Top 10 Tips for Shooting Great Looking Videos

Discussion in 'Amateur Video Production' started by gary.hendricks.user, Sep 24, 2005.

  1. Here is an article I've written previously about shooting good digital
    videos. I hope it'll be useful to some of you in this forum.

    Guidelines for Shooting Quality Videos
    by Gary Hendricks

    The best way of avoiding these problems is to learn some basic video
    shooting skills. You need not learn complex cinematography or
    directorial skills, of course. But you should have some fundamental
    knowledge of what goes into a good video shoot and doesn't. Let's take
    a look at these shooting tips in turn:

    1. Avoid Zooming In and Out Too Much
    Many digital camcorders come with a super duper 1000X zoom in and zoom
    out feature. This is a good thing, but the problem is, many people get
    carried away. I've seen countless videos which keep zooming in and out
    during the shoot - they generally succeed in giving me a bad headache.
    Use the zoom in and out feature sparingly. Even if you must use it, do
    it slowly. A slow, well-controlled zoom is much more professional
    looking than a quick zoom. Another tip is to restrict the usage of the
    zoom in between scenes.

    2. Steady Does It
    The professionals always say "Keep It Steady". There is no doubt that
    when we're shooting videos, our hands tend to vibrate a little. If the
    vibration is too much, it will badly affect the quality of the video
    footage. There are two ways to overcome this. One way is to do it like
    the professionals - get a good tripod stand. These can be obtained
    rather cheaply. Another way is to brace yourself against something like
    a wall, or perhaps stoop down on your knee while filming.

    3. Where Are You?
    One tip that I've picked up while shooting family vacations is to
    always, always look for a landmark, a sign or natural monument that
    tells the audience where you are. Do you notice the professionals do
    this as well? For example, in the movies, you may see the camera
    zooming in on the Statue of Liberty first, before cutting to a scene
    that happens within. Or there is a shot of the White House before the
    director cuts into a scene within the Oval Room. Another tip is to make
    the people you're filming talk or smile. This makes the whole video
    much more lively and interesting.

    4. The End or The Beginning?
    Another good video shooting trick is to use the end of the story at the
    start of the video. Again, experts do this all the time. If you're
    filming a wedding video, you can start off with an interview of the
    happily married couple on the wedding day before you cut off into
    scenes of how they met, how they grew up, etc.

    5. Keep Them Short and Simple
    Never, ever, shoot long, drawn out video clips of more than two
    minutes. It bores the audience to death! Using many short clips of 5 to
    10 seconds duration is much more effective. It also brings variety to
    the audience. Imagine if a television commercial lasted two minutes
    focusing on the same video scene - wouldn't that be boring?

    6. Lighting, Lighting, Lighting
    Of all the factors listed here, nothing spoils a video shoot as much as
    poor lighting. I've seen many innovative videos marred by poor
    lighting. One important tip is to shoot video with the light source
    behind you, shining on the subject. An example is an outdoor shot where
    the sun is shining. Make sure the sun shines on your subject and not on
    your camera lens! Another tip is to use the camera's backlight feature
    if there is one. It allows you to compensate for overly bright light.

    7. Change Your Perspective
    Don't limit your shots to one angle only. Approach your subject from
    all angles. Come from behind, come from the top, whatever. Perhaps you
    can even film yourself walking up the steps and opening a bedroom door
    before reaching your subject.

    8. Learn from The Movies
    You'd be surprised how much you can learn about shooting video from the
    movies. Very often, we just sit down and let the movie scenes come at
    us without considering what went through the director's mind. Try it -
    for once, when you watch your next movie, consider how the director
    framed that shot or scene. You will learn a lot and maybe even get
    interested in directing films!

    9. Conserve the Battery
    I've seen or heard so many people forgetting about the battery that I
    must emphasize it here. Please buy extra batteries! Preferably two
    extra batteries. Nothing is worse than shooting a video outdoors and
    having the battery die on you. Also, always bring the AC adapter too -
    so that you can charge your current battery whenever time permits. You
    can get camcorder batteries at great prices by following this link.

    10. Check The Sound
    This tip may not be important for the average home user. But if you're
    a serious videographer, you'll have a microphone attached to your
    camcorder. Microphones are an essential tool for sound focusing and
    result in better audio quality during video shoots. You can find very
    good prices on microphones at this website.

    It's not tough picking up better shooting skills. Once you've learnt
    the basics, I assure you it will come to you very naturally, almost
    like riding a bicycle or swimming. If you're truly interested in
    enhancing your shooting skills, I'd recommend you take a look at one of
    the following books. They were a great resource for me when I was
    started out in digital videography.

    Best Regards,
    Gary Hendricks
    gary.hendricks.user, Sep 24, 2005
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  2. gary.hendricks.user

    Brian Guest

    Thanks Gary for the useful tips.

    In Tip number 5 you suggusted keep them short and simple but I'd
    suggest that the photographer record a scene longer than he wants and
    then in the editing make it shorter as you can't add extra recording
    that you don't have should you need to. A few times I've been caught
    out and wished I had recorded something longer.

    My tip is to get to know your camera better. Video camera's come with
    many useful features but often people tend to forget about them or
    can't remember how to activate a special feature when needed.

    Another tip is don't use the video camera like a still camera. A
    friend of mine who had taken photos with a 35mm camera a lot used a
    video camera for the first time and ended up with a lot of still video
    shots. There was no zooming, panning or objects that moved.

    Regards Brian
    Brian, Sep 25, 2005
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  3. gary.hendricks.user

    AnthonyR Guest

    Hi Gary,
    Thanks for the advice, lots of great tips there. But about no. 5, hmmm
    I guess it depends on the type of video and the intended audience. I mean if
    it's a family video
    meant to be viewed only by the familym then shooting what appears to be long
    boring scenes to others
    can become treasured moments that someday, you wished were much longer.

    Imagine watching a home video of your parents which have long passed away,
    only to see 10 or 15 seconds of them at a time?
    It would get fustrating after awhile. I watch video's of family reunions
    from 22 years ago, and wonder to myself why I didn't spend even more time
    taping each individual person. It was usually a fast pace video, I kept it
    short and sweet not to be boring but looking back now, i wish
    I had my dad walking slowly down the block, the way I remember. At least a
    minute of it which would have captured his essense. Showing a person walking
    in and out might seem boring now but later on it's fascinating observing how
    people have changed, how they've slowed down, simple everyday stuff like
    walking is a good example.
    So I would add a disclaimer, if it's a family video meant for posterity,
    long thorough shots of every person is preferred to the quick scan style you
    see on tv shows.
    It's all about who will watch the video in the end.
    If it's not a family video, wedding, or other event, then short and sweet is
    Hey, we can't all be perfect directors but I felt my opinion on this might
    help some. :)

    Thanks again,
    AnthonyR, Sep 25, 2005
  4. gary.hendricks.user

    AnthonyR Guest

    How funny is this, I didn't read Brians post till after I replied, lol.
    And also good advice about shooting long scenes and editing them to more
    shorter scenes later on,
    this allows for wipes and fades better and generally easier to edit if their
    is more material to choose from.
    Also good advice.
    AnthonyR, Sep 25, 2005
  5. gary.hendricks.user

    PTravel Guest

    The trick, though, is to cut the scenes so that there's continuity and flow.
    Short, discontinuous scenes would get annoying. However, imagine a wide,
    establishing shot showing your long-dead parents at a family gathering, cut
    to a two shot of your father talking with your uncle Louie, cut to a close
    up of Louie's face, then a close up of your father, then perhaps a medium
    shot showing your mother looking on at the two talking. That says something
    about the relationship between your father and your uncle and your mother --
    a lot more than just having the camera running and recording all every
    single second for 15 minutes, punctuated by a lot of zooming in and out and
    shaky walking around.

    My hobby is travel video (my wife and I travel internationally a lot). My
    "standard" scene is 4 seconds, with 3 seconds for a static shot. Of course,
    as Gary suggested, I always book-end each shot when I'm taping so that I'm
    sure to have enough material.

    It's a matter of taste, I suppose. One thing I did do was tape a
    1-hour+interview with my mother, who passed away a few years later. I put
    the camera on a tripod, used a good mike and made sure the lighting was
    good. I then just had her talk about the family, my father, her memories,
    etc. THAT tape is, of course, priceless, and I wouldn't edit a second out
    of it.

    However, I also edited my wedding video a few years ago. Except for the
    ceremony itself (which we usually skip over), I found the 4-second rule
    worked very well.
    PTravel, Sep 25, 2005
  6. gary.hendricks.user

    Ty Ford Guest

    Thanks guys. I trotted out my new XL2 this weekend for the community picnic
    and after dumping everything into the laptop, I realized that that I had
    overdone it with the zooming. No problem, though as I could pick a spot
    during editing.

    40 minutes of shooting ended up about 6 minutes finished; about a 7:1 ratio.
    How's that?


    Ty Ford

    -- Ty Ford's equipment reviews, audio samples, rates and other audiocentric
    stuff are at
    Ty Ford, Sep 25, 2005
  7. gary.hendricks.user

    AnthonyR Guest

    see comment in middle

    Hi PTravel,
    Excellent! You got to do it, I always thought i would do that in my head and
    even though I have
    plenty of gathering shots, never did an actual interniew with my dad or mom.
    My brothers and sister and I sure would love a dvd of something like that
    He was a terrific story teller and I could have filled hours of tape just
    asking him question
    on his past life experiences. However i do always recommend that to friends

    Glad to hear you captured that. :)
    And i appreciate the advice also.
    AnthonyR, Sep 25, 2005
  8. gary.hendricks.user

    David McCall Guest

    I often wonder if it would make more sense to not edit
    very much and just put it on DVDs with chapter points
    to mark all of the important bits. Rather than sitting
    down to watch a "movie" of that family reunion, you
    could just jump to the parts that might be of particular
    interest at the time.

    I came up with this idea in an industrial context. Often a
    company will get a new piece of complex equipment
    and the manufacturer will send a guy out to train your
    people on the use of that unit. Sometime this guy was
    on the team that built and/or designed the equipment or
    the instalation. He will pass on information that isn't in
    the manual. It would be valuable if that visit is taped in
    it's entirity while trying to get as much visual as you can
    in real time. It isn't going to make a very interesting or
    pretty movie, even if you do edit it, but you could just
    break it into chapters, so that people in the future can
    just view the parts that may have the clues they need.

    David McCall, Sep 25, 2005
  9. #3 could always be referred to as the establishing shot. My personal
    favorite is where you hear the voice of the interview, or the action of
    something going on over this establishing shot, then it shows the visual
    of what ever you heard.

    They've done this in Foxes COPS show for 18 years and it works well.

    Richard Ragon, Sep 25, 2005
  10. gary.hendricks.user

    Brian Guest

    Good idea David.
    On most DVD Recorders there a Playlist feature.
    It useful as you can put the entire video on a DVD and create
    different playlists. You could have a playlist that plays only the
    highlights of your video, another playlist could play only the
    interviews on your video, etc.
    The playlist is like a list of instructions telling the player to play
    selected chapters in a certain order. Parts of the chapter can also be
    erased without effecting the orginial video.

    It also a useful feature if you want to create a 10 min and 30 min
    version of your 2 hour holiday video to show people.

    Regards Brian
    Brian, Sep 26, 2005
  11. gary.hendricks.user

    AnthonyR Guest

    That is something I do often, make a longer (family version) and a shorter
    (more entertaining to everyone else) version of
    trips and stuff.
    Also you can choose which version to play right from dvd menu.
    AnthonyR, Sep 27, 2005
  12. gary.hendricks.user

    Dan Wenz Guest

    I shoot "stuff" during vacations, and do use the (electronic)
    stabilization in my Sony DCR-HC 85 mini DV, but still would like to hold
    the camera with younger, less shakey hands than mine (Right, take a
    grandchild along!). A tripod's a bit more than I'd like to carry, but
    wonder whether a monopod might do the trick. Any of you use a monopod
    and have any positive or negative comments?
    Dan Wenz, Sep 27, 2005
  13. gary.hendricks.user

    Dan Wenz Guest

    Also, unless absolutely necessary, use the viewfinder rather than the
    viewscreen, which depletes the battery faster.
    What kind of microphone should I look to that might pickup less of the
    wind noise the buit-in mike picksup?

    Thanks for all of the above "tips"!
    Dan Wenz, Sep 27, 2005
  14. gary.hendricks.user

    Dan Wenz Guest

    Why the %@#&^*!! didn't you let me have that "tip" years ago - long
    before video tape arrived on the amateur scene, I shot 8 mm movies, and
    have a lousy maybe 1 minute of my grandfather, who died in 1957. It
    saddens me to think about that, esp. now I'm having all of my ~14,000
    feet of 8 mm film "videoized" :-(
    Dan Wenz, Sep 27, 2005
  15. gary.hendricks.user

    PTravel Guest

    I use a monopod for a variety of things, including providing a more stable
    base for shooting video. The monopod provides for less shake than
    hand-holding, but is not a substitute for a tripod. Note, too, that a good
    shooting technique can add significantly to the stability of hand-held

    Take a look at Adorama's monopod (around $89) -- light, strong and fast.
    PTravel, Sep 27, 2005
  16. gary.hendricks.user

    PTravel Guest

    The viewfinder uses less power than the LCD, but also constrains the kinds
    of shots you can make, i.e. everything will be shot at eye-level.
    Interesting video demands different perspectives.

    Ameliorate wind noise with a wind screen. There are a variety of
    professional-grade screens around that will work very well.
    PTravel, Sep 27, 2005
  17. Yes, I have frequently found a monopod to be quite useful.
    I always take one with me when I go into the cleanroom fab
    (where we make Pentium(R) chips, etc.) because a full tripod
    is often too big to fit where I need to be to get the shot.

    I have also found it useful for getting some of those "cutaway"
    or "establishing" shots from high angles where you can zoom
    all the way out, tilt down, and hold the camera over your head
    at the end of the monopod.
    Richard Crowley, Sep 27, 2005
  18. gary.hendricks.user

    Kaveh Guest

    More advantages of the monopod:

    - It can take the weight of the camera.

    - It can be more discrete. You can point it at what you are shooting,
    then look away or just stand casually. It's less obvious you are
    shooting the subject, so you get more natural shots.

    - Great in a crowd where a tripod is impossible.

    - If you find a wall or another support to lean it on, it can become a
    temporary tripod.
    Kaveh, Sep 27, 2005
  19. gary.hendricks.user

    David Chien Guest

    11. A top-notch camcorder.
    You can have #1-10 all day long, but if you're filming on a cheap
    DV camcorder that gets half the D1 resolution due to poor optics and
    sensor, you still get a terrible looking VHS quality video out the back end.
    Here, start out with a top-notch camcorder like the Canon XL
    series, and you'll be surprised how big of a jump in quality you'll get
    with a simple change like this.
    David Chien, Sep 28, 2005
  20. Hi Brian

    Glad you guys like the tips. Yes, there are really many more ways to
    get good videos. One of them is to simply read the camera's manual. I
    totally agree with that. When I first started, I simply went out to
    shoot and film, but forgot to read up on the intricate functions that
    my camera offered - sad mistake!

    There are so many functions you can find on a typical camcorder. Learn
    them and use them well, I say.

    Gary Hendricks
    gary.hendricks.user, Sep 28, 2005
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