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Shooting Real Estate Video with a DSLR--The Basics

In: 
Published: 08/07/2019
By: Brandon

Andreas from Sweden writes:

I’m thinking of adding real estate video to my offering and I'd like to know if there is a basic starting point when it comes to settings? Kind of like the F7.1, ISO 320, of the still image side of things. Any guidance to getting started with video would be greatly appreciated!
Thanks for the question, Andreas. I'm sure there are a ton of folks out there asking themselves the same thing! I offer video to my clients but as I've discussed in the past, there isn't a huge demand for it in my market. That being said, I use a Nikon D750 with a 14-24mm lens and I've found that I get good results shooting at F5.6, this allows enough light in so that I can keep the scene sharp and don't need to lean on my ISO too much. It's always best to keep your ISO as low as possible--especially with video; this will help to avoid introducing too much noise. Also, make sure that your shutter speed is double the frame rate you are shooting at; for example: If you are shooting at 24fps, set your shutter speed to 1/50; if you are shooting at 60fps for slow motion or smoother footage, make sure your shutter is set to 1/120. On my 14-24mm lens, I try to shoot between 18-20mm as I seem to get less lens distortion in this range.
There, I've completely tapped my knowledge on the subject so I've called in re-enforcements from some seasoned PFRE vets.

As a general rule, I shoot 24p which means my shutter speed is set at 1/50th. Some filmmakers choose 30p (w/corresponding shutter speed at 1/60th) but it’s really all just personal preference. The only “rule” is that your shutter speed should be twice your frame rate but whether you shoot 24p vs 30p really just depends on your aesthetic. I think 30p can look a little amateur so I lock in at 24p. It took me awhile to develop an eye and be able to see the difference between 24p and 30p and if you can’t tell, then do whatever makes sense for what you’re shooting.
As I’m adjusting for light, I’ll start with aperture and then ISO but shutter speed stays locked in. With film-making you don’t have to worry about keeping a tight aperture like you do with photography and in fact, a lot of beginners make the mistake of shooting too tight or compensating for an open aperture by over sharpening in the edit. If you really look at cinema, nothing is super sharpened. For me, over sharpened video looks a little amateur.  I could go on and on forever but I’ll shut up now. The book, Mastering HD Video with Your DSLR by Uwe Steinmueller is a must-read for anyone getting started.
Really, if I could give one piece of advice to beginners, it would be to learn film-making. Forget applying anything you know about photography to film-making--it’ll just hold you back and make you look like a photographer who just shoots video. If you want to set your work apart from everyone else, think like a filmmaker. Be a filmmaker.

With regard to settings--yes, it definitely depends on the camera but as a rule of thumb, use a profile which is flat so you have a better dynamic range in your images and more wiggle room in post-processing.

Aperature, shutter, and ISO settings depend on your scene. If you are staying in the same room and same exposure from beginning of the motion to the end, then I recommend using manual exposure and ISO. If you are doing a longer walk and the exposure changes within your clip, but not much, then auto ISO is the most useful addition. Auto ISO will eliminate the visible jump in exposure stops and make your clips smooth. The only disadvantage of auto ISO is its limited usable range.
When within your clip, you want to go from a dark room to a bright daylight outside, then your only option is Aperture or Shutter Speed Priority mode. The raw footage will have a visible change in the exposure steps but you can film for speed up in post which will eliminate the noticeable effect. White Balance is better set at custom unless your clip is long and goes between very different white balance locations; in this case, Auto White Balance will probably work better.

Andre Mckenzie:

  • When it comes to settings, your best friend is YouTube. Search YouTube for your camera model and pay attention for a picture profile that works best for you. Shoot test footage of your own house in different lighting conditions (and different light bulbs) and tweak your picture profile settings from there. Another option would be to look up popular YouTube vloggers who have your camera and share their settings.
  • When you're just starting in video, I think learning your exposure/white balance/composition/camera movements is key. These are definitely more important than trying to jump into shooting with a super flat picture profile and color grading. Learn the basics first. Keep in mind that bright windows are going to be blown out, get used to it or shoot interiors on overcast days.
  • Focus: I personally shoot on a Sony a7sii with a Metabones adapter to a Canon 16-35mm MKII. I don't pull focus much, so my focus stays at infinity or just slightly before infinity for my entire video shoot.
  • Adjust your F-stop, ISO, and White Balance for each room. Try to avoid shooting in Auto for interiors. You should know your camera so well that changing settings while in Manual takes no time at all.
  • Get a gimbal. Sliders are old and dated. When turning with the gimbal, turning with my shoulders works the best for me, as opposed to turning my hands. I find it to be smoother.
  • Camera movement to me is most important (assuming your exposure and White Balance are correct). Determine the type of camera movements you like best for the different scenarios and start to memorize when to use certain types of shots, i.e., in the corner of a room where I can see the two entrance points, I will typically use a crane/jib shot, or a L > R / R > L pan to show the space.
  • Watch your vertical lines when shooting on a gimbal; keep things straight and not pointed downwards
  • Learn to read how a room is designed/laid out to determine how to compose your shot correctly. As a very basic guideline, use windows and doors to frame your shot; then tweak from there. If you're a photographer learning video, frame your video shot just the same as you would your photo.
  • Keep in mind that each shot is typically 3-6 seconds long; however, this would be determined by the music you're using and your editing style.
  • Shoot/film with editing in mind. Don't overshoot. Personally, I shoot two exterior front shots, one exterior facade shot, a few backyard shots, and then two shots per principal room of the interior, and 3-5 of the kitchen as I think it is the most important room to showcase. For the average viewer, my goal is to make them feel like they have seen the space and understand the layout of the home.
  • Classify your music into different price points or styles of homes. For me, I pair high-end sounding music with high-end homes, urban city condos with more energetic/hip/cool songs, etc...
  • Here is how I shoot a room with the gimbal: Compose the shot, adjust camera setting for the room; back up into an adjacent room (to give myself some footage to edit with and to visually connect the rooms). The purpose here is to reveal the room you're shooting by using your surroundings.

Travis Rowan:

1. Decide what frame rate your video project will be edited in. Typical frame rates are 24p and 30p. I edit in a full HD timeline at 30 frames per second. Or 1080/30
2. Because my project will be 30fps, I shoot most of my footage at 4k/30p or 1080/30p depending on which camera I’m working with. Currently, the Panasonic GH5 & 5S. This way, I know that the frame rate of my footage will work in my project timeline in the editing software. (Currently FCPX)
3. For scenes where I know I will want to slow down a shot (slo-mo), gimbal shots, waterfalls, fireplaces, waves breaking, I shoot at 60p. This way I can bring a 60p clip into my 30p timeline and slow it to half (50%) speed. Because the clip has twice as many frames needed, I still get a clean image.
Camera Settings:
  • Nothing AUTO
  • Manual Exposure--expose for each scene as needed. Shutter/F-stop/ISO I use the histogram to help establish correct exposure.
  • ISO, lower is generally better. Native ISO for the sensor is also a good way to work format dynamic range.
  • White Balance: Set it for the scene. I’m mostly on Daylight settings except on some interiors that are predominantly lit by electric lights. Then I will set my WB accordingly (as opposed to the sun).
Note on shutter speed:  A rule in video is to use a shutter speed that is roughly double your frame rate (180 degree rule). This will help the video appear more natural with very slight motion blur between frames. So, Ideally when shooting a clip at 4k/30p, I want a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second (60 is double of 30); or with 4k/60p, I would aim for 1/125th of a second (125 is double of 60). I use a Vari-ND filter on the lens to help me maintain these “ideal” shutter speeds in brightly lit scenes. It blocks the light from 2-8 stops as needed. This 180 degree rule can be broken if you don’t have an ND filter. If you use a faster shutter speed, the footage will still be good but maybe with a little less natural feel to the motion.

8 comments on “Shooting Real Estate Video with a DSLR--The Basics”

  1. With video, you have far wider latitude for higher ISO, as long as you don't under-expose. Noise shows up in spades if you do underexpose. For indoors, sticking with 5.6 1/60th is a good general rule, and then use your histogram to raise the ISO until greatest mass falls into center, or even slightly right of center. It probably will be higher then you initially feel comfortable with, like 5000iso. But since your video is mostly likely destined for YouTube at 1080p, it will be fine. Some video noise is acceptable. Most of the Hollywood movies I watch have tons of noise in dimly lit scenes, it's a hazard of that situation.

    Learn to shoot in Log, or even RAW if your camera supports it. Of all the picture profiles, it has the most range. Both in high density, and in managing color. Keep in mind that using other profiles is like shooting baked jpegs at 30 frames a second, an irrecoverable mess to deal with. Also learn how to create LUTs do manage the Log files. It save a crap ton of work on the back end. If you can create a great LUT that matches your camera and your vision intent, that LUT will work for 90% of what you shoot, even when what's before you changes. You can then create a template in your editing program with that LUT already in place in an adjustment layer. To tweak for each clip, you just add an extra Lumetri into your clip, and compensate for differences.

    I do shoot with one item on AUTO. Color balance. While I don't recommend it for any other kind of shooting, it's almost a necessity for video. And that's because you don't have a budget for gaffers who have gone in before you and matched the entire house's light bulbs to the same color, not to mention that incoming ambient from outdoors can be blue, green, or orange depending on time of day and what side of the house your shooting. If your doing a long take that walks through multiple rooms, each room may in fact have a different color balance that you can't adjust on-the-fly. Even the camera wont exactly keep up with that, but in post, you can make sense of it with Lumetri using the animation toggles. IF you dont know what any of that means, Google is your friend. And, you can always switch to manual color balancing at any time, in the unlikely event that your entire property is fitted with matching bulbs. In 300+ videos, I think I've come across that once. 😉

    Finally, getting comfortable with a hand-held gimbal will save an unbelievable amount of time shooting, because you can simulate almost any other piece of gear with a gimbal. (dolly track, slider, crane, and even a tripod sometimes) Extra gear = extra time.

  2. This is a great post! Thank you all for the insight.

    I was curious about music. Where are you getting it and how do you make sure that you’re licensed properly. Additionally how do you factor it into your cost and what if the realtor doesn’t like the track you chose?

    - Justin

  3. So many great tips here. This entire page is gold for people starting out. If someone starting out in video saw this page...they just skipped a ton of headaches. Nice write-up.

  4. In my take, this page is fool's gold - a harmful distraction from what should be the initial focus for starting out in real estate video.

    Technique and technical competence should be the focus only after you've developed a video product that works for buyers and for real estate agents. You can do that with a smartphone with a wide-angle adapter and an inexpensive gimbal. If you have a good mirrorless camera with a wide angle lens and a gimbal, shoot with those on auto settings for video.

    Shoot straight-through, narrated or captioned walk-throughs. Buyers like them and agents can use them both to get listings and to make their time more productive by sending them to buyers as a pre-qualifying tool.

    You'll find these take only a few minutes to shoot and not much time to edit and upload to your YouTube channel. They can be cost-effective for agents and profitable for you.

    Work on upgrading your quality after you're making money with video.

  5. The last comment by Joe Zekas is 100% opposite the approach we took. Maybe it works if you enjoy the crumbs of the industry.

    Creating a crap product, will create a crap brand, with crap clients, and continual crap work that will define you.

    Pushing yourself to do better for the start, even just to prove it to yourself, is how you move up in the industry.

    When we started (7-8 years ago), we charged $1,500 for our first interiors video. Never charged less...and never provided anything but our best work. Projects now sit $3K-$10K for an interiors/exteriors videos. Our music only tours start at $3K.

    If we would have used our steadicam to fast-track the shoots...we would not be where we are now.

    Reach for the stars...not the ceiling.

  6. Joe isn't necessarily wrong but his approach and end goal isn't necessarily mine or others'. I don't create videos for buyers. I don't do walk through videos or matterports or, really, videos. I'm creating branding for my clients and you can't do that by taking the cheap or easy route. If you want to run and gun video then, yeah, Joe is spot on but you're digging yourself in a hole when you do that - it'll be that much harder to ever get better jobs, higher paying clients, work outside of real estate... If that's your jam the cheers. I'd rather not run that race and those starting out in filmmaking should know that there are other options.

  7. Take a few minutes and look at my "crap clients."

    They're some of the largest, savviest, most sophisticated management companies in the country who oversee and market the most luxurious new apartment buildings in Chicago. In my niche, there are no "better jobs." As to "higher paying" - sure, on a per-video basis, but not likely on an hourly basis or in the aggregate.

  8. Camera
    Sony A7S 11 or any Sony mirrorless which shoots XAVC S Codec
    XAVC S Codec= Smaller than pro-rez and more latitude in Davinci for grading
    ISO= Can Crank ISO to 15k with no noise. Very useful on interiors / Real Estate in general

    Have not found any codec on a sub 30k camera to perform as well as XAVC S.

    Shoot Flat
    Profile: On Sony this is profile #6, or # 7. Flat contrast, Desaturated, no-sharpening
    Grading: Requires Grading in Davinci. Please learn to grade prior to using on a paid shoot.

    Shoot Light

    Sony Mirrorless
    DJI Ronin S
    Rode Wireless Mic

    post

    Davinci Resolve Light (Free) here: https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/davinciresolve/
    Premiere, FCP, or anything as long as you know the theory.

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