Online Video: Shooting Tips

It’s been a slow start to the week blogging wise as I have been finishing up the last of my video training courses for newspaper journalists. I’m going to be doing a lot more of them, which is great as they really help me focus my thoughts on video, get me talking to journos on the ground and are great fun.
In that spirit I wanted to put down a few very basic points about video shooting that have become a core of what I tell people during the course.

These are, obviously, my own views not the universities. They also don’t reflect the policies of the papers I have dealt with. Not that they contradict. The positive thing is that at all the levels I have worked at newspaper people have been open to ideas. I just mean that you shouldn’t infer that these points represent the strategic approach of the groups I’m involved with.

The 5-10 rule.
Always let your camera record fro 5-10 seconds before you start and end action. Do the following:

  • Frame the shot
  • Set the camera recording and count to 10
  • Start the action (ask the first question etc)
  • Finnish the action and count to 10
  • Stop the camera recording

Why? Adding that time at the start and end means you will never cut off the start or end of the content you need. Also, most edit suites require a short pre-roll on the tape machine when they capture the footage.
In non technical terms, they like to take a run up to capture. That means that content right on the start of a shot is difficult or impossible to capture.

Auto controls
It doesn’t matter if they are sub 300 pounds consumer units or high-def camcorders, most cameras will have extensive auto control facilities. If you are going to get the best out of your camera then (when you can) do the following:

Locate the Auto Lock function for your camera.
Know how to turn it off

Turn off the auto focus and learn how to focus manually.
The auto focus is often slow and easily fooled by passing objects. When shooting an interview on the street a person may walk in front of the lens. Your viewer will ignore it but your camera focus may be upset. Even a very quick refocus will distract your viewer and spoil the shot.

The general set up for each shot would be to set the camera to manual focus, zoom in as tight as you can go on your subject (person or object) and set the focus. Now, no matter how you frame the shot, the subject should stay in focus regardless of any passing distractions.

Know where all the other function controls are but never change them.
You may never need to change them but at least you can if you need to.

Pans and zooms
Many people frown on movement in web video as it has an impact on visual quality and download time. It is worth considering but I like to come at it more from an editorial perspective.

Don’t zoom – move
If you need a tighter shot of something, don’t zoom. Get closer. Video is all about being there and experiencing it. Don’t just stand on the sidelines. Get in close.

Don’t move the camera just for visual variety move for content
Ask yourself where is the movement taking me and what do I see on the way. A close up of a security camera that zooms out to a wide shot of a car park tells me that this camera is watching the car park. You can imagine the script working with that shot. “Police are reviewing CCTV footage of the car park” . That is an editorial progression.

Hold the start and end of a move
The 5-10 rule works well here. Hold the shot at the start of a pan or zoom for 5- 10 seconds. Make the move and then hold the final shot for 5-10 seconds. That way if the move takes too long then you can cut between the shots.

Establish and detail.
A common complaint when editing is lack of general footage. When you are scripting you need related pictures to talk to and though you may shoot interviews and associated shots of subject many don’t shoot enough associated content so that you can set-up or expand on the story. A car crash in your local high street, for example, should be a simple story to tell but if you only have one shot of the crumpled car then its going to look pretty dull.

Shoot a wide shot that shows the viewer the scene and then shoot lots of detail. For the car example above I would shoot a wide shot of the car and then close-up shots of the damage.

Shoot more
When working in video that is going to be edited we refer to shooting ratios. How many minutes of footage will you need to create one minute of edited footage. News is often as low as 5:1 but documentary can be as high as 20-25:1. That means a good 5 minutes of varied footage to make one minute of entertaining content.

Don’t be slave to these figures but you would be surprised just how much you need so go ahead, waste some tape.

An MCUFraming a shot.

Learn how to frame an MCU properly
If you are doing a lot of interviewing then you only need to know one shot. It’s called the medium close up or MCU. When working on the web this should be you widest framing of a person. Any wider and you risk making their face too small in the frame.

An MCU is wide enough that we keep the subject big in the frame – big means important so important things need to be biggest in the frame – but it is editorially neutral. It allows us to see some background and the subject. Any tighter in the frame and we begin to make an editorial statement. We are focused on the subjects reactions, their emotional response.

Shoot a reverse when you have time.
A reverse is a shot of the interviewer asking a question or reacting to an answer (a noddie). You will see them commonly on TV where the shot flicks from interviewer and interviewee. Whilst they are often used to ‘re-create’ an interview they are more commonly used to hide an edit in a persons question. So if you see a person answering a question and then the camera cuts to a reporter nodding then you can be sure that they have edited the answers.

For that reason I was initially skeptical of this approach with web video. A reverse has become a trope for TV style. But I’ve become more pragmatic to the usefulness of a reverse for two reasons:

Conducting a good interview for video is a skill. A different skill from conducting a print interview. You cant hunt for quotes or use reported speech. You need self contained answers.

Secondly, you need a subject who can give that kind of answer if you want to cut out all of your questions and let the answers flow one in to the other.

Ideally you would structure the interview so that you could cut your questions out so that the content flows. But given the points above and the limited timescales that newspaper journos are working under, recording a set of reverses of your questions may speed the edit up and get the content out faster.

Don’t cross the line
When you shoot a reverse you can often fall foul of something called crossing the line (breaking the 180 degree rule). You will know what to avoid when you have done it. Everyone makes the mistake, even pro people will do it, so don’t feel bad.

I have some pictures and video links to illustrate some of this which I will add later – just wanted to get this stuff out of my head. What do you think? Agree disagree with any of this? Let me know

Update: I was looking back through my stats and noticed that back in Jan I had a lot of hits on a post that offered tips for audio when shooting video  .The post was a pointer to a post by Chuck Fadely called ‘video survival guide’. Reading his post again I notice that Chuck says much of the same things I said above and more.  It’s worth a read. 

17 Replies to “Online Video: Shooting Tips”

  1. I would add on to the MUC/interview shot allowing “breathing room.” That’s the visual space you allow in the direction the subject is speaking…you should allow more room in front of the face than behind the head so the words “have room” to flow out.
    Don’t zoom during an interview – if you have to zoom, pull a quick one during the question.
    Keep your tripod ready to move…some subjects sit still…others are dancers who move all over. These you have to track.
    Re: establish & detail. That’s the ole wide, medium, and close-up shots. Let the audience know where you are, then show them the details that help explain the scene.
    Good job Andy! You had some stuff I forgot I know.

  2. Good points Cyndy. In the uk we often refer to nose room or looking room for breathing space. But like crossing the line it’s one of those things that you have to get wrong to see when it’s right. I like your “the words “have room” to flow out” analogy.

  3. Great advice Andy. In my experience, the biggest failing of journalism students new to video is holding a shot long enough. The one thing I always stress is holding a shot for at least 10 seconds. And like Cindy says, always get your wide shot, mid-shot and close-up.

    The other tendency of newbies is to move the camera to follow the action. While sometimes this works, I recommend letting the action happen within the shot. Hold the camera still and let the action leave the screen, rather than swerving the camera around in an errantic manner.

  4. Thanks Alf.

    I agree. Get the action through the frame. Getting people to think about shooting for the edit – cutting movement in rather than following the action – is a must.

    Usually getting your wide, mid and close-up will help with that.

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  6. Thanks for this post.

    Far better than the ten-tips-for-video pages out there. They assume you have never watched a movie. I am just scared to death of making the home movies that i was subjected to growing up.

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