Shoot to Edit: A Guide to Using Your Camcorder
by, 02-07-2009 at 10:26 AM (5351 Views)
Post a watchable video on almost any forum and you're guaranteed to be asked the same question, "what software did you use". Or perhaps, "what camera did you shoot that with". Although perfectly understandable questions, they expose the first faux pas of the video editing newbie... that the editing suite is a magical place that creates professional looking video. In the right hands, and with a lot of ingenuity, even the most dire of video can be made to look presentable. But why go to all that effort when you can let the camera do the talking? Why spend hours hunting for usable clips when you can edit together a series of beautifully shot segments? There is no reason, so get your camcorder out and start getting inventive...
Be one with your camcorder
How are you holding your camcorder? Do you always hold it in the same position? I'm guessing you shoot more or less everything in exactly the same angle with your hand cupped around the camcorder inside the strap. A perfectly reasonable and comfortable position, but why not try a bit of variety? Before exploring other ways, lets get the basics of this hold licked! I tend to use this 'hold' when filming a head shot, i.e someones talking to the camera, as it's easy to align the camcorder at head height. If you tuck your free arm against your body with your free hand supporting your camcorder arm, you'll get a rock solid shot even when zoomed. But remember to avoid using that zoom whilst someone;s talking! If you do need to zoom right in and keep a rock solid shot, a variation on this theme is to take a seat and rest both elbows on each of your legs. You can hold this rock solid shot for as long as needed without arm fatigue - and because your subject is so far away, it doesn't matter that you're sitting down!
If you're filming a crowd of people or tacking a single person in full frame, why not move the camera to just above waist height? Now obviously you'll have to abandon your favoured hand cradle hold, but you'll soon love the freedom this gives. Hold the camera with both hands so that your fingers are underneath the camcorder. At waist height, this gives a different perspective and one you wouldn't have got if you hadn't taken your hand out of that strap! To pan around, move your upper body. This gives a much smoother pan that you'd achieve with just one hand. You can now get closer to you subjects without looking intimidating. Simply position the camera below waist height and point up towards your subject. You can be sneaky with these kind of shots in post production by shooting this angle before and after shooting at a traditional interview angle - mix this footage in with the interview as a cutaway and it'll look like you have two camcorders. If you look closely at TV interviews, more often that not the cutaways to different angles aren't actually in 'real time'... sneaky but useful and no-one will notice.
Don't be afraid to rest your camera on a wall of suitably stable piece of scenery. If your arms get tired or you need to by at a high zoom, rest the camcorder on something and you've got an instant tripod. Again, because the subject is far away, it won't really matter what height you're filming from.
Angles and moves - mangles
Changing how you hold your camcorder is a start, but using these holds to your advantage is the next step. You'll find that alternative methods of holding your camcorder allow for a much increase variety of shots. The 'dutch' shot can be particularly effective for use as cutaways - simply tilt the camera around about 15-30 degrees from horizontal and keep it there whilst shooting a static shot. Alternatively set the camera at an angle and walk slowly past your subject or scenery from one side to the other. Another variation on this theme is to move from horizontal to a tilt as you move forwards to your subject. This can be a great setting the scene shot but requires a lot of practice to get right.
Perhaps the most difficult shot without camera stabilisation is tracking your subject - walking with the camera in a fixed position. I find the easiest way to do this is to hold the camera with both hands at waist height. Once you master this, how about moving around your subject? By filming around 180 degrees, from one side to the other, you get an interesting and visually appealing shot. This is best achieved with the camera held steady in both hands. If you've got a steady hand, another stunning shot is to combine this 180 degree movement with a walking subject. If your subject is reading a map for example, walk up from behind and the then around your subject as he or she is walking with the camcorder lens fixed at their head. Continue tracking around until you're behind them, but as you're moving towards their back slowing adjust the position of the camcorder so that you focus on the map (or whatever they're holding). This works perfectly if the subject stops as you come to rest on the map. With practice you can get a feel for when they will stop without direction! You can also use this when two people are meeting. As one person is walking towards another, track around so that as they greet, you're behind the other subject.
Let nature be your friend. If you see a tree and especially branches full of green leaves, use it to your advantage. This can create a stunning visual effect by moving your camera slowly along the line of the branch before dipping underneath and exposing the scene behind it. Alternatively walk up to and under or through branches to reveal your main shot. Again this requires a lot of practice to get a smooth shot.
The up and down
Crouch down with the camera just below your knee. Now slowly stand up and as you move, bring the camera up towards head height. This can can work beautifully for an opening shot as you slowly move the camera up towards your subject - watch them smile as the camera eventually points towards their face. You can also combine this 'up and down' shot with the reveal above. Use something like a tree or fence to slowly move the camera up and then have the final third of the shot as the reveal of the scenery.
Manual Focus and Depth of Field
Changing the focus is a great way of creating a stunning effect. Position your camera just behind an object - again let's use the tree branches as an example. By default your camera will try and focus on the branches themselves but we want to see what's behind this. So switch to manual focus and adjust so that you subject is crystal clear and the foreground becomes blurred. You'll be amazed at how effective this simple technique can be.
These are just a few ways to make editing your videos that much easier. By combining these shots, you'll realise that editing isn't as difficult as you've found. But as with anything, practice makes perfect and these tips are nothing without getting out there and putting in the time and effort. This certainly isn't a comprehensive guide to shooting video, but will hopefully inspire you to experiment with different angles, positions and more advanced camera techniques. Don't let that camcorder hand strap constrain you. Be expressive and shoot stunning visuals.