Nine Tips for Shooting Videos like a Professional

Versatility is the name of the game in today’s workplace.

Employers today expect candidates to have a laundry list of hard skills that they can put to work, contributing value, immediately. Nowhere is that more true than in television where the more skills you display, the better your chance at being on the team.

shooting videos like a pro

Sports Reporter Adam Mikulich shooting his own video of a University of Michigan Football game

An editor who is also adept at shooting videos…wonderful! A reporter who can shoot and edit their own stories… now you’re talking!

But it’s not as easy as picking up a camera and instantly creating Emmy-worthy videography. Shooting videos like a professional takes practice, trial and error and a few tips from the experts to help get you started:

1: Know your equipment

The best way to learn about the equipment, outside of taking a professional course, is to job shadow a videographer at your local station. During the shoot they may not be able to tell you too much, but if you take good notes and ask questions afterwards they’ll usually be happy to explain why they chose a certain technique or how they set up their camera.

Most shooters have pride in their work and like to share the right way to do things, so don’t be afraid to ask questions, it’s the best way to learn.

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2: Think about the finished product before you start

Having an organized idea of what you want to accomplish on every shoot, before you even turn on the camera, is essential. There is nothing worse than getting back to edit and realize you forgot to shoot an important viewpoint or didn’t shoot enough to cover all of the voice tracks.

Here’s how to stay organized:

  1. Write up a list of all the shots you want to achieve at various angles
  2. Imagine how each shot will fit on top of the script
  3. Shoot more than you think you’ll need
  4. Double check your list to make sure you got everything you need before leaving the site

3: Check the Audio

Always plug a set of headphones into the camera and listen directly to what is making it onto the tape or card (depending on your technology).  It’s easy to take this step for granted and assume the levels are correct or the microphone is working as it should, but that is the type of mistake you only make once (because your boss will be very mad at you).

Advanced tip: Think about the natural sound of what you are shooting. There is nothing better than a break in the voice track that allows for some natural sound to come through. In a well-produced piece the voice track, music and sound bites aren’t the only audio you hear.

4: Remember: Lights, comes before camera & action

When people post home videos on YouTube the quality is grainy, has poor color, lacks focus and the subjects seem 2-dimensional, blending in with the background.

Proper lighting changes all of that.

The best scenario is to shoot outdoors in the morning, later afternoon or an overcast day. Avoid when the sun is directly above your subject, it will cast unflattering shadows.

If you are indoors, set up a standard 3-point lighting system:

shooting videos like a pro takes good lighting

This is a basic 3-point lighting set-up. Sadly, I am terrible at lighting.

Key Light: Highlights the form of the subject

Fill Light: Since the key light is at an angle it will project shadows, the fill light, you guessed it,  fills them in.

Back light: Helps to add dimension, pulls the subject off the background and makes them stand out.

5: Don’t get wacky

Avoid constantly panning from side to side or zooming in and out with the camera, you are more likely to miss an important moment than create a masterpiece.

Hold your shots, get the quality segment you need and then play around a little in search of something special and unique.

6: Framing the shot – look around, not just at your subject

The common refrain you’ll hear about “framing your shot” is to think of the viewfinder with a tic-tac-toe style grid over it. Simple framing means never putting your subject smack dab in the middle box, always shade them towards one side or the other.

Also:

  1. Adjust Headroom. You want the subjects eyes about 1/3 of the way down from the top. If you leave to much space up top it looks funny, not enough and you cut off part of their head, which actually seems to work well in Game of Thrones.
  2. Think for fonts. I call it Neckroom, leave enough space at the bottom of the screen so that when the name font gets inserted it isn’t covering your subjects mouth (huge pet peeve of mine).
  3. Observe the background. Is there are telephone pole right behind your subject that appears like it’s coming out of their head? Is there a plant behind them that makes them appear to have an Afro? Look around, not just at your subject.

7: Don’t shoot everything from eye level, change your perspective

Panasonic p2 cameras are a popular professional camcorder in most newsrooms partly because they are very light, running about seven pounds. Take advantage of the lightness of the camera and shift your point-of-view, don’t always shoot from eye level, it’s boring and predictable.

human tripod shoot video like a pro

This person did not follow the human tripod instructions correctly

8: Use a tripod, or be like MacGyver

I know this sounds contradictory to my last point, but it’s actually complimentary. When you can, use a tripod to get the best looking, most accurate shots. If you don’t have a tripod steady yourself against a wall or just make a human tripod, since you are human you’ll never be without it.

3-steps to a human tripod:

  1. Sit butt on ground
  2. Bend your knees
  3. Prop elbows on knees

Advanced Tip:  If you don’t have a tripod and have no object to prop yourself against, stay at a wider angle shot. The closer in you zoom, the more unsteady the picture appears, the wider, the more stable.

9: Microphone Tips

If you want to look like an amateur go ahead and stick the microphone directly under your subjects nose. If you want to be a pro aim for about 5 inches below the mouth and give it a little tip to the side, not right in front.

Why you ask? Because it’s the best manner to avoid the inevitable spit and popping noises that come from normal talk.

Actionable Items from Nine Tips to Shoot Video like a Pro:

  1. Learning to shoot video will make you a more valuable asset in the workplace, and you never know you might like it!
  2. Be organized, know what you want to achieve before you put the station van in park.
  3. Lighting, audio, microphone all pretty important stuff.
  4. Keep it simple and get what you need, then ditch the tripod and start getting creative. Give yourself options when you get back to the edit bay.
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About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the broadcast media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, you should.

Comments

  1. Good

  2. K. Stubbs says:

    Dear Brian,

    Thank you for posting this article. I’d love to see more like this! As someone interested in journalism and news, I realize that experience operating a camera and editing footage are really important, and would like to learn how to do both, without taking a college course on them. Are there other articles like this on this site already?

    Thank you.

  3. Hi my name is Alonzo Savage as you have seen up above
    i may not be a professional, through the years that my kids have gone to school i have taken videos of events auditoriums,sporting events such as football games,basketball games,track and field,little league baseball games. Maybe i can use a few pointers on some things.that can be useful to me.

Trackbacks

  1. […] that will transcend all the changes the future brings. There will always be new technologies but the basic principles of shooting video will remain the […]

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  3. […] Most people that work behind the scenes in editorial TV News start out as a Production Assistant – which is a job about as generic as it sounds. You do a bit of everything; editing, camera work, log video, carry cables, set up lights, put mics on guests – you name it. It’s important to know technical skills and be a well-rounded and versatile employee – it’s not enough to know how to write, you better know things like non-linear editing and how to operate a camera. […]

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