How to Shoot Video That Doesn't Suck

12 Tips to Keep Your Video from Sucking– Instantly! #1: Think in Shots

This is the first in a series of the 12 most useful video tips that I know.

Notice I didn’t say “most important”– that’s up to you to decide.  But if you try these tips, your video will get way better, way fast.  Which seems pretty useful to me.  Here’s Video Tip #1:

There was a man sitting near me at my kids’ cello recital last month. He had his camera on a tripod in front of him. At the start of the recital, he pressed record. For the next 45 minutes, he swung his camera back and forth, back and forth across the assembled cellists. Back and forth as they played their various solo and ensemble pieces, as they changed chairs, as the audience applauded.

When was the last time you saw a professionally produced film or video with a single shot that lasted 45 minutes?  (Hint:  never.)

Instead, you see a series of shots—short bits of video, usually 1-10 seconds long—cut together to make a scene.  Each shot gives us a new point of view and MORE INFORMATION.  The information we crave to keep us from being bored and trapped and wanting to scratch out our eyes if this damn cello recital video doesn’t end…GAAAAAHHHHHH.  Oh, sorry…where was I?

Watching a video, you can look only where the camera looks. If the camera doesn’t give you new information—traps you in a repetitive motion pattern, for example, or points at the same thing long past the time you’ve processed it, you’re bored.

That’s why they cover the Super Bowl with 27 different cameras—every few seconds, BANG, a different shot. And each shot focuses on a new piece of information: ’Here’s the snap, here’s who has the ball now, here’s a defender coming in from the right, here’s the quarterback pulling back to throw and CUT to a wide receiver catching it on the first-down line. Each shot has a point, and cutting between them gives you a lot of information without boring you.

From now on, think in shots. Don’t run the camera nonstop. Even if you’re going to edit later, it’s a bad habit that will cost you time when you have to watch tons of thoughtless, unusable footage.

Shoot deliberately. Think when you point the camera: who are you pointing it at? What are they doing? Is it interesting? When you’re bored, so is your audience.  It’s time to cut and find another angle, another subject, a detail—something else to shoot.

Want to see this in action? Check out my book trailer.


6 thoughts on “12 Tips to Keep Your Video from Sucking– Instantly! #1: Think in Shots

  1. Way back I was trained by the Army to be a combat cameraman. We all spent six months in school with a succession of sergeants leading us through the intricacies of using everything from a B&H 16mm Filmo to a blimped 35mm Mitchell. But from the first day until the last the thing that was pounded into us was "more than 10 seconds on a shot is too long." So I get really sick when I hear numerous folks complaining about the latest DSLR that is limited to shooting 29 minutes of continuous video.

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