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Old September 24th, 2007, 08:27 AM   #1
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Location: Central VA
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Camera Set Up Procedures

While this may seem like a novice question, it is one that I have not yet found a clear answer to.

Since starting my business, I have acquired three very different cameras, a Sony VX-2100, a Canon GL-2 and a consumer-grade Sony MiniDV (used selectively). I have been taping concerts, shows and school events for a while now with good success and have just booked my first two weddings (both free). I am familiar with the most important manual functions (focus, white balance, etc.) and there is a wealth of information and opinions in this forum regarding the use of these and many other adjustments.

What I cannot find is a clear-cut "check list" of the procedures of setting up a shoot.

Could I get some opinions on the best way to approach this?

Once you arrive at a job, unpack, and begin to set up your camera(s), is there a particular order that you follow? Assuming the stage or room lighting is as it will be during the event, outline your way of getting everything "dialed in". What do you insist on setting up manually and what do you leave to the camera to take care of?

Thanks to any and all that will offer their guidance.
Rey Lowe is offline   Reply With Quote
Old September 24th, 2007, 02:00 PM   #2
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Some things you can get away with, like focus, if the camera and subject aren't moving a lot. But it certainly won't hurt to do it manually.
Generally, I'd say anything you don't set manually is just being lazy and/or a mistake and/or because you didn't have the time. Depending on the shot, this may do nothing to harm your shot. Or it might do something like shift the exposure or focus and completely ruin it.

The best way to save time and be sure nothing changes is to just let the camera do it by itself then lock it at those positions (white balance, exposure, focus, etc.). I find this works pretty well with focus; exposure can be fine sometimes.
For each white balance, choosing manual then hitting "set" when you are just filming your shot has a tendency to be pretty close. It'll analyze your colors, thinking the average in the shot is white and more often than not, it's a reasonable representation of the colors.

If you can, set it. If you can't, at least lock it. If you don't even do that, then good luck. As I said, sometimes it'll turn out fine-- but that's the point-- you don't don't know because the camera might do something stupid.

The autoexposure, autofocus, etc., are setup for a moving handheld shot of some kid's birthday party, basically. They are designed to be as good as possible about constantly adjusting to have the best shot. This doesn't usually hurt your shots too much in itself, but the issue is obviously the process of adjusting. In changing, your shot will change and it will look really weird (out of focus, too bright, colors off, etc.) for a bit.

If your camera is on a tripod, you should also "stabilize" the settings.

If you ARE moving around a lot, sometimes it's very hard to set the controls manually, so that might be a case where it does make sense to use manual.

For easy use of manual--
White balance-- as above, just hit set while filming the shot. It's better than nothing (OR just take the time to zoom into anything white for a second).
Focus-- hopefully your camera has a quick auto focus button. Using that is nice. Have it in manual focus mode, hit quick AF and it'll focus, but then not change after. Autofocus is generally very accurate, but the time it screws up a shot is when it changes half way through. Set your shot, have it set to manual, hit quick AF, and you're probably fine.
Exposure-- not sure here. I guess you can just let the camera adjust then lock it, but this seems like one you should really keep an eye on. You can do some adjusting of white balance in post, but you can't really change exposure levels. More often than not, there are some overexposed whites or crushed blacks and you just have no options to readjust. Setting exposure will give you the most possible color depth.

Note that I say exposure generally, which includes shutter speed, apature size, f-stop, etc., depending on what your camera can set manually.

There are also manual controls of a couple other things, depending on the camera. Audio levels, for example. I don't think it's a huge issue to leave the audio settings as they are-- usually work fine, and it's a lot less of a problem if these shift a bit. But if you can do an audio test then lock it, you'll be a lot safer. Wouldn't want that to go wrong, certainly.

Is that all you were asking? Or did you mean more generally?

As for just setting up a shot, there's no real trick to it.

1. Have your stuff ready to go. Nothing worse than having to unwrap the plastic on a new tripod, or having to find a cable for something, needing to plug in your camera because it wasn't charged, etc.
Be ready to go and have everything in a quickly accessible place. If something changes, you should know where to find your [other mic // other lights // second camera // duct tape // whatever else you brought] quickly and that will really help professionalism.

2. Take a minute to figure out the location. You can probably setup white balance here, too. White balance is important, but doesn't change very much during a shoot (at a single location) in most cases. Set up your lights first, obviously. Have your actors/interviewees in the right spot, or a standin, and keep them busy with some tests. Get the interviewee talking about what s/he did but, hopefully, don't get ahead of yourself and have them say things you wish the camera was rolling for. This can be a good time for some last minute research. Later, you can say "you were talking about your [event mentioned here]. Can you go into more details on that?", and you've gained something from that brief intro.

3. Start shooting. That's really about it. Be sure to setup the cameras to match the lighting, etc., and you're done. (Note that you probably want to pick camera positions before light positions so it will match best.) Do a last test (audio, visuals) and you should be fine.
Daniel Ross is offline   Reply With Quote
Old September 24th, 2007, 02:16 PM   #3
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Hi Daniel,

Thanks for the reply.

That's basically what I was asking.

I do manually white balance all three cameras. I also lock the focus on the small consumer cam and the VX2100, mainly because they tend to be stationary only cameras. The GL-2 I carry around on a homemade monopod to get close ups, different angles, B-roll, etc. I have a habit of leaving this one in auto focus, but I really do need to learn to focus manually on a regular basis since it is VERY slow at processing this. The VX2100 does it so much faster.

It's just that I have seen a lot of discussions on this great forum about manual settings and how best to set them. I just didn't know if anyone had a particular order or checklist to go by when doing so. In hindsight, I guess it seems like a very broad question with various opinions, but I try to make use of most any advice I receive from people on here.

I promise not to start my own "First Wedding Coming Up This Weekend. Help Please!" threads. :)

BTW - Before I get responses of "If you don't know what you're doing, please leave it to a pro wedding/event videographer", I have done a lot of event work and a LOT of research. I just need wedding practice basically and I am trying to discover all of the best camera settings and that ways to others go about setting them. I did many weddings in the 80's, but then it was simply a matter of showing up with a camera. Now that I am re-entering the field after a long hiatus, it is much more professional and competitive. I have a wireless lav mic, extra batteries, wired mics and stands, backup for soundboard audio, use Vegas Pro 8 for editing, have done dozens of photo and video montages for pay and currently in the market for a light. I think I'm set. At least, I am hopeful.

Last edited by Rey Lowe; September 24th, 2007 at 02:28 PM. Reason: Clarification
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