After Effects Cameras

I occasionally get questions about what the various camera settings are for in After Effects. Usually I just ignore them and go about my day playing with my tinker toys. But what the heck, here is a little write-up.

Now I was going to put together a complete technical explanation and try to confuse you with complicated facts and made-up equations but I want to explain it to you the way I wish somebody had with me.

The first thing we’ll talk about are camera presets, such as 50mm and 35mm etc. Simply put, the lower the number, the wider the angle of view (wide-angle) and the higher numbers indicates a telephoto. This number is called the focal length.

Figure A

Figure B

In the above examples, I’ve used 2 cameras a 50mm and 20mm. You’ll notice that I’ve matched the perceptual size of the front text in both examples. To accomplish this I moved the wide-angle, 20mm camera closer to the front text so that it would fill more of the frame.

Now it is easy to see how a wide-angle lens can make a shot more dramatic because the background is smaller and seems further away. It also allows you to get closer to objects and still see most of the image.

On the other hand, although there is no lens distortion like in a real 3D application, this can sometimes be an awkward, exaggerated point of view. So for many things I like to use a 50mm and 35mm preset because it is more natural to what we are used to seeing everyday with our own eyes. But to make things seem bigger and mighty, a wide-angle lens possesses the necessary attributes.

Here are some of our tutorials demonstrating various camera setups and tips:

Advanced Camera Tips

Virtual 3D Photos

3D Room

3D Projection

3D Compositing

Maybe in the next one, we’ll talk about apertures and depth of field; but that’s easy stuff.

9 years ago
I'm Sorry Shape Layers! I love you!
I must confess… I was never a big fan of shape layers…  we just didn’t get along.  I was used to using masks but suddenly (around AE CS3) the same mask tool began creating Red vector shapes. At first, they seemed cool enough but after accidentally adding shape layers to my comps, instead of masks, I lashed […]
Visualization Experiment and new Renders
Just playing around with a new After Effects experiment without using any 3rd Party plug-ins! I need to refine some parts of the effect but I really want to make a tutorial for it ASAP! Here are some other projects you may have missed! Using Element 3D bump mapping to create some Gold coins and […]
New Tutorial: Realistic Rain Drop FX!
In this tutorial we’ll use After Effects to create a realistic water effect without any 3rd party plug-ins! Great for adding atmosphere to a rainy scene or title. This effect is fully customization and can be used to create many cool FX! In this tutorial: Create a dripping water displacement map Simulate realistic camera DOF […]
Destruction Experiment!
What is this thing! I’ve basically combined a bunch of stuff into one experiment! I might have been inspired by the amazing planet explosions from The Force Awakens but wanted to see if I could get a cool version inside Element 3D. Few Notes on this experiment; I added smoke elements, shockwaves using CC Sphere, and even […]

This is a topic I definitely need to learn more about.
6 years ago
Thanks for your fantastic help always and a incredible sense of humor. you should be a comedian, no kidding, you are very talented.

Anyway,I have a question.

Why my camera focus dont work?

I put the jpeg images on he composition and when i play with the focus, blur, aperture, nothing happens.
what im doing wrong?

Thanks again from Brazil...
8 years ago
Hi! I do not talk good english, but how do you say about people who you like, help you save time and money and take you out from many trouble? you do not know too? Well, answer is : VideoCopilot!
8 years ago
Thank you for your site :)
I made on photoshop backgrounds for myspace or youtube and ect..
my backgrounds:
have a great day and thank you again!
8 years ago
Что то Автор совсем перестал писать новые посты и даже админить блог? Может что случилось?
9 years ago

Thanks for responding to my question on camera's in AE! This helps me understand better what happens when I choose different camera's.

Again best regards from The Netherlands!
Jacob Behunin
9 years ago
Hey Andrew, have you had the chance to check this out yet?

Teaser trailer for the new Indy Movie
9 years ago
9 years ago
2 weeks without tutorials, wow.. what r u hiding mr kramer
9 years ago
@sean Emer: I really enjoyed your short flic "regret" ;)

great to see Will Smith working for a living on the boom - thumbs up!
9 years ago
Jason: Most likely they used either a robotic camera or advanced motion tracking. Camera shake could have been added in post as well. I haven't rea any articles yet, but if I had millions of dollars, thats the route I would go.
9 years ago
Hello, why not AK can do a tutorial for Valentine :p
9 years ago
Great tip!

9 years ago
Off the topic but I just watched "JUMPER" and it was awsome. Andrew, no I am not going to ask for a tutorial on something like this but can you give a brief explanation on how they make him teleport. Nothing detailed just a brief explanation. It just seams like it would be so hard to edit something like that with a camera shaking all over the place.
9 years ago
Hey Jesse, thanks for bringing up the rule of thirds, thats a pretty integral guidline in photography. I wasn't trying to tell people how to do their artwork in my post since I figured it is up to them to develop their style after they master their tools. I just wanted to explain the technical aspects of cameras so the people who read could have a better understanding of their settings. I apologize if I wasn't thorough enough!

Fullsail, huh? Thats a great looking school. I'm a film major myself! check out my short film in my name's link.
9 years ago
Hey Boss ,I have a QUESTION.
can you show us a tutorial how to make a sniper shot on a subject and track it in after effects to follow the subject using the camera presets.if thats possible .its just an idea i would love to learn and no one better than you to ask.
SPC Goodwin
9 years ago
thank for the tip i usualy just use the 35mm camera cause its what im used to.
Some Guy
9 years ago
Wow! This is what I wanted to know since I saw you creating a new camera in one of your tutorials. Previously you were using the 35mm preset all the time and then you took the 50mm preset. And I was thinking "Why???". Now I know it, so thank you for the information.
I love this kind of blog posts, too. They are very useful and I would like to see more of them. I think you should make a new blog category and put all the previous "lessons" and the upcoming ones into that category. It would be much easier to find them that way.

@ Sean Emer and Jesse: Great comments! I enjoyed reading.
9 years ago
Nice. The advanced camera moves tutorial was a long time coming. You can never go wrong with new tutorials on more advance camera tips & tricks. Keep em coming.
9 years ago
@sean:What you talked about is all good to know, but you talked the least about what is most important, which is depth of field and shot composition. What you explained was how to control the amount of light so that you can get a good exposure, but if all I wanted to do was get an image and not worry about the art, I would just set the camera to automatic and take the picture. Anybody can mess with a camera and make the light meter turn green.

The first thing that you should decide before you take you picture is what you want your depth of field to be. There are three things that contribute to depth of field. Focal Length, Aperture, and subject distance. If you want a shallow depth of field, meaning a smaller critical area, then you are going to have to think about those three things. If you have a zoom, a lens with a varying focal length, or telescopic lens, a long lens that has a fixed focal length, then you can change you subject distance, moving farther away and use a longer focal length to get a shallower depth of field. Then you can use the aperture to increase or decrease the focus even more. If you are new to photography and all you have is a 50mm lens, also called a normal lens, then you can move your subject distance as far away as possible, but really, the only thing you will have to control your DOF is the f-stop. The larger the f-stop number, the smaller the iris will be. (The iris is the part of the camera that blocks the light as the aperture is changed. Also, I said that larger f-stops are smaller iris', but really, f-stop numbers are fractions, f/8 so really its the smaller the number the smaller the f-stop)

Shot composition is probably the most important part of taking a good picture. Anybody can take a picture, but it takes thought and skill to take a well composed picture. Now shot composition is not something that can be easily understood from reading, it is something you need to see and experiment with. The rule of thirds is the basic shot composition you want to follow. The rue of thirds is dividing your frame into nine equal sections (basically making a tic-tac-toe board over your frame, and aligning your subject along one of those division lines. That is a very simplified explanation, but like I said, the only real way to completely understand it is to see it. Something to know about the rules of shot composition, all of them can be broken. It is not always necessary to follow the rules of shot composition if you feel your way is better, its your art.

The best way to learn all this stuff is to take your camera and go take pictures. Find out what looks good and try to create it.

(if anybod is looking for an awome film school, this is where I go, )
9 years ago
Yo dude,
MY whole education i got from photoschool just kicked in.
Man I wish I had a tutor like you, I would understand things much faster.
9 years ago
hi andrew
i am a ur fan n i just started on after effects...
so i have lot of questions
i have done ol of ur tutorials n i wana know if the is a way we can animate in path. i am talking abt somthing like animating those arrows on the map (
i hope u got what i mean...

thanx for ol the tutorials i would b looking forward to but "twitch"

9 years ago
you are my perfect support~!!
Thanks *^^*
9 years ago
Wow thanks a lot Sean!
9 years ago
I must say this is a very useful TIP, thnx Andrew, u always ROCK!

9 years ago
Thanks for the great tips. Very helpful. You rule!
9 years ago
@sean: wow, you are actually making sense! As in, you explain those difficult numbers and settings in a very understandable way. I'd say, do a tutorial on it :-)
I would love to see it!
9 years ago
@sean : wauw excellent comment, very interesting.
9 years ago
can someone link me the audio royalty site that designer sound effects promo etc. came from? I don't remember what previous blog entry it was in.

Thanks for all the tips on camera settings, Andrew, and Sean Emer.
9 years ago
Thanks for the info, I love to check this site one or two times a day, I'm always surprised at what I find. We got swamped at Sundance so I didn't have any time for product placement :< So did you get a booth at NAB?
9 years ago
Andrew, do you know if the camera preset in AE if equivalent to a 35mm image area? Varying focal lengths mean different angles of view depending on the sensor size/image area of the camera. That only really makes a difference when matching compositions to actual footage though...

@bwoogie. I'll try to give you a rundown on ISO/ASA, Shutter Speed, and Aperture:

ISO/ASA only applies to actual film, not video, and technically not digital photography (but it is still used... I'll explain that). ISO/ASA is simply a measurement of a film's sensitivity to light, referred to as its "speed". I forget what they stand for, but it isn't important anyway. So film with an ISO/ASA speed of 250 would be MORE sensitive to light than film with an ISO/ASA speed of, say, 100. Of course you would think, "why not just always use high ISO/ASA speeds?" Well, as the film speed increases, so does the amount of 'graininess' in the image, because in order to produce higher sensitivities the grains of light sensitive material in the film are made larger (bigger grain = more sensitivity!). Of course, the larger the grains, the more you can see them in the film.

In the digital realm, ISO/ASA settings work pretty much the same way, even if it is "simulated". Also note that whether you see the speed rated as ISO, ASA, or even EI, they mean the same thing. They are just different organizations trying to be the top dog.

Shutter speed. To keep your film from being exposed when you don't want it to, a light-proof disc (well, not always a disc, but you get the idea) covers the opening between the lens and the film (this opening is called the Gate). When you want to take your picture, you press down the button and the camera quickly opens and closes the shutter, allowing light to expose the image. The shutter speed setting has a big influence on how your image will look. It affects the amount of time that the shutter remains 'open' while taking a picture. A long duration of time, for instance... 1/30th of a second, will allow a greater amount of light to enter the gate and expose the film. This means that with a slower shutter speed (aka, longer exposure time), you can expose pictures in darker locations than you could with higher shutter speeds. The tradeoff is that if you leave the shutter open too long, the image you are taking a picture of may change slightly (for instance, the car you are photographing may be in motion when you take the picture). This creates motion blur in your image, which can be undesirable. Pictures of football players in action or racecars speeding by look so crisp (as if time has 'frozen') because they were taken at extremely high shutter speeds, somewhere in the 1/2000th of a second range. The tradeoff there of course is that the camera requires a greater amount of light to enter in that short period of time in order to expose the image properly, or else it will be too dark. I hope that makes sense. Generally for everyday purposes a shutter speed between 1/250 and 1/60 is sufficient.

Aperture. A key technique for controlling the amount of light entering the camera is the aperture setting. The aperture itself is a series of light-proof blades that form a ring in the lens, with an opening in the center. The larger the opening, the more light comes through, and vice versa. When the aperture is opened as far as possible (aka, the opening is as large as possible), it is said to be shooting with the lens "open". When the aperture is as closed as possible, then you are shooting "closed". The size of the aperture opening is measured on the lens in units called F-Stops. That sounds pretty weird, but thats just how it is. The theory is this: The wider the aperture (the more open, that is), the smaller the F-Stop. The narrower the aperture, the larger the F-Stop. Most lenses have a wide open F-Stop of 1.4 or 1.8, and a closed down F-Stop of 16 or 22. The scale of F-Stops goes as so (this is universal): 1.0, 1.4, 2.0, 2.8, 4.0, 5.6, 8.0, 11, 16, 22. Each F-Stop is twice the number before the last F-Stop (get it? All the odd ones are doubling each other, and all the even ones are doubling each other). This sounds pretty stupid doesn't it? Well here's the theory... Every time you open the aperture by one stop (one F-Stop), you double the amount of light passing through. For instance, if you were to open your lens from a 1.4 to a 2.0, your image would be twice as bright. If you opened it from a 1.4 to a 2.8, your image would be 4 times as bright. Because of physics and lens imperfections (i wont get specific) you should generally shoot between a 2.0 and an 8, or sometimes 11. Also, some lenses have a slightly skewed F-Stop scale... with numbers like 1.8, 9.6, 3.5, etc (not in that order). They work the exact same way! Its just a difference in numbers.

Finally... depth of field! When you set the focus on your lens, you are setting the focus to a specific distance. However, a certain amount of distance both in front and behind that 'critical' distance will still appear to be in focus. This 'apparently in focus' distance is called depth of field. Lets say you set your lens to focus on something 7 feet away. You will notice that everything 7 feet away is in sharp focus, but so are things 6 feet away, and even as far as 9 feet away. Thats depth of field at work. A major aesthetic consideration with photographers and cinematographers is the amount of distance in their depth of field. A DEEP (or long) depth of field means many things will be in focus, while a SHALLOW (or short) depth of field means only a small range of things will be in focus. In films or photographs with blurry backgrounds and blurry foreground objects were only the main subject is in focus, there is a shallow depth of field. In an image where both Mr. Man 5 feet away and Mr. Mountain Range 15 miles away are in focus at once, there is a deep depth of field.

You control depth of field mainly with two variables: Aperture (F-Stop) and Focal Length (##mm). I won't go into the 'why' for simplicity's sake, but here's the idea: The wider the aperture (and thus the lower the F-Stop), the shallower the depth of field. Conversely, the longer the focal length (the greater the number), the shallower the depth of field. A lens at F2.0 (F-Stop 2.0) will have a shallower depth of field than the same lens at F4.0. Similarly, a lens of focal length 20mm will have a much deeper depth of field than a lens of focal length 100mm. This is why a zoom lens has a blurry background when you zoom in. All a zoom lens does is dynamically change the focal length by turns a ring. So 20-80mm zoom lens will have a deep depth of field at 20mm, but a shallower one at 80mm. Finding the right depth of field for your artwork is something you just need to play around with.

I hope that helped!
9 years ago
Hey Andrew heres a video I did involving 3d projection mapping in 3ds max. I find 3ds max to be alot quicker for projection mapping on actual geometry if your not just distancing plates but actual geometry. I also noticed you have been moving more and more into 3ds max if you ever have any questions id love to help contribute to you and your cause.
9 years ago
bwoogie - the aperture on your camera is how wide the lens opening is. the better your camera is, the wider it will open thus allowing more light into your camera. your iso is like film speed and acts like your gain. in low light situations your cameras aperture may not be able to let in enough light. this is where iso comes in handy. the higher the iso number the brighter your shot will be. however, the higher the number the grainier your shot will be as well. so its a trade off.
9 years ago
Please do talk about aperture. You are the only person who knows how to explain things so people can actually understand it. Me and my sister are starting to get into photography so learning how to use aperture and iso and all that good stuff correctly is much needed.
Tom Daigon
9 years ago
Very nice...but where is Twitch already..Im developing a nervouse twitch
waiting for its release ;-)
9 years ago
Very Useful as always..
Bye Tom
9 years ago
Nice! I actually learned alot even if it was pretty basic, this was just what I needed! :)

9 years ago
i didnt know this before. because im simply not that much in After effects 3D space.

But why are you always say talking and speak and so on? . I´m not even saying a single word while im writing this.

but i just want to say...write something else: i thougt in a little space in my brain is an information that says: new button on videocopilot coming soon!
:-D your tuts are all so usefule just wanna say that again and again
Tim B
9 years ago
Im happy i took photography class a while ago and bought a new SLR camera (canon 400D). It really helps because video camera's and photo camera's practically works the same.
9 years ago
you are such a great teacher =D
9 years ago
Nice tips!
9 years ago
Thx for taking the time andrew! i mean to explain it in such easy way! Youre my mentor! :)


9 years ago
Love these type of Blog write ups. Keep them coming.

9 years ago
Almost forgot,

Recently we hired a freelance interactive designer for a job (is that a actual job title?). He used to work for a narrowcasting agency, here in the Netherlands. He told me that they could see when there was a new VideoCopilot tutorial online, by looking at the new applications. Apparently, mastering all tutorials of VC is a must for all! :-)

FYI and take care
9 years ago
Are you reading my mind? Are you? I was just wondering about different camera settings and how they effect a composition... Freaky stuff... Anyway, great tip. You give master classes by any chance? I'd like one for sure (btw, that is where the money is - training!).

Second thought, don't do master classes. Keep up the tutorials and great products. Love my Evolution / Riot gear & Sound effects package.

Keep on rockin'!
9 years ago
Could that lens distortion that you lose in AE be simulated with an adjustment layer?

Just curious. This is one of the things I know the least about in AE, big ups for at least addressing it a bit.
9 years ago
thx dude
Scroooge McDuck
9 years ago
Great stuff Andrew!
Very useful tip, now I know what I'm clicking at instead of just setting the number after my mood XD
Can we expect to see Twitch up soon?
Thanks again
Your humble, though pretty mean fan
Scroooge McDuck
Jim Andrews
9 years ago
Thanks Andrew nice tips.