How To Shoot Great Birthday Party Videos
How To Videorecord Your Child's Birthday
As a birthday party entertainer, I frequently come across parents who are trying to capture some of the festivities on video. Some do better than others.
Take the typical scene of mayhem: kids running around all over the place, doing the kind of things they do with parents trying to maintain some kind of order. Although this sounds like a mess, it can actually make for a good video.
The problem is, too many parents make a series of mistakes that are typical of the amateur videographer.
They shoot the video in low-light conditions, making it look like it was shot in the Temple of Doom rather than being a fun, happy, bright experience. They focus too much on individual children, causing them to become self-conscious. They shoot without a tripod, resulting in the classic shaky cam. They utilize the camera's zoom and pan feature far too much, causing a dizzying effect for anyone who's forced to watch the final product.
But it doesn't have to be this way! The best videos are the ones in which the camera work virtually disappears into the action. The viewers forget that they're watching a video and almost feel as if they're watching the event with their own eyes.
This means that the videographer should avoid unnecessary zooming and side to side motions.
The best videos also tend to be by those who have a keen, almost intuitive grasp of what is the most interesting event going on at any particular moment and focusing on that (hint: 99% of the time, it has to do with the children). The best videographers get out of the way and let the children have fun, and are able to position themselves in such a way that they can hone in on the action at any one time.
Finally, the best videographers know that the majority of the video they shoot is going to be all that great, and that they should spend more time in post editing and post production than they do in the actual shooting, using a video editing program like Apple's iMovie to hone in on the good parts.
While you don't want to throw any of your priceless footage away, you should know which parts to include in the finished video that you show to friends and family and which parts you save as the outtakes for the birthday child to enjoy watching in the future, perhaps when sharing it with his or her own children!
Although all of this may sound hard to do amid the mayhem of a birthday party, it really isn't. The key is to do a little planning before venturing into the chaos. Here are some tips.
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Sequence of events
Think about the sequence of the typical birthday party. You might picture the kids all running around, your best strategy being to record events as they occur from a comfortable distance. After all, you reason that there is no way that you can control anarchy, so why try?
Well, while you can't control the kids, you can choose your opportunities, those interesting events you don't want to miss. These might include the following:
The child's birthday wish list
Sending out invitations
Buying / decorating the cake
Putting together goodie bags
Friends arrive with gifts
Children get comfortable
Birthday party games
Cake and ice cream
The gift opening
Distribution of goodie bags
View The World Through Your Child's Eyes
To create a great birthday party video, it helps to look at things through a child's eyes. There are a lot of reasons kids get excited at a party: their friends arrive, the rules fly out the window, and there are plenty of games, cake, ice cream and gifts. What could be more exciting to a kid? Your child is in the middle of all this excitement trying to take everything in.
You want to capture all this excitement, and you can't do that merely by standing in the corner panning back and forth with your wide-angle lens. You will need to spot some the best moments and focus in on those. Get down to where the action is!
So let's get creative. Let's imagine a party going on and the opportunities for some creative camera work that can make your resulting videos more exciting. I don't expect you to use all of these tips in one video (in fact, you shouldn't) but using two or three can enhance your storytelling.
Not all of your video has to be about what actually happens during the party. Some of it can be about your child's keen anticipation of what is coming up. These moments can be difficult to predict, so you will want your camera or smartphone fully charged and within easy reach. That way, when, say, a discussion comes up of what the child wants for their party, you will be ready to capture the moment.
Your pre-party video work can make great flashback material. For example, as your child opens the birthday presents, you might splice in a pre-party shot of your child telling you what they want to get for their birthday. Flashbacks can also be used to show the home before and after the devastation!
The Arrival Of Friends With Gifts
One good technique you can use to make your video more interesting is to capture some scenes from the child's perspective, commonly called "point of view" shots. You do this by literally getting down to the child's level.
You may be able to capture some interesting conversations among the children as they arrive. Encourage your birthday child to greet the first few arrivals. For an interesting effect, you can get on your knees and tape the scene from the height of the kids.
One common mistake amateur videographers make is moving the camera around too much while recording and making excessive use of pan and zoom. Your best results will come from using a tripod and focusing in on one scene at a time, rather than trying to capture everything that's going on during the entire party.
Another important tip is to make sure that you are between the subject and the light source, such as the windows, when recording. Otherwise, the subjects are likely to become silhouetted.
You don't want the auto exposure on your camera to overcompensate for the bright background and darken your subjects. Besides that, natural light is the best light source! Therefore, be sure to open all the curtains as fully as possible.
If your party is outdoors, maybe you can get some shots of the children going down the slide or swimming on the swing set. Try taking the camera down the slide, (with you holding it while standing on terra firma) or capture some video while swinging on the swing set. Perhaps you could even chase the kids through the jungle gym with your camera.
You can capture similar excitement indoors as you video the children in the rec room or while playing with the toys. You can always work in some point-of-view clips while editing the videos.
You can sit behind the children and peer through the crowd with your camera as they gather to watch the performance. Don't focus on the performer: focus on the children enjoying the show. Get a few shots of the children's faces as they watch the entertainer.
Let the Games Begin
Kids love game playing; it's one of the highlights of childhood. You can better capture the excitement if you immerse the viewer in the moment.
Take the opening of a piÃ±ata, for example. You can create a point of view scene before the party begins. Hold the camera and the stick so that only the stick is visible in the viewfinder. Wave the stick around and pretend to be trying to hit the piÃ±ata.
At the party, you can also hold the camera at child level and turn around a few times. This footage can later be spliced in with a moment of turning the child around.
During the party, capture the blindfolding of the children and their efforts to hit the piÃ±ata. The final edited video can show the children being blindfolded, spun around (with the footage of the point-of-view shot being edited in) waving the stick in their frantic efforts to connect with the piÃ±ata (with the second point-of-view shot spliced in) and finally the (hopefully) direct hit with the cascading of the toys and candy that results.
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The Birthday Procession
There are many different birthday traditions around the world, but common in the US is the lighting of the candles on the birthday cake, the Happy Birthday Song and the blowing out of the candles.
This is your opportunity to capture a view of the candles being lit, the procession of the children to the table, the singing, and the attempt of the birthday child to blow out the candles. You can create a grand feeling during this scene by using a wide angle shot to capture everyone who has attended the party.
Now Comes The Real Mess:
The eating of the cake and ice cream is a great opportunity to capture some shots of some cute, messy faces. Try to capture some wide-angle shots as well as some close-ups of the children.
During the editing, you could add in a slow-motion view of a scoop of ice cream as it falls off a spoon or a piece of cake that doesn't quite make it to a child's mouth!
Alternatively, you could increase the speed to show a child devouring a whole plate of cake or ice cream in a few seconds. Or try reversing a spill during editing to show it magically cleaning itself up. A few shots like this can create some humorous video, as long as you don't overdo it!
Finally, the Gifts
The gift opening does not always occur during the party. It's up to the parents to decide what would be best. Whenever it occurs, it can make for some fun video. Be sure to get some shots of your child's face and their reaction as they open each of their gifts.
A scene that can be captured anytime, (if you're really ambitious) is to cut a hole in the bottom of a box with some silly gift inside and insert the camera lens through this hole, and then to capture the child opening the box from the inside, along with their smile upon seeing the gift!
At this point, you can splice in some live footage you taped, captured before the party of your child describing what he or she would like to get with the actual gift opening as a flashback. A child's wishes coming true can make for some magical footage.
The Goodie Bags and Final Farewell
All that's left now are the goodie bags...and the mess! If you put a funny item in each of the bags that the children can wear, it can make for a great scene. These can include silly glasses, a funny clown nose, plastic tiaras or candy lips. Gather the children together and have them wave at the camera for a farewell scene in their new identities.
Editing the Video
Remember that some of the best work you can do will be on the "cutting room floor," so to speak. Your video will be made much better by the editing work that you do after the fact in a program such as Apple's iMovie, which has great features for editing, special effects, image stabilization and more.
Remember that a version of iMovie is also included on the iPhone and iPad, and while nothing beats having a large, 27-inch screen on which to do your editing work, you may find the editing features on these devices quite serviceable in a pinch.
Some Final Thoughts
I hope that this has given you a few ideas on how to create a more exciting birthday party video using appropriate camera angles and editing techniques. Remember that you should not try to use too many of these ideas in a single video.
With a little planning, the appropriate selection of camera angles during the party and a lot of editing, you can accomplish your goals and make a great video that can be cherished for a lifetime. Plus, you can adapt these techniques to any party situation. Good luck and have fun!
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