Getting technical with your camera
While a great deal of creating good footage is in the choice of shots and capturing the right moment, there’s a host of little things you can be doing to ensure your video is as good as can be. Read on for a few tips that could be the difference between rapt attention and the ominous sound of shuffling at your next family get together.
The key to shooting for continuity style is to capture different aspects of the same scene, with different groupings of people and a mix of close-ups and wide shots. It’s rare that you can do this from a fixed position, so move around the room during the course of a particular event.
However, nothing looks worse than a camera that constantly pans and zooms. Find an attractive composition, capture a minute of footage, and then move the camera to another position. A mini-tripod such as the Joby Gorillapod SLR will help you achieve steady shots. At around £25 inc VAT, it’s an ideal gift (even if you have to buy it yourself).
Most video cameras produce great results on fully automatic settings, but if your camera offers it, it’s often worth switching to manual. This is particularly true when framing a shot from a static camera position. Video cameras’ autofocus systems sometimes wander out of focus mid- shot in an attempt to lock onto a subject. If the subject and camera are likely to stay in relatively fixed positions, use the autofocus and then switch to manual to lock the focus before you start recording.
It’s also worth considering the same technique for exposure, particularly when panning the camera around the room. Problems can arise as the camera pans past a bright background such as a window, or a dark background such as brown furniture. Automatic exposure modes will attempt to compensate for the changing brightness of the frame, but this can result in faces being under- or over-exposed. You’ll achieve more polished results by pointing the camera at an area without any distracting background and locking the exposure, either with a dedicated lock function or by switching from automatic to manual exposure.
Sunlight, fluorescent tubes, tungsten lightbulbs and candles all give off different coloured light. In automatic mode, it’s up to the camera to compensate for this to capture natural-looking colours. This usually works fine in sunlight, but it can struggle in artificial light, particularly when the lights are dimmed.
If your videos appear too red or yellow, try switching the white balance to the tungsten preset, usually marked with a lightbulb icon. If that doesn’t work, use the manual setting. This requires you to point the camera at a white or grey subject and press a button to calibrate it. Most ceilings are painted white, so point the camera up, select manual white balance and hit the calibrate button. From then on, colours should look much more natural.
PRE- AND POST-ROLL
Always try to capture a few seconds of footage before the main action starts, and a few seconds more after it’s finished. This is partly to give time for the camera to get going, but it also gives some leeway for the editing process.
In the same way that an establishing shot introduces a scene before the main action is shown, a second of breathing space at the beginning of a clip gives viewers time to orient themselves to the shot before the action commences. Of course, it isn’t easy to anticipate when something exciting is about to happen, so set up a shot, start recording and don’t worry about capturing lots of unusable footage. It’s better to do that than to always miss the beginning of interesting moments.