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Starting Videography (Low Budget)

Updated on October 13, 2013

Quick info

First off, I want to thank you first visiting my first Hub! Also, although this article is very gear oriented, I believe making a good video is based on the person who is shooting, not the gear. With that being said, I will be providing basic tips to get more interesting shots with only a camcorder.

My experiences come from producing music videos and shooting events (concerts), but I feel the content of this article can help the general videographer who is starting or just started.

I will be starting with some basic tips when using only a camcorder, since most starters will only have a camcorder.

Then, I will go through my acquisition of starter/low budget gear along with short reviews and my experiences with them. The items I list are just things that I bought as I continued on as a videographer and should only be used as an idea of what kinds of things you might want to invest in, for your shooting style.

Afterwards, I will be explaining some things that I, probably, should have done differently.

Using only your camcorder...

I've seen people shoot great videos with only their camcorder/other video capturing device (including cell phones). As a person that does music videos, getting interesting shots is vital, but doing so is a lot easier than people think it to be. It's a matter of being innovative. For example:

  • Using shadows from trees or fences to help add texture and dimension to a shot.
  • Having your subject off centered in several shots can help engage your viewers by keeping their eyes moving.
  • Tilting your camcorder slightly to the left or right helps to create an interesting look by introducing something unnatural to the eye.
  • Using different levels of zoom can help add dimension to a single scene. Being zoomed all the way out shows much more, while a close zoom can isolate your subject or remove an uninteresting/overwhelming background.
  • A moving camera/subject adds motion to the background.

The following is a simple, visually interesting video I've done. Though, it has some extra post production effects, you can still see some of the elements I've explained above:

Now, I will be going into some cheap products that can help improve your shots and add more innovated shooting techniques.

The Gear


The Camcorder

I shoot with a Canon XA10 that I got for slightly less than $2000 in 2011. They are definitely a lot cheaper now and I am still not having any problems with this camera (Oct. 2013). It seems pricey, but I thought that if I were to invest a lot of money into one item for videos, it should be the camcorder. You will see as you read on that the other things I purchase are very cheap.

Initially, I chose this camcorder because I wanted something with a powerful zoom, XLR inputs, a lot of internal memory, minimal amount of compression, good auto functions along with full manual control, and good low light capabilities; all for a price that I could afford as a college student.

I love this camcorder, but there is one thing I wish it had. Slow motion capabilities. As I moved into doing more serious music videos, I really wanted to explore using slow motion footage. It can shoot in 24 and 30 frames/sec and in 60i.

I suggest when looking for a camcorder or even a DSLR (I may cover Camcorders Vs. DSLRs in a future Hub article), know what kind of shots you want. For me, this camcorder was perfect because I was able to shoot large scale concerts, interviews, and documentaries (live stuff). But as I started doing more music videos, I wanted more video capabilities.

Lights


Lighting has always been a pain when shooting backstage, so I quickly invested in an LED light that mounted on the cold shoe of my camcorder (product on the right). As I said, the Canon XA10 is great in low light, but I really wanted to reduce my gain use for more clarity in my shots.

This LED works great. Its bright, continuous, and cheap! Although, the housing is plastic, it gets the job done. It also has diffusers you can easily slide on and off to help match the white balance for the area, so you don't have to deal with mixing different light temperatures. Another useful thing about it is that it can be mounted on a standard tripod/monopod screw. When I do music videos, I always screw this onto a monopod which gives me more versatility and control when lighting my subject.

Also, it has power check light so you know how much juice you have left. Its power consumption is low, but it does take about 8 AA batteries. Or you can invest in a rechargeable pack.

I am currently using the same AA batteries I first put in when I bought the LED about a year ago, but I'm definitely considering purchasing the battery pack along with recharging base, which is around $15 together. Definitely the cost efficient choice.

Samples of mounting the LED on a Tripod and Monopod

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A frame from a music video I'm working on.A frame from a music video I'm working on.
A frame from a music video I'm working on.
A frame from a music video I'm working on.
A frame from a music video I'm working on.
A frame from a music video I'm working on.
Click thumbnail to view full-size

The main lights I use are three soft boxes that I have linked to the right. They are bright and use 5 fluorescent bulbs per box. They come with removable outer and inner diffusers. I can't say that I love these, but they do get the job done for a very cheap price... But this is one of those things where "you get what you pay for". The lights are great, but the stands are trash and I DEFINITELY recommend getting better stands and/or investing in some sandbags to keep them from falling over. They aren't really safe to have on a busy set because a small push can tip them over.

Some advantages, besides being bright, are that you can assemble all three within 30 minutes, making them kind of mobile; and you have control of each bulb (there's a power switch for each bulb if you don't want them all on); and they're cheap.

They are great for documentaries, silhouetting, general lighting.

To the right are some samples of how I have used them:

Microphone

When it comes to picking up sound, I use a Short Shotgun Mic by Audio Technica. I would prefer to use a regular length one, but it would appear in my shots, but this mic still works pretty good. Its perfect for concerts because it picks up the main performance sounds, along with a little bit of the crowd which gives a feel for how well the performer is doing. Its a nice touch in my opinion.

Also, it does a very good job of avoiding air noise and sound behind the mic, which is definitely a plus during backstage interviews where spectators, behind the scenes, like to whisper and move around.

It doesn't come with an XLR cord so I bought this short 1.5ft one, but I don't think they sent me the one as advertised, so be careful! Though, the one they did send works fine and I can't hear any static or distortion.

Things I would have done differently

Here are some things that I should have done differently and I hope that you can avoid doing when you start.

First, I really depended on the auto settings too much. Don't get me wrong, on the Canon XA10 they are pretty reliable, but if I started using some of the manual settings sooner, I could have produce better footage.

Secondly, I would have practiced a lot more than I had been... I mean, that I should have been using my camcorder more often when I first got it to test different settings. I waited until I had an event to shoot, when I could have put, perhaps, an hour a day just shooting footage of different things, in different areas, with different settings. In short, I should have mastered my camera a lot sooner than I did.

Lastly, for my music videos, I would have definitely invested in those soft boxes (bright lights, in general) sooner. Lighting can make any shot appealing and unique.

In conclusion

  • Create interesting shots.
  • Know what kind of shots you want and research on how to achieve them.
  • Be in control of all your gear. It will give you limitless combinations of unique and interesting shots.
  • Innovation is vital when you don't have a budget.
  • Take time to watch other peoples' videos. Doing so can reveal what you would like to see in your own videos.
  • Don't be afraid of critiques.
  • Practice makes perfect.

P.S.

As I stated earlier, this is my first Hub and I would definitely appreciate any kind of feedback to help improve my next Hub or even anything I can to go back and edit on this one. Again, I thank you for your time and if you have any suggestions for my next article, don't be afraid to let me know!

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