Sep 24, 2010

A Fantastic *HOW TO* - 10 tips to improve your video skills

Mark Biello and Chris Hrubesh of CNN did a fabulous article today on creating videostories. I couldn't have said it any better AND if you're serious about giving it a go, you couldn't take a course in film school that would give you better instruction than this. So, take advantage!

Something I would suggest it to watch videos with these 10 points in mind.  Take the previous post for example, apply these 10 principles to Brett's video and understand why it looks good and what makes it work.  Granted there are no talking heads so look for other good examples that do.  Here's one I edited recently with a talking head, Ken Konecki ...and for the record, talking while shooting "B-roll" is a huge pet peeve of mine.

I've dissected it a little so click here for the full story.

Shoot in series
Give a variety of shots to the viewer: a wide shot to establish the scene, medium shot to bring the viewer closer, and a close-up to reveal the action. You can mix this up too, starting a sequence with the close-up instead.

Hold your shots
Always hold your shots for at least five seconds at the beginning and five seconds at the end. This technique will give our viewers a "less jarring experience" and make it easier to edit later.

Use a tripod or mono-pod
Nothing distracts viewers more than shaky or lopsided video. You can purchase an inexpensive tripod to correct these problems. The more expensive a tripod is, the more control you have over your camera shots. A tripod with a fluid head will allow you to accomplish the smoothest zooms, tilts, and pans.

Limit your zooms and pans
All of us have been guilty of overusing zooms and pans, but you must resist this temptation. These moves should only be used on tripods. If you have time, practice the zoom or pan before you start rolling. Try to focus more on getting wide, medium, and (my favorite) close-up shots. Try to physically move closer to your subject instead of zooming if possible. If you do zoom, try to stick to your optical zoom, not your digital zoom. Digital zoom looks bad and should only be used if your subject is out of your normal camera range.

Have a foreground subject
It is always interesting to have an object or subject in the foreground. For example, when shooting the exterior of a house, use the mailbox in the foreground for a more dramatic look, or pan from the mailbox to the house.

Use manual controls, if possible
If you have a "prosumer camera," use the manual controls instead of the automatic if you have the time. Automatic focus and auto iris can distract from the quality of your video if the subject or light is constantly changing location and intensity. To do a proper manual focus, zoom all the way in to your subject (before recording) get your focus, and zoom out. If you are interviewing someone, zoom in to their eyes and set your focus. If you don't do this, your subject with be "soft" which is out of focus.

Get a variety of angles and shots
Only showing wide or medium shots will get boring quickly. Try to vary your shots. Always get a wide or establishing shot, then try to get in close to the action and get close-ups without interfering with the story.

Don't talk while shooting "B-roll"
Do not --- I repeat --- do not talk while you are shooting awesome footage (or "B-roll," a.k.a. supplemental or alternate footage). We need to hear the natural sound of the event and not your commentary. If you talk during the event, the viewers will lose that sound, and we would generally lower or edit out your commentary if it distracts from the video.

Use a microphone when interviewing someone
Even though camera mics will do in a breaking news situation, wireless lavaliere or stick mics are the tools of choice for good storytelling (if you have a DV cam, it is wise to invest in a wireless system, for use with interviews or following a subject around without having to hold a mic). If possible, use a windscreen to keep out wind noise and audio pops from your subject.

Have the interview subject restate the question
For example: If you ask how does this machine work?" have the subject answer, "Well, the machine works in this way...."

Get to know the subject before rolling tape
Furthermore, when conducting any interview, always start with the person's full name, spelling and if appropriate, where are they from and what they do for a living. The name is very important to CNN iReport producers and for air. Also, never ask a question that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." Ask a question like, "Can you describe to me what you saw?" Have them describe the details and their personal feelings.

Use a camera light for indoor interviews
If you are shooting indoors and the light is low, use a camera (bat light). You should ideally have one with a dimmer but these can get pretty pricey. When you are shooting outdoors, always have the sun to your back and your subject facing the sun if possible. Making sure people's faces are lit will help them stand out from their background.

Bring extra batteries and media for every shoot
As they say in the Boy Scouts, "Be prepared." Make sure your batteries are fully charged and you have plenty of extra videotapes or media before you head out there and get your extraordinary video. Purchase a decent camera case to protect your camera that also has room for your extra batteries and media.

Be creative
You don't have to reinvent video production, but be observant and try to find shots that you don't normally see on the air.

Give these 10 tips a try and  see how it can improve your work.

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