I’d love to know how much you all are getting out of this little series on video basics for still photographers. Are you getting excited about shooting a video or two to go along with your stills? Have you been pressing that red button more often lately? Or at least thinking about it?
Last time we left off with some gear-oriented tips on panning and moving your camera while shooting video. Let’s continue with the nuts and bolts on moving the camera through the scene. If you’d like to view the videos I’ve posted, resist the temptation to click the play button right off; it won’t work. Instead click the title at top left. You’ll go to my Vimeo, where you can press the play button.
A Word about Gear
Last week I mentioned tripod heads designed (at least in part) for video. But I don’t want to make it about buying specialty gear. This series is for you who are just getting into video or thinking about it. If you start getting serious and video becomes a big focus of your shoots, then it’s worth spending money on accessories. For an intermediate level of enthusiasm, I’d limit purchases to an external shotgun microphone plus a fluid video head.
In terms of camera movement and shooting video on the fly, one of the more useful pieces of gear is one I already mentioned: a stabilizer rig. Many times I’ve wished I had one, but it is another piece of gear to haul along. For the following clip I had to hike up a rugged Utah canyon to get there. So I’m not sure I would have brought a stabilizer along even if I owned one. Despite the rock hopping, I think it turned out pretty smooth. To see that video go to Canyon Hike
Another piece of gear (or two) to consider, if and when you get serious about video, is a rail and/or cart. They both allow you to swing the camera through a smooth path or arc like you see in professional shoots. The technique is used most often in portrait & event shooting, but landscape videographers sometimes use rails. If you’re handy you can make them yourself.
Video Tips On Location
Now let’s go somewhere cool and see how to get started making moving pictures. The advice below doesn’t include some major issues of sound. Those are worth saving for a coming post devoted to audio. A few tips is all you need to get started:
- Focal length matters. I talked about this last week but it’s worth expanding on. The shorter your focal length and wider your angle of view, the easier it is to move the camera without shaky frame edges. This applies whether you’re doing it by hand or on a support. And it means that when you zoom in to long focal lengths it can be next to impossible to avoid a jittery look. That’s what happened in the clip below. In the excitement of being so close to Everest and its neighbours, I used a relatively long focal length and panned by hand, ending up with a jumpy video.
But before you slap that 16 mm. lens on, there is another effect when you’re shooting at very wide angles. It depends on how close you are to scene elements (especially the foreground), and also how fast you pan the camera, but the frame edges can move in a rather distracting way. Try it yourself and see: shoot a few panning video clips at a focal length of 16 or 17 mm. It may be best to use a focal length near 50 mm. when panning, at least when you’re just starting out.
- Go Manual. Although there is nothing wrong with automatic mode when you want a quick video, I recommend getting used to shooting manually right off the bat. Manual exposure and manual focus. For example, in a nature scene where you want everything in focus, go about it this way: While you’re in aperture priority mode, pick a smallish aperture (f/8 – f/11) for good depth of field. Then point the camera at a place in the scene that represents the (approximate) average brightness of everything you’ll be panning through. Note the settings (aperture, shutter speed and ISO). Then go to manual mode and switch to those settings. Autofocus on something about 1/2 to 2/3 into the scene. Then switch to manual focus and leave it there for the duration of the clip.
- Plan your clip. Figure out ahead of time where to start and stop your video, then do a quick dry run before you press play. Of course if you’re shooting live subjects you may decide to continue the clip or cut it short. Still, getting an outline of the clip in your head ahead of time is a good idea. Adjust your position to get the smoothest and quietest (if you’re recording ambient sound) motion. While panning I generally try to avoid moving my feet. Even if on a tripod, how you change position through a pan will affect the final product.
- Slow down. The most common beginner mistake is to pan and move the camera too quickly through the scene. As always with camera movement during video, focal length is a factor. The longer your focal length the slower you need to pan. When you pan too quickly the scene appears to race by. A further influence is how far away you are from whatever you’re filming. When fairly close to the subject, go more slowly. But don’t go to the other extreme. A super-slow pan will bore your viewers, leading them to not finish the clip. The best way to know the right speed for different lenses and various kinds of scenes is to experiment and play the clips back on your LCD.
- Review & Repeat! When you first start out shooting video, just like when you started still photography, you’ll shoot a lot of junk. The key is to review the shot before moving on. You’l likely find that it requires a number of takes to get it right. For the waterfall at bottom, I did 3 or 4 takes before I got one I liked. As you gain more experience you’ll more often get it right the first time. This is a worthy goal. You want to catch the most interesting goings-on, not to mention the most interesting light.
That’s it for this week’s Foto Talk! Please don’t hesitate to share your own experiences with video. Or ask a question about anything at all. Have a wonderful weekend and happy shooting!