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Friday, February 8, 2013

Learn to Get the Action and Reaction

Now as you're moving forward with editing your video and keeping editing in mind when you're shooting, it's time to start thinking of more ways you can avoid the jump cut. Beyond that, it's time to start thinking about how you can better tell the story of what you're trying to share with your shooting and editing.

Sir Issac Newton would have made a great videographer. Paraphrasing one of his laws of motion: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Specifically for us shooters, we always need to be looking for the action and reaction in our scenes. This idea doesn't necessarily apply to static objects  but more specifically to the thing we should focus on the most: people.

Let's say your friend is giving a rousing speech and ends one of his paragraphs by making such a great point that the audience gives him a standing ovation before he continues. Think back to why you were getting the cutaways in the last post. So you could edit portions of his speech together without jump cuts. Now here's a way to get a cutaway that also adds to the story. If in the final edit, your friend makes his triumphant point and all you see is his face while the audience is cheering, then you've really missed out on part of the story of the scene.

If you think in terms of action and reaction, then you're naturally going to want to get the shot of the audience cheering (and you're probably going to want to move to get their faces).

An aside here: a sign of amateur video that features people is shots that don't treat the face as the most important thing. That's where all the emotion is. Backs of heads, feat, arms...they can serve a purpose, but when you really want to communicate feelings, go for the face. You may have a special reason for not doing so...think Nanny in the Muppet Babies, but, most of the time, it's the face that tells the story. Also always be asking yourself why. Why would the first several shots of the opening sequence of MacGyver only be his hands?

So you're going to want that action (the action being the speech) and the reaction (the audience's response to the speech).

In our fictional scenario, you've now solved one problem (giving yourself a cutaway) and you've also told a better story by showing that reaction. Now your viewer will really start feeling like they were there.

It's important to address the real world, practical applications of my tips. I understand it may be hard for you as a hobbyist to put yourself in the position to be able to get all these shots. You have to be able to work with what you have and what you're comfortable with doing. There's nothing wrong with that.

Nevertheless, if you're going to take it to the next level, you're going to need to be prepared to move. If you've ever been at a wedding or concert and seen a professional videographer or photographer...I'll bet you noticed something. They were all over the place. Moving, moving, moving.

We had a little saying in the news business: shoot and move; shoot and move; shoot and move.

It's up to you to think in advance about what position you can put yourself in to be able to get those cutaways and that every important action and reaction (while also being courteous to others around you).

Get that action and reaction and your final product will improve by one thousand percent.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Editing: The Cutaway

It's important to remember shooting and editing go hand in hand. And now that you've learned about what a jump cut is, it's time to start thinking about ways to avoid that jump cut.

The first thing you're going to want in your bag of tricks is known as the "cutaway".  When editing, you may need to break up the action you've shot with another shot (hopefully something relevant to the scene). Often, it's needed to avoid a jump cut.

Let's look at an example: let's say you have video of your friend giving a speech that you're wanting to edit down to the most important parts. Let's be honest. You don't need all his thankyou's and warm up jokes, so you're going to take the most important parts and cut them together. The problem is, every time you do this, there's going to be a jump cut in the video. Even a minute change can look like a glitch. Some editors will leave the jump cut in there as a special effect, but it's important to know why and when you're wanting to do that. For our purposes, we'll take a pure approach and try to avoid those jump cuts.

If you sat down to edit and never thought about this in advance, you're going to have a pretty hard time finding something to cutaway to in between those clips of the speech. In fact, as a shooter, it's your job to not "shoot your editor (or yourself if you're the editor) into a corner" and to be looking for opportunities in the field to avoid those jump cuts later.

An aside to broadcast new photographers who often aren't editing their own video: you need to make sure your editor doesn't even have a choice to use a jump cut. Think ahead. 

Ok, so how are you going to get out of those jump cuts? Well you're going to have to think ahead while you're in the field. While you're at the speech, you're going to need to shoot some cutaways.

What can this be? Here's a short list; some better than others:

  • His hands on the podium
  • Faces in the crowd listening (this will play into action/reaction in future posts)
  • Maybe even his feet

In other words, you're going to have to move. I always liked to use a wide shot in which maybe the subject was in the shot, but I had kept him out of focus. As long as he's roughly in the same part of the screen, it shouldn't look to bad. But trust your eye. If you go from a wide shot to a tight shot of the same person and it looks jumpy...don't use it.

Now that you have a few cutaway shots, you'll be able to use those when editing the speech. During those transitions from clip to clip, simply use the cutaway shots (just the video, not the audio).

A mentor once told me to always get the "cat in the window shot". This means get a shot of something completely away from the action just in case you need that cutaway. Now some purist might disagree using the argument that every shot needs to add to the story of the scene, but it never hurts to have that in your bag of tricks.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Editing: What is a Jump Cut?

Now that you're ready to get into editing your video, there are some concepts you're going to need to understand to make that edited video more enjoyable (or just make sense).

When you combine two pieces of video or splice them together, you're creating a cut. Think of it as that tiny moment of time when one clip of video turns into another clip of video.

It's important to address the idea of transitions here. Most editing programs come with ways of making your cuts more fancy...the most common is the dissolve. If you've ever edit with the iMovie app, dissolving is done automatically. This is where the clips of video slowly turn into each other as if they were overlaying each other. I don't know of a better way to say it. The cut is abrupt. And the cut is our friend. Down the line, we'll address the cut vs. dissolve issue, but here we're addressing a related but separate issue.

There are a couple of different things my mentors said that have stuck with me.

The first is that good editing goes unnoticed. That's why when you're watching the pro video on TV, you're not really thinking about all the shots changing constantly (and they are). In fact, you're not likely to see one shot held longer than a few seconds unless there's a really good reason. And I'll address that in a later post.

Another thing one of my mentors told me was that he imagined the jump cut got its name when it first happened in a movie theater and everybody in the audience jumped.

So what is it, already? A jump cut happens in editing when an object is in one part of the screen in one shot, then in the next shot is in another part of the screen. So that the object has appeared to have jumped though space and time to move.

Here is an example of a jump cut:

Pretty freaky looking, right? Sure...there are many times when professional editors use the jump cut for a special effect, but a lot of time in shooting and editing is spent trying to avoid the jump cut.

In fact, much of the advanced shooting tips I will give will involve strategies to avoid the jump cut later on when you're editing. That's right, when you're shooting, you have to be thinking about editing. They go hand in hand. The story is important and the jump cut is your worst enemy.

With some of the fast paced editing you see in many reality shows and documentaries, a jump cut slips in every now and then, but they are few and far between in the pro world because they are so jarring and they sure sign of an amateur editor.  The more you learn about shooting and editing, the more you'll realize how much time and effort is put into avoiding those jump cuts.

One by one, we'll start looking at some advanced SHOOTING techniques that will help you avoid those jump cuts later and also make you a better story teller.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Getting Started with Editing Your Video

There may come a time when you're interested in becoming a little more involved with your video--an easy move considering almost every camera including phones come with some sort of editing option and every laptop comes with a basic program from the factory. Even Apple has made the iPhone a one stop shop for shooting and editing with the iMovie App.

I remember shooting a broadcast news piece when the iPhone was released along with the iMovie app. I don't recall which model it was...I believe the 4. At this point in my career, I wasn't a field photographer anymore, but I decided I wanted to go talk to the people waiting in line for their phones and (because I was lucky enough to get mine early) I wanted to shoot and edit the entire piece on my phone to really drive home how far our technology had advanced. It was important to me to convey why these people might be so interested in a phone. That was the value I wanted to communicate to the viewer. In this case, using the technology seemed to be a good way to drive that point home.

I was surprised how easily I was able to do something right on my phone which I normally used several thousand dollars worth of equipment to accomplish.

By now we've gotten used to and expect that kind of power in our smart phones, but the moral of the story is that it's not what you use to shoot and edit, but how you use it.

That's why you won't find me outright endorsing any particular editing software or camera. There are many writers on the Internet that devote all of their time to this. Matter of fact, I don't know if I could tell you every available option out there and certainly haven't used all of the editing software available.

What's more important are the principals behind editing. The same principals I applied whether using expensive AVID software or the iMovie app.

Editing simply means reducing the raw video you've shot down to the parts you feel are the most interesting or convey the most important things about the scene you're hoping to portray. It also allows you to take multiple video files or shots and combine them.

Editing is going to allow you to take all of your video and condense it down into one, easily understood story. And that's the key here: story. Just like shooting video needs to be about communicating what you value in a particular happening, editing needs to aid in telling that story. And it needs to help the person watching that video better understand what's going on.

What you're shooting and what you're editing go hand in hand. In fact, the more involved you get in editing and shooting video, the more intertwined the two become.

So the most basic idea with editing is getting rid of the video that doesn't really mean anything. Perhaps you wanted to film your friend's speech, but started recording a minute before he started talking. Editing allows you to get rid of that minute of useless video. This idea in particular is usually referred to as "trimming". If you imagine your video as a line (or timeline) where the pictures are laid out in chronological order starting from when you pressed record, then you're trimming what's on the front in and back to make the clip shorter so that you're only sharing what's important with the viewer.

The next basic idea is combining separate shots. So say you've recorded your friend's speech and then several minutes later another friend gave a speech and you shot that as well, but you wanted to combine those two things into one continuous video. Editing will let you splice those two clips together.

I know this is basic, basic stuff, but it needs to be addressed.

Think about it in terms of time. You're wanting to communicate something you value: you're friends' speeches. At the same time, you want what you're trying to communicate to be easily understood and convenient for the person viewing it. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to sit through a bunch of dead time while other people are talking or nothing is happening. In editing, you're simply removing that time in order to convey the most valuable parts....while still telling the story of the event you value.

If you're wanting to tell the stories of your life with video, then eventually you're going to want to start becoming familiar with editing.

Understanding the basic ideas above is the first step.

If you're ready to make your edited videos more pleasant for the viewer, then we'll need to discuss some more advanced topics.

To me, the very first concept is that of the JUMP CUT. I will address that in my next post.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Wide, Medium, and Tight Shots

Now that you're learning some of the basic tips and tricks to shooting better video, it's time to get a little more advanced and start thinking about the types of shots you're shooting in terms of their framing.

This is going to be especially helpful if you're thinking about editing your video. We're going to start addressing editing soon, so get ready for that. First, though, let's start with three basic shots: the wide, medium, and tight (or close-up) shots.

The Wide Shot

This is exactly what it sounds like. Just a big shot with everything you need in it. Imagine you're shooting your friend giving a speech. This shot would have not only your friend, but possibly the entire room you're in and the audience. The basic idea is that your subject is a small part of the screen. A type of wide shot might be called and "establishing shot" because it establishes the scene. You can also get some "super wide" shots for a little more variety.

If you're shooting one shot you plan to use for social media, a shot framed this wide may be to distracting for the viewer. Remember the donut. It may be best to look for a medium or tight shot. If you have no choice (maybe you're at a football game), then look for a way to get that shot as steady as possible.

The Medium Shot

To me, medium shots compose much of what I see people posting on line and most of what you see in video. It's easy to think of it as just your regular ole shot. Maybe it's just a shot of your friend as he stands at the podium giving his speech. Remember to keep your composition clean and medium shots go a long way toward telling the story you're communicating. But sometimes you really want to see what's going on or see your subject's eyes. And that's why you get:

The Tight Shot

You can call it a close-up, but this is just getting up close and personal with your subject and getting that framing tight. As your friend gives the speech, we don't even see the podium anymore. Maybe it's from the chest up or even his face. If you want to go for that extreme tight or "extreme close-up", you might just get his eyes. I've always been a fan of getting the extreme tight shots for the editing process. But not only for that, a good close up cuts out a lot of clutter and really makes the clip or scene easily digested.

As a side note: a good lesson to keep in mind is that you want to be kind to your viewer. We've already established you're here because you want to share your video. Extreme tight shots of gross things tend to turn people off. My pet peeve is the "chewing mouth" shots I see every once in a while or anything involving blood.

It's a common misconception that broadcast news outlets only show death and gore. Maybe you've heard the phrase, "If it bleeds, it leads." While the content they report may tend to be focused on the bad things that happen, most local and national news organizations have policies or at least editors that often decide against showing blood or images that may be disturbing (there are several reasons and it can be a controversial topic). Nevertheless, simply use your best judgement and maybe ask yourself if you'd watch your video while eating.  

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Shooting Video as the Eye Sees

If you've read through some of the blogs, then you've probably heard me say that the most effective way to communicate your idea through video is by shooting as the eye sees.

Beyond the theory, it's also a good concept to keep in mind because it makes the choices you're making as videographer easier.

Whether it's the angle of your shot, the framing, composition or whether you use panning or zooming, keeping this idea in mind will make your video that much more easier to digest for your viewer.

Why can't I just do whatever feels right to me? You absolutely can. As with everything on this blog...these are tips. Tips I sometimes call rules, but I always add that rules are meant to be broken. If you're reading this because you want to shoot better video, then this is something you're going to want to pay attention to.

If you're shooting video that you don't expect anybody else to watch, then it really doesn't matter what you do. But if you're wanting your video to speak to anybody who watches it, you're going to need to keep them in mind while you're shooting. And if you really want to engage them, you're going to have to work on your skill and practice.

We experience the world through our senses. We smell, feel, hear and see what's going on around us. We smell, taste, fell and see food. The art behind video is communicating sight and sound to the people you want to watch it so that they feel they are there. You want them to get the story of what's going on. Because that's why you're shooting it in the first place. Right?

You can easily pick up your phone and shoot your ceiling and your walls...maybe some carpet...but this isn't something you're probably interested in sharing with your friends and family unless you're planning on selling your house. In most cases, you've placed value on what you want to share. It means something to you and you want to share that value with other people. By the time you make the decision to share what you value with other people, you're already making a decision to make the thing you're valuing understandable.

Perhaps it's that you want to share your child's first steps or something amusing you've seen while taking a walk. In both cases, you feel it's important that your friends and family share in something that has brought you happiness or joy. You want to spread that joy and happiness.

If you're reading this, then that means you want to be more effective at sharing that joy and happiness. You want to convey those feelings as best you can so that the person watching might think they're there.

Video is probably the best way to show somebody what's happening where they are not. So when trying to shot better video, the immediate question is: what would your friend or the person you plan on sharing this with see if they were here. How would they see it? Would their vision constantly be shaking? Would they be viewing things at weird angles? Tilt your head. Everything still seems pretty much level, right? Would they be looking at other people in the eyes or looking down or up at them? The answers to these questions can guide you to making the right choices when shooting video. They can make your video more understandable to the viewer.

And that's important. Because when you're in a situation, you immediately grasp what's going on around you and what's important because your brain filters out a lot of the noise (there's a lot of interesting science about this). But when it comes to sharing something with somebody that isn't there, it's up to you to act as that filter. To make the scene easily understood.

Most of the tips on this blog are geared towards helping you get better at that, but so long as you ask yourself what the eye would see, you'll make great strides in making your video better.


Friday, February 1, 2013

To Pan or Not to Pan

Zooming is a pretty common concept most of us a familiar with. Another camera move that goes hand in hand with zooming is called panning. This simply means moving the camera from left to right. It's something you do all the time instinctively. But there are some aspects of the concept that need to be examined in order to shoot better video.

And are you ready for what I'm going to say? Shoot as the eye sees. The eye never zooms, but let's examine panning with an experiment. 

First, choose two objects on opposite sides of the room you're in. Now look at one of the objects. Quick! Look at the other object. Do it again. 

Did you notice anything? You probably didn't pay much attention to the room whooshing by as you moved your attention to the other object. You probably even blinked. If you did notice the room whooshing by, then you are very much in the minority. 

Now, this might be a little harder. Imagine somebody throwing a football or another object across the room. The subject is the ball. Notice anything this time? You very much followed the action of the ball and "panned" your eyes across the room. 

When it comes to panning while shooting video, follow the action. Luckily, you're going to find that most of what's interesting in life is action and is always moving. So the pan comes in handy almost every time you press record. 

Well, with that being said, when do you not pan? Simply put, when there is no action. When the subject is static. This is one of those concepts that very much comes down to taste and also has a lot to do with editing. If I were shooting video of a house, I would generally not pan. Some videographers will use panning as an effect to add movement to an otherwise static scene. If that's the case, you can even get better at panning by following a simple rule: make the pan very steady and make sure it's the same speed all the way through. 

In a real world situation, you're probably going to be shooting and following action the whole time. If you don't plan on editing your video, then it may sometimes be necessary to pan to get a reaction or another action...and even though the eye doesn't see this way, it has to be done. 

But let me address those who do plan on editing their video from here on out. 

You're going to get the best end product by not shooting any pans. Don't even leave them in there to be edited out if at all possible. 

Let's say you're getting video of two people talking to each other. The simplest thing to do is to get a "two shot" of both of the people and just let the conversation play out. Our instinct will be to pan back and forth as they take turns talking. In the end, don't just leave the mess of whatever is in between them in the video. Edit it out. If you're in a situation where you have control, then don't even shoot the panning to begin with. This can be used for artistic effect, but mostly it's jarring to the viewer. 

Get an idea by watching almost an movie and see how they handle conversations. Yes, the filmmakers have all the control over the environment, but watch closely and see how much panning goes on. 

Getting better at eliminating those pans in quick, real world situations is a skill that has to be developed by videographers called anticipation. This is in news shooting or even reality show shooting. But they are always looking to shoot how the eye sees. 

Pan to follow action. And keep us all from getting dizzy.