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Filmmaking 101: Making a Video From the Ground Up

Refresh your skills and take a minute to remember why you got into filmmaking with these all-inclusive tutorials on capturing images.

Cover image via guruXOX.

Every video you see in this post comes from our new Shutterstock Tutorial YouTube channel, where we’re offering easy-to-follow introductions to things like camera movements; the philosophies behind those camera movements; and when and how to capture a particular moving, still, or sweeping shot.

Understanding how your camera works is as important as learning how to tell an interesting story. So let’s start at the beginning. We’ll take a look at how to set your camera and lens before you actually start rolling.

Understanding the Iris

Let’s talk about the f-stop. This term refers to the aperture or iris inside your lens. It determines how much light can reaches your camera’s sensor.

So how can you measure it for yourself and determine the right f-stop? Remember the scale of your f-stops like this: the higher the f-stop (a f16 or f22, for example), the less light will hit the sensor, creating a darker image. So, a lower f-stop will yield a brighter image with a shallow depth of field.

Which reminds me, lets talk about depth of field. The depth of field you set determines how much your camera can keep in focus, and you control this with the f-stop. So, a lower f-stop like f2.8 will create a very shallow depth of field that can usually only keep a small area in focus. The higher the aperture, the “deeper” the depth of field.

Understanding Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is a measurement of time — specifically how long the shutter stays open when capturing an image. You’ll see it as a fraction of a second or a number of full seconds. So if your shutter speed is 1/250, this means that your shutter was open for one two-hundred fiftieth of a second. Super fast.

However, videographers can understand the shutter speed in terms of a door opening or wheel spinning, letting light in for a certain amount of time. To quote Todd Blankenship:

“Shutter angle is a measurement system that has stuck around from the film-camera days. There was a circular shutter that would constantly spin in front of the film emulsion. The shutter angle is a measurement (in terms of degrees) of how much of that circle is left open for the duration of the rotation.”

This is but one of the many ways you can determine how your image will look in relation to how much light reaches the sensor.

Understanding ISO

The ISO can be a bit tricky, especially since the ISO settings you use to properly expose your shot change from camera to camera.

You can think of adjusting the ISO as adjusting the signal you get from the “photosites” on the sensor that measure blue, green, and red colors. So when you increase the ISO, you increase the camera’s sensitivity to light. Some cameras can produce a clear image in very dark situations, while other cameras yield noisy, grainy, unusable images under the same circumstances.

So, it really depends on your camera’s capabilities. I always watch test videos on YouTube and check out camera reviews before purchasing a camera. It’s a good way to see what your camera can do without forking over your savings in advance.

Once you have your camera set and the lighting is just right, here are some camera moves and techniques to consider.

Pan, Tilt, and Zoom

Let’s start with the pan. The pan moves the camera along a horizontal plane. Usually, you’ll perform this movement on a tripod. You can find this type of shot in the work of famous directors like Wes Anderson or Stanley Kubrick. You can use it comedically or for dramatic reveals — either way, it’s just a method of directing the audience’s attention.

The tilt is basically the same idea, but instead of moving along a horizontal plane, you move the camera along a vertical plane. Think of this as a movement from point A and point B. A good rule of thumb is to catch your subject in focus at point B, so that when the camera stops moving, you don’t have to refocus.

Zooming is pretty self-explanatory, but there are ways you can pull off a perfect zoom, meaning your image is in focus exactly when you need it to be. For tricks like putting tape on your lens as a focus marker, check out these articles:

Close-Ups and Wides

Mastering the close-up can take time, but these shots can be absolutely crucial to the plot if you’re filming a narrative piece. This is when we get up-close-and-personal with the characters. Getting this shot requires a shallow depth of field, which directs your audience’s attention to exactly what you want them to see — usually a character’s eyes or mouth. Outside of narrative film, the close-up will come in handy if you’re ever shooting product photography.

The wide shot is a little more versatile. This all-encompassing shot is perfect for many different scenes and scenarios, like a walk-and-talk, a conversation, a landscape, or an action scene. Wide lenses are usually anything from 15mm to 35mm. Most of your image will be in focus, so choose your locations and surroundings carefully.

Tracking and Dolly Shots

Now, let’s look at moving the entire camera rig. Tracks and dollies are the end-all-be-all if you want to add a cinematic look to your video. It’s a smooth, sweeping, controlled movement that even the best in the business have trouble mastering from time to time. What is a tracking shot? It’s simple: follow your subject on a horizontal plane from a manageable distance while keeping the subject in focus.

There are dozens upon dozens of ways to pull it off. Even Oscar-winning cinematography maestros like Emmanuel Lubezki pull out all the stops to get the shot. Here are a couple of cheap ways you can do so on your own if you don’t have a crew.

Using a Jib

This shot requires a specific piece of gear. It might not be the easiest rig to build yourself, but we can still take a look at what the shots tell us from a narrative standpoint. For instance, moving the jib from ground level to over your characters as they walk is a good introductory shot that also reveals the location to your audience.

The jib is also versatile enough to get overhead shots, low shots, shots from the ground looking up, etc. The possibilities are endless.

So, you have all your masterfully captured footage. What next? Well, you’re going to need to edit the project, and you have options.

Choosing the Right Editing Program

If you’re just getting into editing, there are three main programs to consider, and each offers a different user experience. Whether you can only afford a monthly subscription or a hefty one-time fee, these programs have everything you need. Adobe Premiere Pro is the primary option for anybody serious about video work. Final Cut Pro X has had its fair share of problems in the past, but Apple has been making strides lately to right their wrongs. We’ll see if a life-changing update is on the way.

DaVinci Resolve is the unsung hero, in my opinion. There’s a free version you can download, and honestly, it’s awesome. Before I made the video above, I hadn’t really used this program very much, but it offers some pretty outstanding features — as well as a user-friendly interface.

As far as working with the NLE’s we’ll get to that down the road, but this should be enough to get you started on an illustrious filmmaking career, and if you’re already a pro, I hope this trip down memory lane was a good refresher.

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