In an earlier article I talked about music as one of the three things tha caused former Indian Creek Nature Center director Rich Patterson to say “”I like yours because they are outstanding and very much set a mood.”
The second thing I think that helps my films stand out and set a mood is color.
Mama Don’t Take My Kodachrome Away
I love looking at other filmmakers work. One thing I’ve noticed with a lot of them is that they use a very neutral look to their films. Contrast is not too harsh or too soft, colors aren’t too bright or too muted. Everything is right down the middle. Not too much, not too little.
I got my start capturing nature and wildlife shooting black and white film on an old Brownie camera. When I moved to Japan in the early seventies, I was given a 35mm camera and discovered the wonderful look of.Kodachrome 64 and Kodachrome 25.
I think being in Japan was a perfect place for me to learn about the wonderful colors and punchy contrast of Kodachrome. The gardens, rice paddies and lotus flowers all were captured again and again as I learned about still photography. When I switched over to video in 2005, I wanted the look of Kodachrome in my video as well.
Two Schools Of Thought
When it comes to shooting video there are two schools of thought. Shoot it flat, meaning shoot the subjects with neutral color and contrast then create the “look” you want in post production.
This is great is you’re shooting stock footage or not sure of the look you want in your film.
The other school of thought is to shoot the video how you want it to look in camera by adjusting the settings until you get the look you want.
What this means is that the camera records your subject exactly how you want it to look in your film. You tweak the camera to give you the color, saturation and contrast as it records. This method requires very little if any post production work and this is the method that I prefer.
The downside to shooting your look in camera is that it makes more work for you if you want to change the look to something else.
I tend to crush my blacks in camera, meaning I set the camera so that the darker areas lose all detail and are pure black. Once this detail is gone, you can’t get it back. So you really need to be confident in the look you are going after if you want to shoot your look in camera.
There’s No Secret To My Look
Quite often I get emails asking if I’d be willing to share the settings on my camera to get the look that I use in all my footage. There really is no secret. I pump up the color saturation and crush the blacks. That’s it. There are a million and one settings on my camera but I only tweak two. Chroma and Master Ped. That’s it. That’s my secret to getting that Kodachrome look that I love so much.
Usually I get an email back asking if I can give specific numbers. On my Panasonic HPX-250, I crank the chroma up to +7 and the Master Ped to about -15 or -20. That’s it. Yet sometimes I get the feeling that people feel I’m holding some secret camera setting back and not sharing it with them. That really is all that I do to get the color and contrast that I want.
Check out the video below to see some examples of subjects I shot at the camera’s default settings and then with the chroma pumped up and the Master Ped cranked down.
There Is, One More Thing…
Maybe the reason that some people still feel I’m holding some secret camera setting back is because there’s one more element in my footage that Rich says “I like yours because they are outstanding and very much set a mood” and that’s light. If you have bad light, it doesn’t matter what you change your camera settings to, you’re just not going to get spectacular footage.
In part three of this series I’ll talk about light and how it’s probably the single mostÂ important aspect of getting great looking video.
And as always, shoot the ordinary and make it extraordinary!