Shooting Great Video

Here's a list of tips and best practices for shooting great video on location.

Note: much of this text is adapted from CNN's iReport toolkit series of "How To" articles.

  1. Check your equipment before the shoot
    Make sure your camera battery is charged, that you have an AC power adapter, extension cord, and, if you're using a tripod, that you have the tripod foot (the part that attaches to the bottom of the camera and locks it to the head of the tripod.) Verify that your camera does not have a dirty tape head, which can render footage unusable. To check this, put a tape in and shoot a minute or so of scratch footage (you can always tape over it later.) Then go back and play the video you just recorded. If the tape head is dirty, you will see a lot of video noise ("pixel trash") on your screen. You can remedy this by running a head cleaner, which is a special video tape that you can pick up at any electronics store. Also, if you're going to be using a camera you're not well-acquainted with, take the time to orient yourself with the basic functions you'll be using.
  2. Use a tripod
    Nothing distracts from your video like shaky, hand-held footage. Many tripods are available at retail stores for $15 to $50, and they can be a worthwhile investment. They’ll make your shots steady and your pans smooth.
  3. Bring an extra battery and an extra tape
    Don't get caught with a dead camera in the middle of a great story. Likewise, bring extra blank tapes. One of the exciting things about video journalism is that you never know what you're going to get! Therefore, it's a good idea to be prepared in case there is more material to shoot than you were expecting. Other things to keep in your bag: a notebook and pen, and something to eat (just in case).
  4. Always think about the lighting
    Have well-lit surroundings, and always use daylight whenever possible. Avoid fluorescent lighting if you can. If it can't be avoided, however, many video cameras have settings that will adjust the color of your subject to account for the lighting conditions: you'll want to look for the "Indoor / Fluorescent" setting.  Also, don’t be afraid to move the shot – if you’re in a poorly lit situation, ask your subject to move outdoors or to a better-lit area.
  5. Don’t forget the sound!
    Plug a pair of headphones into the audio output of your camera, so you can monitor the sound level and quality of what you're picking up. Even in a scenario where no one is talking, sound is still a huge part of the story: it fills out the scene and transports your viewer there in a way that picture alone cannot. The more natural sound you can get on video, the better. Try pointing your camera at the ground for a few minutes to absorb some sound at the event you’re covering, whether it’s a concert or a protest. You can use that as a bed for background sound later on when you’re editing.
  6. Use the rule of thirds when framing your shot
    The rule of thirds compositional rule to help frame your shots in a more natural and engaging method. Since your TV monitor is a rectangle, you should visually divide it into horizontal thirds, and line subjects up a little bit off center. If your subject is directly in the middle of a shot, it will be wooden and stiff. But if you use the rule of thirds, you anticipate your subject’s movement and allow for some background information to be in the frame.
  7. Hold your shot for at least seven seconds
    If you hold your shot for at least seven seconds, even if it won’t need to be that long, you ensure that you get plenty of usable material. This will give you much more flexibility and freedom when editing.
  8. Shoot more material than you think you'll need
    When taking video, the general rule is the more material, the better. You need to make sure to have lots of B-roll, or alternate material, in order to add dimension and secondary footage to a story. B-roll helps with cutaways and gives a much more polished look.
  9. Avoid pans, zooms and dissolves
    You may feel like getting crazy with some of your shots, but most video journalists agree that simpler is better. Static shots make a video look cleaner and more professional. If you must use a pan, it should be tight and quick. Finally, although your camera may have built-in fade or dissolve effects, it's best to avoid them. You can always create these transitions in your edit; if you shoot them in-camera, however, you will be much more limited when editing.

Happy shooting!