Consider the strange tale of the Brontosaurus. Yes, the dinosaur. And yes, this article is about how to make a camera log. Don’t panic!
Brontosaurus — the famously long-necked, tiny-headed, whip-tailed giant of the Late Jurassic — is one of the world’s most popular dinosaurs. It is synonymous with our collective understanding of prehistoric Earth and it’s even one of pop culture’s earliest bona fide stars. Windsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur, one of the first animated films from 1914, famously featured Brontosaurus. So did the 1925 silent special effects extravaganza The Lost World, a smash hit in its time and precursor to the unprecedented cultural impacts of King Kong and Jurassic Park.
Very impressive, except that Brontosaurus probably didn’t even exist. After its initial discovery, paleontologists unearthed more complete fossils that many thought proved Brontosaurus was actually a similarly giant long-necked sauropod (Apatosaurus) with a completely different dinosaur’s head attached by accident. This confusion is now blamed on what is known as the Bone Wars, a furious period of fossil digging in the late 19th century in which rigorous scientific documentation was relegated in favor of breakneck competition for newer and more impressive skeletons, regardless of their accuracy.
Modern advances in paleontology complicate this story beyond the limited scope of my insanely nerdy analogy, so let’s swiftly step back into the world of modern day video production.
Editing a video from footage that you did not shoot yourself can often feel like bad paleontology. Without metadata — details that contextualize a piece of footage or other media — the editor will spend an inordinate amount of time and effort assembling your “fossils” in the way that seems to make sense, but may have absolutely no basis in reality or intention. The resulting video can still be impressive to be sure, but the process will be wasteful, disorganized, and even infuriating. Kind of like building an embarrassingly mismatched Brontosaurus.
A camera log template is the solution. Keeping a great camera log during the shooting stage of your production will save you time, money, and a lot of unnecessary frustration. Needless to say, it will also make you your editor’s best friend. Let’s dive in.
What is a Camera Log Template?
In simplest terms, a camera log is a communication from the shooter to the editor of a video. The information being communicated will vary, but generally includes details about the footage that the cinematographer should preserve to make the editing process as straightforward and efficient as possible. The less time your editor spends trying to make sense of your footage, the more energy they will have to be creative and meaningfully add to the quality of the final video.
The form of a camera log template is usually a spreadsheet with fields that you can fill out easily while you’re shooting.
(Assemble has a camera log template that you can download for free in the form below.)
In terms of production flow, the moment you or your director calls cut on a particular take, you should fill out the camera log for the preceding shot right away. Topline information such as the name of the production and the date should be filled out in advance at the beginning of the day’s shoot.
The fields in a camera log template allow you to record your production’s information, scene and take number, descriptions of the physical attributes of the shot for easy identification, and even camera settings for more ambitious productions. Your camera log should be simple, uniform, and as easy to read as possible.
The following is a breakdown of the most important fields included in any great camera log template.
Start with the name of the production (even if it’s a working title), the names of the principal filmmakers like the director or cinematographer, the date, location of the shoot, and your contact information in case your editor needs to get in touch for any clarification.
This information seems obvious but is way too important to take for granted. If you happen to switch editors halfway through the post process, or perhaps if you lose your materials somewhere between production and the editing phase, labelling your camera logs with this basic information will help save you a lot of frustration.
Scene and Take
The most essential metadata in the video production process is usually the scene and take. This is exactly the same as what you write on the clapperboard or sync slate — the sequential alphanumeric code you give to each individual piece of footage.
The reason this is so important for your editor is because, when done correctly, it is the most obvious way to identify a piece of footage.The editor will see the scene and take numbers on the camera log and be able to immediately recognize it from the slate visible in the initial frames of the footage itself.
If you do a tail slate on a particular take — which means shooting the clapperboard at the end of the shot instead of the customary beginning (the “tail” instead of the “head”) — you should note this in the camera log by simply writing “tail slate” or “TS” along with the scene and take information, alleviating potential confusion.
Simple and often abbreviated shot descriptions are incredibly helpful in identifying shots in a camera log. Make a note of the shot size by using descriptions such as extreme close-up (ECU), close-up (CU), medium shot (MS), or wide shot (WS). If appropriate, you should also note the angle of the shot, such as “over-the-shoulder” (OTS), bird’s-eye/worm’s-eye view for low and high angles, respectively, and “POV” for point-of-view shots.
Camera movement is one of the best ways to identify a shot, so always note movements like pans and tilts, dolly tracks, handheld movement, aerial maneuvers such as drone shots, and zooming in/out.
The last basic descriptions are interior/exterior (“INT” or ”EXT”) and time of day (“DAY,” “NIGHT,” and the like).
Finally, write a brief description of the action in the shot itself. Be as objective as possible — include the names of character, objects, and anything else that’s obviously on camera — but be sure to keep it simple and not too wordy.
This is the place in the camera log template for anything else that you think would make your editor’s life easier. If the director particularly liked a certain take it’s often great to make a note of it here. Alternately, if a shot is unusable because of a technical or performance issue, label it with “FT” for false take.
A lack of synchronous sound is just as important to note. Simply write “MOS” — a funny filmmaking term whose story is for another article — and your editor will understand that this shot does not correspond to a sound file.
If the project calls for it, you can even note in-camera effects like lens flaring and speed ramping.
Advanced Logging: Camera Settings
Depending on the scale and ambition of your production, you can include even more information in the notes field. For example, the f-stop, shutter speed, focal length, ISO, color balance, filters, and even the frame rate are potentially invaluable to an ambitious editor or post-production artist who wants to create digital additions or special effects that will seamlessly match your footage.
For longer productions, include the exact name of the digital card or other form of media that the corresponding footage is being recorded on, especially if you are splitting files on multiple cards/drives. If your production is at the scale that it includes multiple cameras, be sure to include the specific camera name as well.
Remember, Assemble has a free camera log template you can download in the form above. You can also upload your completed camera log to Assemble for a painless post-production process (and win the undying affection of your editor). Happy shooting!