I’ve historically had an issue with putting together film shoots that extend beyond trying to share out the workload inappropriately. It’s been an expectation that I’ll just get better by doing it. There’s two fundamental flaws there. The first being that we didn’t go out and shoot often enough to really see any continual improvement. Second, we were identifying superficial problems that could have been easily identified and remedied beforehand instead of the issues preventing us from progressing in any meaningful manner.

I’ve been reading Deep Work by Cal Newport and the focus is squarely on deliberate, focused work. One of the underlying statements is that perform at an elite level you need to produce at an elite level. That then drives back to deep, focused work being required to produce at that level. It brought me back to a statement that Dale Meredith peppers a lot of his tutorial videos with.

Practice builds knowledge. Knowledge build confidence.

I’m more likely to substitute skill for confidence in the saying above, but it certainly holds. When I think of the things that I’m good at, that I’m confident doing, they’re things that I’ve practiced often and with dedicated focus.

I’m also re-reading The Portable Film School by D.B. Gilles. I’ve had this book for almost a decade at this point and (rightly) assumed I’d probably skipped over some pretty useful content on my first read through ten years ago. Second chapter in and I found this.

Don’t think of rules as regimentation. Start to look at rules as the things you must learn in order to develop technique.

You get technique from practicing the rules.

And one more, just for fun, from a Blender Guru article:

Fundamentals conquer all.

Seems like I’m getting a lot of similar advice from a lot of different places. That said, I’m pretty dumb, so I’m probably only noticing it because it’s something that’s already top of mind to begin with.

I’m not planning on running out and shooting a short tomorrow. Given that, I’m trying to get as prepared as possible. One of my most noticeable weaknesses is in working with the camera. I get the basic idea behind the exposure triangle and I can bang out a solid image or two when needed, but reliably getting what I want is a completely different story. If an effort to remedy that I’ve been undertaking some very basic and fundamental testing sessions with a Canon T4i.

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

Variable Aperture - Static ISO and Shutter Speed

I picked the biggest aperture the lens would support (Canon 50mm prime / f1.8 - 22) and tried to get a balanced exposure. Once I had that I left the ISO and shutter speed where they were and bumped up the f-stop one step at a time until the exposure was too dark to discern any detail.

Variable Shutter - Static ISO and Aperture

Same as the above, starting with 1/30 second shutter speed and gradually moving up toward the 1/4000 max, leaving the ISO and f-stop fixed once I found a reasonable first exposure.

Variable ISO - Static Aperture and Shutter Speed

Again, same as above. In this case, I started at 800 ISO to get a servicable exposure. From there I worked my way down to 100 and then back up from 800 to 6400. Fixed aperture and shutter speed.

Variable Aperture - Dynamic Shutter Speed and ISO

Once I had the first three out of the way I wanted to try and maintain an exposure across the entire range of a single setting. Starting with the aperture I picked f5.0 as my starting point, found a decent exposure and then started working my way up to f1.8. Once I hit that I reset to f5.0 and worked all the way through to f22.

One of the problems above is that I wasn’t isolating my shutter speed and ISO changes. I was essentially picking whichever one felt right to change at that time and it missed the point of breaking it down this far. I should probably redo this testing in two separate steps; one time preferring a dynamic shutter speed and one for ISO.

Variable Shutter Speed - Dynamic Aperture

I fixed the above problem here. I started at 1/250 sec for the shutter speed, found a useful exposure and started working my way down to 1/30 sec. The difference is that my default setting to change was the f-stop. I kept modifying this until I couldn’t change it anymore in a way that would positively affect the exposure. Only then would I change the ISO by a single step, going back to the aperture again until I couldn’t adjust it any longer.

This was extremely helpful, but also highlighted another issue. The start point of the ISO has an impact. I started fairly high at 1600 ISO and never came down from that, just up. So, not only do I need to do a second shutter speed test, focused on the ISO as my primary modifier to maintain exposure, I need to redo this test while keeping the ISO as low as I can to see how much that impacts the overall process.

This is all very, very basic stuff, but that’s kind of the point. This was done exclusive to learn, in practice, how these three things work together to create an exposure in moderate to low light. Work with them in isolation and then in concert, with a preference toward modifying a specific variable.

It’s lead to a great deal more comfort with the camera, though I still have a number of directly related tests yet to perform. It’s also left me with a lot more questions. I’m far less concerned about the technical requirements of getting what’s in my brain into the camera. More importantly, the concerns I have remaining are already partially answered. I’ve got a bunch of useful questions to explore in further study sessions with the camera the things I’m unsure about.

I’m fairly confident that when I go to shoot my next short it will fail miserably. I’m also fairly confident that it will at least fail for new and interesting reasons, not just the same old stumbling blocks I’ve been tripping of so far.