Are Zoom Shots Wrong?

Image courtesy of  Juno Namkoong Lee

Image courtesy of Juno Namkoong Lee

I recently watched a promotional video that employed the use of zoom shots quite a bit. You've probably seen this technique used in corporate work and local commercials. You know, the shot starts out tight on the sign overhead the store front and then the camera slowly zooms out to reveal the building? Or the interior shot that starts out on a wide and slowly zooms in to a specific product on the shelf?

When I saw this technique used again and again in the video I was watching, I have to admit that I had a negative reaction. Then I started thinking, "Why?" What was it about seeing a shot zooming in or zooming out that affected my emotional response to the piece? Is it wrong? Is it a violation of some cinematographer code?

The short answer is, "Maybe." In my opinion, contrary to what others in the industry may say, zoom shots are not old-fashioned. Serious and well-respected filmmakers still use them, as the following video discusses. But before you consider this carte blanche to start zooming in and zooming out on every shot, remember that choosing to move (or not move) your camera will impact your piece and will result in an emotional response from your audience, whether positive or negative.

As you learned from the above video, using the zoom is another tool in the cinematographer toolbox. Like any tool, it should be used at the proper time to achieve the proper result. It should be used for good reason. I don't want to watch an entire video where every shot is either zooming in or zooming out. But I also don't want to watch an entire video that utilizes nothing but jib shots or dolly moves.

The problem with zooming is not the act itself, but choosing when to zoom. Every composition, every move, should be motivated. It should enhance the story you're trying to tell, not distract from it. If there's no good reason to zoom, maybe you should try a different technique. However, using the zoom at the right moment, and in the right way, can be beneficial to your video.

What are your thoughts on zoom shots? How do you feel about them? What advice would you give to other shooters? Leave your thoughts in the the Comments.

How To Use Shallow Focus To Tell A Story

Image by  Ben Seidelman

Image by Ben Seidelman

I came across the following video on the Nerdwriter YouTube channel recently. If you haven't subscribed to Nerdwriter yet, I encourage you to do so. The channel offers well thought-out video essays on various topics related to filmmaking, art, and popular culture. 

This particular essay centers on the topic of shallow depth of field and how filmmakers need to start thinking about using shallow focus as a strategic element in storytelling and not just as a novelty. As an example, the essay uses the Hulu original series The Handmaid's Tale and breaks down the practical reasons why shallow depth of field is employed and why it helps shape the audiences view of the characters and the world around them.

Color Correction: How to Evaluate Skin Tones

Courtesy of  Premium Beat

Courtesy of Premium Beat

Every post-production professional has struggled with color correcting a particular shot that just never seems to look "right." If you have ever found yourself going back to the same shot again and again, wondering why it never looks balanced, the problem may be in the skin tones.

Regardless of an actor's race, his/her skin tones should always fall on the same area of the vectorscope. It's called the Skin Tone Line and it runs from the center of the vectorsope up diagonally to the left, right in between Red and Yellow, at about 10 o'clock.

Courtesy of  Premiere Gal

Courtesy of Premiere Gal

As you make adjustments to your shot, make sure that your actors fall along this line. The shot will then have a more pleasing, balanced look.

However, sometimes it's hard to distinguish where your skin tones are falling, especially when your actor isn't the dominant object in the frame. How can you quickly and easily isolate just the skin tones to evaluate the shot?

Here's a tip I learned from Larry Jordan. Take a crop effect and apply it to the clip. Then, crop in to the portion of the frame that contains a selection of the actor's skin and nothing else. Now you have isolated the skin tone in your shot and can quickly evaluate the color on the vectorscope, making sure that it lands right along the Skin Tone Line.

Have any other color correction tips? Leave your advice in the Comments section.

Why the Best Production Gear Won't Help You

The barriers of entry for all aspiring filmmakers are incredibly low. Never has it been so easy to acquire all the gear necessary to shoot and edit a good-looking film. But, as Walter Murch points out in his book In the Blink of an Eye, the ease of access to the technology doesn't negate the importance of learning the craft. Consider what he writes on page 116 of his book.

The hard truth, though, is that easier access does not automatically make for better results. The accompanying sense that ‘anyone can do it’ can easily produce a broth spoiled by too many cooks. All of us today are able to walk into an art store and buy inexpensive pigments and supplies that the Renaissance painters would have paid fortunes for. And yet, do any of us paint on their level today?
— Walter Murch

I've heard and read similar observations from cinematographers over the years when discussing the latest cameras and the incredible images they produce. Selling points like unbelievable low-light performance can lead would-be directors of photography to believe that all they ever need for any scene is practical lighting. And if they believe this to be true, then they never spend adequate time learning and practicing the basic principles of cinematography.

In the following video, two professional photographers argue that the quality of the work is not dependent solely on the quality of the equipment. Put in the hands of a professional who knows his/her craft, a cheap kit can produce better images than the more expensive equipment put into the hands of an amateur.

Also consider this video from DSLRGuide where he compares a Canon T3i with an Arri Alexa Mini.

What are your thoughts? Agree or disagree, or just have something to add? Be sure to join the conversation in the Comments below.