I recently experimented how using different focal lengths can affect shooting in a moving vehicle. I learnt focal length is an important choice when dealing with excessive camera movement. I would like test the effect focal length has on the movement of hand-held shooting. There have been times when I’ve shot hand-held and then gotten back to the edit suites and the footage looked terribly shakey on the big screen. For instance when I shot my film3 documentary on the UPF in Bendigo last year. Maybe if I was to shoot on shorter focal lengths the images would have been a lot steadier. However, due to the crowd I was often unable to get close to the subjects I was shooting so I would have had to sacrifice a tighter frame for a steady image. Amateur filmmaking often seems to be about trade-offs like this.
I plan on shooting a short hand-held scene in where the camera follows two characters as they walk and talk on a relatively long and short focal length. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this as my primary focus is my fixed-lens exercise which I will be doing on thursday along with this one. There is a chance I may not even do this handheld experiment. I don’t have time as I only have the camera booked for a limited time. However it is good to talk about either way. Obviously the handheld shot taken on the shorter focal length is going to be less shakey although it will interesting to see to what extent. I’m curious what shot I will like better.
The reason I am waiting until thursday to do my last experiment its the only time I can do it without being rushed. This way I could book the camera for the entire day and hopefully shoot something decent.
Yesterday I experimented with using long and short focal lengths to shoot in a car. I asked my girlfriend to drive the same short route multiple times as I filmed from the backseat with a focal length of 70mm and then from the front seat with a focal length of 24mm.
The idea came from the scene that I showed during my proposal from Return of the Prodigal Son where the cinematographer used a longer focal length and shot from the back of the car. Generally wider focal lengths are used for these shots to minimise the shake of the car and because it’s quite a confined space. However it was in this scene due to the protagonist lying in back of the ambulance. By using a longer focal length from the back of the vehicle they somewhat captured his perspective which is a more observational one.
My girlfriends car wasn’t the perfect vehicle to experiment with this as its very small and there is not much distance between the front and back seat. In addition, she is really messy so it was like being in the trash compactor off star wars. The shots taken at 24mm are noticeably smoother/less shakey than the shots taken at 70mm. However, there are some points within the clip where the 70mm displays less unwanted movement. This is probably because I was able to better stabilise that camera in the backseat because of space. In addition, being in the centre of car resulted in less unwanted movement being picked up by the camera. This is noticeable when the driver hits a speed bump with one wheel first.
In addition, they give us different perspectives. The shot taken in the backseat shows more of the interior of the car. I did try to make the shots similar but it was difficult with the design and size of the car. The front seat shot taken with at 24mm gives us a wider field of view, showing more houses at once and more of road immediately in front of the car. While shooting at a short focal length is convenient it may not always be the best choice. There are advantages to shooting on a longer focal length in a moving vehicle. It all depends of what your shooting and your desired effect. By shooting from the backseat you are able capture from the centre of vehicle and if you use a longer focal length you can minimise the interior visually present. Furthermore, you might want a narrow field of view to focus on a vehicle, character or object directly in front of car. For instance, if you wanted to shoot a scene where a car is tailing another a longer focal length may be better suited. It tends to give more of an observational point of view and it may be more practical as you wouldn’t have to drive directly behind the car to get good shot of it. In addition, you may just want to avoid capturing people walking along the sidewalk etc.
Ultimately the two techniques used give totally different perspectives and while shorter focal lengths are generally used, it really just depends on the situation and desired effect.
*This experiment was shot with a full framed DSLR at f16.
After speaking with Robin today we discussed what I could do for my last exercise. He suggested that I shoot a drama scene twice similar to what I did with my sensor size experiment. Except this time I would shoot on the same camera, most likely the Canon 5D if I can get a hold of one. I will shoot the scene once with a zoom lens using whatever focal lengths are convenient to get each shot. I will then capture the same shot sizes with a fixed lens, probably a standard 50mm. By using a fixed lens I should have to work harder to get the shots I want. For example I may have to move actors into frame etc and not simply zooming out slightly. I propose that the scene shot with the 50mm prime lens will be more aesthetically pleasing. Firstly, I’ll have to take more care with every shot I take. Secondly, because all the shots will be taken with the same focal length they will appear more uniform. One advantage of fixed lens is that they generally can shoot at faster apertures than zoom lens. However this won’t be relevant in this particular exercise as I’ll be shooting on same f-stop on both lenses.
As I am not great at coming up with ideas for things to shoot I plan on simply sourcing a scene from a TV show or movie and adapting it to whatever space/actors/resources I will have. I’ll post further on this once I know exactly what I am going to shoot. If I can get hold of someone with a car and hire a camera tomorrow I am going to shoot my in-car scene.
A big part of this studio is collaboration. Most of us can’t do our investigations alone and need the help of a small crew in the form of our classmates. I am more than happy to help anyone with their investigations. By doing so I am not only helping them out but I am learning things I wouldn’t from my investigation.
Yesterday I helped Sam and Matt with a couple of short exercises. We didn’t have a lot of time as we all had met up with Robin but it was good that I could help them get some practical work done. Matt’s investigation required Sam and I to be sitting at opposite sides of a long desk as he wished to experiment with using the very edges of the frame, prompting the viewer to focus on both edges of the frame and not the centre. Although using the left or right third of the frame is quite common for framing characters, I think his investigation focuses on using the very edges of both sides at once with leaving a negative space in centre. I couldn’t help but think about my focal length investigation in relationship to this. For instance, if he was using a really short focal length with the characters on the edge of the frame it would seem unnatural with them being visually warped. I was also able to help him with achieving a shallower depth of field by telling him to use a longer focal length and a minimise the focal distance.
Sams investigation is about reframing characters within the one take. While I was having my meeting Sam made the most of the time I was absent by carefully planning out the scene so as soon as I arrived we could shoot it quickly. I’m glad he did this as we only had about 10 minutes to do it. It taught me that if you plan out what you are going to shoot well then can greatly minimise the time that actors need to present. It makes me wish I had asked for help with sensor size shoot. Although I did plan it out reasonably well in advance I found it hard to stick to my shot list as I didn’t have help. For instance someone to focus pull, help direct the actors and write shot details for me. This resulted in me taking longer than I should have which lead to multiple problems such as the light dramatically changing and my actors getting impatient. If I had chosen some class mates to act I think they would be more patient due to them understanding the work that I was doing and the constant need for fine adjustments.
I have acted for both Sam and Matt’s investigations a couple of times and they have helped me with some class exercises. It’s worked out well that we all help each other out when we need too. While I think its important to offer my input to others investigations, I think its important not to take over in any way and let them direct the scene as its their investigation.
Now that I’ve explored the relationship between sensor size, focal length and film perspective. The big question is what is next?
I’d like to shoot a few more exercises before the end of the semester. Earlier today Robin and I discussed what I could to. I’d like to move away from experimenting with sensor size and focus specifically on focal length. Firstly, I would like to replicate the scene I showed in my research proposal from The Return of the Prodigal Son. I want to shoot from the backseat of a moving car with a long focal length and from the front seat with a short focal length. By doing this I compare the varying perspectives and also how the movement of the car affects each focal length.
Secondly I plan on experimenting with handheld and camera movement with short and long focal lengths. Generally handheld movement is captured using a short focal length as it minimises perceived camera shake. However, sometimes you want to use a longer focal length as to not capture everything around you. This exercise will educate me on the pros and cons of shooting handheld on a longer focal lengths vs a short focal length.
Ideally I’d like to do a third exercise to finish of the semester although I haven’t thought of anything yet and I might just have to see how I go for time. Maybe I could capture something that combines everything I’ve learnt so far into the one exercise. I’d also like to further explore how focal length affects the overall decoupage of a scene as that’s what the studio is about.
While editing I discovered that there a lot of differences between the shots on each camera but most of these are due to my mistakes and not the fact I was using different sized sensor cameras. Regrettably my focus was rough and the shots weren’t identical, with both making it harder to compare.
As I have discussed in earlier posts, to have an equivalent field of view the Z7 had to be on a shorter physical focal length than the 5D. I found that the shots captured on the Z7 had a deeper depth of field. This is because at the same f-stop number of 4.0 as the full framed camera, this corresponded a smaller entrance pupil size and hence a deeper depth of field. The shots below are similar, however the first shot on the smaller sensor Z7 has both characters in focus since the full framed DSLR only has the closer character in focus. I find this shot particularly interesting as the apparent distance between the two characters should appear reduced on the 5D compared to the Z7. However, on the 5D the male character looks further away to our eyes due to him being out of focus. It’s interesting to note the effect that depth of focus has on the perceived perspective.
After cutting comparing both camera’s versions of the scene I found that the Canon 5D footage was visually more pleasing. A lot of shots taken on the Z7 appeared warped due to the very wide focal lengths I was forced to shoot on. This becomes distracting and is not what we as an audience are used to viewing visually. By comparing the images below you can see that the window frame is warped in the image taken by Z7. It’s nowhere near aesthetically pleasing or correct as the straight lines of the window framing the female characters face, which we see in the 5D shot.
Although the shots are framed slightly differently you can still see the dramatic effect that the focal length has had on the background. In the video taken by the 5D the background is completely out of focus directing our attention soley on female character. Furthermore, the perceived distance between the character and the background is reduced compared to shot taken by the Z7. In the Z7 shot the background is partly in focus and you are able to see a lot of it, which is quite distracting. In this shot the distance between the character and objects in the background are exaggerated. You can really notice the difference between the two shots by paying attention to the washing line in the background. On the 5D it seems much closer than it did on the day, because on the Z7 it looks much further away.
Even in the establishing wide shot you can notice the subtle differences that using the shorter focal lengths on the Z7 had on the scene. If you pay attention to the leg of the coffee table in the left corner it has warped. Subtle things like this can distract from the narrative and the ‘illusion’ of film. To achieve similar framing to the 5D I had to shoot at the short focal length of 6mm.
The shots taken on the 5D all look what we think as ‘normal’ as they are shot on focal lengths close to the ‘standard’ focal length of 50mm. A focal length of 50mm is known as a standard focal length due to it being close to what we see with our eyes. That’s why these really short focal lengths are so noticeably different.
Overall the scene captured with the full framed Canon 5D looks better due to being shot on close to standard focal lengths. Furthermore, when I actually focused accurately the shallow depth of field facilitated by the longer focal lengths looked really good for instance the shot of the female character from outside the window. Especially seeing the background isn’t interesting in this scene. I also found the 5D easier to shoot on but this is primarily just because I more accustomed to it than the prosumer Z7 and its many useless buttons.
In terms of the overall decoupage of the scene I think I did a good job but it could be improved. Because I was focused on exploring this idea of sensor size and focal length the decoupage was a second thought and this resulted in a faster paced scene then I think it should be. This was also because I had to shoot it twice in a limited time. Furthermore, there were some nice shots that I captured on the 5D but didn’t have time to shoot them on the Z7 afterwards. So if I was to do an edit of just the 5D footage it would be slightly different.
On Saturday I shot my sensor size experiment in my lounge room using the Canon 5D and the Sony Z7. I chose an f.stop of 4 as I didn’t a lot of light and it was the lowest the 5D could go and I didn’t want to have to add any gain to the Z7 as the picture would get noisey. I had to adjust the ISO on the Canon to match the Sony Z7 so both camera would have the same exposure. I ended up having some difficulty has the light changed dramatically over the day to intense light and then back to dull light. If I worked quicker I probably could of counteracted this. In hindesight I really should of got someone to assist me. I got a bit overwhelmed, went off plan and it all got a bit messy. I think If I had someone to help me I could of gone through it alot more efficiently. As I was filming at quite a low f-stop I had to do quite a bit of focus pulling. As I had to use shorter focal lengths on the Z7 to get the same framing it resulted in a wider-depth of field than what I acheived with the 5D. This made the focus pulling easier on the 7D. I learnt alot just filming my excercise, I made mistakes but I learnt a lot from them. I reflect further once I have viewed and started to edit the footage.
Today we did a practical exercise focusing on eye-lines and making sure they are aligned correctly.
It involved a short scene in which two characters face each other and exchange a few lines. We were to capture a wide two shot to establish the physical relationship between the two characters and allows an extended silence that opens the scene. We also capture a clean MCU of Chloe for her line and a clean Mid-shot of Colin for his reply.
We position the actors optimally for Shot 1 but reposition Chloe for her MCU to take best advantage of elements such as lighting. In addition we were to shoot Colin’s Mid-shot in an entirely different space altogether, being careful to match the space, lighting and eye-line.
Ideally we were to learn the difficulty of repositioning actors and the camera while maintaining matching eye-lines. Furthermore, we were to learn that we can move the actors to get the best shot without ruining contunity. The excercise didn’t quite go to plan with the class seeming to get confused and go off-track a bit. Anyway I think most of us got the point and learnt from it regardless. As filmmakers manipulate exactly what the viewer sees and if we do this correctly then a simple scene of two people talking in a room dosen’t have to all be shot in the one room. We might choose to shoot part of a scene in different location due to lighting, something distracting in the background or maybe we have just ran out of time and will need to shoot the rest in the studio.
If eye-lines aren’t matched correctly in a scene its easily noticable and can ruin the whole viewers experience, so it’s important to get right. I find it best to always have the actor or object that isn’t in shot that the person is looking at physically there. What I learnt in my scene anaylsis of Silence of the Lambs is that eye-lines also have creative meaning within in the film. For instance when Hannibal gains power in the scene he looked directly down the barrel of the camera whereas looks off-camera, as she is off-balanced.
The following is the screenplay and plan for the sensor size and perspective excersice that I executed over the weekend.
SCENE 7LIVING ROOMDAY/INT
Gerry sits at a table doing the crossword. Julia paces the room. She goes to the window and looks out to the street. She gazes at the sky, and then back down to the street. She turns and looks at Gerry who, oblivious to her gaze, fills in a lengthy word in his puzzle.
Julia goes to a chair on which sits her handbag. She rummages in the bag for her phone. She checks the phone’s settings and drops it back into the bag.
After a moment, Julia goes to the landline phone, which is on the table near Gerry, and picks it up. As she listens to the dial tone, Gerry looks up and their eyes meet. She replaces the receiver in the cradle and averts her eyes from Gerry’s. She folds her arms.
(SUBJECT, ACTION, LIGHTING)
MASTER SHOT of the entire scene
Hand filling out crossword
INT: Gerry focusing on crossword, Julia paces into frame, camera pans following her to the window,
Shot lingers until she turns around
EXT: From outside the window looking in, shows Julia gazing at the sky, then at the street anxiously. Julia turns around.
INT: Sky, tilts to street level.
Over Julia’s shoulder looking at Gerry
Over Gerry’ shoulder focused on Julia, tilts down to show Gerry filling in crossword.
Julia’s hands rummaging through her bag, pulls mobile out, checks, drops back in bag
Julia’s hand comes into frame and picks up phone.
Gerry looks up, locks eyes with Julia
Julia looks away
Julia picks up phone, Gerry looks up, eyes lock, Julia looks away and crosses arms
Canon 5D (or other full framed DSLR)
Canon Zoom Lens
LED Light Panel?
Cast & Crew:
Camera assistant – help me with keeping a record of focal lengths, maintain continuity, focus pull etc.