Friday, November 13, 2015

A few steps to better video

The digital era brought about a sea change in the way we did things. Among others, it has seriously influenced the art and craft of photography. When digital photography came, a storm ensued. The battle was essentially between the analogue methods, the film rolls against digital techniques. It was the same when polyvinyl records had to make way for compact disks. Transition was not easy to accept, but technological development finally won the day.

Major change has taken place in the way we capture still or moving images. Still cameras have not changed much outwardly in their shape, size or weight. The change is more evident in movie or video cameras. The compact, light-weight video cameras practically rule the world of amateur photography. No tourist leaves home without a camera that can shoot stills or videos or both. With the changing times, the compact digital cameras are now under serious threat from the mobile phone cameras.

High degree of automation have ensured that– notwithstanding the photographer’s skills, or the lack of it – the end result from still cameras is (automatically) of quite high quality. This does not, however, extend to videos. For videos, it is still mind over matter. Shooting a good quality video demands a certain level of skill without which the final product is no better than that by a child with a Handycam (it’s in danger of becoming a generic term). Moving images follow a language that differs from how still images are shot. Remember that you are using an audio-visual medium. The grammar is altogether different.

Holiday or marriage videos, or of children having fun or on the stage, would be much more satisfying if a few simple rules for shooting video are kept in mind. Here are only a few suggestions, in no particular order of importance (they all are!). Here goes:

1)     Your camera has no brain. Humans see with their mind’s eye. The brain plays a significant role here in how we see things. The wide angle that the eyes can cover without distortion cannot be matched by the small lenses or the tiny CCDs of the hand-held, low cost video cameras. These shortcomings must, therefore, be overcome in other ways.
2)     Tell a story: The sequence of shots when strung together should tell a story. All stories, however brief or lengthy, have a beginning, middle and an ending. So plan ahead every shot. Think of the story in your mind and shoot accordingly. Even if you create the story on the editing table, you must have the footage to edit in the first place. So, don’t shoot first and think afterwards.
3)     Don’t use the camera to search for scenes: Do not use your video camera, while it is still in ‘record’ mode, to move rapidly from one object to another, looking for what to shoot next. Instead, let your eyes do the search-and-locate what to shoot. Even if you are going to edit it out later, it’s a waste of time, energy and opportunity. Use your mind and your eyes instead.
4)     Select your shot with care. Whether it’s a stage show or a travel video, first select carefully the scene that you wish to capture. Zoom in or out till you have the scene just the way you want it for being viewed by people later. Plan where to start the shot, when and where to end it, and what it is to show in between.
5)     Avoid long takes. People want to see action. The mind will keep waiting to see what happens next. Each shot must take the story forward, bit by bit. If nothing happens for too long, the viewer will get bored. For shooting churches, towers or palaces – objects that do not move – frame your shot just the way you want it, aim and hold the camera rock-steady, switch on ‘record’, count up to six seconds, switch off. Repeat the process for all non-moving objects. For us amateurs, short is sweet. Long, lingering slow-mo shots are for top directors. So, keep it short for now.
6)     Avoid rapid camera movement. While shooting stage shows, for example, the temptation is to try and capture as much of the action as possible. The camera ends up flitting from performer to performer, zooming in or out, giving the viewer hardly enough time to absorb any particular scene well enough before the scene changes, sometimes all too quickly and all too often.
Once again, avoid this by selecting your shots with care. Selecting a strategic place to place your tripod can help in better coverage. Without any shake of the camera, follow the performer as he or she moves on the stage. Zoom out very carefully, very slowly, very smoothly when you want to capture all the performers together, Then zoom in, once again very slowly, on to the performer you want to capture next. Move smoothly with the performer, holding him or her steady in the frame of your video camera.
7)     Give leading space. Once again, the mind plays an active role here. So, when the actor or performer moves from left to right, 2/3 of the frame in front of the moving person should be empty. Similarly, when the actor moves from right to left, make sure that he is positioned within the right 1/3 of your camera frame, not on the extreme left end of the camera frame. The space in front of him, in the direction of his movement, must be empty. Give him/her space to move towards.
8)     Do not pan. A perfect panning shot needs oodles of patience, and a rock-steady hand. Having a tripod or a monopod around helps. If the whole scene looks too beautiful for words, take a long shot (for six seconds max, remember?) to capture the whole scene. Next, break down the scene into smaller segments in your mind. Select the scenes that you want your friends back home to enjoy, frame it mid-range or close-up, switch on ‘record’ mode (for six seconds). Switch off and move to the next scene.
9)     Do not zoom. Sounds strange? But it’s true! Zooming, like panning, too needs plenty of patience, a steady hand, but serves no practical purpose. A 40X zoom is sure to test the patience of your viewer. So, avoid zooms, except when the camera is switched off. Use the zoom button to frame your shot exactly the way you wish, before you switch to the ‘record’ mode, or after you have switched it off, never during recording. Use zooms to bring distant objects closer, like when shooting animals or birds in the wild.
10)  Remember the lighting and the angle: Insufficient light, light behind the subject, light source directly in front of your camera lens, the sun directly overhead on a clear, bright day – these do not help your cause. Analyse your shots to understand how to get the best out of the available natural or the artificial lights. Select the angles of your subject accordingly.

Good books are available in the market on video shooting techniques. The internet, too, is a rich source of helpful hints. Read up as much as you can if you do not want your acquaintances to make excuses to slip away whenever you want to show them your videos. Remember, anything worth doing at all, is worth doing well.

I have found great joy in shooting still and video. But I found even greater joy when I learned (on my own) how to edit my videos. It opened up a whole new creative world for me. In fact, learning to edit improved my video shooting skills. Nowadays, I am eager to travel more just so that I can use my cameras, remain unobtrusive while taking my time to get the shots I am looking for, stitch them into a final video presentation, adding captions and some background music, and share with my family and friends. It’s a creative process, and extremely satisfying. 

If you have read this to the end, you are obviously as interested in photography as I am. I wish you all the best. Enjoy, and have lots of fun!

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