Improving Video Quality By Educating Artists to Think Technically
About a year ago, I completed my first film that is just now finishing up screening at film festivals. It goes without saying that making a full-length film with no budget was an enormous challenge. It was this experience that first got me thinking about bridging the gap between video and film, especially in the way the footage looks. In order to make my movie, I needed a way to get the most out of inexpensive video equipment so that the finished product appeared as much like a real movie as possible. To accomplish this, I built my own dolly and camera stabilizer and researched ways to get the most out the camera's manual settings. Since then, I've devoted a lot of thought to what makes footage look "movie quality". With the advent of low cost video equipment with interchangeable lens systems and the increase in demand for video, this has never been more relevant. But, it's not just about accessibility. It also comes down to knowledge and a little artistic talent.
I think most people have an idea what I mean when I say "movie quality". There's a quality standard that we're all used to as consumers when we pay to go see a movie in a theater. Although we may not be able to define exactly what that is, we can tell when something seems amateurish or just plain bad. There used to be a great excuse for why a low-budget video project or television commercial couldn't even begin to approach those standards: you just shrug and admit you can't afford it. Today, that excuse is dead. Because of the low cost and accessibility of equipment, high quality is no longer reserved for those who can afford to rent or buy rare equipment. But there is still a catch. You still need creative people who know both how to use the equipment and have a basic sense of how to get a great looking image.
As I've touched on in previous articles, digital SLR cameras (and video cameras based on similar principals) have brought film-like command of image quality and resolution into the hands of nearly anyone. Amazing equipment is more accessible than ever, but how can it be used to create consistent, high-quality footage? I believe this comes down to two principals that have little to do with budget:
- Understanding how to use the equipment to maximize its potential, and
- Teaching this to the right people and putting them behind the camera
The move must be made from technician to artist. I'm not convinced that all technicians can be trained to think like artists, but I think that most creative people can be educated on the technical aspects of new technologies. A person may know how to use Photoshop, but that doesn't mean they will be able to use the program to create a great image. Similarly, someone may be an expert on how to use a camera, but that does not mean they necessarily have the talent to use it to create consistently beautiful footage. I believe that teaching creative people to use and maximize video equipment is one of the biggest parts of getting great looking footage. Some of the most competitive people in the contemporary video scene are coming from other creative disciplines like photography and design. Understanding what makes a great image look great is the first step to shooting great video.
Depth of field, dynamic range, lens choice, f-stops, shutter speed, lighting, etc. This stuff sounds complicated, but it's not rocket science. Most people can learn the basics of these things pretty rapidly. It's about learning how to use the tool and what its limitations are. Teach this to creative people who already know what they want aesthetically and you're most of the way there.
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