Key shot types for digital film
Discover how professional cinematographers add drama and interest to their digital film projects
Moving from stills photography into the world of digital film can be a challenge, but in our series pro photographer James Jebson and pro cinematographer Daniel Peters are on hand to offer their expert advice and knowledge.
In issue 169 of Digital Photographer magazine, the latest instalment of our new digital film series, in association with Wex, takes a look at the importance of working with movement to take your digital film work to the next level. Here, Jebson and Peters discuss the key shooting techniques that they rely on.
This is typically achieved with what’s known as a slider, enabling you to move the camera’s position smoothly. “While its a handy tool in your arsenal, be careful not to over use this one,” explains Peters. “A good way I like to use slider shots is to reveal an object or to introduce a new environment, [such as] a room that hasn’t been viewed yet.”
Jebson takes a similar approach when it comes to using sliders in his digital film projects. “I often use these for a reveal shot and it can be a really effective tool, however I have seen a lot of examples of commercial films where this style of movement has been over-used and as such can easily spoil film. With all movement [based footage], it’s not just how you move but when and how often.”
Your natural inclination may be to slide towards the subject you are trying to reveal, but Jebson favours a different approach. “Pulling back allows a great reveal, whether this be the entrance to a building, a subject’s surroundings, etc…” he explains.
Professionals such as Jebson and Peters achieve fluid movement using a gimbal stabilisers and cameras like the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K (see below). “For me, the big shift to improving my digital film was the use of a gimbal stabiliser – in particular the DJI Ronin range,” says Jebson. “It really allowed me to go that extra mile when capturing creative, fluid movement and in turn the results definitely took on another level of quality.”
“Gimbal work is amazing and great to use,” says Peters. “It’s obviously a great tool to follow a subject around…making you think the camera is floating. But it’s also a great tool to follow a subject around and then whip around them to view a building or grand view that you didn’t know was there.”
“Moving the camera in circles around a subject is a skill in itself,” says Jebson. “However, [it] can create incredible depth to the surroundings as well as really grabbing an audience’s attention when considering a subject’s almost panoramic surroundings.”
This is a technique that everyone is probably already familiar with long before they attempt it, having seen it used so many times.
Indeed, Peters acknowledges its ubiquity. “Again, this is an easy one to over use, especially with so many affordable cameras now offering the higher frames needed for slow motion, whether you’re filming sports, or want to create a nice effect – people walking, jogging, kids playing etc. A lot of music videos also use slow-motion tricks to have the singer appear [as though] he is singing in slow motion, yet he is still in time with the song. This is when mathematics comes into play. To get this look, you need to speed up the song so, when slowed back down, the singer will be singing in time with a slow-motion effect.”
Focus effects and creative angles
Digital film is, in many ways, just like stills photography. How you compose and focus is a big part of how impact is created. “I’m quite a fan of low angle shots to get a different perspective,” says Peters. “I also love ‘Dutch angles’ with movement involved – it’s sometimes great to create weird unique shots to your piece, but just know when and what piece will suit these shots.”
Jebson is a fan of the pull focus effect. “[It’s] a very delicate process that can really be extremely effective. Obviously, a shallow depth of field is essential for this and the [wider] the aperture, the more effective the final result becomes.”
Don’t assume that you have to be fancy with every single bit of footage you shoot. Sometimes, ‘locking down’ the camera can work well, too. “A tripod can often be forgotten about, as we always want to throw the camera on a gimbal, slider or use the camera handheld,” says Peters. “Tripods are very important – don’t be scared to do some nice locked-off shots, as it can [sometimes] be more powerful than moving the camera.”