Skip to main content

Stabilization, Focus Techniques & Shifting Mindset

Lesson 10 from: Filming Families: The Modern Family Video

Courtney Holmes

Stabilization, Focus Techniques & Shifting Mindset

Lesson 10 from: Filming Families: The Modern Family Video

Courtney Holmes

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

10. Stabilization, Focus Techniques & Shifting Mindset


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


The Spark That Inspired Me


What Are Family Films?


Gear for Family Films


Camera Settings for Video


Frame Rates & Slow Motion


Picture Profiles & Color Grading


Settings for Audio Capture


Lesson Info

Stabilization, Focus Techniques & Shifting Mindset

Stabilization techniques. This is one of my favorite parts. So three points of contact. Everyone asks me, like, how do you stabilize? It's all handheld. We've talked about this earlier. No gear. This is what it looks like. 3 points of contact. My neck and both sides of the camera all the time, right? So you're creating a triangle. What I do is the camera strap trick, which is put it over your head. And then this is why a scarf strap is so great, because it's flexible, it's cloth. And then you wrap your hand around a couple of times. And then it gives you... What I don't want you to do is this. Right? That's hard to see. The farther away your camera is from your body, the farther it is away from your center of gravity, and then it's harder to stabilize. So the closer it is into your center of gravity, the easier it is to stabilize. So bringing it in close, but not too close that you can't see it if you need glasses, but keep it a good distance for you. So you might need to change the le...

ngth of your camera strap for that. But keeping it here, this is a good distance for me. I can see, it's not too close, and it works. So I always have my hand wrapped around. The other thing that is important is to engage your core. I'm going to just say it before we go on. Video is a lot more physically demanding than I think photography is. It depends, but I think so, because you have to stabilize the whole time. So you're using more muscles, you need to be flexible, and engaging your core is going to help you keep things stable. So engage your core, tuck your elbows in to your sides. That's also going to help. And bend your knees. And then was anybody in marching band? Raise your hand, raise your hand. Gosh, no one? Allison. Okay, yeah, because I was. And I tell this story in Australia, they're like, marching band? Whatever, it's fine. So in marching band, you had to march around the field, and you really had to keep things stable. So I have an upper hand at this, right? I'm practiced. So what you do is you roll your feet. These shoes aren't the greatest at demonstrating this, but when I'm shooting video, I'm rolling my feet. My knees are bent. I'm keeping my camera close to my center of gravity. Elbows are usually tucked in. And I am rolling my feet and moving around really smoothly. Right? So I'm kind of always on guard, almost. I don't want to say guard, but you know. Keeping your knees bent helps you. If you just walk straight, then you can see my head is kind of bouncing, right? It's moving up and down a bit. You're going to get that with this. So if you're walking around, keeping your knees bent is going to help you move around really smoothly. Also rolling your feet back and forth, right? How many people have been doing this already? Right. How many people haven't, and this is eye-opening? Yeah, great. Good. So I think that is the biggest difference that helps with stabilization. Now, I've gotten to the point now where sometimes I'll do an over-the-head thing, and then it's off, and then I'm back in a video. I don't necessarily have to have this strap on me anymore, because I've just gotten pretty good at keeping it stable like this. Another thing that I'll do... This is going to be super-flattering. I'm doing it anyway. But I will spend a lot of time down like this with kids. And I'm stabilizing by having my elbows on my knees. And so I'm moving like this. And it's so much easier to keep the camera stable than trying to do this, right? So it's just these subtle things. I think it's better to think about camera movement as moving your body than moving the camera, right? That's going to help make them smoother. I wish that I could get you all a... Actually, can you stand? Go ahead and stand. I just want you to stand. Thanks. And then I just want you to bend your knees slightly. Get your arms up with your pretend camera. And then I just want you to just slowly move your body left and right. And see the difference that makes? Okay, and now this time, I want you to just stand straight up and then hold your hands out and move this way, this way. How much harder is that? Not moving your body, right? So your upper body should move. Any time that I am doing something side-on, I'm more like this. My upper body is controlling what's going on. Is there a reason why you're barefoot? You can sit down. Is there a reason why you're barefoot? Does it make it easier for you to move around? Yeah, I'm not always barefoot. So in Australia, it's a really common thing to take your shoes off before you go into the house. And on this day, we had started inside. And so I had my shoes off. And then we just ended up going for a walk. I was shooting what they were doing, and I didn't want to miss any of it, so I didn't put my shoes on, and I just walked with them in the street barefoot. Yeah. So it does help for more flexibility, usually, shoes off. It helps. Next, we're going to talk about manual focus. So a lot of people get, I think, a bit hung up on the manual focus thing, and they're like, but I've got this camera, and it has such amazing auto-focus. And yeah, it does. But you lose so much control as a storyteller letting the camera determine where the focus is, right? So for me, I'm not a huge fan of auto. I will always use manual focus. It gives you a lot of control. You determine where the focus is. So you compose, and you determine where the focus starts and where it ends. Rack focus is the process of changing focus from one focal point to the next. And that's known as rack focus. It's also called pull focus. Pulling focus, it's changing focus from one plane to the next. So every camera is different, in terms of which direction you turn the lens, the focus moves in the focal plane. So I can't tell you what you should do. For me, if I go up, then it brings it in closer. And if you go the other way, it takes it further away. I think it's really important for everyone to go home and test that out on your camera and really know that. Because when you're having to make a decision about where to change your focus, if you don't know, you can easily go the wrong way when a child is coming towards you, and then you kind of miss that and you have to pull it, and you come back. So it's really important to know that. And it then becomes instinctive. The more you do that, the more instinctive it just becomes. One of the ways that I would recommend you doing this is practice indoors with static objects first in good light. Don't try to do this outside, in the middle of the day, when you can hardly see the sun, while your kids are riding bikes. It's a bad idea. Don't do that, okay? Do this indoors with flowers on the table and a bookshelf in the back. It's that simple. So start with the focus on the flowers. Move the focus to the bookshelf. Then bring it back, then go back to the bookshelf. Then bring it back. And do that a lot of times, and you'll start to understand what turning your lens does to the focal plane. Go outside when you're ready, and maybe at sunset, pretty time of the day, find a flower, and set the focus, and adjust. Do a rack focus in. So move from the edge of the flower to the front of the flower and back. Practice doing that. Yes? So I think you sort of just answered this question. But I just want to be sure I understand. So when you're focusing, are you using the lens, or the touch screen on the back, or... Lens. The lens, okay. Because if I used the touch screen, that would be too fast. Another thing is you can do a really fast rack focus or a really slow one, right? So you have a baby that's sleeping, and you want to do a rack focus from the edge of the crib so they're out of focus. They start out blurry, and you do a rack focus from the front of the crib to them to land on them. Would you do that really fast, or would you do that slow? Slow. Rack focus is a storytelling tool, which is why auto-focus makes that hard. You don't have control over how fast the auto-focus changes the focus on your subject. Yeah? So does that mean, then, that you're doing auto-focus when you're taking photos, as well? Yes. I back-button focus for photos, yes. So I don't have to switch it on my lens. It's always in auto-focus mode, and I can override it just by turning the ring. And every lens is different, and every camera is different. So that's one thing I really like about this. Another thing I like about this lens is that the focal ring is big. It's wide. So I have a lot of room to grip. Some of the other lenses, if they have a really small focal ring, it's hard to grip those. It's a little harder to have control over. Some lenses take a really long time. As you turn them, you feel like you have to spin them forever to get the focus to change. So this one, it's sensitive. So I don't have to turn it that far to change the focus. I also like it about that. There's other ways to change focus. It doesn't have to be by manually changing the lens. You can change the focus by movement. So if I set the focus on Emily, and then... So I set it from here, and then I just shifted back. I'm going to pull her out of focus, right? Because the distance between me and my subject is changing. So if I want to pull focus onto a subject like, say, a baby, I could potentially set the focus first, then pull back. Then, without changing the focus, move back till they land in focus. So that's pulling focus just with movement. And I do that sometimes with B-roll footage of things like flowers, trees, things like that, where I want to add movement anyway. I don't need to add the extra change in the lens. It might be a flower here, and a flower here. And I just measure the distance. And I just move my body that much until I reach the focus. So I would set the focus on the first flower, start back here, move until I land on that first flower again. Okay? And I think that's one of the fun things about it, is you can play around with that, and the way that you change the focus, and measuring your distance. And measuring distance is another really important thing when, say, you are tracking a subject. Say there's a child riding a bike and you are walking along beside them. This is a really hard shot, by the way. But if you keep your same distance between them, you don't need to worry too much about changing your focus. All you need to really worry about is staying the same distance from them the whole time. Okay. Any questions on any of that? Yeah. I do have a question from Martin Silva, who says, do you ever use a gimbal? No, no. I have worked on projects where they've had one. It's been really cool. It's a fun toy. And it wouldn't be practical for what I do because I switch to photos. If it was all just video, perhaps. But again, you would also need to be on auto-focus, and I don't love that. So, yeah. All right, cool. So shifting your mindset. We talked about this before, but I want to reiterate that as a photographer, you pretty much have all the tools that you need already at your disposal. You're adding to it, but you already know about what happens with exposure. We've talked about the shutter speed aspect of that. Use what you know. The thing that happens the most is that I get photographers who start to shoot video. It's like the forget completely everything they know about photography. There's no composition, they're just following everyone around. And they just forget about composition. And it's easy to get lost in the video aspect of it and forget about what you already know. But you need to hold on to the photographer's hat. Keep that. You need to think about composition all the way through. You might be pretty good at changing up your shot types through a session so that you have a variety of images. It's the same concept as this. So if I said to you, you're walking into a family session. Family is on the bed. How would you approach that scene? You might already be able to give me a few different ways that you would shoot it. Similar concept. You're just adding video, as well, and movements. Have no fear of perfection, you'll never reach it. Salvador Dali. I think that's so important. Letting go of perfection, I think, is the hardest thing that people have to deal with when they start to shoot video. And I think, as well, because you see these videos. You know what you want to make. And you're like, can't get there. How do I get there? And it can be discouraging. But you have to let go of that and embrace the moments where it's out of focus. Use that. Embrace that. Let go of it being perfect, right? It doesn't have to be perfect. As long as you're showing up, and you're doing it, it doesn't have to be perfect. Just do it. Art is a mirror we hold up to the world and it will, without a doubt, reflect a big, beautiful mess of imperfection. But how perfect is that? No film school.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Shot List Worksheet Template
Shot List Worksheet Example
Ideas for Your First Film
Discount Code

Ratings and Reviews

Adam Nicholls

Worth a watch! Courtney provides a clear and organised class, she is also very passionate about what she does which is always nice to see. She has a great back story which is fantastic. This course is good for beginners who have some knowledge in photography and want to learn more about video. I would recommend that people do not refer this class to the bible of filmmaking as I feel you can expand further on what Courtney teaches. Some useful tips for beginners but some methods I personally feel can be taught differently. I feel a gimbal is a useful bit of kit if used correctly. You can still use a gimbal when in manual mode providing you follow the basics rules! Obviously if Courtney prefers not to use a gimbal then that's also fine but I wouldn't discourage students from exploring useful filmmaking tools. Slow motion can be achieved with 50/60fps however I feel other frame rates should have been discussed like 120fps. I liked that Courtney engaged with the students as it gets them involved and will help them remember what they have learned during the class. Thank you for taking the time to share some of your knowledge

a Creativelive Student

Courtney's work is absolutely amazing and inspiring. I feel lucky that she has chosen to share her process and that this class is available! After watching all the videos and trying my hand at this video thing, I am feeling really encouraged and inspired to do more- both personally and professionally. I appreciate the way that she breaks things down in the video and that she shares her thought process. A really great course!


Courtney’s course completes me! I have storytelling “holes” in my film previously, but this course helped fill those holes to create a flow and a film with emotion. Not only is the course wonderful (and well worth every penny) but Courtney is wonderful as well! I had such an amazing experience at Creative Live!!!!

Student Work