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Videography Tips

For our treasured product reviewers, here are some videography tips for you

Keep it steady. Keep the camera steady. If possible, use a tripod. Don’t constantly zoom in & out or pan right to left. In general, you want to record at least :10 of each shot. Let the action in the frame speak for itself.

Wide, Medium, Close-up. For every scene or event you’re shooting, make sure to get different angles so that you’ll have choices in the editing process. For example, if you’re videotaping a protest, get the widest angle possible (perhaps on top of a building looking down on the crowd), then get close-ups of the faces in the crowd and then some medium shots of people from the ground level.

Be Organized. Keep your footage organized, backed up, and be prepared to migrate it to the next media.

Learn from the Experts. Study the work of others. The best cinematography is made by the best cinematographers, after all, they are the people who understand the art of cinematography better than anyone else.

What’s in the background? When you’re shooting an interview or a speech, make sure to notice what’s in the background. You can either move the camera to get the best angle, move the subject in front of a good background or create a new background. Ask yourself, does this background “support” this story visually?” Is it a good backdrop for what is being discussed?

Timelapse. Time-lapse is one of the most visual and fun ways to capture an event or story. Before heading out for a shoot, think about whether the story could lend itself to a time-lapse shot. Various video cameras these days are equipped with special time-lapse settings. If they’re not, just set the camera up on a tripod and let it roll. You can always speed up the footage in editing later.

Get Support. You will have many, many camera bags throughout your career, but a tripod is a forever thing.

Manual. Set your camera on manual, for the most part. Most pros use a good deal of manual settings. Using camcorder settings like white balance, shutter speed, and aperture not only give you better control of your final image, they teach you about why particular shots look the way they do; why video is choppy or the depth of field shallow or deep. You may need to throw the camera in auto when situations are changing fast, but knowing how to set the shot properly will let you know what to change when things look wrong.

Practice using the controls, aperture, focus, shutter speed and the zoom. Practice these together with basic camera moves on you tripod like tilting and panning. A good camera operator can tilt, pan, and zoom while maintaining control of the camera.

Pros don’t zoom. Our fancy camera has a zoom on it, you can zoom from waaay out to really telephoto and it’s great. But now watch how often professionals doing cinematography zoom. Very rarely. And when they do, it’s often almost imperceptibly slow. Amateurs can never seem to decide if they want to be tight or wide so they zoom back and forth with abandon – they seem to feel as if they’re shooting, they should be making a move, too. Pros do zoom to change the shot, but they usually cover it behind a cutaway; so learn how to use that zoom button, but use it sparingly.

An image loses quality when you zoom. An image also tends to be shakier, especially on a hand-held shot, when zoomed in. So whenever possible, take your two legs and walk up to whatever it is you want a close-up of. It will look much cleaner and more professional.

Lighting. Go to the good light. At first you probably won’t have your own lighting equipment. That’s fine, lots of people never get lighting equipment. What this means though is that you need to bring your camera to the light since you’re not bringing your light to the camera. Most often this involves staying out of direct sunlight. With the exception of early morning and late evening (the so-called “Golden Hour”) most sunlight is very unflattering for people. If you absolutely have to be in direct noon-day sun, an inexpensive reflector can help fill in the shadows on faces. While the shade is nice, some of the best light is window light. If you have the option, use it.

Know when to narrate and when to be quiet. On vacation videos it’s often nice to have some narration. “This is the Liberty Bell, it was cast in 1752 in Whitechapel, England …,” but most often, a running commentary doesn’t enhance things. Sometimes you’ll want to later take sound from video and use it elsewhere (say a song during junior’s recital) but find it’s ruined by someone talking over it (“Jimmy always has trouble with this part … whee! He got it!”). Think twice, talk once.

Anticipate action. This is one of those lessons that almost cannot be taught. It’s a skill that develops instinctively the more you shoot. Once you miss a few “money shots”, you’ll learn to start paying attention. A simple example of this is a baseball game. If you want to capture a player hitting the ball, you will need to anticipate that moment and begin recording a few seconds or minutes before. Once you realize the ball has been pitched, it’s too late. You’ve missed the moment.

Frame it like a picture. This is where artistic expression and style come into play, but in general, utilize the standard framing styles and rule of thirds in photography.

Where’s your mic? Many amateur videographers or budget filmmakers don’t have the luxury of having an audio tech to hold a boom mic for them. Often the case in budget filmaking, you are relying on the mic on top of your camera for sound. If that is the case, you will need to always be conscious of where that mic is relative to the sound you are trying to capture. If someone is talking, you will need to have the camera very close to that person, otherwise it will be annoying for the viewer to strain to hear what they are saying. The reality is that getting good sound will often dictate your shot.

Prepare always. Get more batteries. Your camera is useless if you can’t turn it on. For this reason, always bring more battery power than you think you’ll need. Keep your batteries charged and buy at least one spare. When you’re in the field, keep an eye on the battery indicator. It can go from “low” to “dead” really fast.

Steady. Pan with your hips, not with your wrist. It’s tempting to pan your camcorder by simply moving your wrist, but this invites jiggling. If for some reason you can’t mount your camera to your fancy fluid-head tripod and you need to pan, hold you camera securely with both hands and use your waist for the move, you’ll get a smoother shot.

Don’t overshoot (or then again, go ahead). A common tendency for amateurs is to shoot anything and everything. Since they don’t know what they’re doing, they err on the side of overshooting. In general, I have found that for every hour of professional footage, I end up using about a minute in the final production. (So for ten hours of shooting, I end up with a great 10 minute video).

Copy, copy, copy. When you’re starting off and have no idea what you’re doing, please COPY someone else’s style that you like. Study it, examine it and copy it exactly! Eventually, you will start to create your own style, but this is a great way to develop and learn professional techniques.

Practice, practice, practice. As with any profession, being a videographer is all about the thousands of details that you can only learn by doing and experiencing first hand. The best way to learn is to make mistakes. So go out there and get shooting!

Hide wires. Tuck them out of view, otherwise it looks sloppy and unprofessional.

Remembering everything. The world spins past us and most people lose it. Videography gives you the opportunity to save bits of it to relive over and over. That’s a marvelous thing. Properly used, your camcorder can not only generate income, but preserve priceless memories. Use it well, use it wisely, use it often.

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