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How to Shoot Video That Doesn't Suck

Five Easy Ways to Shoot Better Thanksgiving Video

Bad Thanksgiving video can be hell to sit through.  Mom hiding her face to keep from being seen when she’s messy after cooking all day.  Ten minute shots of the steaming turkey, as if this one looks different from last year’s.  Loud dinner cross-conversations that are impossible to hear, let alone follow.

Why not make this the year you shoot GREAT Thanksgiving video with these 5 easy tips:

1. Shoot Short Shots: Dad’s carving the turkey for the 30th year in a row.  Do we need to capture all 8 minutes of the dissection process?  Is this a rhetorical question?  Try this:  Start when he stands up, catch that first slice of breast meat and move on.  Think of your shots as still photos you hold for a little longer– point, roll video, stop.  Find something else interesting and do it all over again.  The big payoff:  If you keep your shots to 10 seconds or less they’ll all be interesting– and your entire video will end up a watchable 5 minutes long.

2.  Faces make memories: That big wide shot down the table of all 20 people at your holiday table is worth shooting– for about 5 seconds.  But once we know where we are, get close to your family.  If the goal of home video is to preserve memories of people we care about, faces are key.  Nobody– not you, not your parents, not your kids– will have the same face 5 years from now.  Capture people the way they really are– let us see them close up.

3.  Zoom with your feet. Don’t shoot from across the room.  Zoom lenses make your picture shaky, and distance you from what’s going on. Instead, turn off the zoom and move yourself closer to the action.  You’ll get better sound, too—the camera’s microphone doesn’t zoom.  Bonus tip:  when you’re closer to people, try asking them questions and see what happens.

4.  Try for Details: While faces are the biggest draw in a Thanksgiving video, there’s a lot to be learned from details.  Quick shots of two people talking intimately.  Someone spooning yams onto a plate.  A closeup of Aunt Elaine’s hands rolling dough or Uncle Larry passed out in front of the TV.  These aren’t long shots– think of them, again, as stills– but they bring richness to the video that will take you back when you watch it later.  Shoot them as you see them, and don’t worry how they connect.  You’ll be surprised how well they work.

5.  Don’t try to hide the camera: Kids (and many adults) may be camera-shy, but they’ll be much worse if they think you’re trying to trick them into being filmed.  Be obvious about shooting and they’ll get bored with you and start acting natural.

Finally, don’t forget to put the camera down occasionally!  Sometimes actually being present at a family event is more important than documenting for the future.

5 Killer Halloween Video Tips

Halloween PrincessGoing out to shoot memorable video of your kids?  Here are five Halloween Video tips that will help:

1) It’s dark out at night.  I know you knew that, so let me be more specific:  outside at night away from any light, it will be too dark to see the kids.  The obvious solutions: use your phone’s built-in light, position the kids under streetlights or shoot at the pre-show party indoors.  Less obviously- have another parent light the kids with their cellphones from off to the side. You’ll get much prettier looking footage. Above all, remember– if you can’t see them in the viewfinder now, you won’t be able to see them later either.

2)  Get down on kid level. Shooting at their height instead of yours pulls you into their world, which is where all the scary action is.

3) Plan Your Shots. You know the drill: Kids run up ahead and ring the bell, parents stand on the sidewalk and shout helpful things like “Say Thank You!”.  Normal parent video position on Halloween is following them up the walk to the next house. Unless you want an all-butt video, use what you know to plan your shots.  Jog up the walk ahead of your kids, then shoot them coming past to ring the doorbell.  Or jump past them on the porch and shoot them as they interact with whoever answers.  Bonus:  The porch light will shine on their faces and you’ll be able to see them.

4) Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes.  What will you want to remember in 20 years– vague shapes ahead of you in the dark, or your daughter’s face as she bravely rings the bell for the first time?  Fill the frame with their little faces at least half the time, and you’ll have video you’ll cherish for years.

5)  Don’t forget the prep:  Getting ready for Halloween is part of the story, and makes great video.  Carving pumpkins, getting the costume on, eating the candy you’re supposed to be giving out.  All great memories.

Bonus tip:  The post-game interview amidst piles of candy is great too!

More tips for great Holiday shooting here!

Video in the Classroom: Free Downloadable Lessons

Are you a teacher?  Do you know a teacher?  Have you ever had a teacher?  If so, read on:

It’s the beginning of a new school year.  Which means one more year of school projects shot on video, and hours of misery for the teachers who have to watch them. Shouldn’t classroom videos be fun?  For everyone?

If only there was a way to improve your students’ video literacy, and make student video more watchable.  Like, say, a set of downloadable lessons that could turn students into little Steven Spielbergs in a few short hours.  And wouldn’t it be great if those downloadable lessons were absolutely free?

Well, they are.  We’ve put together 5 free, totally self-contained one-hour lessons to take the misery out of classroom video projects. Teach one or teach them all.  If you teach all five, your students’ videos will be 100% better.  Or at least shorter.  Which is also usually better (see lesson 5).

Click this link to download the Video Bootcamp PDF.  100% Free.  Nothing to buy, no email address to leave, no hoops to jump through.

Please tweet or email the link to your favorite teacher!

dowloadable lessons

 

 Teachers:  Questions on how to use video in the classroom?  Ask them here!

New Edition of the Book in Stores Now!

How to Shoot Video that Doesn't SuckWorkman Publishing has just released an updated and revised new edition of How to Shoot Video that Doesn’t Suck!

It’s available now wherever you buy your paper or pixel books. Look to your right for handy links!

This new edition is mostly a touch-up.  It turns out that even if you try not to use terms that might become dated, they sneak in somehow.  And for fans of my Do It Yourself Film Graduate School listing of movies that you really must see, there are new additions.

New Edition FAQs:

Do I need to run out and get this edition if I already own the book?

Yes! Please buy a dozen. I still have kids in college.

Really?

No, not really.  I mean I really do have kids in college, but the changes in the book are minor.

Like what?

I made an offhand comment in one chapter about shooting video with an iPod Nano. Someone argued on Amazon that you couldn’t shoot video with an iPod Nano. He was totally wrong (the early Nanos were like early iPhones without cell connections and dammit, they had a camera) but I took out the mention anyway because the iPod Nano in any form is ancient history.

I deleted a few other anachronisms (it turns out 6 years is a long time in any tech-related field, even if you’re trying not to write much about video equipment), and rewrote a few paragraphs that begged to be polished. Authors just can’t help themselves sometimes– see pointless Nano argument, above.

Anything else?

Yes. I originally forgot to thank my sister and sister-in-law in the end notes. They read early drafts and had good comments for which I am very grateful. I am hoping they will now allow me back into Thanksgiving dinner. Turns out even a warm turkey leg is cold comfort when you’re sitting on a porch alone in Washington DC, shivering.

So this edition isn’t groundbreaking. Who should buy it?

If you don’t own the book yet, this is a totally up-t0-date, recently-reviewed-and-touched-up edition. You’ll love it. But if you own the book and want another edition for your bookshelf, you’ll probably want to buy the Russian version. Or maybe the audio book (which technically doesn’t go on your bookshelf unless you download it to your ancient iPod Nano and store it there.)

Wedding Video Blues: 5 Tips for Better Wedding Videos

I’ve never used a video camera, however my daughter will be getting married this October and I will be filming for the VERY first time. I’m scared stiff ! ! !

Can you please advise me on the best way to capture this special moment.? I would be so very grateful to you.
Thank You,
Lucy Wilson

Wait, you’re shooting video at your daughter’s wedding?

First piece of advice:  please re-consider.

Weddings are an emotional ride for any parent-of-the-bride, and whether you wind up blubbering like a 2-year old, dancing on tables or falling-down drunk, holding a video camera will surely be a burden. It’s also not fair to your daughter.  She’ll want to remember what you were like at her wedding.  If you’re shooting, you won’t be in the video.

May I suggest passing this to a cousin? Cousins are likely to be bored enough to welcome the distraction, and it’s a great way to meet photogenic members of the opposite sex.  But I digress…

You asked for help.  Here are 5 tips for someone– anyone– shooting a wedding video:

1)  There’s a reason they call it a ritual:  Weddings follow a familiar format.  Walking guests down the aisle, the bride entering, the “I do” moment, Aunt Sally hitting the Pink Squirrels a little too hard at the reception– you’ve been there, you remember.  Many of them even hand out a shot list–er, program– to help you plan!  Rituals are, well, ritual. And that’s great for you, because it means you can…

2)  Scout Your Locations:  Since you always have some idea of what’s going to happen next, you can get there first.  If you want to shoot Grandma being helped down the aisle, pick a spot in the chapel with a great aisle view and get there when you see the organist warming up– before the ushers start ushing VIP guests to the front row.

3)  Think about Backgrounds: In the reception hall do you want to shoot facing the plain cinderblock wall or the festively decorated buffet table?  Wherever you’re standing to shoot, turn to look around.  You’ve got 360 degrees of backgrounds to choose from without moving from that spot. Choose well.

4)  Use Interviews: In 10 years you’ll want to remember the people at the wedding.  What were they thinking? How did they look way back then?  Short interviews will bring the guests to life.  No “yes or no” questions.  “How do you feel about Jenna and Sally getting married?” is great.  “Are you having fun?” is a dead end.

5) Edit Before you Post: Editing in this case just means cutting out the boring and/or horrible parts. Rambling interviews get cut to one or two great sentences.  You don’t need the WHOLE father/daughter dance.  You may want to cut anything embarrassing that has no redeeming entertainment value.  People loose enough to sing for the camera?  Perfect.  People so loose they have to be propped up to keep from falling into their entree? Not so much.

Shooting a Wedding need not be a monstrous experience (Did he really just write that? Apparently so.)

How to Shoot Vacation Video that Won’t Bore People to Death

Vacation

This palm symbolizes “vacation.” It’s a long article, so I figured it needed a photo.

When I was a kid, the Armbrusters had a slide projector.  Which meant that after every vacation they took, we’d troop dutifully to their house for endless carousels of badly-shot Kodachrome slides, narrated  live.  The slide show always seemed longer than the vacation itself.  Washed-out, badly composed views of Disneyland or Paris—dotted here and there with the back of the head of someone we knew.

Today technology has changed everything.  People can record hours and hours of vacation video on a single chip.  But they don’t trap you in their living rooms anymore.  Instead they email links to their hour-long video and quiz you about how you liked it.

Who would do such a thing?  Anyone with a smartphone.  We have met the Armbrusters and they are us.

Luckily for the bore-ees, technology is also a good defense.  Today if the video’s bad, we watch 10 seconds and click off to “Family Guy.”  Then we lie to each other’s faces about how good the video was.

Oh, wait– you actually WANT people to watch your vacation video?  No problem.  Start by shooting vacation video that’s entertaining.  It’s not hard.  All you need is a little bit of thought ahead of time and the awareness that– whether it’s you, your kids or your friends– your video just may have an audience.

Here’s how to shoot vacation video that won’t bore people to death:

1)  Shoot Short Shots: A shot is like a sentence—it has a noun and a verb.  Together the noun and verb are what keep the “move” in “movies.”

On your backpacking trip a random video clip of “Bob” is not a shot.  “Bob picks up his pack” is a shot.  “Bob hikes down the trail” is a shot.  To keep your shots short, stop shooting when the action is complete.  “Bob hikes down the trail” is interesting for about 5 seconds unless Bob falls off a cliff.  So once you’ve got the action covered, be done.  We don’t need to see Bob’s back for another 30 seconds as he heads off into the distance. [more on short shots]

2)  Shoot People, Not Scenery: Think about why you’re shooting vacation video in the first place—to remember.

The Empire State Building will probably look exactly the same 10 years from now,  In case it doesn’t, thousands of great photographers have already shot it better than you can.  What makes your vacation video special is that your kids went up the Empire State Building—and your kids are going to look completely different in 10 years.

“But the scenery’s so beautiful” you say.  It is–  in person.  Video of the Grand Canyon looks great in Imax, pretty good on your 60” flat screen, and like tiny blurry garbage on your iPhone.  Unless you’re shooting Imax, best not to dwell.

Frame a great shot of the kids looking over the railing and that stunning canyon vista will look great too—in the background, where it belongs.

3)  Find the Story: Instead of random shots of the family posing on a boat, find the story of everyone getting together and taking your parents on a cruise. Have your camera ready when you surprise them with the tickets.  Interview your brother, who hates cruises but is coming anyway, armed with Dramamine and wrist-bands because he loves his parents.  Shoot your dad tearing up as he gives a speech to the group at your first big dinner on board

What’s different about your vacation?  Is it the family’s first time out of the country?  Your daughter’s first plane flight?  The Disney vacation you’ve been saving up for for 5 years?  Think before you shoot.  Tell that story.

4) Interview the Family:  Video captures not just what we look like, but how we think.  Which is perfect for that embarrassing wedding video 20 years from now.   Don’t just interview the kids. Interview your spouse, your parents, strangers you meet on the trip.  It’s a great way to capture the emotion of a moment in time.

Your five-year-old will never be 5 again. Ask her open-ended questions about what’s going on.  Let her show you, explain to you, sing to you.

5)  Shoot sparingly. If you shoot just 2 ten-second shots  in each of 8 touring hours a day, that’s almost 3 minutes of footage a day.  A week-long vacation is pushing an Armbrusturian 20 minutes—longer than anyone, including you, will actually watch.  Practice being selective.  Sure you can edit later, but will you?  And even if you do, the shorter and better your footage when you start, the less work it is.

 

Do you have questions about shooting video?  Of course you do.  Click here and ask them!

How to make a How-To Video, Part II: The Journey

In Part I of this post, we laid down the basics for How-To Video. Now lets go for mastery.  The key to which, as with so many other elements of video, is story.

Think about your video as a real film, with real story elements. The simplest story in any how-to video is the journey, where the hero takes us from not-done to overcoming-obstacles to done. The more challenging the journey, the better the video.

How much journeying you can do in your how-to video depends on your audience’s needs. If people will watch while they do the how-to step by step, you want to play it pretty tight.  Just show me “How to replace the valve on my dishwasher” and get out.

But if you’re teaching “How to shop for fresh fish,” we’ll learn from the quest– visiting the docks, the early morning market, and different shops, trying to find the freshest fish at a great price. The viewer is walking away with an education (yes, we’ve taught a man to buy a fish), not a one-time-only mechanical process.  Telling a good story helps us remember the lessons of the shopping process.

This video from my friends at ChefSteps.com shows how a higher concept “how to” can be interesting even if you’re not following the steps while you watch. It’s a journey, from “you have no idea how to do this” through “practice” to “now you can pour a heart in your foam at home.”

Here are a few ideas to add a journey story to your how-to video. Use them sparingly, and only when your audience will really be willing to watch:

  1. Make a real documentary  Do your “how to” journey for real, on a real project. Take us with you, so we’re in suspense about how things turn out.  Show us disasters along the way (struggle is the essence of story), the real emotion, and the people you meet.
  2. Detail the prep  Don’t start the strawberry shortcake video in the kitchen.  Start it at the farmer’s market while you search for the perfect strawberries.
  3. Cut non-story details You don’t need to spend a lot of time in your video telling us where to buy a part if the order form appears on the page just below.  What can you cut to make your video pure story?
  4. Teach someone else Document yourself teaching a real class, letting the students stand in for the viewer. Their real questions– and real mistakes– keep the story interesting.
  5. Add Humor If you are actually funny, or in a funny situation, use it.  If nobody has ever told you you are funny, you may want to give this idea a pass.
  6. Look for a Payoff  If your how-to is “how to make a Mothers Day Bouquet” let’s see mom being surprised with it at the end. If it’s “how to train your dog” let’s see reactions when 1o-year old Keisha masters training the family malamute. How has learning this new skill made someone’s world better?

 

This article was written in response to a great question. Do you have a great question? You should ask it! Click here and start typing.

Mothers Day Video Tips

Ah, Mothers Day!  Burnt toast and coffee made with hot tap water in bed (“We aren’t allowed to use the stove.”) .  Macaroni-art “I love You Mom” cards.  Perhaps a meal at Mom’s favorite restaurant–say, Chuck E. Cheese.  The day is loaded with great material that can become memorable video.  Video you can use 15 or 20 years from now in that mandatory embarrassing/cute wedding video.

With that in mind, here are a few Mother’s Day Video Tips for the Dad behind the camera:

Find the Story: “Mother’s Day 2017” isn’t a story.  Stories are about people and action.  “Shaniqua and Kitain surprise Mom with a new Puppy” is a story.  “The Kids make breakfast” is a story.  “Taking Mom to a movie” is a story.  Each one of these stories calls for a different point of view when shooting.  Think a little bit about what the story is going to be in your family on Sunday, and your video will be that much stronger.

Interview your kids:  We see interviews on TV all the time for a reason:  They work.  They work especially well at capturing the precious moments of childhood. You’re only 6 once.  Start before the big day and ask them to show you what they’re preparing, tell you how Mommy’s going to like it..how they thought of it…if it’s a surprise or not. Interrupt as little as possible and you’ll be amazed at what you get.

Shoot at their level:  We tend to hold the video camera at eye level if we’re looking through a viewfinder or chest level if we’re looking at a screen.  Instead, get down to kid level and shoot at their height.  Stay close.  Suddenly you’ll be in their world,and everything will look different.

Interview Mom:  Moms don’t often get to be the stars, and they have a lot to say– especially about their kids.  And especially after the surprise/emotional impact/disaster that is Mother’s Day.  Your kids may not appreciate it now but 30 years from now, they’ll pull out a video of their mom talking to camera with gratitude for the guy who shot it.