Finding Your Video Style with 3 Simple Video Tests

Today we’re going to show you three simple video tests you can record to help determine your visual style.
In filmmaking, you have a lot of choices to make on set, for each shot, that affect the final outcome of your project: camera angle, camera placement, prop placement, talent blocking, lens focal length, lighting and much more. 
What can you do in preproduction to help that process? Shoot tests and experiment to determine your project’s visual style before hand.
Here’s an analogy. An exceptionally technical craft, pottery uses complex glaze mixtures that look different on various type clays (white, buff, red), along with a load of other factors.
So in pottery, we make test tiles. Lots of them, to see how one glaze looks next to another, over another, with texture underneath, and so on. 
In the end, we gain benchmarks of styles that we like and now know technically how to recreate. This gives us the ability to make informed, creative choices.
The same applies to shooting video, another exceedingly technical craft, were a lot of creative choices are made on set, then baked in our edit.
Use these three simple tests to narrow down some of those choices and help you determine the look and feel you want.
In these type of tests, the key is to keep it simple. We’re working with only one variable at a time.

Aperture test to show how the background sharpness/softness changes with different f stops, and affects the look and feel of a shot.  Canon C100 mkII with 50mm lens.

Let's practice a single, static shot, at the same focal length, 50mm. The variable: the f stop. We’ll need ND filters for this test
We’ll start at f 16, ISO 850, which I’m lit for, and focus set on Courtney’s eyes. 
Now we’ll open up 2 stops at a time, using an ND filter each time so we maintain the same exposure.
You’ll see how the background progressively goes out of focus as we open up.
Let's open the door behind her to add even more depth and do the same test.

The same aperture test created outside where we can get a deeper background. You can really see how isolated from the background our actress at f /2.0.  Canon C100 mkII with 50mm lens.

Let's go outside and do the same test on an exterior shot.
I now have tests to compare how different apertures affect my background in relation to my actor on my locations and the feeling it gives.
If you don’t have ND filters, you could try the test by adjusting your ISO but that will probably affect the graininess of your image. Best to use ND’s if you can.

By changing the focal length of the lens, and the position of the camera to maintain the same framing of our actress, we change the field of view of our background. C100 mkII, 24-105 zoom.

Focal Length
Now that’s play with a different variable, the lens focal length. I’ll use my Canon 24-105 zoom. 
We’ll stay at an f5.6 and start at 24mm. I’ll then zoom into 35mm and pull the camera back to maintain the same framing on Courtney. Remember I’m only changing one variable, the focal length.
Then I’ll zoom in and move the camera back for 50mm…then 75mm focal length.
As you can see, the background changes as we change the lens focal length.
In the 24mm, we can see a lot, my car in the background, steps on the right. It has a different feel than the 75mm where we barely see the background and it’s clear the character is the focus.
The 24 shows her in the world around her, the 75mm more isolated, focus is on her alone.
We have creative choices.

The Key to Fill Ratio tells us the contrast ratio between the key and fill side of our actors.

Key to Fill Ratio
Let's go back inside and test our third variable called our Key to Fill Ratio.
This common ratio relates to the contrast between the key side and fill side of our talents face.
We’ll determine it by keeping the dome cover on the light meter and blocking the fill side off it, and then the key side.
In this instance, I’m getting an exposure of 80 ft candles (fc) on the key and 80 fc on the fill side. That’s a ratio of 1:1
Now I’ll lower my fill by turning off one of the two bulbs and now I’m getting 80 fc on my key, 40 fc on my fill.
That’s 2:1 ratio, a 1 stop difference
I’ll turn off my fill light completely, and use just the ambient in the room as fill for a 3:1, a 1 1/2 stop difference (80 fc, 30 fc)
And finally, I’ll use negative fill, a black showcard next to the fill side of my talent, to block some of the ambient fill for a 4:1 ratio, a 2 stop difference (80 fc)

In this test, we started with a 1:1 ratio, key and fill levels are equal, then lowered our fill light level to increase our contrast range. Notice how the feeling of the shot changes. C100 mkII, 24-105mm zoom.

Now we have lighting ratios for our talent. Ratios that can convey different looks and feelings.
Did any of these shots resonate with you? Did you like some, not others? Did some feel bright and happy, while others maybe a little dark and gritty?
These specific variables gave us different technical results, sharpness, field of view, contrast, 
and therefore creative choices that we can make to help impart different styles and feelings to our work.  
Thanks for checking out our companion article. Don’t forget to view our other videos on topics related to pre production, production, and post.

Courtney Shaffer

Music & Audio
Life Is Sweet
Silent Partner

The Big Score (Music bed)

Opening Audio
Sparkling effect A by cetsoundcrew