In these times of smart phones, nearly everyone is a videographer [or at least one waiting to blossom]. As we humans so love to track movement with our eyes, video is a fabulous communication and entertainment tool. Folks like Rachel Maddow have even commented that if there’s a TV in the room she’s in, she can’t take her eyes off of it. The human body has evolved to track motion.
With this backdrop, there are some simple considerations for you to shoot better video. We’ll divide this into three main categories – composition, lighting and audio.
Composition simply describes what a particular scene consists of. If someone talking is primarily what we see, the scene can be described as a ‘talking head’. If it’s a wedding there are probably lots of crowd footage. Nature footage will usually have a featured element – a tree, mountain, flower or stream. Composition is the framing you choose to capture the content you desire.
It can be surprising to see how a few steps forward or back can effect a scene, or changing the angle so you have a more pleasing background. Another huge consideration, that leaks into the lighting category, is to consider the amount of light the background has, especially indoors [below].
One other thing about composition – that shaky cam thing. Directors will use this technique to add drama to a scene or imply instability. In general, however, folks are far too casual in how they hold their cameras and pay too little attention to keeping the shot somewhat steady. At least be conscious of how you’re ‘playing it’.
And one last thing on composition for those using smart phones. Use the camera horizontally, not vertically. TVs, phones, computer monitors are all horizontally oriented. Make the most of the real estate available. If you shoot vertically and want to use the footage horizontally, you must stretch the footage to fit reducing its visual crispness.
Lighting is an art, with all sort of options to create all sorts of looks. For folks who have been in the biz a while, we often talk about whether the lighting should be more for video or more for film. What we called lighting for video meant things were nice and bright, like a news set. For film we create much more nuanced lighting, with pockets of darkness and contoured faces.
Of course the casual videographer doesn’t have the advantage of professional lighting and years of experience, but they can still look at the lighting situation. As mentioned above, don’t shoot folks in front of windows unless you want that dark look. You can also move a subject a few feet this way or that to enhance the shot within the existing lighting. Move the subject a few feet so they’re not directly under a fluorescent light, for example, or closer or farther from a window. Removing a lampshade can add quite a bit what that source puts out.
If you’re outdoors and your subject is against dark green vegetation, and you have a lot of blue sky in the background, your subject will darken as the camera compensates for the bright sky. Similarly, if your subject is indoors in front of a window or patio doors, the subject will be too dark. You must either add light to the foreground or lose light in the background to make your shot effective. Often you can mitigate this by changing your composition [less sky in the shot, no windows or lamps behind].
Watching TV/video/film with an eye towards how it was lit can be a fun learning experience as well. Such attention will no doubt enhance your ability to create scenes that are more enjoyable to watch.
Audio can make or break your shooting event. Garbled audio will ruin your shot, even if it looks beautiful. Short of using professional audio technicians and gear, here are a couple of things to bear in mind. First, if there’s loud ‘ambient’ noise around, like motors or fans or traffic or crowds, try to find a quieter place. If that isn’t an option, at least face the subject away from the noise so that their body blocks the offending sound somewhat. This may compromise your ‘look’, but bad audio hurts more than bad backgrounds.
Another tip – get as close to your subject as possible when not using a separate mic. The closer you get with your camera/phone/recording device, the less ambient noise you’ll have, and the stronger the audio signal of what you want will be. It may be mildly uncomfortable to have a phone two feet from your subject’s face, but they will sound tremendously better than if you’re 8 feet away.
These pointers are just that – pointers. Creating videos/films/motion pictures is a tremendously creative process. There are no absolute rights and wrongs. As we continue down the road with this blog, we’ll get more detailed into many aspects of video production. Still, such details need to come from a firm foundation, which is why we’re hitting the fundamentals here.