Shooting DV for music videos

Digital video has come a long way in just the past few years. There are so many cameras to choose from now that it’s hard to decide which is best for shooting a music video and which will achieve the most ‘cinematic’ look. Personally, I’ve used the Canon XL-1 & XL-1s for several projects where I wanted the look of film, but only had the budget to shoot video. Here’s a few ways I have approached shooting digital video for a music video or commercial.

Frame Mode

Basically, Frame Mode on the XL-1 creates 30 full frames per second, as apposed to a normal 60 half-resolution frames (a field). You’ll notice a more fluid, almost ‘strobe’ effect on the picture. This is the first key in achieving a film look.

Depth of Field

I usually try to keep the depth of field as minimal as possible; on the XL-1s, that means keeping the Iris (F-Stop) at an F1.6 to F2.0. This, combined with a telephoto lens, will allow you to significantly throw the back ground out of focus. There are a few ways to achieve this with the combination of Iris, Shutter and Gain. A smaller iris usually means you’ll have to compensate with a higher shutter speed. The lens on the Xl-1’s also have a built in Neutral Density (ND) filter to compensate for too much light; this should be used if you do not want the look of the high speed shutter. By adjusting the Gain control to compensate for the iris and shutter, you can add the right amount of grain as well. Like all other facets of digital video, you should experiment with this to see which look works best for you.


For exteriors, I’ve mostly shot on an overcast day or kept the subject backlit by the sun. An overcast day will obviously give an overall soft light and playing with the white balance, you can get the look of shooting tungsten film outside without a filter. In direct sunlight, a subject that is backlit with a simple bounce card or reflector to light their face looks very nice. When a subject is in full sunlight, I’d hit them with some serious reflectors to even out the shadows and contrast. When you have more control over the light, say, for interiors, and you have a budget, Kino-Flo lights work great for DV. They will give a nice soft light and a great eye-light as well. Basically, I’ve found that DV looks best when shot under a big, soft light. There’s really no wrong way to achieve this. Since it’s video, you should have a monitor to look at and go with whatever looks best to you. Again, tests are a great idea if you have the time.

Post Production

I’ve tried to achieve the best film look in the production process, but there are several ways to get it even closer in post. You can shoot in normal mode (as opposed to Frame mode) and either run it through a program like Cine-look or another program that simulates film grain and colors, or you could send it to a company like Film Look in LA, who have a proprietary process for creating a film look out of normal 30 frame, 60 field video. Some tricks I’ve used are to take the final images, put a 10% to 20% blur on them, then superimpose this blurred image over the same normal image. It basically creates a soft filter look. Tweaking the contrast after this ‘blur-filter’ is put on can create a nice look as well. I’ve also used gradient and vignette graphic overlays created in Photoshop to simulate filters in front of the lens.

Exterior shot under overcast sky; Shutter speed = 1/60, Iris = 1.6, Gain = 0, ND Filter ON, White Balance set to Tungsten light

Interior shot with soft Blue/Green Gelled light & smoke machine; shutter speed = 1/60, Iris – 1.6 Gain = 0, White Balance set to Tungsten light

Back-lit subject under direct sunlight with reflectors; Shutter speed = 1/300, Iris = 5.6 to 8, gain = 0 White Balance set to sunlight. This is the result of the shot that Frazer is setting up in the “Frazer & Cameras” still; Six cameras on the first take, then three cameras on a second take, resulting in nine small frames to make up one shot.

Subjects in direct sunlight with reflectors to bring
down the contrast; Shutter speed = 1/300, Iris = 5.6 to 8, gain = 0 White Balance set to sunlight. Four cameras, doing three takes to make up one- 12-panel shot.

On the Velvet Teen video, shrinking down each shot really boosted up the resolution of the final shots, giving it much less of a video look.

It all boils down to what you think looks good. There’s many ways to achieve a good cinematic look in digital video. These are just a few of my own techniques.

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