Making Video Look Pretty
Aug. 23, 2012
Years ago, video looked like video. Just watching it, you could tell instantly it wasn’t film. Film looked crisper, richer and, well, prettier. Well, video has come a long ways in the last decade and now it’s become much harder to tell the difference between video and film. Modern video–when done well–can really look amazing, and while some may argue it will never look as great as film, it sure can come close. And boy is video cheaper! If you need evidence just look at the scores of Hollywood productions that have gone the digital video route in recent years, avoiding celluloid altogether.
Making video look great requires understanding a few basic principals. Here are a few things to keep in mind when making a video to help maximize its aesthetic potential:
- Lose the 90s camera - There are still productions being shot in standard definition on old cameras, despite the low cost of high-quality HD equipment. It’s a sin. Perhaps more sinful are the productions shot on newer HD cameras that are not taking advantages of the camera’s capabilities. Because of the higher resolution of these newer cameras, manual functions can give you even more bang for their buck than they did with older SD cameras. More on that below.
- Learn and use the camera’s manual functions - Photography basics aren’t rocket science. Perhaps you remember talk of f-stops, apertures and shutter speeds from your high school photography elective. It only takes a little practice to understand what these terms mean, and more importantly, how to make the most of these manual functions to maximize the quality of your video.
- Choose the right lens - The beauty of most modern video equipment is the ability to swap out lenses for different shots. Having a great prime lens in your arsenal like a 50mm will help immensely. For most medium and close shots, these lenses give a beautiful film-like look and great control of light and focus.
- Command focus - Don’t let focus command you. One of the key differences between pretty video and ugly video is understanding what is important in a shot and what is not. What’s important should be in focus and everything else should blur into the background. Sometimes you want everything in focus, but often you don’t. When everything is in focus when it’s not supposed to be, there are too many distractions on screen drawing the viewer away from what you want them to see.
- Color correct wisely - Color correction is overused and abused, but when done subtly and wisely, it can greatly enhance video. Avoid crushing blacks so that you lose all detail. Slightly desaturating or oversaturating video can go a long way to improving the look. And if you have After Effects or Color skills, those are great programs to getting an amazing look, but don’t go overboard. A documentary style video doesn’t need to look like a Michael Bay movie.
As new and better cameras come out each year, the disparity in quality between video and film grows smaller and smaller. While there are still technical advantages to using film for some types of productions, eventually even those issues will likely vanish as video becomes the dominant and even superior medium.
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