How To Bring a Cinematic Look to a Small Budget Commercial, part 7

bleeding thorn logoWritten by: Ryan Walters

Part 7: How To Conduct A Camera Test

Welcome to Part 7 of this ten part series on how to bring a cinematic look to a small budget commercial. In this series I am sharing with you the behind the scenes process of how we at Bleeding Thorn Films make a project happen– warts and all, from script to screen. In Part 6, I covered how to create a shooting schedule and call sheet. In Part 7 I’ll be covering how to conduct a camera test.

Conducting A Camera Test

Camera tests are getting overlooked and written off as unnecessary by a lot of productions these days. It is unfortunate that camera tests are not seen as valuable, as they can be informative and can potentially reveal unforeseen issues prior to walking onto set. It is always cheaper to resolve a problem before the shoot than it is when everyone is standing around on set waiting for a solution to materialize. The types of tests you conduct for a specific project will depend on the needs of that project. If the project calls for a stylized look done in camera, then it would be beneficial to test it at various strengths to figure out how it translates to the final image. Other tests that may be beneficial to conduct are:

  • Shutter speed
  • Lighting Ratio
  • Light levels in relation to noise levels
  • Color Rendition
  • Lighting Style
  • Frame Rate
  • Specific Lighting Instruments
  • Moiré on wardrobe/sets

I recommend always testing any unknown variable. Even if you have shot on the camera before, changing even one variable can yield different results. An unintended result has the potential to ruin, delay, or cause a project to run over budget and schedule. The earlier an issue is caught, the cheaper it is to fix. This is important, don’t overlook it.

I have worked with the 5D a lot over the years, so I am fairly familiar with it. For the most part, this shoot did not have anything out of the ordinary. However, there was one new item that was added to the mix. The client had just bought a new Windows tablet that he wanted to use in the commercial. Prior to this spot, I had not shot a Windows tablet. I have shot a number of LCD screens with varied success, so I knew that there was potential for moiré on the screen if the individual pixels of the screen came into focus. Knowing that this was a real possibility, I scheduled a time to meet with the client to test out the tablet. I shot a test with the 5D as well as with the AF100. I chose the AF100 as a backup camera, just in case there was no way to avoid moiré when shooting with the 5D.


Above: 5D Moire Test Frame 1


Above: 5D Moire Test Frame 2


Above: 5D Moire Test Frame 3

As you can see demonstrated in the stills above, there is potential for moiré to appear when shooting the screen of this tablet on the 5D. For the most part it is minor, and I can make it go away through careful positioning of the screen, and by using darker on screen colors. The most offensive moiré appears when there is a solid bright color like green on the screen. Had I not tested this prior to the shoot, I could have been in a world of hurt on set.

frame from cinematicLeft: Final frame from the commercial

On the day of the shoot, everything went as planned when we shot the tablet. By positioning it correctly we did not see any moiré in the final video, and we didn’t waste any time re-positioning the prop.

Stay tuned for part 8 where I’ll be covering the next phase of pre-production, camera testing. And Keep an eye on our blogtwitter or Vimeo Channel to follow us on our latest storytelling adventures.

This is part 7 of a 10 part series, click the links below to view the entire series.

Part 1: Landing The Client and Creative Ideation

Part 2: Budgeting and Creating The Proposal

Part 3: How to Location Scout

Part 4: Story-boarding On A Small Budget

Part 5: How To Create a Lighting Diagram

Part 6: How To Create a Shooting Schedule and Call Sheet

Part 8: How To Build a Rain Bar

Part 9: How To Approach Data Management On A Budget

Part 10: How To Black Out A House On A Budget

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One Response to “How To Bring a Cinematic Look to a Small Budget Commercial, part 7”

  1. Bring a Cinematic Look to Small Budget | Zacuto USA on September 5th, 2013 9:39 am

    […] how we at Bleeding Thorn Films make a project happen– warts and all, from script to screen. In Part 7, I covered the importance of the camera test. In Part 8 I am going to show you how to build a rain […]

About the Author

Born in 1980 in Seattle, Washington, Ryan has had a love and passion for the visual arts since a young child when his grandmother, an avid photographer, took him along on photo expeditions. As he grew up, his parents furthered that passion by enrolling him in various art programs and lessons. While he enjoyed painting and drawing, something was always missing - the ability to capture motion. Once introduced to the art of cinematography in high school he never looked back.Ryan E. Walters, Cinematographer Since that time, Ryan has developed this passion and turned it into his career. As an award-winning cinematographer his work has allowed him the opportunity to travel worldwide in the pursuit of telling stories that are visually compelling. Ryan's distinct experience includes feature films, documentaries, commercials, and shooting for Comcast, TLC, Oxygen, and the Discovery Channel. Not only does Ryan seek to deliver cinematic images for his clients, but his commitment, organization, and professionalism means he constantly goes the extra mile to ensure that the results he delivers exceed his clients expectations.


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