The Key to a Cinematic Look: Aperture

Image source: wikipedia.

Image source: wikipedia.

If you make videos for your school or nonprofit you naturally focus on creating compelling content that helps your organization meet its goals.

But you also want to make a video that looks awesome.

One simple way to create content that looks great is to get a shot with a shallow depth of field. Depth of field refers to that look when one element of a shot is crisp while the rest is out of focus.

Shallow depth of field means some parts of a shot are crisp while others are blurry. This shot was taken with a 50mm Canon lens at an aperture of 1.8.

Shallow depth of field means some parts of a shot are crisp while others are blurry. This shot was taken with a 50mm Canon lens at an aperture of 1.8.

How is this look achieved? Depth of field is determined not by your camera but by your lens. Specifically the aperture of your lens. The smaller your aperture the shallower the depth of field you can achieve. You will find your aperture written on the front of the lens. For example the aperture of the lens at the top of this article is 1.4 while the aperture I used for the screen shot above was 1.8.

A lens with an aperture greater than 3.5 on most cameras won't give you a very shallow depth of field which means it might be time to go lens shopping. The good news is a 50mm 1.8 lens on most cameras is pretty cheap (like under $150 cheap). So many photographers and videographers have a lens like this that it even has a name: the Nifty Fifty.

What do you think? Did you find this article helpful? Still have questions? How do you achieve a cinematic look on your videos? Let us know in the comments!

Success Story: Video Posted to Facebook Earns 50,000 Views

Central Catholic High School in Lawrence, MA has a loyal following, a strong personality, and a good sense of its brand. So when Director of Admission Christopher Merrill '89 reached out to me to create a video for the school I jumped at the chance. I was also a little nervous - how to capture all of the awesome that is CCHS in 2-3 minutes while making sure the piece resonates not only with prospective families, but also current families and alumni?

We started by brainstorming the iconic images that had to go into the video. Over that we added the story elements that would tie the narrative thread of the story together. We filmed on location for two days over two weeks and the result is the video you see above.

When Chris told me the video had reached nearly 50,000 views on Facebook I was impressed! He had uploaded the video directly to Facebook which is a good start but how had he reached so many views? Chris reports they spent a few hundred dollars in promoting the video but the real impact came from the hundreds of shares and interactions the video got from the CCHS community.

Here are a few technical details:

  • Main camera: Sony A7s
  • Lenses: Rokinon primes: 24mm, 85mm & Canon prime: 50mm
  • Moving shots: DJI Osmo
  • Drone: DJI Phantom 4
  • Mic: Audio-Technica AT875R shotgun mic
  • Music: You and Me by Ben Rector licensed at
  • I didn't know you could embed Facebook video on other sites but it turns out you can

What do you think? What kinds of experiences have you had with video on Facebook? Let us know in the comments!

Two Motion Graphic Projects (with tutorials)

I recently completed two motion graphic projects. One was a part of a larger holiday video for a client. The other was just for fun.

I find these kinds of stretch projects a great way to learn and grow as an artist. For me the learning comes from two places. First I'm doing something I've never done before so that's awesome. But second I'm also following someone else's workflow which is also a great way to figure out new ways of doing things.

If you'd like to learn how to do this kind of thing check out this great tutorial for the Rogue One titles and this one for the writing effect. I used Final Cut Pro X and Motion 5 to do these but I'm sure you could do something similar in Premier.

What do you think? Have you done motion graphics? Have you tried something new just to see if you could do it? Let me know in the comments!

A Fake News Activity For Students (updated)

Fake news is making news.

Teaching students to assess the content they read online for bias has never been more important. Here's an activity you can do with your students loosely based on Alan November's REAL method.

Warm Up

Ask your students the following warm up questions. Collect their answers on the board.

  • What is bias?
  • What kinds of websites would we expect to be biased?
  • What kinds of websites would we expect to be unbiased?
  • How do we decide who won the election?
  • Who won the 2016 US presidential election?
  • What is the difference between the popular vote and the electoral college?

Teacher's note: Hopefully the concept of the popular vote and the electoral college will come up. According to CNN Clinton won the popular vote but lost in the electoral college.


This article makes the false claim that Clinton lost the popular vote. Is this claim true? Follow these steps to assess this article for bias:

  1. Read the article and consider the evidence given to support the claim.
  2. Read the website address to determine what kind of news outlet created this article.
  3. Examine the design of the page to determine how professional the site is.
  4. Ask about the article author.
  5. Ask Google for other points of view.
  6. Ask EasyWhoIs for the site owner
  7. Reflect on how much you'd like this article to be true. You don't want this article to be true? Reflect on how much someone else might like for this article to be true.

Teacher's note: Perhaps you want to make up a handy worksheet - or divide into groups? I'll let you figure out the logistics of this. But give your class the time to dig deep into each of these seven areas.

Report Out

Okay - time to share your results. Have the class share what they found.

Here's what I found out:

  • This article is almost entirely based on unreferenced twitter posts
  • The website address is a free Wordpress site
  • The content on the page is amateurish to the point of probably being a default template of some kind
  • The article does not have a listed author, the site also does not have a listed author
  • Google searches easily return wide agreement on a different point of view
  • EasyWhoIs doesn't work because the site is a free Wordpress domain
  • Although I don't wish this information to be true I can easily imagine that a great many people would like to claim a groundswell of popular support for the president elect.

Overall my conclusion is that this site is very biased.

Teacher's note: After sharing out the results of the review let students have a dialog about what is news and what constitutes an opinion. Why do students think fake news is in the news?


Option 1: Listen to this podcast and answer the following questions:

  • Why did the Fake News King start his fake news sites?
  • Do you think fake news sites like these influenced the outcome of the election?
  • Should fake news be regulated by the government?

Option 2:  Read this article and answer the following questions:

  • What does Mark Zuckerberg think about fake news on Facebook?
  • Do you think Facebook influenced the outcome of the election?
  • Should Facebook ban fake news from the site?

Option 3: Read this article and rewrite it as fake news

  • Imagine you wanted to persuade / move / influence people on this issue
  • What psychological theories and practices would you use? Would you appeal to fear? Perhaps propose a secret conspiracy?
  • Write a new headline and a new article
  • Bonus: Create a chart or graphic to support your new article

Thanks to Ernest Koe for the idea on homework option 3!

What do you think? How have you been helping students learn about fake news? Let us know in the comments!

Success Stories: Authentic Style Video

So... ten thousand views on a video that you made in house... that's good right?

Heck yeah that's good, in fact that's awesome!

Two organizations that I work with have had some awesome success recently with authentic style video shot right on a phone.

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Norfolk Academy used the 'Event Highlight' storyboard while the Newfound Lake Region Association took a novel approach to the 'Walkabout' storyboard.

Have you had success with authentic style video? Let us know in the comments! Want to learn how to make these kinds of videos (and download the storyboards)? Check out our free course over here!