Learning how to shoot video is, for the most part, on-the-job training. We assume you have taken at least one still photograph in your life. You get the person or other subject in the frame and press the button. Well that’s basically how shooting video works. You frame your subject and press record. How you frame your subject, what your background is, how the audio is recorded, the quality of the lighting, and a myriad of other things, will make your video either spectacular or lousy. Here are a few tips:
Use the Rule of Thirds – when framing your subject. Mentally divide the image you see in the viewfinder into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. Put your subject under one of the lines of intersection. Give the subject some room to move in the viewfinder. Be especially aware of your background too.
Properly light the scene – This doesn’t mean you need to go out and purchase a professional light kit. Understand that your camcorder adjusts for light, or lack of it, automatically. If you are shooting a subject that is standing in front of the sun, chances are that the subject will be a black shadow. Avoid bright backgrounds and also, at the other extreme, avoid poorly lit areas.
Avoid using the zoom buttons – at least while recording. This doesn’t mean don’t use the zoom feature, but try zooming before you hit record. Now shoot some video, pause, zoom in or out, and then record some more. Excessive zooming can make people feel a bit ill. Also, using the extreme zoom settings magnifies the unsteadiness of a handheld camcorder. Use a tripod if at all possible.
Use a tripod! – Holding the camera steady is important to good video. Also, with a good video tripod, one with a so called "fluid" head, you can follow your subject with a smooth panning motion. "Hand-held vs. Tripod"
Vary the shots that you take – Have a good game plan in mind of what should be in a shot and try to shoot the subject from different perspectives. Don’t use the camcorder like a firefighter using a fire hose.
Don’t forget about audio – Remember you are not just recording video. Be aware of noises in the background. Our brains do a good job of blocking out background noise, camcorders sometimes don’t. If you are shooting the history of George Washington with some actors, sounds of cars whizzing by in the background doesn’t sound realistic. Also, use headphones to make sure that the audio is audible. Note in the picture at the top of the page that the videographers are using headphones or earphones. You may need to use an external microphone, either a lapel mic or a boom mic, that picks up the subject’s voice better. If you’re shooting from a distance, a "shotgun" mic is often used.
More good information is available at the Media College website.
Shopping for a camcorder has never been an easy experience, but there has been constant improvement in the quality of video that can be obtained. Before you buy a camera, know what your final destination for your video is. Is it YouTube? Then you won’t need the most expensive camera since most do some form of high definition (HD) video. However, YouTube does offer HD quality video on their site, so high quality web video is now an option. Will you be making a DVD? Again an inexpensive camera will suffice. Will you make a Blu-ray disc? Even the relatively inexpensive HD cameras will still do. Will you just re-watch it on your TV? Make sure you’ve got the right cables to make the connection. If you’ve got an HDTV, you’ll probably need an HDMI cable. If you’re ready to shop, you can start with Cnet’s camcorder reviews. Otherwise, here’s what to look for in a video camera (AKA camcorders):
- HD – Determine if you want to do HD video or not. Though it’s getting harder not to. The advantages are that you have the high resolution to output to an HDTV. The disadvantage is that HD is more time consuming to edit.
- Automation – Decide whether you want a camera that you just set on automatic and it does everything for you, or if you want to control exposure, focus, audio, etc. It is strongly recommended that you get a camera that at least gives you manual focus control. Auto-focus is nice, but there will be times when the camcorder won’t know what you are trying to focus on. You can fix bad exposure (somewhat) in a video editing program. You can’t fix focus after the fact.
- Media Types – The ways in which you can store video are constantly evolving. DV Tape, mini-DVD, hard disk, and SD memory cards are all used to store your recorded video. So which one should you choose? Whichever format you decide to go with, make sure you know what you need to transfer your video from the camera to the computer. The newer AVCHD format is gaining support for editing. However, you need a very fast (i.e new) machine to edit AVCHD in real-time. Here’s a video round-up of AVCHD editors.
- Audio – Most people don’t think about audio when they look for video cameras, but it is at least equally important. Imagine these two scenarios. Scenario one, you recorded a lecture, but you forgot to take off the lens cap and you only got the audio. Well, that’s a big problem, but you can at least post the audio somewhere and people can listen. Scenario two, you get great video images from your camcorder, but you were far enough away from the speaker that the audio is inaudible. Unless you were going for the silent movie effect, your video is pretty useless. That’s why good audio is so important to good video. Bad audio is very noticeable. Good audio isn’t noticed at all. Look for a camera that has an external microphone input, so you have the option to add a quality microphone. Also look for a camera that has a headphone jack so you can monitor the audio that is being recorded. There’s a good reason why you see professional videographers wearing a set of headphones. They don’t want the surprise of unwanted sounds being captured. A good directional (like a “shotgun” mic), lapel, or handheld microphone will do better than a camera’s on-board microphone almost every time.
- Image Quality – How important is video image quality to you? Cameras with multiple video sensors will give a better image (generally) than single sensor cameras, but they cost more.
- Photos – Do you want your camcorder to have the ability to take photos too? Keep in mind that you won’t get the resolution (generally) that you get from your digital still camera.
- Image stabilization – There are also cameras with image stabilizers that reduce the shakiness of handheld video, so you may want one with that feature. They’re handy if you are zooming way into the action and you need a steadier shot. They have a limit to how steady the video will appear. Tripods are better tools to use to get steady video.
- Firewire – While firewire connections generally only come on cameras that use the DV format, there is another advantage of having a camera with firewire. You can record live video directly to the hard drive of a computer, or use the camera as a high quality web cam by using the firewire connection. Look for this technology to fade into the sunset soon.
- HDMI – In the high definition (HD) video era this kind of connection is becoming ubiquitous. It will soon take the place of Firewire and with the proper hardware (usually the new Thunderbolt ports) can do live recording/streaming.
Photo By OndraSoukup