Exposure Triangle - ISO + Aperture + Shutter Speed

Exposure Triangle – “ISO + Aperture + Shutter Speed”

At the very basic level – all a camera does is capture the light.

In the process of doing so, sometimes it lets in a lot of light – while sometimes it does not let in a sufficient amount of light. How much of it is important is completely dependent on the situation. Getting in the perfect amount of light is the first thing every cinematographer (videographer) needs to think about.

You might wonder – “Hey Rajit, I am doing fine using AUTO mode on my camera”

That’s a valid statement – in fact, today’s camera have a pretty impressive AUTO setting (exposure, focus etc.) The light meter might work for you 🙂 But it’s always better to shoot in MANUAL mode to get the most out of your camera and the circumstance. Here are few reasons why you should always be striving to shoot in manual mode:

👉 The camera does not know your end-vision. What kind of photo/video are you trying to shoot? Is it a silhouette or a portrait? Sure, you might change your color profile, white balance and all – but the camera will never know your end goal – the picture you have clicked in your mind.

👉Although the camera’s light meter is precise, it’s not 100% accurate. Because it treats every situation in a similar manner.

👉 The camera does not know what to compensate for over others. For example, you might want a bokeh effect (or blur background or shallow depth of field) at the cost of shutter speed – only you’ll know that, not the camera.

When we customize all 3 exposure settings (Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO) together, we can create the desired effect and the kind of photo that we want to click.

Vertex #1 – Aperture:

Simply put, an aperture is an opening (or hole) through which light travels.

The main purpose of having an aperture is to control the amount of light that passes through the lens and then reaches the sensor. The major function of a lens is to focus the light from the source to the camera. Aperture plays a big role in this process.

Aperture - for Shallow Depth of Fied

Allowing just the right amount of light is really important in photography. If you overdo it, your image will be over-exposed and will seem blown out. Do the opposite, and you’ll under-expose the image (means the image will seem darker)

… aperture is the first door through which the light passes.

Thanks to aperture – now we can create a shallow depth of field – which means we can blur the background to drag the focus to our subjects. It’s the effect that most of the photographers look for when starting out.

Here’s an example: (this is me on the image 😃)

In this image (portrait kind of image), the focus is on me (or the subject) and the background is blurred out a bit to drag the focus on me. Hence, we can see the people in the background – but not with a sharp focus.

This is the effect that aperture creates.

Aperture is measured in terms of f-stops.

Basically, the higher the f-stop number, the lesser the hole opens. And, lesser the hole opens, the sharp the depth of field will be (everything will be in focus). Hence to create the blurred background, the f-stop should be as low as possible.

In the portrait, you might want to use aperture as low as f/4, f/2.8 or even lower.

While in the landscape, you might want to use aperture as high as f/11 or even higher with higher ISO.

… all depends on the situation and the moment you’re trying to capture.

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Vertex #2 – Shutter Speed:

After the light passes through the aperture (of the lens), it passes through the next door – that is shutter (of the camera).

Now you might wonder …

… why is there 2 settings (or the ways) to let the light in when one can do the job? Well, it’s for a creative reason. While aperture is responsible to create the shallow depth of field, shutter speed is responsible to freeze the motion. This comes in quite handy when we are shooting the movements.

Shutter Speed is the measure of the time it takes for the shutter to open and close it. The faster the shutter speed is, the better the motion freeze the camera does – because the shutter only opens for a short time. In case, you shoot the motion with slower shutter speed, the image will get blurry – because when the subject moves before the light gets in completely.

Basically, this is the idea:

  1. Faster Shutter Speed = Freeze the motion
  2. Slower Shutter Speed = Blurs the action

Shutter Speed is measured in terms of “1/number” seconds.

Basically, the higher the number – the slower the shutter speed is. This can be confusing for the beginner – since it’s the opposite because the shutter speed is measured in terms of 1/number.

Let’s assume that you want to record a flying bird …

In this case, you’ll want to use a faster shutter speed (1/1000) to freeze the motion of the bird. Since the shutter opens for a very short period of time (in this case), it captures the bird for that short time period.

Possible shutter speed usage:

Shutter SpeedUsage
1/1000 (or faster)Freezes the motion of the birds and faster objects
1/500Freezes the motion of vehicles (cars, bike etc.) and runners
1/250Freeze slower motion (eg: people walking)
1/80Regular Footage – does not freeze
1/8 (or slower)Blurs the flowing-water or the people walking

Summarizing till now:

You can think this way – aperture is mostly related to Space dimension (how wider it opens) and shutter speed is mostly related to Time dimension (how faster it opens).

Vertex #3 – ISO:

The camera has a light-sensitive material – “sensor”.

ISO = light sensitivity value. ISO is particularly valuable in the low light situation – where you have opened the aperture as widest as possible and shutter speed for the longest (where it does not get blurred), the only option you have is to increase your ISO.

… but there’s a downside to it.

When you start increasing your ISO value more than a certain point, it will start to see grains (or noise) in the photo. Hence – the general rule is to use the ISO value as low as possible.

Possible ISO usage:

ISO ValuePossible Situation
Daylight / Outdoor100
Studio Set-up400 – 800
Low Light Room1600

If it’s possible, always try to use ISO 100. In order to make the exposure right while using the ISO – 100, there’s always an option of using a professional LED light. You have to use anyways, not just for the exposure but also for the lighting purpose (in order to make the image look flattery).

In Conclusion

You’re always in control of your exposure.

No matter how your lighting is, or how your composition is – if your exposure sucks, then your whole photo or video clip will suck. That’s because it will be the first impression.

Hence please try to take care of the exposure while shooting !!

17 Lighting Terminologies That Every Filmmaker Should Know

17 Lighting Terminologies That Every Filmmaker Should Know

Here are a few of the lighting terminologies that every filmmaker and cinematographer should know about.

Key Light:

The dominant or main light in the scene. The “key” illuminates the surface. Generally, the key light is the brightest light in the set-up.

Fill Light:

While key light lights up the subject, it also casts the shadow. Sometimes, we may want to keep the shadow – but most of the times, we need to get rid of those shadows. The fill light fills in the shadow, not lit by the keylight.

Lighting is sometimes described in terms of the “key/fill” ratio.

Backlight:

Light that hits the person or object from behind or above.

This might interest you: 21 Days Videography Training in Nepal

3 Point Lighting:

The above 3 lights (key, fill and backlight) together form the 3-point lighting set-up, which is the standard method used in the movies and shows. Even in photography, 3-point is among the first lighting set-ups that beginners photographers learn.

3 Point Lighting - Key, Fill, back Light
Source: https://biteable.com/

Kicker:

A kicker is the light from behind that grazes along an actor’s cheek, on the fill side. Often a kicker defines the face well enough that a fill is not even necessary.

Sidelight:

A light that comes from the side, relative to the actors. Sidelight makes the subject look dramatic.

Topper:

Light directly from above. The word can also be referred to a flag that cuts off the upper part of a light.

Quality of Lighting:

In terms of the quality of the lighting, there are 2 terminologies that we need to know:

Hard Light:

Light from the sun, or small lighting source that creates sharp well-defined shadows. Hard light makes the subject look dramatic (hence, used as a sidelight). The hardness of the light depends of 2 factors:

Light Source Size – smaller the source is, harder the light will be.

Distance from the subject – farther the subject is from the source, harder the light will be.

Soft Light:

Light from a large source that creates soft, ill-defined shadows, or no shadows at all. Soft light illuminates a larger part of the subject – hence used in commercials and such.

Ambient Light:

Light that just happens to be in a location; soft-overhead light that is sort of there.

Practicals:

Actual working light, table lamps, floor lamps, sconces and so on. Practicals are lights within the frame.

Upstage:

Part of the scene on the other side of the camera. Downstage is the side the camera is on.

High Key:

Lighting that is bright and fairly shadowless, with lots of fill light.

Low Key:

Light that is dark and shadowy with little or no fill light – use mostly in dark scenes.

Bounce Light:

Light that is reflected off something – a wall, ceiling, a white or neutral surface, a silk, etc.

Available Light:

Whatever light already exists at the location. Maybe natural light (sun, sky, overcast day) or artificial light (street lights, overhead fluorescents)

Motivated Lighting:

Where light in the scene appears to have a source, such as a window, a lamp, a fireplace and so on.

10 Composition Techniques (for Filmmakers & Cinematographers)

10 Composition Techniques (for Filmmakers & Cinematographers)

The composition is an important aspect of getting cinematic footage.

Whether you use a $100 DSLR camera or a $60,000+ ARRI Cameras – does not matter, if your composition sucks, then your footage will not seem cinematic. The composition is much more important than anything else. If you shoot the crap, it’s just the crap (with a higher dynamic range 😃)

What is Composition?

The composition is about arranging the elements in the frame (or viewfinder) so that it makes sense to the viewer.

How we compose the story will eventually define the story. Especially in movies, composition alone can evoke certain emotions – hence an important tool for cinematographers.

If you want your footage to look cinematic, then you have to learn to follow the composition guidelines (although you might want to break it later on)

Remember that these are not the rules (and just the guidelines)

Even rules are meant to be broken, it does not hurt to break the guidelines. However, you can only do that when you know the purpose of the composition. Every form of composition serves a purpose and not every kind of framing works best for every kind of shots.

Hence, it’s absolutely essential to learn the purpose of the composition techniques and why does it exist. There might be 1000’s of composition techniques, some of them are more important over others. Here are few of those:

1. Fill the Frame

It’s the mistake most of the beginner cinematographer’s make – not fill the frame with the subjects.

When you don’t fill the frame with the subjects and the related objects, your composition will feel dead or dull. The subject should not necessarily be a person or objects, it can be a theme, a landscape or something that reveals a part of the story.

That being said, when the composition contains unnecessary details (or distracting elements), it takes the focus away from our subject. Look at the picture below 👇

What do you see? A lot of things, right?

That’s an example of a composition where the frame is not filled with the subject.

Maybe the subject in this picture is the man who is looking at something (to the left). What is he looking at? That area should have been there in the frame. Rather than keeping the distracting elements in the right, the photographer should have clicked with the person on the right side of the frame, and a little bit of looking room on the left side. As far as possible, fill the frame with subjects …

… that brings the life to your cinematography.

2. Rule of Thirds

Imagine dividing your frame into 3 rows and 3 columns.

Rule of third states that when you place your subject at or near to the four intersecting points, your subject will get enough attention from the viewers. And, it will also feel natural composition to the viewer. Here’s an example: 👇

In this example, had we placed the girl at the center of the frame, it would not seem more balanced. Keeping the subject in one-third of the left or right ensures the composition is balanced. In this case, the photographer keeps her in the right third because she is looking at the left. This way, there’s also a looking room which makes it feel natural.

3. Symmetry

Symmetry breaks the rule of thirds. 😃🤔

Symmetry is one of those powerful ways of showcasing the subjects in the frame, which makes the composition lively. It’s not always applicable though. In order to create symmetry in the frame, we need to find such places (like bridges, symmetrical landscapes and such).

Even when there is a camera movement, we can still keep it symmetrical moving the camera to the front or the back. This way, symmetry is preserved even when the camera moves …

… camera movement is an important aspect of cinematography.

4. Creating Depth

We see depth in the real world. For example, I am seeing my hands which are typing before the laptop, and then the books, the table and such

This is how we see the world.

But when beginners filmmakers (or cinematographers) capture images, we tend to forget about the depth of field. Sometimes, all we want to do is place the subject and create a Bokeh effect behind him/her. That’s fine (in most cases)

Nevertheless, maintaining the depth in the composition brings the place to life. It almost feels like we are at the place experiencing the moment.

Hence I try to add as much depth as possible without hindering any other guidelines mentioned.

In this example, the lights add depth to the scene. Had we taken the picture from the side (90 degrees), the depth would not have been visible.

5. Leading Lines

Adding leading lines is a powerful method to draw the viewer’s attention to a point. As the name suggests, the line (imaginary) leads the viewer to a certain point (most probably – subject). Leading lines can be anything – mountains, field, bridges, etc. The line is imaginary – the basic idea is that the line should lead within the frame and take the audience somewhere.

Here’s an example 👇

Had we just clicked the picture of just the subject in this picture, it might have been OK. But, keeping in mind the leading lines, it added a new dimension to the picture. Similar is the case in cinematography. Here, the leading lines also add a sense of depth.

6. Diagonal Lines

Diagonal lines are much similar to the leading lines. The only difference is that the lines are diagonal (means the lines goes from left to right or vice-versa).

Diagonal lines also add a sense of depth in the frame.

7. Pattern / Repetition

Pattern (or repetition) is a composition technique that works well for cinematography (more than photography). Patterns are so natural. In fact, nature is filled with patterns.

Think about the mountains – All the mountains are similar to each other. When we shoot one mountain and pan the camera to show the other – audience feels the pattern in this case. It seems a powerful tool to capture certain scenes.

If you find the places with patterns or repetitions of certain elements, try to incorporate that within your camera viewfinder.

8. Framing

Framing is about surrounding your subject with interesting elements.

It brings a new dimension to the story – revealing something essential (or hiding something important). Just like the frame we hang in our homes, we cover our subject or the action with something interesting. These can be anything – any objects within the viewfinder can act as a frame.

Framing makes the scene even more interesting. Especially when we find something that relates to our story. Keep in mind that the frame should not be a distracting element to the story. In fact, it should bring something to the story and the scene.

9. Dominance

Remember the first picture that I showed to you. See the picture once again and answer this question – “What’s the dominant part of the shot?”

You’ll find it very difficult to answer that.

Because the shot is composed in a way that reveals everything while the audience is confused about what’s the dominant subject.

That’s what every director needs to consider. Whether it be film or photography, you’re directing the audience’s attention. The audience does not know anything about the scene until you show them. This is where filmmaking can be utilized to the fullest as well – you can direct the audience’s interest in a way that’s rarely possible in any other art forms.

10. Focus

Needless to say, that focus is important. Simple, yet super essential. Because if the subject is not in focus, then every other composition techniques will seem worthless. Hence, always keep your subject – the thing that you want to show, in focus.

As a viewer, we only think about one thing at a time – it’s upon your job as a filmmaker and cinematographer to make me think about the story. Focus helps a lot in this case.

It’s also about getting rid of the distracting elements.

In Conclusion

Well, that’s it …

These are the important composition techniques – we need to tweak, and twist them to tell our story, and make every scene valuable. Once again – these are just the guidelines and not the hard and fast rules. These are meant to be broken – once we understand the purpose and motivation of every composition techniques.

If I missed anything, let me know in the comment section below 👇

6 Basic Camera Shots Every Filmmaker Must Know

6 Basic Camera Shots Every Filmmaker Must Know

A Film is made up of scenes – a scene is made up of shots.

Shots, when combined (or let’s say edited) in a meaningful style make up the whole movie. Filmmaking is a language – and it has its own grammar. Filmmaking is spoken in terms of the scenes and shots.

A scene comprises of many shots.

Think of a scene like a sentence. What is a sentence made up of – words, right? True. But just randomly throwing out the words does not make the meaningful sentence. In order to make a sentence that makes sense – we need to learn how to put words together (which I am doing right now 😃)

In a similar way:

For a shot to make sense, we need to combine the shots (in fact, different kind of shots) in a proper way so that it makes sense to the viewer – and also moves forward your story.

… before that, we need to learn what each shot means to the viewers.

Let’s have a look at the various kind of shots and where it might be appropriate:

#1 – Wide Shot

Wide shot, as the name suggests is the shots that shows the wide range of the view. It’s generally used as an ‘establishing shot’ – which basically means to educate the viewer on the place or the environment that the action is taking place.

Wide Shot – Reveals the Whole Scene

It usually encompasses all the elements within the scene. It closely relates to the way we see the acts in the stage. We can see everything that’s going on within the scene.

Usage:

  • used as an establishing shot.
  • to show the high-level view of the action.

#2 – Long Shot

… also known as Full-body shot.

Long shot indicates that we can see the person from head to toe. In fact, it does not have to be a person, it can be an object as well. For example – we can capture the long shot of the car or building.

Long Shots can comprise of 2 person – also known as Two Body shot

These shots can be important when shooting actions where the character is moving. These shots provide a sense of location to the audience (although might not reveal every elements of the scene)

Usage:

  • Shoot the movements (when camera is moving along with the subject)

#3 – Medium Shot

Medium shot, as the name suggests is the half-body shot. It is generally used when the character is doing things. Maybe he is holding something, talking or reading something.

Medium shot is ideal for interviews (or people talking in general), where body language is still important and it also reveals expression of the character (something a long shot shot does not)

In these kind of shots, we are closer to the action – hence we become more involved in what the character is saying or doing – without focusing on a specific character’s emotions or any other particular details.

Usage:

  • used to shoot the general actions.
  • ideal when ‘body language’ and ‘expressions’ both are important

#4 – Close-Ups

Close-up shot refers to the shot that covers face of the person.

… also sometimes referred to as ‘head and shoulder’ shots.

Close-ups are generally used to emphasize the emotion of the person (or character). Since we are seeing the face clearly, the details of the face are clear – for example, how his/her eyes react to a certain situation.

These kind of shots are ideal when the character is moving.

… or when the character is doing some action. Since we cannot see below his neck – we do not know what his hands or legs are doing – hence any sorts of movement happening would not be perfect for close-ups.

Usage:

  • To emphasize on the emotions of the character.

#5 – Point-Of-View Shot

Point-Of-View shots are the shots as seen through the character’s eyes.

The character is going through some dramatic situation – and sometimes it’s better to make the audience look through the character’s eyes to help them feel the situation – for example, the height of the building. In case, our character is afraid – it’s not enough to use medium shots or close-ups of their expression – the audience needs to see what the character is seeing.

Seeing through character’s point of view helps us empathize him/her.

These kinds of shots add much value to the scene.

Since we want the audience to travel through the protagonist’s life, it’s better to make them live the character’s life – and POV shots are powerful medium to do so.

Usage:

  • To help the audience see through the character’s eyes.

#6 – Over The Shoulder Shot

Mostly used for conversation purpose, OTS shot is a variation of the close-up shot. In this shot, we shoot over the shoulder of one actor to the medium close-up of the other actor (the one who s/he is looking at)

These kinds of shots add depth to the scene – foreground becomes the actor who is not talking. Next, it helps our audience know that we are not shooting the character in isolation – there’s someone else in the scene whom a character is talking to.

Usage:

  • Used in conversation-style shots to make audience feel like the scene is not shot in isolation.
  • Used when the character is looking at something – for example – reading books

How to Combine The Shots?

A shot is a building block of a scene.

How we combine the shots together to build a scene determines what kind of emotions will the scene provoke and what does the scene contribute for the whole movie.

The general rule of thumb is to start with an establishing shot (or a master shot).

It provides the context, or the environment in which the action is happening. And afterwards insert the other shots of the scene so that the scene makes sense to the viewers and also it helps move the story forward.

In Conclusion

Camera shots are an important part of filmmaking.

The shots are the building block of the scene. Similar to the fact that a scene does not work in isolation, the shots don’t work in isolation as well. Every shots you take is adding something to the scene – which means that you need to have 100% clarity about the scene before you even touch the camera.

I plan to write next about the camera movements, please be tuned.

Cinematography – Theory and Practice – Book Summary

It’s the summary of the book – Cinematography – Theory and Practice.

Chapter 1 – Writing with Motion

The term “Cinematography” is from the Greek roots meaning ‘writing with motion’.

When we create a film project, one of our primary tasks is to create a visual world for the characters to inhabit. The visual world is an important part of how the audience will perceive the story; how the audience will understand the character and their motivation.

Random choices do not help you tell your story.

Conceptual Tools of Cinematography:

  • Frame
  • Lens
  • Light and Color
  • Movement
  • Texture
  • Establishing
  • POV (Point-Of-View)

Frame:

Choosing the frame is a matter of conveying the story, but it’s also the question of composition, rythm and perspective.

Lens:

Every lens has a ‘personality’ – a flavor and an infection it adds to the image. There are many factors: contrast & sharpness for example, but by far the most influential aspect of a lens is focal length: how long or wide the lens is.

Light and Color:

Light and color enables cinematographers to make film reach at a gut, emotional level.

Texture:

Changing the color and contrast of the picture, desaturating the color of the image, filters, fog and smoke effects, rain, using unusual film stocks, various printing techniques, and so on.

Movement:

Movies are one of the few art forms which employ motion and time, with the like of dance.

Establishing:

Establishing is the ability of camera to reveal or conceal information; letting the camera reveal the information is usually more cinematic way of getting information to the audience than dialog or voice over.

Point-of-View:

Having the camera see something in much the same way as one of the characters would see it: to view the scene from character’s point of view.

Chapter – Camera Movement

  • Camera placement is a key decision in storytelling. More than
    just “where it looks good,” it determines what the audience sees and
    from what perspective they see it.