Let’s face it, sometimes watching even your own home videos can be an exercise in patience and tolerance. Too often home videos are full of shaky uncommitted moves and swoops, quick “swish” pans, and poor lighting. That once-in-a-lifetime ballet recital or award ceremony can virtually be lost forever because of poor videotaping practice or a simple lack of knowledge.
In the world of home videos, a little knowledge can go a long way. You don’t have to be certified as a cinematographer or schooled in the technique of applying film theory in order to create home videos that will make you proud. No matter what type of camera you have, you can use your knowledge to set up interesting shots and become skilled at recording the priceless events and people in your life. The four basic steps listed below are a great way to begin your video adventure:
1) Know your camera. There are literally hundreds of video cameras on the market today, and each one has individual features. While this is not an article on how to buy a video camera, make sure you shop around for the one that will fit your needs. Talk to salespeople who are trained in video equipment, and who regularly use the cameras. Once you purchase the perfect camera and get it home, make sure to read the manual that comes with it. This is a very simple step, but one which is forgotten by most people. Read the whole thing.
Many people read the most basic information and once the camera is set up, they toss the manual into a box and forget about it. All camera manuals will contain vital information that will help you fully understand your camera’s features, as well as the correct usage and even creative techniques. If you don’t know what your camera can do, or how to use all of the features it contains, you will not be able to create the best videos your camera can make.
While learning about your camera, be sure to take lots of test shots. Read the manual and test each feature under different conditions. Talk to the camera as you test, so you can refer to the tapes later and remember the conditions of each shot. Test indoors and outdoors, under different lighting conditions. Many features on your camera, such as fade, will not show up in your viewfinder as you are actually making the fade. But once you rewind the tape and play it back to review, you will see the featured effect on your tape.
2) Commit to your shots. One of the most difficult things about watching home videos is the shakiness and swishing back and forth between shots. This tends to happen because the cameraperson wants to record all of the action going on at once. It is important to know that while our eyes can record the action of an entire room, a video camera cannot. Therefore, it is crucial to choose a shot and stay with it for at least three seconds before switching to something else.
Make your pans very controlled and slow. Hold the camera as steady as you can, or place it on a tripod for greater stability. If you are filming a child’s birthday party, for instance, choose one child to focus the camera on, for at least three seconds. Then, slowly pan over to the next child, or slowly zoom out to capture the entire table of gifts. Make your moves deliberately and make sure to control the camera movement.
Many cameras, and most recent ones, have a “flying erase head,” which means that you can start recording, hit stop and then start recording again at will. When you watch the tape, you will see seamless cuts rather than a fuzzy glitch every time you stopped and started the machine. These flying erase heads make it possible for you to actually “edit” your videos on the fly during filming. Depending on the event you are capturing, make sure to plan your shots ahead of time.
You can even practice smoothly zooming in and out on your subject if possible. Take a shot, stay controlled and stable for at least three seconds, hit stop, and then look around to find your next shot. Set it up, practice if you need to, and then hit record. You will be pleased with the results. Don’t get too hasty, and always make sure to make controlled, deliberate movements with as little camera jitter as possible.
3) Watch your composition. In all camera shots, there are certain aesthetics that naturally please the eye. If you know some of them, you can consciously use them to make your home videos a notch above the others. A few are listed below:
Rule of thirds – This is a basic rule wherein you make sure that the eyes of your “talking head” (a shot which is a close-up of someone’s face from the chest or neck up) are located about two-thirds of the way up the screen. This gives a proper perspective and is much more aesthetically pleasing than having their eyes in the middle of the screen.
Change the size of subjects – When you are shooting a home video, what you are doing, in effect, is putting together a string of individual shots to make up a whole. In the video world, it is important to realize that how you put those shots together makes a difference in how natural the video is. In most cases, it is preferable to change the “size” of your subjects from shot to shot.
For instance, if you have a close-up of someone’s face and they are talking to the camera, it is preferable that you would then follow that shot with at least a medium shot of someone else or a long shot of the entire room. In the close-up, your subject is quite large (their head fills the screen), while in the next shot, the subject or subjects are smaller in relation to the screen. If you followed a close-up with another close-up, the cut would be more jarring to the viewer.
Remember eyes follow movement – When setting up your shot, keep in mind that our eyes are naturally drawn to movement on the screen. For example, if your subject is in a park and talking to the screen, but is standing in front of a playground full of children which can be seen in the shot, just know that the viewer will be watching the children play rather than listening to the subject speak.
Make sure to place your subjects where they won’t be upstaged by background movement. In addition to placing your subjects, you can also move yourself to make sure that the shot will not include background action. In the example of the subject with children in the background, your subject could stay where she is and if you move, then suddenly the children are no longer in the shot.
4) Watch your lighting. One of the things that set home video apart from the professional video is the lighting. A professional camera crew uses lights and filters to enhance the look of their subjects. This is usually not possible or preferable when shooting home videos. But there are several tips you can keep in mind to make the best use of the light you do have:
Do not shoot a backlit subject – Backlighting occurs when the primary light source is coming from behind your subject or scene. This could be a table lamp, sunlight, or campfire, for instance. Backlighting will make your subject’s face too dark to see clearly, or could even result in a complete silhouette of your subject. Unless that is what you want (and in some cases, you may), make sure to stay away from backlighting. Move your camera or your subject so the source of light is at least to the side rather than behind them.
Choose shots that are well-lit – Sometimes it is possible to manipulate a scene and dictate where your subject stands or sits. If this is possible, always choose the spot that is the best lighting-wise.
Use camera features to compensate for bad lighting – Many cameras offer features that can be used in low-light situations, such as gain, or different aperture settings. This is where knowing your camera comes in handy, and when you are forced to shoot in low- or poorly-lit situations, you will know what your camera is capable of.
Watch shadows on the subject – Sometimes the light in a room can create strange shadows on your subject. This can be used deliberately for a comical or dramatic effect, but if that was not your intention, it can be disappointing. Always look at how the light is falling on your subject, and set up the shot for an optimum look. Be aware of shadows and dark spaces. Train your eye to notice these things.
These four basic steps to shooting home videos may seem daunting at first, but in reality, many of the steps can become second nature with just a little practice. Have fun with your tests and allow yourself a learning curve as you seek to master the basics. Before you know it, you’ll be creating home videos that everyone wants to watch!These four basic steps