31 Online Guide to Better Home Video

The 31 Online Guide to Better Home Video has been designed to help the amateur videographer shoot better home video. Although your camera's instruction booklet is the best source of information about your camera's operations it won't tell you how to shoot better home video. This guide will help you do just that...shoot better home video. These techniques apply to both video and film cameras.

Thank you,
Jeffrey S. Raker
Chief Photojournalist WAAY-TV

Selecting the Proper Camera Filter

Most video cameras have two filter positions: These two filter positions are self-explanatory. The "daylight" filter is for shooting outside and the "inside" filter for shooting indoors. When shooting inside, you may find that your video has a blue cast to it, even though you've used the correct "indoor" filter. The problem may be that even though you're shooting inside, the predominant light source is "daylight." The bright daylight is turning your video blue. In cases where the major light source is "daylight," use your "outside" filter. It will remove the blue cast and give your video a warmer, more natural tone.

When shooting outside at night, you should use your indoor filter. Remember to "white-balance" the camera under the proper lighting conditions, such as a street light or the headlights of your car.

White Balancing The Camera

What is "white-balancing"?

All video cameras have a "white-balance" button. Some have "preset" white balance, while others are manual.

When you white-balance, you are telling the camera to set itself internally to give you the proper colors according to the type of light in which you will be shooting.

To "white balance," you are telling the camera to set itself internally to give you the proper colors according to the type of light in which you will be shooting. To "white-balance," simply point the camera at a white sheet of paper (fill the frame with white) and then press the "white-balance" button. Most video cameras have an indicator in the viewfinder that will tell you when your camera is properly white- balanced. (Check your camera instruction manual for the location and use of white-balance button and viewfinder indicator.)

Chief's Tricks:
  • Anytime you change light sources, you need to re-white-balance.
  • Example: If you go from inside your house to outside in your back yard, you must again white-balance and change you camera's filter from indoors to outdoors.
  • The rule of thumb: Anytime a different light source is introduced to the camera, you must "white-balance."

Holding The Camera Steady

We all have seen home movies that have made us seasick. Nothing is more frustrating to an audience than a shaky photographer. Here are some tips to help you shoot steadier video.

Adjust the camera handle so the camera rides on your shoulder comfortably.

Some of the new smaller format cameras do not have handles. Just grip the side of the camera. Which ever camera you have, remember to tuck your elbows into your chest. It will give you and your camera more support when shooting for long periods of time.

Place your free hand under the focus ring, so you may move it easily to focus.

The use of solid objects that are readily available also can help steady your video. Lean up against a wall, a pole, a chair or a car. Chances are if it's not moving, it will be steadier than you are. Take advantage of these natural tripods.

Which brings me to the one piece of equipment that no photographer-still, video or film-should be without: a tripod. There is no better way to get steady video than with a tripod. All other supports are just second choices to the tripod. All other supports are just second choices to the tripod. If you don't already have one, go out and get one. There are many inexpensive tripods for home video cameras on the market today.

Chief's Tricks:
    When you want steady video, use the wide angle feature of your lens instead of the zoom or telephoto. Most home video is shot too far away from the subjects. You'll get steadier video and a much more personal story.

The Moving Movie Camera

When the first movie cameras were brought out they were called moving cameras. That was OK; they recorded moving pictures, a new and exciting form of entertainment. Then some fellow decided that the camera should move-not the action. That was good also but only in moderation.

A moving camera is hard for the audience to follow and understand.

If there was only one thing that I could tell you, it would be: "don't use your zoom lens." The zoom was placed on cameras so the photographer wouldn't have to carry a lot of lenses. The zoom makes it easy to go from a wide to a tight angle without having to change lenses. Many amateur photographers believe that because the zoom feature is on the camera that it's OK to use it. Wrong! Resist the urge to use the zoom like a slide on a trombone, in and out. Professional photographers can edit out the zooms. Most of you don't have editing systems, so you should learn to edit in the camera. Try to turn the camera off while changing from wide to telephoto. Your video camera is designed to make clean in-the-camera edits.

Panning The Camera

Amateur photographers pan entirely too much. Don't pan. If you can't get everything in one picture, then take two or three shots so that everything is included. You and your camera are there to record the action of an event, not to create action.

Chief's Tricks:
    Don't zoom and don't pan your camera. Let the action move in front of your camera. Your eye doesn't zoom or pan. It moves from one position to another. Learn to shoot like your eyes see the action. You'll create memorable and lasting home video.

Shooting Like The Pro

As a photojournalist, I have developed a way of thinking that is "visual." You, too, must train your mind to think "visually." The professional television photographer shoots in a "video sequence." That video sequence is made up of three basic shots: wide shot, medium shot, close-up shot. The "wide" shot establishes the scene and orients the viewer to the location where the story is taking place. The "medium" shot starts to draw attention to the main subject of the video. It adds more visual information about the main subject. The "close-up" shot allows us to get personal with the main subject-our best look at the subject.

Remember when I talked about letting camera see what your eye sees? The "sequence-shooting" technique was adapted to the camera because that is the way the eye sees action. Through the eye and brain you instantly see wide, medium and close-up shots. In shooting home video, simply slow down the process with the three-shot sequence. The "cut away" is a neutral shot used to take attention away from the main action, so we can show reaction to the event.

Example: You are video taping a little league baseball game. Your son comes to bat and hits a home run. You shoot him running the bases and then turn and shoot your wife and kids cheering in the stands. The shot of your wife and kids is a "cut away." This shot has allowed you to get away from the main action. Now you may start shooting again or to transcend space and time-compress it if you will.

Story Telling

The toughest thing to do with a video camera is tell a story, but it can be done. Like any good movie maker, you need to have a plan: a script. The plan or script doesn't need to be elaborate. It can be as simple as a mental outline of what you want the story to do and say. All good story plans have a beginning, middle and an end. The beginning is the introduction of the story. It tells the viewer what the story is about and where it will be taking place. The middle is where you are, as a movie maker, give the main information about the players in the main subject of the story. This is the meat of the story. The plot is developed in the middle of the story. The ending is the culmination of all the action that transpired in the beginning and middle of your story. The resolution of all conflict, questions and plots. It is very important for your stories to have a beginning, middle and end. If you don't , you will have a collection of moving snap shots and no story.

Chief's Tricks:
    The easiest way to create a story plan is to examine what you are about to shoot. Break it down to the very basics of what is going to happen. Get your wide shot to establish where you are and what the story is going to be about. This is the beginning. Break that opening wide shot down into several medium shots and then into even closer close-up shot. As you do this, you will begin to see a story starting to develop before you. What you are doing is what every good movie maker has done since Sergei Eisenstein (the father of modern film editing): building in a middle. Then complete the action with shots that show the end of the activity: close-up, medium and wide shot- the reverse of the shot sequence that started your story. This makes for a good ending to a story.

Closing Remarks

There is no greater art than photography. It records us as we are: strong, weak, right or wrong. We as photographers are entrusted with the present so the future shall know its past and learn from our fortunes (and misfortunes). These are a few tips that will improve your home video recordings. I hope the Online Home Video Guide proves to be useful.

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