Aug 23, 2021
Creators who are just getting started on YouTube make a few common mistakes. One of the most popular (especially for anyone without filmmaking experience) is to always shoot in “Auto Mode.”
Part of that comes down to familiarity, which means not only knowing what each setting does but also why it matters. And since different locations or situations will require different settings, you’ll need to know how to make those adjustments if you want to make high-quality content.
Manually changing the settings will make a big difference on any project you work on. And if you know what the most important camera settings for YouTube are, you’ll be able to use that success in all your projects, whether it’s content creation, freelance filmmaking, or marketing videography.
Knowing what your camera can do matters. Knowing what works or looks best on different platforms matters even more. But it’s not just a means of making your video footage look better on any device — it’s also about helping you capture the look and feel you want for your YouTube channel.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with shooting on “Auto,” regardless of what you’ve heard or read. However, going that route means you lose a lot of the finer details in the footage.
More importantly, if you never leave the safety of “Auto” for the deep end of “Manual,” you’ll never be able to create a visual style and grow your channel. You’re relying on prebuilt or AI-determined settings rather than your own creative vision.
Of course, different camera manufacturers structure their “Settings” menu differently. But regardless of the naming conventions or the specific options available to you, there are a few key settings you’ll always want to pay attention to before you start shooting — the things that every veteran filmmaker or creator knows like the back of their hand.
You’ll want to keep an eye on all of the items on this list, regardless of the project you’re working on. But in terms of camera settings for YouTube, these five things will build a great foundation that you can always fall back on in any situation.
Technically speaking, frame rate is a unit of measurement. A hundred years of Hollywood productions have conditioned our brains to consider 24 frames per second as the “correct” setting.
It’s to the point where films that try other frame rates even make viewer uncomfortable, and it’s why 30 fps is the default setting that most people rely on, especially on YouTube. But that’s not to say that you should never use other frame rates.
For example, if you want to use slow motion, you’ll have to shoot at higher frame rates in order to extend your footage (in post-production) without dropping any frames. Shooting at 60 means you can slow it down to half-speed in the final product and still deliver 30 fps.
And 120 fps means you can get down to one-quarter the speed, but still deliver an experience that is comfortable for any viewer. It’s all about the maths.
Now we move onto the Exposure Triangle, which has nothing to do with things vanishing near the island of Bermuda and everything to do with how camera lenses capture an image:
The filmmaker’s rule of thumb for shutter speed is that it should be double whatever your frame rate is. This is called the 180-degree Shutter Rule, where you get the settings as close to a 1:2 ratio as possible.
That’s because shutter speed is the setting that controls the presence of motion blur. A tighter shutter angle (higher shutter speed) will expose the sensor for a shorter time, so actions in the footage appear cleaner. Meanwhile, a wider shuttle angle (lower shutter speed) will add motion blur because the sensor is being exposed for longer in each frame.
In other words: Too fast/tight can make the frames look almost jittery; too slow/wide lacks the “lifelike” quality people expect in this day and age.
As we continue exploring the Exposure Triangle, it’s time to talk about aperture. While the previous two settings determine how quickly the camera captures and reproduces images, aperture decides how much light you’re letting into your lens.
Aperture determines your depth of field, or focal length. It’s also your go-to tool for shot composition and directing the viewer’s eye (a.k.a. “subject separature”).
A narrower aperture, which has a higher f-number, will let in less light and provide a deeper depth of field, which puts more of the image into focus. Naturally, the opposite of that is a wider aperture, which has a lower f-number, lets in more light and creates a shallower depth of field with less of the image in focus.
Because aperture is part of the Exposure Triangle, there are established standards when it comes to how you use it. You don’t want to experiment too much or you can throw off everything else.
Aperture lets in light, but ISO determines how sensitive your camera is to that light. And that means that even though ISO is fourth on this list, it’s actually the first thing that filmmakers set when they are getting a camera ready to shoot.
Follow that checklist and you’ll be able to set the “look” of the way light, motion, and depth are perceived in your shot. That’s when you start to set up any additional lighting, or use ND filters if it’s too well-lit.
ISO is a subject number, but the goal is always to avoid adding noise. Push your ISO too high and you’ll end up with the gross kind of “graininess” that will just add extra work in editing.
Lighting and the set environment might change a lot in your videos, and that means the color temperature will change too. White balance helps you standardize that before you go into post, which should cut down the amount of time you spend color correcting footage.
The good news is that any camera will let you set a custom white balance. So you’ll be able to adjust things at each and every location, which will help you get the truest and most natural look for your videos. Colors are crisper, skin looks healthier, etc.
Every light fixture has a different color temperature. Changing/setting the white balance of your shot lets you push that temperature in one direction or another along the Kelvin scale. Which is definitely a scientific thing, but also has a big impact on the look and feel of your videos:
Now that you’re familiar with frame rate, the Exposure Triangle (ISO, shutter speed, and aperture) and color temperature (white balance), you’ll be able to choose your camera settings in the same way a professional videographer would.
Think of them as the fundamental settings every successful filmmaker pays attention to, which explains why they’re the camera settings for YouTube that every creator should get familiar with.
The best part of it all is that these settings will be important settings to check and adjust for as long as cameras exist. So no matter how many times you upgrade your camera or make videos for platforms other than YouTube, you’ll be able to fall back on these settings to help make consistently great video content.
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