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Every practicing videography must master the basic techniques and rules in order to learn how you can break them! As with any artform the rules are made to be broken but it is necessary to know and understand them first!
Working in a coherent way with the basic rules in mind will allow you to let your creativity flow without falling into the unnecessary pitfalls that can ruin a shoot. Incorporating the fundamentals of good practise in videography will ensure that your work is high quality, well shot and consistent; which in the long run will save you a massive amount of stress and panicking while shooting on location.
Is There A Difference Between Photography and Videography When It Comes To The Basic Rules?
There are many rules that straddle the worlds of photography and videography, such as good compositional techniques, effective lighting and sensible framing of your subjects; but there are also massive differences between the two. A videographer has to be able to record sound, move seamless between scenes and set up over arching narratives that add to the visuals.
As a videographer, you also need to have a much more bird’s eye perspective on the editing process, even while you shoot the footage. To be able to produce well edited work later on you need to have a strong sense of the overall project and make sure that everything you film is working together to create a coherent bigger picture.
Improve Your Workflow and Keep Your Work Professional With These Basic Rules Under Your Belt.
Here are some of the basic rules:
Plan Your Shoot in Advance.
When you’re working on a project you should always plan the shoot in as much detail as you can beforehand. This will usually mean visiting the location in advance, mapping out various scenes and taking notes on where you’ll position cameras, lighting and the subjects.
You can also draw up a quick storyboard that goes through the scenes of the shoot which can be used as a guide later on. If you’re working in a team, then you should plan the shoot together so you can pool your various skills and perspectives in advance.
When you’re planning your shoot you want to learn to ‘pre-visualize’ the finished product. Hold a mental image of the scene you want to capture and then visualize what you’ll need to do, what angles to use, the lighting and as much other detail as possible to get those results. This can be pretty tricky at first but as you get used to your equipment and methods it quickly becomes second nature.
Once you arrive on the day of the shoot you’ll already have a pretty clear idea of what needs to be done. This will save you a great deal of energy and stress and avoid wasting time on the day, which is especially important if you are hiring actors or equipment for the shoot.
When you are working for a client, at a wedding for example, make sure you have a copy of the expected timetable of the event so you can be in the right place at the right time. While planning ahead you can write up a rough shot list that correlates to the timetable of the event. This applies for any shoot for a client and will stand you in good stead in advance of the actual shoot.
Use A Tripod!
When you’re shooting video you pretty much always want to be using a tripod. There is nothing that makes footage seem more amateur than shaky pans and jolty zooms, sweeps and movement. This will ruin the experience for the viewer and ensure that your client doesn’t hire you again!
In some situations you may not be able to use a tripod but you can use a shoulder strap or a Steadicam to hold the camera steady. This is a useful tip if you are working on an uneven ground where it is impossible to set up a tripod or if you have to move around a lot during the shoot. You can also use walls or trees to help stabilize you on location.
Get The Focus Right.
If you’re shooting a subject then you always want to make sure that their eyes are in focus. This is an extremely important thing to get right the first time because it cannot be corrected later on in post processing.
In every situation you need to get the focus right. While shooting footage of a corporate conference with a panel of speakers on stage you’ll need to shift the focus as the conversation moves forward. At weddings, of course, the bride and groom should always be in focus!
The white balance refers to the balance of color in the footage. This affects the hues of all the other colors and so it’s extremely important. Many cameras have built-in settings such as ‘sunny’, ‘shady’, ‘ incandescent’ or ‘fluorescent’ which you can use accordingly.
The white balance influences the ‘temperature’ of the footage and can change the entire mood of the film. If you’re using more than one camera on set then you need to make sure they are in sync. It would be a disaster if you were trying to cut together clips which were alternating between a pale bluish hue and warm yellow tone because it would destroy the continuity of the footage.
Obviously, there is a major subjective element when it comes to setting your white balance but with a little bit of common sense you’ll be fine! A wedding would be best shot in warm tones whereas a horror movie might be better served by using with cold, bluish hues.
Unlike photography, the videography has to be competent in capturing the sound and audio in their work. Your camera will probably have a microphone but in most situations it will not be sufficient. In all cases, it is definitely best to use one or more external mics.
There are several types of mic that you can use, each which specializes in different types of audio recording so you need to do a bit of research in advance of a shoot to make sure you have the appropriate equipment on hand. For interviews, you might want to use a lapel microphone but if you’re shooting outside you’ll need mics that can cut out the sound of the wind.
This is a valuable and time saving technique that every videographer should be doing as a matter of course. B-roll is extra footage that you shoot on location that can be used in post production to help with cuts, editing and to give context to the main action. Each clip of B-roll should be at least 10-15 seconds in length.
Once you have filmed your B-roll you can use it in the editing process. For example, if you were doing an interview with a musician you could shoot some B-roll of their practicing studio, some clips of their instrument and some footage of them walking in the park. When you edit the interview this will let you cut to your B-roll to help give context and meaning to what they’re saying.
So when the musician talks about their practise routine, you can cut to scenes of their rehearsal room; or when they talk about the ways they find inspiration you can cut to footage of them walking in the park. You don’t want to over use your B-roll but from a practical perspective the more you have the more possibilities you leave yourself in the editing suite.
Compositional Rules for Good Videography.
Improving your composition is a crucial part of shooting professional footage. Remember too, that there is no way to fix your composition in editing so you need to learn to have a natural feel for it while on set. You can try to rely on planning it in advance but especially at events, like weddings, festivals, team building weekends and so on, you’re going to have to think and work on the fly.
To immediately improve your composition work on framing techniques and refer back to the traditional compositional tools such as the Rule of Thirds, the Golden Ratio and the use of Leading Lines. This will instantly give your footage a cinematographic feel and ensure that your work looks highly professional.
Understanding Camera Placement.
One problem that will make your footage look amateur is not paying attention to the distance of the camera from the subject and the lens’ focal length. For instance, if you’re doing a close up shot of a person’s face, never stand right next to them and instead use the zoom to get the shot from more of a distance. This will stop you ending up with unusual facial distortions and unflattering angles. When you are zooming in, always do so optically because if you use a digital zoom you’ll degrade the quality of the footage and it will come out looking pixelated.
The 180 Degree Rule.
When you’re shooting it’s very important to keep a coherent continuity between shots. If you’re shooting with multiple cameras you can imagine a line running between the two. While filming make sure you never cross this 180 degree line on either side otherwise when you come to edit the footage the subjects will look out of place and will be confusing for the audience. Breaking this rule will lead to the characters looking in the wrong direction and spoil the continuity as well as making the footage look strange and amateur.
Leave Enough Headroom.
When you’re filming someone, or a group of people, you always need to leave a good deal of headroom above them. Filming people with either the top of their heads cut off or touching the upper part of the screen looks awkward and confusing. To place your subjects in the frame use the Rule of Thirds and keep their eyes in line with one of the two central grid lines.
You can break this rule if you’re working on a more experimental piece and sometimes in documentaries but generally speaking it’s pretty much written in stone!
You can create depth in your footage either by placing or incorporating objects in the background and the foreground. Adding elements that are visually appealing or conceptually weave into the narrative of the footage is also a powerful way of increasing the impact of the footage.
Various elements of the scenery can be used in panning, sweeps and scene setting shots throughout your footage.
The Background – Don’t Over Complicate It.
Of course the subject of your work will always be the main focus but the background is also important. As a general rule you want to keep your backgrounds fairly simple and uncluttered so they don’t distract the attention of your audience. This applies whether you are shooting outdoors, in a studio or on location at an event.
When you’re outdoors avoid backgrounds with a lot of movement in them unless the movement is specifically a part of the context of the narrative. If you were shooting footage on a beach it would usually be better to have the ocean as the backdrop instead of a group of people playing volleyball for example!
Indoors you can improvise a solid background using a sheet, a wall or even a colored paper backdrop. This makes lighting easier and keeps the viewer’s attention on the subject. You can still include a few carefully chosen props, such as a flower pot or a painting on a back wall but keep these extras in context and to a minimum.
Be Prepared To Break All The Rules When It Feels Right!
The basic rules of videography are extremely important to understand and to learn how to work with but there are still times when it just ‘feels’ right to break some of them. When this is done in the right way it can lead to outstanding and surprising results.
There are situations when you may want to deliberately frame your subject in a weird way, or use conflicting white balances between different cameras; particularly if you are working on an experimental or artist project. Independently produced music videos are a great example of a genre that frequently breaks the rules!
That said, be very careful not to go too far; and when you’re working professionally for a client it’s rarely a good idea to create experimental, avant garde type footage for them! For instance, there are very few occasions when a realtor would be impressed if you were to create surrealist montages of the property they were trying to sell or a tourism agency would appreciate a Jaws inspired beach holiday promo video for their website!
Shoot With Editing In The Forefront of Your Mind!
One of the most valuable lessons you can learn as a videographer is to keep the editing process in mind as you shoot the actual footage. This will save you huge amounts of time later and help you to produce professional videos with more depth, better cuts and a more coherent narrative.
Of course, this means that you should always try to shoot some B-roll, before the event but also in the spare moments that you have during the day. This can be priceless in editing and really helps to raise the quality of your work.
Shoot from multiple angles in a coordinated way so that the footage can easily be spliced together or cut in a variety of ways so you maximize your options later on. Keep the lighting and white balance consistent throughout and keep your pre-visualization and the notes you made before the shoot with you at all times. Try to work in an orderly and logical manner and as you do so write down things you want to remember later in editing!
The Fundamental Rules of Video Production Will Serve You Throughout Your Career.
No matter what type of footage you’re shooting you can incorporate the basic rules into your work. This will help you to coordinate the action on set, keep your thoughts in order and make sure the footage is coherent and well produced.
Once you’ve learnt the basics and have started putting them into practise they’ll soon become second nature to you and you’ll be working in a fluid and highly efficient way that consistently delivers professional results for all of your clients.
Is there a basic rule that you follow that I have not listed?