Why your footage looks flatter than a 12 year old boy

We kicked off the 48 Hour Film Project in Cleveland last weekend, and I’ve been busy watching the 38 short films that were created as a part of this year’s competition.
The vast majority of the filmmakers this year had never competed in the 48HFP before, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the films.
And I’m happy to report that I’ve been pleasantly surprised.
The films for the most part have been quite good, with many of them rivaling films created in previous years by filmmakers that have competed in the 48HFP many times. There were even a few first time filmmakers (including one 16 year old girl) that you would never guess had never made a film before.
Very impressive, especially given they were created in 48 hours.
That’s not to say they weren’t without some small issues here and there. And one problem that several films have in common is very flat footage.
What do I mean by flat?
In “normal” footage, the darkest shadows in the shot are black, and the brightest areas of highlight are white.
In the films that look flat, the blacks look more grey, and the brightest areas of the shot aren’t a true white, but something closer to a very light grey or beige. The overall shot looks muddier than that of the “normal” footage.
The thing is, the films that look flat actually have the potential to look better than those “normal” looking films–but they’re missing a very important step.
See, that “flat” look comes from shooting in Log format. And it’s actually a very good thing, when done right.
I won’t get into the technical details here, but Log format is a setting found on most professional cameras and many prosumer level cameras that allows you to preserve more of the dynamic range of the shot.
In “normal” footage, assuming that you’ve properly exposed your shot, you’ll have a decent looking image straight out of the camera. The darkest areas will be black, and the brightest areas white.
The problem is, that’s not actually how those images looked in real life.
In real life, what appears as pure black shadows in your footage actually has much more detail. These are details that the human eye can see, but they just appear as black in your footage.
And the opposite for the brightest shots–if you shoot a video of a cloud, chances are that cloud is going to appear mostly as an almost pure white ball of fluff on camera. But in real life, we can see a lot more detail.
That’s because in a “normal” camera setting, dynamic range (the full range of black to white) is recorded using a linear function. In a nutshell, the way the footage is processed, there are a limited number of levels of dynamic range that the camera can use.
So that’s why instead of seeing all of that detail, you just see pure black or pure white in the darkest and brightest parts of the shot.
What shooting in Log format does is preserve those details, but it does so at the expense of overall contrast of the photo. So you get all of those details in the blacks and whites, but overall the image looks very flat.
“Normal” footage on the left, Log format footage on the right-note the details under the porch.
The good news is, you can “fix” this flat footage, but it requires a very important second step in post production.
And the final product of the Log footage after this important second step will look MUCH better than “normal” footage–you can “unflatten” the image, get all of that great contrast back into the shot, and still preserve all of those details in the shadows and highlights. It’s much closer to what the human eye sees, and looks richer and more natural than “normal” footage will.
These films that look very flat actually did a good thing by shooting in Log format, but they are missing that very important second step.
And what is that second step?
It’s one of the secrets to having great looking, cinematic footage. And it’s something I cover in detail on a training that I’m developing right now.
A training that will soon be available exclusively to Gorilla Film School members.
If you’d like to know this “secret”, and many more, sign up for the interest list for the GFS membership program.
I’ll be sending out more details soon on how you can become a member. Put in your name and email so I can get in touch with you when things are ready to go live.
Sign up for more info on our main page:
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-Brian
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