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Monday, January 28, 2013

Steady Video is Usually Better

We've seen the movies where the camera is shaking around (think Cloverfield) and the documentary/mockumentary style television shows like The Office. But you'll notice in most of the professional video you see out there, the shots are fairly steady to perfectly steady.

Why is this? Well let's start with and experiment: shake your head. Did you notice anything? Did it seem like there was an earthquake? Probably not. In fact, it probably seems like things were fairly still. Now there might be a slight perception of movement, but your brain does a pretty good job at keeping the world steady.

One of the main principals I always keep in mind when shooting video is to Shoot as the Eye Sees. Somewhere along the line this jewel was imparted to me and I've never forgotten it. It applies to several other tips I'll be addressing in the future.

It makes sense right? As you strive to shoot better video, always be asking why you're taking a certain approach to shooting that video. If you're looking to bring the viewer into the experience, then you need to consider how that person would see what you're shooting if they were there. They wouldn't see a shaking, panning, zooming, blurry world. It would be very focused and steady.

But what about those movies and tv shows? Well, as with any of my tips, much is left to creative impulse.
But consider something like Cloverfield or The Blair Witch Project. Both of these films were shot with the idea that they would be considered "found footage". In other words, they were meant to look like bad, raw or loosely edited video. The filmmakers were essentially trying to mimic what an amateur might have been shooting.

Here comes the hard part. When you're using such light-weight and small cameras to shoot your video, how can you keep them steady? Basically, you have to be the MacGyver of video to achieve this.

The first step is just being aware. A lot of shake can be eliminated by simply paying attention and wanting to get a steadier shot. That desire comes from the knowledge that people might find shaky video to be less appealing.

The obvious choice is to use a tripod and make sure it's level...but that's too easy. Let's assume you're shooting with your smart phone and there isn't a good tripod option.

1. Loosen your grip. Let the phone or camera float in your hand. I've even cupped my and kind of balanced it as best I can to get rid of some shake. Get a cup of coffee and walk across the room with and iron grip on's probably gonna spill everywhere as your grip transfers every bit of motion from your body to the cup. Now grip it (as we pretty much instinctively do) and let it almost balance and feel it glide across the room. Let gravity take over and get rid of some of the motion.

2. Set your hand on something level. A fence, a table, a chair, a stool, the ground: all these things can work as a tripod if you're trying to get a steady shot. If you can, set your camera on the level surface and hold it there. This can be tricky composition wise, but be looking for those opportunities.

3. Breath through your stomach if you're holding the camera out to capture the moment. It's a simple thing that will get rid of some of the up and down movement coming from your shoulders.

As you start putting these tips together and working on shooting better video, you'll realize that many of them are difficult to achieve at the same time. That's why there are guys who get paid a lot to shoot video. But even doing one or two of them at a time will give you significantly better shots that other people will enjoy watching. And getting rid of that shake is probably one that should go on the top of the list.