Video Camera Techniques

Some have asked: "How would YOUR approach differ from the taking of still shots (ie. slides) if YOU were collecting video footage for YOUR presentation?" In fact, the basic technique of shooting video should be the same as shooting stills; ie. make sure the camera is still, and shoot whatever is in the frame. The benefit of video is that the subject in the frame is moving. But, for some reason, people think that the camera also has to move at the same time. A person can get "seasick" real quick watching video shot like that!

Photo by Jannes Glas
Photo by Jannes Glas

Tips to keep in mind:

1. Use a tripod! One designed for video cameras.

2. Don't use the "auto focus" feature in most cases. Zoom in on your subject, manually focus, then zoom back to frame your subject.

3. Keep your "panning" (ie. moving the camera horizontally) to the bare minimum. And if you do pan, make it slow, in only one direction and have several seconds of still footage at the beginning and end of the pan.

4. Keep your "zooming" in and out to a bare minimum (ie. while shooting).

5. Make sure you use as much light as possible (position yourself so that natural light is behind you and the camera). Video image quality degrades very quickly as light levels decrease. You can use an add-on camera light if you want, but only use it for close-ups in low-light or shadowy circumstances. *Note: the "Lux" specs. that are advertised for a camera (its ability to shoot in low light) are basically meaningless. Don't use it as a purchase decision.

6. Shoot enough of a subject (time-wise) so that there is at least several seconds at the beginning and end of a clip to allow for easy editing. The "30 Second Rule".

7. Take several shots of a scene from different angles. Get as close as possible to the subject.

8. Label your tapes soon after shooting and keep an accurate log of all of your footage (description of scenes and their location on the tape). *Note: this is where the "time code" feature of a camera comes in handly (all MiniDV cameras have a "time code" feature, while only the high-end Hi8 cameras do). Erase-protect your tapes after shooting and never loan them to anyone.

9. Plan in advance before shooting. If you're putting together a program, write a script or at least a detailed outline. Write out a "shot list" of the scenes you'll need. Even if you're not planning to do a program in the near future, have a shot list handy that you are always working from.

10. Always use fresh tape and record at the SP speed.

11. Learn and practice how to use the manual controls of your camera, such as "White Balance. "

12. Turn off the feature that superimposes the time and date on your video footage.

13. Don't narrate as you shoot.

14. Don't use the "Record Review" feature.

15. When shooting close-ups of people, frame their heads in the top half of the viewfinder and to one side or the other. The "Rule of Thirds. "

16. Pay attention to the "audio" aspects of the scene you are shooting.

7 Deadly Camera Sins

In summary, learn the "7 Deadly Camera Sins" :

  • Firehosing
  • Snapshooting
  • Headhunting
  • Backlighting
  • Motorzooming
  • Upstanding
  • Jogging

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