Beginner Basics for Shooting Video at Night

Beginner Basics for Shooting Video at Night

Shooting video between the hours of dusk and dawn has its challenges and perks. It creates a natural ambiance for a certain feeling you’re trying to evoke in a story, provides a lighting situation that brings the vision to life, or it can leave you stumped on how to get proper exposure when the sun sets. Before you set out for that twilight adventure, here are a few important things to remember to help make your night videos shine.

Shoot at a Lower F-Stop

The aperture (hole or gap that allows for light to enter) is measured by the f-stop. The lower the f-stop, the wider the opening and the more light enters. Imagine the pupil in your eye. It widens and dilates in lower lit situations to compensate for seeing in the dark better. Choose a lens that can shoot wide open at an f/1.2-f/2.8. Choosing fast lenses like the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 or the Zeiss CP.2 85mm T 1.5 EF Mount Speed Lens can assist with shooting at faster “speeds”.
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Shoot at a Higher ISO

If you’re shooting with a full frame DSLR camera (like the Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 5Ds R, Nikon D810, Nikon D610, Canon 6D) you can usually push your ISO up to 3200 without seeing any grain. On a crop sensor body, limitations usually sit at 1600 ISO. Of course, every situation is different and if you feel you can still bump up the ISO past these numbers without getting grain, by all means do so to get the look you want. We recommend experimenting with different settings to get what you’re most happy with.

Check Your Shutter Speed

You can slow the shutter speed down, allowing for more light to enter, however, slowing down your shutter speed can cause motion blur.

Keep Your Camera in Manual Mode

Yes, automatic is easy for run and gun but it does not give you full control. It may even make each of your scenes look different from each other, even if the same basic settings and locations were kept. On automatic, it may focus on things you don’t want and/or your white balance will bounce around, which can be frustrating to fix in post. Get yourself familiar with the manual mode and you can even customize your camera’s back buttons for quick access to each of the necessary dials. Film Production

Distance from Your Subject is Important at Night

The reason you often see your subjects go in and out of focus in darker situations is because you’re shooting wide open which makes the depth of field super small. If they move even within an inch or two the wrong way, they’ll be out of focus. Try moving back a bit to give yourself a little more leeway so that your actors fall closer to the infinity focal range.

Find a Good Location

Take your time to scout different locations that will offer you ambient street lighting, reflections, etc. Go out there with your camera prior to your shoot, if possible, to see if the scene registers on your camera and how adjusting ISO and shooting open wide looks.

If Absolutely Necessary, Adjust in Post

Plan ahead while you’re shooting to know what kinds of things you can salvage afterward. Whether it’s exposure, color correcting or reducing grain, there’s always a little movie magic available in the editing process to help complete the shoot!

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Cherish Ortiz

Cherish received a BFA in Cinematography from the Academy of Art University. She has gone on to work as a freelance 1st camera assistant under award-winning directors of photography and continues to crew on high production films and commercials.

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