Things to Consider before You Shoot Your DSLR Film - dummies

Things to Consider before You Shoot Your DSLR Film

By John Carucci

As a filmmaker, you are looking forward to the creative aspects that go into using your DSLR to actually shoot your film. However, you will make the best use of your time if you consider these things in your planning process.

Shoot to edit

We’ve all heard the axiom that great films are made in postproduction. That’s only half true. The other half depends on how effectively you capture each scene, or more accurately, enough variations of each scene so you can make more informed decisions in postproduction. These deviations of the shot make up the foundation of powerful editing.

But there’s a reasonable threshold. If you overshoot, you’ll spend too much time going through the footage and second-guessing yourself.

Shoot variations

Capturing a healthy variation of each shot is the spice that flavors any movie and assures your editor doesn’t hate you.

When you have a fair number of shot variations, it provides alternate choices when you’re putting the movie together. That helps with the movie’s visual rhythm and gives it a nice flow. Don’t be stingy when it comes to shooting those scenes. It’s not unusual for a movie to have a 20:1 ratio of shots captured to shots used.

Watch and learn from the movies

Next time you’re watching a movie, analyze the shot structure. You’ll see some of these basic shots:

  • Establishing shot: Generally, a wide-angle shot that lets the viewer get a sense of the landscape, place, or logistics of a scene. This is usually the opening shot of the movie but can also be used when location or time changes in the movie.


  • Wide: An expansive view of the scene that shows the subject in relation to his environment.

  • Medium: It’s the average perspective: not too close, not too far. It’s excellent for shots that include dialogue and sound bites.


  • Close-up: A magnified view of the scene. Sometimes it brings distant objects closer; other times it’s used to create a close-up.

  • Pan: A sweeping motion of the scene that goes side to side.

  • Tilt: It’s the camera’s version of looking up, down, or up and down.

  • Dolly (zoom): A means of using the focal length to draw the subjects closer or further away while shooting the scene.

Vary camera focal length

Most shots are performed either through camera to subject distance, focal length, or a combination of two.

  • Wide-angle lens: On a full frame, it represents focal lengths up to 35 mm. It’s mostly used for wide shots, but sometimes, you can shoot normal-range and even close-ups with it. That depends on the camera-to-subject distance.

  • Normal lens: The 35-mm camera and the full-frame DSLR use a standard lens in the 50-mm range. It produces a perspective similar to human vision, so it’s entirely possible, though not recommended, to shoot an entire movie with this lens. Camera-to-subject distance then varies with each type of shot.

  • Telephoto lens: A focal length that magnifies the scene and makes distance objects closer. For the most part, you can capture close-ups with it, but other shots still are influenced by the camera-to-subject distance.

Master shot structure

Variety is good when it comes to shooting scenes for your movie. Shooting each scene using a wide, medium, and tight composition of the scene makes a strong foundation for editing, just as capturing the action from front, side, and maybe someplace in between helps too.

Wide shots are a good place to start.


Medium shots give context, but a closer view.


Tight shots show detail.


Overhead shots offer a unique perspective.


Maintain continuity between shots

The difference between making a feature film and a theatrical event like a play is that only one is presented in linear fashion. Whatever happens in the play takes place with natural progression. Conversely, the film is shot out of sequence and put together in postproduction like a giant puzzle. Sometimes when you assemble the movie, the consistency between different parts of the same scene is compromised.

In order to avoid these problems in your film, consider the following:

  • Maintain a detailed record of the scene. Use a screen grab of each shot if you’re not shooting scenes in succession.

  • Watch for the subject’s primary movements. Be sure they remain consistent. For example, your actress has her right hand on her hip in the wide shot, and you cut to the medium shot and see her left hand is on her hip.

  • Keep the traffic flowing, consistently. Although successful editing depends on the rhythm between shots, you have to make sure that they’re plausible.

  • Do not breech the 180-degree rule. This rule establishes subject placement for the audience and lets them experience the space. It’s part of a necessary rhythm for creating plausibility between scenes. When you break it, it confuses the viewer.