I emailed the following tips to an aspiring video content creator, but since then, I know a lot of others may have the same questions about how I shoot. And as a forewarning, I use the word "properly" in a subjective tone. The title also says "DSLR", but it also includes mirrorless cameras – or any camera that allows for manually changing your settings.
The following is how I choose to shoot video for the bulk of my work, which leans toward the "cinematic" look. [Also a subjective term]. Assuming you want to enter the video world – whether that be for vlogging, client work, or purely for the art – the following are a beginner's quick changes you can make today.
I'm also assuming you want to make it look "epic". And epic is indeed a subjective word, so let's define "epic" as cinematic – to make it look like a Hollywood film. Or as close to a film as we can get with a production team of one. So let me try to explain in the most layman terms.
Remember: much like most things in life, one person's perspective on "epic" can be something completely different to someone else. So I urge you to try these changes today and see what you like.
1. Shoot in 24p.
Otherwise known as 24 frames per second (fps). This is the framerate (most) movies are shot in and make everything look that much more cinematic and real. Typical cameras/phones on auto mode record in 30 frames per second. This makes it look like a home movie. We don't want a goofy home movie. We want cinematic and serious. You can find this in your settings somewhere.
But you probably already knew that. Taking this a step forward, you're going to want a SHUTTERSPEED at least double the framerate: 24 frames per second = 1/48th shutter speed.
[FYI: Shutterspeed is the length of time that a frame captures a still image. Similar to how we want a film to have 24 frames per second, we want each of those frames to take a snapshot for 1/48th of a second].
So if you were shooting in 30p, the typical framerate for phones or cameras set in automatic mode, you'd want to use a 1/60th shutter. This is called the 180 shutter rule for shutter speed. The denominator is around double the framerate. Most cameras don't have a 1/48th shutter speed, but all of them have 1/50th. That's close enough, so use that.
The reason for this is strictly arbitrary, and is due to Hollywood's excessive use of this 180 shutter rule. This has been the most standard for video to look like movies.
When not to shoot in 24p?
The most typical time, if not the only time, to shoot at a higher frame rate (i.e. - 30 or 60 frames per second) is if you plan to make it slow motion. So if you shoot in 60p, this means it records 36 more frames than in 24p, which means you can make that recorded clip last longer in your editor. You can make this happen by:
1) making sure your project timeline is set to 24frames per second, then
2) conforming the high frame rate shots to the project timeline.
Think of this as coils in a slinky, the more coils in 1 slinky (recorded frames in 1 second), the more you can elongate the whole slinky (1 second recording is elongated over multiple seconds).
Recall – And when you do shoot at a high frame rate and want to slow it down in the edit, you need AT LEAST that double shutter speed (or quicker) so it doesn't look choppy when you slow it down. 60fps = 1/120th shutter speed.
2. Record Separate audio in 48khz.
Most, if not all, cameras record their audio in 48khz. Very standard amongst shooters. The reason you need to know this is because you need to keep it consistent between all audio/video equipment. Some audio recorders are set to automatically record in 44.1khz. You don't want that. Otherwise, when you try to sync it in your video editing software, the frequency of picture and sound won't match up and will eventually become way out of sync. I screwed this up while shooting video on my MacBook webcam and separately recording audio – when I tried to match it up in my editor, the sound was a bit slower.
On the same note, you'll want a separate microphone/audio recorder to capture sound. Sound is a whole other beast to slay, so for now I'll just tell you that you'll need either a boom microphone/a wireless lavalier system/hand microphone/shotgun mic to get clearer audio of your subjects. The microphone in your camera almost always sucks.
Bottom line: Record audio separately, keep a consistent 48khz sound.
3. Keep An Open Aperture.
The aperture of a camera lens, the thing that opens and closes to let more/less light in while snapping a photo, also defines how shallow your field of focus is. The Depth of Field (DOF). How blurry your background gets. How epic/cinematic/intense you'll look as the camera's subject. This is noted as the f-stop. A typical f-stop number that means the aperture is wide open is when the aperture is set at f1.4 (colloquially pronounced Eff One-Four), and an example of an f-stop where the aperture is relatively closed is f8 (colloquially pronounced Eff Eight).
Here's a diagram to show this in effect:
[Note - this is all relative. f8 could mean the aperture is open to someone who thinks f16 is pushing it].
Bottom line: The lower the f-stop number = the wider the aperture = the SHALLOWER THE DEPTH OF FIELD and more blurry background = Epic.
4. GET AN "ND FILTER"
The previous tip said to keep the aperture open. This also means the lens is going to have a wide opening for a lot of light to come in. Obviously this means the picture's exposure will be brighter. And now you say "Oh no, how do I keep the brightness at a good spot while keeping a wide open aperture?!"
Get an ND Filter.
It's a piece of glass/plastic that you screw onto the end of your lens (where the lens cap would be) and basically acts as sunglasses. It just darkens your whole image. Allowing you to keep your aperture wide open and keep the blurry backgrounds and keep yourself or the subject the only thing in focus.
Bottom line: ND Filters let your apertures stay open without too much light getting inside.
(You wouldn't want to use this filter indoors or anywhere else it's already dark)
I do hope these quick tips and suggestions work for you. Remember that this is ALL subjective advice – play with these techniques, and see what fits your visual needs for your story.