Shooting Video with your DSLR (Part 5)

Stanley interviewing James Dockery, senior editor for ESPN. photo by: Jeff Raymond

Two Cameras

When I do my interviews I try to always use two cameras. There are many benefits like:

Backup of the interview if one camera fails
Different looks using slightly wide shot and a tight shot
Helps with editing

Let me talk a little about how much two cameras can help with editing. Almost all the time you need to edit someone’s comments. This means you cut something out and when you do it the person’s head will jump on the video and give us the telltale sign that you just cut something.

Now if you have two cameras you can switch camera angles and it doesn’t tip the audience that you cut something. It will just look like you went to a different angle.

Now if you have a slightly wider shot that includes the hands then when the person is quite talkative with their hands and not just their mouth it is good to include the hands.

Besides cutting out a long comment that really doesn’t add to the storyline there are times you need to rearrange their comments. Maybe the last thing they said would make the strongest lead for the story.

Again having that second camera lets you change angles and it will look like they started with this thought.

In the end you will help the subject sound more coherent and look like this was just a straight take and easier for the audience to absorb.

Reasons to redo the interview

The first time you do interview someone be sure and tell them you may need to come back the next day or two for a second interview.

Unless you are a seasoned pro most people will not catch everything happening in real time and will notice missing information during the post processing editing time.

If this happens I highly recommend having the subject redo the parts that you liked for several reasons.

They often have changed clothes
Matching the lighting and camera angles is difficult
Matching the sound can be difficult as well

You may want to even play the video parts you liked and have them rehearse a few times before you redo it. I have found that often the person realizes they can even say it better now that they have heard themselves.

I must tell you this funny story about a seasoned photographer learning to do video for the first time. He thought of locations he wanted to use as the background for the interview his subject.

We realized that while teaching we failed to tell people to do their interviews in one place. While in a still photo that would make since to show your subject in the different locations when it came time for editing the sound didn’t match, the lighting was so different and when you finished editing the content and put the takes in the logical order of how it best told the story the guy was jumping all over the city back and forth.

It was so funny. Just imagine the evening news where instead of going to Washington to listen to the correspondent there and then to West Coast correspondent to maybe an East Coast correspondent as well it was the same person. That was what it looked like.

If you do a good job with the interview and have a well thought out storyline being told by the subjects you should be pleased with the results that if this is all the audience saw and heard it would work.

One strategy for editing most any type of production is to do a “radio” edit. Focusing your cuts and the assembly of your timeline on the dialog [AUDIO] places the content of the story as the highest priority.

Once you have this done you will then work on getting visuals to supplement the audio. More on that in the next part of Shooting Video with your DSLR.

Some more technical tips

I recommend a magnifier for your LCD. You need to be sure your shot is in focus.

Another option is using a video monitor. The advantage of external monitor is not just bigger picture for focusing and exposure control, but with some monitors like this Atomos Ninja Blade 5″ HDMI On-Camera Monitor & Recorder is recording for longer periods of time than the time limits on most DSLR cameras. You are only limited to the size of the hard drive you use.

Atomos Ninja Blade 5″ PRODUCT HIGHLIGHTS

Key Features
– 325DPI, 5″ IPS 1280 x 720 capacitive touchscreen monitor/recorder.
– Waveform RGB & luma parade, vectorscope with zoom, and test pattern generator.
– Adjustable gamma, contrast and brightness.
– HDMI input and output.
– Real-time monitoring, playback, playout to a PC or Mac with QuickTime, and edit logging.
– Focus peaking, 0-100% zebra, and two modes of false color monitoring.
– Records 10-bit, 4:2:2 in ProRes or DNxHD.
– S-Log / C-Log recording.
– Trigger REC/STOP from camera (Canon, Sony, ARRI, Panasonic, RED, JVC)
– Timecode from camera. [Nikon has no timecode]
– 2.5″ HDD/SSD media storage.

It records up to 1080 30p/60i resolution via HDMI to an available HDD or SSD using either Apple’s ProRes or Avid’s DNxHD codecs. Recording at 10-bit with 4:2:2 color sampling, this unit provides you a monitoring and recording solution in one compact battery powered unit.

Shooting Video with your DSLR (Part 3)

When doing an interview there are a few things you need to do every time.

Fill the frame

When doing an interview you need to choose good composition and background carefully. Pay attention to everything inside the frame.

Get tight on the person you are interviewing.

Kill the Noise

Once you have put the microphone in place and have your headphones on you will be able to hear all the ambient sounds. This is where everyone is quite for a moment while you just listen.

Lets say you hear the ceiling fan or the air conditioner running. I would turn these off for the interview.

If you cannot turn off something like a water fall or water fountain, then move to a quite location.

Togo, West Africa

Steady the Camera

Use a tripod or put the camera on a table. Just keep your primary camera for the interview still. If you have a second camera to use then you can maybe do something like putting that camera on a slider or fluid head that will let you move the camera during the interview.

I believe you always need one camera that is locked and on a tripod for the interview.

Togo, West Africa

Light the Subject

My suggestion is to find a great place with light so you don’t have to use lights. I find the open shade on the side of a building works as well as porches as you see in these two photos of interviews we were doing in Togo, West Africa.

Audio is King

There are times for different microphones just as there are times for different lenses. You need to know the difference between a lapel, on camera & shotgun microphone.

Sharpness is Queen

Sharp focus is critical. I advise against shooting ƒ/1.4 for video unless this is your second camera perspective. Have a depth-of-field that is forgiving if the person moves during the interview.

Use manual focus and not Auto-Focus.

Lock Down the lens

Don’t zoom in and out on your primary camera. You can do some of this with a second camera, but be sure at least one camera is locked down and you have a solid framed shot that is in focus and has enough depth-of-field that the person can move a little and still be in focus.


Shooting Video with your DSLR (Part 2)

Nikon D5 Video Gear

In Part 1 I suggested the gear you need to use your DSLR/Mirrorless camera to do video. This post will do with some basic settings I recommend for the camera when doing a video.

Nikon D5 Video Settings

Camera Video Settings

On my Nikon D5 The Frame Rate, Resolution and Frame Size all show up in the upper right hand corner of the Live View on the LCD. We need to address all three.

Resolution – I recommend Full HD 1920×1080

While there are many other resolutions like 2K, 4K, 6K and even 8K I believe they are overkill for web distribution. Even my friend Ben Smallbone whose credits include the movies: Priceless, Taken, and Steve McQueen: American Icon to name a few of his movies told me that when it came to distributing their films to movie houses all over the country that they said not to give them anything bigger than 2K.

Now there are really two resolutions in video just as there are two resolutions with stills. You have the capture setting and the exported resolution.

While you can shoot say at 4k for the similar reasons you would shoot RAW your computer must be really top of the line to process the 4K files. Unless you want to crop in on your video in post-production I believe there is little to gain for the average project to shoot higher than the Blue Ray Full HD 1920×1080 resolution.

Frame Rate – I recommend 24 Frames per Second

Here is a good video showing why 24 fps is an industry standard for movies.


24 FPS is the Cinematic Look that is used in motion pictures. There are reasons to shoot other FPS and one worth mentioning is to shoot super high rate to then slow down for that “Slow Motion” affect.

Shutter Speed – I recommend 1/48 or 1/50

As a rule of thumb, you want the denominator of your shutter speed to be approximately double the number of frames per second that you are recording. For example, when shooting at 25fps, your shutter speed should be 1/50 of a second. If you have the 24fps and do not have a 1/48 then pick the closest frame rate like 1/50 or 1/60.

Manual Mode – Shoot this rather than Aperture, Shutter or Program mode

If anything on the camera is set to automatic your exposure can change when say something changes in the frame like your subject just moves a little. The camera may think the lighting has changed and it hasn’t. Shoot manual mode and manual focus as well.

Look – use Neutral

In video, just like stills, you can pick a picture color mode. There are modes on most cameras like: Standard, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait and Neutral. If your camera doesn’t have a Neutral setting then pick Standard.

When later we cover your post production you can do more with a Neutral setting than with say Vivid. More on that in later posts on making videos with your DSLR.

Nikon D5 Audio Level

Audio Recording Settings

You want to have your recording levels set manually and not automatic for the same reasons for the video. When someone stops talking the Auto level will increase the volume and introduce noise.

Most levels on cameras or a separate recording device like the Zoom Digital Audio Recorders have a way to show you it is too loud.

Most video editors agree that the overall audio level of your audio mix (all of your audio combined) should normalized between -10db to -20db. I personally level my videos around -12db with occasional peaks to -8db.

What this means for me on my Nikon D5 is I want the level to peak right up to the last line before it goes red. I have a person talk for a while and then set the sound recording level before actually recording.

I recommend doing a test video for sound. Set your video settings to get a good exposure and audio levels for good sound. Record 30 seconds to a minute and then download to your computer and play using Quicktime or other video software that came with your computer.

For testing sound play something on your computer like music you downloaded. After you set your speakers for proper volume when listening to your music then play your video. If you have to adjust the volume to hear the recording then you need to adjust your recording levels. The biggest problem is if it is too quite or if too loud and giving you distortion.

Headphone Volume

Be very careful that you are not using the headphone volume as a way to see if the audio level is set correctly. Use the levels for audio the same way you use a histogram. Once you have those levels set then adjust your headphone volume to where you can hear properly.

Picking a location to do an interview

When picking a location you need to pay attention to two things: 1) Sound in the location and 2) lighting/visual.

My recommendation is to just turn on your microphone and put your headphones on and just listen to the environment. Are you trying to do a interview next to a waterfall or water fountain? That will prove to be difficult to impossible.

Finding a totally silent location would be “ideal,” but not always possible.

Make finding the perfect location weigh sound quality over visual.

Stay tuned for more.

Shooting Video with your DSLR (Part 1)

Nikon D5 headphone and microphone jack

I am breaking down the topics you need to cover to start shooting Video with a DSLR. Part 1 will cover the basic gear you need. My assumption is you are interested in Storytelling.

The interview of a subject on camera is the staple of most storytelling. The gear I recommend will help you get a good interview on video.

There are many levels of production you can do when recording video with your DSLR. I am taking the approach here to start you as a one man band doing the production all yourself.

The starting point for all video is sound. People will not watch a video with poor sound. Sound is the foundation for your production.

Nikon D5 headphone and microphone jack

I recommend not trying to do video unless you have a microphone and headphone jack. The microphones built into the camera would only really work for recording interviews in the selfie distance to the camera.

The basic understanding of recording sound for the video is the get the microphone as close to the sound as possible. I use a wireless lavalier system. The system I use costs $500.

Shure FP15/83 Combo Wireless System, H5

You can buy a wired lavalier for under $50. Buy one with a long cable for interviews.

The second principle to understand is you need to isolate what is being recorded and the best way to do this is with closed-back headphones. Here is what I use.

Sennheiser HD 280 Pro Circumaural Closed-Back Monitor Headphones

You need also a good tripod to keep the camera still. Having a Pan & Tilt Fluid Head on the tripod is better than basic head.

Google your camera using a microphone and headphones. Many cameras may have a microphone jack but not a headphone jack. There are some ways to work around that for your camera. Sometimes you will find you just need to upgrade your camera.

You can add more gear, but I believe this is the super basic kit necessary to create a video.

In other blog posts to come I will talk about other microphones, lighting and gear to help you move your camera during a shoot.

I will also cover the software you need to edit.

Stay tuned.


#1 mistake made with multimedia/video

Disclosure: Please note that links to merchants posted on this blog may be an affiliate link which means that I may receive a commission from any purchases made using the affiliate link. This is at no additional cost to you.

Shure FP15/83 Combo Wireless System, H5

Our teaching team for our International Missions Photography Workshop in Lisbon, Portugal started to prioritize the subjects we are teaching and the number one technical mistake we see most often made in multimedia projects has to do with poor sound.

Your audience will tolerate poor quality images more than they will tolerate poor audio in a multimedia presentation.

Before you can teach people how to make better audio for their projects you need to address having a good microphone.

Simple Solution

You need to get the microphone as close as you can to the source for the best recording. Recording with a DSLR or video camera’s built in microphone requires you to be on top of someone to get a good recording of them during an interview.

Clipping an lavalier microphone on their clothing as close to their mouth will give you the best consistent results. Having a wireless system so you don’t have cables all over and having to pack a lot of extension cables is the best way to go.

Today you can easily sync an audio recording with your video recording in post production with today’s software. Be sure to clap when all the recording devices are rolling and then you can easily line up the spikes in the software.  I would go even so far as to say clapping 2 or 3 times will make it even easier.

Align the two tracks using the spikes

So what do your record with? My number one recommendation is based on the assumption that most of those taking our workshop will have a smartphone. The second assumption is there is no need to spend a lot of money on recording gear, but rather buy those things that will compliment what you already have in your bag.


You can buy the RØDE smartLav microphone that is designed to work with a smartphone.  If you look the link you will notice the 1/8 plug has 4 connections rather than the typical 2 or 3 connections. This design makes the microphone work with your smartphone.

You can use the microphone with any recording App you have on your phone and for those with a iPhone there is the RØDE Rec App. There are many Apps to choose from for Android and the iPhones. You want to use a recorder that you control the gain setting. Auto Gain setting is what you want to avoid.

Practice, Practice, Practice

After you buy the gear test it over and over. Practice recording with your video and the audio. You need to get used to starting and stopping them together. You need to practice always having claps.

The reason the standard for movies has been the clapboard. You show this in the video so you can match the sound spike of the clap to the visual. Just clapping your hands together in the frame of the camera will also work.

Practice putting those clips together in the software. You need to practice getting the sound file from your smartphone to your computer. You can email it or use something like Evernote or dropbox to transfer the file.

Put those files in a software like iMovie, Final Cut Pro X or Adobe Premier and practice lining up the two files. You may find out that the auto sync will not always work because the sound is so faint on the camera as compared to your smartphone recording.

Practice any type of recording scenario that you might want to use. You may want to do interviews where people are sitting still or maybe they are walking towards you. Just always practice before you do this on the job when you must have the sound for the project.

Tips for making video/audio interviews

Over the past six years I have been doing multimedia packages for my clients. Some of these are still images with audio and others are video with some still images.  The one thing that is constant in everyone is the interview.

I have taken many classes from other pros and read many books, but most of my tips here are from what I use now for most of my packages.

I want to break down the tips into two lists: technical and content.

This is a Nikon D4 with the Nikon stereo microphone

Technical tips

Rode VMPR VideoMic Pro R with Rycote Lyre Shockmount

  1. Use a good microphone and recording device. With today’s iPhones and other smart phones you can use this as your recording device, but get a good microphone if you choose to use this. I prefer using a shotgun microphone on my camera/video and/or a lavalier microphone clipped onto the shirt of the subject.
  2. Use headphones. You need to hear what is being recorded and the only way to do that is to put on headphones and hear what your microphone is picking up. This will also help you set the recording levels. This is when you will hear hums from electronics and air conditioning units to water falls. When you hear these things you can then see about moving or turning off electronics for the interview. This also will alert you to any short in the line of the microphone.
  3. Pick a quite space. With your headphones on and testing your sound you need to listen and try and pick the quietest place unless you want the ambient sound of the background.
  4. With video watch backgrounds. Look for a background that is simple or compliments the subject. Be sure it isn’t distracting and taking away from the audio.
  5. Back light with fill. I prefer when outside to back light the subject. This helps give them a rim light and then I use a fill light. The rim lighting separates them from the background and keeps their eyes from squinting. I use a fill light off to the side to help shape the face and fill in the shadows.
  6. Set camera and have subject talk to you. I don’t always do this, but it does relax the subject.

Aputure Amaran AL-528S Daylight LED Spot Light

Aputure Amaran AL-528W Daylight LED Flood Light

This is an example of a package I did for our church. I drove up to Chattanooga, TN in between other work jobs and shot this in couple hours and drove home.  Posted it a little later that night.

Interview Techniques

  1. Get to know your subject before interviewing them. This will not just help them be more relaxed but help you know how to interview them and perhaps help them relax.
  2. Do the interview at the end of the coverage and not the beginning. I find it is easier to have someone sum up what we saw today than have them talk about a lot of stuff that by the end of the day I never caught on camera. This helps you from lacking in b-roll or images.
  3. Ask the subject to summarize what you have seen that day. While you may not use all of this, it will help you with a starting place for the narrative.
  4. Mirror them. Keep them going by nodding and smiling.
  5. Ask your questions then be quiet. No noises to affirm them. Affirm with gestures. Your noises will distract from the sound quality.
  6. Remind them what you have that they need not talk about. Often people will want to tell you everything not understanding you have visuals that will help the audience. You need them to tell the things that the visuals don’t convey. While you have a visual that shows something happening, it often doesn’t help the audience know why.
  7. Keep them on topic. If you have two or more interviews in your package planned, then each person needs to know what they are covering. Sometimes I break it down as to let one person tell me why something happened and the other to explain what they did to make it happen.
  8. Help them revise their comments. Often i need about 30 to 45 seconds of comments and a person may talk for more than 5 minutes. If I were to edit it later their will not be a good flow. I try and help them summarize what they just said or even edit. When I say edit–I mean cutting content.
  9. Get variety. I like to often record a longer comment and then follow up with them making it really short. Sometimes I use the longer comment. Get another direction just in case. After doing this for a few minutes often this gets their minds engaged and they find a new way to articulate themselves. Allow for this to happen.

These are just a few tips of things I am doing today with my multimedia packages. I am now adding a second camera to add a variety of angles to interviews.

Before I get on a plane and travel to do a story, I have a good idea of what the story is before I take off. After I get there I listen and watch. Often the story changes and is modified. I go where the story takes me, but I am ever mindful of two things: the audience and the subject. I am trying to connect them to each other. What can the audience learn from the subject? Why should they care?

I am constantly looking and listening for ways to tell the story in the shortest and most effective way possible. I hope these tips may help you.