If you're shooting home movies or preparing for a career in Hollywood, today's digital camcorders are light and easy to use. Using simple techniques you can produce amazing results that will wow everyone who sees them.

You might not win the next Oscar, but you'll certainly get acclaim from your family and friends.

The Knowhow

Shooting video uses many of the techniques used for stills photography, but certain things need to be kept in mind for better end results if you plan to edit your work.

Stability:

Although holding the camera in your hand gives you plenty of control, shots often end up being quite wobbly or aren't level.

Mounting your camcorder on a tripod is a simple solution that provides stable shots and smooth panning. However, carrying a tripod around is extra weight and having to mount it can remove some of the spontaneity that makes filming fun.

  • Some camcorders feature built-in "anti-shake" modes that reduce camera wobble. Check your user manual for details
  • Your camcorder may have an "artificial horizon" feature to help you keep the picture level. The instruction book will show you how to turn this on
  • Get closer to the action - the further you zoom in, the more camera movement will be noticeable
  • Stand with your legs apart - about as wide as your shoulders - to give you extra stability
  • Keep your elbows close in to your body and hold your camera with both hands
  • Keep the camera in a fixed position and move it by pivoting from your hips
  • When shooting close-up detail and moving, hold the camera firmly, move it slowly and change your position by taking wide steps and gradually transferring your weight from one foot to another
  • If you are walking or running while filming it is very difficult to achieve shots with no wobble, but keeping the camera firmly close to your body will help. When possible, take slow steps and gradually transfer your weight between your feet
  • Look for things in your surroundings that can help with a stable shot. Walls, fences and even the ground can all help

Composing your shot:

Framing the perfect video shot is very similar to taking a photograph. There are several simple techniques that professional camera operators use.

Many photographers use the Rule of Thirds to construct shots. When framing up, they imagine a grid over the scene.

  • The lines often break the image into equal sized squares
  • Both horizontal and / or vertical lines should always be the same distance from the edge of the frame
  • The lines indicate where the major features of your image should be
  • Try to position key elements of the image where the lines cross

In the image above, you can see how elements of the composition are lined up with the grid:

  • The left line passes through the centre of the kitten
  • The bottom line separates the floor from the door
  • The upper line passes through the paw and marks the edge of the glass
  • The right line follows on of the door edges and crosses the end of the tail

Remember: the lines are a guide, not a law. Using this system can help you align elements of your photograph for better composition, but your eyes will tell you what looks best.

For example, many filmmakers frame towards the top right for the primary point of interest. This is then reversed in the following shot to reflect the "eyeline" of the first image. You'll often see this when two characters are talking to each other and the camera cuts between "over the shoulder" shots. The convention is often reversed when a character is looking at something - they'll be on the left, and then the scene cuts to what they're looking at framed on the right.

The reason for this is the eye seems to be more naturally drawn to the right hand side of the screen, giving things placed here more impact. Because this technique is used so frequently, we tend to place more importance on images positioned this way.

This method can also be used to frame a subject centrally, giving them a more powerful presence. For example, composing a shot so a face or an object is the central portion of the image gives it more emphasis and can produce interesting artistic effects.

  • Using the rule of thirds to mark the edges, or key points, of the object enhances it
  • Surrounding the key object with the inner box of the grid can make it stand out, but runs the risk of reducing the subject's impact as it appears smaller

For example, when framing a face this way you may choose to position the eyes and mouth on the imaginary grid.

Headroom:

One common mistake many people make is framing far too much headroom. This is often done in an attempt to make someone's head be at the centre of the shot, rather than the full face.

For example, there is too much headroom in this shot:

  • You only need to leave a very small space between the top of the head and the top of the frame. Sometimes you may even trim off the top of the head
  • Position more space to the left or right of frame to match the subject's eyeline

Here is the same image, cropped according to the rule of thirds:

Movement:

Capturing movement smoothly is one of the hardest things about shooting video. The basic rules of photography still apply, but are complicated by needing to follow the action.

  • Leave more space on the side of the frame the action is moving towards. For example, if a man is running left to right, leave more space on the right
  • If possible, choose one moving object per shot and stick with it. For example, if you are filming a group of people running, select one and focus on them
  • Move the camera with the action
  • Try to anticipate changes in direction or speed and adjust the camera movement accordingly
  • Zooming or moving the camera can help keep the framing if the subject is moving towards or away from you
  • Keeping the camera still while an object moves towards you can emphasise its speed as it increases in size in the frame. Positioning your camera low down and as close to where the subject will pass the camera will increase its presence

Planning your shoot:

Although spontaneous shooting often captures great moments, it can be worth planning what you'll shoot in advance if you plan on editing later. This works especially well if you're filming something like a party or a day out, where there will be "scenes" you can anticipate.

Your plan doesn't need to list exact shots, and should be more of a checklist to work through so you make sure you cover everything you need for the final edit.

Remember: There'll also be unexpected events that you'll want to cover or things you've missed off, so treat the list as a guide to the basics you need - sort of like the dots you'll join together when it comes to editing.

For example, if you're filming a child's birthday party your shooting list may look something like this:

  • Setting up the party
  • Icing the cake
  • Guests arriving
  • Presents
  • Party games
  • Dances / Entertainer
  • Food
  • The cake arrives!
  • Blowing out the candles
  • Everyone together
  • Going home
  • After party mess!

You may also want a list of cutaways or specific details to use in the edit. For example:

  • Establishing shots

    NOTE

    - These are "wide" shots showing the space the action is happening in. You need at least one for each location, and they can double as other shots - for example, a wide shot of the room being set up, or a wide shot of the guests running into the room
  • Detail of the cake
  • Reaction to the cake
  • Reaction to the presents
  • Winners of the games celebrating
  • The invitation
  • Details of going home presents
  • Shots of everyone at party NOTE - It may be useful to list guests and keep a tally of all the times you focus on them so you don't miss anyone out or have too much footage of any one person
  • A birthday message from each friend
  • Mum and Dad collapsing exhausted when everyone goes!

If you're editing the footage later, there's no need to shoot everything in order. You can film some details, such as the invitation and the details of the cake, before the party starts.

How much to shoot:

Always shoot more than you think you need! This gives you far more to work with when editing so you have more options.

It's important to start recording for at least ten seconds before the action begins - it can take time for the camera to get up to speed or the editing software to lock onto the exact moments you want.

Film events from as many angles and distances as possible; when you cut the footage together you can use the variety to make things look more interesting. You might ask for key events to be repeated so you can get shots from other angles - for example, you can take a close up of a child blowing out the candles, and then repeat while filming everyone watching and cheering.

Sound:

Some cameras allow you to connect external microphones and headphones. This is useful as your video camera's built-in microphone may not be ideal for all conditions.

Built-in mics may be omni-directional, meaning they record sound from all directions around the microphone. This is fine for most situations, but if you're shooting in a noisy environment you may find you have too much background noise.

Good alternatives are unidirectional and cardioid microphones. Unidirectional models record sound from a narrow angle around the direction the mic is pointed. Cardioid mics pick up a wider soundscape, but only from in front of the microphone.

Using headphones lets you hear how the audio will sound on the video. You can adjust the microphone and the camera's recording levels to get the best results by monitoring them in real time.

Wind:

Strong winds can cause sound distortion. This can be reduced by using unidirectional microphones or by covering the mic with a wind shield. These are often made of foam or fur and reduce the impact of the wind upon the microphone. They will reduce the "buffeting" noise, but probably won't completely remove it.

Wind shields are fairly cheap and may already be included with your camera or microphone, and can also be purchased from specialist electrical and audio stores.

Checking your equipment:

Before you start filming, check everything over to avoid nasty surprises:

  • Does all the equipment work properly?
  • Are all the batteries fully charged or new?
  • Do you have spare batteries?
  • Is there plenty of room on the memory card or tape?
  • Do you have a spare memory card or tape?
  • Do you have a notepad and pen to keep track of your shots?
  • Have you got your shooting list?

Logging your shots:

Before editing, it's useful to make a note of the shots you want to include.

  • Watch through the footage with a notepad and pen
  • Write down basic details of every shot - when they occur and a basic description such as "1:22:41 - 1:26:22 Amy opening presents"
  • Put a star by any shots you want to use - include more specific times if the shot is very long
  • Include a more detailed description to help you remember; e.g. - "Uncle David falls in the pond" or "The cake is cut"

Once you have a list of the shots you want in the finished film, you can create a rough running order.

  • Give each of your chosen shots a letter or number
  • Write the letter or number for each shot on a small piece of paper or a sticky note, along with the description of the footage
  • Place the cards in the order you think they might work in the finished film
  • Review the cards, imagining the film
  • Reposition any cards if you think the shots need to be in a different place
  • When you're happy stack the cards in order, so the first shot is at the front and the last at the back

Editing the film:

There are a number of excellent video editing programs available, and it's likely your computer has a free one included, such as Microsoft Windows Live Movie Maker. This may lack the advanced features of more expensive packages, but will certainly help you get started.

With your list of chosen shots it's much faster and easier to edit your film.

Updated On:

Aug 17, 2012

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