This page last modified: Aug 06 2008
keywords:camcorder,shot,scene,pan,zoom,narration,video,movie,film,footage,quality,guide, description:Recommendations to make your home movies and video more professional title:How to shoot better movies These are mostly my personal notes to remind me of what I've learned. Nonetheless, you'll notice that these same recommendations are often followed in dramatic movies as well as documentaries. - Hold the camera steady. If you don't have a tripod or monopod, find something to lean on or brace against. - Don't pan. I know the temptation. How do you show the view of the Shenandoah Valley from an Appalachian Trail overlook or the 360 degree expanse of the Serengeti without panning? Panning almost always fails. If you must pan it has to be done very, very slow and very very steady. This is near impossible without a tripod. If you must pan then also shoot 3 or 4 extra scenes of the same panaorma with the camera not moving. A good scene is maybe 30 seconds long, so you should probably shoot at least 1 minute. I've shot many panoramas, and then when editing I say "Man, this is nice. Too bad this panning is crap. I wish I had 3 or 4 one minute shots to edit into something nice." - It does seem to work to pan slowly to follow a moving subject in the scene. A good technique is to pan slower than the subject and allow the subject to move into, through and out of the scene. - Walking to follow a walking subject can work. The motion will be jerky, but if you subject is moving at the same speed it helps diminish the sea-sickness effect. Practice walking smooth. Shoot a few shots and keep the best one. - Capture ambient sound. Everything not in the scene (especially cars and your crew) needs to be silent. - Narrate in separate shots. Shoot the narrator. Later you can use the narration audio as a separate track for another shot if you want. However, if you narrate over a live shot, the ambient sound will be lost. - Experient with your microphone to block wind noise. You may have to tape a wind sock over the camcorder microphone if your mic is built in. It is really irritating to get back to the studio and hear wind destroying some unique and great audio. - Don't zoom during a shot. Compose the shot which may require zoom to fill the frame with the subject, shoot the shot with at least 5 seconds lead in and trail off. - Zoom out is far better than zoom in. Sometimes you'll feel compelled to zoom. Slow zoom is critical. Practice getting the zoom control to just the right position for a slow, steady zoom. Do not pan and zoom at the same time. - Fade-in or fade-out effects don't work if the whole shot is required. You need several seconds of non-critical subject matter at the start and end of a scene. - Work out signals with your subject/narrator. This would be something like the following. It seems to work well if the subject is also the director. Someone needs to be the director. Narrator: Are you ready? Camera: Yes. Begin shooting. Camera: I'm shooting. The narrator silently looks pensive. 5 seconds elapse. Narrator: yada yada yada The narrator silently looks pensive again. 5 second elapse. Narrator: I'm done. Stop shooting. Camera: Ok. Done. - When narrating, think about what you will say before the shot starts. Practice before the shot. Do not start talking by taking a breath or making mouth noises or lip smacking. Don't say "uh", "so...", or "well..." or anything similar. - Talk to the camera when narrating. - It works well to get close to the narrator. I've had nice shots where the subject's face filled the frame (at least vertically). Place your subject to one side of the frame. - Turn off anti-vibration on long duration landscape shots. If you are shooting with focus at infinity, go to manual focus, and set the focus at infinity. - Set the manually white balance to daylight when shooting outdoors. Even outdoors, camcorders will dynamically adjust the whitebalance, and it can look odd. - A fairly long duration shot with nice ambient sound is good for a title scene. It can be a fairly boring shot because titles will be on the screen. - If you are shooting a sequence like hiking along a trail, compose each shot from the same direction. In other words, compose and shoot lookup up the trail (forward) in every shot. If you change to looking back the trail, shoot a "now we change to looking back the trail" shot as a transition. If you point the camera in different directions on each shot, the final movie is disjointed and confusing. - It is ok for people to walk out of a scene, or into a scene. - If you can keep the subject in focus, it can be nice to pan past objects near the camera. This lends a scene some depth.