BY CHRIS BATIN
The rapid evolution of digital technology has forever changed the world of videography. GoPro, smartphones, DSLR video, post-production software and computer processing power has been a godsend for some, yet a digital apple from the Garden of Eden for others.
It’s easy to fall into temptation. One- and two-man crews serve as videographer, producer, editor and host. Technology allows one or two people to do the work of several, but beware. As in life, some believe they have the skill and know-how to serve many masters, and fail miserably in serving all.
As a judge for video contests, I have observed a disturbing trend among entrants who have succumbed to temptation and taken a bite from the fruit of easy technology. Newbies and established pros alike are ignoring videography basics and are often plagued with a variety of production and technical flaws I didn’t see in competitions in the 1980s and 1990s.
There are many possible reasons for this. In the past, a six-figure equipment investment restricted outdoor videography to mostly serious, talented professionals. Today, anyone with a modern camera and computer can attempt digital videography, but as with a sinner trying to repent, a half-hearted effort won’t cut it.
Below are commands to avoid common sins I’ve seen.
I, too, have committed videography sins over the years, and present them as someone who stumbled and repented.
- Thou Shalt Think as a Videographer
When I was breaking into video production in the early 1990s, I asked OWAA past president Mark Sosin for advice.
“Video is not photography,” he said. “You have to think differently when you shoot video.”
His words took time to sink in. Eventually, I learned creating great video demanded thought as much as it did technical skill.
Thinking as a videographer isn’t easy. It’s hard work keeping tabs on sound, lighting, exposure, continuity, angle, script and a host of other technical and logistical aspects. Don’t try to wing it from memory. Shot lists and storyboards do the heavy work. It’s often apparent when someone didn’t use a checklist when creating a video. Mini-stories are presented under an established opening theme, but really have no place in a well-planned story. Storyboards prevent issues like not obtaining enough footage of a topic. Experienced shooters will capture twice the footage they need to fill in the blanks when editing. Too often videos are shot at events and given little to no editing. Telling a story involves highlighting images and sounds, supported by a storyline that takes the viewer on an adventure.
- Thou Shalt Not Abuse Audio Tracks
Post-production and audio-editing software allow the seamless blend of many voice-overs, sound bites and music tracks. More doesn’t mean better. Don’t let the theme music play continuously for nearly half of the segment. The music should enhance, not distract from, the interviews.
Audio is the glue that brings vibrancy to carefully-arranged clips. Too much glue can make the final product look ugly and unprofessional, where not enough can hasten the collapse of the structure. Strive for balance, and avoid extremes, especially with rap music or garish guitar riffs. You may personally like Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” but it’s not appropriate as a music track to accompany a segment depicting a teenage girl rejecting the anti-gun lobby to go on her first deer hunt. (You also probably don’t have the rights to use it.)
- Thou Shalt Embrace the Light
Use care in choosing a backdrop scene. There is no excuse for bad lighting, shaded faces and poor exposure. A gray day with a host in drab clothing positioned against a colorless winter backdrop is horribly depressing. A splash of color often saves a scene, but it’s not a cure-all. Reflectors and portable lights provide easy, affordable solutions. Just because it’s a 4K-capable camera doesn’t mean the footage is A-roll quality. Garbage outside the camera is garbage inside the camera.
Sunshine can also cast shadows, leaving faces in the dark.
Sunglasses and large-billed caps are often necessary on the water, but not for most of the segment. In the movie “Top Gun,” the pilots wear sunglasses and hats, but just for brief moments. People want to see expression in the eyes, not peer into the dark shadows of Mordor.
- Thou Shalt Not Worship B-Roll as A-Roll
GoPros and smartphones are great for capturing B-roll clips. Just because you have a clip, however, doesn’t mean you need to use it. It’s obvious to me as a judge when you didn’t film enough A-roll and you convinced yourself that the B-roll filler does the job. It doesn’t. And camera adjustments and reframing are also sins. Do it right in camera or spend hours fixing it in post.
- Thou Shalt Cut and Transition Properly
Don’t let your cuts and transitions resemble a video Frankenstein of clumsy appendages that don’t match up. Yes, fancy transitions can be a lot of work, especially at 60 frames per second. When in doubt, stick to simple cuts or dissolves.
- Thou Shalt Not Covet Color Imbalance
I’ve seen videos where people used post-production waveform scope and color-correction software. The problem originates from the lack of consistent exposure or dealing with multiple cameras with different sensors recording different color and luminescent properties. Coordinate camera settings beforehand for best results.
- Thou Shalt Use Proper ID
Always identify a person speaking on-camera the first time that person appears. This is easy with today’s graphics or titling software. Review CNN, Fox News or Sunday sports interviews for good examples of titling.
- Thou Shalt Work Every Day on the Job
Award-winning videographers create technically and emotionally enticing stories because they see the subtle and document the details.
These videography “sins” are all easily avoided. An award-winning video requires hard work, abundant creativity and attention to detail. If you follow these basic video commandments, I predict you’ll find a Garden of Eden filled with the fruits of success, rather than apples. ♦
— Chris Batin began his videography education in 1990, and by 2000, started a line of DVDs under his Alaska Angler and Alaska Hunter trademarks that have sold thousands of copies and created the foundation for “Chris Batin’s Underwater World of Alaska Sportfish” seminars and presentations. During his 41-year career in Alaska, he has sold footage to ESPN, Japanese television, government and commercial clientele. An OWAA member for 36 years, he has helped judge numerous contests for supporting members and various writers’ organizations.