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Alex Buonoís DSLR Video Production Q&A
Words of Wisdom from Dallas PPA FUSION Workshop


Q: What frame rate is preferable to use for DSLR video?
A: 24fps (23.98) is the cinema industry standard. 30fps (29.97) is the standard for television, the web, and so forth. So hereís the end result: at 24fps youíll get a softer, dreamier, cinematic look in your finished product. At 30fps your video will have a reality television ďliveĒ and super sharp look to it. At SNL, Alex most often shoots at 24fps and then converts it to 30fps afterward using a Final Cut Plug-In, which usually only takes about half an hour.

Q: What about shutter speed?
A: Alexís advice is to set it and forget it! Unlike still photography, in the video world shutter speed is primarily about motion blur. His rule of thumb under most circumstances is that your shutter speed should equal twice the fps youíre shooting at. In other words, at 24fps, shutter speed should be 1/48th or 1/50th of a second. At 30fps, shutter speed should be 1/60th of a second. This may sound a bit slow, but will render really sharp results. Know that a slower shutter speed will result in a lot of motion blur, and a faster shutter speed will result in a choppy, more staccato look. You may also want to use a higher shutter speed when shooting sports. Another important concept to consider in regard to shutter speed is that you really should avoid changing it during your shoot. You want to aim for consistency throughout your cuts.

Q: What effect will ballasted light have on my video production?
A: If you find yourself in a situation where youíre shooting in ballasted light, such as artificial daylight lamps, fluorescent lights, street lights, etc. you must be aware that these lights are flickering or pulsing at 60fps. Thatís the standard hertz rate in the United States. To eliminate flicker in your video, you must be in sync with the hertz rate and shoot at 1/60th of a second or multiples of that rate such as 1/30th, 1/120th, or 1/240th.

Q: Can color balance be corrected in my video just like in my still photography?
A: Color balance works on the same theory as with still photography. But as far as correction is concerned remember that with major correction, youíll actually be working on every single frame. There are some color correction tools available in Final Cut, but itís best to get it right on the camera. Also, donít use the Auto White Balance setting on your DSLR when shooting video because it will be changing all the time and youíll end up with no consistency in your final work.

Q: What about ISO (ASA) settings?
A: Same principles apply as with still photography. Some general video photography guidelines to follow are: with the 5D, donít go above 1600 and with the 7D donít go above 1250.

Q: Can I use my cameraís auto focus setting while shooting a video?
A: No, there is no auto focus with video, only manual. Alex suggests that the very most important tool that you should have in your videographerís bag of tricks is an optical viewfinder. Alex uses the Zacuto Finder 3x, which he highly recommends, but there are other brands available, too.

Q: What is the second most important tool I should have when shooting video?
A: A microphone! Letís say your highly creative video with razor sharp focus is just about perfect, but the sound quality is so poor it ruins the whole project. What a disappointment! So donít rely on the in-camera mic because thatís really just for audio reference. Unfortunately, it picks up camera noise, hand movement, your own breathing and lots of background noise as well. My best advice is to use a wireless clip-on lavaliere microphone, and my second choice would be a shotgun microphone.

Q: Now that weíre talking about sound, what are some suggestions about location audio?
A: Alex emphasizes that itís really important to assess the background noise in the area where youíre shooting. If you hear ocean waves crashing, traffic, an air conditioner buzzing, music playing, planes flying overhead, fountain water gurgling, you need to be aware of that and work with it. For example. the idea of ocean waves in the background may sound relaxing or romantic, but in the video there will be a definite audible ďcrashĒ of each wave and that may prove to have a negative effect.

Q: How many batteries should I have on hand?
A: Alex suggests a minimum of 4 batteries because video uses them up like crazy!

Q: Which CF card should I buy for video?
A: You must use a UMDA rated card only! This is not optional. Alex prefers the have along four Lexar 16Gb 300x cards. Hereís the deal: @1080/24fps 1Gb = 3minutes and 4Gb = 12 minutes. Alex also suggests using a firewire card reader.

Q: Can I use the same tripod I use for my still photography?
A: So long as itís got a good quality fluid head and not a friction head. You also need to make it a habit to level your head and check the level several times throughout the shoot. A bubble level that lights up in low light conditions can be really handy.

Q: Iím interested in time lapse video. Any advice?
A: Alex uses Quicktime Pro for about $30 and says itís well worth it. Shoot in aperture priority mode. He also suggest you visit
timescapes.org for more information.

Q: What general advice do you have for a documentary type video where Iíll combine stills, video, and an interview the subject?
A: Alex suggests using a storytelling style. Start with a plan and create a storyboard as a guideline. Consult with the subject in regard to clothing, location, and also prep them on the interview questions. The interview questions laced throughout the video will add an interesting storytelling element. Give great thought to the background music youíll select for the non-talking areas of the video. Select your backgrounds carefully. Get shots that go well together and will provide a good flow to the documentary. This type of video is especially wonderful for, but not limited to, weddings and high school seniors.

Q: What software do you suggest for post-production?
A: Apple Final Cut Pro is great, but itís for Mac only. Adobe Premier Pro is compatible with a Mac or PC. Another less expensive suggestion for Mac users is Final Cut Pro Express Ė great for starting out. Anything less than this will have little or no functionality and you will be disappointed with the limitations.

Alex is a Canon ďExplorer of LightĒ photographer and the cinematographer for Saturday Night Live who created the title sequence (shot with the Canon 5D Mark II). Alex also shoots all the parodies, as well as all the other pre-recorded video productions, which he tells us are most often shot with the Canon 7D.You can learn more about Alex by visiting his website.

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