Shooting Films in Full Auto

Shoot in full auto? Did I just say that? I’m guessing hoards of student film makers will be screaming ‘AMATEUR’ right now, but hear me out before you start chucking eggs and tomatoes at your screens. Everyone get your cameras ready because I’m going to help you ditch the time consuming fiddliness of focus, aperture and shutter speed for a while in favor of a simpler and more direct style of filmmaking.
real filmmakers shoot in full auto

Independence From Technical Know How & Freedom to Play

Real filmmakers and cinematographers know how to use a camera! Of course they do. But there’s a difference between a technician and an artist. No I’m not up my own arse, I’m actually pointing out the obvious here. If your main concern is image quality, bits, resolution and whatever else the manufacturers will have you obsessed with, you’re clearly taking your eye off the ball.

Take some time to have fun, enjoy your environment and take in everything. Forget about twiddling buttons and rotating rings for a while and just think about framing stuff. Make your viewfinder the only thing you concentrate on. Remember, that is the real beauty of the cinema.

Shadows Set to the West

Shadows Set to the West – Shot in full auto


Forget About That Glossy Surface & Get Back to Roots

Being able to afford the quality of image we could only dream of back in the early 2000’s is, without a doubt, a huge benefit to indie cinema. But with so many toys on the market, manufacturers are climbing over themselves trying to tell us why their gear is the Dee’s Bee’s.

Yes, it’s an awesome time to be an independent film maker, but I’m finding many of the younger film makers I come across know more about Philip Bloom than Robert Bresson – Fact! Quit the search for a super hi res, glossy surface. Stop wasting time finding the optimum ISO setting and just press record. Concentrate on saying something with your camera other than ‘Look how great my camera is’.


Stop Planning Around Your Crew & Go Solo

Instead of letting technology hinder you, embrace the freedom it gives you. 4K, low light sensitivity, massive memory cards and digital stabilisers; they’re awesome when used for the right reasons. Take your tiny mobile phone, go everywhere and film anything without relying on anyone accept maybe a few actors (not even that).

Granted, this might be a little daunting at first. Where’s the security of my team? Where’s the sound guy? And where’s my bloody tea!? But the key here is to adapt. You never know, you might just enjoy the process of making a film stress free. You’ll be free to do whatever the hell you want, which might help you find your own voice as a filmmaker.


Put Your Film First & Use What You’ve Got

I’ll begin with this quote from Andrei Tarkovsky:

“An artist never works under ideal conditions. If they existed, his work wouldn’t exist, for the artist doesn’t live in a vacuum. Some sort of pressure must exist. The artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn’t look for harmony but would simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world.”

Andrei Tarkovsky
How amazing would it be if we could shoot scenes exactly how we imagined them without even thinking about it? Perfect focus, sound, performances all without any effort. Well nothing is perfect, and part of shooting in full auto is accepting that fact without fighting it.

When switching to full auto, you’ll remove a massive element of control. But more often than not, that element of control is more than likely the biggest obstacle to your success. Not just the basics of camera controls, but all the tinkering we can do in post often leaves little to the imagination.

Instead, just go with it and adapt if things don’t look how you’d like. If there’s too much backlight, you can’t zoom in close enough, auto focus is going haywire or there’s just way too much background noise; adapt and create something out of those limitations.

This All Sounds a Little Dumb

Are you asking ‘Why the hell would I do that when I can just use manual controls?’ That’s a good question but my answer is simple – because the trade off for having the freedom to just create without getting bogged down with all that techie stuff is unbelievably liberating.

Granted you need to have the techie know how in the first place, but I often compare it to the difference between heavy bodybuilding and yoga. Trying to look perfect is pointless if you neglect your well being in the process. In case that was a rubbish analogy, what I’m saying is, take some time to concentrate on the core values of cinema and have a little time out from all that 1/50th shutter speed, fast lens, shallow DOF, crush the blacks and blow out the whites nonsense.


Ready to Give It A Try?

Great, that was easy. Well I’d like you to do your own little test right now. Grab hold of one of your many smart phones and walk over to the nearest window. Open the camera and just press record. Frame whatever you see for 30 seconds… Don’t worry, I don’t mind waiting…


If you followed the instructions you’ll notice that you didn’t zoom, you didn’t go into any settings and you didn’t concern yourself with resolution. In fact, depending on your approach, you’ve probably found the beginning to something very interesting. If that were in a storyboard you’d been given, I’m willing to bet you’d have spent at least a day planning that.

Now take that to the next level and take the train to your nearest city. Film as much as possible, thinking only about framing interesting moments along the way. If you end up editing it into something you love, then you may have opened up a world of cinematic possibilities.

I took this another step further and jumped on a train, a ferry and a plane to film across 5 countries. You can check out Shadows Set to the West shot entirely on full auto here.


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Manjeet S. Gill


Film maker and writer for the Black Country Cinema collective. My work often revolves around Asians living in contemporary Britain. Main influences include Ozu, Koreeda and Hou.

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