Monday, February 05, 2007

SHOOT BETTER VIDEO: 33 tips from Ellen Seidler

One of the perks of finishing up one assignment (helping modernize our paper's website) and heading on to the next one (back to the newsroom as a combo print/online features reporter) is that I'm finding cool stuff as I pack up my office. Today's gem: Notes from a fantastic class given last March at the UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism during my week as a 2006 Western Knight Center fellow.

A lot of us in print journalism are moving toward online video storytelling these days, but you don't have to be a pro-jo to get value out of these practical rules. The ideas here belong to Ellen Seidler, but the paraphrasing -- poor as it may be -- is mine.
  1. Discuss your expectations with the team first. Plan your shoot.
  2. When you're shooting on new DV tape, roll 30 seconds of nothing to get past the typically imperfect tape head.
  3. Check your audio before you need it. Are your levels set accurately?
  4. Shoot selectively. Be disciplined with start/stop/record. It will make you a better shooter.
  5. Shut up when you shoot. Audio makes video three-dimensional and you'll need that ambient sound... so don't yack over it.
  6. Hold all your shots at least 10-15 seconds. You can always make a 10-second shot into a two-second shot.
  7. Give yourself extra room in editing action shots.
  8. Avoid excess zooms or pans. Use them sparingly, if at all, and only to reveal or emphasize.
  9. Always begin or end a zoom or pan on a static shot. A zoom should begin with 15 seconds of wide shot, end with 15 seconds of tight shot. This gives you flexibility in editing.
  10. Shoot in sequences: Wide shot; details; angles.
  11. Always use a tripod when shooting a static subject.
  12. Always use a tripod on a sit-down interview.
  13. The wider the angle, the less shake in the shot.
  14. Don't be shy. Get up-close and personal with your subject.
  15. Mix your shots by this ratio: one quarter wide, one quarter medium; half close-up.
  16. Close-up translates a lot better on the Web.
  17. In composing shots, set up a frame and let things happen within it.
  18. For sit-down interviews: Shoot head and shoulders.
  19. Remember the Rule of Thirds. If you divide your screen into vertical thirds, know that the viewer's eye wants to rest on the upper third of the screen.
  20. If your subject in a sit-down is looking into the camera, center the shot.
  21. If the subject is looking at the reporter, then eye-level composition is good. Frame the shot with "nose room" in the direction the subject is looking. Don't center the subject in this composition.
  22. Tell the subject: "Don't look at the camera. Look at the reporter."
  23. Don't make eye contact with the subject.
  24. If you're doing multiple interviews, keep the shots similar.
  25. Get your set-up and "two-shots" after the interview. Move the camera back, but stay on an imaginary line (and remember: once you choose a side, stick to it). Now put the reporter in the shot and have the reporter talk while you run tape of the two of them together. Then get a reverse shot over the subject's shoulder of the reporter listening. Then get a close-up of the reporter listening. You'll use these options during editing.
  26. To really be professional, record 30 seconds of silence to get "room tone."
  27. To get tight depth of field, stretch out your zoom.
  28. Change your angle and perspective. Don't treat the camera like your eyes.
  29. If you're shooting something boring like a building, get people in the shot.
  30. Use a tripod for steady shots. If a tripod isn't available, get close and go wide.
  31. Anticipate action.
  32. Be actively involved in the context of what's going on.
  33. Take care in "dressing the mic" when using a lavaliere set-up. Hide the wire in the subject's lapels, under jackets, etc. "Flip the clip" as needed. Set the mic up in line with the subject's mouth, but not too close to the throat.
A couple other useful tips from my various notes and scribbles:
  • Have a labeling system and be sure to label all your tapes. It's easy to skip this (something I know from experience), but don't. Pretty soon you'll have a lot of identical tapes, and you be glad you took a few seconds in the field to get organized.
  • Want to override your auto-focus? This is particularly useful if you're planning a zoom-out. Focus in advance on the subject farthest away and then pull back to the shot you want.