Professional Photographer Magazine Web Exclusives

10 Video Tips for HDSLR Beginners

By Lindsay Adler

If you have an HDSLR camera, video is a great way to add an extra dimension to your work and even offer value-added services to your clients. Some photographers are beginning to differentiate themselves through their video capabilities, and others are finding video an exciting new realm for creativity.

If you are just getting into video, here are a few basic but essential tips to keep in mind.

1. Don’t Forget the Rules of Photography: Don't forget everything you’ve learned as a photographer. That the same rules of composition and lighting apply here. Just because you add motion doesn’t mean you should drop in visual quality.

2. Add Movement: We are often used to posing our subjects to capture a still moment in time. If you try this same static approach to video, it might as well have been still images. Add motion, action and interaction to your video. You don’t just have to focus on the movement of the subject, but you can also try moving the camera, like including pans (lateral movement of camera). In video, using zoom may have an amateur look; used correctly, it emphasizes tension or intense focus on a subject.

3. Get the Angles: Try to capture all the different angles for variety. It is often suggested to capture a wide shot to establish the scene, a medium shot to meet the subjects, a close-up to interact with the subjects, and super close-up for visual interest and variety. Instead of zooming in, you capture different angles and draw the viewer into the scene. In many cinematic productions, each shot is only on screen for a matter of seconds, which helps keep up the momentum. Use your different lenses—everything from wide angle to macro.

4. Tell a Story: It is even more important to tell a story in video than with photography because you must engage the viewer for a period of time. When you are telling a story with a plot, quest or some end goal, you will be better able to hold the relatively short attention span of today’s Internet generation.

5. Prepare: Video requires more thought and preparation because the segments must be stitched together into a cohesive piece. Summarize the story you want to tell, and figure out what shots you need to tell the story. Consider drawing out a storyboard to figure out which shots you’ll need, and how you can accomplish these shots.

6. Be Steady: In most cases, hand-holding just won’t cut it. The camera will record every wiggle and breath you take. Consider keeping your camera on a tripod (or monopod), but invest in a head or unit that will allow you to make camera movements (like panning). Another option is a steadicam unit that will give you a more stable image and additional flexibility.

7. Audio: When first starting out, you might want to use a music overlay or a voice-over with your early efforts. Triple Scoop Music is a great resource of royalty-free music for photographers. Once you feel more comfortable, consider capturing audio of the scene, including the subjects’ voices, ambient noise, and more. The more advanced in video you become, the more complex and precise your audio captures will be. If recording audio alone, cars (motor and AC off, of course) make great sound studios.

8. Editing: If you’d never edited before, you may find it frustrating when you realize you haven’t shot enough to edit with. For example, you may want scenes to fade in. You need to record around 5 seconds of video before and after each scene to give you enough time to fade in and out. Always shoot more angles than you think you’ll need. Allow the subject to enter the frame and leave the frame, otherwise it gives a visual effect of the subject appearing and disappearing from a scene.

9. Keep it Short: If you are trying to tell a story and not just recording events of the day (like a wedding), you want to keep it short. The length of the piece depends on the final product. If we as photographers are aiming for video portraits or video shorts, we might think of our piece being like a music video. A typical goal for length is between 2 to 5 minutes. In general, the shorter the better because this adds to impact and keeps the viewer engaged.

10. Break the Rules: Just like with photography, rules are meant to be broken. Some of the greatest directors and cinematographers regularly break the rules, but you should at least know them first to figure out when breaking them is appropriate.