Video Techniques
By Robin Liss

Here are ten tips for making your videos better:

1. Get a good Tripod, and Use It - The first step in improving your videos is stabilizing them. Your camcorder may have built-in image stabilization, but it can only compensate for so much motion. One of the best ways to improve the appearance of your videos is to get a quality tripod. While some camcorders come with tripods, very cheap or give-away tripods tend not to provide a very good shooting base. $100-200 is the starting range for tripods that will be sturdy and offer smooth movements. Be sure to get a tripod with a head specifically designed for video.

2. Learn When to Pan, Zoom and Use Other Moves - One of the most common video mistakes is making constant movements and adjustments. Be deliberate when making adjustments, don't make changes without a reason. Take a shot of something and leave it there for 10-20 seconds, stop the recording and take another shot. Don't quickly pan the camera from one subject to another. When panning and zooming, use slow, smooth, and deliberate motions. This will make your videos much more watchable. See Vincent Soo's article for more details on this subject.

3. Do a Little Shot Composition - The purpose of taping something is so you will be able to remember and enjoy it later. Before you hit the red button, look at your shot and see if you have everything in it that you want and that it is framed nicely. Do this as you would if you were taking a still picture; prior to pressing "record," not after. Good shot composition uses the "Rule of Thirds." This is where you treat the screen as being divided into a tic-tac-toe pattern (see figure 1). When framing a person, you want their eyes on the top line and the center of their head on the left or the right line (i.e., facing inward). Although this may cut off the top of the subject's head, it will provide the proper balance and really make your shot look professional. 

4. Learn Your Camcorder Like the Back of Your Hand - The best videographers know every function of their camcorder and could operate it with their eyes shut. Having good knowledge of your camcorder's features and functions is a necessary element of making better videos. The most obvious need for this knowledge is to allow you to always have your eye in the viewfinder or on the LCD screen, not looking away at the controls to zoom, focus, or make other corrections. More than just knowing where each control is, you should learn all the how image settings like white balance, exposure, and backlight affect the image.

5. Tell a Story - If you don't have the time to formally edit your videos, use in camera editing (i.e., the fancy name for pressing record and pause at just the right times) to neatly follow some chronological path and tell a story. People will more likely feel compelled to watch your videos if they tell a story. It matters less what the story is about than how well it's told. You don't have to narrate your videos to tell a story; the pictures can do that. Take a wedding for example. First, we get a shot of the outside of the church. Then, we get some good interior shots of the church to show what it looks like. During the ceremony, get shots of the bride and groom as well as family members' reactions. You've now told a story about the wedding that will be interesting to watch. (see figure 2.)

6. Put a Tiny Amount of Money into a Lavaliere Microphone - The best audio purchase that you can make if you're mostly doing home videos is a lavaliere (lav) microphone (see figure 3). It's designed to clip onto the clothing of the subject (e.g., lapel, tie, or collar), near their mouth, and plug into the camcorder to pick up the best possible speech audio. Lavs are also small enough that you can hide one somewhere in a scene to pick up better sound than a camera mounted mic. If you really don't think you would put a lav to any use, then consider some other external mic, such as a shotgun or handheld. The reason for doing this is simple; your on-camera microphone cannot be placed any closer to the audio source than where the camera is.Even the best on-camera microphones will not do an adequate job of picking up soft sounds at a distance. Additionally, the unwanted sounds between you and your subject will be picked up, and with many on-camera mics, this can include sounds to the side and behind the camera as well. External mics start at around $30. It's great to have one in your bag if a situation that calls for a mic comes up. 


7. Look Into Lighting - A lot of image quality problems can be solved by employing some simple lighting techniques. You may not want to invest in or have the desire to carry an entire lighting kit with you where ever you go, but you can make the best of the natural or available lighting situations that you face. Whenever possible, shoot in a well-lit area. Make sure there is not bright light like the sun behind a subject. If your subject is standing in a bad lighting situation, have them move into better light if possible and the video will look much better.
8. Interviews - A great way to improve your videos is to interview subjects. Interviews can provide good insights through the actual words of the people involved. No matter what the event is, a baseball game, picnic, wedding, or party, interviews can add a nice touch. When doing an interview, frame the shot with the head and upper chest showing and with the subject off-center to one side or the other. As the interviewer, you do not need to be in the shot, but rather stand next to the camera. Stand on the side of the camera that will be the open side of the shot, and have the interviewee face you. Tell the interviewee NOT to look at the camera, but just carry on a normal conversation with you and keep eye contact. This may seem awkward but it works really well and it is how almost all professional interviews are done (see figure 4). Remember to leave plenty of space in the shot to allow for the interviewee to move naturally and nod. This way they won't slip out of the shot.

9. Pack Well - Every videographer has their favorite video goodies that they keep in their bag, but there are some basic things that every camcorder owner should carry with them. One thing is a special lens cleaning cloth that does not scratch the lens, commonly used for glasses these cloths are great for wiping down the camera lens or LCD screen. Another is an extra battery (put the money into buying an extra long life battery so you "never" run out). A pen, pad of paper, and extra labels are also essentials. Bring as much extra videotape as you can comfortably carry. It's also good to carry a set of RCA cables (video cables) because you never know when you'll need them. A roll of tape to secure cords and other things is a good bring-along, as well as anything else that you think will make shooting videos easier.

10. Have Fun! - They key to making good videos is enjoying yourself. Always find new and interesting things to do and to shoot to make your camera experiences fun and exciting. Experiment with your camera and see what you enjoy and what works well for you. Remember that if you're having fun, so will your viewers!

Shooting Tips
By Vincent

One of the most common shooting mistakes people make is "creating" motion. Since we are using a video camera, it is easy to shoot with the thought that you have to move the camcorder in order to capture "everything". On the contrary, the general rule in videotaping is to "record motion", donít "create it." Creating motion can be described as camera movement that is not germane to the subject. This includes excessive panning and zooming. An example of this would be walking while videotaping. This technique should be reserved for the pros as it is next to impossible for an amateur to make it smooth and keep the subject in proper composition. Pros usually use thousands of dollars of additional equipment to make this possible.

Panning from one person to another without any reason other than to "include everyone in the video" is also a very bad idea. Before you pan have a starting and an ending point in mind. Record at your starting point for three seconds, start your pan, come to your ending point & hold for three seconds before you stop the recording. While you are panning, think of panning slow, then actually pan slower than what you thought would be correct. It is perfectly acceptable pan the camcorder to follow action such as a runner in a soccer or football game. This is an example of "recording motion" and not "creating" it.

Zooming in and out while shooting the same subject is also a MAJOR sin in videotaping. Not only does it place the video on the low end of the quality scale, but it gives everyone viewing the tape a headache. One of the few times when zooming in and out on the same shot is acceptable is when taping a wedding, speech or a play where continuous audio is necessary. If you must zoom both in and out in that instance, do it *very* infrequently.

Use a tripod whenever possible. If you are shooting a situation such as a sporting event, concert, graduation or anything from a single position for longer than 5 minutes at a time, you should be using a tripod. Unless you are trying to achieve a certain effect, shots taken from a tripod are MUCH better than handheld shots.

Change angles frequently to give the viewer different viewpoints. When shooting small children or pets try to shoot at a childís eye level. At a gathering or party, get up on a porch, loft or balcony to get a high viewpoint.

Limit telephoto shots. In other words, make sure youíve shot in wide angle before or after you telephoto shots to give the viewer an idea of what they are looking at. Telephoto shots of the far side of the grand canyons wall does nothing to display the magnificence of the surroundings. A super wide angle shot will show this much more effectively.

In summary-

Do not:
1) walk with the camcorder
2) pan too much or too fast.
3) overuse the zoom.
1) use a tripod when shooting (whenever practical).
2) shoot from different angles.
3) include lots of wide angle shots.


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