Getting the perfect exposure and colors every time

Getting the exposure and colours right (and the focus!) are the basics of video and filmmaking, but we don’t always get them correct. There are a lot of things happening on the day of a shoot, and it’s easy to overlook these simple things. The best thing is to develop a good routine to go through as you set up your shot. There are also some tools out there that make this process easier.

After asking Tom for some advice, he decided to do a video that will help me, and probably some of you out there too.

Now, instead of judging by the eye, you should be able to always get the exposure and white balance settings right. At first, it will take a bit more time to use the grey card and the colour checker. Once they become part of your routine, though, you will be able to set up your camera fast.

For me, the big reason for using these tools is the peace of mind of knowing I got the shot right – rather than wait till the night to check the footage at home.

You can get a cheap but very good grey card on B&H, eBay, Amazon,, Amazon UK,

Here is where you can get the X-Rite Passport Color Checker: B&H, Adorama, Henry’s, eBay, Amazon,, Amazon UK,,,,

Here is a video where I use the X-Rite Color Checker to perfectly match different cameras together.

Here are a few additional comments from Tom that didn’t make into the video (he was hoping for a video under ten minutes, and it ended up about twice that length):

“When shooting with standard video gamma profiles, this technique will work perfectly. However, that is not the case when shooting in LOG profiles, because each log profile has to be exposed differently.

For example, when shooting with the Slog-2 on Sony cameras, you have to over-expose the shot. By how much depends on your preference. For that reason, you should always do tests before shooting in LOG.

In my experience, I like to over expose SLog by 1.5 f/stops. You should adjust the settings of your camera, so that the middle gray is 1.5 f/stops over when using Slog-2. In case of V-Log, I like to over-expose by 1 f/stop.

I like to over-expose even regular video gamma profiles by 0.5 f/stop. So, in the case of this video I exposed the middle gray at exactly 40 IRE, but to me it still looked a little bit too dark. So, I normally expose the middle gray at exactly 50 IRE, or set the zebra to 50%.

Now, that’s is my preference. Some people I’ve worked with have told me they’d rather not over-expose and risk blowing out the highlights. Instead, they raise the midtone levels up by one f/stop in post-production.

Another thing you will notice is that on the camera and monitor the middle gray registers as 40 IRE, but in Premiere Pro’s waveform it shows up as 50 IRE. It might get confusing, but just know that if you exposed your shot well in the camera, it will look good even if the editing program shows a different IRE value. The difference is due to several factors, like the chart scale and depth bit value, etc., but I don’t want to get into that right now. The main point is that the middle gray in regular video should be 40-60% – exactly how much depends on your preference. To figure that out, I suggest you guys do your own tests.

Also, keep in mind that in creative shots you might not always want to perfectly expose the middle gray. If, for example, you want a darker look, then you will want to under-expose it anyway. How much depends what kind of a look you want. It’s what I do when shooting a film scene during the day but going for a night look (the “Day for Night” technique).

Another example is a scene that is supposed to look very hot and sunny, but I’m filming on an overcast day. On purpose, I will over-expose these shots to get that hot look.

If you are just starting out with video, then follow what I show in the tutorial, and learn those basics. After that, do your own tests and learn when to break these filmmaking rules. Because there are not really rules, but good suggestions.”

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