With the development of DSLR cameras, videography is no longer reserved for Hollywood’s hot shot filmmakers. Shooting high quality video is now possible with a little help from a decent tripod, some basic audio equipment, a few setting changes on your camera and a splash of creative energy.
The first step to shooting video is to figure out your camera settings. The first thing you’ll want to do is to switch your camera from still to video mode. This will differ from camera to camera, so it’s best to look through your instruction manual to become familiar with your model’s settings. Switching to video mode will usually require changing the mode dial at the top of the camera or flipping a switch on the back of the camera next to the LCD display. Once you’re in video mode, most cameras will automatically switch to live preview mode, which allows you to see what you’re shooting on the LCD display, rather than through the viewfinder, but some models require you to switch to live preview mode separately. You’ll want to be able to see the image on the LCD display so that you can easily watch what you’re recording.
Once you’ve figured out how to switch to video mode, you’ll have to meter for the lighting situation. Keep your shutter speed between 1/30 and 1/60 of a second, depending on how quickly your video subjects will be moving. If you stray outside of that range, moving figures will appear choppy or blurry when the video is played back. 1/30 of a second is perfect for interviews, while 1/60 of a second is better for fast action. Keep your ISO as low as possible, and set your aperture accordingly. A shallow depth of field is often preferable when shooting video because it allows the viewer to focus in on one specific detail or subject, even when a lot of motion is happening within the frame. Make absolutely sure you’ve metered correctly before you start shooting. If you change the meter settings mid-recording, you’ll notice a sudden change in brightness during the video, which can be distracting to the viewer and is hard to fix in post-processing.
The next thing to think about is audio. Audio is huge when it comes to shooting video. It can make or break the quality of a finished piece. While the on-camera microphone isn’t awful, it’s definitely not ideal. For optimal audio, try a shotgun mic, which sits on the top of your camera and picks up all surrounding audio, or a wireless mic, which can be placed anywhere and will pick up a more specific section of audio. The Rode VideoMic Pro Compact Shotgun Microphone is a great option for beginners and professionals alike. This ultra compact mic is easy to use and picks up high quality audio. Plus, its sleek, portable look will be less intimidating than a larger setup for subjects who might not be very comfortable in front of a camera. The Sennheiser ew 100 G3 Wireless System with ME4 Lavalier Mic is another great option for even more exact audio recording. The kit includes a clip on lavalier mic, which is perfect for interviews, especially in settings with distracting background noise.
Lastly, you’ll need a tripod. Handheld video can be done successfully, but it often comes out looking sloppy and unprofessional, so tripods are almost always the better option. Larger, heavier tripods are preferable when shooting video because they’re more stable and less susceptible to wind shake or other outside forces. A tripod with a panhandle is ideal for more stability during slow pans and zooms. Another alternative to the classic tripod is the Varavon – Lite 800 32-Inch Slider. With this slider, you can shoot smooth, rolling pano shots, which are great for video and will give your work a professional quality you won’t be able to achieve by hand.
Once you have your gear ready and your settings down, the fun can begin! There are endless creative options when it comes to shooting video, but there are a few common mistakes beginners often make that are best to avoid. Once you start shooting, don’t change the focal length in the middle of a take. Shots that zoom in and out without any cuts can look rough and sloppy. Finish shooting one take at a wide focal length, and then, if you want more variety and detail, shoot a separate take that’s more zoomed in. You can cut the two takes together in post-processing for a smoother and more professional looking sequence.
Another common mistake is to not leave your subjects enough headroom. This is the space between the top of the frame and the top of the person’s head. Make sure you have enough headroom in every shot so that your subject’s head is never cut off in the video. This is especially important when shooting interviews. Shoot a couple trial takes and play them back on your camera to see how much space you need above your subject’s head for a professional, clean look.
Lastly, it’s important to think about the editing process and how you want the finished piece to come together while you’re out shooting. This means you should be getting a lot of varied B-roll footage. These are the setting and detail shots that you’ll lay over the audio to give the video piece a more complete, well-rounded feel. Make sure you shoot at a variety of focal lengths, with plenty of tight detail shots. These tight shots will be a life saver when you’re editing the video and need some interesting B-roll to cut between interviews and wide landscapes and settings.
Once you have your video and exposure settings down, your audio equipment set and everything secure on a tripod, you’re ready to shoot!