thing left on the set at the end of the day.
2. A long shot can cover problem areas in post. The age-old advice is still good. Get a master shot. If you are not sure how much coverage you can get in the short amount of time or quickly enough with the sun setting and so on, you are well advised to get a master shot you can use in post if all else fails.
3. Take a few interesting cutaways, get a b-roll. Without a doubt, you know what you want for a master shot, for close-ups, and for some interesting moving shots to compose your scene. That’s all great, but don’t forget a b-roll and cutaways. Since you’re likely working on a project that doesn’t have budget for script supervisors, ADs, and other support staff to watch out for the details in your coverage, you need insurance in post to cut around problem areas. Look around the set and take some b-roll of objects in the scene—glass of water, car, mirror, guy in the background sitting on a bench—anything you might be able to use. Additionally, any movement the actor makes—reaching into his pocket for a phone, brushing her hair back from her face, holding a coat during a discussion—you should get a cutaway of. No matter how prepared or alert you are on set, there will be times where the actors’ movements, hand placement, dialogue, or other factors may not match with the coverage you have. Having a b-roll or cutaways will help you cut around these problems and can make your scene work and hide the issues you had to begin with.
4. Get rid of problematic backgrounds. Moiré can be a problem. Lighting may be a problem. Unattractive sets can be a problem. One quick trick that can potentially solve some of these problems is to decrease your depth of field and let the background drop out of focus. If there is a building behind your subject that has lines and patterns that are causing moiré, then slightly narrowing your depth of field will eliminate the moiré patterns in the background. The same goes for lighting or unattractive sets. If you get stuck improvising a location that is less than ideal, find a cool color or pattern that you can place in the background and have it drop out of focus.
Check Your Dailies
On most shoots, things move fast, and if you do not have enough time or personnel, you might miss a few things. The end of each day is the time you need to watch your dailies and work through a simple checklist of items.
1. Watch Your Footage on the Largest Possible Monitor The bigger the monitor, the easier it is to check focus. Getting focus is hard, and you might find that a crucial shot you thought was good may not be in focus. Decide whether you need to reshoot the next day or whether you have coverage to work around.
2. Do You Have a Dead or Hot Pixel? Again, this is something that you may miss on set. You want to catch any possible problem as early as possible and correct it if you can. Ideally swap out to a new camera if you can. If not, then make notes on what camera has the issue (if you are using more than one camera) and on what day and card the problem started (this way you have notes to work with in post if you have to do any pixel mapping or touch-ups).
3. Dust on Your Sensor From time to time you will get dust or a larger particle that can show up in your footage. If you did not notice it on set, then take the time to clean your sensor. Again, mark which scenes or cards were affected.
4. Audio Listen to your audio, and make sure all is working and you aren’t getting unwanted noises (such as clothes rubbing against the microphone during key dialogue scenes). Depending on how skilled your audio person is, you may need to listen carefully and make sure that nothing needs to be adjusted.
1. Backing Up We can’t stress this enough. Each night (preferably throughout the day), make sure to have at least two backups for each card. Once you have adequate backups, clear all the cards so there is no confusion the next day.
2. Actors When watching the footage, watch your actors. See whether there are any wardrobe issues that you didn’t notice. If an actor takes off a coat or has some change of clothing during a scene, you may be left with a shirt that moirés. If this is case, see whether you need to reshoot or find a way for the actor to put the coat back on to cover the problem shirt.
3. Color Grading If you have the ability to work with your colorist (if you’re not doing color grading yourself), do some tests with your footage. If you discover you need to change or adjust your picture styles, then you have time and can correct it early in the shoot.
4. Menus With these cameras, it’s easy to change a menu setting or bump a menu wheel. Each night double-check all of your settings and make sure nothing got inadvertently changed. If it did, then you can limit the damage done, and you can decide whether reshoots are necessary or whether you are fine to move on. It’s better to know and make the decision than to find out weeks later.
5. Scheduling Are you on schedule? Do you need to adjust anything about the shoot to be able to shoot faster or more efficiently? Each night take the time and look over footage, check the equipment and settings, and reread your script and schedule to see what modifications, if any, are needed.