PD 150 Guidelines 8-7-2010

PD 150 Guidelines 8-7-2010
Shooting Guidelines
Sony DSR- PD 150 and PD 170
Fall, 2010
Long-form productions allow for a more creative nexus between storytelling and visual imagery.
To accomplish this, USC journalism students get to use sophisticated digital camera and editing
equipment. The equipment is technologically advanced, making it possible to accomplish
extraordinary images with very little experience. This shooting guide provides some basic
reminders for using our Sony digital cameras. The best way to become familiar with the camera is
to spend time with it. When you check it out for a shoot, plan to have enough time to work with the
camera so that you become familiar with its features.
The Sony PD-150 (along with its newer cousin, the PD-170) was designed with a combination of
professional/consumer features in mind. This camera is known as a “prosumer” model, or a cross
between the two. Professional cameras have a wide variety of settings and adjustments that allow
shooters to fine-tune their cameras for almost any shooting condition. And such features are
generally controlled with buttons and switches. Consumer camcorders have automated settings
and adjustments to give people a decent picture without confusion or hassle. Prosumer cameras
provide some of the best of both worlds.
It is important to know that most of the settings on our cameras are managed through software
menus – not unlike any computer program you use. Only instead of a keyboard and a mouse, the
adjustments are a little less sophisticated. On the PD-150, the adjustments are managed by switches
in two main areas with the internal software viewable on the camera’s flip screen display or
viewfinder. Once you understand the basic software approach, all adjustments are easy to make.
The two hardest things about the camera adjustments are 1) over thinking the functionality; and 2)
to remember that you have to keep in mind just a few basic concepts at all times. They’re not hard,
just not part of your normal habits. Habits can change.
The Picture
The human eye is capable of observing scenes under extremely difficult lighting conditions.
Cameras, on the other hand, are dumb pieces of equipment without such capabilities. They are built
with several variable controls to help the picture quality. The camera will not see things they way
you do without the operator taking a few moments to set it so that it can. Generally, if you can
observe a scene without much difficulty, the camera will likely be able to capture the scene too.
Only it will need some guidance.
Following are descriptions of some of the variables that are available to work under different
lighting conditions. The camera is capable of controlling each of these variables automatically
unless you tell it to do otherwise. And it is tempting to bypass the manual adjustments and just let
the camera’s computer do the work. Don’t. The results are often mediocre. Even if you do decide
to go this route, no camera can handle all lighting conditions automatically. Therefore, each
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variable can be adjusted manually to match complex lighting conditions. And lighting in most
situations is complex.
Making Picture Adjustments Using the PD-150
If the following concepts are difficult to grasp, don’t worry. As you become familiar with the
camera, the mystique will fade away and it will be easy to experiment with many of the camera’s
Please review these basic concepts:
1) The camera DOES NOT work well in the fully automatic mode. This is because it
constantly re-adjusts itself. And when it does, the picture changes, often causing a shift in
the picture.
2) Sony gives you an option to work with all major settings in a manual or automatic mode.
3) Some of settings, when in the automatic mode, will confound your results unless you pay
attention to what the camera is doing. Some work well. We will review both. When in
doubt, operate in the manual mode.
4) IMPORTANT: You will know if the camera settings are automatic or manual by looking
at the flip screen or through the viewfinder. Each setting has its own icon, and if you see
the icon on the screen, it means that YOU are controlling the setting. If you DO NOT
see the icon, then the camera is controlling the setting. The settings that show-up on the
viewfinder are (from upper left to lower right):
a. Battery life
i. This is a battery symbol with the number of minutes displayed
b. Shutter speed
i. Directly below the battery symbol is the shutter speed, a value that defaults to
60. For Impact, that number should be 30.
c. Aperture/Iris
i. The aperture value begins with an, “F” and has a number after it.
d. Gain
i. Gain is a number followed by a, “dB”
e. Focus
i. The icon for manual focus is a little hand with an, “F” in it.
f. Time code
i. The upper right screen shows the time code in numbers separated by “:”
g. Recording mode
i. The lower right screen displays the word, “DVCAM.”
h. Audio recording mode/recording levels
i. The audio mode shows a number followed by the letter, “K”
ii. Audio levels
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TURN THE CAMERA ON: The first thing is to put the battery on the camera.
It snaps into place just underneath the viewfinder. Be sure to match the arrow
on the battery with the arrow on the camera and you’ll be able to put the battery
on with ease. The ‘on’ switch is near the back of the hand grip and it has a red
record button in the center. This switch determines how you will use the
camera. The up position is for VCR, the middle position is off, the first lower
position is for camera and the second lower position is for memory. YOU
should only use the camera position. IMPORTANT: remember to turn the
camera off after using it and take the battery off before leaving the shoot.
A note about the batteries…if you use the camera prior to the shoot, be certain to re-charge the
battery. They have a limited life and you do not want to be on a shoot only to have the batteries
fail. Please check to see that the batteries have been charged when you check-out the camera. Also,
knowing you have limited battery time should serve as a caution not to leave the camera on if you
are not using it. My preference is to remove the battery when the camera is not in use.
Controlling the Camera: There are three general locations that control the recording values. They
are located on the camera’s handle (AUDIO), the left side of the camera (FILTER, FOCUS AND
There is a silver switch with three positions, Auto Lock is at the top and
Hold is at the bottom. Always use in the middle position.
A Silver button that allows you to view the audio levels on the flip screen
Shutter Speed
White Balance
AE Shift
<< Wheel >>
The up-down switch on the camera should always be in the mid position. The up position puts the
camera in complete automatic mode; the lower position holds the current settings and will not allow
you to change them. The middle position allows you to control the camera.
The audio level button allows you to view the audio levels. You’ll see below that the levels should
register around -12 dB.
GAIN. This is a variable for using video cameras in low light levels is video gain. Video gain is an
electronic boost of the video signal that causes the image to look grainy but works in low light
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levels that otherwise might be impossible to shoot in. Night scenes, for example, can be
accomplished using video gain. The normal setting is 0db. The PD-150 allows for as much as
+18db, making this a camera that will work in virtually any lighting condition.
About 50% of all students using impact cameras for the first time come back with marginal pictures
because they do not understand gain. It’s an adjustment that you must pay close attention to.
The video gain button is located on the back of the camera above the shutter speed button.
With the camera in the manual mode, press the video gain button. A number appears to the right of
the aperture value with a little db symbol next to it. Normal is “0db”. Using the wheel on the back,
you can toggle the gain to 0, 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, and 18. The higher the number, the better the camera
will handle under low light conditions. IMPORTANT: the trade-off of using gain under low light
conditions is that the image looks muddy or grainy. That’s not a problem shooting in the evening or
under street lamps. IT IS A PROBLEM when shooting under normal conditions. BE SURE TO
CHECK to see that you are in 0db before shooting under normal conditions. NOTE: try to avoid
situations that mandate +18 db unless you absolutely cannot get the shot any other way.
FINAL NOTE ABOUT GAIN: If you cannot see the GAIN value “0db” in the flip screen, then
the camera is setting the GAIN AUTOMATICALLY. This is bad; you’ll hate the results.
SHUTTER SPEED. Shutter speed is a concept taken from photography. It is a measure of the rate
at which a mechanical shutter opens and closes – per second – to allow light into a camera. Video
cameras have electronic shutters. A normal shutter speed for a video camera is 1/60 of a second.
A slower than normal shutter speed allows more light to enter (use in low-light conditions) and can
cause a blurry image. A faster-than-normal shutter speed (use in brightly lit conditions) sharpens
the image but reduces the amount of light that enters the camera.
   We use 1/30 of a second.   
A shutter speed of 1/30th of a second gives the image a bit of a film look.
The shutter speed control is on the back of the camera just above the white balance button. In
the manual mode, press the Shutter Speed button. A number will appear just above the aperture
value. The camera default is “60”. (60 means 1/60th of a second.) To adjust the shutter speed, use
the wheel on the back. This is particularly helpful under three general conditions: 1) low light
using a slower shutter speed; 2) sporting events using a higher shutter speed; and 3) when
shooting a computer monitor, you can often (not always) eliminate the scan lines.
WHITE BALANCE: White balancing the camera calibrates it to the color white. To a camera, the
color ‘white’ outdoors looks different than indoors, as it will during midday sun v. sunset. White
balancing is done every time you move the camera from one lighting condition to another, or when
the existing lighting conditions change.
The white balance control is located on the back of the camera. In the manual mode (Auto Lock
is off) push the “White Balance” button once. A little icon appears on the screen. The adjustment
happens with the wheel that is below the buttons on the back of the camera. NOTE: The wheel
serves TWO important functions. Turning the wheel changes the selection. PUSHING in on the
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wheel makes it serve as the computer’s ‘enter’ key. Most everything you adjust on the camera is
done so by selecting a menu choice and using the wheel to toggle between menu items and then
choosing the one you want.
Back to white balance. After you select the white balance button, the wheel toggles the icon
between three options: 1) a picture of a sun; 2) a picture of a light bulb; and 3) the white balance
icon. The first two are preset settings for outdoor and indoor lighting. (They are useful in a pinch
when you are unable to white balance the camera EXCEPT under fluorescent lighting.)
To SET the white balance manually, toggle the icon to the symbol that has two little triangles with a
black square above them. Then, simply hold a piece of white paper in front of the lens and push-in
on the wheel as if you’re hitting the ‘enter key’ on a computer keyboard. As long as the camera is
still staring at the white paper or other white source, the camera will adjust properly.
IMPORTANT be sure the paper is in a similar lighting condition as your subject!
AE SHIFT. Don’t use this. It is a way to ask the camera to deliberately over expose or under
expose in all shots.
Upper left on the camera’s handle – audio input controls
Lower left side:
- ND Filter
- Index Mark
- Focus
- Push Auto
- Silver wheel
- Silver button
Do not worry about the three buttons located at the camera’s
ND FILTER: This control is on the left side of the camera in front of the manual focus control. It
is a switch that adds a neutral density filter. A neutral density filter is like adding a par of
sunglasses to the camera. It is used for bright outdoor shots where the sun overpowers the cameras
aperture settings. An indicator appears in the viewfinder to remind you to use it. And if you forget
to turn it off while indoors, the indicator will remind you to do so.
Index Mark: Do not use this button
FOCUS: The switch to the right of the ND Filter switch allows you to focus the camera
automatically, manually, or to quickly set the camera to an infinity focus. A button below the
switch allows you to get a quick automatic focus while in the manual mode.
The auto focus isn’t bad when you’re moving around. It slips in-and-out of focus a bit, but is
generally competent. Use this when shooting hand held and moving around a lot. Use in the
manual mode when on a tripod. The focus is adjusted at the lens while in the manual mode. When
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shooting an interview, or focusing on a stationary object, zoom the lens all the way to its maximum
telephoto setting, set the focus, and then zoom-out to your desired shot. This will ensure that your
interviewee or the object you’re shooting will be in proper focus from that position.
The Push Auto button allows you to get a quick focus while in the manual mode.
APERTURE/IRIS (Silver wheel and button): (Iris, f-top) The camera aperture is similar to your
eye’s own iris. It is a lens opening that regulates the amount of light that enters the camera. A lownumbered f-stop (1.4, 2, 2.8) allows more light to enter the camera. A high-numbered f-stop (11,
16, 22) allows less light in. The camera is set to automatically adjust the iris but can be adjusted
manually. Manual adjustments are used to compensate for difficult shooting conditions. Difficult
lighting happens when one part of a picture is much brighter or darker than another.
For example, if you’re shooting an interview in the shade of a building or a tree and the background
beyond is not in shade. The two are out of balance and can throw the camera’s exposure off – in
essence confusing the computer. Your best choice is to do your best to avoid such conditions. If
unavoidable, then manually adjust the aperture to make the picture look okay. IMPORTANT:
Constantly check your shot by looking into the viewfinder for focus and the flip screen for color.
The flip screen is not exactly true to what you’ll see during playback, but it is close. You want to
look at the screen at a fairly straight angle to avoid exposure deviance by being off angle of an LCD
The aperture controls are located on the side of the camera in front of the flip screen. In the
manual mode, press the little silver button with the word Iris above it. When you do, a number
appears in the lower left corner of the viewfinder. It is the f-stop. Evaluate the picture. If the
subject is too dark, then move the wheel that is in front of the button to adjust the picture.
IMPORTANT: pay attention to both the foreground AND the background. If they are way out of
balance, try moving your subject into similar conditions as the background. If this is not possible,
zoom-in on the subject or change the camera angle to eliminate as much of the background as
possible. Conversely, if the background is important, then use a reflector to add light to the subject.
This will go a long way toward a solution.
Zebras. The zebra setting is just below the ‘menu’
button inside the flip screen area. Zebras show areas in a
shot that are over exposed. They appear as lines in the
very bright areas of the picture both in the flip screen and
the viewfinder. It’s ideal to set the zebras to 100 percent,
which means that in a brightly lit setting, it would be
normal to see a few zebras – not many. If you see a lot of
zebras, then you would need to adjust the iris to make it a
bit darker until you only see a few zebras in the very
bright areas. Areas where you would expect to see zebra
stripes – bright areas on a person’s face, highlights on windows or bright buildings, clouds in a
bright sky, lamps in interior shots.
OTHER CONTROLS: Other controls, such as Color Bars and SMPTE Time code are controlled
in a software menu. To activate the menu, push the “menu” button. The button is located in the
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lower right corner of the recessed area under the “flip screen”. After pushing the button, use the
wheel on the back of the camera to toggle between options. IMPORTANT: DO NOT adjust
things you don’t understand. By doing so you might alter the camera settings, which could make
it difficult for you and the next person if he or she doesn’t know what you did!
SMPTE Time Code: Do this before you change tapes. To adjust the time code, push the Menu
button. Toggle the cursor to the TC option. Press the wheel to put the cursor on the TC Preset
option. Notice that 01:00:00:00 appears to the right. Press the wheel again and toggle it to preset.
The only value you want to change is the first number. Use the wheel to change it to the desired
number. IMPORTANT: I like to change the time code value to match the tape number. Tape 1
uses TC 01:00:00:00; Tape 2, 02:00:00:00, etc. IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO CHANGE THE
TIME CODE, it is only helpful for editing when dealing with many tapes. Once you have adjusted
the code, hit “Set” and press the menu button one more time to get out of the software menu.
POSSIBLE MENACE: Everyone always wants to check the videotape to see what was recorded.
Avoid temptation by paying close attention as you shoot. It is possible to do but the down side for
the novice camera operators far outweigh the benefits. At issue is what happens WHEN you check
your shot: 1) the tape is NO LONGER cued to the end and therefore is not where it should be; 2)
while re-cuing the tape is something the PD-150 will do, it is SO EASY to record over valuable
footage; or worse still, 3) the tape is re-cued past the end point of the prior shot which causes a time
code jump. This is particularly troublesome because you’ll confound the editing process and end
up pulling your hair out, Lee’s hair out, or my hair out. And since I don’t have much hair to lose,
don’t check your tapes until you’re done.
Color Bars: Color bars serve an important function. They allow editors to calibrate the edit
system’s color to that of the camera. We ask that you record about :30 of color bars at the head of
each tape. To turn on the color bars, push the menu button and toggle the wheel to the ETC setting.
Push the wheel once. Then, toggle the wheel downward until the yellow display highlights Color
Bar. Push the wheel and toggle the wheel to “on”. Then push the Menu button and the software
choices disappear. Record the color bars then push the menu button again. Go into ETC again and
turn the color bars off and press the menu button again. Everything is back to normal.
DEPTH OF FIELD: Depth of field is a measure of the area in your field of vision that appears to
be in focus. If, for example, you shoot with a wide lens looking at scenery, everything close and far
appears to be in focus – this is a large depth of field. On the other hand, when you ‘zoom-in’ and
shoot with a longer focal length setting, while the main subject will be in focus, everything in front
and back appears out of focus – this is a shallow depth of field. A shallow depth of field during an
interview (subject is in focus and the background is slightly out of focus) is generally desirable.
Camera-to-subject distance. The farther away a subject is from the lens, the greater the
depth of field.
Focal Length: (wide angle v. telephoto) The wider the lens- the greater the depth of field.
Aperture: the iris opening influences depth of field. A larger iris causes a shallower depth of
field. The reverse is true using a small iris opening; it causes a larger depth of field.
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Perhaps the most important element in television is audio. It is given the least amount of attention.
A great picture is usually worthless when the audio doesn’t record properly; and a mediocre
picture can be fantastic provided the audio is done well. The PD-150 has a few basic settings that,
if used correctly, will make a huge difference. There are two microphone inputs. Generally
speaking, one of the audio inputs is used for an interview microphone, and the other is for ambient
First, it’s a good idea to understand the microphones and how they’re used.
Lavaliere microphone: the lavaliere or lav is used during all interviews. It is a microphone that is
placed on the subject to capture his or her audio with minimal ambient noise interruption. Good
technique includes hiding the cable – generally in the subject’s shirt – and placing it around six or
eight inches from the interviewee’s mouth. THE LAVALIERE MIC IS ALWAYS PLUGGED
Camera microphone: the camera has a small shotgun microphone. It’s called the onboard mic
and is used to capture ambient sound that is not captured as well by the lavaliere. The onboard is
always used in conjunction with the lavaliere and not instead of it. This is because the audio
coming from the onboard microphone gathers too much ambient sound and doesn’t work well for
Two channels for audio recording: both the onboard and
the lavaliere microphones can be used at the same time.
There are two audio inputs on the camera located under the
onboard microphone. DURING AN INTERVIEW: The
onboard is usually plugged into Input 2 – and the lavaliere is
usually plugged into Input 1. It can be the other way; it’s just
that editors are accustomed to finding the primary audio on
VISUALS the onboard is usually plugged into Input 1 and
records on both channels. (See below.) It will be fine if you
don’t remember to switch.
The camera generally does not handle audio levels very well without you setting them. Once the
microphones are plugged-in, it is essential that you do three things before pressing the ‘record’
button. 1) Check the audio switch settings; 2) monitor the audio using headphones; and 3) check
the audio levels.
MORE ABOUT HEADPHONES It seems that students who are
unfamiliar with shooting just don’t bother to wear headphones
while shooting. This is a serious problem. For example, wireless
microphone batteries die – and when they do, how are you going to
know the audio stopped recording? Or, troubles occur that you
don’t know, as was the case of one of my early interviews while in
college. I scored an interview with a great scientist when I was a
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student. During the interview, he was running his fingers up-and-down a zipper, which I didn’t
think about until I reviewed the footage (film – three days later) we were out of luck. The audio
was unusable. Had I been wearing headphones, I would have been able to stop this from
happening. Always wear headphones.
There are audio controls located on the other side of the inputs. The panel is designed to allow you
to decide whether you’re recording on one or both audio inputs and it has individual switches for
each input. IMPORTANT: INPUT 1 allows you to record either to just channel one or to both
channels 1 & 2. The switch should always be in the “Ch1” position.
The first switches for both inputs have the options for Line,
Mic, and Mic Att. Mostly, this switch should be in the Mic
position. Line is for a non-microphone source and Mic Att is
for microphones that send too strong a signal to the camera.
The lavaliere and onboard microphones work fine in the Mic
position. For example, if you use a wireless microphone and
the audio is distorted or too loud, you can use the Mic Att
switch to bring the levels into an acceptable range.
The other switches for both inputs offer an option for +48v or
off. The +48v switch sends power to microphones that DO
NOT have their own power supply. (The onboard microphone is one example.)
PLEASE NOTE you should check with a technician before setting the switches before using the
camera for the first couple of times.
PD-150 Audio Settings:
REC CH Select
CH1 √
ON √
MONITOR THE AUDIO using headphones: two rubber strips conceal input ports right next to
the camera strap. Behind the skinny strip is a green headphone jack. When the camera is on and
the headphones are plugged-in, you can listen to the audio to hear it coming through to the camera.
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AUDIO LEVELS: This is digital audio and the
preferred average record level is around –12db, with
peak audio hitting at around -3db. IMPORTANT:
If the levels generally exceed –12dB, the audio will
begin to distort and you will not be able to use it.
Period. Audio levels – just like all the other settings –
can be adjusted either manually or automatically.
SPECIAL NOTE – Wireless Microphone Adjustments: There are
three audio adjustments associated with wireless microphones. There
are adjustments on the transmitters and receivers, along with audio
levels that can be set on the camera. The picture to the right is the
receiver, which looks a lot like the transmitter – note the ‘level’
adjustment. This is an audio gain setting. The transmitters and
receivers are usually pre-set to optimum levels. Sometimes students
adjust these, so it is a good idea to be familiar with the units and know
how to adjust them if necessary. The knob on the receiver should
never be set beyond the “9 o’clock” position. This is probably true
with the transmitter too, though this is the unit to change if necessary.
REMEMBER: The goal is to set the audio levels at roughly -12 db on
the camera. So you’ll want to adjust the audio levels on the camera (See the photo above with Ch
1 highlighted – note it is just a little past the middle position) to a reasonable point and then
check to see that the audio is recording properly. If too low or too high, then you might have to
adjust the TRANSMITTER, a bit higher or lower.
IMPORTANT – The +48v switch in input 1, needs to be in the OFF position
when using a wireless microphone.
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Manual or auto audio recording is a menu-driven option.
Audio is best recorded manually. Select ‘menu’ from the
side of the camera, and scroll-down using the wheel to the
videotape icon. The menu to the right begins with, “Rec
Mode.” Push the wheel, and then scroll down to “Audio
Set.” Push the wheel and scroll down to the two AGC
controls. (AGC Ch1, and AGC Ch2.)
AGC means, Automatic Gain Control. In the ‘on’
position, the camera controls the audio. In the ‘off’
position, YOU control the audio.
Adjusting audio levels in the manual position: Adjusting the audio levels is a simple procedure.
This is done using the silver button on the back of the camera along with the wheel. Push the silver
audio button and you will see the audio levels in the viewfinder, you can push the wheel to toggle
between the two audio channels and then scroll the wheel to adjust the levels to be higher or lower
as necessary to achieve an average of -12dB.
TIP: in the manual mode, you’ll see the audio levels for Ch1 and Ch2 but without the number
values on the flip screen. This is a way to keep an eye on the levels and to see if they are over or
under while you’re shooting. The indicator is a quick check and not a replacement for using the
audio levels controls as described above.
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The Shoot
Setting Up an Interview
Interview footage is the most critical video needed for a story and needs to look good. Viewers
should be able to concentrate on what the person says, and not on poorly shot videotape. Camera
operators generally spend more time setting-up interviews in an effort to gain as much control as
possible. Control in this case concerns composition, lighting, and audio.
1. Choose a Good Location.
• Make sure the location that you choose complements your story. For example,
interview a doctor in a hospital or a judge in a courtroom. That is, unless the doctor
happens to be a nightclub performer on the side, and that’s in your story, interview
her at the nightclub. If the judge happens to be a sculptor. In other words, tie the
interview location to the content.
• Look carefully at the background before setting-up for the interview. It is best to
move the subject away from the background for visual separation. Ten feet is a good
rule-of-thumb. This is because of depth-of-field. It is best to have the interview
subject in-focus with the background slightly out of focus so that the two do not
• Watch for unusual lines that can be perceived as sprouting out of your interviewee’s
head. Bookshelves are notorious culprits here as are plants or trees. Try to keep the
person’s head away from such distractions.
• The background should not be significantly brighter than the foreground. If the
background is much brighter, it will be drastically over-exposed in the shot
compared to the interviewee. One remedy is to add light to the subject; another is to
move the subject so that a darker background is behind him or her. Pay attention to
the lighting BEFORE you position the camera. For example, do not shoot a subject
indoors in front of a bright window unless you have lighting to compensate or
something on the windows to reduce the light intensity.
• Be sure to choose a quiet location. Nothing ruins an interview faster then bad audio.
In the event that ambient audio cannot be eliminated (like an emergency room or a
baseball game), make sure that the interviewee’s microphone is properly placed.
High ambient noise can work if the viewer understands that you’re in an unusual
location. For example, if you are in a trauma setting, and the viewer understands
this, the chaotic audio is not a problem as long as the primary interviewee’s audio is
MORE prominent.
• Consider lighting conditions. Some indoor locations have dull flat lighting.
Outdoors, direct sunlight is often harsh and can cause ugly shadows on the subject’s
face. A compromise works best. Indoors with light that comes from multiple
sources can be interesting. If a window is in the room, shoot so the window light
falls on the subject and this can be great as long as you’re not shooting out the
window. Also, lamp fixtures can provide good accent lighting. Outdoors, shooting
in the shade is a far better proposition than shooting in the sun. it is more
comfortable and the lighting is more controllable. Just be sure to balance the lighting
so that the background is not dominating the picture. We have lighting kits for
indoor interviews and reflectors to balance the light outside.
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2. Set and Light Early.
• If possible, have everything ready to go before the interviewee arrives. Place the
tripod at a comfortable talking distance (and at eye level) away from where the
person is going to sit. Have someone sit in the interviewee’s seat so that you can
evaluate and adjust the lighting conditions.
• Try to have a 2:1 or even 3:1 ratio between the key and fill side of the interviewee’s
face. The key light is the dominant light that usually comes from the same direction
as the interviewer’s gaze. Having a 2:1 ratio means that the fill side should be 2X
darker than the key. The reason is that videotape is such a flat medium. Lighting
makes otherwise two-dimensional images look like they have three dimensions.
Take an orange, hold it up in front of you with flat lighting then take it next to a lamp
and decide which looks better. Chances are you’ll find the more dramatic lighting as
caused by a nearby lamp to look better. We should be able to see detail in the fill
side of the face as well as seeing a nicely lit interviewee’s face.
• Roll 30 seconds of color bars at the beginning of each new tape. (PD-150 menu
• Test your audio. Bad audio will ruin an interview. Double-check the audio using
headphones and the camera’s audio monitor button.
• After the interview, have everyone sit still and record 30 seconds of ambient sound.
No one should talk or whisper during this recording. This sound will be important
during editing.
3. Compose your shot.
• The Interviewer should sit right next to the camera at eye level. The interviewee
should be facing just slightly off screen with plenty of nose-room.
• For Impact, we generally place the subject toward the edge of the frame.
• Allow some headroom on wider shots. It is acceptable to crop a little bit of the head
on close-up shots. Take a look at one of my favorite portraits. Notice that most of
the look space is in front of the interviewee’s face (she doesn’t talk much.) and that it
is okay to crop the image close to her head. Although she isn’t looking close enough
toward the camera to see both eyes. BAD cameraman! BAD! SIT!
This is
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Impact: General Shooting Guidelines
4. Check the shot.
• White Balance
• Look closely at the framing. Do you like it? Or is it just so-so. Don’t start shooting
until you like how the shot is framed.
• Are there competing images in the shot that distract from the viewer? Lines running
through the interviewee’s head? If so, change the shot.
• Focus: switch the camera to manual focus. Then zoom-in to the subject, set the
focus, and zoom back out to compose the shot.
• Aperture/iris. Does the exposure look good? If the answer is no, then don’t shoot
until it is right.
• Is the shutter speed set to 30?
• Is the gain set at 0db?
• Audio. Make sure the lavaliere microphone is plugged-in and that the switches on
the PD-150 are set properly. Does the audio sound good? If no, fix it.
5. The Interview.
• Get a signed release form from the interviewee before you roll tape.
• Say the date, time, and interviewee’s name at the beginning of the videotape and
confirm the right spelling. Also, confirm the person’s title. This will be important
for Lower Third identification. (CG of name and title within a piece.)
• Have your list of questions with you and check-off the list as you progress through
the interview. Be flexible in your approach. LISTEN to what the person says and
pick-up on anything that you find interesting or that you do not understand. You
may find that your interviewee heads down a path that you did not expect. Consider
what is being said v. what you think is lost. If the new area is relevant and sheds a
different light, then follow it, otherwise re-direct the interviewee toward your
• Ask the interviewee to incorporate the essence of the question in his/her answer. For
example: Q: “Tell me about Impact.” A: “Impact is a student-produced
newsmagazine show.” A bad answer would be, “It’s a student-produced show.”
It’s a bad answer because the statement doesn’t offer enough information on its own
without first hearing the question or setting-up the answer with narration.
• Avoid “Verbal Listening.” Don’t make any sounds to confirm your agreement with
the interviewee.
• Allow the subject to finish his/her thought before continuing with the next question.
• Ask the subject to hold his/her gaze at you for a second at the end of an answer.
• Have the camera operator change focal lengths from time-to-time. Go from a
medium shot to a close-up. Avoid wide shots unless the background helps to
visualize the story.
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Shooting Cover shots or, B-Roll
B-Roll is a film term that speaks to the supporting images for a videotaped story. What it refers to is
getting cover shots for the things that are discussed in an interview, or footage to illustrate an idea
that you will track. Cover shots are generally done in sequences. That is, to gain several action or
actuality shots that can be edited together to form a visual story. This will be discussed in class.
In preparing for a story, it is best to identify the images you hope to gather in support of your story
ideas. Sequences are usually shot following an interview, although this is not a hard-and-fast rule.
The point is to have the cover footage support what the interviewee said. If you must shoot the
cover shots first – for example an actuality event – then be sure to ask the interviewee about what
you saw. In either case, the visuals will have something to do with the content.
Axis / Screen Direction
The axis is an imaginary line that fixes the position of the camera in relation to the subject. The
axis, or “line,” is established once you pick a direction from which to shoot. Once you do, it is
important to stay with the screen direction you’ve chosen. This is a critical concept to master.
Establishing and maintaining the axis keeps people and objects in proper relationship to one
another. Crossing the axis confuses the audience.
Think of shooting a scene or an interview from within a semi-circle. If your camera does not cross
the axis line, all of the shots will have the same spatial continuity. In this example, an axis was
drawn between the two subjects and notice that camera placement can occur anywhere on one side
of the axis line.
(Drawing source: Drexel University)
If the camera crosses the axis, the two people would appear to change places in the shot, breaking
the spatial continuity. The two contrasting screen directions, if edited together, will confuse the
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The axis line is especially important when shooting movement. If a car is moving from left to right,
all shots will move from left to right if the camera does not cross the axis. If the camera crosses the
axis, the car will appear to change direction and move from right to left.
As with an interview, it helps to establish the centerline or the axis when shooting
supporting shots.
Shoot an establishing (wide) shot first to see the overall action to be covered for B-roll.
Get a variety of shots. Don’t just watch an action occur in one move, look for close-ups and
different angles.
To do this, think about the action that occurred in the establishing shot and get close-ups of
specific actions. For example, you might shoot a wide shot of a baseball game because
you’re interviewing a famous pitcher. So a wide shot might be shot from the stands. You
would want to shoot the same angle from the field; bringing everything a little closer. Then,
move closer to shoot a close-up of the pitcher. Then shoot tighter still and see a close-up of
his face as he pitches the ball, or a tight shot of his pitching hand as he gets ready to pitch,
Search for a variety of shots that relate to the story. These shots will enhance the piece and
will make the difference between something boring v. something interesting.
Always look for action shots!
Let’s go jump in
the lake and
fetch a stick!
1. Be sure to re-white-balance the camera every time lighting conditions change. Lighting
conditions will always change when you change locations and when the sun goes down. Be sure to
check color constantly on the LCD screen.
2. (IMPORTANT: B-roll audio is critical. NATSOT audio strengthens a story. It is a good idea to
check your audio (by pushing the “Audio Level” button on the back panel) just to be sure it is being
recorded properly. Remember to use headphones.
3. Compose shots. Think about the shots before you shoot. Don’t just walk around with the camera
rolling while pointing it at things. Frame a shot and hold it for a while (at least 10 seconds). Short
jerky shots are difficult to edit and not terribly useful on most occasions.
4. Sequence. As long as you’re composing separate shots, put some of them in a sequence. For
example, if you interview a painter, compose a sequence of him painting. Show the painter mixing
paints, picking a paintbrush, painting on a canvas, her face as she paints, hands, the subject – in
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other words, bring many different shots so that you can provide a rich visual context to your story.
Generally, it’s easiest to begin with wide shots to establish the scene, and then use close-ups to
emphasize details.
5. Act Invisible. People act differently when they know they are being videotaped. Sometimes this
isn’t a big deal because their character accentuates the footage. At other times, this can ruin what
you are trying to do. Producers need to communicate clearly with the subjects and let them know
that playing to the camera is usually a bad idea.
In some cases, you need people to reveal their personal lives; this requires a certain amount of trust.
If you can develop an appropriate off-camera relationship with the subject, they won’t see you as a
stranger. And if you display a casual-yet-professional demeanor, the subject will feel less
6. Shooting Photographs. Whenever possible, find photographs or articles that help illustrate what
your interviewee is talking about. Photos, awards, paintings, etc., are great additions. Shooting
photos takes some real thought. There are a couple of issues. Photos are flat and therefore need to
be shot on a flat surface; the best way to shoot a photo is by using a tripod; and it is important to
check to see that the photo is level within the viewfinder. Here are some tips:
Use the tripod
With the PD-150, you'll need to be about 3 ft away
Shoot the graphic under flat lighting – do not shoot under sunlight.
Shoot as straight-on to the photo as possible. Best, is to find a wall where you can
roll little pieces of tape into backward tiny loops and use them to hang the photos on
the wall. Level the photo as best you can. You can level the photo within the
viewfinder by adjusting the tripod.
5. Shoot at picture level – do not look up to or down on the photo.
6. Zoom-in to the photo, grab the exposure in automatic, then set the iris back to
manual before zooming-out.
7. While zoomed-in, check focus. If you are unable to focus, move the camera back a
little bit more.
8. Shoot a lock-down full-frame shot of the photo - try to avoid shooting beyond the
photo borders. Hold each shot for about 15 seconds
9. Look for little moves within the photos that you can do smoothly while on the tripod.
For example, try a slow pan, tilt, or zoom from one part of the photo to another.
10. IF the photos are behind glass, you'll need to play around with angles to avoid glare.
Ask if the photos can be removed from the frames.
11. IF you are not able to hang the photos on the wall, see if you can lean them as near
flat as possible against a wall with a table supporting them.
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Video Troubleshooting
Picture is too Dark: Open up the iris; make sure the ND filter is off; turn on some lights use a
reflector to add more light; make sure the shutter is at 60 (or lower if necessary), as a last resort,
increase the gain
Picture is too Bright: Close down the iris; turn on the ND filter; set gain to 0dB; turn off some
lights / block lights; increase the shutter speed.
Picture is too Blurry: Adjust the focus ring; recompose your frame by moving the subject slightly
farther away from the camera
Picture looks Grainy: Set gain to 0dB
Picture color looks wrong: Re-white Balance under new lighting conditions.
Computer screen Flicker: Adjust the cameras Shutter speed to match the refresh rate of the
computer screen.
Wind is blowing against the Microphone: Use a windscreen on the microphone.
No Audio with Wireless Mic: Make sure the transmitter and receiver are turned on; check to see
that the transmitter and receiver batteries are good; make sure that the audio channel selector switch
is set to the channel you plugged the microphone into; check the microphone connection; turn up
the audio levels…or switch them to automatic gain control.
Audio is wrong: Make sure the Camera Input is set to “Mic” and not “Line”.
Audio has a Hum: Turn off any large appliances that could make a sound (ie. air conditioners,
refrigerators, or TV’s), make sure the audio cable doesn’t run across or alongside a power cable.
Audio has a Crackle: Check the microphone connections; replace the microphone batteries;
switch to a hardwire microphone.
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Impact: General Shooting Guidelines
Equipment Checklist
Tape Stock
Camera Batteries
Reflector Kit
Wired lavaliere microphone
Wireless Microphone*
Extra wireless microphone batteries (9-volt)*
Light Kit*
Extension Cords*
Requires Instructor Permission
Updated August, 2010
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