Every visual creator wants the videos they make to look cinematic. Most of them think you need $10,000 lenses or a 4K camera or the most expensive stabilizer, all of this is false. All you need is a Camera/Lens/Creative mind to make something look ready for the movies.
HOW DSLR'S CHANGED FILMMAKING
When I first started making videos I had the wrong mindset. I kept saying "If I had a 4K camera or expensive lenses my videos would look better" My entire world was changed when I saw the movie "Like Crazy". This is one of my favorite movies and it looks like they shot it on either an Arri Alexa ($40,000 Camera) or 35mm film ($120,000+). I watched videos on the behind the scenes of the movie and they used 1 camera. A Canon 7D ($600)
After this movie came out, a lot of other films started using these sub $1000 cameras for movies. Of course some of them are using cinema lenses,matte boxes,follow focuses,etc. But the RAW image is what matters and it looks amazing.
HOW I STARTED
My parents bought me my first camera is 2011 (Canon T2i). This is what I learned on and taught myself how to use. 4K wasn't a thing unless you had the money for the new RED epic or RED one. At the time these were $15K+. Canon 5D's and 7D's were running the market. We didn't have GH4's or A7S's. You either had a Canon DSLR or nothing lol
The Canon DSLR's are still an amazing camera but since the buzz words now are "4K" and "RAW" no one really uses it anymore. Let me show you some of the shots I got when owning my Canon 60D and 6D. This is not 4K, it's just 1080P
I'm happy with how these still hold up (All of the above clips were shot in 2013). So what do you notice about all of these?
1: They all have a shallow depth of field (Blurry background)
2: They have letterboxing (black bars)
3. They are (for the most part) composed well.
HOW TO GET THIS "LOOK" FOR FREE
If you own a DSLR or any kind of camera you can achieve this look. I made a guide last year called "Guide to shooting high quality videos". A lot of people found it useful and I included every preset you need to use to acheive the "film look" I'm including a download for everyone who reads this for free so you can get started today!
You can download it here:
SHALLOW DEPTH OF FIELD (BLURRY BACKGROUND)
This is the #1 problem most video shooters don't utilize. You have a massive sensor inside your camera that is similar to what you would find in a RED or Alexa. It's capable of a lot.
Most people follow the "180 degree rule". This means you double the shutter speed you are shooting at. So if you are shooting at 24p, your shutter will be 1/48. This is perfect but what if the scene is too bright? You have to stop down your aperture. This will will give you correct exposure but you will lose your depth of field.
Notice how drastic the image changes? The 1.4 just looks and feels more cinematic, rather than stopped down to f/16.
What you can do is change your shutter speed. This will allow your exposure to be correct but you will lose motion blur because of your high shutter speed. This may work depending on the project but it can make the image look a little weird. Notice how sharp the edges are of the water on the right (fast shutter speed) vs the water on the left (180 degree shutter speed)
Adjusting the shutter speed is a free option but if you have some money to spend I would suggest using a ND filter (sun glasses for your lens). This will darken the image while allowing you you to keep the 1/48 shutter speed in daylight. This is an amazing filter and I use mine on EVERY shoot I have.
Here is the one I recommend (watch out for the cheap ones because they tend to soften the image and add a weird color shift)
Tiffen makes some of the best filter! If you are confused about the sizes, that is your lenses filter size. Search your lens online or look the inside of the lens and it should say. (This lens would need a 58mm filter)
Letterbox is mimicking a widescreen look, similar to what film does. For whatever reason our eyes have become accustomed to associating letterboxing with "cinematic" looks.
Here are some examples:
In the download link, I included a full pack of letterbox presets and how to apply them!
A lot of people forget the camera is the audiences vision, instead most just treat it like a home video camera. Maybe that's your style and thats fine, but a lot of people don't take this into consideration. The first thing I do when I buy a camera is put on grid lines (even on my iPhone lol). This is the first to getting a correctly composed image.
Drive is one of my favorite movies and the cinematography in the film is nothing short of amazing. From the lighting, to the camera moves, to the..... composition. Look how they used quadrants and grids to frame each subject in their environment. Note: The letter boxing and shallow depth of field, no coincidence there :)
These are all great example of HOW to shoot a movie or music video or your daughter's piano recital. It's all relative! Composition is just as important as making sure the lens cap is off and the camera is turned on. It can take your small video and turn it into a cinematic masterpiece. Try to make the environment work for you, not the other way around
THE REAL WAY TO MAKE CINEMATIC WORK
These are all just tips that I've picked up in the last few years when I started shooting video. They are pieces that when you put them all together something really special can be made. The only real way is too just go do it. You can watch so many videos or read every article on how to be the best but nothing will change unless you go out and make it happen. That's the best advice for anyone who asks me "how do I make my work look like cinematic". Find your favorite scene in a movie, break it down and try to recreate it. You'd be surprised how effective this is and the amount of skill you gain from it. Keep shooting every day and creating and you'll grow with your work. I'll leave you with this.
Here is my first video I shot in 2012 vs a video I shot this month. I stand by 100% what I just said and the proof is there. Put in the work and be the best, no one is gonna hand you it.