I have been shooting video on a consistent basis for nearly five years now, and even though I have not been shooting video for decades and decades, I have shot a lot in that time and have had some amazing teachers. There is so much that goes into shooting a good two minute video, and even more in an hour documentary. It is a very daunting task. Shooting video will result in successes that make you feel on top of the world and mistakes that make you wonder why you ever chose to go into video. It's ok--we have all been there. You just have to get up and try not to repeat those mistakes again.
So that you can learn from advice instead of experience, here are 10 shooting tips that are pretty universal for new video shooters.
No Such Thing As Too Much B-Roll
This is important enough to say again: you can never have too much b-roll. I once edited a 10 minute piece over Costa Rica that a friend shot. He came back with about eight hours of footage, and there were still times I wished I had a little more of something. For shoots that you can't go back and shoot more if needed (like a Costa Rica trip), it is imperative to make sure you get plenty of B-roll.
Always Use a Tripod
If you don’t have a tripod, find a tripod: lean against a wall, rest the camera on a table, something. One of the easiest ways to lose an audience is to have a shaky shot. You might not think you are shaking very much, but keep in mind that it only takes about 1 inch of movement to move 1 foot on a 60in screen. It can actually make an audience sick. Learning to be steady while hand holding is a very important skill, but it takes a lot of time and effort to master, so it is better avoided when starting.
Details details details. Close-ups get and keep an audience’s attention and are typically the most impactful shots in a video. The general rule is 70% close ups, 20% medium and 10% wides.
Static is Good, not Boring
Avoid using zooms and pans until you understand how to use them. Static shots used properly are still very impactful. Pans and zooms are a very easy way to ruin a beautiful shot if not used right, which is very easy to do. If you feel a zoom is really needed, it is safer to do three static shots, wide, medium, and close up.
Shoot a Minimum of 10 Seconds
There is nothing more irritating than editing and finding a shot that works perfectly but it's not long enough or it was recomposed too soon. 10 seconds is much longer than you think, count in your head slowly to 10 or watch the time code in the camera viewfinder. After the 10 second mark, then and only then are you allowed to recompose or practice panning and zooming.
Hollywood and other professionals don't do it to look cool, they do it because it works. Plan your shoots in advance and make shot lists to make sure you capture everything you're going in to shoot. The more time you spend planning, the more accurate your actual shooting will go and the less you'll hate editing.
Always Monitor Your Audio
If you don't listen to your audio, it never fails there will be some loud noise in the background that you don't naturally notice but the electronic mic heard loud and clear. Also listen to make sure the mic isn't rubbing against the talent’s shirt or overmodulating.
Never Forget the Rules of Composition
I was a photographer before I shot video. One day, my boss looked at a video I had shot and asked if I would have taken that photo with my still camera. If the answer was no, then I wasn't doing something right. Video is simply photogrpahy at 30 frames per second. That statement really changed my view of how I shoot video. Be aware of the rules of thirds, if it has eyes or moves give it room to look or move in the frame. Such a common sense thing that I did not think of.
Look at it Differently
If you shoot it how everyone else sees it, you're not doing your job. As videographers, our goal is to show the world in a way people don't normally see it. Try different angles, get high, get low, get close. Find some way to showcase your subject in a way your audience would not typically see it.
Learn to Shoot on Full Manual
Last, but certainly not least, on my list is learn how to shoot on full manual. Auto and programs are handy and have their place, but they can’t always get the look you need. It is important to know your camera and be able to manipulate it to get whatever look you desire, and in order to do that you must have the knowledge and experience of shooting on manual.
A bonus tip: watch good videos. Look at what other people do. Study how they shoot, how they edit. Videos I am interested in shooting are nature and silhouettes on people, so a few of my common sources for good videos are National Geographic, Discovery and Philip Bloom.
Last note: good luck and don't give up. We all mess up. The people who are good work through their mistakes and learn from them.