Amateur's Guide to Shooting Home Video
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Amateur's Guide to Shooting Home Video

How anyone can shoot nice looking home movies. Professional techniques that are easy to apply when shooting video.

Take a video camera, family members of all ages and a holiday get-together, and you have the perfect recipe for a home movie. But while the ingredients are obvious, how you mix them all together is not.

There are many ways you can shoot home movies. And let me make it clear, none of those ways are wrong. Capturing memories is good no matter how you do it. As long as the video isn’t blurry and you don’t accidentally tape over Baby’s First Christmas with a football game, then you’re doing it right.

However, for those of you who want to take your home movies to the next level, there are some professional techniques that anyone with a video camera can easily apply. These techniques will also make it easier for editing your video, if you choose to do that.

photo courtesy of woodleywonderworks from flickr

photo courtesy of woodleywonderworks from Flickr

Below is a list of several guidelines and suggestions. Some are based on rules that professional photographers follow, others are creative ideas for those wanting to have a bit of fun.

Cool it with the zooming

People with video cameras seem to want to capture the action. So you zoom into people and start quickly panning all over the place. This often results in the shaky Blair Witch Project type of video. Instead, force yourself to keep from zooming all the time. If a group of people are talking, shoot wide enough to see maybe 3 people in the shot, then you can just slightly pan to other people in the group. And when you zoom in, commit to it. Don’t just zoom in for a couple seconds and then zoom right back out. No. Instead, hold the shot for 5 seconds.

Shoot the boring stuff

What I’m referring to is the non-traditional stuff, the things people usually don’t think about shooting. While you’ll always see video of children opening Christmas presents or performing in the school play, you rarely see Grandma and your niece cooking in the kitchen, or your wife giving your son a little pep talk before he goes out on stage. If you think about the fondest memories you have, it’s not just the “big things”. It’s often the little things that happen that stick with us forever. So take your video camera out sooner than you might and start catching those moments that you hadn’t considered before.

photo courtesy of dok1 from Flikr

photo courtesy of dok1 from Flickr

Do NOT narrate

…or at least not so much. This is especially true if you plan to edit the video later on. Often times a “narrator” feels such a need to explain what’s going on, he starts to ramble on and is no longer providing valuable information. (Yes, we know that’s Aunt Bertha.) Also, when the person with the video camera is talking, his voice is being picked up much louder than anyone else, leaving you to miss out on what other people are saying.

Pass the camera around

Video cameras are not as fragile and complex as they once were. For the most part, you just need to hit one little button. As the shooter, you’re obviously leaving yourself out of the home movies. Imagine how disappointing it will be when children look at decades-old home movies and never see dad because he was always behind the camera.

Let the children shoot

This advice goes along with the suggestion above, but breaks the narrator “rule”. Giving the young kids a chance to shoot video is great for a variety of reasons. (1) it gives the kids something fun to do – something they often consider this an “adult” job, so would feel honored to be asked. (2) It gives you a kids'-view of things. I’ve found many children feel a natural instinct to narrate while they shoot video. This can be some fabulous stuff. You might be amazed at some of the cute thoughts they share while shooting that they don’t say while you’re shooting them. And (3) kids can catch action like you can’t. When Aunt Bertha sees you with a camera, she may shoo you away. But if she sees little Jimmy with a camera, she may smile for the camera and maybe even dance! Many adults have a weakness for children, putting their guard down when a child is doing the videotaping.

My last piece of professional advice is about labeling. Right when you’re done with a disc or tape, label it immediately. It’s no good to capture all those memories only to lose them later.

Applying all, or even just a few, of the above techniques can help improve the movies you shoot. But don’t forget the most important thing of all – enjoying the holidays in real time. Don’t let your desire to shoot home movies keep you from missing out on all the fun.

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