There are many factors that control the brightness of the picture when shooting video. When shooting a wedding video, it is important to have a good understanding of these camera functions because you are after all, shooting video in an uncontrolled environment. You have no control over the choosing of the venue and you are not allowed to set up studio lights, like you would be able to if you were shooting a drama.
It is also worth noting that the lighting conditions can change dramatically during a wedding shoot and you therefore need to adapt quickly in order to control the exposure of the picture you are shooting. For example you could be shooting outside and then a cloud blocks the Sun, resulting in a darker picture. Even inside of a church the Sun being blocked by a cloud can have a massive effect on the brightness inside the church because a lot of the light comes through the windows.
1, Iris. The iris is the part of the camera that controls how much light is allowed into the camera and onto the sensor. The iris setting is measured by f stop. The higher the f stop the less light is allowed into the camera.
Therefore if the picture is dark, the first thing you do is open the iris to let more light in. This always results in a brighter picture, but is not always enough to make the picture bright enough. At the same time, if you are outside on a very sunny day, closing the iris to its last open f stop, does not always stop the picture from being over exposed.
The Iris is always the first thing that a professional camera man will alter because it deals with the Sun's rays at source of entry into the camera. If the iris does not completely rectify your exposure issue, then you must use some of the other controls in conjunction with the iris.
2, Shutter Speed. Shutter speed controls how long the chip is exposed to the Sun per frame. The longer you expose each picture to the Sun, the more of an effect the Sun has on the brightness of the picture. Sounds easy but the reality is that you have to be very careful controlling the shutter speed because it can produce some un wanted effects on the video that is being recorded.
We shoot at 1/50 shutter speed. This means that each picture or frame is exposed to the Sun for 1/50th of a second. This shooting speed is our preferred shutter speed, because it is a good balance between letting enough light into the camera and keeping a nice clear and yet smooth picture.
If we find after altering the exposure that the picture is a little dark, we sometimes reduce the shutter speed to 1/25th in order to make the picture brighter. Essentially we are exposing the chip for twice the amount of time that we are if we are shooting at 1/50th and we are therefore producing a brighter picture because we are giving the Sun more time to paint an image on the sensor chip. We can how ever only do this if there is little movement in the frame, because if what we are filming is moving fast, it will create a streaky and blurry effect on the video because the increased time of exposure is producing too much motion blur. Generally speaking, this is fine for a wedding ceremony, where the bride and groom are stood still most of the time, but would be no good for an energetic first dance.
3, Filters. Neutral density filters are used when as described above, even when brought up to its highest f stop, the iris can not stop the picture from being over exposed. We have three different neutral density filters on our cameras, which all vary in their ability to reduce the Sun's rays.
4, Gain/ISO value. The gain is the amount of energy supplied to the chip. By increasing the amount of energy to the chip, you make the chip more sensitive to light and therefore produce a brighter picture. The gain controls must be used with caution, because by increasing the gain you also produce a more grainy picture, which is not only distracting, but also reduces quality.
We always save increasing the gain as a last resort, because of it increasing the grain of the shot. As a rule we maximise all the other controls we have and if we after all that we still have a picture that is too dark, we will tentatively increase the ISO. You have to be extremely careful about this because it is difficult to see the increase in grain on a small three inch screen, but when you see the footage on a large screen, it is a very obvious thing.
5, Top light. We always carry a top light with us when we shoot. A top light is a screen of powerful light emitting diodes, which sits on top of the camera. By turning the top light on, we can reduce or eliminate the need to increase the gain, because by throwing more light at the subject, we get more light back into the camera.
It is not always appropriate how ever to use a top light, because it can have a harsh effect on people's eyes. Because of this we very rarely use a top light during a wedding ceremony, how ever, it goes nearly totally un noticed during the first dance.
In summary, there are many things that a camera man can do to increase the brightness of the picture he is recording. It is how ever something that has to be approached in the correct way, in order to produce the best picture possible. As professional wedding videographers, we have attained so much experience at shooting in demanding and varying locations, that we have become very comfortable at shooting video in almost any location.
When we return from a wedding we always check the footage and keep in mind what controls we used at the time. By doing this we are able to constantly analyse what we do and improve our camera skills, in order to shoot the best possible picture we can in a particular location.
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