This lesson is part of the How To Photograph Life - FREE Course. To see the full list of lessons, and learn more about the course, click here for the index.
If you're going to document your life, you should shoot video. It simply captures more than photos can alone.
But it's tricky. It's different. It's the mysterious new kid that you just can't figure out. Today, that changes. But first, a teeny tiny trip through history.
In September of 2008 the world of video changed: Canon announced the 5DMKII, the first Canon DSLR to have HD video recording capability.
Things would never be the same.
We immediately placed a pre-order for this crazy expensive camera (expensive for us at least), because we knew that DSLR video was going to be a big deal. I still remember some big-name photographers publicly poo-pooing the camera, claiming it was just a gimmick.
Here we are, 7 years later, and that one small shift has totally changed how videos are made. Everyone has access to incredibly high quality video cameras now, and it has changed the lives of so many, from YouTube stars to indie filmmakers.
And yet, this high quality video is still dramatically under-utilized by the average photographer. Why? Because video is a totally different beast.
So today I’m going to run you through a crash course in video, because I cannot overstate how incredible it is, particularly for capturing your life. It provides a richer, more immersive experience, and it is well worth learning how to do.
To begin, I’d like to share one of Rob’s videos that he created for some of our closest friends. Press play, and see just how amazing video of everyday life can be:
When we retired from shooting professionally, the thing people most often asked us to come back and do was video. They didn't want my photos, they wanted Rob's videos. Guys, learning video is not hard, and worth the effort for your family and, if you’re a pro, for your business.
So let’s take a peek and see what it’s all about.
Rob's Big Video Rig
This is the setup Rob used for a lot of his professional video work. It's the Canon 5DMKII, with the 70-200IS f/2.8 lens. He has a Hoodman loupe, to make it easier to see what he's shooting, and uses a shoulder mount to keep it steady.
First off, you need to have a camera that shoots video. Good news – most do! Video is no longer an afterthought on cameras, it’s now a core feature.
The video you saw above was shot with the Canon 5DMKII (which Canon has since replaced with the 5DMKIII), but don’t think that you need a fancy DSLR to do video (though if you have one, awesome!).
Here’s a video that Rob made using a point-and-shoot, the Sony RX100III.
Admittedly that’s a pretty high-end point and shoot, but it doesn’t have interchangeable lenses, and Rob wasn’t using any fancy stabilization rigs. It was just him, with a the RX100III, telling the story of the party. No one even realized that he was filming, that’s how fantastically discreet shooting with a little camera can be.
So step one is to check your camera and see what the video functions are like. You’ll want to shoot in at least 1080p - which is a high resolution (HD) web video size. Some cameras (like the new iPhone) will shoot at an even higher resolution called 4K, but that takes up a ton of space, so you'll probably want to stick with 1080p for now.
One function that makes a particularly good video camera is video autofocus. Autofocus in video makes the process 100x easier, so this is really handy. The original 5DMKII didn’t even have it, so these days our main video camera is the Canon 70D. It has autofocus while filming, and a flip out screen that makes filming at different angles, or selfie filming much easier.
Stabilization is another important part of video - shaky footage is not fun. Some cameras have stabilization built in, others have the stabilization in the lenses. Another option, if you’re really serious, is to get a shoulder mount to make it even more stable. A video monopod is also handy.
If you're going to take video seriously, you need to take the audio seriously. Here are some gadgets that help do that, including microphones, recorders, and headphones. (And a filter and an action cam that have nothing to do with audio.)
Finally, audio. This is where many photographers just totally underestimate things. Good audio can make or break a video. If you’re planning to shoot video, and want to make it great, you need to consider audio. You can buy really affordable microphones that mount on your camera, and totally increase the audio quality.
That said, a mic isn’t a necessity. For a lot of Rob’s earliest videos he just used some music instead of sound, and that totally worked.
Long story short, these are some nice things to have in a camera for video, but they aren’t essential. Just like with photos, the most important thing is that you have a camera and use it!
First, you’ll want to adjust the quality you record at. We mentioned 1080p earlier, but you might also have options for frame rate. For the most natural cinematic smooth motion 24 frames per second (fps) is ideal, 30fps is ok, and 60fps can look a bit weird (a little too smooth).
One setting that you’ll have to approach differently when shooting video is shutter speed. Aperture and ISO work the same way, changing your depth of field and making the sensor more sensitive to light. But shutter speed for video requires a different approach compared to photography.
Your shutter speed will affect the way motion looks in the video - from smooth to choppy. If you use a high shutter speed, everything could look more jittery (depending on the motion of your subject).
So we like to keep things simple, and we always set the shutter speed for video at 1/50s. That’s the place to start. From there, we choose an aperture that will give the depth of field that we want, and then adjust the ISO to get a good exposure (the brightness of the scene).
Hold up though. Notice anything about that shutter speed? In photography, 1/50s is quite slow. Which means that lets in a lot of light. You might find that if you try to shoot outdoors at that shutter speed, it’s WAY too bright. What do you do? Faster shutter speed?
Nope. Your shutter speed lives at 1/50s. Instead you’ll need to increase your aperture value, and decrease your ISO as much as possible. Of course, that means you don’t get much depth of field. If you really really want it, you might need a neutral density filter to block out some light! But that’s not necessary. Just start off with your shutter speed at 1/50s, get a good exposure, and then get shooting. If you absolutely have to raise your shutter speed in order to get the right exposure for a shot then do it, but try to keep it at 1/50s.
When it comes to capturing life with video, you can film everything from the smallest moments, to the biggest experiences. Nothing is too big or too small. Most of all, you want to look for stories.
For example, here’s a video of our son going for a Scooter ride that Rob shot and edited with his iPhone.
You can tell the story of something as simple as a scooter ride in such a wonderful way with video. You can see how he moves, hear his voice, and get such a great feeling of being there. Photos of this ride just wouldn’t convey it in the same way. Video really is something special.
Or you can document something bigger. Here’s a video Rob created of our trip out on a lobster boat off the coast of Prince Edward Island, with all the best video gear we have.
Once again, this video gave such a more visceral feeling of being out there than did the photos I took. That’s not to say that photos don’t have their place – they most certainly do. But action, movement, energy - video captures those in such a different way, it’s a perfect compliment to photos.
So don’t think that anything is off-limits for video. Simple moments can come to life when you capture them with video. Now let’s look at a couple things to keep in mind when you’re capturing your video.
Max On a Swing
A quick video captures forever the sights and sounds of a fun afternoon at the park.
Fresh Coconut Water
This short, slow-mo video shows the skill involved in preparing a fresh coconut water. Yum!
Shooting video requires a different mindset than shooting photos. Because of that, we’ve found is that it’s quite hard to switch between shooting photos and shooting video. So for starters, try shooting just one or the other, and you’ll probably find you get better results, and it’s a lot more enjoyable.
Now the big thing about video is that it needs movement to be interesting. Quite different than a photo! So when approaching a scene, look for where the action is happening, and then try to record that with your video.
Photo and video aren’t completely different though. All that stuff we talked about with light, composition and storytelling comes into play here. You’re going to be looking for great light, finding an interesting composition for your video, and then taking different shots to tell that story.
But unlike photography, stability is key with video. You can move your camera all around while taking photos, but if you do that with video it’s going to give your viewers motion sickness!
So when shooting video find your action, set up your shot, and then stay still. Plant your feet, hold your camera as still as possible, and record. If you really want to add some camera movement, try doing very slow, small movements. Don’t pan around wildly! If you want to change your position, you can stop recording, move, and then start up again.
Portrait of a Wharf
You'll notice in this video, Rob's "Portrait of a Wharf", most of the movement comes from the subject, rather than the camera.
Even more so than photos, videos need to be put together to make a great story. A single photo can often stand alone, but a 10 second clip of video often feels incomplete. So it’s well worth it to edit some video clips together to tell the tale.
This can be as simple or as complex as you want. There are basic editing programs, like iMovie, that make it pretty darn simple. You can even use iMovie on the iPhone to edit. Super quick and easy. Or, if video is something you really want to get into, you can learn Adobe Premiere Pro.
Either way, try to make it a practice to put your video clips together into a movie. We always find it’s best to do this as soon as possible after you shoot, so that you actually do it. We have video clips from years ago that we never edited together, and as each year passes, the chances of it happening grow slim. This extra step tends to have people shying away from video, but it can be quick and easy, and makes a world of difference.
One big tip for editing: trim, trim, trim. Often when you're just getting started you want to include everything. But then you wind up with a movie that's too long, and won't keep your viewer's attention. Keep things moving fast, keep your clips short, and you'll create something much more engaging.
Behind The Scenes of a Coffee Roaster
Rob cut together this film using Adobe Premiere Pro, but he got started using iMovie. It doesn't matter what you use, or how complicated you get, just stitch your clips together!
This has been a really quick little look into video, but I hope it has inspired you to give it a try. There are a few different things to consider, like what settings to use, and what type of shots to get, but at its core it’s just like documenting life with photos. Find stories that move you, and then capture them in an engaging way.
One of the best things about video is re-watching the movies years down the road. It brings memories to life and is a great experience for the whole family to share.
If this talk about shutter speed, aperture and ISO left you feeling a bit lost, don't worry! Check out our tutorial, Extremely Essential Camera Skills. It will teach you all about these fundamental settings (and a TON more) in only 3 hours. It's fast and fun, and you'll be totally confident using your camera at the end of it. Sweet!
Click here to check it out and get it with an instant download - keep on learning, you’re doing great!
"It was worth every penny and I am so excited to put into practice what I've learned. You made concepts I've previously found to be very difficult, easy to understand. It's opened up a whole new world for me in the area of photography.”
So we've covered a ton of great stuff, and now you're ready to get out there and take a bazillion amazing photos and videos of your life! Excellent! But what then? How do you keep them organized so you can actually find them years down the road? What's the most efficient workflow for sharing them? Good questions. Come back for the next lesson and all your queries will be answered (and then some!)
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