For years I avoided owning a camcorder. I would watch video shot by other people all the time but I seldom produced any of my own. This is because I was never satisfied with the movies I made after my attempts to use a camcorder.
My first problem is that I would capture endless hours of useless video footage. Secondly, my movies looked like a montage of bad camera handling and worse jump cuts. Friends and family left my home movie viewings suffering from vertigo and boredom. That’s a wicked combination too; you don’t feel too well but your mind is too numb to care.
Everything changed after I purchased my first compact digital camera. Maybe I should qualify that a little more and say that my attitude toward video changed, I was still quite capable of creating horrible movies. Digital cameras didn’t improve my skills; they just made it easier to delete my mistakes.
Since my compact Canon digital camera was so small it was always with me. I found that I started to seek out opportunities to shoot video so that I could improve my skills. Along the way I found a few tips that are easy to put into practice.
First, if you think about it most of the scenes we see on TV shows are made up of a whole bunch of three to six second takes all cut together. Look at the second hand on your watch, six seconds is a pretty decent amount of time. Now the lesson I learned isn’t that we have to cut a whole bunch of takes together to make a scene. Nope, we just need to make sure that we record at least four to six seconds every time we hit the record button and start shooting.
Second tip: Talk while shooting. Ain’t nothing so boring as a slow left to right pan across some scenic overlook when all we get to hear is wind noise. I guarantee that the viewer will never be as impressed with the view as you are. In this case the message and excitement are in your voice and the video is simply the supporting player.
Third: Don’t zoom while filming. Yeah, our cameras can zoom and shoot video at the same time but we really shouldn’t do it. Why? Because we’re no good at it! Seldom do you ever see a movie, TV show or news footage where the camera lens zooms. “Don’t” isn’t the same as “Never”. Zoom lenses are necessary and useful tools sometimes, just understand that it takes practice to use one and make it look good in the final movie.
Number four: Keep it short. That two hour tour you took of the Scottish castle was fascinating. You were there, we weren’t. You may well record the entire tour for your own use but don’t inflict the experience on others. Rather edit the tour to about ten or twelve minutes (or roughly five to eight minutes per event hour). Think about it this way, for the person on the tour they have tremendous range of vision; they can look anywhere and take it all in. When the guide hits a boring part the person on the tour can study the fine tapestry on the wall. However those of us who watch the video of the tour are captives of the camera’s lens; we can only see what the lens was pointed at.
Five: Learn to edit. Yes, I saved the big one for last. Editing doesn’t have to be complicated. Really, if the photographer simply removes the bad shots and the needless scenes any video will be instantly 100% more watchable. Cutting footage out of a series of videos is easy and it can even be a little fun too. Free editors like Mac’s iMovie or Window’s Movie Maker can handle simple and basic edits such as scene deletion. Moving up to Adobe’s Premiere Elements keeps the simplicity but adds a ton more functionality.
That’s it, five easy ways to get better video. Shooting video with compact digital cameras can be fun and the results can be entertaining. While the whole subject of shooting video is very deep, in this article I’ve only touched on a few bare bones tips. Video is one of those activities that can be fun to learn while doing.
By the way, here is a little more information in support of the six second scene length mentioned in the first tip. This year select Canon compact digital cameras will feature a “Movie Digest” mode. With this mode enabled the camera will take four to six second HD movie clips each time a still image is shot. At the end of the day the camera’s computer will compile the movie clips into a complete movie ready for viewing on an HDTV. Imagine, an entire vacation day turned into an HD movie and the photographer didn’t sit at a computer for one second to cut it together. Not too bad!