Low light hunting video has to be one of the most misunderstood and most often failed method of hunting film.
Many of us have watched the grainy images produced by hunting videographers all over the country. This comes mostly from a lack of understanding of basic manual functions of a camera. First we must understand that our DSLR comes with three basic settings that can be manipulated, ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. These are the keys to correct low light hunting video.
Aperture in basic terms is how wide the cameras eye opens. The lower the number the wider the opening, which means more light is let in. What we also have to remember is the lower the number the shallower our focal length becomes. We will hear me say again and again that I use all 2.8 lenses (which is for the most part accurate). The 2.8 f/stop creates that cinematic depth of field we look for when creating more artistic work and is our friend in low light hunting video.
Most importantly in the case of low light filming is that it allows the most light in. This allows us to use a much lower ISO and shutter speed.
For basic knowledge shake I will start by saying what we set our video at which is rated at frames per second or fps is different than the shutter speed you manually change when filming. In the case of low light hunting video we want to be at 30fps (to start) as it lets in twice the amount of light that 60fps does.
To bring that in line with our shutter speed we want to set it at 1/30 which in plain English means very similar to what fps is in this case it means the lens opens and closes in 1/30 of a second. A DSLR will not allow us to slow shutter speed lower than what our fps is set on in the video mode. (For the most part)
ISO in Basic Terms
The ISO is one of the main things that will effect how grainy our video comes out. In the old days ISO rated a film (before digital) on how sensitive it was to light. The lower the number, 100 for instance, is the clearest image we will get but lets in the least amount of light. The higher the number the more grain that appears in the image but also the image becomes lighter this is one of the most delicate and important balances in low light hunting video. Note that not all cameras are created equal. Some cameras have a greater ISO rating than others which requires research and watching test videos while choosing a good low light hunting video camera.
Putting it Together
For basic standard of learning creative low light hunting video I suggest by starting by setting our shutter speed at 1/30 s and our aperture (f/stop) to 2.8 and leave those settings alone. In almost all cases the only setting I manipulate is the ISO and to test my cameras ability I will turn the ISO up only as high as my camera will allow without grainy imaging.
For a basic rule of thumb that is as good as low light our camera will film. I have one Nikon that is junk after 1250 ISO and other that are much higher. There is still one of the most fundamental concepts of low light hunting video that people miss.
What should low light hunting video look like
I am amazed at the pre conceived notion many hunting film producers have that low light means make the image as bright as possible. At Dangerous Cow Publishing we seek to match what our eye sees. So what I see at ten feet is what my camera should see at ten feet because that is the natural situation we are in. Silhouetted shots can produce amazingly stunning film clips for artistic hunting film pieces.
That is after all what we are going for, next level production. A natural cinematic depiction of what actually happened paying attention to the natural details and delivering them to the viewer. we should not try to make our camera brighter, we should go with what is natural to the eye and step our ISO as needed. The next step is to get out there and practice the art of low light hunting video.