In many ways, shooting with a camcorder is the same as shooting with a still camera. All the rules of exposure and lighting apply (keep light behind you, not behind your subject), as do the rules of composition (don't always center your subject; remember the rule of thirds). It's important to hold the camcorder steady (two hands, always) and frame any shot before pressing the Record button.
But a camcorder has the added feature of motion. It takes 30 pictures every second, and consequently it can do lots of things that a still camera cannot. You can move the camera. You can zoom the lens. The camera records all of this. So in addition to basic photography skills, you need to learn some rules about moving pictures and good video.
Guidelines on Moving and Not Moving Your Camcorder
Before you get to move your camcorder, you have to come to grips with why you shouldn't. It's almost impossible to get good video when you're moving, and the material you do get is hard to watch and harder to edit.
Your camcorder is small. It's light. It fits in your hand. It seems natural to walk around with the thing recording, shooting up and down, left and right, following people around and so on. Stop doing this immediately.
In Hollywood, the camera certainly moves a lot, but it's not a trivial matter. Professional filmmakers get to move their cameras because of four important factors: (1) they use special equipmentlike dollies and Steadicamsdesigned to move slowly and smoothly; (2) they have many people working together every time they set out to move the camera; (3) they get to rehearse the moves until they get them right; and (4) they are working in a controlled environment, so even if someone makes a mistake after rehearsing, they can do it again.
This isn't you. You're trying to make a good-looking, enjoyable video, and you've got just yourself and your camcorder. Once you've broken the habit of wandering around while recording and have seen the impressive results of this simple change, it's possible to add a little bit of movement to your projects to good effect.
Your Pans and Tilts
The best way to move the camera, of course, is to use some equipment of your own: a tripod. A regular tripod is designed to hold a camera steady or still, but in the video and film world, tripods often include a fluid head, a rather pricey feature that provides smooth and controlled movement.
A fluid-head tripod enables you to make beautiful, smooth pans and tilts. But even then, the camera motion must be very slow and deliberate. There is a natural tendency to pan for a long timealong a coastline, perhapsbut if you look closely at pans in movies, they are actually quite short: just little moves from here to over there a tiny bit. Not 180 degrees, but rather more like 10 degrees. If you don't have a tripod, it's almost impossible to make a pan or tilt look smooth and professional. They are fun to do, but when it comes time to edit, you'll often end up skipping past them and opting for steady shots because moving shots look so bad.
Most of the time, you won't be using a tripod anyway (let alone one with a fluid head), and you must improvise. Creating a moving shot without extra equipment falls in the danger zone, and the responsibility is on you to restrain your use of pans and tilts, and to be controlled when you do try them.
If you don't have a tripod and you feel compelled to pan or tilt, hold your body very stiff, hold the camera close with your elbows tight to your body, and then move the camera just a nudge between two relatively close points. If the move is short enough, sometimes the pan will be slick and usable.
Pans and tilts are troublesome partly because you are just sort of looking around with the camera, leaving the audience searching everywhere in the frame for something to focus on. Tracking works a little better, however, because you follow an object and (generally speaking) keep it in the middle of the frame. The audience knows what it is watching in a tracking shot, and consequently the technique can be very interesting and effective. It takes some skill to follow a moving target, so practice as much as possible before you actually record the shot.
Think of moving the camera as a special effectfun to do, cool looking, but something done only once in awhile, for good use at just the right moment.
When to Useand IgnoreZoom
Everything just stated about moving goes for zooming as well. When shooting, don't zoom. It's really, really tempting, and it feels slick while you're doing it, but the resulting video is less than ideal.
Of course, the zoom control is critical to your videos. It's front and centerunder your index fingerand second only to the Record button itself in importance. If you don't get to zoom, why is it there?
Instead of regarding this as a zoom, think of it as a big ol' bag of interchangeable lenses. What's great about the zoom lens on your camcorder is that it's equal to a bunch of lenses in one. Zoomed out, you see the big picture with a wide-angle lens. Zoom in a little or all the way, and you've got a telephoto lens, up close and personal.
Use the zoom to help you frame your shot, using your rules of composition and thinking about the coverage you want for editing. Once you've set the zoom, you can then recordwithout touching it. After you stop recording, you can adjust the zoom and record again.
Once you're comfortable with the way shooting and editing are interrelated, you may find yourself leaving the camcorder on record while you zoomfrom wide shot to close-up, for instance. The difference is that you're doing so only to get from one shot to another quickly, and you know you will be cutting out the zoom part when you're editing.
A camcorder won't let you zoom carefully or slowly enough to produce good zoom shots. But you can create the same effect by shooting two or three unmoving, unzooming shots of an object with your camera set to wide, then closer, then as close as you can. Cut these shots together, and you get a professional looking "push in."
Christopher began recording his video from the far corner of the studio. He wanted to get a nice, basic shot of the event from this initial position, but while he was there, he chose to cover himself by getting a couple of additional shots. Here's what he did:
When working with a camcorder, it's easy to shoot everything too close. The LCD is often so small that it makes your subject look boring unless you get really close. Fight this urge, and trust that when you see the video on your TV set, the close-ups will freak you out with their intensity. The medium shot is the main kind of image you are looking for. Close-ups are powerful and a little scary, and they should be used more sparingly than it may seem.
These naming conventions aren't rules so much as guidelines designed to help you distinguish the shots you are recording and to help you keep your shots distinct.
A wide shot will often answer the question "Where are we?" A medium shot will answer the question "Who is here?" A close-up will answer the question "What is going on?"
Why the need? Because when you edit, you cannot juxtapose two shots that are too similar. It ends up looking jarring, like a mistake. So although it's easy to cut from a wide shot to a close-up, cutting from a medium shot of a person to something only a tad differentsay, to just their head and shoulderslikely wouldn't work. By recognizing the difference between shots and making sure they are appropriately distinct, you get material you know can be edited.
When you shoot scenes, you don't always need all three shots of each moment, but you should record at least two. That way, even if you get no other coverage, you have some way to edit the material into a video with impact.
You can shoot a close-up with your camcorder even when the zoom setting is wide-angle (just stand really close to your subject) or telephoto (stand farther away). So, there isn't a direct relationship between the zoomin photo jargon, the focal lengthand the size of your subject. In the end, when you work in iMovie, you won't care about wide angle or telephoto, but you will care about the distinct look of close-ups and medium shots.
Determining What to Shoot
The central element of the subjects you shoot needs to be relatively repetitive. And it should be something that is ongoinglike girls painting and talking, people eating dinner, kids building with blocks in the living room, or athletes playing soccer. While it seems like these activities consist of very random actions, all involve a certain repetitive motion (painting, eating, running), and this is what allows you to get Hollywood-style coverage of the event without having to interrupt the action and ask everyone to do it again.
Unlike still photography, your videos should have a scene at their core. For professional filmmakers, a scene is a scripted event that takes place between a set of characters in a fixed location. For you, the moments you shoot with video probably are not planned events. You're just minding your own business and wham! Something cool (cute, amazing, unbelievable, funny, dramatic) starts to happen. You think, "Man, I wish I had a video of that," and then you run off, get your camera, and run back. The event that started this is the core of your scene.
At the birthday party, there are in fact lots of little scenes. There's the scene you worked on in Lesson 8, where the girls are at the shelf of bisque selecting what they want to paint. It's small, it's fast, but it's a scene. In the current lesson (and Lesson 11), the girls are sitting and painting, and this is a scene, too.
Christopher wanted some video of the girls painting, so, in order to be as noninvasive as possible, he began shooting video from a distance across the room. This is a good strategy. In many videos, you will want to start discreetly from far awayzoomed in, if necessaryand then work your way closer, remembering not to shoot as you move but rather to move, frame, and then shoot.
Your first task is keeping in mind the core (repetitive) activity you are shooting and getting the coverage that you need to edit.