Looking forward to the future of journalism

Tips for shooting better video of anything

Angela Grant at News Videographer has some fantastic tips for anyone who wants to improve their skills in shooting and editing video. If you’re tired of uploading shaky cell phone videos to YouTube, these pointers are for you.

Angela was our online video guru at the San Antonio Express-News and she saved my butt when I was in Portland doing a story about light rail. I had a point-and-shoot Panasonic Lumix with me that takes QuickTime video. My boss, David Sheppard, suggested I take some video of the rail system to show San Antonians what it’s like.

Great idea. Just one problem:

I had no idea how to take good video.

In a mild panic, I called Angela and she gave me a quick primer on some of the fundamentals:

  • Don’t walk around filming things with your camera like a clueless tourist. Stand still and hold the camera steady. If possible, use a tripod.
  • In most cases, avoid panning and zooming in mid-shot. Set up your shot first.
  • Be aware of where the sun and strong lighting is in relation to your shot. You want the sun behind you — not behind the subject you’re filming. Otherwise, your subject will be backlit and the result will be a dark silhouette in your video. Not good.
  • Take a range of wide shots, medium shots, and close ups. Count to at least 10 seconds for each shot, even though you’ll be editing these shots later and cutting them down. Close ups are especially good for online video.
  • Using video-editing software, edit the shots and audio together, preferably in sequences of about three to four seconds apiece. Shorter sequences grab the viewer’s attention and make a long video go by seemingly fast.
  • If possible, use an external microphone to capture better sound, which can help you make an awesome video package.
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    The cool thing about these video techniques is that anyone can use them. Imagine how much better your family videos could be. They don’t have to be boring to everyone but you!

    After I spoke with Angela, here was the result. Not the greatest video in the world, but it would have looked terrible without some intelligent advice.

    To illustrate the huge difference these techniques make for just about any topic, I took two videos of some stray kittens my girlfriend and I found in our backyard. Here’s the first video loaded directly from my camcorder with no editing and no real thought of composing shots — a style you see all the time on YouTube:

    See how annoying it is when the camera is shaky, panning around, and zooming?

    Here’s a video that followed Angela’s advice:

    Same kittens, different video techniques, better results.

    Yes, it took a little longer to shoot and edit. But if you want people to watch your videos, isn’t it worth a little extra time to make something interesting? As a newspaper reporter, I think it’s challenging and fun to figure out new ways to tell a story with video, which can reveal some things better than the written word. The two methods compliment each other.

    In the second kitten video, I used a tripod to keep the camera steady. For both videos, I used an external microphone, which vastly improves the sound quality, and an Aiptek high def camcorder. I edited the clips in Sony Vegas Movie Maker 9.0. You can also use free video-editing software available on Macs and PCs.

    There will be times when setting up a shot isn’t feasible. If you’re covering a sporting event or getting compelling video like a police chase, by all means get the shot and follow the action.

    But in most cases, these are some useful methods that will drastically improve the quality of any video.

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