Video Basics for Photographers

Let’s face it, video is coming on strong and is available in almost all new cameras. The “to shoot video” or “not to shoot video” has created almost as much dissension between photographers as RAW vs JPEG or Canon vs Nikon. Some photographers are embracing video as a way to enhance their businesses while others are happy to specialize in still photography and not dilute their skills. The reality is that there really is a distinctly different skill set to shoot and edit video. If you are thinking about getting started with video, there are a few things you should know so I have put together this primer to give you a good starting point.

Choosing a Camera

Sony NEX 7

If you already have a camera that shoots video, than you may not be interested in purchasing something else. If you are shopping around for a camera than  a few things you should consider include:

  • Auto-focus during video
    Many DSLR’s that shoot video can’t auto-focus while they are shooting video, this makes getting a shot in focus quite difficult. For the casual video shooter, this may be more trouble than its worth so look for a camera that can focus when shooting video. I really like the Sony NEX 5N because while I am shooting video I can touch on the LCD viewfinder to change focus points.
  • Microphone Jack
    The built-in microphones are usually not positioned well nor do they have any windscreen so audio quality can really suffer. For really good audio you will want a shotgun mic or lavalier mics but you will need a way to plug them into the camera.
  • AVCHD format video
    This is one of the more controversial topics like RAW vs JPEG as some people will say that AVCHD is simply a wrapper for MP4 but that is a gross oversimplification. There are definitely pros and cons to AVCHD. I find AVCHD much more edit-friendly with Adobe Premiere Pro. On the flip side, editing AVCHD with iMovie will need importing and converting which is a time-consuming process.

717AH Fluid Head $74.99

Choosing a Tripod

Even if you can handhold a DSLR at 1/10th of a second while hanging onto the landing skid of a helicopter flying 180mph, the odds of you being able to handhold a camera for even a few seconds without noticeable camera movement are just about zero. If you are going to do any amount of video, you will need a tripod, and the sturdier the better. As for the head, this is where a good fluid head comes in. A cheap fluid head will be stiff or jerky when moving which doesn’t help your situation at all. You need butter smooth movement if you want the cleanest looking video.

Camera Settings

One of the techniques you need to understand is what to set your camera settings to. This is probably the least understood concept for new videographers. The rule that you use to set the shutter speed for the best looking video is called the 180 degree rule. Essentially you take the frame rate and double that for the shutter speed. if you are shooting 24fps the closest doubled shutter speed will be 1/50th of a second. For 60fps video, set the shutter speed to 1/120th of a second. Since you want to keep the shutter speed fixed, the only options you have to control your exposure are Aperture and ISO. Even though it is tempting to fudge a little with shutter to dial in the exposure, its good practice not to. Check out our previous article on Why Shutter Speed Matters with Video.

Clip Length

Try a little experiment here. If you have a stopwatch or a stopwatch app on your smartphone, time the length of shots during commercials, TV shows, and movies. You will probably be shocked at how short the average length of any clip is. For movies, the average is typically around four seconds while commercials often run about two second clips. As a new director you may find yourself trying to shoot much longer shots but you need to keep in mind that viewers have short attention spans and need constant stimulation with new scenes and angles to keep from getting bored.

Sucky Audio

Audio Quality

Regardless of how amazing your video footage is, if your audio is not top-notch you might as well have not shot the video in the first place. Even with microphone jacks, recording audio into a camera may be poor quality, or you may not even be able to do it with some cameras. This is where second audio device recording comes in. I will often us the built-in mic to record audio, but the primary audio recording is done with high quality microphones into a Zoom H4. Using the audio recorded by the camera as a reference, I can easily sync the much better audio from the second device for fantastic sound. We have two previous articles you may want to check out: Why DSLR Audio Recording Sucks and JuicedLink DS214 Amp w/AGC Disable Review.


Certainly trying to bring someone completely up to speed with video is well beyond the scope of a single article, I hope this has given you a good starting point to begin your journey into the world of video. Please leave your own comments, tips, tricks, and comments in the comment section below.


Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

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