Calibrating my eye to the camera's display.

I got invited to shoot a behind the scenes [BTS] video for the ad agency Sterling-Rice Group for one of their upcoming  commercial ad spots.

It was great to see an entire team working together as I floated around independently trying to be quiet as possible and not getting in their way. These ‘guys’ put in long hours away from their families, so I wanted to capture those moments doing what they love best – being creative. I thank them for the opportunity, and hope I represented them well.

While I can’t show you the video I did just yet, it came out well but I can tell you a few things I have learned.

I shot a ton of footage from the all day shoot at two locations. While the crew was somewhat stressed at meeting their deadlines they had set throughout the day I got to really kick back relax and watch it all unfold and what for the good shots.

Exposure for DSLR

What was really nice about being so relaxed I got to shoot them filming a scene over and over again. On many of the takes I would try different exposures for the same scene. This was a great exercise for me in calibrating my eye to the camera’s display. After 10 hours of shooting that day I really started to dial in the exposure by eye vs. using the meters on the camera.

I find that when shooting outside like with landscapes that trusting the meter is a good thing, but when you are inside exposing for talent it is a much different thing. With the Canon DSLR’s you don’t have the choice of 4 different metering modes as you do with stills, you are stuck with the evaluative center weighted average metering mode which doesn’t work well in all situations.

DSLR’s don’t allow a lot of leeway for getting the exposure correct. I have found in some poor lighting situations just a 1/3 of a stop or one click on your dial can turn nice shadows in to muddy or blotchy shadows, or nice highlights on the face can turn in to clipped highlights.

For some of you that have followed my learning curve over the last year know I have tested many picture styles. I have given up on the flat styles, they are just too hard of me to get it right in post, so now I am using the neutral style with the sharpness one step for the lowest setting and the contrast one step for the lowest setting. I tell you this because if you are trying to expose for a flat picture style it makes it harder to get it right.

So get out there and practice getting the exposure right with lots of repetition and learn not to always trust the meter.

So keep an eye out for my BTS video also I am reviewing a circular polarizer and ND filter so subscribe if you want to know when that comes out.


  • Ahh, exposure. It can be very tricky sometimes. What I find that works well with the T2i regardless of the setting is to frame-up the subject/talent, then using the focus box zoom, I go to the brightest object of importance in the shot, then adjusting exposure until I can just see all the detail in that object and shoot from there. When shooting outside in very bright conditions, the BEST way to get spot on exposure is a variable neutral density filter. I would feel naked without one. 🙂 Hope you’re doing well Dave!

  • I am so happy I know english to understand your tutorials! Thanks a lot for shearing your knowledge with others. Long time ago I saw this blog when I was thinking of buying a DSLR camera for shooting videos, and I knew that you were going to teach me a lot! Now I am back with my new camera and this is the first tutorial of many. I will be showing you my progress!

    Greetings from Spain *___*

  • Multi exposure for video is tricky as the moment of action can pass quickly, but good on you for going to the trouble. i use Magic lanterns histogram for exposure as the zebras can be a problem for focusing. Can’t wait to see the results.

  • Getting correct exposure has given me headaches, Dave. Magic Lantern really helped because I can get an IRE value on the skin itself, plus I can use zebras at 100 and 7.5 IRE to check for clipping and crushing. I find that I usually overexpose by 1/3 stop.

    In the project I just completed for work, I also discovered that having contrast turned all the way down is not necessarily optimal. In some shots I had a very crushed dynamic range. Of course, I adjusted levels to provide more contrast. But I wasn’t taking full advantage of the sensor’s full dynamic range. Next time I plan to adjust the contrast setting to get as much contrast as possible in camera without blowing out the whites or crushing the blacks, rather than just turn it all the way down.

    Your site has given me a lot of inspiration to excel at this art. Here’s my latest project, — and this is a lot better than when I was using a Canon HV30. Let me know what you think. Suggestions are always appreciated.

  • @Randy great content on the brake system! The audio was really good, what did you use for your audio? Love the DOF shots.

    I know what you mean about overexposing slightly, I notice I am doing that more to make sure I get more details in the shadows.

    I have played around with the contrast a lot and I am pretty happy where I have it now at 1 step above full down. Where is you contrast setting?

  • @Dave — I’m glad you found the video had great content. That’s the purpose — to let our clients know what we do, but also educate them on different aspects of our forensic accident reconstruction and vehicle mechanical failure analysis services. You can see the lav mic tucked in at the top button area. It’s a Sennheiser G2 wireless system. It is phenomenal, Dave. The sound is great, in my opinion, and I run it directly into the T2i so no dual system sound. For the field work where I was behind the camera instead of in front narrating, I used my Rode VideoMic. It’s not the new pro version so I have to boost the internal amp in the camera, but it yielded acceptable background sound.

    I really like the shallow DOF on the narration segments also. This is one of the main reasons I bought the T2i and left the HV30 behind. 🙁 I use the same lens as you (50mm f1.8). I used to drool over those shots, now I can get them. When I was in the field, I wanted a deeper DOF so more of the vehicle and components would be in focus.

    I started out shooting with contrast and sharpness all the way down. But now I have sharpness up one click, and I’ll be setting contrast up one click as well. And I plan to use the zebras and waveform in the T2i to look at the dynamic range of the shot and set the contrast accordingly. I think the vehicle investigation footage was fine with contrast turned all the way down, as the vehicle was black and there were a lot of dark shadows I was shooting into, e.g., wheel wells. But the narrative parts were a little flat for my taste. I definitely will adjust the contrast on future shots like that.

    This is another lesson learned. Just because there are experts who say turn the contrast all the way down, doesn’t mean that we should never adjust it. As I get more familiar with the T2i, I hope to produce better shots. I’m amazed at how many videos you’ve shot in a year. That’s why you’ve made such considerable progress.

  • @Randy your sharpness and contrast settings are exactly what I have, I think all the big guys like Bloom use 5D’s and on that camera perhaps it makes sense to have it all the way down but for the T2i I don’t like the way it looks that far down.

    Thanks, I try to take the camera everywhere I go.

  • Nice Q on the video wich camera are you using?

  • Hi Dave, just wanted to say thanks for all of your videos. Just recently purchased a Canon 60D, and am new to all of this (photography AND video). Had a quick question….if you want a DEEP depth of field in your video, for whatever purpose, what is the “limit” for slowing down shutter speed when videoing?

    In other words, I’m having trouble figuring out how one would get proper exposure with dSLR video if using a deep depth of field, so as not to break the 180 degree rule TOO much, and also so as not to crank up the ISO too much. (I Googled this, but couldn’t really find much).

    Thanks! And keep up the great work!!

  • Hi Dave! I’m having a bit of a problem when recording in low light, most of the time the camera stops with the message “movie recording has stopped automatically”. I look for answers on the web but not satisfying answers. I have also a 16GB class 10 sd card on my camera so this should not be the problem. Any advice or tutorial on how to avoid this or recommendations?

  • This following tip can help a lot of people with Canon EOS DSLR’s. Using a picture style to obtain a flat image is possible for both pictures and video. It’s called Cinestyle. What it does is that it creates a flat image in-camera for you to film/shoot with, and gives a lot more leeway when editing in post than a normal picture would. It works with any Canon EOS DSLR, and is COMPLETELY FREE. Check it out here:

  • my heart skips a bit when I click more and the sound of the mirror comes out.I love my dslr.I ‘ve shot so many pictures,tried so many shots for getting that good exposure.And here reading ,watching your vdos and texts really made me confident that getting right exposures are hard but keeping trying will get the best ones.Thank you for sharing !