Each year around Thanksgiving we update and publish this guide. We've been doing it for over almost twenty years! Today you can shoot video on not just a camcorder, but your iPhone or smartphone, iPad or tablet, DSLR camera, webcam, or Go Pro. No matter what you shoot with, you'll find the tips in this guide helpful. After reading it you will be able to make more interesting and enjoyable videos for your friends and family to watch.
So have a great- if not unusual- holiday, enjoy your Holiday meals and be thankful for all the things you have. Shoot some great video, do a little editing (or a lot ;-), then post your video on YouTube, Facebook or your favorite video sharing website for all to see! This year, this may be more important and relevant than ever before, because as we say on our weekly webinar series "Social Distancing Requires Video." Use video this year to share your favorite family moments for years to come, and immediately with those who can't join you.
If you're like me, you shoot tons of video of your family. I've got hours and hours of videotape of my kids. Over the past 25 years I've learned a thing or two about getting the best possible footage. No matter how cool your NLE system is and how many awesome special effects you can add, the bottom line is this:
The video is only as good as the video you shoot!
If the quality of the video is poor, then no amount of editing is going to make it look better. By shooting better and getting more cinematic, your videos will look better and the editing will be easier! So here are a bunch of really useful tips and tricks that will help you shoot better video and capture the moments.
When shooting the kids, get down to their level.
Especially the really young ones. The video will look so much better from their perspective. It's kind of silly to watch video of the tops of your kids heads. But if you are 6 feet tall and they are under 4 feet, that's exactly what you get. Another added benefit of getting down low is that you will also get their little voices better.
Here are some great examples of kids eye view technique:
- We like to pile the boxes of gifts around the kids. When you get the camcorder down low and straight on, you really get the magnitude of just how cool it is for them. It's even better when they go to grab the biggest present they can carry!
- My son had a little stool/bench in his room. I would put the camera on the bench and then get down on the floor and play with him. One day I got what to this day is in my best video moment. There I was banging on a basketball and Max would giggle every time I hit it. He started laughing so hard that at one point, both Max and the ball roll over!! It's a classic video moment. If an adult had been standing and shooting, you would never have gotten to see how he gradually lost his balance.
- We have our kids birthday parties at these special gyms or party centers. They have all kinds of cool activities for the kids. One of the things they do is play with a parachute. Most people just point down and shoot. The result is lots of parachute and very little kids. Not very interesting. Next time try getting down low. If the room is bright enough, get under the parachute with the kids. Or go high! I climbed up on top of one of the gym sets and shot some great footage of all the kids playing around the gym. Don't zoom - use these high up shots for wide angles that get you a large group of children.
- Last time we went to Disney World I took my camcorder and held it underhand at the eye level of my 5 year old daughter. I followed about 10 feet behind her and my wife as they traveled through the crowds. What a cool perspective. It really lets you appreciate how grand it all is to see it from their perspective - especially when they ran into Mickey and some of his friends.
- If you shoot with an iPhone or you have one of those super cool GoPro sports cameras, check out the rigs, gimbals and supports available to get different shots. There's also a wide variety of lenses that can be added on to most smartphones for unique looking shots.
- If you really want to have fun, and you own a POV camera like the Go Pro, attach it to your toddler or pet during the holiday celebration or while on vacation. Now you'll get a really cool view on how things look from their perspective. Be prepared to spend some time stabilizing the footage during the editing process. It's a bit of work, but it's a really neat way to give your audience a brand new angle and look at the holidays. Warning! DO NOT overdo it!
Small kids have small voices
Keep in mind that these small voices can easily get drowned out by background noise, adults talking and bigger children playing. Get as close as possible to them - this will give you the best results with your on camera mic. If you have small children of your own, consider investing in an small shot gun microphone that you can mount on the hot shoe of your camera.
Speaking of kids - here's a great family project - Make a Video Yearbook to give to friends and family!
We did this a few years in a row when the kids were smaller. I would put together a 30-60 minute video highlighting the year we had. I'd got through the years worth of footage and picked out the stuff I liked best. I also had my older kids "write" their own script for the holiday greeting and introduction. We spent a few days rehearsing it and 4 takes later we had a really adorable opening for the DVD. One year I added special "Bonus" material to the DVD. I let the kids create a few 'outtake' scenes in addition to some of the moments I caught on tape over the year. Now that this had become an annual project and event, it became much easier to do each year. I would make sure to log my footage over the course of the year that I plan on using. We plan going back and doing it again this year, cutting in some footage from earlier years. We'll keep it to around 10-15 minutes and post the video on YouTube, Facebook or Vimeo to share it with family and friends. Don;t forget to save a copy on an external drive for safe keeping!
Get some Family History on Tape.
This is a great time to get the older generation to pass along great stories to the new generations. Don't make it a formal interview. Just set the camcorder up (a tripod is great) and have the kids ask grandma about what it was like when she was a kid. If you can, get some shots of the kids as they hear these stories. Their reactions can be priceless. Once again adding a wireless mic or shotgun mic can greatly improve your audio quality.
Shoot to Edit
That means leave the camera rolling. I can't even begin to tell you how much great footage is lost because you hit pause too early. Life isn't scripted or staged. Things happen when they happen. Shooting to edit also means thinking about your final production while you shoot. I try to shoot a lot of very wide angle shots and close-ups. I find that these shots make great cut-aways when I have some long footage that needs to be broken up for pacing.
As an example, at certain gatherings you may have a family member who likes to make a toast or tell some stories around the dinner table. I set up my shot and then let the camera roll. When he is done I shoot a few wide angle shots from various angles and some close-ups of people just talking and reacting. When I get to editing, I'll use these shots to break up the monotony of a talking head for 5 minutes. The result is much more enjoyable to watch.
- Get some establishing shots before the crowds arrive These shots are great for transitions, title backgrounds and cut always. I recommend shooting 5 to 10 second clips. Get the decorations, the table settings, the presents piled high. If you are lucky enough to be having a white Christmas, don't forget to shoot the snow from both the outside of the house and from a couple of the windows looking out.
- There's a ton of great video going on in the kitchen. All the hustle and bustle. The potential for spills, thrills and chills. Don't get in the way, but find a spot where you can just leave the cam going for 5 or 10 minutes. You'll edit it all down, but you may get some really great gems.
- A burning candle and flickering lights make great transitions. End a scene by panning onto a candle or lights. Rather then just a cut, de-focus (ie make the image blurry). Stop shooting. Now go to a new scene. Begin with a blurry shot and then focus. Great for transitioning from the dinner table to the tree (or Menorah).
- Here's one of my favorites tips for travel video. Most points of interest have a sign or monument. I like to frame a wide angle shot that include the sign in a corner of the video. Then I zoom all the way into the sign. I roll for about 5 seconds, then slowly zoom out and pan. It takes some practice to get it fluid, but once you master the technique you can use it over and over.
It's all About the Montage BABY!
Go to any big family event - or more than likely this year, a virtual event, wedding, Bar Mitzvah, anniversary, graduation etc and you are going to be asked to take 5-10 minutes to watch the montage. For most folks this consists of 100s of snapshots layed over a couple of songs, with every cheesy 3D transition you've ever imagined between the images. BORING!!! You are a videographer, so use video!
It's much more work, but well worth the effort. If a picture says a thousand words, a video clip says a million. First smiles, first steps, first goal, learning to ride a bike - are all so much more exciting in action rather then stills. Even if you don't catch it on video the first time, watching those early years on video is just so much more powerful then stills You also get peoples expressions and reactions as they celebrate and do things together. When you put it all together, you'll share your families history with your passion and talent for video editing - what a winning combination!
- Start logging now If you are like me you have hours and hours of footage of your family. Use the free time of the holidays to get down to the edit room and start capturing and logging it. I have to tell you, I had almost as much fun watching the old clips as I did editing them. It's amazing to watch your family grow right before your eyes!
- Keep your clips short & sweet This one is hard to do, but you must do it. Try to keep your clips as short as possible while still telling the story. Even shaving one second off of 60 clips will make your video a minute shorter and that much easier for your audience to sit through.
- The Music Sets the Pace One of the big mistakes people make with their montage is using the same long song, even looping it over becuase they still have more images / footage to show. Do not do this! Use 30-90 second segments of many different songs. Try your best to cut your clips to the beat and tempo of the songs.
- If you use stills - Pan & Zoom! So you don't want to use video, or you don't have it available, no big deal. You can still make your montage look more interesting and more like a video by using the motion tools in your NLE to Pan & Zoom on your images. This is called the "Ken Burns effect" because of the directors use of still images in his documentaries, this is one of the most powerful tools in your NLE arsenal. This is especially useful in group shots and for adding a sense of action to still shots. Mix up the speed of your motion for even greater dramatic effect.
A decade ago I edited my son's montage. I am especially proud of the Disney segment at the end of Part I and the sports clips that are the bulk of Part II. Unfortunately the folks over at YouTube pulled the audio from the montage I posted because I used songs without the artists permission.
Follow this link to view the montages I put together for my kids on the Videoguys YouTube channel. While you are there, don't forget to become a fan!
Back in 2010 I produced the montage for my daughter's Bat Mitzvah using almost all video. I had over 30 hours worth of footage to squeeze into 10 minutes. I used Avid Media Composer and our DIY7 machine to edit the video. I think you will agree that it's more sophisticated and better edited then the montage I did a couple of years ago for my son.
In 2020 computers are so fast that you can edit all the HD footage you want with an off the shelf computer based on an i5 or i7 processor, and there is even easy access for 4K workflows in most NLEs like Avid Media Composer and Adobe Premiere. For an HD workflow we recommend a gaming level machine with a quad-core processor, NVIDIA Graphics card, 8+GB of RAM and a 7200RPM or SSD hard drive for your video projects and files.
Videoguys HD & 4K Shooting Tips
Back in 2006 I purchased my first HD camcorder, the Canon HV20, and I loved it. The HDV footage was spectacular and I couldn't believe how sharp and clear it looked compared to DV. It recorded the HD footage to a standard DV tape and the HDMI output allowed me to plug it right into my Sharp Aquos 1080p HD LCD TV and immediately view the footage in all its HD glory. When it came time to edit I just attached the camcorder to my NLE computer via FireWire, captured the HDV footage and then started editing. Adobe Premiere, Apple Final Cut Pro, Avid Xpress, Avid Liquid, Grass Valley Edius and Sony Vegas- now MAGIX Vegas- all did a fantastic job with my footage.
In 2009 I started shooting using a Canon 7D DSLR and I can honestly say it is the best camera or camcorder I have ever owned. I LOVE IT! I had no idea how much better my video could look with real camera lenses and the ability to combine depth of field and soft focus to create much more dramatic, powerful and emotional imagery. Everyone here at Videoguys became so excited about DSLR video that we published our own Guide to DSLR Workflows article back in April 2009. Like I mentione dearlier, all of the curretn versions of video editing software handle DSLR footage, but, if you have an older version, our guide is loaded with useful tips.
- DSLR Tip #1 When it comes to shooting with your DSLR the number one and by far most important tip is this: Take the time to learn how to use all the wonderful controls that your new DSLR gives you. That's the magic that makes DSLR video so great. Get a book or rent a video about photography and learn all about f-stops, lighting, focal lengths and depth of field. Then experiment and get comfortable with your DSLR and the plethora of manual controls it provides. Once you do, you will be blown away by the images and video you can create!
- DSLR Tip #2 Use an external microphone. The biggest negative about DSLRs is the audio quality. Most DSLRs have poor quality microphones and they are placed in the wrong spot for video. Fortunately, most DSLR cameras are equipped with a mini-jack microphone input and by investing less then $75 in a small shotgun microphone like the Azden SMX-10 you will get audio that belongs in your HD projects.
Fast forward to 2020. HD cameras are everywhere. iPhone, Smartphones, iPads, Tablets & Go Pro Heros shoot in HD and 4K is on the rise. You can find Full HD camcorders for under $500 at your local electronics store and 4K camcorders for around $1500. The latest releases of FCPX, Premiere Pro, Edius, Vegas and Avid Media Composer can edit 4K files very well, as long as you have a pretty current and fast computer. File formats like ProRes and ProRes RAW also make these workflows much easier, and are now available for both Apple and Windows! For 4K editing we recommend a quad or hex core i7 CPU, 16+GB of RAM, nVidia Graphics card with at least 2GB of RAM on board and Windows 10. For the video files you will want a basic RAID or SSDs.
Videoguys HD/4K Shooting Tips
One of the most important things I’ve learned years working with HD is to modify the way I shoot to take full advantage of the HD technology.
Here are a few of my most important tips:
- Keep It STEADY! Whenever possible use a tripod. Especially for taping sports or any activity with a ton of action. Every little shake seems to get amplified when you are shooting HD. Especially if you are zoomed in even slightly. I’ve also found that with steadier camera work, my encoding for DVD or WebVideo comes out significantly better.
Tech Tip: I keep a small beanbag in my camera bag that I use to set my camcorder up on tables, counters, chairs or shelves.
Keep it WIDE! There is so much going on all around the main subject of your video. With sports and plays and performances you will be able to get so much of the action, flavor and emotion of the event by shooting wide HD and allowing it all to be on the video.
Tech Tip: I find that my favorite shot in HD is the ¾. That allows me to capture a lot of body language and the faces are still crystal clear (more on that in HD Tip #3).
Avoid Super Close-Ups. Always keep in mind that with high definition footage everything is sharper and clearer. This especially goes for skin tones and facial expressions. If the best looking actresses in Hollywood are worried about how they are going to look in HD, just think about Uncle Harry’s nose or that pimple on your nieces chin.
Tech Tip: I'll intentionally try to use less then perfect lighting when shooting close-ups in HD or 4K. A little darker or washed out situation will minimize some of those embarrassing details.
Pan Slowly and Stop Zooming. If you follow my first 3 tips you will end up with some really great HD footage. Want to know the best way to ruin it? Move your camera constantly. All it does is make your audience dizzy! Take a few extra moments to set-up and establish the best angle for your shot and then let it roll. If you have to move the camera keep it slow and steady. When it comes to zooming I find that most times I don’t like the footage during the zoom. In order to keep it looking really HD sweet, I find I have to zoom so slowly that it rarely matches the pacing of the video. It’s still good for opening sequences or establishing shots, but not during the main event.
Tech Tip: When I need to zoom, I zoom in as fast as I can. Then I get rid of the zoom footage when I edit. Usually replacing it with some cut away footage I shot (see Tip #4)
Shoot Cutaway footage. Your HD and 4K footage can look as great as a photograph if you take the time to do it right. That’s why I make sure to grab plenty of cutaway footage when shooting family events. Allow the camera to roll for a few extra seconds before and after each shot. Walk around the room and stop and shoot a few seconds throughout the event. I let the camera roll for about 5 seconds so that I can add transitions to and from them.
Tech Tip: This Thanksgiving I’ll walk around and get shots of the stove, the table and place settings, the desert table, some guests pulling into the driveway, folks just mingling and talking. Close-ups of the the Turkey when it comes out of the oven, food being served or wine being poured.
Shooting plays is hard, but worth the effort
One of the toughest things to shoot and edit well is the school play. This year, oddly enough, this may be more necessary than ever before, because any events that are taking place will need to be filmed- no doubt audiences will be limited. So it is well worth it to learn the tricks for creating a good video of a play, concert, or school event.
The lighting tends to be red or blue shifted and the sound never seem right. SO WHAT!! How many other opportunities do you get for this. Here are my tips for shooting the school play:
- Know the play before you shoot. If your daughter or son is in the play, don't just practice the lines with them, ask them where they are supposed to stand and who else is on stage. If possible, ask permission to watch a rehearsal.
- Use a tripod, and get as close and as center as they will let you. Zoom in close enough that you've got the tallest kids full body in the frame. Try to keep this shot as much as possible, and limit the zooming in and out. Slow smooth pans are a must.
- If the play is showing more than once, go back and shoot again from a different angle. This time get the close-ups and quick pans across the stage. You will be happily surprised at how well you can cut and edit the footage together from these two shoots using an NLE tool like Premiere Pro, Liquid Edition, Vegas or Xpress Pro.
- Don't over color-correct the footage in trying to get it to look more natural. The lighting is a part of the play and you want to keep the feel of it.
- ALWAYS monitor your audio to detect any feedback or other problems. For the best sound, try to see if you can plug-into the PA system, or set up a wireless mic about 3 feet from one of the center speakers. If you can't use a wireless mic or plug into the sound board, try to get away from the band. Even if it is just a piano, it will drown out the kids very easily.
Monitor the audio.
This is especially important if you are using an accessory microphone. We once shot interviews for my Grandmother's 70th birthday party. We used a wired microphone. Only problem was the battery was dead, so the interviews have no audio at all. My grandmother, not being one to complain, would sit and watch the video trying to read the lips of her family and friends as they recounted priceless stories.
Moral of the story, spend $5 for a cheap headset and listen while you shoot!
Lighting, Lighting, Lighting.
The better the lighting of your original footage, the better the digital video will look. Always use a fill light indoors, and for important shoots, take the time to purchase - and learn how to use - a complete lighting system. Lighting is what separates amateur video from professional productions. Once you learn how to master the intricacies of lighting, your videos will look professional, and your digital effects will be even more incredible.
While we are on the subject of lighting, try to avoid back-lighting whenever possible. If you shoot people in doors against and open window, your camera will automatically compensate for the bright light outside. The result is that you get silhouettes instead of faces. I recommend always having a small fill light handy 10-25 watts. If you get into a situation where you can't avoid back-lighting, lighting your subjects is the best solution.
Check your Power & Play it Safe.
If the battery indicator is low or if you are getting near the end of your tape, better to switch too soon then to have it run out on you. Max's last birthday party was at a gymnastics center. At the end of the party they put him in a harness on the trampoline. They hoisted him about 15 feet into the air. It was fantastic! Then they hoisted him back up about 6 feet and he did 4 flips, one for each year. Unfortunately I ran out of tape while he was still 10 feet in the air...Unfortunately, I missed every flip.
Use a Tripod or Other Support.
I know it's a hassle to drag a tripod around with you all the time, but you will see a dramatic increase in the quality of you're video if you use one. Especially when you have to zoom in from a distance, or if you plan on zooming and panning.
One trick I use instead of a tripod is a beanbag. I have a small beanbag that I use to place my mini-DV camcorder on all the time. It allows me to get perfect steady shots even in tight spaces.
Nowadays there is also a tripod for every workflow, including those shooting on a smartphone, so make sure you look into the gear that fits your workflow.
Synchronizing multiple cameras.
This is a great tip I learned from a Videographer who was shooting one of my friends weddings. Use a camera Flash to sync up multiple video sources. When you bring in a clip to the timeline, the frame with the flash in it will jump out at you as you scan/trim. Just find the flash in each clip, put them at the same spot in the timeline and Viola! perfect sync!! This trick can also be used to help sync audio.
Color correction tools work!
All of our non-linear editing solutions provide you with filters that can correct poor lighting. There is no substitute for having proper lighting, but mistakes happen and digital color correction can save the day. Even cooler the latest real-time NLE solutions offer you real-time color correction tools! Some excellent workflows have come from MAGIX Vegas, Davinci Resolve, and more.
Color correction can also be used to create / change the mood in your video.
- Want a more romantic feel - try taking the footage to black & white.
- Turn day to night - try adding a purple or blue tint to the video to give it that twilight feel
- Brighten your day - indoor shooting or shooting on a cloudy day can give your video a dreary look. Just increase the color, add some extra yellow tint and everything will seem more sunny and bright!
Slow Motion is cool - but you need really good footage for it
I know it's fun to take some footage and change the speed on it. Especially doing slow motion work when filming kids sports and other action activities. If you are planning on doing this - and I know you are - use a tripod! The steadier and smoother the original footage is, the better and cleaner the slow motion will look. It's also worth noting that different cameras and devices will yield better results when it comes to slow motion.
Green Screen Fun!
If you watch the news, then you have seen the weatherman effect. That is when you superimpose people into other images. They can be still, video or animations. Years ago this effect - officially called Chromakeying was very expensive and tricky to do. Not anymore! All of our advanced NLEs (Premeire Pro, Vegas, Final Cut, Media Composer and even Studio) have Chromakey capability.
Just put your kids in front of a green background and start having fun with this! Put them in crazy locations, or have them added into a scene from a movie or sporting event. It takes a little preparation and set up - but once you get the hang of it you will really have some fun with it.
Keep in mind, the better the lighting the better the effect. You'll want several lights, and for your subject to be several feet away from your green back drop, to avoid shadows.
If you see something cool in a movie or on a TV show, don't hesitate to try it yourself. (As long as it is safe. Do not place yourself or your gear in danger!)
Try different camera angles. Try framing the same shot two or three different ways. Learn to use the manual controls of your gear. This is how you can really make your videos stand out and be noticed.
Trying different depths of field and intentionally shooting a scene a bit dark or bright can result in some very cool stuff. Sure you'll have lots of bad looking video at first, but that's why we edit!
Develop your own style of shooting.
Together with your constantly improving editing skills and equipment, your videos should become much better over time. You may not win an Oscar or an Emmy, but you will get a reputation as much more then a point and shooter. Soon you'll start being asked to shoot various events and functions for your family and friends. If and when this happens, and eventually it will, I have these words of advice: Decide to do it semi-professionally (that means get paid), or politely say that you would rather be a guest.
Doing it a few times for free is fun, but eventually something will go wrong on a shoot. This will bring an incredible amount of stress into your life. Many very talented home videographers quit the hobby because of the tensions these 'jobs' created.
So I say keep it fun or turn it into a little side business. Some guys I know work just enough to pay for the latest new gear.