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The Sum of the Parts


Making Movies with the D5000

When the D90 came out, its D-Movie capability was my chance to realize my movie-making aspirations. Then the D5000 added a twist to the potential with its Vari-Angle LCD. Raising the bar even more, the introduction of the D300S added an external stereo mic input for improved sound.

None of these cameras fully replaces a camcorder, but all sure boost creative image-making by adding the option of motion.

And pretty sophisticated motion, too: I get to film through a NIKKOR lens, prime or zoom; the camera’s DX sensor, which is larger than a camcorder’s, provides incredible resolution and depth-of-field capability; and I can choose the f/stop of the lens for depth-of-field control not typically found in common camcorders.

I recently shot video clips and stills of a local fire department’s training session, and I thought I’d pass along some of the things I’ve discovered that have made a big difference in the quality of my Nikon D-SLR video efforts.

For instance, I routinely program the AEL/AFL button so that pressing it locks and holds the exposure reading of the part of the scene on which I want the exposure to be based. Now I can move the camera as I film and maintain that setting. The result? No more of the lightening and darkening (the automatic ISO gain control) you often see in home movies. I’ve found it’s a great technique when I want my movie—or one scene of it—to have a deliberate, constant exposure. Of course I can rely on the camera’s auto gain, or mix the techniques in one movie, by pressing the button and unlocking the exposure hold. It’s sort of like instant lighting direction.

When I select D-Movie mode, the camera is essentially using an electronic shutter on the sensor itself, so there’s no control of ISO or shutter speed, but I can select the f/stop and thus dictate depth of field (and, ultimately, the shutter speed) by my f/stop choice. Because ISO is totally automatic, I often like to choose an aperture that gives me great depth of field and let the ISO change to handle low-light scenes. The auto ISO gain permits only a couple of stops of change, so the lighting won’t vary radically once I’ve set the aperture. Plus, I can use the camera’s exposure compensation to influence the look of the scenes.

I can also apply custom picture controls. If I’d like a film noir look, I shoot in black and white and adjust the contrast for a high-contrast look. Shooting in color, I can also choose Vivid Mode for a hyper-color appearance.

Here are a few other things you might consider:

  • Whatever tripod you have, replace its movable head with a fluid head. It’s best for smooth panning and tilting. And use those movements sparingly and for a purpose.

  • For handheld shooting, steady up the camera. With the D5000’s Vari-Angle LCD you can hold your elbows in to your body (just as you do when shooting stills) while you hold the camera out in front of you. You can also adjust the LCD to a below-eye-level position to add variety to the film. And if your lens offers VR image stabilization, use it to help steady your shots.

  • Lens choice is key. I like variety, but I keep it basic: one or two short zooms (the AF-S DX Zoom-NIKKOR 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED and AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED) and a bit of reach (AF-S VR Zoom-NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED).

  • The best tip I can give you: it’s not any one scene or clip—it’s the sum of the parts. The edited, assembled movie is the story you’re telling. Shoot, change the focal length or the lens, shoot some more. When you edit, try different techniques: jump cuts and quick changes of angle alternating with longer scenes. Mix in stills, too. (For quick editing I’ve used Google’s Picasa, which has basic video-editing tools, iMovie and Windows Movie Maker, but I’m moving up fast to more sophisticated editing programs like Adobe Premiere Pro and Apple’s Final Cut Pro.)

  • Second best tip: plan ahead, think like a filmmaker and use establishing shots, detail shots, medium close-ups, close-ups and tracking shots.

  • Or just wing it. Fun’s the factor here.

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