Shooting Video - Intro
This is a basic look at shooting video - tips, tricks and helps for you in all kinds of areas. This information is also extremely useful for photographers interested in 'framing' a shot.
Updated November 2015.
Framing The Shot
When you shoot video, get the action in the centre of the lens of the camera, unless going for an effect. Professional camera work has the subject nicely placed in the centre of the camera. Remember that your video camera viewfinder doesn't accurately represent either colour, or the actual scene your camcorder is shooting. What you film is usually a bit wider than the image you view in a viewfinder - one reason why people have a monitor on video shoots.
It is important when farming a subject, that you do not cut them off at the body joints. So, do not put the subject in the frame chopped off at the waist, at the kees, or at the shoulders. Instead, fix the shot so that the camera is either side of the joints. So for example
There is also the thirds rule, dividing the frame up into thirds and then framing the subject accordingly.
At other times, it's good to have a subject in the centre of the shot, again thinking about not cutting off 'joints' and following the thirds rule...
If the subject is facing a certain direction, then set the camera so that there is some 'air space' in the direction which they are facing. So, for example, in the shot below, the subject is facing to the right. Therefore, the subject is framed to the left, with air space to the right (in the direction they are facing). Other times this can work as a nice shot anyway, using the rule we looked at above.
If you are shooting video of people watching a talk, apply the same rule - leaving air space in the direction which they are facing. Make sure there isn't too much 'space' behind the subject you are shooting. If you have several people in shot, try not to cut off too many people's heads!
1. Use a Tripod
You must use a tripod unless its a quick, dramatic scene that doesn't need a tripod. The film is shakey without a tripod and looks very amateur-ish. And remember - get a tripod specific to shooting video, not just a cheapo one, if you can afford. . If you want smooth 'pans' (left to right motion) etc, then get a quality tripod - try spending at least £150 and going for Velbon, Manfrotto etc.
What happens when you buy a cheap tripod is that the movement is not steady so any panning looks messy and 'glitches'. Youj will also find that when you move the tripod head up and down, it will not stay in the place that you leave it, meaning that the camera shot will drop slightly.
Don't move the camera on its stand with the settings too tight. If you're using the camera's in-built mic, you'll pick up creaks from the stand moving (so loosen the camera stand or don't twist it).
It is wise to use a decent tripod and separate mic!!
2. Manual Focus
On most camcorders there is a basic automatic focus. This means that the camcorder decides on the focus to make sure images are sharp and 'in focus'. Something that is out of focus is commonly known as being 'soft'.
Remember too that black and white helps you focus in on a subject better than colour. To properly focus in manual mode, zoom the camera in on the furthest object away and bring that into focus. Once that is done, everything will be in focus. You may need to do this more than once during a shoot (as long as your camera isn't 'live' up on a screen!)
Use the manual focus to get different kinds of shots - to focus on the foreground object and then the background object. This is called 'Depth Of Focus'. You can also use the manual focus to cut between 'scenes' by blurring the focus at the start of a scene, then bringing the camera into focus for the next scene - or vice versa. You can only do this with manual focus. Some camcorders have a button to focus when using manual focus. Better cameras have a 'ring' around the lens of the camcorder.
Your touchscreen camcorder will have a setting whereby you can touch the screen and it will bring the 'subject' into focus. This can be very useful - use sparingly and carefully so as not to bash the camera when filming a delicate shot!
More professional cameras also have a back focus too. This needs to be brought into focus before the main focus is / can be. But this isn't an issue on domestic camcorders!
Make sure you film a number of what are called 'cutaways' which is like when a camera cuts to a close up on a person't face or an object. A cutaway can be a scene, a bunch of flowers, the sky, panning around the building etc. Basically anything that doesn't show that it was filmed at another time. One example may be that during a wedding video edit, you may have previously gilmed the roof of a beautiful church. A good cutaway shot when editing the video would be to intersect the 'roof' shot into the service.
These are useful for editing between shots and for covering gaps you may have left when filming or if there is a problem with filming or video capture. Always take lots of cutaways!
4. Take Varied Shots
Take a varied range of shots - long distance (to set a scene, for example a house filmed from distance), medium shots (for example the house in the frame of the shot) and close-ups (such as the door of the house).
If you have 2 cameras, have one camera taking a long or medium shot, and one taking a medium to close shot.
When setting the 'scene' of a shot, it's good to have a long-range camera shot as it gives the viewer a sense of location and scale. You can then go closer in to the subject. It can also function as a way of illustrating a topic - for example a person talking about mountain scenes, you then cut to a long-shot of mountains etc.
Careful When Zooming - have a reason
Try not to use zoomed shots too much (espeically in a live situation or edit). If you do so, make sure you do so in a controlled and very consistent way. On poor quality playback devices or from poor quality camcorders, the motion looks bad (unlike professional cameras) so try to avoid this. You will see some shoes that use step zooms to make the viewer feel part of a fast-moving action plot. But these are planned and carefully chosen. Zooming in and out rapidly / zooming randomly looks unprofessional and will result in dizzy viewers!
Consistency of the Shot
Think about the mood you want to create and then make sure you keep shots consistent, especially if you're filming at different times of the day or on different days. Some editing can be done in post-production but if you're shotting video in a room with windows and in one scene the shadows from the sun are one way and next minute the shadows are another way, it will look strange.
Or if you were doing quick edits from an 'interview' between interviewer and the person being interviewed, it would look strange if the sun is out for one shot and then it's out for the next and back for the next.
You will very likely need to do more than 1 take of each scene - be prepared. In fact it's a good idea especially if the script and action is the same. This way you get more 'takes' to decide which one is best. Or you can set up different camera angles for the same sequences.
Another trick is when you're filming different shots of the same scene with one camera, you will be doing some long shots and some close up shots etc. If for example you're filming an interview, make sure the people haven't changed their facial expressions before you zoom in to get a close-up shot etc. Otherwise you may have someone looking unhappy on one shot and then looking slightly happy on a close-up pretending to be of the same moment etc!
Hold the camera steady. Don't go jerking it around. If you need to move the camera in shot, think of creative ways of doing this. You can hire steadicam shoulder straps to hold the camera in a kind of cradle if needed - or a dolley for 'tracking' shots (when the camera is moved along what looks like a tram rail).
Capture raw footage if you're going to edit later. What is 'raw footage'? Well, it's plain and simply the shots you get with your digital camera that without any special effects added from the camera while filming. Very important if you're editing later as it means you have complete control over the captured film and can then do what you want with it. If your film has all kinds of random fades and colour effects, strobe effects etc. it is very difficult to assemble a consistent video later. Best way is to film the raw (un-edited) footage and then add these effects later.
Make sure lighting is good. Camcorders - and indeed all cameras - suffer in low-light conditions. You can adjust the level of light going into a camcorder manually, but this will add unwanted 'noise' into the image quality, so don't do this. Best thing is to get the lighting right.
Commonly, a powerful light is shone onto the subject from the front. However, there are times where a bright light (such as the sun) from above, can obscure the subject's eyes and cast unwanted shadows. In these cases, people can introduce a light from underneath the front of the subject - or even use a white board to reflect light. On other occasions, a less powerful light nehind the subject (backlighting) is introduced. This must be a lower level otherwise you'll have the problem of backlighting.
If you have just one light, it will need to be fairly powerful and you may also need a 'diffuser' to stop the light all being concentrated in one spot.
Some people will also use deflector screens / white boards underneath a subject to make sure their whole face is lit and there aren't lots of shadows on the face.
When Shooting Video Live, the Mix
A good tip when shooing live (with say, 2 cameras), is to have one camera doing close-ups and another doing longer shots. When the subject is talking generally, use wider / longer camera shots. When the subject is more personal or speaking more quietly, get closer up shots as they are more powerful.
Sound And Audio Tips
Remember that good audio is what sets apart a professional looking movie from an amateur one. The tip here is to have varied recording devices according to what you are filming. This way you get the very best audio. The absolute best is where everyone has a wireless tie clip mic that records to a separate recording unit (not the camera). You then record the camera audio as well and assemble the best sounding audio when you edit.
One tipif using a cheap tripos.. grip the camera firmly if you need to but dont move your hand - it picks up the noise. Best thing is to leave the camera and keep away from it while running.
So, you need a decent mic for good sound. Alternatively, film in a quiet place when nothing else is around (not in busy town centres, near buses, classrooms etc.) The camera person and others nearby must not speak at all while filming is in progress.If someone is holding the camera make sure they do not move their hand on the camera. Best put the camera on a stand and leave it set.
Get the subject close to the camera if using the on-camera mic. This way the mic is nearer them and you pick up less background noise. If you are interviewing someone and need to share a mic, you can either set a mic up out of camera shot (attaching the other end to the camera or a portable digital recording unit) - or you can hold a mic..
If you do use a mic, make sure the sound does not clip. What is clipping? It's when digital sound gets louder than it should do and distorts (it can also make a 'clipping' sound). The way to resolve this if using a proper wireless tie clip mic is to set the audio level low on both receiver and transmitter (but not too low) and test the audio, using headphones attached to whatever is recording the sound. This way you hear if the sound is too loud or not. Before recording, ask the subjects to speak loudly(as loud as they would speak) and as long as the level doesn't clip, you know the sound will be fine when they are speaking normally.
Alternatively, you can use a compressor (digital effects unit to help get a professional sound)placed before th erecording input - if recording to a static recording device (e.g. a laptop. (So you would have mic - to compressor - to laptop). Or just be careful with mic placement - ie. not too close to the subject. Think about watching documentaries. There's a sound man holding a mic (often with a black muffler on it) and it's out of camera shot and not right in the presenter's face.
I ofetn use a separate portable digital recording device as well, to make sure I have as many audio sources as possible - you never know when one may fail !
Staring and Ending
Remember to start shooting video 5-10 seconds before and leave camera filimg for 5-10 seconds after you finish recording the key parts of what you need to film. This way you have a bit extra space when it comes to editing and voices, images don't get clipped / cut.
Mark Your Tapes
In a complex project, someone needs a 'take' board or to speak in front of the camera to tell you which scene you're filming and what take it is when you come to edit it later. Make a note of which 'take' you think is best or what bits of each take are best. If you don't, you may not remember which 'take' you want and will end up watching all the footage over to get the right bits. Make sure you label any recording media you use or store it safely.
One 'special effects' tip is to move backwards from a subject while zooming in, or move forwards toward a subject while zooming out. Try it and see how it works. You'll notice this kind of 'effect' from movies once you see what it does. Again, be careful in doing this so you keep the camera as steady as possible.
Another 'special effects' tip is to use movement on a camera in-between scenes. Then to fade the scenes in together. What do I mean? Well, say you're filming scenery clips. You may pan left across a river scene. Then separately you pan right across a forest scene. When you edit the 2 scenes together, fade between the 2 scenes. It creates a nice effect. You may decide to 'theme' your short movie with this kind of edit.
Using 2 Cameras
If you are using 2 cameras or indeed filming scenes more than once to get different camera angles, remember this:
a. Make sure your sujects do exactly the same thing and on the same day. Any differences in movement, clothing, weather will be obvious (this is why it's better to have 2 cameras running simultaneously)
b. If you use more than 2 cameras, make sure one camera doesn't pick up the other camera!
c. Remember that if you are filming close-ups on 2 people talking, keep the cameras on the same side of each subject throughout that scene. So, keep camera 2 and 3 where they are. Don't film part of a scene with the cameras where they are in the image below, then cut and swap cameras 2 and 3. It will look very strange to the viewer as they will lose a sense of where one person is in relation to another.
Remember also to have cameras that have the same quality and consistency - don't use one cheap camcorder, and one high-end camcorder. You, and everyone else, will notice the difference and it will be a real problem.
A Script Is Essential
Without a decent script sorted out before filming, your film will drift and not be effective. Get down a basic plot and outline before filming. Here is an example of the first 4 scenes of a drugs misuse video we made..
Lisa is on cathedral green doing a deal with Arron
Sharna is at home, wants some drugs so phones Lisa. Dialogue between Lisa and Sharna which ends with arranging to meet in the Guildhall
Lisa walks off to the Guildhall
Girls sitting in Guildhall on a wall drinking. Lisa arrives, bit of argument, then Sharna arrives and they do the deal. Lisa and Sharna walk off and start looking in different shop windows.
Plan Your Camera Shots
These need to be much more detailed. Think about transitions (changes) between scenes. How will they be smooth? Relate camera shots to the action. Fast action means fast, quick changing shots. Slow action means longer shots. Mix up close ups and long-shots. Use long shots to set the scene. Here is the first 4 scenes of our video broken down into camera shots to help..
- Long-shot of Cathedral Green - we can see Arron and Lisa in the background
- Close up to Arron and Lisa doing the deal
- Sharna at home, talks to herself - I need sorting Ill phone Lisa
- Phone rings go close up to Lisa and one cut back to show Arron looking around
- As the 2 talk we need to cut between the 2 locations which means doing dialogue twice
- Cut to see both Lisa and Arron as Lisa walks off to the Guildhall and Arron goes other way
- We see Lisa walk down street
- Then Lisa walking across High Street
- Shot of girls sitting in Guildhall on a wall drinking so we can also see people
- Lisa walking through Guildhall
- Shot just of the girls mucking around
- Then shot outside Sainsburys filming as Lisa walks down into where little church is
- Lisa arrives, few words with girls, Lisa pacing around - shot with all this in
- Shot as Sharna arrives with Lisa saying whereve you been?
- Cut to close shot of the deal.
- Long shot of the 2 looking around them. Dialogue.
- Lisa and Sharna walk off and start looking in different shop windows - see both shops
- Cut to girls talking - Sarah runs off to find security or someone
Remember that when cutting from one scene to another, it sometimes helps the viewer to watch the subject go out of shot of the camera, before re-appearing in the next scene (especially where they have changed location, say from the car to a house).