Getting Film Look on Video

Here are a few tricks for the serious videographer to hold in mind for achieving a look of film.
    One of the biggest tattle tale signs using video is the contrast ratio. This is the ratio between the luminance or the lightest areas exposed to the camera chip and the darkest spots in the scene exposed to the camera chip. A prime example of contrast ratio comes when a subject is placed in front of a window or any glass and the outside sun is directly behind the subject. When the scene is played back, the back lighting looks like a nuclear blast and the subject looks like a mudslide. The reason: Video has a 30:1 ratio while film has a 100:1 contrast ratio. A DP and lighting technician are careful to avoid this pitfall even while using film. In most cases a filter sheet is placed over windows and doors reducing the amount of light passing through the glass. To get a film look on video the contrast ratio must be reduced.  Filter sheets can be placed over glass to buffer the light, but this can be expensive if there are numerous windows and doors to be covered. The filter sheets can be found at a building supply company that sells window tinting.
    Another way to reduce the contrast ratio during an interior shoot that involves the subject or subjects placed in front of glass is by planning the scene for a late afternoon shoot. The waning sunlight greatly reduces the contrast ratio on video giving it a film look. A scene does need to be well rehearsed in this situation. Where a lighting technician may have control of man made lighting, the videographer shooting late afternoon scenes is at the mercy of the descending sun. This means that the lighting is rapidly degrading and there is not much time for a take, much less multiple takes. This scenario can present a problem in post involving multiple takes of the scene during editing when the lighting obliviously does not match in consistency. Another way to remedy the contrast ratio problem is to shoot on an overcast day. Constant cloud coverage provides a veil for diffusing harsh sunlight.
    Interior lighting may become a motive for losing the film look. Here are a few things to consider about using indoor lighting. Bright overhead lighting, when used by itself, creates a flat look. The recorded scene loses dimension and depth. Always keep in mind the three basic principles for lighting: Key lighting, fill lighting, and back lighting. Using these three principles for lighting correctly adds depth to the recorded scene and enhances a professional film look. Another problem interior light causes comes back to the contrast ratio. Bright lights from lamps and other sources will increase the contrast ratio. Consider using a lower wattage bulb while shooting the scene. Using a video cable, jack the camera into a portable television to eye the results and manipulate the lighting until it becomes aesthetically acceptable. The lighting can be controlled by a dimmer control switch, but be aware this will effect the color temperature and then the lighting must be corrected using color gels. Lighting is important for attaining a film like quality for video.     
    The same rules apply for shooting an outdoor scene. Keep tabs on the weather and plan the outdoor shoots for a cloudy day and hope that it does not rain. Using cloud coverage is tricky and the coverage must be massive in order for the sun to remain behind the clouds. The same principle  for using waning sunlight to shoot an outdoor scene applies the same way as shooting indoors. Keep in mind that time is a big factor.
    The portrait feature is used for this technique if the camera possesses this function. Using this simple feature on the camera can help the production achieve the look of film. The portrait feature softens the foreground and the background. Film uses grain exposed to light to achieve an image in a single frame. Grain uses a chemical process to rely on getting an image. The higher the grain, the better the resolution and color saturation. Film has a soft look around every edge produced on each image. The higher the grain content the better the picture. The video camera uses an electronic process using a chip. The high resolution camera uses three chips that splits the color band into three colors of red, green, and blue (RGB). Each chip processes a different color. The three chip camera produces the best comparable image to film at this time.
    Do not expect a one chip camera to have a complete 35mm film look using these techniques. The production will have an aesthetically pleasing look that will fool the eye in some cases. It is for sure that the production will achieve higher quality video.
    These techniques produce a superior video that gives any production a professional touch.

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Comments 10 comments

ournote2self profile image

ournote2self 5 years ago

Great tips! I'm always looking for a way to get better pictures.


Marlin 55 profile image

Marlin 55 5 years ago from USA Author

Thank you. I glad it helps. I spent a lot of years getting a film look in a controlled environment. And thanks for stopping by.


TrahnTheMan profile image

TrahnTheMan 4 years ago from Asia, Oceania & between

Some very helpful tips Marlin- thanks!


Marlin 55 profile image

Marlin 55 4 years ago from USA Author

Trahn, I'm so glad that it helped. Years ago, when I bought my first Hi 8, I noticed that in certain conditions that the video had the quality of film and I decided to play with controlled lightning and other conditions and I got some really great results. I'm glad to pass these findings along.


TrahnTheMan profile image

TrahnTheMan 4 years ago from Asia, Oceania & between

They are fairly timeless tips too- even though technology has advanced so much in the field of video (and photography), and what can be achieved now using DSLRs in video mode, your experiences with the good old Hi8 are still useful, so thanks for taking the time to write the hub. Are you still shooting now and if so what do you use?


Marlin 55 profile image

Marlin 55 4 years ago from USA Author

I'm sorry to say that I left the film biz to write. My first novel is due out soon. I don't know if I'll ever shoot or edit again, but I may continue to write articles and give tips on videography. I've had one in mind that I've never written on how to create a thunderstorm on a clear day just using a few easy methods.


TrahnTheMan profile image

TrahnTheMan 4 years ago from Asia, Oceania & between

WOw- that's an exciting change for you Marlin- best of luck with the novel- I'm sure it will be a great success. I know I can speak for every Hubber here that we would LOVE to know about your thunderstorm trick!


Marlin 55 profile image

Marlin 55 4 years ago from USA Author

Trahn, I am going to follow you and when I write the article, I'll be sure to let you know and if you have any questions on how to perform any of these special effects just write me and I will be glad to help you through. And thank you for the best wishes.


Leila 4 years ago

Well, the actual video and film contrast ratios are quite higher but the principle stands indeed.

One other trick to simulate a filmic look is to reproduce film's cadence with the appropriate frame rate and shutter speed. There is a good overview in this article on cinematic look: http://www.shutterangle.com/2012/cinematic-look-fr...

But good lighting is, of course, fundamental.


Marlin 55 profile image

Marlin 55 4 years ago from USA Author

Thank you for your input.

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