“In movies you don’t try and photograph the reality, you try and photograph a photograph of the reality” - Stanley Kubrick

The most popular directors currently include Martin Scorcese, Steven Spielberg, and Quentin Tarantino. They’ve proven themselves again and again with their film.

So what’s the secret to good films?

Firstly, you have to know how to work a digital camera and there’s a lot to think about.

Storyboard or Plan your Scenes

You can’t always just make it up as you go along. While you don’t need to write a script for everything that you’re going to film, getting your ideas onto paper is a good idea before you start filming.

Why should you storyboard?
Storyboarding or planning your scenes is a good idea to ensure you get the footage you need. (Source: StartupStockPhotos)

You don’t film with a camera in the same way you would with a camcorder. Cameras work better with static shots, for one. Furthermore, if you want to get different angles with a different lens, you’ll need to get these changes done effectively.

For example, a zoom lens won't provide the same look as a wide-angle lens or telephoto lens. The fact that SLR cameras have interchangeable lenses is an advantage you should try to get the most out of.

Shoot each scene with a clear goal in mind then check them and change lenses once you’ve got what you need.

Check out the best cameras for shooting video.

Choose the Lenses that You’re Going to Film with

The quality of the photos or footage you get will depend on the lens. The lens will define the scope and zoom of your scene. It’s important to think about this before you start filming or buying cameras and there are plenty of different lenses to think about.

That said, you can’t change the lens on every camera but a digital SLR camera (single-lens reflex) will usually have interchangeable lenses.

If you can change lenses, think about one with a good aperture that allows you to zoom a bit. This will allow you to play around with several cinematographic approaches.

Your choice of lens will depend on the camera you’ve chosen. Whether it’s a digital SLR, hybrid, bridge, or compact camera, it needs to be the right one for the job.

Do you need a viewfinder? A full-frame sensor? A folding screen? Touchscreen? Changeable lenses?

An entry-level camera might be all an aspiring filmmaker needs. Choosing DSLRs or hybrid cameras are great for taking high-quality photos and getting great footage and are compatible with a large range of lenses.

Plan Shots

A camera can’t film indefinitely. Depending on the model, you may only be able to film continuously for between 5 minutes and 30 minutes. In some cases, you can increase the continuous recording time by altering the settings.

You need to organise the filming of your shots so that the recording doesn’t cut out part-way through. Organise your shots as this will help you when it comes to editing, too.

Don’t forget to take several SD cards with you. It’s quite common for filmmakers starting out with a camera to forget just how much space videos and photographs can take up on memory cards. Digital cameras aren’t designed to shoot for long time periods. You don’t want to have to stop filming because you’re out of space. Memory cards are always a good investment since having extras will give you peace of mind.

Learn How to Stabilise Your Camera

Shakiness can be hard to deal with in post-production. If you’ve already tried filming something with your camera, you might have noticed how much the camera shakes even when you thought you were holding it really steady.

How do you stabilise your camera?
The best way to stabilise your camera is by using a tripod. (Source: PhotoMIX-Company)

Some cameras have a built-in stabiliser. This can deal with a slight amount of shaking from your hands. Though it might not always be enough. The best thing is to invest in a good tripod to film static shots and you won’t have to worry about stabilisation.

For compact cameras, you can get Steadicam, a camera stabiliser that allows you to film steadily while moving. These tools are often used with cameras like GoPros but also work with cameras.

Using the Right Video Settings

It’s not easy to know what all the different settings and modes do when you first get started with a new camera. In some cases, there are as many settings in the video mode as there are in the photo modes.

Once you’ve activated the video mode, you’ll have a few settings you’ll need to adjust. First will be whether you want to film in 4K, HD, or lower quality. You’ll need to choose the size and ratio of the footage captured.

You’ll also want to set the framerate. Generally, you’ll choose either 24 or 25 frames per second but some cameras will also shoot 50 or 60 frames per second in a slow-motion mode.

Finally, you’ll need to alter the settings that you usually use for photos (white balance, brightness, contrast, etc.).

Get the Lighting Right

Without light, you can’t take photos or film. After all, a camera has to capture light to transform into photos and footage.
As you’ll have understood, getting the lighting right is the best way to get good photos and film.

How can you film at night?
Filming at night takes skill and patience. (Source: Anestiev)

Avoid backlighting and try to film while facing away from the sun. Similarly, don’t film in places that are too dark. Some devices can film in really low light (thanks to full-frame sensors and ISO) but this can still be complicated, especially for smaller sensors. You need to get the lighting right.

Opt for Static Shots

As we said previously, cameras are better suited to static shots and tend to struggle with travelling shots, which dedicated film cameras deal better with.

Why is this?

The lack of autofocus designed solely with video in mind. The autofocus is generally for a static shot, like when taking photographs. When the device is moving, it’ll struggle to find what to focus on so you’ll need to adjust this manually. This can be really tricky while you’re also filming.

The best thing is to plan your footage with static shots as it’s easier to control the focus. You can also get better results using the depth of field.

Find out which accessories you can get for your camera.

Consider the Audio

It’s hard to find a camera that comes with great built-in audio. To film professionally, it’s recommended that you invest in an external microphone. You can plug in an external microphone to most high-end cameras. For some compact cameras, you might need to record all audio separately.

Just like a clapperboard, you can clap your hands on camera to sync up the sound. Your typical DSLR camera isn't designed with high-quality audio in mind.

Do Several Takes of the Same Scene

Filming with a camera isn’t the easiest thing to get started with since you have to alter the settings, manage the lighting, and do a whole plethora of different tasks at once. Recording the same scene several times is a good idea as you’ll have several to choose from.

This doesn’t mean that you have to do 50 takes of each scene. Two or three times should be good enough to avoid any unwanted surprises when it comes to editing.

Of course, if you’re filming a documentary or a holiday video, several takes mightn’t be possible. You don’t want to ruin the spontaneity. In a scripted video, however, it’s a good idea to do several takes.

Learn more about the different types of camera.

Consider Different Angles

Getting different angles and points of view is a good idea when shooting with a camera and a dedicated film camera. In fact, different angles can bring something new to a scene. This is as important as it is with photography as it can be tricky doing travelling shots. Different angles can add dynamism to a scene.

How can you shoot better footage?
Shooting from different angles can stop your footage from becoming stale. (Source: Cock-Robin)

It’s a good way to keep your viewer’s attention. Of course, there needs to be cohesion between the scenes. The viewer needs to know what’s going on as they watch each scene. Also, don’t move objects between each scene.

While photographers aren't exactly the same as videographers, a knowledge of DSLR cameras, shutter speed, aperture, sensor size, focal length, image quality, and photography, in general, will help you shoot better video.

Now you should be able to become a better filmmaker.

If you'd like to learn more about photography and film, there are plenty of private tutors on Superprof who can help you. There are different types of tutorials for different budgets and learning styles so it's up to you which one you go for.

Need a Photography teacher?

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Jess