Site icon Common Sense and Ramblings In America

The World of Photography–Chapter Thirty-One–Video Photography

Only have access to your phone or laptop? No problem. There are easy steps you can take to improve the quality of your photos and video recording.

Capturing Photos on Your Phone:

You don’t need a professional camera to take professional quality photos. Your smartphone can serve as a great resource for capturing any activity at home or on the go. We’re here to help guide you on finding the best lighting, using the self-timer, and submitting your images to the BU photo team.

• Find a partner. If you have a family member or friend at home with you, have them take the photos. This will help achieve the best resolution photo. (Have kids at home? Now’s their opportunity to be a photojournalist for a bit!) If you are alone, you can flip the camera, lean it on something, and set the self-timer.

• Embrace your natural setting. Ask your photographer to include any items you’re using in the moment (laptop, whiteboard, etc.) No need to move things around to create a set, as we want to be able to see what you’re working with and the space you’re working in.

• Don’t strike a pose. There is no need to pose for the camera. Just do the work you’re doing and have your photographer, or self-timer, capture it while you work.

• Pay attention to light. If the photo subject is backlit by a huge window or light source, close your curtains or shut off the offending light and turn on a different one to avoid the photo subject being dark. Additionally, do not shoot using a camera filter and do not use autocorrect later.

• Submission guidelines. For all BU Today photo submissions, please copy Cydney Scott. Send the photos in the largest file size and highest resolution when possible. Please include a brief description of what’s happening in the photo, who appears in the photograph from left to right along with their BU affiliation (work title, graduation year, school, etc.), and the name of the photographer.

Tips for Shooting Video:

It is possible to capture great video footage no matter what device you are using if you follow these simple guidelines. Most of these guidelines apply specifically to filming yourself talking to the camera, but we’ve also included additional tips that will be helpful if you are asked to shoot footage of someone else.

• Orientation is key. If you are doing a video recording, no matter what you’re shooting, please use landscape orientation, NOT portrait. If you’re using a phone, make sure to turn it sideways, so that your video is horizontally oriented, not vertical.

• Pay attention to light. Find a location where there is plenty of light and make sure you are directly facing the source of the light. One trick to help you “find your light” is to hold your hand out in front of your face and spin 360 degrees, and then stop when your hand has the best light on it. That light is now coming from behind you, so make sure to turn around before you start filming.

• Pay attention to sound. If you have the option to choose between different locations, we strongly recommend choosing the location with the least amount of background noise. This can be particularly important if you’re shooting yourself in a lab with lots of equipment running.

• Pick a good angle. Don’t put your camera too low or too high. Your camera should be roughly level with your eyeline when you are looking straight ahead. This might mean you need to prop the camera up on books, a box, or a table to get a better angle.

• Don’t move around too much. Place your camera on a stationary surface. If you need to hold your camera, make sure to hold it steady and at a consistent angle.

• Speak naturally. Try not to read directly from any prepared talking points. Written language can sound stilted when read aloud, and this can be distracting to the viewer.

• Utilize other technology. If you must prepare a statement in advance to read for the camera, try composing that statement using a dictation or voice-to-text app on your phone. Compose the statement off the cuff, then revise it only lightly. This will result in more natural-sounding language.

• Shoot from different angles. If you are filming a person engaged in an activity, make sure we can see the entirety of the person, but also get close! Shoot their hands by themselves. Shoot their face, even if it’s not part of the process. Shoot the activity from behind the person. Get creative!

• Shoot more than you think you need. If you’re filming a process that happens repeatedly, film it several times—not just once!

Still photography and videography are closely related fields. In fact, videography is just still photography at a clip of 30 times per second. But in concentrating on scenes rather than individual images, some of us get sloppy when putting videos together. Thinking of yourself as a still photographer making a series of beautiful images will help your final production be much better. To help promote that state of mind, here’s a little photography 101 to get you in the still-image spirit.

Still cameras vs. video cameras

Back in ye-olden days, movie cameras and still cameras had very little in common, apart from using the same 35mm film. As still photography cameras got smaller and smaller, professional film and video cameras remained enormous — requiring heavy tripods or sturdy operators to function. 

All of this started to change in 2008 when Nikon released the D90, the first digital SLR that was also an HD video camera. Today the distinction between pro video cameras and pro still cameras has shrunk to the point that cameras like Sony’s Alpha series can be found in the hands of either a pro videographer or a pro still shooter, packed with features to delight both.

It all starts with planning and focus

Just like you wouldn’t rent a bunch of gear, assemble a film crew and show up at a place with no idea what you’re going to make a movie of, still photography benefits from pre-planning and study. Photography is a really broad spectrum and the skills and equipment that are useful for landscapes might not translate into portraits, for example. And while you’re getting ready to begin your photographic adventure keep this in mind: the technical stuff is the least important. This may seem like a radical idea but it’s true. Ideas are more important than f-stops and being able to talk to people is more important than a really great tripod. Concentrate on your ideas and the technical skills will come — this is because you can learn the technical things from a book (or better yet, a bunch of YouTube videos).

    You might want to photograph people, or do behind the scenes stills for your video productions, or landscapes, or products against a white seamless backdrop, or you may want to add stills to your already existing wedding package. Once you’ve thought about this, start looking for people who are doing that type of photography really well already – great places to do this are Instagram and Flickr. Start collecting great photos (you can use Pinterest to keep folders of the most inspirational photos you find) and think about how the photographer executed them – where were they standing? Were they using wide lenses? Telephoto lenses? Did they light it themselves or use natural light? Check out books from your local library (the librarians would love to see you, it’s been a while since you’ve been there), go to gallery shows, trade books with your friends or buy things in bookstores. 

    How to take good photos

    Taking a good photo is more than having something nicely lit and sharply in focus. In fact, some of the most memorable and meaningful photos in history have been not perfectly lit and not perfectly in focus. A photograph is good because it is compelling to the eye – it doesn’t have to be beautiful, but it needs to reach out and grab the viewer inside. Your photos should strive for an emotional connection; they should reflect the emotion you feel when you take them and help people experience something they weren’t present for. 


    As most directors will tell you, you can make a compelling story with very limited equipment – more equipment just makes it easier. The same is true with still photography. Many of the classic film photographs of the last 100 years were made with extremely modest equipment, certainly equipment that would slow down most of today’s working pros. 

    It used to be that still photography cameras and video cameras were very different beasts, but over the past decade the two have merged to the extent that you can get one camera that’s very good for both shooting video and taking stills. If you’re in the market for new gear, be sure to take into consideration all of the things that you’ll use it for. Will you want to shoot 4k? Will you want a camera that has audio in? 

    Don’t get the kit lens

    When buying a camera (and this is true for both stills and video) camera companies often throw in a “kit” lens in a bundle that includes a bunch of stuff like a camera bag and lens tissues and whatnots. They do this because the markup on the camera itself is very low, but the markup on accessories is really high. The kit lens is usually a mid-range zoom that does a bunch of things decently but nothing really well. Get yourself a camera body and a single fast prime lens, two accessories that will vastly improve your shooting capabilities.

    You can actually use your phone

    This isn’t exactly a secret buried in our photography 101 tutorial, but the cameras in smartphones today are way better than a lot of the early professional digital cameras and they do extraordinarily impressive work. 


    Just because you’re using a single frame instead of 30 frames per second doesn’t mean that you’re not still telling stories – it just means that you need to be much more careful about your framing because you only get one chance. 

    With every photo ask yourself “what story am I telling with this photo?” Story examples might be “this place is beautiful”, “this moment is important” or “this thing needs to be recorded accurately.” From there, ask yourself “can I do something to tell the story of that last photo better?” Can you move yourself or your camera? Can you improve the lighting? Can you make it clearer? When you can’t think of anything else you could possibly do to improve that image, you’re done. 

    Editing tools and tips

    There are a few things that are essential parts of your final image. One of these is post processing. Sometimes you’ve done everything you can to capture the best possible frame, but there are still things you can do to make your image better. Almost no photo comes out of the camera the best that it can be, everything could benefit from a little TLC in the darkroom (or the modern digital equivalent). And, in fact, every photo starts its life with a wide range of futures before it. Like raw video footage before a LUT has been applied (and for more on LUT’s in video’s, check this out).

    Every photo can look a myriad of different ways when it’s finished. The secret is not processing heavily, but processing properly. Local photo competitions around the world are packed with photos that started out mediocre and became terrible because their creator knew just enough about Adobe Photoshop to ruin them. When budgeting for your equipment, put some money, or at least time, aside to take a course on some photo editing software like Adobe Lightroom, which can teach you how to not only fix major problems, but also to do minor adjustments with exposure and color that can nudge your photos from good to great. 

    Getting your photos seen

    Taking a good photos is only half the battle, as you’ll know if you’ve seen John Maloof’s 2013 documentary “Finding Vivian Maier.” The film is about a gifted, prolific but heretofore anonymous street photographer whose amazing photographs sat unseen in a storage locker for decades before being discovered. 

    It used to be that after you had a set of decent photographs you’d put together a portfolio and start sending it to art galleries, hoping that one of them would decide to show your work. Then, you would spend hundreds or thousands of dollars carefully framing your work, hang them in a beautiful gallery and, if you were lucky, a few hundred people would walk through and look at them. While that still happens, the internet has changed a lot of things. There are photographers on websites like Instagram who show their photos to tens or hundreds of thousands of people a day without ever having made a single print.

    A website

    The first thing that a serious photographer should have is a website. You can use a builder site like Wix or Squarespace, or you can hire a web designer. Your website should have your contact info and a collection of your best photos. People will judge your work by what they see, it’s better to have 10 great photos than 10 great photos and 20 mediocre ones.


    A lot of photographers use Instagram as their primary method of displaying photos. There are advantages to this, like its incredibly high userbase, but there are disadvantages too. Namely, Instagram likes for things to be cropped square, although photographers have found creative ways around this by posting multiple photos in the same post. Instagram also allows you to use hashtags which people people searching for topics. Your photo of a terrific sunset might include the hashtags #photography, #sunsets and #mountains. Instagram’s organic discovery features allows people to gravitate to photographers they like if they’re using hashtags well.

    Image hosting 

    It used to be Flickr was the king of image-hosting websites and every photographer had one. Flickr’s still there, but a whole host of other image hosting sites like Smugmug and others are providing stiff competition. Image-hosting sites can not only let people look at your photos, but can help you sell them and provide printing services and be one-stop shopping. This makes things easy for photographers who do a lot of business in print sales — the ability to let your customers order directly from your website and not have to handle fulfilment is tremendously convenient.

    Putting the concepts into practice

    Like making videos, creating still photos is a difficult and rewarding art that benefits from study. Spend a lot of time looking at photos in the way you do films — what photographers do you like? And when you deconstruct their images, what is it that you like about them? Take the tools you find useful and turn them to the subjects that interest you and drive and compel you. 

    A photographers guide into entry level videography

    When I started getting interested in videos, I was quite confused, as I had only ever taken stills before. I feared the complexities of video, as I had heard of codecs and framerates but had no idea what any of those things really meant – if I needed to record, I’d press the record button on default settings with whatever settings I happened to have at the time.

    Maybe I just suck at Googling, but I couldn’t find a comprehensive basic guide that would explain these things to me without skipping over important details that I was missing. I even bought a Creativelive course that helped me understand a lot of things about proper video equipment, audio setups, lighting and working with editors, but even after that I still didn’t know how exactly framerates worked, what shutter speed did as compared to stills, and even, how the hell do people continuosly focus on video mode, which seemed like an impossible thing to get right on my mirrorless, still-photography-focused cameras.

    So here I am, writing a basic guide for dummies like me who are somewhat experienced in photography but have no idea how videography is supposed to work. I’ve been shooting random video clips for about a year now, even though photography has still taken up most of my shooting time. So don’t take me for an expert – this is merely a guide to get you started with a basic introduction to running a one-man-show video channel when the only thing you knew before was the shutter button for stills.

    Shutter speed

    It took me embarrassingly long to really internalize what shutter speed did in video mode. It still works somewhat similar to stills, where slower shutter speed blurs movement and faster ones freeze moments in time. But all you really need to know is that your shutter speed should most of the time correlate to the frame rate you’re shooting. This will affect the look of your video. The rule of thumb is to have a 90 degree shutter angle, whateverthe%&!€ that means, in order to produce video that looks smooth and normal. If your shutter is too slow or too fast, it will make your video seem slurred or jittery. So how do we calculate the correct shutter speed to use? Luckily, no complex math is required. If you’re shooting 25fps video, your shutter speed should be 1/50th. If you’re shooting 50fps, it should be 1/100th. 100fps? 1/200th. Easy maths.

    If you want to use an auto-mode for video, this is why it is recommended to use S-priority. Auto modes aren’t something you should be using in a controlled environment, as you want your exposure to stay the same across the scene to make editing later easier, but as dymanic range for videos is no where near as good as for stills, there are situations where S priority will come in handy. For example, if you’re shooting a documentary or a vlog that goes from indoors to outdoors, it is better to have a varied exposure in the video than to have blown out highlights. The other option is to shoot in manual but with auto-ISO.

    What if you have amazing footage shot with the wrong shutter speed? Don’t worry, there are annoying and time consuming ways to fix jittery footage in post. And in extreme dark, you might want to drop your shutter speed down to as low as you can go without introducing too much blur, as slighlty weird looking footage still beats ISO 40,000 footage. Most often, I use slower-than-recommended shutter speed when recording in the dark with a lower quality camera, such as doing drone videos in the dark, or making IG story videos on my cellphone in manual mode, or even when recording with an action cam.


    When you go into the menu of your camera, there will be a setting to determine which frame rate you will be shooting at. The normal frame rate to display your video on TV or Youtube or in the movies is usually 24fps, sometimes 25. Just like the 90 degree shutter thing, this is the footage we are most used to seeing and will thus look the most “normal” to most people.

    Slow motion comes into play when you increase your frame rate to be 50, 100, 200, or even more, frames per second. But unlike on the latest iphone, when you shoot a higher frame rate on a normal camera, it is not automatically slowed down, but you will have to do this in post. The goal is usually to export footage that is close to 24 or 25fps, so if you’ve shot something at 50, you’ll slow it down to 50%. If you shot at 100fps, you’ll ideally slow it down to 25%. The higher the frame rate, the weirder the footage will look like when played at normal speed. Now if you shot 100fps but don’t want to slow down the footage, there are still ways to fix it in post, but it might still not look ideal due to the shutter speed difference and you’re adding some annoying extra steps to your process.

    I had a hard time holding my camera still when i first started shooting video. I thought of video as a dynamic thing, so I moved around and tried to capture as much as possible. You’ll find this to be the case in a lot of amateur videos, where the camera man can’t stay still and is always adjusting, zooming in and out, moving the frame. But if you watch professional footage, a lot of the time movement or reframing only happens with cuts – so a lot of the time, you really should hold the camera still. If you wish to move the composition, shoot another clip, and cut them together in post.

    Even the slightest movement, like camera shaking in your hands, is distracting to the viewer. You may not notice these jitters on the tiny screen on the back of the camera, but they will be apparent in when viewed through a monitor. If you have no stabliziation equipment with you, you need to seriously concentrate on holding the camera as still as possible at all times. Holding it against something or using a strap as an additional contact to your body helps. Adding movements should be done as smoothly as possible, try moving your entire body while keeping your hands still.

    When I’m shooting with no equipment, I almost always make sure to shoot at 50fps, as slowing down the footage to 50% removes a lot of the shake, or makes it a lot less apparent, as the shake is happening at half of the speed. This is a common trick used by a lot of videographers everywhere.

    Then there is always Warp Stabilizer in Premiere Pro and After Effects, that can further smooth your footage. However, if used too strongly, it may make your footage look weird, creating a digital floating sort of effect that just looks fake. Therefore it is best not to rely on it too much, and only use it when necessary and a scene can’t be reshot.

    Stabilization Gear

    First of all, unless you are always using a gimbal or a steadycam, shooting on a camera body that has internal body stabilization is a huge help. I’m quite happy with the Sony a7iii in this regard. Either way, it can always be turned off, so IBIS in my opinion is a plus for any system. It makes handheld videos a lot more bearable.

    But if you know you are going to a dedicated video shoot, it is always a good idea to bring some sort of stabilization equipment. A tripod or a monopod should be fairly obvious in their functions for static or panning shots. It puts the camera on the tripod and it takes a video.

    Gimbals, however, are a gamechanger that have made recording semi-pro videos a lot more easier these days. They are not full rigs, but the result is similar, sometimes better. Really the only downside of a gimbal over a rig are ergonomics – gimbals are front heavy. Not only do they weigh a few kilos, which add up on your arms over a long day, I find them quite bad on my back. Most professional shoulder rigs are balanced evenly, but a gimbal is always front heavy, so if you have a bad back, do take this into consideration. Even if they don’t seem that heavy at first, lugging one around for hours at a time can have bad consequences. Regardless of that, it is an amazing tool that adds a lot to your videos. A gimbal is probably the single most efficient bang-for-buck investment you can make to improve your videos almost like a cheat code.

    Focusing demystified

    If you are shooting in a controlled environment, it is usually standard to use manual focus instead of auto. The reason being that auto focus shifting and errors can be distracting and may ruin the whole shot. But using manual focus in video mode is not that easy either if you don’t own a rig with followfocus. For run and gun shoots, autofocus is still often the way to go, either that or shooting stopped down and keeping everything in focus as much as you can on manual. It all depends on your gear. For example, Panasonic cameras, while otherwise great for video, have atrocious autofocus. They will focus hunt and be inaccurate, ruining any cinematic quality if you’re shooting in autofocus. On other systems, such as Canon or Sony, this isn’t as big of a problem. Autofocus hunting can further be mitigated by adjusting the focus speed to be lower – a quicker, snappy focus may be beneficial for still photography, but a smoother, more accurate speed is more suitable for video.

    There are things such as face-tracking focus in video mode or shoulder rigs or even gimbals with followfocus, a system that allows you to adjust focus manually through your rig, thus eliminating camera shake and generally making everything more ergonomic. Personally though, I tend to use one of three following strategies to keep my shots in focus.

    1.) Manual focus on background with a higher f-stop

    Back when I was shooting with Panasonic gx8, I did not trust the autofocus for run-and-gun shoots. I kept the focus on the background while pushing my f-stop as high as it can go without introducing too much noise. At night that would be up to f4 in brighter parts of the city. The smaller MFT sensor helped with depth of field issues, kind of ironically compensating for the bad autofocus.

    2.) Autofocus with slow motor speed and sensitivity

    If I’m focused on foreground details, I may switch to autofocus. Especially for shots that are more focused on tracking a single subject instead of focusing on a wider scene. With the Sony A7iii, autofocus doesn’t hunt when set to normal or even the slow setting. You can find the setting in the menu.

    3.) Manual focus while maintaining distance to subject

    This is when the scene is more controlled, where you can move by matching your speed to the subject you’re tracking. Keeping a focus distance of 3 meters for example, but never going too far out of focus for moving shots. Then cutting, changing focus for the next shot. Takes more planning and perhaps a more controlled environment, but produces very accurate results.

    Picture profiles

    RAW video exists, but you won’t be able to shoot that with a consumer or even prosumer level mirrorless camera or DSLR. Even if you could, the files would be huge in size, and hard to run on a normal computer. Therefore, you’re left with video files that are more comparable to moving JPEGs in terms of amount of data or dynamic range they are able to record. The solution to this issue are flat picture profiles. Different camera brands have different names for such picture profiles, such as SLOG or Cinelike-D, but they all serve a similar function – they record flatter footage, with colors that are desaturated and contrast that is low, in order to record better dynamic range. These files will look super boring without editing, but preserve all the necessary data to make them stand out once they are color-graded. Whenever your camera starts to struggle with dynamic range, a flat picture profile can be the first solution to pull out footage that you could never otherwise record. This trick is especially useful for smaller, less powerful cameras or drones – it is the only way to get semi-usable nighttime footage out of a Mavic Pro or an action cam. But I use flat picture profiles on my Sony too, especially when recording nighttime footage in neon-lit Hong Kong, where dynamic range requirements can be very demanding if you wish to preserve both highlights and shadows.

    In short, picture profiles will allow you to record more data, but will demand that you spend more time color grading. It’s probably a good idea to further research picture profiles for your specific choice of camera, there are plenty of related videos on Youtube.


    All lights flicker, but most of it is invisible to the human eye. However, sometimes your camera can pick this up, resulting in footage that doesn’t look very professional. Most of the world uses the 50hz electrical frequency, PAL, while North America and parts of Japan use 60hz NTSC. If you encounter distracting flickering in your footage, you’ll need to match your cameras settings to the frequency. First try changing the general setting to the corresponding HZ setting, and if that doesn’t work or isn’t available, experiment with different shutter speeds and find a suitable compromise for the most pleasing result. Usually, 1/50th will correspond to 50hz and 1/60 to 60hz. It gets trickier when there are several different types of lights present, then you’ll have to find the best compromise in settings.

    Some flickering can be fixed in post, but it’s time consuming and will at least to my knowledge decrease the quality of your video by some amount. (Not aware of a better way to do it currently). As with anything in video, “fixing it in post” is not a recommended strategy and you should always aim to record something that doesn’t need to be fixed – but don’t panic if you can’t. Just means you’ll have to work harder in the editing room later.


    Currently the so called industry standard for videographers is Adobe Premiere Pro. With Premiere, you can easily color grade your footage, either from scratch or by using LUTs. LUTs are like presets for lightroom (look-up tables), and can help you get started in color grading. But I would recommend trying it yourself first. Premiere Pro does most other tasks reasonably well, such as basic graphics, effects or transitions. For more advanced effects, there is always Adobe After Effects.


    Audio is easy to ignore when you’re first starting out, but should not be overlooked. Having bad audio can ruin your entire video, unless it’s some sort of a video where you can just add a song over easily. Even then, sound effects can be the difference between amateur and professional looking footage.

    The first thing you’ll want to check is if your camera has a microphone port built into it. If yes, then you can save some time and effort by getting yourself a nice hot-shoe microphone, such as the Rode Cideomic Pro. This is a standard solution for run-and-gun style shooting or vlogging. It generally gets the job done adequately well in most situations. If your camera does not have a microphone input, you can still record sound externally, then sync it in post. In Premiere Pro, this is easy to do with just a click, as long as you have both the external track and the internal camera sound that is already synced to the video.

    For more professional shoots, you might considered a lavalier mic (for interviews, hosting) or a boom mic (short films, advertisements).

    Shooting low light videos

    Recently I made a whole seperate video talking about the specific of low light, night time videos. You can check it out on my new Youtube channel below:

    Finding Music

    You can’t legally just go and grab any popular song to your video, just like you wouldn’t want your pictures to be stolen from you. Finding suitable music can be tricky. One way to do it is by paying for royalty free music. I’ve used Premiumbeat before for some of my Youtube videos, they’ve worked decently well but are quite expensive per song. You can also look for totally free royalty free music with attribution license only. NoCopyrightSounds is a great resource for free, trendy tracks. There are plenty of other providers too that can be found via google. However the problem with these tends to be that either the song has already been used by 10,000 other youtubers because it is good and free, or the song isn’t very good at all. Pick your poison.

    Another way is to find musicians who are up and coming and wish to collaborate with artists. If you have some sort of a portfoilio up and an established social media following, you can try to reach out to some people and see if they’d like to collaborate. Once I started making videos, I got a few artists reaching out to me as well offering their music. Just be careful with the terms, only collaborate with people you trust or ideally, have some sort of a contract or written agreement at minimum in case someone changes their mind in the future. Or the artist blows up, gets signed by a record label, and then the label starts copy striking your old videos and all verbal understanding go out of the window.

    The third method is to hire an actual composer to craft custom made music just for you. This will cost a few bucks, but it’s less expensive than I initially expected. I haven’t actually taken the plunge on this personally yet, but for a project you’re really serious about, it is an option worth considering.

    Resources, “A photographers guide into entry level videography.”;, “Photography 101: A video shooter’s guide to taking great photos.” By Kyle Cassidy;, “Shooting Your Own Video and Photography: A step-by-step Guide.” By Alan Wong and Devin Hahn;

    Exit mobile version