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Old October 13 2013, 06:50 AM   #272
Maurice
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Re: Fan Filmmaker's Primer

Time to cover a "back to basics" lesson...

CINEMATOGRAPHY 101: BFLATS

As I've said in the past, I'm a big believer in checklists on set. They start off helping make sure that you don't forget anything, and eventually the steps become second nature, and they also force you to take a moment and consider each step and make sure it's done right before moving on to the next one. Under the pressure and distractions of a shoot this can be a lifesaver.

A while back my friend Gil Poznanski told me about a cameraman's mnemonic he learned at the School of Theater, Film and Television (TFT) at UCLA, which they called BFLATS. [EDIT] This list was really intended for film shooting, which does not include the white balance and color temperature settings common in digital video.

B - Battery
F - Focus
L - Level
A - Aperture
T - Tachometer
S - Shutter Angle/Speed

BFLATS - Before you shoot
Now, a lot of beginners are shooting on "auto" on their cameras, so BFLATS may not seem practical, but if you want the best looking film it's worth seeing how much manual control you have and learn how to use the available features on your camera.

I'll drill down a bit into each item on this.
Battery
Basically, is there enough charge so you won't run out? [EDIT] And do you have other batteries charged/charging?

Focus
Not just is the shot in focus, but if you need to manually rack the focus during a shot (not possible with many consumer grade cameras), have you worked out the focus and marked the points so that you can deftly change the focus when needed.

Level
Most good tripod heads have levels built into them. Unless you're dutching (tilting) the shot deliberately you'll probably want to have the camera level. It's important for the tripod to be "on the bubble" all the way around, especially when panning (this does not affect "tilt").

Aperture
Your camera may or may not allow you to set this, but it's the size of the opening through which light passes. Aperture is measured in ‘f-stops’. The larger the aperture the shallower the depth of field, and the smaller the aperture the greater depth of field (meaning how much of the image can be in focus at once). Counter-intuitively, the smaller the number, the bigger the aperture, so an f-stop of f/4 is much much larger than f/22.

Tachometer (aka ISO)
Refers to film speed (sensitivity to light), but in digital ISO measures the sensitivity of the image sensor. So, just as 100 speed film is good for general purposes but not so good in low light, where 400 speed film is much better in darker situations. If your camera allows you to control this, it may save your bacon in low light situations (combined with the Shutter Speed setting).

Shutter Angle/Speed
This relates to how long the shutter is open and exposing a frame. The bigger the number, the longer the exposure. Longer exposures mean more blur on moving objects, and shorter exposures mean a more staccato look.
The ATS items have to be considered together. To get more depth of field (smaller Aperture) will require more light to get the same exposure level, meaning you'll want to consider the ISO and Shutter Speed with each adjustment.

There are some additional items I might add to such a checklist, but I'll end this post here for now and see what comments/questions come up.
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Last edited by Maurice; October 13 2013 at 10:33 PM. Reason: To fix typos and clarify a couple of points.
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