How to shoot video on DSLR or Mirrorless camera

So, you’ve found this page because you want to master the elusive ‘video mode’ on your DSLR or Mirrorless camera. If you’re like many of the pro photographers we know, you’ve probably been asked by clients during a photo shoot if you can also do video. Or perhaps you’re looking to expand your service and make full use of your camera. Well whatever your reasons, we’re here to help!

Switch from photo to video mode

The Video Mode

It’s important to note that DSLR and Mirrorless cameras are designed for shooting stills, they just happen to shoot great video too. However there are some advantages to filming with these cameras:

  • The variety of interchangeable lenses allows you to get creative with your shots
  • It’s easy to shoot with a shallow depth-of-field to create a ‘cinematic’ look
  • Their low light capabilities make it easy to film in a range of conditions
  • They’re light and portable so you can take them anywhere and get creative with your camera angles

Whether you’re looking to film weddings, events, corporate shoots or YouTube videos, this guide will help you master the video mode on your camera. You can also download our free quick-start guide for referencing later on.

1. Set the Camera to Manual Mode

If you’re a seasoned photographer you’re probably pretty confident using the camera in Manual Mode, but if you’ve been avoiding it, it’s going to be your new best friend for video. Plus, understanding the manual settings will help you take better pictures too.

The reason for shooting in Manual Mode is that you’ll want to manually set the aperture and shutter speed (not as scary as it might sound). Taking control of these variables will stop the camera automatically adjusting one of the settings mid shoot, which could produce some unwanted effects. 

Put the camera in Manual Mode
NTSC v PAL

2. NTSC or PAL Format?

You might have heard of NTSC or PAL when buying a DVD, or maybe not. These terms refer to the number of frames per second (fps) used by a TV depending on where you are in the world.  

NTSC is the standard for the USA, Canada and Japan, amongst others, and delivers a frame rate of 30 fps.

PAL is the standard for the UK, Europe, Australia and China, amongst others, and delivers a frame rate of 25 fps.

Why does this matter? Well, depending on where you live, it’s worth setting your camera to the corresponding region. It’s not critical, and some cameras might not allow you to change this setting, but the rest of this tutorial will talk in terms of 25 fps whereas others might talk in terms of 30 fps.

3. Choosing Your Frame Rate

The frame rate is the number of images, or frames, your camera will capture per second. Depending on your region, there are generally three different frame rates for you to choose from:

PAL: 24 fps, 25 fps and 50 fps

NTSC: 24 fps, 30 fps and 60 fps

You will notice that 24 fps appears in both cases and this is because films have evolved using this frame rate. So, if you are after a more ‘cinematic’ look for your video, you should pick this setting.

25 fps or 30 fps are linked to broadcast frequencies and will give your footage natural looking motion. This is probably the best setting to start experimenting with and it’s what we use for the majority of our shoots.

50 fps or 60 fps will capture double the number of frames. You can use this setting if you want to create slow-motion footage by playing it back at 50% speed. So 1 second of video recorded at 50 fps = 2 seconds of smooth slow-motion video when played back at 25 fps.

Frame Rate & Resolution
Resolutions

4. Resolution

When taking still images, you generally don’t have to worry too much about the resolution, however the video mode on most cameras is fixed at set resolutions:

4K (3840 x 2160), full HD (1920 x 1080) or HD (1280 x 720)

4K might seem like an obvious choice to set your camera to (if you can), however the significantly larger file sizes will fill up a memory card pretty quickly! If you’ll be exporting the final video in FHD, capturing the content in 4K will allow you some flexibility in post-production to scale, rotate and crop the video. This luxury doesn’t really exist though if you’re shooting and exporting in FHD so you will have to check the image is properly framed before hitting record.

5. Shutter Speed

The shutter speed equates to how long your camera’s sensor is exposed to light. A slow shutter speed means longer exposure and therefore more motion blur. Conversely, a really fast shutter speed can freeze motion in photos as less light is hitting the sensor.

For video, we generally want some motion blur so that the video more closely mimics how we see real life. When setting your shutter speed there’s an easy rule to remember:

Shutter speed is double your frame rate

25 fps = 1/50th

Shutter Speed

50 fps = 1/100th

6. Aperture

Your camera’s aperture controls how much light can reach the sensor. A large aperture (small f-number, like f1.4) allows in a lot of light so is good for filming in low light situations while a small aperture (large f-number, like f22) lets in less light and is good for bright environments, like when you’re outdoors.

The aperture also controls your depth-of-field, or the amount of the image in focus. Shooting at f1.4, with the aperture wide open, will produce a shallow depth-of-field or blurry background. This helps to lift your subject from their background though it can be harder to keep them in focus if they’re moving.

Filming with a small aperture, like f22, will result in a high depth-of-field, so your foreground and background will all be in focus. This is great for establishing shots where you want to see all of the detail.

Aperture

You might have noticed that the challenge arises when you’re outdoors, it’s bright and you want a shallow depth-of-field, i.e. a wide open aperture. If you’re sticking to the shutter speed rule (filming at 1/50th) then a wide aperture is likely to over expose your image, even if your ISO is at the lowest. To avoid compromising on your shot, use a neutral density filter to block out some of the light.

7. ISO

The ISO relates to how sensitive your camera is to light. This means that as you increase your ISO you’ll make the image brighter, but at the cost of introducing more noise and grain to your image. 

If you’re shooting in bright daylight, stick to a low ISO such as 100, to maintain a crisp image with minimal noise and grain. If, on the other hand, you’re filming indoors or at dusk, you’ll have to increase your ISO to properly expose your image.

You’ll have to get used to balancing the aperture and ISO to get the correct exposure along with the designed depth-of-field. This is when video lights can come in handy as they allow you to lower your ISO when filming in low-light conditions.

ISO
White Balance

8. White Balance and Colour Temperature

Whether you’re filming indoors, outdoors, morning or night, the colour temperature of the light will be different. Before you hit record, you want to make sure that you’ve white balanced your shot. This will save you a lot of time and effort compared with correcting it in post production. 

Auto white balance” I hear you cry…and yes if you’re shooting under controlled lighting this can be a quick solution. However, the AWB mode is very sensitive and can change while recording due to someone walking into frame or clouds passing overhead. We recommend manually white balancing your shots or using one of the camera’s presets.

White balance presets are a great, quick solution for correcting your white balance, especially if you are using controlled lighting such as tungsten lights. These presets won’t adjust while recording and your skin tones should come out looking nice and natural.

Custom white balance is a must if you have mixed light sources, such as natural daylight combined with a fill light. You can quickly set this by holding up a sheet of white printer paper, or calibrated white balance card, under your light source and taking a photo of it. The white sheet should fill most of the image and now you can use that to set a custom white balance in the camera. Make sure you take a test picture once you’ve set this to check the colours are looking good.

9. Picture Style and Dynamic Range

You might not have given much thought to the picture style, or picture profile, on your DSLR or Mirrorless camera, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. As these cameras don’t generally shoot RAW video, a neutral picture profile can be used as a (sort of) compromise.

The neutral profile flattens out the image and increases the dynamic range, the difference between the lightest and darkest parts of your image. This is important as it allows for greater flexibility in post production. It helps you adjust exposure and the level of detail seen in the shadows and highlights. Set a neutral picture profile to something along the lines of:

Sharpness: 0;  Contrast: -4;  Saturation: -2;  Color Tone: 0

Did you know you can install custom picture profiles? We didn’t initially until we found out about Technicolor’s CineStyle Profile. Now we use this for the majority of our work as if provides a flat image that maximises the dynamic range. The CineStyle profile makes it easier to colour grade in post and to take full control of the final image.

If you are after a film look straight out of the camera, we also use VisionColor’s CineLook picture profile. This profile requires no colour grading in post and creates a great contemporary film look.

Picture Style
Camera Movement

10. Moving the Camera

You now know all about the camera settings needed to shoot great video so let’s talk about adding some movement. Next time you watch TV or a film, keep an eye on how the camera moves and the effect this has on the scene. You’ll notice that the camera is rarely still and these cinematic movements add depth to the story.

There are a number of different camera rigs available to capture different types of cinematic shots. Shoulder rigs are a great starting point as they provide an ergonomic, stable support for the camera. Think of them a bit like a handheld tripod due to the three points of contact they make with your body.

Capturing good, clear audio is really important for films so think about investing in an off-camera microphone and audio recorder. We use the Rode Video Mic Pro and Zoom H4n audio recorder, but there are loads of different options. This extra gear needs to go somewhere, which is why you might look for a camera cage. A camera cage provides extra mounting holes to attach accessories such as microphones, external monitors and video lights.

For more dynamic moving shots, a camera slider or camera dolly provides a very professional, cinematic feel. You can create a dramatic ‘reveal’ shot sliding the camera along to help build tension and drama to a scene or recreate a Hitchcock dolly zoom to create a vertigo effect.

Download the Quick-Start Guide

Don’t worry about having to remember everything, we’ve put the key points into a downloadable guide. It’s postcard size so you can print it off and keep it in your bag for future reference. Enter your email below and we’ll send it right over.

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