Help me learn to shoot home movies
May 31, 2011 7:34 AM   Subscribe

I recently got a nice camcorder (this one) as an early Father's Day present. I've got the basic operation down but really know nothing about shooting video. What suggestions do you have to help me make my home movies better?

I have been doing still photography long enough that I know the basics of lighting and composition, but beyond that any helpful advice would be appreciated, from suggested accessories to tips on editing and workflow to how best to take advantage of the HD capabilities using my older home theater system.

My current setup is a Mac G5 (that needs replacing and this may be an excuse to upgrade), a Blu-Ray DVD player hooked up to a home theater system that predates HDMI and has both available component video inputs in use. Suggestions using other equipment are fine, though, both because I will eventually buy some new stuff and because others might find this thread useful. Books, websites, personal experience; all suggestions are welcome; I am not looking to become a pro, just want my home videos to look as good as possible. Thanks in advance!
posted by TedW to Media & Arts (6 answers total)
IMHO the number one thing that makes amateur video look amateur is camera movement. People love to zoom in and out, pan the camera all over the place, etc. Just hold still. Don't move the camera while recording unless it really ads something (rare), and in those cases do it smoothly and at a reasonable speed. It's better shoot multiple stationary shots than one shot where you try to get everything by moving around. If you use a tripod, that will make things look a lot better, but obviously it costs you some convenience (I'm a firm believer in tripods for professional shooting, but I'm not going to argue that people should be lugging a tripod to every family event for home video).

Also, if you're going to be editing, hold your shots long enough to make edits possible. Hold them longer than you think you need to. You'll never run into a case when a shot is too long (because you can always trim it), but having a shot that is too short is very frustrating.

Lighting between still and video isn't terribly different, though obviously you can't use flash with a video camera. Make sure you have enough light. I tend to believe white balance is more important in video because it's harder to color correct later (not impossible, but I find it to be a lot more work). If your camera has manual white balance, learn to use it and you'll probably get better results.
posted by sharding at 7:49 AM on May 31, 2011

I work in documentary, and when people make the leap from messing around with a camera to something more serious, I think the most common mistakes are to either go nuts (as sharding points out) with the zooms and pans or to just shoot stills with a video camera.

Yes, hold on your subject long enough to establish the shot, but if your subject moves--you move. And not just by panning the camera (lateral move from left to right on the same plane or vice versa)--walk, use a skateboard as a dolly track, etc. Shoot enough B-roll (atmospheric shots, scenics, etc.) so that when you go to edit, you have something to cut in.

And work hard to hold the camera still.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:40 AM on May 31, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for your suggestions; are there any nice, affordable (around $200 or so) video tripods out there? I have a nice carbon fiber tripod for my still cameras but it has a ball head with quick release rather than the fluid head I assume is best for video and is really overkill for that lightweight video camera since I needed something that would hold a DSLR with 400 mm telephot lens steady.
posted by TedW at 8:47 AM on May 31, 2011

For stationary shots, any tripod sturdy enough to hold the camera still will work. I've used photo tripods for stationary video shots in a pinch. However, I've never used a cheap video tripod for camera moves that I thought was acceptable. A good tripod head is one place where it seems you really do get what you pay for (and the ones I really like are so expensive that I don't think anyone would buy them for home movies). Maybe there's some bargain gem out there; if there is, I hope someone else will post it, because I'd love to know about it.

(And yes, I agree with Ideefixe that you also don't want to just shoot stills. I probably over-stated my case, because IMHO too much movement is a lot more annoying than too little.)
posted by sharding at 10:06 AM on May 31, 2011

Take a look at this $14 camera stabilizer.
posted by Thug at 10:30 AM on May 31, 2011

Also, home-made Steadicam rig.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:52 AM on May 31, 2011

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