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UncleBobsPhotography

Consistent exposure for run-and-gun shooting

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This is probably a very basic concept, but I would like to get some tips on how to get the most consistent exposure during documentary filmmaking with limited preparation time.

With most settings on automatic, the camera might change the exposure dramatically if a dark or light subject enters the frame, which is difficult to make up for in post. The obvious solution would be to shoot with everything on manual, but I don't really have time to make manual adjustments between clips since I don't know what I'm going to film next. My next option would be to use AELock-toggle. This way I can fix the exposure with a single push of a button, either for the duration of a clip or keep it locked for several clips until I change position. As far as I can see, this should be a decent compromise between convenient and results, but I would like to hear any tips you might have on how you ensure consistency during run-gun-shooting.

 

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No easy answer to this really. In the pressurised, high speed run & gun situation I use the histogram or waveform, and zebras, and with experience you should get better at getting exposure relatively consistent. 

I also shoot with everything on manual, usually setting my desired aperture and shutter speed and then constantly riding a vari ND to keep exposure under control.

Shooting log also helps as you can adjust a lot of exposure issues in post and rescue many shots.

Largely though it's just experience and getting used to what your camera works best with, and knowing your controls so you can do it all fast and intuitively.

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On most video camera systems your exposure options are quite limited anyway.  Presuming you want to shoot 180 degree shutter, that's your shutter speed locked off.  ISO is something you will only want to use up to a certain limit on most systems, so not much leeway there.  Aperture (can you believe I've started typing Apurture (the lighting company) as a habit now - they'll be pleased!) should as much as possible be a creative rather than purely exposure choice.  So, yeah, Vari ND is often the most flexible option, albeat one that comes with  it's own issues in terms of picture quality.

Exposure needs to be done very quickly (which simply means - practice, practice, practice) on a shot-by-shot basis.  With video you are mainly juggling three balls - lighting, aperture, and ND.  ISO / gain is there for emergencies! 

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I'd echo the other guys and say full Manual. It seems like more work at first but in the long run it becomes less work for you. Histograms and zebras will help you know exactly where you are with your EV so yes learning those is super helpful. If your camera has any programmable Custom settings I say use those too. Thats my first step on any shoot is to get my exposure for a location locked onto C1. Then any alternate environment that demands significant exposure change goes on C2. For example if I was filming in a restaurant the dining room and kitchen are very different in terms of lighting and exposure, so I will set my kitchen exposure to C1 and dining room to C2. You can then move very quickly between the two. 

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Shoot manual. Might seem like a big effort at first, but it pays off big time in the long run as it is the only way to go. 

Use zebras/histogram and even better... waveforms (if you have a GH5, or a GH5S! ha), learn them, and use it. 

Might use a variable ND too if you feel you need it. 

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Along with what others have said, don't do micro-adjustments while shooting. Get it as close to great as you can and leave it. There's nothing worse when editing  than a camera operator who's fiddling with their exposure mid scene. Any minor changes can be done in post.

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Thanks for the tips. I am sure practice is what I need the most, but it's good to know to focus on. When using full manual I sometimes forget that I have put the ISO to 6400 or that the white balance is set to a different setting, but I am sure the fastest way to stop doing these mistake is to keep on doing them until I learn.

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On 08/01/2018 at 11:48 AM, UncleBobsPhotography said:

This is probably a very basic concept, but I would like to get some tips on how to get the most consistent exposure during documentary filmmaking with limited preparation time.

With most settings on automatic, the camera might change the exposure dramatically if a dark or light subject enters the frame, which is difficult to make up for in post. The obvious solution would be to shoot with everything on manual, but I don't really have time to make manual adjustments between clips since I don't know what I'm going to film next. My next option would be to use AELock-toggle. This way I can fix the exposure with a single push of a button, either for the duration of a clip or keep it locked for several clips until I change position. As far as I can see, this should be a decent compromise between convenient and results, but I would like to hear any tips you might have on how you ensure consistency during run-gun-shooting.

 

Full manual and plenty of interesting B-roll that are subject matter appropriate. 

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If it helps I think this is a good mental checklist -

1) Shutter speed - (180 degrees, so no need to worry about that).

2) ISO - (Native ISO, or as low as possible, so no need to worry about that for now)

3) Now select aperture to match your intention for the shot.  This is a really key thing, because depth-of-field is a really powerful tool in your storytelling arsenal.  In my opinion - use shallow depth of field sparingly - when you really want to heighten the sense of isolation of the subject. Also, remember that contrast within a story is important - so sometimes deep DoF, sometimes shallow, sometimes inbetween.  Think about the story relationship between the subject and the surroundings!

Back to exposure -

So you've selected your shutter speed, provisional ISO, and aperture....

4) Underexposed?  Increase the ISO, or lighting if possible.  Your camera will have a maximum usable ISO that you will have to discover for yourself in terms of acceptable noise.

5) Overexposed?  Add ND, or reduce lighting if possible.

That might seem like a lot to think about, but honestly, I do all of the above in a matter of seconds before I hit record.  It just becomes instinctive.

Some curve balls -

There's a tiny bit of leeway around the 180 degree rule. You can adjust Shutter Speed a little bit here and there and get away with it if you need to.  Best to stick to 180 degrees most of the time though.

Another exception is if you're doing a shot with literally no movement, like a product shot or a cut-away.  Then the 180 degree rule goes out of the window and you can use even very high shutter speeds with no problems.

Having said that you should make your aperture the creative decision and then base your other settings on that, sometimes you have to compromise.  Especially, you will sometimes not have enough light available for the aperture you desire, and have to shoot more open than you would ideally like, at least that is my experience.

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