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How to be a better videographer

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BY LISA DENSMORE
This article is the third of a four-part series aimed at helping you improve your television skills no matter your area of expertise. The first installment, “How to be a better producer,” appeared in the August issue of OU. Part two, “How to talk to a camera,” appeared in the October issue. The final installment will cover editing.
I’m not a videographer, but if you are, I can help you become a better one. As a producer, I’ve hired many videographers during the last 20 years. The ones that I rehire time after time have two important traits. First, they are dependable, getting the shots I need. Secondly, they are creative, often enhancing the show because of their camera skills. We’re both part of a team. As producer, I’m like a football coach on the sidelines, calling the plays. The videographer is the wide receiver that makes the catch time after time. And the host is the quarterback. While the fans might pay more attention to the quarterback (or TV show host), the wide receiver (or videographer), is just as important to the team’s success.
Sometimes the producer is also the host or the videographer. And many times, the videographer also has to be lighting technician and sound engineer. In outdoor television, we wear more than one hat. Regardless of the hats you wear, if you run a camera you can earn a trip to the championship game if you follow these basic tips:
LAND YOUR SHOTS
Most shots involve a zoom, a pan or a pull-out. At the end of the move, hold the frame for at least ten seconds. It gives your editor options. He can cut during the camera move or allow the viewer to “rest” at the end of your shot.
BE SMOOTH
In the modern video world where cam- eras are often hand-held and camera angles are less and less traditional, one rule still holds true: be smooth. Shaky or jerky cam- era work is unusable.
GET CUT-AWAYS
Close-ups are called “cut-aways” in television because they allow the editor to literally cut away from a wide shot, often to shorten a soundbite. Shoot lots of close-ups, and you’ll be your editor’s best friend. Certainly get the wide shot of the host landing the 25-inch rainbow trout, then get a close-up of the fish. Better yet, get a super-close up of the fish’s head with the fly in its mouth. Also get the host’s hand on his rod as he casts, his eyes concentrating on his rod, the fish splashing on the water, the guide watching the action, and any other tight shot that helps give details to the viewer. At a bare minimum, listen to what’s said on camera and notice objects that are central to the story, then get close-ups of them.
WATCH HOW YOU FRAME PEOPLE
With the advent of high-definition television, traditional camera framing has changed dramatically. If you’re shooting an interview, place the person to the right or the left of the frame. Then be sure the other half of the frame is filled with something generic or germane that’s not distracting to the viewer.
One rule that hasn’t changed is alternating sides of the frame for back-to-back interviews. If the first person is on the right side, place the second person on the left to avoid a jump-cut or awkward transition. Likewise, make sure you don’t leave too much space above a person’s head. And al- ways leave room at the bottom of the frame for “lower thirds,” the graphics that identify the person and their credentials.
TRY UNUSUAL ANGLES
Unusual angles catch a viewer’s eye. They mark you as an innovative, creative member of the production team. While not every angle should be unusual, shoot them as you are inspired. Creative camera angles often set a show apart from the rest of the clutter, keeping a viewer’s interest.
GET THE MONEY SHOT
Unusual angles are fine, but always be sure you’ve got the standard ones too. The difference between a new creative angle and a bad shot is a subjective call by the producer and the editor, but no one will find fault with normal camera angles if they are done well.
WHITE BALANCE A LOT!
Keep checking the camera lens iris and always adjust the white balance when the light changes. If there are two or more cameras capturing the action, be sure you are synched, not only in terms of time code but also white balance.
Use another take if you need it. If you don’t like your camera move, do it again and again if needed. And if the move isn’t working, suggest a change. It’s better to capture a good shot in the field than to settle for fair one. What looks fair in the camera usually translates to poor when viewed in post-production.
WATCH YOUR BACKGROUND
This is particularly important with HD as the frame is wider. In real life, a red rope marking a ski area boundary seems obscure enough, but when on camera it will add a distracting bright.♦
A member of the OWAA Board, Lisa Densmore has garnered numerous awards during her 20-year television career, including three Emmys, dozens of Tellys and the OWAA President’s Award for television in the Excellence in Craft contests. Her website: www.DensmoreDesigns.com.
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