Shooting “flat”

Chances are, if you are shooting on DSLR cameras, that someone once told you to film with a “flat picture style”. My first time experience with this, I asked what it was, and the reason given was that it gives you a flatter image to work with in post production. It would be easier to colour grade and tweak the footage to look the way I wanted it to.

There are different ways of achieving the flat picture profile. You can download profiles like CINESTYLE picture profile for your Canon Camera, or make your own picture profile with the settings at: Sharpness 0, Contrast -4, Saturation -2, Colour Tone 0.

I won’t go into details on all of the specs etc, as there are tons of tutorials and articles out there for you to have a look at (This article covers it) when it comes to grading and so on. But one thing I want to talk about is an aspect that I feel has been left out a bit: “Sharpness”.

One of the things that threw me off for a long time with my Canon 550D was that the image looked out of focus or really low bitrate and quality when shooting on wider lenses. Yes, the 550D is a low budget camera, so I can’t compare it to the sharpness and video quality of an amazing high end camera like RED. But when everyone told me to shoot with a “flat” picture profile, I understood the colour grade aspect, but couldn’t get my head around the sharpness being turned all the way down. Why would I turn down the sharpness if it just made my images look out of focus or just murky?

One thing I realised was that the lens has a big part to play (obvious, I know), and the way I would expose the image (less light means that the camera would capture less detail. Again, obvious…) but it didn’t solve all my problems. So I started to research. When asking around, a lot of people directed me to just sharpen the footage in post, with the effect called “Sharpen”. But the results just didn’t feel right. So after a bit of research, I discovered “Unsharp Mask”. This was the tool I had been looking for. It added back that sharpness, and made the image look more “professional”.

The reason I am writing this is that I found this video (see below) explaining how to sharpen, and even though I knew about it already, I found it super helpful and informative on how to make the images you shoot on your DSLRs look better. (Side note: As the guy in the video says, sharpening in post is NOT a way to cover up the fact that the shot was out of focus. Nail your focus. Every time. Always. Enough said.)

What do you think? Do you have any experience with sharpening in post? Or maybe you have some other tricks you want to share? Let me know in the comments!

– Morten


Locked – Short – BTS

Locked from Morten Furre on Vimeo.

I really had a great time working on this short film. The idea came out of one of my house mates locking his key in his car. As any good film maker, I took advantage of the hilarious situation and made it into a short film. It worked out well, because my final assignment of the year was to shoot a scene that had most focus on the dialogue. This also gave me an opportunity to practice writing dialogue in general, and shoot in a way that told the story the best way possible.

One of the great things that I learned in the process was that having good actors is key. Both of my actors, Abby and Stennar, did an amazing job of rolling with the script, taking directions where needed and bringing the crucial natural aspect into the short. Their performance ended up being golden, leaving me with an easy job for the edit.

The other thing I learned and put a lot of thought into was the lighting and time of day I choose to shoot. I didn’t want to have any extra lights or even reflectors, but only go with what I had available. So I chose to shoot in the afternoon, and also in the shade, getting that nice and soft light.

To get into the technical side of things, I always like to challenge myself to use mostly the gear that I own myself. The whole short is shot on my beloved Canon 550D, using two prime lenses: Canon 50mm f1.4 (which I own) and a Canon 28mm f1.8 (which I borrowed from my friend Catrina, who also was my ‘soundie’). I have to say, I loved using the 28mm. On the 550, it really gave me that nice wide shot, the important two-shot of my actors and it still had the nice depth of field and quality to it. I used the 50mm on the Over-The-Shoulder shots, and close ups, which ended up looking really nice.

It’s funny, because for a long time I really didn’t like to use my 550d. I really wanted a new camera because I felt that the images I got from it was just horrible. But after learning to work around it’s weaknesses, and adding some sharpness/colour grading in post, I am getting more and more satisfied with the result that it produces.

Editing was a really fun experience as well. I tried to work even harder on timing the music and using it to back up the story and situation as it was unfolding. It didn’t get to advanced, but I just made some simple choices of having it start and stop at certain times. I also used DaVinci for the first time for colour grading. I’d been playing around with it before, but this time I actually did the whole correction and the grade in it. I really like DaVinci. As of now, it’s probably the best colour grading program out there for free, and the possibilities it gives is just amazing. The only thing that is annoying is the workflow from it to Premiere. But it’s easy enough to learn, so I would highly recommend it!

Well, that’s all I have to say. If you have any questions or comments on the film, please let me know! Would love to hear some feedback and thoughts on it.

– Morten

What do you have?

I love to follow the NAB show that is currently going on in Las Vegas. The different companies bring out the new cameras, gadgets, software updates and so on. It’s exciting, because technology is moving forward, and we are getting bigger and better tools to make movies and tell out stories.

On the other hand, I get a bit sad. I look at all the new goodies coming out. The cameras, lenses, gimbal stabilizers and so on, and it all seems so far out of reach!

I am a low budget filmmaker. At the moment, I don’t have the money to invest in a lot of gear or to rent anything better. I own a Canon 550d, two lenses, a tripod, a shoulder rig and some audio gear. To be honest, I don’t always like my camera, and wish I had better gear all the time. But the truth is that I am really lucky to even have what I have.

One thought that struck me a while back when I was wishing and dreaming about a new camera was this: If I learn to use the gear I have now, I set myself up for a win when I get the chance to upgrade. If I can’t tell a story properly with a $450 camera, then I probably won’t be able to tell the story with a $2500 camera or $20 000 camera.

One movie that I really like is “Monsters” directed by Gareth Edwards. The reason I really like this movie is because it was written, directed, shot by Gareth Edwards himself. On set, which was different places around South America, most of the time the crew consisted of him, the two actors and a sound guy. His camera was a Sony PMW-EX3 with a 35mm adaptor at the front, giving him the option of putting DSLR lenses on it. Several times in the movies, the quality of the images itself isn’t good at all because of how the camera handles low light. But none of that really matters, because the story gets told and mr. Edwards just decided that he had an idea, and he was going to use what he had access to, and just make the movie. (Btw, I highly recommend to check out the behind the scenes for the movie.)

Alright, to wrap it up: My point isn’t to despise better cameras or to make you think that “I never should upgrade to better gear unless I am able to tell the story first.” In fact, better equipment are greater tools to tell the story! What I found is this: Usually he people who have done something great in this world was not hindered or stopped because of what they didn’t have, but they took what they had and made something great out of it.

So what do you have? Would be great to get some comments about gear and even see some videos that you have made with what you had access to! It can be anything from a high end production to a home video. Leave a comment and let me know.

– Morten