Shooting Hints

Shooting Hints

Post-production (editing and adding titles and effects) is only part of the job of making great videos: The other task is shooting good footage.

Tell a story

Whenever you shoot, try to tell a story. Think about shots that create a beginning, middle, and end. Capture scenes that say something, showing actions and reactions. If you shoot with a story in mind, then at editing time, you'll have plenty of material.

Most people tape lots of the main subject, but then ignore the little incidentals that help give the story richness and context. Capture the audience's reactions. Cut to the audience shots, rather than panning. If you don't want to miss any of the main action, try to sneak reaction shots in before or after the main event. You can edit these into the production later.

Set the stage by mixing wide shots that show the location with tighter shots that show the action. Change the point of view between shots -- shoot from different angles. Change your shooting height, too: Most camcorder shots are made from an adult's eye level, but shooting from higher or lower elevations adds interest. When recording children, drop down to their eye level instead of always filming them from above. Likewise, when the subject is a seated adult (at a wedding reception, for instance, lower the camera for a natural look.

In general, avoid motion while you are shooting and when you do move, move slowly and in as smooth a motion as you can. The zoom button is best used to frame shots while the camcorder is paused: Zooming as you shoot can make the audience seasick! Use cuts to change vantage points.

Shoot scenes

The worst way to shoot video is the "fire hose" method. You've probably seen it: the operator leaves the camera on continuously, moving from subject to subject. Instead, think of each time you start recording as a scene in a story. Instead of one long unwatchable piece, you have a tight, well executed sequence that tells a story.

Composition

When you compose a shot, use the "rule of thirds." Imagine the frame divided into thirds vertically and horizontally. Try to position the main subject along those lines, instead of in the exact center. Moving objects away from the center gives the frame a more dynamic feel.

Moving objects should generally be positioned so they're moving toward the center of the frame, rather than so they appear to be leaving. This is especially important at the start of the shot.

Light

Your most important tool as a videographer is light and one of the most common mistakes is relying on existing light. While today's camcorders have excellent low-light capabilities, the quality of the image invariably goes down in lower light. Try to shoot in strong light. Shoot near windows, turn on all the lights, and consider setting up your own lights.

A strong single light source creates deep shadows.
A secondary, diffused light or a reflector fills the shadows.
The nature of the light affects the attractiveness of your shots. Diffused light prevents deep black shadows. Reflectors and fill lights can do a great deal to illuminate the shadows.

Native sound

The built-in microphone is very convenient but has many inherent liabilities. Because it's far from the subject, it records background noise and the camcorder's motor, in addition to the sound you want. Whenever possible, use an extension microphone or a wireless mike, positioned near the subject.

Shoot to edit

Whenever you start or stop the camcorder, try to leave some "air" around the action: Run the camcorder for a few seconds before the action begins and for a few seconds after the action is complete. This gives you room so that when you edit scenes together, you have a little extra footage to adjust the pacing of your final production.

Speaking of pacing, adjust the length of your shots, varying between long and short shots as appropriate. A series of fast-paced shots might be fine for a music video but most productions would benefit from mixed shot lengths.

And above all: Practice! Editing and shooting are complementary skills and the more you shoot and the more you edit, the better your videos will be!