This article is a reaction to a post on PhotoCine News about the validity of shooting flat with HDSLR. The article is interesting and worth a read.
To summarize: contrary to popular believes, you should not shoot flat, instead you should use a picture style that matches as closely as possible the target look. While I agree with this statement and the reasons backing it (output format of the 5D is a lossy compression), I think this is an incredibly bad advice to give to 95% of the population because the reasoning behind it does not apply to them.
First, we rarely know how the footage is going to end up and we are rarely able to influence the environment we shoot in. This means you could be shooting in custom picture style that pushes toward orange and later on realize that it does not work with what you had in mind. Correcting the footage could then be much more complicated and involve quality lost.
Using Shane as a reference proves me point: Shane shoots movie where everything is already decided before going on set and he has total control over the lighting, cloths people are going to wear and locations. Having such a high level of control allows him to be confident that his footage will end up in the sweet spot of the exposure curve, work well with his “Shane look” and there will be no extreme values. Because he has such a high level of control, he knows what to expect from the camera so he can trust the clips as being as close as his desired results as they can in camera.
On the other hand, someone like me and you, who is shooting guerilla style, has much less control over the light. Shooting flat allows us to protect our clips from high variations of exposure from one scene to the next or even within the same sequence if the subject is partly lit (dont forget that reducing the contrast protects us against the limited dynamic range of the camera). Since we dont have control over much, we need an insurance that we can recover as much of the image as we can and that is what a flat picture style gives us. We might lose some quality by doing so, but that is the price of this ‘insurance’.
Moral of the story is: shooting flat give you more flexibility in post production for your grading and exposure at the cost of additional time while shooting with a custom picture style gives you a better starting image and less work in post production at the expense of time spent in preparation and lack of flexibility in post.
Pick the philosophy that fits your needs.
I am currently testing a workflow that would insure the best possible image quality. It is ridiculously time consuming but I will use it for my footage from my Iceland trip and report on it afterward.
BTW, I am still in Iceland and the country is incredibly photogenic. Here is a small clip from what I shot yesterday, in the rain. And in the wind. And in the cold…