Digital Film Production: Assignment 1 – Framing

I’m posting this a little out of sequence as there is one more exercise that I should complete from this part of the Digital Film Production course, but as I had the opportunity to film this before the exercise before it, I thought I might as well get it posted!

Introduction

For this assignment I was to produce a short sequence, of no more than 5 shots, telling a simple story, using the images only, and then evaluate my sequence critically, looking at the strengths and weaknesses.

Planning and Pre-production

The sequence I chose was similar to the one I storyboarded for the first exercise of the course – Project One Exercise: Telling a Story about a girl who was feeling a bit down so she went out for a run to cheer herself up.  I re-wrote the storyboard, changing the subject to a man, as I had a willing actor lined up, and I adjusted the location a little, to be able to be able to use my 5 shots effectively.  If I were to have my subject starting from inside their house I would have needed to show them leaving the house, so I decided to start off somewhere outside.

Equipment:

  • Nikon D800 DSLR
  • Tamron 28 – 75mm f/2.8 Lens
  • Manfrotto tripod
  • Pen and paper for taking shot notes
  • Spare battery
  • Spare SD and CF cards

Filming

I’ve photographed my actor Andrew before, he’s a professional dancer and model, so I knew that there would be no problems with direction – he’s a natural in front of the camera! As luck would have it, the weather was on my side, with it being a sunny autumn day.  Although I didn’t have a firm idea when I storyboarded it, as to where to film my first shot, I’d decided to use one of the shelters on the seafront.

 Shot 1

Shot 1:

Although I had storyboarded a mid shot I decided to go for something between a mid and a long shot to show a bit more of the subjects surroundings, without showing too much.  I positioned the camera above the subject, to look down on him, and composed it with him off to the side, looking into the screen, rather than straight on looking towards the camera position.

Shot 2

Shot 2:

I wanted to get the subject out of the shelter he was in and onto the beach so went for a long shot to reveal a bit more about exactly where he is, and to give him a bit of space to move into and out of at the end of the shot, I used the pillars to create a little bit of a frame, and they came in handy as a prop for him to lean on whilst stretching.  We also took the opportunity to use this shot as a tool for the subject to remove his jacket as he was leaving the shot, allowing us to lose it during the next shot of his feet only.

 Shot 3

Shot 3:

Although I storyboarded a close up of the subject tying up his laces I decided to change it to a close up of him starting to run.  As I wanted the running shots to be on the sand, I realised I wanted to show the transition from being on the concrete prom, to running on the sand, and also show the transition from standing/walking to running.  I filmed two versions of this shot, one was a much tighter shot, but this meant that the feet weren’t on screen long enough so I tried this version.

Shot 4

Shot 4:

I wanted this to be a long shot to show the sea and beach, and to also allow the subject to be on screen for a little while, to show a bit of the run. I framed it up to show the sinking mud sign, as I felt the balance worked well.

Shot 5

Shot 5

A mid shot, with a low camera angle to make Andrew look empowered by his run, we set up the spot that I wanted him to run into, as I wanted his final position to be with the sun over his shoulder, and he did it spot on in 1 take!

Post Production

With all of the shots I tried to pay attention to the matching/overlapping action to make the edit easier.  The action carried out at the end of one shot, were repeated at the beginning of the next shot, to enable me to edit the shots together easier.  I also kept an eye on the direction that Andrew was moving on the screen, to ensure that I didn’t cross the line, which would have jarred the edits.

Having controlled both of these elements in the filming meant that the edit flowed very well and caused no headaches at all.

Self Assessment

Looking at the assignment, in relation to the assessment criteria set by the Open College of the Arts, I need to assess myself on a number of criteria.

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

Although I’m still trying to get the hang of DSLR filming, I’m reasonably happy with the technical aspects of the piece, although I do need to clean my lens before filming towards the sun!  I made a decision to use the tripod for the whole piece, rather than handheld, which although it restricted any camera moves, it ensured that the shots were all stable.

Quality of Outcome

Controlling the screen direction and overlapping action has given the piece a flow, although as I’m used to longer pieces, it feels too short, and over too quickly.  As it needed to be contained within 5 shots one other option would have been to make one or more of the shots longer, possibly by having a handheld moving shot of him running, moving alongside him, or positioning the camera more head on so he ran towards the camera, although that could have led to a very long, boring shot.

  • Shot 1: I feel that maybe I could have raised the camera even higher above the subject, to emphasise the powerless feeling more.  Alternatively, ad the shot size itself is neither a long shot or a mid shot, perhaps a very wide shot could have made the subject look even more depressed and isolated, although that might have been emphasising it more than is needed.
  • Shot 2: Compositionally I’m reasonably happy with this, although it is a bit of a long, slow shot, which was needed to make the stretches look a little bit more like real life, rather than a 1 second stretch!
  • Shot 3: A bit loose to be a true close up, but it needed to have enough space for him to start running and run out of shot.
  • Shot 4: As mentioned above, although long enough for a static camera shot, I think it needs a bit more of the run, so I would possibly reshoot it with a camera move.  Unfortunately I don’t have a fluid head for my tripod, so would need to try and pan it very carefully.
  • Shot 5:  Other than the dust spots all over the filter, this came out pretty much as I envisaged and I’m happy with the feel of the shot.

Demonstration of Creativity

I’m still trying to find the artiste inside of me, and although technically I’m relatively comfortable, (although still learning all the time) I hope that as the course progresses I can relax into the artistic side of it a bit more.  Although I don’t think I will ever find myself producing wildly abstract work!

Context

I think I need to ensure that I carry out more constructive research, although I am constantly watching television and films with my instructional eye from when I taught video to military photographers and looking at the technical aspects of screen direction, matching action, camera moves etc…., I need to look more at the creative aspects.

Conclusion

Overall I’m quite pleased with how this worked out, although there are minor points that I would adjust, if I were to repeat the exercise, such as maybe lengthening the running shot a little, perhaps by using 2 shots to cover the run, and combine two of the other shots into one.

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Project Three: Exercise – Shooting a short sequence

For this exercise I was to plan and produce a short sequence along the lines of the following:

You are an alcoholic alone in your home
• You look around your empty room
• Nothing interests you
• You notice a bottle
• You hold the bottle and unscrew the lid
• Something attracts your attention, you look round
• Nothing happens
• You look back at the bottle and pour yourself a drink.

Firstly,as it was to be shot in the first person, POV (with the camera as my eyes) I decided to change the scenario a little as I don’t drink, and didn’t fancy having to take a drink, so I changed it to a biscuit addict 🙂

The main information that I wanted to convey, was of someone looking for something, and needed to highlight finding something that wasn’t wanted, followed by finding the wanted item. (if that makes sense!)  I carried out a couple of rough run throughs, before I committed pen to paper for the storyboards, to clarify in my head the shots that I wanted.  Below is my storyboard:

I wanted it to be properly a point of view shot, so didn’t want to use a tripod, and wanted a touch of the “shakycam” that I have never been a fan of, but I felt that being on a tripod it would be too static, and not emphasise the point of view enough.

I shot two versions – one was done as a single shot, with no cuts, to emphasise the first person, changing the shot size by walking towards a subject.  The main problem with this was keeping the focus when going from wide to close up shots, it’s not easy when shooting on a DSLR with one hand, wholst using the other hand in the shot to open a biscuit barrel! Luckily I do have a cheapo should rig so I was able to use two hands to unscrew the barrel lid.

In this version I didn’t do shot one, with my hand opening  the door, I felt it added an extra complication.

Version One: Single shot POV

Although I think this works to highlight the POV style, with lots of movement, my background still causes me to struggle with the shakiness of the shots!

Version Two – Edited POV

With this version the cuts are dipping to black to look a bit like when you blink, and you temporarily lose sight of whats in front of you.  I felt that this worked as a good tool to get me (or my character) from just inside the room, to a cupboard, then to the biscuits etc…. (Apologies for the blown out exposure, I didn’t look quite that bad when filming and editing, something I’ll need ot look at to make sure my colour/exposure management is okay across the board from camera to YouTube!)

I think I do prefer the second version, eliminating the moves between shots and shot sizes makes it look a little less jumpycam.  I could improve this dramatically with a steadycam rig, but unfortunately my budget doesn’t stretch that far.  I could have maybe also used another shot or two of rooting through cupboards, to build up the panic of the subject not being able to find the biscuits!

Project Exercise: Visualisation

One particular subjective viewpoint as mentioned before is a Point of View shot, a POV, where the camera takes the place of the subjects eyes.

For this exercise I needed to visualise a number of different situations and to put myself in the situation, visualising what I might see in that situation.

Situation 1 – talking to someone in a shop, the person facing me, talking in an animated way:

Yes, I know it looks like the dude is dancing – but hey, I can’t draw!

Situation 2: Knock on a door, then wait, then the door is opened.

Situation 3: having a conversation with a loved one.  A sudden sound makes you glance around:

I think out of the three I quite like the door sequence.  Seeing the hand of the subject (me) knocking on the door, makes it obvious that we are viewing the world through another persons eyes, rather than an objective “fly on the wall” viewpoint.

I

Project Two Exercise: Building a Story

The framing of a film shot (or even a still shot) is the way we, as film makers and photographers want out audience to view a particular scene, using the bound of the screen edge to eliminate that which we don’t want to include.  Framing of a shot can completely alter the way viewers see a particular scene, and how the camera framing is controlled directs the final view and understanding of a film.

For this project I had to choose a still image – either from a website, or one of my own, and then identify a series of smaller frames within the image to create a new narrative.

I went for a shot of my own, taken down on the beach during the height of our fabulous summer!  I decided to think of it more as a film that includes a number of different personal stories all linked by a common theme – i.e a day on the beach.  In the same way that “Love, Actually” has many different stories within the film.

The captions with the images are my “people watching” ideas of what the stories could be (and bear no relation to what the truth could be!)

Exercise – Curves

Similar to diagonals, curves are more dynamic than the bog standard horizontals and verticals, and can be really useful in drawing the viewers eye around the image. I needed to take four images using curves to emphasize movement and direction.

Porthole
In the woods there is a fab play area, this is a kind of Viking ship, and I really like the portholes in it. I like the narrow depth of field and having the focus point on the second porthole, although I think it needs something additional framed in it.
Nikon D800 | ISO 400 | 1/125th Sec | f/3.2 | 66mm Focal Length
Roundel
Once RAF, always RAF, I love the RAF Roundel and this is the wreath laid for this years Remembrance Service which I attended last month, the colours are so punchy, although I think I might re-crop it to see if that works best.
Nikon D800 | ISO 400 | 1/500th Sec | f/9 | 75mm Focal Length
Hoofprint
I realised after downloading from the card that the colour version looked pretty disgusting, and it looks much better in black and white. I spotted the hoof prints on the bridle path and thought they looked interesting.
Nikon D800 | ISO 400 | 1/100th Sec | f/5.6 | 75mm Focal Length
Fungi
I don’t know if this really works as an example of “curves” as there’s a few really small curves going on, but it’s there!
Nikon D800 | ISO 400 | 1/100th Sec | f/5.6 | 75mm Focal Length
Fountain
The fountain in Grove Park, I liked the reflections and the ball within the curve of the fountain, although I think there is something lacking, I just don’t know what!
Nikon D800 | ISO 400 | 1/640th Sec | f/5 | 75mm Focal Length
Bench and Wreath
I shot this thinking to use it as a curve example, but also find that it would work okay as a diagonals example too. The circle attracts the eye first, then the diagonals draw the line back towards the wreath.  I am a big fan of shallow depth of field, kind of like this.
Nikon D800 | ISO 400 | 1/1600th Sec | f/5 | 75mm Focal Length


Exercise – Cropping

So this is the final exercise before the assignment for this first section of the course, and it’s all about cropping.  I needed to take three of the images I’ve taken so far on this course and look at the crops that I choose.

Image 1: Squirrel

First up I looked at the raw, un-cropped image, exactly how it looked in-camera.

so I then brought it into photoshop and played around with the crop as below, seeing what it would be like as a much tighter crop around Mr Squirrel:

And this is once I’d hit “crop”:

I still prefer the original looser crop – it gives him some space to look into – and run into if he got scared!  The tighter crop is nice enough but I thin k it’s too tight, I guess I could have still cropped it portrait, but left it a little looser around the subject.  Also, although I know this isn’t about the digital imaging, it’s reduced the quality due to the size of the crop.

Image 2: The Grand Pier

Again, the first image is the un-cropped raw version of the image, straight out of the camera – I like this crop because of the guy pointing, top right of the shot.

So this next shot below shows the crop I planned to do in Photoshop, i wanted to see how it would look with a different person top right of the shot.

This below is the final crop – I don’t think it either ruins or improves on the original image, it;s the same, but different!

Image 3: Biker

This shot was a “grab shot” as I was walking along the prom I spotted this lad pushing his bike, unfortunately a couple of people walked into the shot! The original raw image:

I had a couple of options for the crop on this one, either just the biker as below:

Which works well, definitely better than the original crop as in the raw shot he got a bit lost, whereas now he’s more of a subject.

The other crop option was to include a guy walking alongside and looking at him:

I think this crop works well too, it makes you wonder who the guy is – I’ve got it in my head that it’s the lads dad, and they’re walking back to their van after a successful beach race!

Exercise – Verticals and Horizontal Frames

I’ve not yet been able to take enough images for this exercise, but as my assignment is due, and I’ve got that ready to go I thought I’d blog this anyway, and return to it when I get the chance.

For this exercise I needed to shoot a set of images all using the camera rotated to the portrait format – I needed to take 20, but have only got 14 so far – fail!  I was also supposed to go out, shoot the 20 in portrait format, come back, review them and then go back and re-shoot in horizontal format, but I kind of got carried away and ended up shooting most of the portrait and the horizontals at the same time – so basically I’ve completely messed up this exercise 🙂

This first shot is of a path in the woods near our house, I think this works best in the portrait composition as it leads the eye along the path more, almost funneling the view, rather than in the horizontal one where there is more space knocking around the sides, letting the eye wander a bit more.

Yup, its my favourite chair/sculpture again – sorry! With this one I prefer the landscape shot rather than the portrait one, I think the subject lends itself to the space in front of the set – almost like it’s waiting for someone to step into shot and sit down!

I can’t decide between this one, I like the clarity of the text on the landscape one, but I prefer the upright composition of the other.

With this one I think either one works equally well, they both naturally take the eye along the handhold, although I think the portrait one makes me want to turn my head to look at it properly!

Similar to the footpath one at the start of the post, I think this one works better in portrait mode, for similar reasons, and the log on the right hand side, which separates the roadway from the footpath section, draws the eye along, whereas in the landscape one there’s not enough log leading the eye, if that makes sense!

I think I prefer the portrait one of this, as it makes the pier “loom” over the beach a little more than the landscape one, I think having the base of the piers piles in the sand in the shot makes a difference, it kind of secures the pier,and finishes it, rather than chopping off it’s feet.

The adjustment in depth of field between these has changed the composition, in the landscape one it’s more difficult to make out who the gentleman is addressing, but I think I prefer the landscape version, possibly due to the audience being more out of focus in the front.

The Landscape one woks better with this, it shows the full parade of British Legion flag bearers much better than the portrait one, and also leaves the marchers a bit more room to march into.

This one of the British Legion flag bearers being briefed works best in portrait as it shows off the standards, which is basically what the flag bearers are all about – they are not there for themselves, but they are there to show the flag.

I think the landscape one works best, for me anyway as I’m a real fan of this type of composition, I like the way the eye looks at the sign then follows along the beach to the small group of walkers, and it fits into the “rule of thirds” reasonably well.

Another British Legion flag bearers shot, I think the portrait version would have worked better, had the main subjects been pointing in the way they were in the landscape version.

I initially did 2 versions of the landscape image, one which took in the whole of the monument and some of the park, and this one with just sky and the statue on the top.  I’ve taken similar shots with 2 other statues and really like the shot (I’ve got a massive poster of my Statue of Liberty image in black and white on our wall – I love it 🙂 ) it’s a much more dynamic shot than the portrait one.

Taken out of our back window the other day, I prefer the portrait one as the format works much better with the rainbow, and in the landscape one the the bushes on the right are too cropped down.

I was bored and wanted to play with something I haven’t done for a fair few years, playing with long exposures and my maglight with the lens taken off so set my camera up and grabbed the first thing I could find that might look interesting, hence the headphones.  To get the effect I did about a 6 second exposure and waved the bare bulb of the maglight along the shape of the headphones.  The landscape one I came into the shot from the sides of the camera, and then I had the bright idea to bring the torchlight in via the cables which works a bit better.  This is a technique that I love and want to play with more – I need to get a different light source that I can switch on and off in front of the lens rather than having to bring it in already switched on.

The aim of this exercise was to encourage the student to change the format from landscape to portrait mode, to get out of the habit of just shooting images that are very similar to the horizontal “format” that the human eye views at.  I’ve always played around with turning the camera to fit the format to the image rather than forcing the subject into a standard format.