Ready, Steady, Go!
It sounds obvious but often the biggest difference between professional video footage and home videos is how steady the camera is held. Although it’s not essential, a sturdy tripod will help remove the operator’s natural body movement.
But if you don’t own a tripod, you can find other ways to stabilise the camera during shooting such as:
(a) when standing up, place the elbow of your support arm firmly against your body, using the other hand on the camera body for guidance to help hold the camera perfectly still or
(b) you can find creative ways to use everyday objects such as a tabletop, doorway, or other piece of furniture to lean your camera against while you shoot, letting that surface do what a tripod normally does for a professional photographer.
All about sound
This is an often overlooked issue when using your digital video camera. Whilst the quality of the camera’s inbuilt microphone means it’s very effective for most shots, it can also be sensitive enough to pick up all sorts of background noises that distract from your footage. Try to be aware of the background noises when you are filming and if possible, re-film the shot without the offending noise.
Locate the built-in microphone on the camera and shield it from any disruptive noises (like the wind on a windy day) that may prevent viewers from hearing the dialog.
Think about what is being said as you film. Try not to cut any speakers off by stopping the tape too early. Most importantly, remember that in the editing process, the audio can be moved and used as background to other footage so you can keep the camera rolling even if what you are looking at is not too exciting!
How much footage to take?
Some people advise not to film a scene for longer than 5-10 seconds unless something truly momentous is about to happen. But exactly how do you predict that? So whilst longer scenes could be boring if they aren’t edited correctly, they can also be to your advantage because you’ll have a much greater selection of footage from which to choose the best scenes. By the time your audience sees your footage, the long scenes you take won’t be endless and boring, it will be edited and interesting. In other words, it’s safe to relax about how much you’re shooting.
You could also consider taking footage of the same scene from different positions. When we come to do the editing, we can use the continuous sound from a long clip whilst the vision can cut to a different perspective. So you can introduce interest by doing a little planning and changing the position of the camera. (Next time you watch TV or a movie, notice how frequently the camera perspective or scene changes – at times its every few seconds.)
Do a little planning and try a new perspective
Take a look at the area and the subject that you want to shoot. You might not notice that telegraph pole, but make sure it doesn’t look like it’s growing out of somebody’s head!
Look for different perspectives to make your shots interesting. Most home video is shot from the height of an adult so introducing some variation like climbing up on a chair, standing on a set of stairs or shooting up at your subject from the ground will give your footage a whole new look.
If you’re filming small children try to get down to film at their height. This helps to bring the viewer into the child’s world as it allows the camera to see the world from their perspective. It also avoids endless shots of the top of your toddler’s head!
Look for a story to tell
Avoid the mistake of taking video ONLY of your children. You'll regret not having footage of your parents, grandparents, and other special people in your life if you rarely focus on others. One idea is to get Mum or Dad to talk about how the kids are going, what cute things they are doing and how they are progressing for their age. If you do this regularly, say every six months, it can become a great video diary of their progress that’s great fun to look back on later.
Of course you can choose to be silent whilst you film your holiday or kids growing up etc. Or while you are filming, you can talk to the viewer about how you felt about being in, or doing the things you are filming. You could talk about things like people’s reactions, your thoughts, or what made it interesting on the day.
Of course there are some times, when the person filming should just shut up!! But in the end, if what you say isn’t all that great, the editor can still put other audio or some music over the top of it! And remember, it’s digital footage that will be edited, so if you don’t like what you said or how you said it, you can say it all again! With the magic of editing we can pick the best of your footage and the best of your comments and put the two together.
All of these things help the viewer to understand the story. That’s what great movies and great home movies are made of – a great story!
Get some close-ups of your subjects
You can make your video more engaging and enjoyable by taking more close-ups rather than all long or medium shots. Close-up shots draw the audience into the story. Stand close to your subjects or zoom in so that their face or smile fills your camera's frame. (In most cases, zoom in close BEFORE you start recording, and you'll get better shots.) Be sure to hold your camera extra still when you're zoomed in, as any shakiness will be magnified.
Zooming is not your friend!
Try to avoid any zooming or minimise it as much as you can. Whilst it might feel like it’s artistic at the time, when you view all the footage from your video together, the result can be a bit sickening. You don’t need to eliminate it altogether but use it meaningfully, when there’s a reason to do it and never multiple tiMaking your next video your best
Panning can be your friend!
Panning is rotating the camera while recording to take in a scene that’s too wide to fit in one lens-full. In general, panning is justifiable more so than zooming but again, pan only when there is good reason to do so.
Panning works best if there is something to ‘motivate’ the camera movement such as a car driving by, a bird flying or a person walking etc. You should begin and end by holding the camera motionless. Make sure you go slowly and smoothly, as it’s easy to move the camera in ways you don’t want to and end up with bumpy footage. If you watch TV shows, the camera is often fixed to a spot, then the angle will change to give the viewer a new perspective rather than panning the camera around through the scene. If you feel that a pan across a scene would look good, then try to pan from left to right – the way people read (except when a shot is meant to be deliberately disturbing).
Most importantly try not to do the classic amateur movements such as pan/linger/pan or pan-to-the-right, get-distracted, pan-back-to-the-left. Although professional editing can help with some of this movement, you don’t want to lose too much of great stuff you are taking to the ‘cutting room floor’!
Composing your shots – the Rule of Thirds
Whilst you might believe that the centre of the shot is the focus of your filming, this does not make for the most interesting shots. Imagine that the video frame is divided into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. The Rule of Thirds suggests that the intersections of these lines are the strongest parts of the frame. If you are filming close ups, you can place the person’s head in the centre, but try to position their eyes on the upper-third line. One warning on this composition; make sure that your camcorder is focusing on your subject so your whole shot does not appear out of focus!