Know Video Basics First

Today I declare it’s time to end the use of the random, unstable, jerky zooms in videos. You know what I’m talking about, right? You’ll be watching someone giving their testimony, or telling their story, when all of the sudden, the camera zooms in. Then it zooms back out only to be followed a few seconds later by another zoom in. And all of the zooming is mixed with a camera that can’t stay still as the videographer feels like they must stay in constant motion. Unless you’re on a boat, it’s time to use this effect a whole lot less.

I understand why this style of shooting happens. It was trendy a couple years ago. And there were videos that were well done using this technique, but the problem comes when people try to copy it without knowing why they’re using it. It’s the same conundrum we face in every piece of church communications we do. It’s easier to try and copy someone instead of doing our own thing. It’s simpler to copy a certain style than to ask if it’s really the right method for what we’re trying to do. And I’m guessing in some cases, the impersonation comes from us try to fulfill an illusion that we know what we’re doing even if we haven’t taken time to learn the basics. We want to jump right in to shooting trendy, hip videos instead of understanding things like composition and mood. When we do this, we're distracting from the story instead of moving it forward.

I shot and edited video for several years of my life. It was in the TV news setting, so in ways it’s a more traditional style of video. But I think some of the basics I learned then could serve churches well as they dive in to doing video.

First off, good content will always outweigh shooting technique. If the subject of your video is compelling people will engage with it even if it’s shot and edited simply. Just like bad shooting techniques can ruin a good story, a good story can shine though with minimal shooting or editing effects.

Second, learn the basics first. Start out with steady, well-composed shots. If you have a tripod, use it. Take steady shots. Vary the types of shots you’re taking to include wide, medium and tight. For example, if you’re interviewing someone, keep the camera shot fully zoomed out for a couple of questions. Then zoom it in a little bit between paragraphs or questions. Then tightly zoom in after that. Video shooting 101 will tell you to make changes in camera zooms at natural breaks when you’re interviewing someone, not in the middle of one of their sentences. You can do the same for scenery shots and that’s a time to have more flexibility in panning or zooming.

Once you have a bunch of varying shots, you can find movement in editing. You can edit from a wide shot to something that’s tightly zoomed in and then edit to a medium shot. There’s movement there, but it’s not random and distracting. Movement can come though video transitions. (I’m not talking about things like cross fades, but the straight-cut transition of changing from one shot to another.)

As you’re shooting and editing, it’s good to know the tone of the story you’re telling. You may want to use a certain technique to shoot a video, but it may make no sense for what you’re doing. You might be shooting an uplifting testimony and that doesn’t need a frantic, uneasy tone from constant zooming.

When you know the basics and can execute them well, then feel free to explore new techniques. It’s how you grow as a photographer. But try to resist jumping into crazy techniques too fast, especially if you’re just starting out. If you start with the basics, you’ll be better prepared to grow as a videographer and storyteller.

(If you're looking for more video techniques, check out the free tutorials at Vimeo Video School.)

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