I am a still photographer. That’s what I’ve been trained to do. That’s what I’ve done for decades. And while I’ve had a few classes in videography and cinematography, I took those classes primarily to see how I could learn techniques that might improve my still photography.
Ever since I got my hands on the Panasonic GH1 I’ve been shooting more and more video. It’s fun! But I’m also reminded that I am NOT a seasoned pro when it comes to shooting video. I have some advantages over the guy/gal who’s just starting out, but I still need lots of practice. I’ve been studying some books, watching some training videos and listening to lectures at my local college. I’ve developed a few tips that I use to get better video and I’ve started a checklist that I will use to help improve my video capture skills. Maybe it will be helpful to you too.
1. Plan – in video, you have to really pre-visualize your final product. A shot list really helps you keep continuity. With video you need visual cues to help tell the story and to help keep it moving. Thinking about this stuff BEFORE you pick up your VSLR will go a long way toward improving the final product.
2. Use a Tripod – VSLR’s are prone to “rolling shutter” and using a tripod helps reduce this problem. Tripods also help to keep the viewer focused on your story, not looking for an air sickness bag due to all the jerky movement of the camera. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know you young guns want the MTV look but it’s WAAAAAY overused. Master getting the shot right on a tripod first – then play around with the moving camera stuff later.
3. Use a GOOD Tripod W/Fluid Head – Any old tripod won’t do. If you are planning to shoot outdoors and you don’t have a sturdy tripod, you’ll see your video moving around as the wind shakes your tripod. And fluid heads are a must for smooth moves.
4. Set Up Good Audio – Great video is worthless when you don’t have good audio to go with it. Some cameras give you more control over audio than others. Almost all the higher-end VSLR’s can be adapted to capture audio using an external mic. If you have that option, use it.
5. Remember to Roll early and Keep Rolling Late – In other words, be sure to press the record button about five seconds before you need to actually capture and let the shot roll at least five seconds after you’ve got what you need. Still photographers often cut it too close when they shoot video and make it impossible for the editors to get the right clip.
6. Don’t Forget to Pan – Video cameras shoot pans and tilts. They don’t shoot verticals. (Yep I did it – I forgot I was shooting in video mode and captured 40 seconds of great waterfall footage – sideways!) Panning and tilting are two ways to add action to the video. Don’t do either one too quickly and remember slow and smooth is the goal. Also don’t overdo it. A little goes a long way.
7. Avoid High Contrast – Just as you did when you were starting out as a still photographer, remember that having the light source at your back is always the safe bet when shooting video too.
8. Shoot Sequences – Remember that the editor needs lots of footage to tell the story. So shoot the same shot as a close up and as a wide angle. Shoot the same scene from different angles. Give the editor something to work with.
9. Composition Rules – All the normal composition rules apply. Use the rule of thirds. Make sure to leave room in the frame for the subject. Don’t intersect horizontal lines through the subject. Watch out for merges.
10. Manual Exposure – When possible, shoot in manual exposure. Most VSLR’s will constantly adjust the exposure when you move the camera in a tilt or pan that covers different lighting conditions. This looks amateurish and is distracting. Setting manual exposure gives you more control over the look of the scene.