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Photo Tips


Taking Better Home Videos


Question: What's the difference between a first-class video and a home hacker's nightmare?


Answer: About $50,000 worth of professional equipment.


If that's what you think, you're in for a surprise. It's not the cost or sophistication of the video equipment that makes the difference between a top-notch production and something you'd just as soon leave on the closet shelf. It's the person who makes it. Or, rather, the way in which she makes it.


Amateur videographers have made great strides in improving the quality of their videos during the last few years. While some people still use basic point-and-shoot video techniques, others are calling on more elaborate and sophisticated means to produce intricate results. And with today's state-of-the-art video and audio functions now standard on many camcorders, the job gets easier every day. You don't have to Steven Spielberg to begin producing star-quality home videos. Just follow a few simple pointers.


  • Read the manual. You may already know how to operate a video camcorder. But safely tucked away in the back of many camcorder manuals are tips on how to create better videos. Read them. Try them. And learn from them!
  • Get steady. No matter how large or small the camcorder, holding it steady while you shoot is an absolute necessity. The best position is to stand with feet shoulder-width apart, with elbows down and camcorder held securely in both hands. When kneeling for low-angle shots, raise one knee as a support on which to steady the camcorder. For added stability during especially long scenes, brace yourself against a nearby support such as a wall or post.
  • Keep the horizon level. Few things in amateur video look more ridiculous than a tilting horizon. Concentrate on holding the camcorder level as you shoot. If you find that difficult, use a tripod.
  • Alternate your shots. Everybody likes close-ups. Everybody likes zooms. But nobody likes them in ~ every scene. Instead, add diversity to your videos by using a variety of shots, alternating between close-ups and wides, zooms and fixed shots.
  • Pan with the action. To capture moving subjects, practice panning-the art of moving the camcorder slowly from left to right or vice versa. Avoid a lot of panning from one stationary subject to another, which tends to make the viewer nauseous.
  • Tilt for special effects. Tilting the camcorder occasionally (moving it up or down along a vertical axis) lends the illusion of height to a scene. Be careful when tilting toward the sky, though, to avoid aiming directly into the sun or other strong light sources that might damage the camcorder's imaging tube or create annoying lens flare.
  • Use enough light. Although many camcorders are capable of capturing an image in extremely low light levels, use their low-light capability only when you must or when creating a special mood. Low light produces low contrast, which tends to flatten a scene and make it boring to watch.
  • Don't forget the sound. Nothing can make or break a home video faster than sound. Make a special effort to capture the important sounds in a scene-sounds like children laughing at a birthday party or cars whizzing by during a race. That may mean positioning yourself in the best place to capture the sounds you want and moving with them as the sources move.


As an alternative, consider a wireless remote microphone that allows you to shoot at a distance of 20 feet or more from the sound source. And be careful of those extraneous sounds-dogs barking in the background, growling lawnrnowers, and blaring television sets. Even if they don't drown out the main audio, they're sure to distract from the overall effect of your production.


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