Using a camera in Blender 3D is the same as using a real camera. You really need to know what you are doing and why. Cameras are cameras, virtual or otherwise. To get the best out of your shots, you need to be a cinematographer.
In this article you will learn the basic techniques of cinematography and how to apply them practically in Blender.
Why should you worry about cinematography? Surely you just frame your shot, and as long as you have the subject in the frame, it’s going to be a good shot.
Well no, framing a shot is something you need to learn about if you want to make great images. For a head start, read up about composition on photography blogs or Google how to frame a shot using the thirds lines.
The point of all of this is also the point of good photography: how to make good shots, that is to say how to isolate your subject (the thing you are picturing) from the background (any other stuff in the scene).
The secrets to good composition are good positioning of the camera, aperture choice and lens choice.
To select a camera, either right-click on it in the 3D view or right-click on the frame of the camera while looking through the camera. (You get to the camera view by pressing Numpad 0.)
Once you have the camera selected, you can frame up your shot on your objects.
To “dolly” the camera in and out (or towards and away from the object along the X axis), you can press the “G” key, then click the centre mouse button (the scroll wheel) and the push the mouse back and forth. When you have the distance away from the object te way you want it, press the left mouse button to accept the move and the right mouse button to reject it.
To “track” the camera (or move it side to side in the Y axis or up and down in the Z axis), simply press “G” on its own, then move the mouse to position the camera. Press the left mouse button to accept the move and the right mouse button to reject it.
To “tilt” the camera (or rotate it about the X axis), press the “R” key, and the cursor changes to two arrows and a dotted line to pivot the centre of rotation. Now move the mouse, accepting the move with the left mouse button, or undo it with the right mouse button.
Finally, to “pan” the camera (or rotate it around its centre point in the Z and Y axes), press “R” twice, and the cursor changes to four-way green and red arrows. Now move the mouse. Once again you can accept the move with the left mouse or reject it with the right.
We’ve spoken about using Depth of Focus (also known as DOF) before, but what we didn’t say is why you should use it and the effect it might have on your shots. DOF simulates the effect on a real lens shrinking or dilating the lens aperture. Having a small closed-down aperture (a higher number like f22) means deep depth of focus. Everything is in focus from the front to the back. (The background is always out of focus in this shot, by the way, because it’s an environment map providing the light.)
Conversely having a wider more-open aperture (or lower number like f2.8) means shallow depth of focus. Only the blue pieces at the point of focus are sharp; everything else is fuzzy.
Having a shallow depth of focus means your subject is in focus and the background is out of focus, effectively isolating it from the background and foreground objects.
Another thing that affects your picture is lens focal length. With a real camera you unscrew the lens and change it out for another one, or you zoom in using the W/T rocker switch on your camera. W stands for Wide, and T stands for Telephoto.
A small focal length like 24mm means a wide angle, taking in all of a scene. This also has the side effect of making the depth of focus very deep and making things look further away from each other. Notice, too, how the pawns get smaller as they get further away.
A long focal length like 500mm zooms in by narrowing the angle to telephoto, bringing the subject closer. It also flattens the perspective or depth in the picture, meaning things which are far away look on a similar plane to things which are close. Notice how the pawns now all look the same size? A by-product of long lenses is that they also make a very shallow depth of focus. (Sometimes you might have to add this with the DOF function in Blender because they are not real lenses and the effect may not look real enough without it.)
You can also isolate groups of things and crop in tighter and bring them closer with a telephoto lens.
Learning about real photography can make your 3D graphics look more authentic, and this is even more important if you are trying to add 3D objects for visual effects applications.
If you have enjoyed this basic romp through cinematography, let us know in the comments below.
Image Credit: Blender 3D Repository
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