Shoot Video with a DSLR

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How to Shoot Video with a DSLR

A DSLR is not a video camera. I hope I got your attention because this subject is huge. Apart from the total difference in shape, feel, size, capabilities, strengths and weaknesses, there is another big difference. "What you need to be thinking".

An area of concern for many stills guys, who I know are wanting to start shooting video with their DSLR's, is the different skill-set and thought process that goes into shooting video.

The way I try to explain it, is, with still photos you are trying to tell your story with one shot. Even though you may take many shots, the final shot has to tell the whole story. The skill is not just with the camera, it is with your mind, and learning how to tell your story with one shot.

On the other hand, when you are shooting a video it is about trying to take a series of shots to tell your story. A sequence of well thought out, well framed shots of various sizes, so that they can be edited together to tell your story. Telling your story with lots of shots.You also need the various shots to cover the carriage of time in your story.

Why you Don't Know What to Shoot with your DSLR

As I see it there are three main groups of people buying DSLR's to shoot video.

  1. Stills shooters who want to be able to shoot video.
  2. Video Camera shooters who are extremely impressed with some of the results they have seen come from DSLR's.
  3. Professional shooters from either a film or video background.

Each of these groups has totally different skills and needs, and I will try to cover them.

Still Camera Operators.

Generally you will have developed your eye when it comes to composition and you will feel comfortable with the feel of the camera in your hands. You should have no problem with learning the controls and functions. Depending on your experience you will also have some understanding of depth of field and how that can be controlled and what will effect it. If you don't understand these things then work on learning them.

However the bigger problem for you could be that you may have no idea of how to break your story up into the shots needed. This will result in a lack of confidence when starting to shoot your story. Try to think about a sequence of shots of various sizes that can be edited together. Shots to think about are,wide shot, long shot, mid shot, closeups, cutaways and point of views, high shots, low shots, etc., etc.

With a good still photo you will be able to look at it and have a good idea of how it was shot, and then go out and shoot something similar.

However with a good film, or documentary, or short film, or video you get caught up in the story and miss most of the shots. That is the whole idea, the camerawork should never distract you out of the story. The shooting, editing, directing, action, and music should all work together to make the story flow so well, that you are never aware of all the shots that have gone into it. That is the reason why you don't know what shots to take. This is what you need to be thinking about.

When you are watching any program try to force your self to become aware of all the shots and how they are fitting together.

If you want to speed up your learning process, learn to edit, and start to try to cut your footage together. You will soon see where you are not getting the shots you need to tell your story. Try to take every opportunity to shoot a story. The sequences of shots needed, no matter how small the story. Then edit it up and see how it works.

Video Camera Operators

Your thought process for shooting video should be more developed and your understanding of breaking your story into the different shots needed. You will be used to the action moving in your frame while you are shooting.

For you though, the DSLR can be a big jump. These cameras will feel totally different in your hands. The controls will be different and much will need to be learned. If you have been using your video camera on Auto, you will need to practice shooting with everything in the Manual setting. When you are not in Auto Mode you need to take control of everything you are doing with the camera. Many of the things you should have done to improve your footage with a video camera.

Also, shallow depth of field means just that, if your subject moves around too much they may go out of focus. You need to practice and improve your skills and think about well composed, well framed shots.

Many things will have to be learned but the results can be beautiful, and if you do learn and practice, the rewards are great.

The DSLR may just force you to be a better shooter.

Professional Camera Operators

You are the problem, you have shot so many gorgeous stories using these cameras, you are partly responsible for this monster. You have mixed your experience at visual storytelling, your practiced eye for beautiful composition, your lack of fear of learning to use a new camera, and shown the world what these little beauties can do.

People like Philip Bloom and Nino Leitner have been part of a revolution in visual storytelling that has spread around the world.

I should also mention the legions of talented, amateur, but still great storytellers, who have also embraced these wonders and moved the world of storytelling into a new arena.

Thank you to everyone who has carried this wave forward. It won't matter if your next camera is a DSLR or a Video camera it will be a much improved camera due to this wave of public opinion, and we will all benefit.

There is a lot of helpful information in some of my other blog posts listed below, and check out the Online Video Camera Course.

Become a Free Site Member so I can let you know when more information is available.

Please leave me a Comment or ask a question so we can start a discussion.

Tips to use your Camera 4 Storytelling

How to Shoot Great Looking Video

Why You Don't Know what Shots to Take

The Four Biggest Mistakes of New Video Shooters

So You Want to be a Paid Videographer

How to Stop Panning and Zooming with Your Video Camera

Wow! Check out These Camera Angles

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  1. John

    HDSLR isn’t just “shallow depth of field”, it’s “controlled depth of field”. With the right focal length, aperture, distance to subject(s) and appropriate amount of light (hyperfocal distance n’ all that), you can get that deep depth of field, just as you can in a still. Takes practice though. 🙂

    With small sensor digital video cameras, you just don’t have that option of having a shallow depth of field if it’s what your shot requires (short of using 35mm adapters and the like).

  2. Geoff Stock

    Absolutely right John, many people who have been video shooters have been blown away by DSLR footage because they have never had anything like this ability to control depth of field. The broadcast cameras that I use have an ND filter wheel that gives us some control, but for most video cameras it was never possible without something like a depth of field adaptor. Now it is possible, but the skills need to be learned and practiced. The brain needs to be in gear. When “controlling your depth of field” it is important to make sure that the things that should be in focus are actually in focus. Simple things, but a very important part of your thought process.

  3. Geoff Stock

    Hi Marcus,
    Been having a look at cameras for you and I think that the JVC seems like a good option The price is very competitive and the other cameras that I have seen that do a similar job are 50-100% dearer. The couple of things to keep in mind are the still photos from the camera aren’t getting much positive comment, and the “audio in” connection is only a mini jack and I think it only has one input. This is fairly normal for a camera of this price range and you would need to spend closer to $2000 to get a camera with 2 balanced audio inputs. The biggest thing though Marcus is, just get out and start shooting lots of stuff and get into editing together. A lot of people spend thousands of dollars on gear and then shoot bugger all with it so the money is completely wasted. If you buy this camera, get in and learn as much as you can with it and then down the track you will probably get a better camera and know better how to use it. All the best, Geoff

  4. Tom

    What is your opinion on the following;
    Several years ago I had a pro video business. I haven’t recorded anything commercial in about 10 years but I am about to launch a new division in my internet business, Video Marketing.
    I am thinking about buying a regular video camera(JVC GY-HM150) but I am also drawn towards a DSLR camera because more and more people are buying them. I know that sound can be an issue with these but can be solved with external sound recorders. So here are the things I am confused about.

    * Which to buy DSLR or GY-HM150?
    * Can I get the same depth of field results with GY-HM150 as I would with a DSLR?
    * Do you think I should be looking at cameras with the options of changing lenses like the Sony nex range?
    * Have not seen quality from GY-HM150 but I do know that Sony produces excellent quality
    * From the customers perspective, do you think if asked to do a video shoot, it is best to turn up with a video camera rather than a DSLR?
    * For editing, do you recommend a Mac or PC?

  5. Geoff Stock

    Hi Tom, wow,you really open up a minefield with most of your questions. As you can see from this post the differences between shooting with a DSLR or Video camera are substantial and I think if you are used to a video camera it would be a lot easier to stay in that direction. From what I have read the JVC you are looking at certainly looks like a good camera for the price. Keep in mind that if you decide to go with a DSLR you are going to have to buy extra lenses and audio gear that you wouldn’t to with a video camera. You won’t get that shallow depth of field look that can be achieved with a DSLR, but you will also have to buy more expensive lenses for the DSLR that can open up to at least f2.8 and even f1.4. As far as which camera a client would expect to see I think nowadays either is ok but you need to be competent and comfortable with whatever you use, so make sure you get in and really learn how to get the most from your gear. Edit software is a personal choice and some will only work with one computer system or the other. There are a number of good ones but you need to learn how to use them so see if you can access somewhere to get some training and then see if you like the program that you are learning to use. I know some of my students are liking using Premier Pro, but I use Avid, and like it, as that is what I have used coming from Television and top end Video Production. I think most of the edit programs do a good job these days, even cheapies like Sony Vegas, you just have to learn how to use them.
    Regards, Geoff Stock

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