Shooting for Safety

It used to be common practice – way back in the days when people acquired moving images with celluloid – to frame your shot wider than intended so that you had some room when editing to tweak the composition, allow for different aspect ratios (Television vs theater, for example) and allow some flexibility for vfx.

Early digital cameras barely had enough resolution for delivery. Most of them weren’t even true 1080P. Reframing your shot in post almost always resulted in a visible loss of quality, so it was something you only did if you had no other choice.

Today, you can grab a quality 4K camera for under $2,000. Or, if you work at the Hollywood level you can acquire at 6K. Either way, the practice of “shooting for safety” and reframing in post is now more viable than ever. Combined with the immense flexibility of a modern NLE like Adobe Premiere or Final Cut X, the possibilities are incredible.

As I’ve espoused this technique, I’ve gotten a lot of push-back from cinematographers. They claim that this technique is lazy, is cheating; and that a good shooter should be able to get the shot “right” in camera. This is BS. Not dissimilar to DP’s complaining about colorists.

The low budget set, or any shoot for that matter, is a hectic, rushed situation. Yes, you should do your best to get it “right” on the day of the shoot, but you are doing your director and editor and colorist (which on a no budget shoot is probably you) a disservice if you don’t allow for possibilities after the fact. Away from the stress of the shoot is often the best time to make creative decisions.

The video above offers a tiny glimpse (in-between Adobe masturbation) into how the Gone Girl team used this technique. They went so far as to combine different takes. Great stuff, I think.

2 Replies to "Shooting for Safety"

  • Aldon Gore
    June 6, 2015 (5:30 am)

    There’s something to be said for composing your shot carefully and correctly on set. If you’re always having room for error in mind, your composition is bound to get sloppy over time. You’re in the realm of ‘data collection’, rather than art.
    Having said that, there are great benefits to be had. I think if I were to consistently film for overscan I would likely tape out the monitor or viewfinder for my composition window – that was I could try to perfect my comp, and still have some (blind) headroom for post if reqiuired.

    • joe12south
      June 6, 2015 (8:27 am)

      While I don’t agree that shifting exactly when you lock-in creative decisions reduces shooting to “data collection”, I do agree that we all need to “exercise” our creative eye lest it become lazy. The more time I have, the more likely I am to frame the shot I really want. The more rushed I am, the more thankful I am that I can over-acquire and frame in post.

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