Here’s a quick and easy tip for the next time you pack up your gear for a shoot.
Don’t neglect your lenses! It’s easy enough to make sure the lens cap is on, and keeping your camera in it’s case is surely standard practice, but it’s quite possible that during your last shoot, some dust managed to make its way to the surface of your glass. That’s why, before you leave the shop, make sure you have a lens pen and some microfiber cloth.
It’s true that much of the time your camera is able to focus past dust and smudges on the lens, but one bit of stray light could mean the difference between a pristine looking shot and one that looks like your camcorder has a bad case of dandruff! Watch any low-quality reality TV and you’ll see this all the time, usually because the camera operators have to be nimble, and not every shot has had lighting set up specifically for it. Combine this with the fact that matte boxes can’t be adjusted quite so quickly when unscripted action is happening right in front of the camera, and you have a recipe for some pretty grungy looking shots.
The sad thing is most of the time visible lens gunk can be avoided by simply keeping a microfiber cloth in your pocket. Every twenty to thirty minutes, simply grab your cloth and wipe down the lens on your camera and you should be good to go. Really, for most shoots you can go as long as a couple of hours. Stray light will end up as a simple lens flare, (which, if shot in moderation, is actually a pretty trendy look right now) rather than a lens flare and a snow storm.
As you watch scripted TV, commercials, or feature length films, notice that you’ll never see lens gunk getting in the way of a shot (unless it’s an intentional, stylistic choice). That’s because professional DPs treat their camera and the camera’s lens like their babies. If you do the same by keeping your lenses clean and pristine, you’ll be one step closer to shooting some truly spectacular footage.