As mobile devices and less-expensive camera equipment pour into the market, video content is flowing faster, more plentifully and from more varied sources than at any other time in human history. We’ve rounded up seven surefire tips to improve what it is you capture, from your smartphone to a finer rig.
As mobile devices and less-expensive camera equipment pour into the market, video content is flowing faster, more plentifully and from more varied sources than at any other time in human history.
Journalists feel its power. Citizen news witnesses do, too. (And, yes, so does Uncle Charlie at the family cookout.) This is a golden age of new film and new videography.
But the question is (and it has always been): No matter what gear you use, are you shooting video at your best?
On that point, we've rounded up seven surefire tips to improve what it is you capture, from your smartphone to a finer rig. Throughout the list, we're helped by pro-cameraman P.H. O'Brien who's no stranger to the expensive camera end of the spectrum. (Also, he is of no relation to the author.)
O'Brien's work has been seen on MTV's How's Your News? and the South Park doc Six Days to Air. His advice is intended to scale up or down along price ranges and ambitions. All of this is designed to get you better shots and more surprising moments the next time you point a lens and press record.
We'll start with a super basic tip, but one that applies to a still-common mobile device mistake. Turn your phone or tablet in your hands so that you're holding it horizontally! This guarantees your shot will fill the whole screen when it's later uploaded and viewed on other platforms.
Video tip sheets like to tell you to get up close and not use your zoom, especially on a mobile device. P.H. O'Brien says to split the difference.
"Whenever possible get a little further away from your subject, maybe as far as shooting allows, and zoom in to get the framing you desire," O'Brien says. "It creates a shallower depth of field, for a similar look [to that of] nicer lenses. This works on a bunch of cameras from the very inexpensive all the way up to professional models."
Here's a trick that will allow you to open up your composition. Think of your frame as a grid, one composed of two vertical lines and two horizontal lines.
Place the horizon along the lower of the intersecting horizontal lines—two thirds of the frame is now the sky above—and then the speaker's head, say, should then be placed at the lower right- or left-hand intersection of the lines (sometimes called a power point in the frame).
You're adding interest and tension to your shot by defying easy and centered symmetry.
Now that you're thinking about thirds, use that upper horizontal line as a guide for where to position a subject's eyes. They'll neither look like they're sinking out of the bottom third nor will they have their top cut off.
Typically, you want to try to shoot in daylight and to position your subject so that the light source is coming from behind the camera. But also experiment, O'Brien suggests.
"Sometimes it makes for interesting situations to have the light directly behind your subject instead," says O'Brien. "Even if you are not shooting in silhouette it can make for a wonderful light―halos, warm glows, etc.―especially combined with point two, above. My general rule is keep the light interesting and try to work with what is available."
Get more shots than you think you'll need. In an interview, if you're comfortable with the concept and it's appropriate to the situation, ask a subject to answer twice. Better video is edited from a wealth of choices.
And think about what the pros refer to as B-roll. These are the exterior shots and the footage that help establish physical location and context. B-roll can open up a whole world of choices back at the laptop, even if the video is bound for only a quick edit.
We'll let O'Brien take this one, and it's good for almost any kind of video interview.
"If you're the interviewer, shut up," he says. "Let there be a little uncomfortable silence. You'd be surprised what comes out. Ask Errol Morris."
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