A lot of us get inspired by movies to want to shoot great video with our video cameras – unfortunately there is a difference between want and being able to. Like photography, good videography requires a level of competence and artistic know-how. After all, there’s more to shooting great footage than pressing the record button.
For good or bad, I learned the hard way how to shoot professionally. I’m not promising you’ll get an oscar for your efforts but you’ll avoid giving viewers that amateur-I-can’t-hold-a-camera-steady look.
- Be A Good Student
Just like any craft you need to know your tools. For example, if your filming your son’s baseball game you need to increase the shutter speed to ensure your image is free of motion blur. If your shooting from a distance and you’ve zoomed to bring the subject closer you’ll need to pay attention to the camera’s focus and switch it to manual to avoid focus drift. It really comes down to reading the manual and learning the tools. At first it may seem daunting but if you tackle one concept at a time and apply yourself by shooting it will make sense and it will become second nature. To simplify things, I recommend keeping a cheat sheet handy if necessary.
- Stay Prepared
Think of videography like camping, you always need a survival kit.
- Bring plenty of spare batteries – you never know when you’ll need them.
- Extra blank tapes. The more quality footage you have the easier the editing process.
- A lens-cleaning cloth. You don’t want to be stuck in a situation where you have a smudge and you have nothing safe to clean your glass with. This a situation where post-production will not help.
- Bring a tripod. Steady shots go along way in preventing motion sickness. You’ll be surpised how much better your shots will look.
- A battery charger/power supply. Having the ability charge your batteries ensures minimal downtime and more content.
- Extension cords for long cable runs. You want to be prepared for the worst scenario. Often on jobs, I’ll bust out the cables if a local receptacle is not available.
- Duct tape, for taping down the extension cord so people don’t trip over it. You don’t want a lawsuit on your hands.
- Lighting gear, lens filters, and microphones, and any other accessories you may need. These are your tools to quality videography. Unless your feeling lazy, don’t leave home without them.
- Say YES to a tripod
The majority of home videos end up looking shaky, which is a drag to watch. Even with a small investment of $30 on a tripod, your footage look will look professional and steady. Also, you’ll have the ability to execute pans and zooms without trouble.
No tripod? Lean against a wall to minimize shakiness. OK, no wall you say? Putt your butt on the ground, bend your knees, and drop your elbows on them.
If your shooting an event where space is limited or you’re on the constant go I recommend a monopod. These are a real lifesaver. Not only can you get rock steady shots, you occupy less space and can relocate in a matter of seconds.
- Give me light
It doesn’t matter how good your camera is. If you have crappy lighting, it will reflect (no pun intended) in your video. A quick solution to overcome lighting issues is to shoot outdoors preferably in the morning or late afternoon hours. Why? At these times of the day the light is less harsh and produces a more pleasant softer look on the video – no shadows over the eyes, squinting, or washed out skin tones.
If you must shoot indoors take notice of which way the light is directed in the room. Avoid shooting your foreground subjects close to bright windows behind them. You don’t want your camera to expose for the background leaving your foreground subject dark. Certainly let as much light into the room as possible and try to have the light coming from behind you towards your subject. If the light levels are low, its good practice to disable autofocus or you will encounter problems as the camera attempts to focus properly.
- Hi-Fi Audio
Many people don’t notice good sound but they sure notice bad sound. Getting good sound does take some work but its do-able. The microphones built into most cameras are pretty basic and are not considered high-end. When your dealing with an uncontrollable environment it’s always best to get as close as possible to the source as possible to ensure the cleanest recording. You must monitor your audio with headphones to ensure the best results.
Proper composition is everything when setting up a good shot. Professional videographers obey the “rule of thirds” and you should do the same. Imagine a tic-tac-toed board over your viewfinder. The lines interact in four spots. Your goal should be to frame the action using one or more of those spots.
Of course, art is subjective and you can break this rule if your feeling creative. But exercise restraint: you don’t want to alienate your audience.
- Shoot B-Roll
B-Roll is secondary footage that is used for cutaway shots to connect your primary shot. The cutaway of b-roll footage can also be used to hide unflattering shots or mistakes you may have made while shooting. If your filming a wedding, you might take shots of the church, the invitation, and the little bride and groom atop the cake. When its time to cut your movie, you mix in the footage to cover up mistakes and add variety.
There are no hard rules. Anything can become B-Roll. If you study television shows or news stories you’ll see a constant use of B-Roll. It’s basically the glue to connect and link scenes together. As you gain experience you will be able to visualize your edit and what shots you need before you even shoot. As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect.