Interested in filming your own mini-movies at home?  Here are some camera tips and tricks to optimize your shoot and get the most out of your material!

  1. Auto is NOT your friend!

Now I understand how tempting it is to turn your camera on ‘autopilot’ because it essentially ‘does all the work for you’, but believe me when I say, AUTO IS NOT YOUR FRIEND!!  So when you start your shoot, make sure that all auto settings are turned off; turn off auto-focus, turn off auto-white balance, turn off auto-gain, turn off auto EVERYTHING!  Trust me, you have so much more artistic freedom without it and if it’s off, it doesn’t have the chance to hurt your film.

  1. Always set up recording format and SD first!

One of the things my teacher told me that I’ve found most helpful is to start every shoot with a clean SD card.  This makes things go more smoothly in the editing room when things need to be organized.  Once you put your SD card into the camera, make sure to format it and choose your recording format.  I won’t go into too much detail because every camera is different and not everyone wants to shoot in the same format.  If you really want your shoot to go smoothly, do your research beforehand so you know what format to record in.

  1. The big three.

Once you’ve got your camera set up, whether it’s on a tripod or you’re going handheld, there are three important things you need to set up: exposure, white balance and focus.

To set exposure, first make sure you’re manual iris settings are on.  Then turn on your zebras; when engaged, this setting will show zebra strips where the image is over exposed.  Turn your iris just until any zebras on your subject disappear.  You many have parts of your image still over exposed like sky or places where the sun hits objects, but as long as your subject is properly exposed, the image will be sufficient.

White balancing allows the camera to adjust the image to the color of the lights in your setting.  Tungsten lights give off an orange-ish glow while daylight will give your image a bluish tint.  When you white balance, you hold a white sheet of paper in front of the lens and hold a button that looks like a box surrounded by two triangles.  In doing this, you are telling the camera what is white, and it will remove the orange or blue from your image.

When focusing, the best way to get the sharpest focus is to zoom in completely on your subject (if it is a human, use the eye), focus, and then zoom back out to your desired distance.

  1. Peaking your focus

If you’re having trouble seeing if your image is in focus in your view finder, some cameras have a setting, called peaking, that will create colored dots on your image wherever it is in sharp focus.  Turn this setting on and you will be able to judge the focus of your image more clearly.

  1. Avoid florescent lighting.

While white balance can help with color correction, if you’re in a situation where lights with different color temperatures are being used, sometimes you will get those blue or orange tints in your image.  However, if you film with florescent lights, it will give your image a very undesirable greenish tint.  When in doubt, just use artificial lighting in your settings that all have the same color temperature.

  1. Shutter speed?

Shutter speed on film works in the same way that it does in photography.  If you’re finding your image is under exposed and your iris is open all the way, another way to increase the light coming into your lens is to decrease the shutter speed.  If your exposure is fine, then set the shutter speed to twice your frames per second (fps).  If you’re shooting in 24fps, your shutter speed should be set at 1/48.  See your recording format for your specific fps.


Gain is an electronic camera trick to boost your image’s exposure.  While it does its job, it also degrades the quality of your image the higher it’s set.  My advice, avoid gain all together!  Turn it off in your menu and on your settings.  Make sure it is set to 0dB at all times.  If you saw my last video I’m Late, you will notice it is very grainy and noisy.  Someone had turned on what’s called ‘hyper gain’ on the camera I used and it completely ruined the quality of my video.  So make sure that all gain EVERYWHERE is completely shut off!  It will keep the quality of your video from sinking.

  1. Always always ALWAYS read the manual!

Every camera is different and if you try to mess with a camera without knowing its settings and features, you could potentially ruin it.  Always read through the entire manual before you start filming.  And if anything doesn’t make sense, quickly look it up.  Trust me; a thousand dollar camera is worth five minutes of web research!

I know this is a very brief list of things that can help you when you’re out shooting your next big flick, but I hope that you will keep them in mind the next time you go out on a shoot!