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