Testing and Custom Settings - The DSLR Filmmaker’s Handbook: Real-World Production Techniques, Second Edition (2015)

The DSLR Filmmaker’s Handbook: Real-World Production Techniques, Second Edition (2015)

Chapter 3. Testing and Custom Settings


Every blog, expert, and article about DSLR video mentions the testing process that the filmmakers go through before shooting a project. The results of the test are usually given via camera stats, glossy photographs, or recommendations on cameras, camera settings, or gear.

Controlling the look of the image is an important goal of the moviemaker; the color and the ability to create a look are parts of the flow of your project. When shooting in RAW, a preset may change how the image looks on the screen and also can be used for providing quick parameters when gauging a look; however, these settings can be removed or altered later in post and are not ingrained on the image. With DSLR video, the changes to the picture done in the camera actually become part of how the image is shot. We will give you a good list of things to test or be aware of prior to shooting until RAW video is more commonly available.

Camera-Specific Testing

However carefully you plan your shoot and pick out your gear, you will also have to test your equipment—most importantly your camera—prior to shooting. Obviously, you don’t have to run a test, but then you will likely find yourself doing reshoots or trying to fix your footage in post. And let’s face it, making it through production will cause plenty of headaches; don’t add another one to the list.

The testing process often sounds like a mysterious technical frenzy where mad tech scientists run the world. In reality, the DSLR filmmaker needs to only keep these steps in mind when it comes to testing:

1. Shoot a test that is as close as possible in terms of lighting, gear, and camera settings as those you are planning to use when shooting your final project.

2. Pay attention to any problems that you are having and try to fix them while shooting, noting any changes you make.

3. Look at your footage while you are shooting and make sure it all looks correct.

4. Show the footage to crewmembers—specifically the camera operator, director of photography, and sound person—and when possible, have them shoot the test footage with you.

5. Do any post-processing you were planning to use on your test footage. Get input on your test footage and decide whether you need to make any changes before the start of your shoot.

6. Look at your footage again in the format in which you plan on providing your finished project (for example, online or DVD) and listen to the audio.

7. Keep making adjustments until you are happy with the outcome or when you reach the level you think is the best possible.

8. Proceed with your project.

This process sounds simple, but it can involve many hours of hard work shooting in the field and poring over your gear or camera menus at home. It may involve procuring more gear, restructuring shots to fit budget considerations, planning post-production color-grading decisions, and altering lighting setups, just to name a few factors.

The reality is that testing is your practice, and you should use it as such. Pretend you are shooting for real, because talking and reading about the technology are fabulous techniques, but nobody truly knows anything until they do it; testing is the first time you really get to do it. Even if you are stuck with makeshift gear and no budget for post, testing will let you know what your limits are and let you plan for ways to work around them. Creativity is often at its best when you are dealing with limitations and you are forced to improvise and use your imagination to get what you want.

Testing ISO

The camera you are using will have a variety of ISOs to choose from. Adjusting the ISO on a digital camera is the closest you can come to changing the speed of a film stock. The higher the ISO, the less light that is needed for exposure. The lower the ISO, the more light that is needed for exposure. This follows exactly with film speed; higher film speeds require less light, and lower film speeds require more light. Likewise, higher film speeds result in greater grain, and higher ISOs result in higher noise levels.

In the video world, prior to the adjustable ISOs in the camera, the closest setting was adjusting gain. DSLRs opened up the world of easily adjustable ISO to video.

However, there is a twist; sometimes in the DSLR world, the lower ISOs actually turn out to have more noise than the higher ISOs. One cause of this is that the sensor records a limited color space, and if there is not enough light, the color space is dramatically cut down. This potential for a reduced color space by shooting a low ISO with not enough light can result in a noisier and much less-color-rich image. Color space is crucial to maintain with the DSLR-limited 8-bit compressed color space. In these cases, it is better to shoot with a higher ISO to maintain color space, especially if you’re going to do any color grading in post.

Dynamic Range and Tonal Range

These terms are used for both images and sensors. The dynamic range is the ratio between the darkest and lightest parts of the image or what the sensor can capture. The dynamic range of a sensor can be affected by all sorts of characteristics, including ISO, and is described as a ratio between the highest brightness that the sensor can capture and the lowest darkness it can capture before being overcome by noise. The tonal range is the number or range of tones that are available to express the dynamic range. The dynamic range and the tonal range are interconnected.

As you test for ISO (Figure 3-1), look for what lighting will be necessary to keep your images rich and noise free. DSLRs handle low-light situations very well, but there are limits, and your objective is to find those limits and set your project parameters within them whenever possible. Test several shots using various ISOs to determine whether the ISO levels are adequate for the image quality desired.


Figure 3-1: ISO noise test shot at 320 ISO (left); test shot at 6400 (right). Notice in the face and on the sidewalk the red and green noise pixels.

The particular results of the same ISO setting will vary with different types of cameras. Some cameras handle higher ISO settings better than others. If your shots require high ISO settings, sometimes renting an alternative camera for a day is a way to solve a particular shot. If most of your shots require high ISO settings, testing several cameras on the same shot will be a smart approach.

If you are not controlling the lighting on your shoot, it is helpful to figure out what ISO maximum setting you are comfortable using. When you know your ISO limit, you may be able to make plans to adjust your lens choice, make aperture changes if possible, add filters if necessary, move locations, or sometimes just grin and bear it.

When you are testing ISOs, it makes sense to find out which ISOs your camera or potential cameras shoot the best. There may be variations with the different ISOs in terms of image quality that initially seem counterintuitive. It is possible to have a better image with a slightly higher ISO if that ISO functions better in your camera. Sometimes the results may show that it is better to step up the ISO by one notch to get a better-quality image. There is a ton of debate and technical explanation as to why this happens, but if you look at ISO tests done by various professionals in many settings, it is clear that some ISOs produce better results even when all images are properly exposed.

For testing purposes, you are looking for ISOs that produce images with the least noise and are the cleanest looking. You can run several tests to look at the various ISOs available on your camera. The first is to run several black shots, changing the ISO for each shot, and then create color charts and shots of the same scene done with ISO changes and properly exposed. Now look at all of these images and take note of which ISOs produce the best results. When shooting black or with the lens cap, you are looking for red or potentially blue marks; in other shoots, you are looking for noise and loss of detail in shadows or highlights.

When looking at the images, take careful note of the dynamic range, the highlight, and the shadow detail. Test these ISOs with manual control, and if you plan on using manual control, retest with any priority modes or camera settings you are planning on using. Particular modes such as highlight priority can alter how the image looks with certain ISO settings. Some cameras will have a wider range of available ISOs than others, but regardless of what ISOs are available to you, testing them will help you make ISO decisions when you’re on the set.

Native ISOs and True ISOs

The camera’s ISO settings are internally controlled, and the process is fairly complex. Camera manufacturers generally like to keep such detailed camera maneuvers under wraps. The sensor in the camera will determine what ISO is the camera’s “native” ISO. The camera’s ISO settings are designed to match a comparable film speed when the film and the sensor are used in an identical situation with identical shutter speeds and aperture. The native ISO is simply thought of as the ISO that the camera’s sensor was designed for and for which the sensor has the least amplification or change in the signal. You cannot change the native ISO any more than you can change the speed of a particular film. So, when you change the ISO setting on your DSLR, the sensor and camera take this native ISO and scale amplifier gains in a consistent pattern. This consistent pattern can result in a consistent pattern of ISO settings that operate close to the native ISO in terms of image quality. Sometimes people refer to this chain of ISO amplifiers that operate like the native ISO sensitivity as other native ISOs or true ISOs.

Some DSLRs also have ISOs that are at half stops or intermediate points between the more standard ISOs. These ISOs have undergone some digital manipulation in addition to the amplification pattern to be achieved. The camera may also have lower ISOs than the native ISO, and the circuitry will adjust in a decreasing pattern in an analogous way to how it amplifies as the ISO increases.

The original native ISO does not have to be a standard 100 or 200; in fact, the native ISO can easily be a nonstandard ISO. The camera engineers are attempting to design a sensor and camera that uses ISO manipulation to minimize any image troubles, so focusing on what ISO is actually native for information’s sake alone is usually not worth the time. The dilemma with the discussion on native ISO is that most of the time the whole point is trying to determine what ISOs work best in the camera. It doesn’t really matter if the best-performing ISOs are native; what matters is that you have a set of ISOs that offer a better picture than others. This is why you need to test the ISOs on your camera and determine whether there is a pattern or group of ISOs that look better and use them!

Testing Exposure and Color

During the testing phase, proper exposure for your conditions is one of the best things you can do to ensure that your shoot is successful. Eventually you should get so comfortable with the exposure that you will be able to shortcut it by eyeballing exposure on the LCD or monitor, knowing that the exposure you are getting will give you the desired result. But this shortcut works only if you have a lot of practice knowing what a proper exposure looks like on your DSLR.

Using In-Camera Metering Systems for Proper Exposure

Typically filmmakers use external meters to measure the light levels in the shot, and videographers use various monitoring systems to check light-related levels. Still photographers may be accustomed to light meters or in-camera metering systems; DSLR moviemakers are usually provided with in-camera metering systems. Even if you are not planning on using the in-camera metering system as your guide, it is important to know how it functions. Also, light meters are not always as accurate in function when using a DSLR because the sensor can pick up light in ways that are not consistent with how the same light works with a film scenario.

At the beginning of testing, it may be necessary to always use a metering system to check for proper exposure. The metering system gives you a backup for your eye when you are figuring out how to consistently get proper exposure for each shot. Using the metering system will allow you to get a precise value for exposure before you manually set the exposure values.

If you are not familiar with in-camera metering systems, test all of the systems that are available on your camera and read your camera manual (Figure 3-2). The first step is to find out what kinds of metering systems are available on your camera while you are shooting video. Also, if you are using manual controls, the metering system is not going to set what your exposure is but is there to help guide you with correct exposure. If you are not on a fully automatic setting, you may want to check what metering system your camera is using in these settings.


Figure 3-2: In-camera metering system: these icons mean (left to right) evaluative, partial, spot, and center-weighted-average metering.

It is also important to be comfortable reading the standard exposure-metering index that is usually shown at the bottom of the viewfinder when you are adjusting exposure. This will show you where your exposure is falling and give you an idea of what range is easily available. This is the time to test, first using the LCD and metering systems and then putting your test shots on the final format medium and viewing them in final product form. Following through with the entire process will allow you to see whether your camera consistently exposes in a way that needs to be universally adjusted. For example, sometimes people will find that their camera will overexpose every shot slightly more than they desire, and they will adjust for this in every shot.

The spot meter is often the best choice for using the in-camera metering system when shooting video. The spot meter allows you to choose what part of the shot you want metered and what part of the shot you want to concentrate your exposure around. The spotmeter can also assist you if you are accustomed to visualizing using the Zone System or if you want to double-check to make sure that your light ratios will give the correct exposure.

Exposure Latitude and Dynamic Range

Another important consideration is that with a DSLR system there will be more limited dynamic range to work with than with film or with high-end camera systems like the RED or ARRI ALEXA. DSLR cameras will likely have a range of up to 13 stops for larger sensors and up to 9 stops for smaller sensors (Figure 3-3); the highlights in particular may be limited. If you are from a traditional video background, this range will not be a problem for you to work within. If you are accustomed to film, the awareness that you have fewer stops is helpful, and you will need to be extra careful with in-camera settings and exposure.


Figure 3-3: A chart showing the various latitude ranges of a variety of DSLR cameras

Great exposure and latitude can be achieved within the limited dynamic range; however, it is vitally important that the exposure captured with the camera be proper. This is because, when using a DSLR, post will not be able to fix overexposed images much at all; anything blown out will be gone, underexposed images may not clean up as well as you are accustomed to with underexposed film, and clipped parts will be hard to improve. This doesn’t mean that post-processing isn’t possible or helpful; it just means it is crucial to get it right in the camera when you shoot. That is why much of your testing process will involve testing exposure of your various lighting setups and as many of your locations as possible.

If you have a video background, this limited dynamic range will seldom register as a concern, because how the camera deals with low-light situations will still be as good as or better than your previous ENG cameras. If you are accustomed to dealing with film or even solely RAW files, you will want to extensively test this limited dynamic range and how you deal with exposure latitude so that on the set and when planning lighting you know exactly what your camera can accomplish. The DSLR cameras with the larger chips should have a greater dynamic range and broader exposure latitude potential.

If you are not going to do post-production work on your image, then how you expose your image on set should be as close as possible to how you want the final image to be. What you see on set is what you will get. The question now is how to see exactly what you are getting on set.

Don’t rely just on the LCD or a monitor until you have properly tested the footage through the entire processing change, including the final format output, because the monitors or LCDs and other methods to check footage can be off enough that you will want to adjust your plans.

Using the Histogram to Help Gauge Exposure

The histogram shows the tonal distribution within the shot. A histogram tallies the darker tones toward the left side and the lighter tones toward the right. As you look at the histogram, you can see whether a large tonal range has been captured, with the graph showing a mixture of tonal values. If a full tonal range has not been captured but there are many tones that are dark or light, look at your shot to see whether you are capturing the tonal range you want.

The histogram can also be an indicator of exposure. If all the tones are dark or all are light with no range, you may need to change exposure to make sure your image has a nice range. Look at the histogram to make sure you are not losing detail or crushing blacks and that the highlights are not blown out (Figure 3-4). As you test each shot, check the histogram to make sure you are capturing as much detail as possible. If you are not doing any post-production work with the footage, you may choose for artistic reasons to work with some extremes present.


Figure 3-4: (a) Notice on the histogram that the shadows on the left are crushed and the rest of the histogram is very underexposed. (b) These shadows are more balanced with the remainder of the histogram, and it is more even all the way across. This is a properly exposed image. (c) There is little to no shadow on the histogram, and the highlights on the right are peaking. This image is overexposed.

Run exposure tests by shooting the same scene several times, changing the exposure until the scene is underexposed and then changing again until the scene is overexposed. You can shoot the scene as it is naturally, or you can shoot the scene with a gray card or even a visual zone reference included to give you a method to count steps if you find that easier. Between these two extremes of underexposure and overexposure is where your correct exposure will lie; deciding where you want to expose in this correct exposure range is where you get to play and have fun creatively. Sometimes there is a very limited spot to play in, and occasionally you may find that your desired exposure is not possible without major changes, Either way, now you know.

At the end of the testing process, you should be able to check exposure on the set very quickly and eventually will be eyeballing it using your LCD or monitors. Some people feel more comfortable monitoring the exposure with metering systems continually through production.

Testing Color Temperature and White Balance

As you do your test shots, take note of the white balance that is desired for each shot. The camera’s automatic white balance settings may be perfectly fine. However, often it is necessary to adjust white balance to suit the look of your project. There are usually several white balance preset options in camera. These presets allow you to adjust for specific lighting temperatures. Additionally, it is crucial to understand how to manually adjust the white balance (Figure 3-5).


Figure 3-5: Datacolor SpyderCHECKR to judge color and white balance

The white balance and color temperature choices that you make while shooting will determine how the color is recorded in the image. Because of the limited color space, you don’t want to have to make white balance changes in post. If you are utilizing a creative white balance or color temperature look, it is necessary to run the test shots through all of the post-production procedures. It is also helpful to have a consistent color temperature story for each shot so that the final product will have a coherent look in an individual shot.

The cameras also can have slight color casts or hues. Test shots will allow you to look at an image and make corrections if the camera records a little off or a little red or blue or if it records inconsistently in a mixed lighting situation.

If sunlight is the primary source of light for some of the shots, it will also be necessary to track any sunlight changes for the shoot. The white balance or color temperature may have to be adjusted in accordance with the sun changes. While testing, stay in the location and keep shooting for as long as you are planning to stay in the sunlight on the shoot. Look at the various shots to make sure you have any color temperature adjustments factored into your shooting or whether you need to change your shoot schedule to factor in natural light changes.

Testing Frame Rate and Shutter Speed

Most of the time you will want your project to be as cinematic as possible. For this reason, the standard is to pick the frame rate that is closest to motion-picture film or to 24 fps.

You might also want to shoot some slow-motion footage (assuming your DSLR camera allows), and in most cases that will mean shooting at 50 fps or 60 fps. Shoot both when testing and see which you like better. Before you walk onto the set, you want to work out whether you need to set a different frame rate for a particular scene.

Shutter speed is another thing you need to be aware of and test. On film cameras, you didn’t have the ability to shoot with the options available on DSLR cameras. A traditional film camera’s shutter is set at 180º. This would mean if you were shooting 24 fps, you would want your shutter at 1/50 (which is the closest you can get on a DSLR camera to the 1/48 that is on a film camera). This may be a problem if you are shooting in a country with 60 Hz power, like the United States. When shooting at a 1/50 shutter speed, you might get lines in your light source that move vertically from top to bottom in your footage. If you are noticing this problem, switch to a different shutter speed, and the problem should go away or at the least minimize the effects.

Testing Recording Length Limitations and File Size Limitations

Most DSLR cameras have recording length limitations for how long they can continuously shoot or file size limitations, as shown in Table 3-1. You can check your camera’s specifications from the manufacturer. This means there is a time when the camera will stop recording a single shot and need to be restarted. When testing, make sure you know whether your camera has a limitation, and check your longest shot to make sure it fits. This is especially important if you are running a camera that is rigged and needs to be started remotely or a camera that needs to be rigged and cannot be started remotely. You don’t want a rigged camera to run out of recording time midshot.

Table 3-1: ADD cameras and recording limits


Recording limit

Canon 5D Mark III

29 min 59 sec

Sony a7S

30 min

Panasonic GH4

No limit on recording times

Canon 7D Mark II

29 min 59 sec

Testing File Formats and Codecs

The end product and post-production are the primary considerations for this decision. At the advent of DSLR moviemaking, there were many file format issues with editing systems and various other considerations, but these problems have mostly been addressed. Just note that any new codecs or recording formats may not be supported in your current editing software at the time of a camera’s release. Check any new camera’s codec with your editing program to make sure you are set for the edit.

Do some test shots with your camera and then try bringing them into your computer, importing them into your editing system, and cutting a few shots together. Then export your mini-test project and send it to the medium you are planning on using for your real project. If you are going to the Web, export at the size and quality you want and see what it looks like. Did you have any problems? If everything works fine, you are set to go.

Make sure to periodically check for any firmware updates, because features can be added to your camera via firmware updates.

Testing Equipment Interactions

The camera is the eye of the entire shoot, and many components that interact with the camera will need to be tested or observed during the test shoots.

Testing Lenses

The initial test of lenses will be to make sure that all of your lenses are compatible and fit your camera. Take note of any crop sensor issues that you may have and adjust accordingly (Figure 3-6). You may also be lucky enough to be able to test various types of lenses for clarity, sharpness, and overall look with the camera. However, you also should run your lens through the paces even if you are dealing with a kit lens. It is good to know how your lenses react to the light, especially if they have a color tendency and if any distortion, breathing issues, or other issues may arise. Now is the time to admire the bokeh and plan for depth of field and aperture settings for each shot.


Figure 3-6: Alcatraz shot with the same lens from the same position with a full-frame sensor and a 1.6 crop sensor

If you are not accustomed to handling cine lenses or lenses that have been de-clicked, now is the time to pull those out and shoot like crazy. (We will describe de-clicking a still lens in Chapter 4, “Cameras and Lenses on Location.”) If you are planning on using a specialty lens (Figure 3-7), get it now, rent it an extra day if necessary, and plan the shot. If you are using lenses that you have been using to shoot stills, try them with movement in the shot. The same lens that you use for a still can produce very different results when there is motion. Distortion that is acceptable or even artistic in a still can go haywire with a little motion in a scene.


Figure 3-7: Russian Helios M42 Pink Flare lens

If you have never used interchangeable lenses, try as many as you possibly can and take notes. Take shots and stills as a reference guide as you make your lens plans for the shoot. Practice what lens will be used for each shot and then change the lens, change your composition, and change the camera’s physical location to see what happens. If you are in a location where the options for movement are limited, it is even more crucial to figure out lens choice. Try to come up with at least two angles or two different lenses for each shot so that you have options on the day of shooting if anything changes, and also think about how the scene is going to cut together. How will you plan coverage with your lenses? Use your lenses with your actors; some people look much better with different lenses. Practice setting the focus marks with each lens for each scene in each location. Working out the tedious details now will save you tons of time when it really counts.

Testing Filters, Hoods, and Matte Boxes

We gave our recommendations for accessories in Chapter 2, “Gear and Recommendations,” but you don’t need to take our word for it. If you have access to various models or filters, do some tests yourself. You might find a solution that is cheaper or better for your project than what we recommend.

In terms of filters, the best thing you can do is get your hands on multiple cameras and put the same filter (but from different manufacturers) on each camera. Then just see whether you notice a difference or performance change. Do your tests with a color chart or at sunrise or sunset. Filters have their biggest differences when shooting colors and at dusk and dawn.

Testing Variable ND Filters

The following are things to look for when testing your ND filters:

1. Loss of Sharpness and Color Shift Good filters won’t have any color shifting or loss of sharpness, but poorer-quality ones may have these problems. You need to take a picture or quick video clip at each stop of your lens. You should not notice a slight change in color or loss of sharpness throughout the stops on the lens. If you find either of these problems, get a new filter. If you are in a pinch and that is all you have available, make a note of which stops are still sharp enough and cause the least amount of color shift or loss. Then make sure you shoot only with those f-stops when that filter is on the camera.

2. Color Shift Color shifting can happen at any ND amount but usually is more apparent with darker ND settings. For your test, get enough light, set your ND to the maximum, and test shoot a color chart or a variety of colors. Look for the difference from no ND to the high ND images. If you notice the colors changing at all, you should get a new filter.

3. Vignetting Check for potential vignetting (Figure 3-8) on any lenses you plan to shoot with. Usually problems with vignetting with ND filters show up on larger lenses. If you check your longest lens and there is no vignetting, then you are most likely fine, but it takes only a few minutes to check all your lenses.c03f008

Figure 3-8: Vignetting on a 21 mm lens on a full-frame sensor camera with a circular polarizer attached

4. Change in Exposure While Pulling Focus Variable ND filters work like circular polarizers in that there are more or less two lenses attached to each other, and you can twist the outside lens to affect the amount of ND you want. Because the variable ND filter cannot be locked into place, it is easy to bump. Be careful as you pull focus because you can easily move the ND filter and change the exposure and therefore ruin your shot.


Figure 3-9: A swing-away matte box allows you to open the matte box and access the lens without removing it from the camera rig.

Testing Matte Boxes

Matte boxes are a bit tricky. Some people use them all the time, and others don’t use them at all. This really depends on what you are shooting and if you like working with a matte box. The big things to be aware of are how the matte box attaches to the camera (does it screw onto the lens or mount to the support rails?), how many slots it has, what size filters it accepts, and ease of getting the matte box on and off when you need to change your lens. On film cameras, the matte boxes are designed to swing open (Figure 3-9) and allow easy access for the camera assistant to remove and change lenses and then shut the matte box and not have to reset. Out of all the accessories we have worked with, this is probably the most important one you need to try before you buy.

Testing Viewfinders and EVF

There are more eyepieces hitting the market every day, so the next greatest thing might hit the market after you read this book. We have owned three different eyepieces, and the only real way to tell whether the eyepiece will work is to have it in your hands and try it. We asked dozens of people for their recommendations, and some people liked each of the ones we bought. So, our best advice is to see whether you can use one before you buy it.

1. Stability The main uses for a viewfinder are improved focusing, better color, and stability of the camera. Since viewfinders attach in a variety of manners, it is best to put the viewfinder on the camera and shoot some test shots. Does using the viewfinder stabilize your footage enough, or do you need more equipment to help stabilize your shots?

2. Check for Moisture Just like any electronic equipment or glass, extreme moisture or temperature change can create moisture buildup on the camera, viewfinder, or both. Some viewfinders have an antifog coating. If yours does, check for moisture around the bracket. This shows up in extreme temperature changes. You don’t want moisture to build up between the viewfinder and the LCD screen. If you find yourself in shooting conditions that are more prone to moisture, get into the habit of checking or removing the viewfinder when not shooting to let both the camera and the viewfinder breathe.

3. Diopter Some if not most viewfinders now have a diopter. A diopter can help you change the focus ability to adjust for someone who needs glasses and takes them off to view the camera. If you need to use the diopter, see how easy it is to use and whether you can quickly change it if you are having a director look through the viewfinder and then switching back to a camera operator or the director of photography. Some models like the Hoodman tend to twist on the back of the camera and are less user friendly when it comes to the diopter functionality.

4. Magnification Factor The magnification of various viewfinders ranges from 1× to 3×. In many cases, a 1× magnification is used when you need to use the viewfinder only as another stabilization point. It may not be enough to help you obtain better focus. On the other extreme, a 3× magnification can actually make it so you cannot view all of your LCD screen at one time. This can be a problem because you may not notice things like the boom mic in the very edge of the frame if you are not very careful and don’t have time to review each take on a monitor.

5. Barrel Distortion Barrel distortion can come from a camera lens or from a viewfinder. The key is to find out whether the lens or the viewfinder is causing the problem. If you notice any barrel distortion when using/testing your viewfinder, record a video clip to see whether the distortion is from the viewfinder or from the lens.

6. Pixelization In lower-resolution LCD screens like the 5D Mark II, you can get what appears to be pixelization of the image, which is caused by the viewfinder. Don’t panic, because the pixelization is not being captured in your footage; it’s just something you have to deal with while shooting.


Figure 3-10: Zacuto Z-Finder EVF

The only real way to test a viewfinder is to put it on your camera and try shooting something with it. Some models will attach with rubber bands, some will have you glue a holder onto your LCD viewfinder, and others will have brackets that attach to your tripod and hold the viewfinder in place. Depending on what sort of shoot you are doing, some or all of these might work; others may spin or slide too much and won’t be an ideal fit for you.

Recently manufacturers have introduced electric viewfinders (EVFs). Videographers are very familiar with EVFs (Figure 3-10), and they open things up so you don’t always have to be looking at the back of the camera. Your decision will come down to price and extra features when choosing an EVF.

Testing Lighting: Color Temperature and Amount of Light

DSLRs took over with a vengeance because of their amazing capabilities to handle light, in particular low-light situations. This does not mean you don’t have to consider the light when shooting with a DSLR. Even if you are familiar with lighting, it pays to test your proposed lighting. In general, you will be lighting one to two stops less in the overall shot to account for the DSLR sensitivity. Sometimes this means that instead of adding lights, you will be taking light away or taking it down a few notches.

This notion of reducing light means people who are accustomed to lighting for film will be able to use all of their knowledge with a little tweaking. Instead of adding light and then adjusting for the ratio and contrast, you may be in a situation of having to block out street lights or replace lights with dimmer lights. You may find you are also in sudden prodigious need of more flags and ways to diffuse the lighting. With DSLRs, you may run into overexposure more frequently than with the same lighting being used with other mediums; although this isn’t a problem with some planning, while you are testing, you should keep a close eye on it.

If you are accustomed to lighting for video, you will continually be struck by just how much range the camera has in terms of lighting and how many scenes look fabulous in what normally would have been impossible lighting conditions. If you are a still photographer and are not accustomed to continuous lighting, it’s time to really focus on how to use your lighting knowledge in a new way. If you are using continuous lighting for still photography, you can even test the camera using your existing lights.

In addition, with DSLRs you can light scenes with unique lights, with sources found in hardware stores, or using all sorts of creative lighting options. This variety is available because the cameras are able to use low-light sources, so you can figure out the lighting ratio overall using nothing but low-light sources. This means that “run-and-gun” shooting can provide some interesting results and can be done in a wide variety of natural light situations.

If you are not already familiar with how various types of lights and light temperatures will register on camera, use the testing process to shoot as many different types of lighting as possible. Make color-correction notes, especially in mixed-type lighting shots. If the shot moves into another light source’s light, the light quality will change, and color correction will not be able to fully balance this. Light temperature changes and different light source kickers are often used for creative effect.

If you are shooting on location, you may want to bring different types of lighting to either match or contrast with existing light. Ensure that the scene can be properly cut together with a coherent lighting plan. Now is the time to practice with gels or color filters and plan for your on-set supply list. Make notes for any lighting changes that must be made, keeping in mind the lighting ratios that will be necessary for proper exposure and detail in your shot.

Using and Calibrating External Monitors

You can shoot with just your DSLR camera, but the LCD screen is small and, depending on how you rig the camera, might not easily be viewable. In these circumstances, you will need to use a monitor of some sort.


It is key that you be aware of the types of ports on your DSLR camera. Unlike professional video cameras, your DSLR will most likely have an HDMI or other consumer video port. This is important because many monitors are designed for professional video cameras and may not have the correct input port for your DSLR camera. If your monitor doesn’t have the correct port, then you need to add a converter box. Endless varieties of converter boxes are available that will turn just about any signal or cable into another signal or cable. They range in price from $20 to over $1,000. Unless you own or have access to a monitor that doesn’t have the correct input for your camera, just buy or rent one that does.

Every time you add another cable, converter, or extra connector between the camera and the monitor, there is a chance for failure. The only real way to test your connections is to set up your camera, monitor, and any other equipment that is connected via cables. Connect all the elements and power on the camera and monitor. If any cables have gone bad, you will not be able to see an image. You must painstakingly remove each cable and replace it with a new one until you find the bad cable.

Color, Contrast, Brightness, and Resolution

Color, contrast, brightness, and resolution are critical for use with any video camera. You want to make sure your color is set so the image you are viewing in the monitor will match what you have when you get to the edit suite. Different monitors will have a varying number of colors they can display, different contrast ratios, differing contrast levels, and various resolutions. A good rule of thumb, as with most gear purchases, is that the more expensive the monitor, the better it is. You want to get an HD monitor because all DSLR cameras record in HD and not standard definition. Some DSLR cameras when recording display only an SD signal, but before recording and during playback, you will need the HD monitor for best performance.

Once you choose your monitor, you need to do some sort of color calibration to set the colors so they are proper. There are various ways you can do this, but the most common ways are by using software and by using a colorimeter.

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 it) and that you are calibrating it in proper lighting so that you are able to accurately judge the colors. The best environment for color calibration is usually a darkened room with gray or black backgrounds, but in a field setting you should minimize as much ambient light as possible and avoid bright lights or glare on the monitor.

Cover the Monitor

If you do not have a tent or area where you can get out of the sun, then make sure to have a black cloth (Duvetyne works great) that you can drape over you and the monitor. Ambient light that hits your monitor has the greatest impact on degrading how you perceive color, contrast, and exposure. You can use a blanket or jacket in a pinch.


Sending Color Bars from Your NLE to Your Field Monitor

Depending on the type of monitor you are using, it may or may not have built-in color bars. If your monitor has them, then use the built-in color bars and adjust your color settings accordingly.

If color bars are not available—which seems to be the case on the HDMI monitors used for many DSLR shoots—you can shoot a color chart or feed the monitor color bars from the editing software on your computer to calibrate your field monitor. Let’s take a look at sending color bars from Final Cut Pro to your monitor. Most NLEs will be able to send a color bar signal, so don’t worry if you have another editing program; the steps should translate.

1. Connect your computer to your monitor.

2. Have your editing software send a set of color bars out of the program. For example, in Final Cut Pro go to your Viewer window and click the Clip tab at the lower-right side of the frame.

3. Select Bars And Tone (Figure 3-11) and pick the signal you are shooting with.c03f011

Figure 3-11: Select the bars and tone you are shooting with.

4. Choose a setting that converts the color bars to monochrome; this might be named Mono or Grayscale on your setup. On a Marshall monitor, change the menu settings to Mono ⇒ Check Field ⇒ Mono (Figure 3-12).c03f012

Figure 3-12: The menu on a Marshall monitor

5. Adjust the brightness on the monitor. Start by turning it all the way down and then bring it up. You will notice a little black bar in the lower right (called the pluge: picture line-up generation equipment) start to disappear or reappear depending on your brightness settings, as shown in Figure 3-13. You want the black bar to be just barely visible. It’s best to get it to fully blend in and then slightly adjust it until you see it.c03f013.eps

Figure 3-13: Varying the brightness

6. Next, on your monitor, adjust the contrast knob. Again, turn it all the way up so the blacks totally crush (Figure 3-14) and then down so the whites totally blow out. Then back it down until you get an even gradation all the way across. You are looking for an 80 percent gray for the white value.c03f014.eps

Figure 3-14: Varying the contrast

7. Next, go back into the menu and adjust the colors. Start with the Blues menu or Blue menu ⇒ Check Field ⇒ Blue (Figure 3-15).c03f015

Figure 3-15: Menu setting for blue channel

8. Once you are set in blue mode, then adjust the color knob. You want to pay attention to the outer two columns on the monitor. The bar columns are tall with a small rectangle box near the bottom. The goal is to adjust the blues until both of the lower rectangle boxes match the larger columns above them (Figure 3-16).c03f016

Figure 3-16: Notice the lower box in each outer column before adjustment. The correct setting is where the lower box matches in each outer column.

Now you should get out of the menu on the monitor and view the color bars. They should look like Figure 3-17. If they do, then your monitor is calibrated and ready to shoot.


Figure 3-17: Correctly set-up color bars

Testing and calibrating the field monitor is just the beginning of the process. Any monitor that you are viewing the footage on in post-production should also be properly calibrated.

Testing Focus Pulling and Follow Focus

When shooting video, you are not going to be using autofocus in most circumstances. This means you are going to be dealing with focus for every single shot. As you plan the focus for every shot, account for any movement in the shot or focus changes you want to make.

Canon 70D Autofocus Feature

Recent cameras such as the Canon 70D now are allowing users to autofocus during video recording. This trend should continue and more and more camera models will add autofocus features to their cameras. Just note that autofocus will remain a tool like any other feature, and you can use it when appropriate and forget about it when not.

DSLR moviemaking involves using a camera and lenses that are designed around still-camera technology. A full-frame sensor with a large aperture in low light can result in some situations where pulling focus is essentially impossible if there is any movement by the subject. Also, in these cases, if the focus is off your actor’s eye at all, it must be because that is a creative decision. Watching an out-of-focus actor on a large screen is unbearable, and this focus problem is even noticeable on small screens. Double-check your focus on the monitor if you have one, and also check all of the focus in your test shots when you are checking your footage in final project format. It may become necessary to measure your focal plane and field of focus for every shot if you are having trouble achieving consistent focus.

If you are pulling focus in a scene or using a follow focus, test the entire shot with movement to ensure that you will be able to achieve focus for your shot. You may need to have a dedicated focus puller for several shots and if possible practice with that person. If you are using a follow-focus unit, make sure that it fits your lenses and that you have all the plates, lens gears, rods, or any other items that you may need for your system to work. Don’t just practice this at home; practice this system in a situation that is as close to your shoot as possible.

Remote Starting the Camera and Rigging in Unique Spots

If you have shots that involve rigging the camera anywhere from simple rigs in odd set locations or complicated rigs on motor vehicles, it is best to test these shots extensively. The interaction between the camera setup and the rigging can complicate a shot, so doing a test of the procedure will be very helpful.

Even if you can’t run the entire shot for budgetary concerns, get the camera and rigging in as close a scenario as possible. With the small size of DSLRs and relatively low cost, rigging with these cameras is fun. With the small size, you may discover rigging positions that you haven’t been able to get before, and you may be able to use more cameras to get more angles on your shot. Make sure the movement works, the angle of view is appropriate, you know when the camera will start and stop, you know how to reset the scene, and you have a checklist for resetting. It is disheartening to be on the set and run an entire complicated motion scene with multiple cameras being rigged only to find out that a camera wasn’t turned on for the shot.

If you are traveling to another country, remember to bring extra screws and spare parts for your rigging, along with the basic tools to adjust it. Different countries run on different measuring systems, and if you require a screw that is not a standard measurement in the area you are shooting in or the nearest hardware store is 100 miles away, the entire shot can fail over a simple piece that could have easily been thrown into your kit before the shoot.

Scenes that are extensive or have a large number of components must be tested the most. Figure out how the communication will work between all parties to make sure that the remote starts the camera. Make sure the rigging is tested thoroughly by running the shot and role-playing every step, taking notes along the way. Finally, compile a master check list to go over with every person involved in the shot.

Testing Camera Movement

DSLR video movement has some interesting challenges. These cameras were not physically designed with the intention that movement would be a major function of the camera like with a video or film camera. Plan all the movement that your project needs and run the camera through the paces. If you are planning to handhold your camera, check to make sure that the footage looks steady enough for your project, and make adjustments either with gear or with technique if necessary. If you are accustomed to film production, test the movement to see how this camera handles your shot. Make sure all of the gear you need for a jib arm, Steadicam shot, or dolly shot is available. You have many options for your rigs to make movement shots more stable and controllable; using these rigs is not like using a video camera or a film camera, and it is necessary to do some planning to find out which one will work best with your operator and the shot’s requirements.

Testing Off-Camera Audio

It is likely that the audio will be run from an external system. It is often still a good idea to run audio from the camera for quick checks. If there are syncing problems and audio must be adjusted, it can be nice to have the rough camera audio to use as a guide. Check to make sure that the audio is recording the best possible. Many small-budget projects use an audio person on set because the expense of purchasing audio gear is usually prohibitive and typically most moviemakers don’t possess the talent or experience of an audio person.

Also, if external audio is being used, test the entire system in advance; take into account any issues that may screw up the audio on set or on location. Airplane flight patterns will potentially be a major problem; wardrobe may need to be modified or replaced if it makes distracting noises. Find places to locate the audio equipment, consider book microphones and lavaliere mics in relation to the number of speaking parts, and take notes of all field audio that is crucial for background, sound effects, or post-audio work. Keep in mind that wind patterns or other weather changes may be in play on the days of the shoot, so take notes and plan for inevitable problems.

The audio person will be the one most often disparaged on the set because they will be asking for levels to be checked, for quiet at crucial moments, or even for scenes to be reset or redone because of audio problems. It is in everyone’s best interest to take good audio notes and work with the audio person the day of the shoot. Practice with the audio files and run audio tests through the post-production plan.

Testing Cables

Testing the cables is a simple but necessary step. An entire operation can be delayed if the proper cables aren’t present or if a cable isn’t long enough. Often the cables for the equipment will add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Make sure that everything can be hooked up, powered on, and working at the same time. If there are crucial cables that are going to be heavily used, it is best to have an extra stashed somewhere.

As you run the testing, you will likely find out if you are missing a cable. This is your opportunity to note what cables are most likely to be heavily used or go down during a shoot. Plan where you can order extra cables if necessary, and make sure you have a master list of all cables, connectors, and power cords to ease last-minute ordering.

More Things to Test

One of the basic things to keep a tab on is power, including where your power supplies are, how long your batteries function, how long it takes to recharge them, if you need a battery system, and what sort of power is available on set. It is also important to go through the entire data-management process that you are planning to use. Make sure you’ve covered all your bases. As you plan your on-set workflow, make sure your computer has the proper number of ports, cables are at the ready, and you have plans in place for data management.

Put your footage through all of the post-production plans you have. Check all the software you are planning on using, run color tests, and plan quick color changes that can be done on the fly on set so you can see whether you are getting the look you want. Run some of the test footage all the way through to the final product and view it in the form in which you want it to be viewed.

Using In-Camera Presets

You have in-camera options that control various aspects of the image or picture. The technical terms and menu controls vary depending on the camera manufacturer, but they are similar for all brands. These setups are as follows:

· Picture-style settings for Canon cameras

· Picture control system for Nikon cameras

· Picture modes for Olympus

· Film modes for Panasonic

· Log profiles

· Color gamuts

A camera may have up to nine modes or presets, and these settings are easily accessible on your camera’s menu options. These are preset combinations of different sharpness, contrast, saturation, noise reduction, and related variables; each preset can be altered in various ways. These options allow you to choose various aspects of how the image will be adjusted, and they can be used to enhance your image and increase your post-production options.

DSLR cameras offer in-camera control over several aspects of the picture. These controls are usually offered with several manufacturer presets and usually with the option to design your own custom adjustment setting crafted for any particulars such as lighting, lenses, specific looks, or whatever different parameters may be in play for your shoot.

If you don’t choose an option or change the picture style, the camera will pick one for you. A picture mode termed Standard or something similar will be the default. So, even if you don’t think you are making a decision regarding picture style, no decision is still a decision. You may be fine with the standard settings, and many people just leave all of these controls alone. However, you can move to another level of creating a look if you understand how to manipulate the picture-style settings and when to make changes.

We suggest using the equivalent of Portrait mode if you are not planning on using any post-production color correction or adjustments. This will give you the best skin color rendition right out of the camera.

If you are going to do any sort of post-production color correction, then use the equivalent of a neutral picture style. This will give you the greatest ability to change and modify your image in post.

Native Canon Picture-Style Settings

The initial step is understanding how these settings can be used to affect the image. It is important to understand the in-camera settings that are preset by the manufacturer. These options may change slightly depending upon your camera. For the following discussion, we will show many Canon 5D images. We picked this camera because it is commonly used for situations where the picture-style settings are adjusted. If you are using another camera, this discussion is also relevant because your camera will have correlating settings or in the case of other Canon cameras be nearly the same. Figure 3-18 shows some common presets on the 5D.

1. Standard This picture style is designed for average photographers to capture a sharp snapshot. Color tones and saturation are set higher to achieve much more vivid colors.

2. Portrait This picture style is designed to render better color tones and saturation for capturing natural skin tones. Also, sharpness is a bit toned down to show fewer blemishes in the subject’s skin.

3. Landscape As you may have guessed, this picture style is designed to capture vivid skies and lush greenery. Color tone and saturation are set to capture the blues of the sky and green leaves of the trees and bushes. A little extra sharpness helps the outlines of buildings, trees, or mountains stand out a bit more from the background.c03f018.eps

Figure 3-18: Picture styles on a Canon 5D Mark II. Note that, except for the Neutral style, only the Sharpness value changes.

4. Neutral This picture style is designed for photographers who are planning on doing post-processing and not expecting final results from the camera. Little to no sharpening is done in the camera with this setting.

5. Faithful This style works like an automatic white balance. If you shoot under lights that are 4800K, the color is adjusted to match your actor’s or subject’s color.

6. Monochrome In this picture style, the sharpness is turned down a tick, and contrast is set in the middle. You then have access to a Filter effect (Ye: Yellow, Or: Orange, R: Red, and G: Green) or a Toning effect (N: None, S: Sepia, B: Blue, P: Purple, and G: Green). It is like having an in-camera darkroom.

7. The Monochrome option and the alterations you may do quickly are a shortcut to shooting with sepia or black-and-white. However, if you choose this option, the footage cannot be changed back to color.

Testing and Setting White Balance

As you consider picture-style settings and changes, keep white balance in mind. Some picture-style settings may influence the saturation or look of certain colors. As you make changes, recheck your white balance to make sure it fits your goals. If you are using the Auto White Balance or Custom White Balance setting, double-check the overall look after you have applied picture-style settings to ensure that your image’s look is in line with your goals.

Most of the settings we just discussed are from the Canon platform. Nikon models will have some or all of following presets: Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, and Landscape. You should always check your camera manual to see what presets are available and then see what these presets do to create a look and in terms of setting specifics. The next step is learning how these presets are adjusted by your camera controls.

The Nikon D3s also has the Quick Adjust option, which allows for adjustments of many of the presets (but not custom picture settings) that may be created. Other cameras may have different presets with differing variables.

Changing the Camera Presets for Image Control

You can have more control over the image by creating unique user-defined settings. There are two ways to create such settings:

· Adjust the camera’s presets that relate to pictures.

· Design a highly customized setting by using a RAW image and software to adjust the settings and then put this unique setting back in the camera as a custom option.

If you are shooting with more than one camera body, it is imperative that you set up both cameras with the exact same settings. If you don’t, you will never get them to match in post.

Making Your Own Preset or Style

Here are a few things you should be aware of if you are going to mix and match your own picture style:

· Soften, never sharpen; it’s easier to sharpen in post.

· Decreasing sharpness can decrease a moiré effect.

· Always keep skin tones in mind.

· If skin tones get too desaturated, it may be hard to bring them back.

· It’s easier to increase contrast in post than to decrease it.

· Your changes may affect your color.

· All of the picture-style changes in the world can’t fix a lighting problem.

Customizing a Camera Preset

Let’s examine the easiest way to customize by just using in-camera controls. To do this, you adjust one of the camera presets based on your requirements (Figure 3-19). You can save these changes in the camera either as a separate preset or within the existing preset. But you don’t have to save the customized setting; you can shoot with this setting adjusted but not saved.


Figure 3-19: Default standard picture style

Once you see what settings can be changed, pick the preset you are going to start with and alter this preset. The general notion of what can be changed is fairly stable from camera to camera, so we will go through the 5D options for the explanation. If your camera has different or more areas of adjustment, play with them to see how they line up with this discussion. Even though each preset looks like it starts at a zero value, in reality the picture-style preset has already adjusted the image; any changes you make are further changes to the image (Figure 3-20).


Figure 3-20: Modified Standard setting saved as a custom, user-defined style. On your Canon DSLR, you must turn the knob to C1, C2, or C3 to save or access your custom picture-style settings.

Setting Up and Registering a Camera User Setting

If you have your camera in M (manual) mode and change any of the sharpness, contrast, or saturation and want to save it to a user-defined setting, you cannot do that by turning the camera knob first. If you simply turn from M to, say, C2, it will default to the current C2 settings that were stored in the camera.

If you set the sharpness, contrast, or saturation while the camera’s dial is already on a C setting, then the setup will be automatically saved.

The other way you can set and save custom camera user settings is to use the EOS Utility and set your sharpness, contrast, and saturation there. Once your setting is saved, it updates to your camera.

For example, if you look at all of the presets, you may see that they all show saturation at zero. Clearly, there are differences in desired saturation between picture styles, but the controls are all set to zero to allow for adjustments to be made in a logical fashion. This means that when you are changing various aspects of the controls, which picture style you start out in is crucial, and changing the picture style will dramatically influence how you can change the image. In other words, all of the presets can be changed in a similar fashion and with the same variables, but the presets do not start out the same, and therefore the same increase in one variable will look different in each preset.

For example, Figure 3-21 shows a frame from a video file taken with the default Neutral picture style. Pay attention to the actor’s face. It has a little too much red in it. In Figure 3-22, notice the face of the actor in this frame. The color in his face is much more normal and gives you more latitude if you are going to do any adjustments in post (Figure 3-22), and if not, you have a more true flesh tone to start with.


Figure 3-21: Default Neutral picture style on a 5D Mark II and a frame taken using this setup


Figure 3-22: Modified Neutral picture style on a 5D Mark II and a frame taken using this setup

As you make your decisions, consider what aspects of the image can be adjusted. The four major settings on the 5D are Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation, and Color Tone.

1. Sharpness Image sharpness is a key variable on film. Film is clear and crisp but not necessarily sharp. If the look you are going for is more cinematic, sharpness is a first-order area to test for potential changes. Another reason to look at sharpening is because you want to keep the sharpness consistent; you don’t want the camera getting to pick how sharp the image should be as the shot progresses. Changing your sharpness can also have an impact on a tendency for a moiré effect and aliasing artifacting. Softening things a bit can lessen your chances of having this problem.

2. Contrast The Contrast control allows you to adjust the way various color tones are distributed in your shot.

3. Saturation This control alters the overall vividness or chroma of the image. Saturation does not impact the brightness of the image, but it can influence how bright we perceive the image to be.

4. Color Tone This setting influences the hue of the colors in the shot and adjusts the colors universally. One notable aspect of color tone is that any adjustment of this control can change the skin tones greatly. Skin tones can take on red or yellow casts. Other colors will also be affected, but because skin tones are usually a benchmark for a shot, this is the most crucial thing to keep in mind when adjusting color tone.

Other cameras may have Hue and Brightness options or other options.

You can change these presets by changing any of the parameters. On the 5D, the setting range is shown by a scale from 0 to +7 for Sharpness and from –4 to +4 for other options. As you make adjustments, the original placement will still be shown but will turn light gray (Figure 3-23).


Figure 3-23: The white arrow shows the modified setting, and the gray arrow shows the original setting.

The best thing to do is to play with these controls. Change them, shoot footage, look at the footage not just on your camera but also on a monitor or a screen or online, and then do any post work that you may choose and recheck everything. Once you choose what preset you are going to shoot with, either a manufacturer setting or a uniquely tailored preset, then your footage will have these parameters, and you can’t undo them in post. Therefore, every decision leads to your footage being affected, which will create the look of your project.

Creating a look isn’t an easy process. It is helpful to read what other people are doing, check out unique settings that others have used, and look at what they have done with it; however, ultimately your look is up to you.

Creating a Unique Custom Setting from Scratch

Another way to get even more custom control is to design your own custom setting (Figure 3-24). To do this, you will need to use a still image from your camera and make adjustments based on this image. The things you need are the image, the camera, and your computer with the camera manufacturer’s software installed. (The software usually comes with the camera or is available for download from the manufacturer’s website. For example, the 5D comes with an EOS Digital Solution Disk that contains the Picture Style Editor, or you can look online for the download.)


Figure 3-24: This still was used to design a custom picture-style setting.

This section is a general description for any camera owner. Later in this chapter, we walk you through setting up and customizing your own picture style on a Canon camera.

Starting with a RAW Still Image

Start the process by supplying your own RAW still image. To make the process work most effectively, this image should be taken with as many variables that will be used on the final shoot that will also take advantage of this picture style as possible. For example, if you are planning on using the picture style with a certain lens and lighting, take the image with that lens and lighting. Use the planned ISO to keep all of the visuals consistent.

The image you are adjusting and creating your unique setting around is a RAW image. You are going to be using this preset with a JPEG or similar compression. However, there is a reason that you are starting with a RAW image: the data of a RAW image is less processed than that of a JPEG. RAW isn’t exactly a file format in itself; it is a file that has all of the information from the camera settings (the metadata) and the data, but the camera settings do not permanently affect the data the way it does with a JPEG format.

The JPEG image has undergone compression and is influenced permanently by some controls in your camera. The process of creating your own unique setting includes making sure the JPEG is recorded as close to your specifications as possible. The RAW file is influenced by ISO settings and the amount of light hitting the sensor, so exposure is key to this image. The JPEG format is influenced by many more processes in camera and out of camera including the exposure, ISO, white balance, contrast, saturation, sharpness, potential interpolation, and compression. Starting with a RAW file allows you to set some aspects of how the JPEG file will be influenced by the camera in terms of these criteria, which are possible to adjust via the picture editor or similar camera software.

Adjusting the Picture Style

The particulars of exactly how you adjust depend on what manufacture software you are using. Some basics, however, remain the same. You may have to pick a picture style to start with; in these cases, pick whatever style is set at Neutral. If you don’t have a Neutral setting, look at what picture style represents the colors evenly and doesn’t have spikes in saturation or contrast. Then deal with basics like what white balance is desirable.

The next step is to adjust the color of your test image according to your specifications. Think of the color in terms of three properties: hue, saturation, and luminosity. As you adjust, look at these three properties to make sure your end product is meeting your needs. There is no right way to do this, but pay particular attention to specific colors and how they are being altered. As you make these changes, you are essentially remapping how the color is being read by changing what the current numeric value of the color is and redirecting it to what numeric value you desire it to be. In fact, knowing the numeric values of the color may be a great shortcut for changing the color. To do this, you will need to understand what color expression system is in use.

Test and modify settings with multiple images. If you work with only one image and don’t do any testing, you’ll have no way to see every possible color or lighting setup. You work with one image to get close and then test with other images captured in the same location and/or lighting setups.

If possible, examine specific colors to see how they have changed (Figure 3-25). If these tones are going to be present in other parts of your shot that are not in the sample still image, they will be processed in this manner. For example, if you have a small sliver of avocado green that is now registering as emerald, then every incident of avocado in your shot will be emerald. This can be excellent or have unintended color ramifications.


Figure 3-25: When the custom picture style was applied to a close-up, the shadows, dark clothes, and hair all became distracting shades of purple. If there are colors that were not in the shot you started with, you may or may not like how that setting affects every color.

Another point of interest is that often Hue and Saturation controls are linked, so if you change one variable, the other one will change in a parallel manner (Figure 3-26).


Figure 3-26: The lines and dots show the Saturation parameters based on current Hue selection.

Checking the Histogram and Curve Levels

As you make your changes, keep an eye on the histogram to make sure that all changes keep exposure parameters and detail levels solid. The histogram is a nice tool when you are trying to see whether your changes are helping increase your detail, especially in shadows. Learn how to read your histogram to check for any blacks being crushed or whites blown out. Histograms also help gauge saturation levels, and you should check all changes you make, not just visually but with your controls.

Tone curves, custom curves, or gamma curves are a major area for adjustment (Figure 3-27). The Picture Style Editor, Picture Control Utility, or other software should have a gamma curve adjustment tool. This will adjust the tonal curve characteristics of the image.


Figure 3-27: Gamma curve with three points for adjustment

A gamma curve tool is adjustable in a nonlinear fashion, which means you can adjust one part of the tonal curve without affecting other points. For example, your adjustment in the midtones will not affect the darkest and lightest points. This tool will take the selected tones and either compress or stretch them into the desired range. Compressed tones have less contrast, and stretched tones have more contrast. The compressing and stretching are easy to visualize; as you drag your curve tool around, observe the change in the line and what tonal area is being adjusted. Adjusting the gamma curve will change the dynamic range of your image. These adjustments will affect the entire image universally and usually should be done after you have dealt with individual colors.

S-curve and Inverted S-curve

These names come from the simple shape shown in the curve. An S-shaped curve results in adding contrast to the midtones at the expense of shadows and highlights in the image. An inverted S-curve has the opposite result. This is an easy test. Look at your curve shape: does it match your goals?


At the end of this process, it will be necessary to test the new user-defined setting. You can also save many such settings to transfer on and off your camera, use other people’s shared settings to expand the range of available presets on your camera, or give your setting to other people or other cameras.

Should You Bother Creating a Preset?

Maybe you won’t ever need or want to create a preset, but the reality is that after using the camera presets for a while or shooting with interesting lighting conditions, you may find that you just aren’t able to get the look you are going for in your shoot. Designing your own custom preset is part of the creativity and detail work necessary in creating your look. If you find that certain factors aren’t being accounted for with the existing presets, this is the time to experiment with a custom setting. Or if you are testing post procedures and find that you really want to keep your color options as open as possible, a custom preset may help. This is an area to have fun with and to explore how much you can really influence your footage.

To decide how you are going to use these settings, you also must decide how you plan on using the tool. There is one simple question that determines what path you are going to travel: are you going to do any post color grading or changes? If you are, then you will want to use the controls to maximize your post-production control and maintain your desired look. If you are not doing any post-production, then use the controls to get your picture to look as close to your vision as possible.

Settings That Prepare for Post-Production

The choice to alter the picture when you are doing post-production is an easy one. In this case, you are not worried about how the image looks when you are shooting as long as the image that you end up with after post meets your specifications. This means that while you are shooting, your image may look very different from how it will look after post.

A custom picture style changes the way the camera processes the information from the sensor. The goal of designing a picture style that works with your post-production technique is to make sure that the picture style processes the color information in a way that keeps as much of the color data as possible. In essence, you want to save data so you can change it later.

If color grading is going to happen in post-production, all setting alterations should maintain color information and give the greatest possible range for color grading in post. DSLR video has a limited color bit, and making sure that the color information is retained and captured while shooting is key. One way some colorists prefer to maximize color is to have a flat image.

Increasing Dynamic Range with Settings

The goal is to get the light and dark parts of the image, or potentially slightly over- and slightly underexposed parts of the image, to have detail. The reason why you want to increase dynamic range is to allow for post-production processes to have more room to move around. After changes are made, ideally there should actually be detail in the whole image. Post-production color grading and processing work best if there is color information recorded for the entire image. Only color information that is actually recorded can be tweaked. So, how can you get more color information? Check to make sure you aren’t losing anything that is blown out or clipped, adjust lighting, and make sure there is a proper exposure. Shoot with a picture style that orders the camera to record as much data and detail in the whole image as possible. One way to do this is to shoot the image flat and design a flat picture-style setting, or you can simply use the Neutral picture style on the camera.

The “Shooting Flat” Option

To “shoot flat,” you must minimize all saturation and contrast in the entire image. You can do this by adjusting it in the camera, but you can more effectively do this by designing a setting. You may also be able to download a predone setting and use that. Shooting flat will increase the latitude and dynamic range of your footage and allow for freer color correction.

What Is “Flat”?

A flat image or flat picture style means a setting or image that has very low contrast and low saturation. The point of having less contrast in the original capture footage is that you retain detail in the highlights and shadows that would not be there if it were captured as a high-contrast image. To the untrained eye, if you see footage that is shot flat, it looks very unappealing, because you are used to viewing footage that has a much higher contrast ratio and saturation levels.

Shooting flat makes it easier to match your footage from shot to shot and from scene to scene because each shot has room for correction (Figure 3-28). Your overall look can be incorporated into the entire piece, and you can have separate looks for particular scenes or parts. Your piece may have a wide variety of lighting schemes, times of day, night, or other diverse settings, and your look will need to be applied to all of these shots. Consistency in the look and scene is a key component to a coherent look, and having footage that takes well to color grading makes it more likely that your look can be applied evenly (Figure 3-29).


Figure 3-28: Footage still from flat picture-style setting


Figure 3-29: Same flat still color corrected for final look

The point of increasing dynamic range is to allow for greater potential color grading options in post. The shot may actually look worse on set, on the LCD, or on the monitor.

If you shoot flat, keep several things in mind (Figure 3-30). It is easy to run into problem areas when the only emphasis is in keeping everything flat. Keeping skin tones in proper ranges so that they look like normal human skin tones is important. If you shoot too flat, you may not be able to bring the skin tones back to a proper tone. Judging proper exposure and white balance can be tricky when you are looking at an image on the set that is flat and looks washed out.


Figure 3-30: The flat setting on the Canon 5D Mark III is Contrast –2 and Saturation –1; I use this setting all the time.

If you do not intend to do any sort of post color correction, then by all means do not use a flat picture style. Use a Standard or Portrait setting that will give you more contrast and more saturation in your original footage.

Settings to Work without Post

One of the magical things about DSLRs is that they can be used on low-budget projects or projects that have a short deadline. For “run-and-gun” shooting styles or situations where you aren’t in control of your set lighting, you may need to adjust your picture style settings on the fly and leave the results slightly up to fate. If your project isn’t going to have image post-processing work done, then your goal is to get the look in the camera while you are shooting.

Sometimes the decision to do post or not is also determined by what the final output is going to be: are you getting this ready for the Web or a movie theater? These are obvious differences that help you decide where to allocate budget. Another consideration is time savings; getting the image close in the camera saves a huge amount of time, and the dailies are immediately available. The H.264 format is problematic, but it does have the benefit of being immediately playable. Post-production is fun, and the final look is rewarding, but let’s face it: budget, ease, and time savings are not small considerations. There is also the peace of mind knowing that you aren’t alone; many people find that the limits of DSLR video and compression make color grading less effective than simply shooting it in the camera, and your in-camera color-grading efforts will keep the need for emergencies (where extreme manipulation is necessary to save a shot) to a minimum. Sometimes the ability to fix it in post causes problems because the safety net is over-relied on; shooting it in the camera creates the sense of urgency necessary for excellence.

If you know that you aren’t going to be doing any post work, pay attention to the same things you would if you were doing post. These are perfecting the in-camera color temp and white balance, making the most of potential filter options, obsessing about your exposure, being vigilant on lighting, checking your skin tones, and making creative use of gels or light temperature if necessary. Something you won’t be doing is worrying whether your method of shooting allows for latitude for change in post. The picture you are viewing is going to be the end product, so you don’t have to try to visualize how the end product will look. Because you are viewing the end product, make sure that your monitor or LCD screen matches what you are hoping for in the final viewing format. Your image is going to be processed solely in the camera, and you don’t have to worry if you aren’t saving room for post or expanding latitude.

Highlight Tone Priority

The purpose of Highlight Tone Priority (HTP) is to increase the effective dynamic range of the camera in the highlight area of the shot. This effectively reduces blown-out highlights and may reduce noise in the highlight areas. This help in the highlights can be important because highlights on DSLRs are prone to blowing out easily. However, there are problems with using HTP, and they can be significant. There will be more noise issues in darks/midtones, but these are largely limited to the shadow areas. Some ISOs will not be available, and the midtones and shadows are effectively underexposed because the setting does exactly what it says—focuses on the highlights.


The decision to use HTP is up to you. If you are baking in your color and look while shooting, it may serve a purpose. In the event HTP is used, double-check your exposure and recognize that it is best used in daylight situations where the focus is on the highlights, such as the sky and lightest areas, so if your action is taking place in these areas, it may have a potential usage.

Often factory presets are designed for people who don’t want to do any post-production and who want the look out of the camera. If you are going to be making many lighting changes or trying to match shots in post, you may have to consider several different picture styles or in-camera settings as the shoot progresses. You must plan for this in preproduction, and even though you aren’t doing post, it never hurts to test the process.

If you are doing all of the work in post, you also will need to make sure that there is continuity between shots that are going to be cut in the same scene. Obviously, this needs to be done anyway, but keep in mind that you have no latitude to change the shots, so you must get it right the first time. Also, make sure that you color match your cameras if you are doing a multiple-camera shoot. Again, this is necessary regardless, but you have less room for error when using cameras that shoot with 8-bit color space.

Customizing Your Picture Style: Steps for Canon DSLR Cameras

If you are ready to customize your own picture style and create a look specifically for your shoot, then follow these steps for creating, loading, and using your new custom picture-style settings:

1. Take a RAW still image from your location scout for the scene or lighting conditions you want to create your look for.

2. Connect your camera to your computer and turn it on.

3. Open EOS Utility if it does not happen automatically for you when you first turn on your camera (Figure 3-31). (EOS Utility is on the EOS Digital Solution Disk that came with your camera. If you have not yet installed it, do that before going any further.)c03f031

Figure 3-31: EOS Utility splash screen

4. There are two tabs at the top. Click Accessories, which takes you to the window with the option for the Picture Style Editor (Figure 3-32).c03f032

Figure 3-32: After clicking the Accessories tab, you will see this screen.

5. Open the Picture Style Editor and drop the RAW picture onto the screen (Figure 3-33).c03f033

Figure 3-33: After you drag your RAW image onto the Picture Style Editor, this is the default view.

6. Depending on how you like to work, you can leave the image as the whole screen. Click the second button on the bottom left to show the original file on the left and the one you are correcting on your right (Figure 3-34), or click the third button from the bottom left to have the original image on the top and the one you are manipulating on the bottom (Figure 3-35).c03f034

Figure 3-34: Side-by-side view when creating your custom look. Original image is on the left and corrected image is on the right.


Figure 3-35: If you prefer, you can tile the image horizontally. Original image is on top and corrected image is on the bottom.


Figure 3-36: Standard grid that represents the gamma curve. You need to add points on the diagonal line in order to make any changes.


Figure 3-37: Three points added to the curve. From here you can drag any point left, right, up, or down.

7. The tool to use here for your manipulation is the gamma curve. In the lower-right corner are a grid and a diagonal line that represents the gamma curve (Figure 3-36).

Each time you click the curve, you will add a little point to the curve that you can adjust. The best practice is to place three more or less equally spaced points on the diagonal line (Figure 3-37).

Adjusting the lower point adjusts your shadows, adjusting the middle point adjusts your midtones (anything not shadows or highlights), and adjusting the top point adjusts your highlights.

Any adjustments here should be minor, because the more you adjust the curve, the more extreme the look will be (unless your project calls for a very extreme look). The goal in creating the custom picture styles on these cameras is to increase the latitude you have in post (remember, you are working with the limited 8-bit color space).

8. To flatten out your image, adjust the top point to the right, which will lessen your highlights. Adjusting your point at the bottom to the left will “open” up your blacks and flatten the image a bit. If you go to the right, you will be adding contrast and “crush” your blacks. Do that in post, not at this point.

9. Spend time adjusting your three points until you are happy with the image. Once you are happy and ready to move on, you need to save your newly created picture style. Go to File ⇒ Save Picture Style File (Figure 3-38).c03f038

Figure 3-38: Whatever name you place in the Caption field is what will show up on your camera—not the Save As name of the file.

The name you put in the Caption field is the name that will show up on your camera (Figure 3-39). The name of the file will not be the name that will appear when loaded on your camera (Figure 3-40)—unless they are the same name.


Figure 3-39: Notice that Bleached_Look.pf2 is the name of the file from the Save As field.

10.You now need to load that picture style into your camera. Go back to the EOS Utility application and click Camera Settings/Remote Shooting (Figure 3-41). (The camera must still be connected to your computer and turned on. If you are not able to click Camera Settings/Remote Shooting, then disconnect your camera, turn it on and off, and reconnect.)c03f040

Figure 3-40: When the file is loaded on the camera, the caption name is displayed in the drop-down menu, not the name of the file you loaded.


Figure 3-41: EOS Utility splash screen where you can access the camera settings or remote shooting

11.A window should appear with a control panel that has all your camera’s current settings displayed. Click Picture Style to display all the default and user-defined picture styles (Figure 3-42).

12.You have three custom, user-defined “slots” you can store on your camera at any given time. If you are using only one custom user style, we recommend C3, so it is at the far end of the dial. Click the User Def. slot you chose (Figure 3-43).

13.Choose Register User Defined Style (this will not be available to select if the camera’s dial is not set to C1, C2, or C3) (Figure 3-44).c03f042

Figure 3-42: Control panel window displaying all the current camera settings


Figure 3-43: After you click Picture Style, you will see all the defaults and User Def. 1, 2, and 3.


Figure 3-44: We used User Def. 3 as the location where we will upload the custom user style.

14.The Register Picture Style File window will appear. There is a drop-down listing all the standard picture styles (Figure 3-45) and any custom picture styles you created.c03f045.eps

Figure 3-45: Drop-down list with all the defaults

Click the File button to the right of the drop-down menu and navigate to the file you saved from the Picture Style Editor.

15.You will now see your custom picture style selected in the drop-down menu and the details from the settings below it (Figure 3-46). Click OK.c03f046

Figure 3-46: Once your custom style is selected, click OK.

16.If you select Picture Style from the menu on the back of your camera, you will see that the name of your custom picture style is now next to the custom, user-defined slot you chose.

When you select and shoot with this picture style, it uses the parameters you set in the Picture Style Editor. If you create multiple picture styles for a shoot, you can easily change from one to another by selecting the user definition you want. (Note that if you have more than three, then each time you load a new picture style, you will overwrite an existing one. Just be aware and manage which picture styles you need for each day of shooting and program those picture styles before heading out to the set.)

Using a Third-Party Picture Style (on the Set)

You can find many custom picture styles online. You might chat with other filmmakers or friends who have created their own custom picture styles on projects you think have a nice look and might work for your project. Also, if you are working with a post house or colorist, they may create the custom picture style you end up using for your shoot.

If you get a custom picture style setting through any of these means, then you can quickly and easily get it into your camera and start to shoot. Just start at step 10 of the previous steps for the entire process.

Technicolor’s Cine Style

Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, ASC, has written an article about a flat picture style from Technicolor named Cine Style. It is not only a valuable reference about this specific picture style but also a great model about how to use custom styles: