On Shooting Digital Video

By Ryan Fischer

When shooting a video, there are several key points to keep in mind. The clothing a subject that is being filmed is wearing is important. Clothes that have designs such as small stripes or dots can cause the image to bleed, or create an effect called "moiring" in which the design looks like it is moving. This may distract your viewer from absorbing the content as well as he could.

Using a tripod is of utmost importance. A handheld camera lends to an amateur feel, and should only be used sparingly by a cinematographer who knows how to implement the technique properly. If you are to employ pans and tilts in your video, it is important to choose a tripod with a fluid head to ensure smooth movement.

In order to get tighter shots, one can shoot the entire scene twice. Shoot a master, capturing the whole of the subject in one shot. Then move the camera in and along the axis of action, an imaginary 180 degree line between you and the subject. The camera may be moved anywhere along this line and not confuse the viewer. As you move in closer and focus in tighter on different items in the shot, you can highlight their importance throughout the duration with the power of editing.

Fourth, all cameras take a little time to get going after you hit the record button before they actually record anything. This is known as preroll. You should not start talking immediately after you hit the record button. If you do that, it is very likely the first few words of your sentence will be cut off. Give it a few seconds before you start talking. Have a countdown. Start in a way that allows you to prepare so that you will feel relaxed, and you won't miss anything. Then when you go to edit your project, you will have everything you intended to shoot and won't have to resort to creative editing to make your project make sense.

The two most important features of a quality video are lighting and sound. Good lighting and sound are rarely noticeable except to trained professional, but bad lighting and sound can make your work scream "amateur!" They can also distract from the overall project and dilute your message.

Your basic lighting setup consists of three lights: key, fill, and back lighting. The key lighting lights your source from the front, making it visible to the viewer. This could be something as simple as the sun when you are outdoors, or a lamp. The fill light also shines on the subject, but from the other direction, lighting both sides of your subject. A fill light is set in the background to add in light from behind where the key and fill lights can't get to. This is to set apart your subject from any background behind it. This is more important in low-light situations. Experimenting with key, fill, and back lighting in various levels can create different striking effects. The best way to learn about them is to experiment with different combinations note how lowering or raising the light levels of each source changes how the image is perceived.

Most camera come with a built-in microphone. The price and quality of your camera is likely to determine the quality of sound your microphone is capable of recording. Low-quality microphones tend to have a "hiss" that goes along with them, and pick up wind and other undesirable sounds. There are different types of microphones you could invest in based on the scope of your project. It is first important to note what type of connector you have on your camera. Common connectors include phone and XLR. Generally speaking, you will find phone connectors on consumer cameras. XLRs lend to better sound and are found on higher-end prosumer cameras. A shotgun microphone can be used to capture sound extending in one direction to where the microphone points. It is highly sensitive, good at weeding out unwanted sound, and is used extensively on television and film sets. Lavaliers are microphones one may attach to a lapel. They can be connected to a receiver for a wireless twist, allowing an actor to get some range from your recording device.

There are three basic shots you may choose to employ when shooting your video. A wide shot or “master” shows the big picture. This allows you to see the person and what they’re doing. Next is a medium shot where you move in a little tighter and show your subject from the midsection up. Then there’s a closeup shot. These shots help you focus in on what is important at the time. When shooting a video it is important to remember that the camera acts as your viewer’s eye. Therefore it important to put yourself in your viewer’s shoes and show him what you think he would want to see. A closeup on a person’s face allows you to empathize more directly with that person, and feel his or her feelings. It is no accident or coincidence that comedies are shot wide and in dramas in a closeup.

When you are shooting, it is important to keep these shots in mind, as having a variety of them at your disposal is what gives you options in the editing room. For instance, you can cut from a master of a speaker speaking to a closeup of a speaker’s hands to give emphasis to what a speaker is talking about if he is doing an action with his hands.

Give consideration to headroom when you are composing a shot. Headroom refers to the amount of space you give a subject from the top of his head to the top of the frame. Avoid putting a subject’s head in the center of the frame, as that off-kilter composition will look unprofessional with so much unused space above his head. Try to leave a minimal amount of space – maybe the top of their head and an inch or two to frame it up.

For more complex shots, it is important to keep the rule of thirds in mind. For this rule, imagine if you are to divide your frame into 9 equal parts by drawing two horizontal lines and two vertical lines. Now, for any object in your frame, you want to put it on that line or at the intersections. The closer you can get a composition to fall to these conditions, the more interesting your composition will be. This is because it allows more of a linear flow to your image, as if the eye is reading it, much like the page of a book. This principle can also be used to capture movement. For example, if a subject is moving to the right, it is important to put him on the left vertical line with space to his right to give him room to move in that direction.

If you are filming two people having a conversation, a classic way to do this is to employ an over-the-shoulder shot. This is done by having the camera situated behind the person to whom your subject is talking to. On one side of the frame, have your subject talking in focus, and fill the other side of the frame with the person to whom your subject is talking. Film your subject's dialogue first, then switch angles. Put the camera behind your first subject, filling the rest of the frame with your first subject's shoulder. Then you can edit back and forth between the two, thus creating that all-too-familiar conversation scene.

Be careful not to cross the axis of action when composing these -- or any -- shots like this. The axis of action is an imaginary 180 degree line drawn between you and your subject. You may move your camera anywhere on your side of the line to film your subject, but if you cross it you risk disorienting your viewer. Moving the camera along this line helps to give you options in the editing room, and it makes your video more interesting visually.

Finally, a word about canted angles. It is important to be sure your tripod is balanced, parallel to the ground. Most good tripods will have a level built into them. But a canted or "Dutch" angle, an angle in which the camera is tilted dramatically to one side can create an off-kilter feel. This can be particularly effective in dramatic or horrific scenes.