Make Your Video Look

Everybody loves the look and aesthetics of film. Video is great for capturing the reality of the moment but what if we want to create a cinematic look. Over the years I explored different ways to make my videos look more like film – without a big budget. A lot of the wedding videographers in LA offer their clients the cinematic look. How do they do it? Here are some ideas to get your next project looking more like film.


Not all video camera are the same. HDV (High-Definition Video) is one of the best choices for creating video that looks like film on a budget. With a native 16×9 aspect ratio and 1920×1080P resolution, you will be able to frame your shots in a cinematic manner and with enchanced clarity. Not be to left out, it’s very important that your camera shoots 24 progressive frames per second. Otherwise known as 14P. Why? Because motion picture records at 1/48 of a second, otherwise known as 24 frames per second. a 24P ready camera like the Sony Z1U will give your video the feel and motion of film. Perfect for shooting cinematic weddings or documentaries.


One issue that plagues video is the greater-depth-of-field that keeps the foreground and background in focus. Clearly, this creates a very flat looking image unlike the prime lenses used in motion picture. The advantage of a shallow depth-of-field is you can separate the foreground from the background and divert attention to what is most important in your composition. You can change the depth-of-field by changing the F-stop. The wider the appature, the shallower the depth-of-field. To compensate for opening up the iris, you will have to use a neutral density filter (ND) to cut down the increased amount of light now entering the camera.


How you light your production and how you set your exposure is an important consideration. Its important to note that a video camera’s CCD responds differently to light than film. The photochemistry of film has a higher dynamic range, typically about 12 to 14 f-stops compared to 6-8 stops for video. It’s quite a difference. The limited dynamic range of video means you must be careful to not blow out your highlights otherwise you’ll end up with a washed out images. As a rule of thumb, it is better to slightly underexpose your video than overexpose. The reason is that video is better able to preserve information in the blacks or dark areas as compared to the highlights. This is corrected in post by pushing the black levels up a stop or two.

So how do you go about seting the right exposure? Modern video cameras feature a zebra setting in the viewfinder at 70 – 100 IRE. What this means is you will see zebra lines over the part of the image that is either 70% or 100%  of the maximum brightness level allowed by video. In normal conditions you want skin tones to lay at about 70 IRE and your maximum white levels to peak at 100 IRE. If your shooting under bright conditions outdoors you wan always use a ND filter to bring it down a stop or two. This will let you preserve your F-stop and deth of field while trimming down the exposure. When assessing your image and exposure, you don’t want large areas of pure black with no detail. Use fill light or a reflector to bring up some detail in the shadow areas. White poster board is often good enough if you can’t afford a professional reflector. Things to consider are the intensity, direction, and hardness of the light. For interviews, I like to keep my lighting soft and diffused because it has a more soothing look on the skin and bring out detail and texture in the face.

Other Tips …

Match Your Camera Settings

Make sure your white balance settings are identical to prevent color mismatch. Keep your exposures manual for maximum control. Automatic exposure is not as accurate as you would think – often times the camera will overexpose the whites. A very ugly quality of video to avoid. I like to keep my focus manual too. If you have shallow depth of field you may find the cameras focus drifting if left automatic.

Shoot extra footage

All too often videographers load their video project on to the computer only to find out that they don’t have enough footage or they only took one take of what could be a great shot. I always shoot as much as possible, knowing that its much easier to cut out footage then it is to replace it.