A common misconception spread among newbie filmmakers and enthusiasts alike is that having the most expensive filmmaking camera such as the ARRI Alexa or the Red Epic is mandatory to capture some stunning cinematic images. Even though the tool and its capabilities that filmmaker uses do indeed matter, there are many other more important considerations one should bear in mind. Simone Cade of DSLRguide tries a few basic, yet super effective techniques to see how close he can get to the film look of his favorite multimillion budget movies with an entry-level DSLR camera and simple DIY lighting setup.
As the young filmmaker points out, if you want your shots to look like a movie the first thing you should think about is the composition and the way you position your camera on set. Overall, this is a huge topic that can’t be covered in a few sentences, but there are some helpful guidelines you can follow just to start off.
In the first place try to position the camera on or beyond the eye level of your talent. Further, put your primary object in either left or right side of your frame. Then adjust your level precisely, unless you intentionally opt for a Dutch tilt angle or any other unconventional perspective.
The next step of the process is calibrating your camera to the color of your environment. Dialing the correct white balance, shutter speed (set your shutter speed at double the frame rate), ISO, and frame rate settings accordingly are paramount. Once your camera is set and ready to roll you need to tackle your lighting setup.
As a general rule of thumb, you will need a soft light for most of your scenes. To improve your lighting setup block the spills coming from your light sources and avoid direct light. Another tip is to get much darker background for your scene to make your talent in the foreground stand out even more. This way you will get much softer and more pleasant shadows in your shots.
Furthermore, you can enhance your images by improving the dynamic range of your camera. Even the cheapest mirrorless camera or DSLR you can find on the market these days provide some flat profile that allows filmmakers to capture wider dynamic range thus having more flexibility with the captured images later in post.
Ultimately, light and composition can make the biggest difference when it comes to getting a cinematic look, so you should focus your efforts there rather than on just the camera settings. Of course, these are only a small part of all aspects of filmmaking such as the story itself, your actors’ performance, visual aesthetics, rhythm, pacing, color grading, music, sound, etc. that all deserve equal attention. But if you want to achieve decent results right off the bat with any camera that you have at your disposal focusing on composition and lighting is probably the best place to start with.