Video Shizzle

The 5d mark 2 came out and ….

….everyone went a bit nuts. It shot video, but when it first came out it didn’t do it very well, wrong frame rates, no control over anything. But large sensor HD video in a camera you already own, who wouldn’t be happy. Canon released a firmware to fix a number of the problems, at the time the main one being no manual control over exposure.

The reason everyone went nuts was simply the ‘look’ of the video, a very difficult thing to define. One aspect of the look is the depth of field in dslr video it is very narrow, something we do in TV with a Pro35 adaptor. (Or by using a motion camera specifically designed to shoot that way).

So why use a mahoosive camera with a heavy adapter an crazy expensive prime lenses when you can shoot with a £500 camera? Several reasons.

It’s got all the right buttons in the right places.

Timecode, really important when you generate a lot of footage.

Size, the size and weight of the camera makes it very stable. My pet hate with DSLR footage is the tiny frame jitter that occurs if you don’t stabilise them properly.

Sound, yeah you can record sound into a DSLR, you can also poke your eye out with a spoon, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

Proper eyepiece viewfinder, A DSLR screen is just not a good replacement, I like monochrome screens to focus on with peaking controls.

Focus, lenses built for video cameras are easier to focus due to the fact that stills lenses make significant changes to the focus with minimum input, meaning you can spank the focus way off with the tiniest movement

There are more issues such as the lack of optical filtering inside DSLRs, the recording format and so on.

But all of that said it is a tool for a job, applied to the right job they are fantastic. But you do have to add a lot of crap to make them work like a video camera.

Follow focus, silly viewfinder thing, shoulder rig and many more things that can be added, it is an accessory nerds wet dream!

Anyway, I got my 5d to take stills with, when I got it the fact that it shot video was secondary. I tried it out on a variety of random stuff around the garden. The first proper test I did was using a borrowed 7d with Ziess prime lenses, which give a very nice image, but are a bit pricey!


I wanted to try out the ‘motion portrait’ idea, no narrative, no set-up or concept, just someone moving instead of static for a head-shot portrait. So I organised a shoot with Ivana, the set-up for the shot is really simple, a living room with a massive bay window and net curtains provided completely even soft light. The camera was put on a shoulder rig and set to record 50 fps.

There are two reasons to do this, normal video runs at 25fps, shooting at 50 and playing back at 50 gives super smooth video playback, or you can conform the 50 frames to play back at 25fps, which means half speed slow motion….and EVERYBODY loves slow motion….the downside is that you have to record at a smaller frame size. The full size HD image is 1920 x 1080 but at 50fps you get 1280 x 720.

The result is exactly as described, it is a ‘motion portrait’ just two differently framed headshots posing and moving. I would probably make it shorter to get the point across quicker.


After I had completed that one I set up a shoot with Colleen to do a more structured video shoot, still motion portraits, still no narrative but a greater variety of shots and movement. I used Barone’s studio in Wolverhampton as I know there is a really good natural light corner. I also took along a couple of Kino Flo lights as they are daylight balanced and really soft and flattering which suits the nature of DSLR video and also balances out nicely with the natural light.

I also got in Becky Hunting to do the make up, she was using her airbrush which is the technique of choice for film and TV makeup artists now as the higher detail image picks up more flaws…

The first sequence was shot against the light with two Kino lights as fill, so the result is backlit morning sunshine style with detail filled in to reduce the contrast.

The only direction given was ‘it’s morning, you are waking up’ Once the first shot had been done I repeated the action across a variety of close ups and then allowed that to develop into the second sequence.

We shot another similar sequence in the natural light corner, this one was more of a ‘models motion portrait’ showing how they move, allowing you to figure out how you might shoot stills. This one is presented with a mix of slow motion and normal speed video. It does feature some of my pet hate camera jitter, most of the video was shot on a tripod and I didn’t have a shoulder rig handy so I had to go hand held…….

I shot another video with Colleen but didn’t do anything with it for ages. It was purely a test but the idea was to use the video frame upright, to match the portrait/landscape idea with photography. So a whole bunch of outfits, one setup, I said ‘go’ and sat back 🙂


I had set up my second stills shoot with Raphaella at Hallam Mill, an amazing natural light location. The intention was to shoot some dance styled images. We got chatting about the other videos I had shot, when Raph works she is quite often dancing anyway so I suggested capturing a quick bit of video. No music, no rehearsal, I just said can you dance for about 3 minutes. Off she went and my jaw hit the floor. A complete coherant dance without any warning! So I shot a couple more takes of the dance and quickly thought up a few more shots to provide an opening to the sequence.

I put up a quick edit of the video and it proved rather popular 🙂 In the original I had used a piece of temp music and left it on the original upload, but that is not entirely legitimate. For other videos I had been using Creative Commons music which is a great idea and allows you to share content with a variety of licences that allow sharing or derivative works to be made, so I replaced the original music. I also created two alternative versions, on which is a single take of Raphaellas Dance and another which is an alternative music of the video with a track from  another great service where you can licence certain moby track in non profit work.


I had shot Monika before so I knew how she worked and I wanted to shoot similar videos to the previous ones. I own a lensbaby which is a great fun thing to use for stills, manual only, the aperture has to be swapped by hand and there is a crazy out of focus area around the edge of the image. Why not try it on video……

The set up was very simple, a bright natural light corner of the studio had two poly boards and two kinos set up so the light was almost completely wrapping around. It was overexposed to drop out detail and then shot, some shots from a tripod, some stood up high. Maintaining any sort of focus on the lensbaby is a pig, but it is not about getting it all sharp all of the time with that lens.

Another vid with Monika was a very simple setup, the lighting was almost the same as above (this one was actually shot first) with natural light, reflectors and kinos. The exposure was set correctly this time, although the sun did come out half way through a take, but I can’t control the sun……..yet.

Then the final video of the day was a kind of fake apartment set, trying to change the look and feel of the same space. I shot this one in monochrome, which is much more relaxing as you can actually tell when shots are focussed on the DSLR screen. I shot it all in full HD too

Raphaella Again

This one was a bit different, didn’t want to shoot a straight forward dance video again, I wanted a bit more structure again. I had shot at a fantastic location in Lincoln, a massive house with awesome natural light, great backdrops and features, so I booked back into there. We talked more about the sequence of events and backstory, and then Raphaella interpreted that into a kind of dance movement thing. I had a set number of shots and ideas I wanted to get and then added a bunch as we were going through the sequence. The whole thing was shot in sequence to try and get as close to continuity as possible. Which, I will be honest, is not something I really concentrate on enough when I am shooting these videos…

Again all shot in monochrome, it’s not just the focus issues that I do this for, I actually planned it for the look and the location, knowing how the light would be coming through the windows. There is a lot more mobile camera work, with a lot of this one shot on the shoulder rig, making it a bit more dynamic.


After shooting that one I didn’t do much video, had a load planned but they fell through for one reason or another, so early on this year I thought I needed to do another, I got in touch with Katy, another dancer, who I had spoken to a long while back about shooting some video. I had an idea, I knew the right location so we got it organised and I started planning. About a week before the shoot I had another idea that I thought I would test quickly. That ended up becoming the main focus of the shoot.

I wanted to use a projector as a light source, I had done it before on other shoots but I wanted to have the projector image moving and reacting to the music. This was also the first video where I played back the final music that was going to be used during the performance. I set up a small video sequence with lots of glitchy noise and randomness to the music piece, the idea was to attach my laptop to the projector and play the footage back onto the wall with Katy infront.

I love the end result, as usual plenty of things I would do differently but I still really like it, each time Katy performed the track was played from start to finish with me either taking static shots or following the action, a bunch of close ups were shot without the dancing but just Katy with the projected light. Then another idea sprung up as I was taking a shot. I got out the 550d and shot a slow motion sequence, stuck that into the laptop and projected it back onto the wall so Katy was dancing with slomo self. I didn’t cut to much of that into the final piece but there are a couple of shots in there.

For the edit there were too many moment I wanted to cut in, but I kept everything fairly simple. It is not a continuity edit as I think the jump cuts work well for the piece. Once the main dance was done I added a couple of shots to form an intro and outro and stuck some titles on. I also like the slightly blurry titles I did, simple but effective.

I should probably try and include some more useful information, feel free to ask any questions if you have them.  kthxbai  🙂


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