The Minimalist DSLR Filmmaking Guide: How to Film in 20 Min | Dandan Liu | Skillshare

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The Minimalist DSLR Filmmaking Guide: How to Film in 20 Min

teacher avatar Dandan Liu, Filmmaker | Contemplative Creative

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.

      Course Intro


    • 2.

      Setting Camera Basics


    • 3.

      White Balance and Shutter Speed


    • 4.



    • 5.



    • 6.

      One Last Tip for ISO


    • 7.

      Exposure Recap


    • 8.

      Setting Focus


    • 9.

      Intro to Cinematography


    • 10.

      Seeing Light


    • 11.

      Setting Up A Tripod


    • 12.

      Composing Your Image


    • 13.

      Intro to Audio


    • 14.

      Record High Quality Sound


    • 15.

      Optimize Your Sound Space


    • 16.

      2 Essential Audio Tricks


    • 17.

      Course Conclusion


    • 18.

      Exciting Updates


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About This Class

Want to film with your DSLR, but are intimidated by all the buttons and settings on your camera?

Have no fear. It's simpler than you think!

This class takes the traditional 2 hour DSLR filmmaking class and removes the filler, so you just get the golden, actionable essentials. In 20 minutes, you will know all the steps needed to set up your camera, film with it, and record high quality sound. Don't let the short length of this class fool you. This process is solid and represents the core of professional filmmaking. It's all you need to film beautiful stories. 

So, you are now 20 minutes away from dancing with your camera. You'll soon discover that anyone can film with confidence!

Meet Your Teacher

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Dandan Liu

Filmmaker | Contemplative Creative

Top Teacher

Hi there! I'm Dandan, an Emmy award-winning filmmaker and contemplative creative living in Italy.

As a self-taught filmmaker, I love foraging for unique stories around the world that illuminate the interconnections among us. I started making films while on a 4 year journey living in monasteries around the world. One film led to the next, and after persevering for many years, I found myself working full time on film crews and streaming my films on Roku, Apple TV, museums, trains, and airplanes.

My highest work is helping others craft an authentic, creative, and mindful life- your unique work of art. I believe that knowing who you truly are is the foundation for flourishing in every area of life. So, I founded Unravel, a playful journey of self discovery, which has... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Course Intro: There's so many buttons, so many settings on my camera, where do I even begin? If you are feeling intimidated by the film making process, have no fear. I've broken down all the technicals into a simple streamline method you can learn under one hour. So you can start going out there and making films. Unlike other film making courses, this course cuts throughout the fat and presents a lean muscle. Every lesson is bite-sized and designed to be applicable and get straight to the point so you can use your time for filming. This is a process I square by and use all the time as a professional filmmaker in the industry. By the end of this course, you will have all the knowledge and the complete road map needed to start shooting beautiful films. Let's get started. 2. Setting Camera Basics: Let's first take care of the camera basics. First, insert a memory card. I recommend at least a 36 gigabyte memory card. Second, set your camera to "Manual Movie Mode". Third, go through Camera menu and set your file type to dot MOV, size 1920 by 1080. Fourth, set your frame rate to 23.97 or 24 frames per second. Now with this basic set, let's go to my simple four-step method to shooting with it manually. Set White Balance. Set Shutter Speed to 1/48 or 1/50 of a second. Set aperture, and adjust ISO. 3. White Balance and Shutter Speed: The first is white balance. On your camera you should find a little button that says WB on it. Colors look different depending on the environment. For example, the color white will look more bluish if you're shooting on a cloudy day, whereas it will look more orange if you're shooting by a candle. When you set the white balance, you're properly calibrating your camera to set the proper colors, by telling it what shooting environment you are filming in. Your camera should have presets based on a few circumstances, like whether you're shooting on a sunny day, cloudy day, in the shade, or indoors. To set your white balance, simply select the shooting setting that matches yours. Now, let's talk about the last three steps. As you can see, all of these steps form a group called the exposure triangle. They determine how much light is let into your camera, and therefore how bright your images. Let's talk about the most straightforward exposure setting, shutter speed. When you take a photo, there's a shutter in front of your camera sensor, which opens and closes to let light into the sensor. When filming, you want to set a constant shutter speed, which is set as a standard in cinema at twice your frame rate. So because you've set your frame rate to 24 frames per second, as we mentioned in our previous lesson, you want to set your shutter speed to one-forty-eighth or one-fiftieth of a second. 4. Aputure: With shutter speed in check, let's talk about the next two components, aperture and ISO. While the previous settings we talked about state constant, you will have to continually adjust aperture and ISO while filming. Let's dive into aperture. The second component of exposure. Your lens has a hole in the middle, which lets light in. Aperture is how big this hole is and the size of this hole is known as your f stop. If you scroll through the aperture wheel on your camera, you'll see numbers or sizes ranging from f/1.4 to f/16. The smaller your f stop number, the larger this hole is, the brighter your image becomes, and the more blurry the background will appear. Besides determining how much light goes into your camera, aperture also determines how much of your image is in focus, also called the depth of field. If you want everything in your frame to be in focus, I recommend an aperture of f/8 or higher. If you want your subject to be in focus with a blurred background, what we call a shallow depth of field, I recommend getting closer to your subject and setting an aperture of f/4 or lower. It's important that you get closer to your subject for a shallow depth of field. As if you're too far, you'll still see the background in-focus. In other words, the more distance between your subject and the background, the more the background will appear out of focus. Setting the f stop will also depend on how bright your image will be. For example, if I want a shallow depth of field and set it to f/4, but it is still too dark, I would reduce my f stopped to an f/2.8, which would let more light in and make my image brighter, but still give me that shallow depth of field. On the other side, if I'm in an f/8, which makes everything in my frame in focus, but I see that my image is too bright, I might raise my aperture to an f/11, which still would show everything in focus, but let less light in and make my image darker. When you see a shot you want to film, play with your aperture until you get the right depth of field and your image isn't too bright or too dark. Sometimes adjusting your image brightness while keeping your desired depth of field is difficult. For example, if it's a sunny day and I want a blurry background, raising my initial aperture of f/4 to f/16, we'll darken my image, but make me lose a blurry background. If it seems to be a struggle, now is the time to adjust your ISO, which we will talk about in the next lesson. 5. ISO: The last setting in this exposure group is ISO. ISO determines how sensitive you camera sensor is to light. If you scroll through the ISO wheel in your camera, you'll see that it has numbers ranging typically from 200 to 3200. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive you camera sensor is to light and the brighter your image becomes. So if you set your aperture the way you like it, it has the right amount of blurriness, but the image is not bright or dark enough. You can raise or lower your ISO. For example, if set your images to f4, it has the right depth of feel that you're looking for, but it's too dark. I would then raise my ISO higher to let more light in. However, there is a catch. Typically, when you raise your ISO above 1600, the camera creates more noise in your image. So if you've reached the lowest aperture your camera can go and raised your ISO to the highest, but you see some noise. Then choose a brighter location to film or a brighter time of day. When you're starting out, I recommend setting your ISO to 400 as a baseline, then making adjustments depending on the light of your setting. 6. One Last Tip for ISO : There is another catch with ISO, which pertains to one you're shooting on a bright sunny day. Sometimes on a bright sunny day when you want to keep a shallow depth of field, even if you lower your ISO and therefore lowing your camera sensitivity to light, your image is still too bright. When that happens, use an ND filter, which are dark and transparent surfaces, you screw onto your lens to let less light in. This way, you can keep a shallow depth of field on a bright day without needing to increase your f-stop. 7. Exposure Recap: Here is a pneumonic device to help you memorize these five steps. Friendly, walruses, see, all, ignorance. That was a lot to take in and to make it easier for you, I've created a simple streamline checklist you can use on your shoots to make sure that you're not forgetting anything. 8. Setting Focus: Now that we've set these five settings, it's time to set the focus. With your subject in frame, press the button with the magnification glass on your camera body until you can zoom in on your subject's eyes. Turn the focus wheel around your lens, until those eyes become crystal clear. To control focus like this, make sure that you have chosen the manual focus, not the auto focus mode on your lens and camera. 9. Intro to Cinematography: Let's talk about cinematography. A good starting point to learn about lighting and composition is to look at the top three things that make images look bad. Here are the top three things that are common when you are starting out. Number one, overexposure. This means that your image is too bright so that many tones in your image loose color and look white. Shaky footage. While some handshake can lend itself to a certain look in storytelling, when it's not intentional, it can make a film look amateur. Number three, bad composition are when you're not aware of what's in your frame and how things are laid out inside of it. Let's address each of these issues and learn about their solutions. 10. Seeing Light: Let's begin with overexposure. When you're out there shooting, the main thing to watch out for are hotspots. When parts of your image are too bright that they lose color and turn white, these are real image killers and are especially prevalent among beginner filmmakers on bright sunny days. To solve this, either decrease the brightness of your image or find a shadier area to film. However, during the sunny days, I love filming during magic hour. The time shortly after sunrise or right before sunset. During this time, the light is diffuse. Nothing is really blown out and the colors intensify beautifully. If it's a cloudy day, don't fret. Clouds actually can act as your best friend by softening the sunlight so that if falls nice and even on your subject. In contrast with a sunny day, you would get good light throughout the day as long as it's not too dark in the early morning or late afternoon. 11. Setting Up A Tripod: Now let's address the second big problem with filming, shaky footage. To solve this problem, simply place your camera on a tripod with these steps. Place camera on tripod plate with the coin. Place tripod plate on tripod. Adjust height of legs so that your tripod is level. You can check to see whether your tripod is level by looking at the bubble. If it's inside the circle, its level. Tripods will also have knobs to adjust the tilt and pan. Tilt is when you move your camera up and down. Pan is when you move your camera from side to side. 12. Composing Your Image: Even if you set your camera on a tripod and there's nice light, your image will likely not look good if there is bad composition. Composition is how things in your frame are placed throughout the space. Back composition comes from when you're not aware what's in your frame and what you're trying to communicate in your scene. Here are three tips. When you feel trying to record what you are seeing, ask yourself, what exactly in the scene pulls me to record it? Is it this person's expression? Is it the color of the spices in the market stall? Is it the shape of the bamboo boats? Once you've identified what's pulling you so much, choose your camera positioning to maximize the focus of the primary element. Remove anything unnecessary that can distract from this focus. Two, be aware of the background. Once you've positioned your frame, notice if there's anything cutoff awkwardly in your frame, or if there are any distractions that take the viewer away from what you want to show. Either move the distractions away or move your camera for a better frame. Third, don't cut at joints. Otherwise your frame will look like the awkward family photos your parents used to take while on vacation. One last composition tip known as the Rule of Thirds. Well most people tend to put the most important subject in the middle of their frame, it looks more balanced when you put the most important subject at the intersection of the vertical and horizontal thirds. 13. Intro to Audio: First, I'm going to teach you how to use your mics to record great sounding audio. Then I'll teach you how to enhance your audio recording space and finally, I'll share two essential tricks you'll need to smooth out your audio in the edit. Let's start with audio equipment. In this equipment section, I will teach you how to use three main pieces of audio gear. First, a lavalier mic, which goes directly on your subject and records the interviews. Second, an external recorder, which stores what is being said into your lav mic and sets the loudness levels and third, a shotgun mic, which records the sounds of what's going on in front of your camera, like actions and ambiance. It's also a great backup for your lav mic during the interview. Signals from the shotgun mic are directly recorded into your camera. 14. Record High Quality Sound: To use the lav mic, it's simple. Clip it around the sternum six to eight inches below the mouth and point the mic up. Be careful not to have any cloth, jewelry, or hair around the mic, because these can bump against the mic and muffle the sound. To record what is being said from your lav mic, you will need an external recorder. To use external recorder, first, make sure you have a memory card inside. Then insert your lav mic, and set the recording format to WAV 48KHZ 16Bit, which is a higher-quality file, than the MP3. Next, notice your audio meter. This records the decibel range or loudness of what is being picked up by your mic. You want your audio levels to bounce between negative six and negative 12 decibels. To set your audio levels, do a test with your subject beforehand. Tell them you're going to check the audio levels. Ask them about how their day went, and press the up and down input level buttons on side of your recorder until the audio levels bounce between negative 12 and negative six. When in doubt, it's safer to keep your audio on the lower decibel range, since it's almost impossible to fix sounds that are too loud. If your sounds are too low, however, you will hear static. To use a shotgun mic is simple, just hook the mic into your camera and turn it on. If you're shooting outside on a windy day, make sure to cover the mic with a wind buffer, which looks like a cat tail. You can adjust the audio level of your shotgun sound and camera. Just make sure it's not hitting the red marks in your in camera audio meter. 15. Optimize Your Sound Space: For your audio recording environment, you ideally want to choose a quiet place. Before you start your interview, listen for competing sounds. You want to make sure that there are no noises coming from windows. You want to close doors, turn off electrical appliances, turn off your cell phones, turn off the fridge, clocks and the AC, whatever that will leave a subtle hum in your audio. Another thing to watch out for is echo. Echo comes from sound bouncing around on hard surfaces when traveling from your subject to the microphone. It sounds like this: In the beginning, I think it's helpful to have an overview of the whole video production process. As you can see, it waters down your sound. So recording in a carpeted room with soft surfaces is a great idea because soft surfaces will absorb the echo. If that's not possible, you can try to cover the hard surfaces such as tables and floors with rugs, pillows, and thick fabric. 16. 2 Essential Audio Tricks: Now we will learn two essential tricks in audio recording to make your edits a lot smoother down the road. Number 1, room tone. Is an empty room completely silent? If you're by yourself, close your eyes and listen. Even if the room sounds quiet, you'll hear that there's still a distinctive sound to that room or filming space. Although the sound is low, the sound, or what we call room tone, will come in handy when you want to smooth out cuts in the editing room. For example, when you want to take out a few words in an interview, you want to underlay the deletions with room tone to make it sound natural. Key takeaway. Make sure you record 30 seconds of room tone before you start your interview or scene and right after your scene ends because room tone can change with time. Number 2, clap in the beginning of your scene. You know those iconic Hollywood slates, while you might know that they mark the take in the scene, which helps film editors keep track of everything. But these slates also serve another crucial function, creating a loud mark so editors can easily sync audio with video imposed. Key takeaway, clap in the beginning of your scene for easy audio syncing later on. 17. Course Conclusion: Congratulations. By now you have all the knowledge and a roadmap needed to go out there and start shooting. If you have any remaining questions, please send them my way as I'm here to support you. If you'd like to develop your filmmaking and storytelling further, please check out my other courses on my teacher profile page. Like my ever popular power video editing course, Adobe Premiere Pro in 45 minutes, which takes the traditional three hour class and condenses it down to its golden essentials so you end up with a polished, refined edit in a fraction of the time. Thank you so much for taking your time with me. Please feel free to share your work with us on the projects page, and happy filming. 18. Exciting Updates: If you like this course, I invite you to Sign up for My Newsletter, where I share exciting updates, high value insights, and curated inspiration. Link on my course instructor page.