Let’s summarize all our knowledge into one common sense absolute truth:
If it looks good, it is good.
This nugget of wisdom, with its koan-like simplicity, should form the foundation for your judgement when making decisions on the set. What you see through your viewfinder or reference monitor is what your viewers will see.
Of course, the visual image differences between a viewfinder and the final delivery screen must be taken into account. But this rule is still the only rule that makes sense when shooting any project.
If you’re flying a plane, and the altimeter says you’re at 5,000 ft., yet through the windshield you see you’re almost skimming the ground, who are you going to trust?
If you like it, it’s good
All the light meters, vector scopes, VU meters, zebra patterns, specifications and rules in the world mean nothing compared to this Absolute Truth.
This point bears belaboring. If your instruments indicate exposure is perfect, but it looks dim, it’s dim. If the shot looks cluttered in your viewfinder, your final shot will look cluttered.
If the shot just pops right out of your viewfinder, roll tape! Don’t mess with a shot once it’s working! You will never get it back to the magic after you futz with it.
I’m not sure if there is a Tooth Fairy or not. But I am certain you can’t fix it in post. The wonderful advantage about shooting video over film is that you can watch an instant, on-set playback of your final footage without having to wait for dailies.
Put yourself into the mindset of your viewers when you’re on the set
After shooting just a minute or so, it’s an excellent idea to call a short break, then roll back the tape and watch and listen to your footage as your viewers will. Put yourself into the frame of mind of your viewers- if you’re doing a marketing video, think skeptical. If you’re doing a project for entertainment and education, think bored and unimpressed. How’s the picture look, how does the audio sound, and how’s the pacing, set and other considerations? What can be done fairly easily to improve the visuals or sound quality? How about the directing or performance?
If you develop the ability to close your eyes for a moment, then look through the viewfinder or at the reference monitor right on the set with a fresh, clean perspectivejust like your viewer who’s never thought about this project before in their life, you will be a superstar DV creator. If it looks great and sounds great, roll the tape! If it doesn’t look great, what’s wrong with it exactly? Fix it now, because you can’t fix it later!
The nice thing about this rule is that it overrides all other considerations. That means you can learn, set up camera tests, internalize all this information, then when on the set, simply adhere to this one single rule and your footage will turn out great!