Panning to Reveal Tip 3
Top 10
Video Tips
By Pieter de Vries
herever you point your
camcorder, you are placing a
rectangular frame around a
particular part of the scene.
You have the choice to record some parts of
the scene and to exclude unwanted parts.
Choose to include an object or person
in the frame and it becomes important to
your audience. Leave it out, and for your
viewers, it will never exist. You become totally
responsible for what will be on the screen.
The edit begins before the card or tape even
leaves the camcorder.
To tell your story successfully, you should
also be in a position to get the best image
and sound that your camcorder can deliver.
To some degree, corrections of exposure
or white balance can be partially fixed later
during the edit, but throw in unimaginative
angles, bad composition and poor sequence
coverage and it is not going to work.
To avoid disappointing footage you
should aim to get things right at this
shooting stage.
The aim of these tips is to help you to
take your shooting beyond point-and-shoot,
to show you fresh ways to think about your
video photography.
Your work will never be the same.
Capture the warm colours of the last light
Digital Photo Book Printing
Tip 2: Panning to Reveal
If you are planning to take shots of a landscape
then there are a few things that can be very
useful later in the edit.
Begin by composing a nice shot and,
before you hit the record button, check to see
if there is another part of that scene where
you could start your shot – another part of the
scene that could let you pan and reveal and so
lead your viewers into the scene that you’ve
Tip 1: When Not
to White Balance
Most video shooters are aware of white
balance and what it does. It works on the
principle that if white objects in the scene are
recorded as “true” white (with no colour tint),
then colours in the same scene will also render
Using a white card as a point of reference,
and executing the white balance function,
you are essentially instructing the camera
to perform the internal colour corrections
needed to render the white card as true
white, regardless of the colour of the light
illuminating it. These settings are then
stored in the camera’s internal memory.
Doing a white balance will always neutralize
unwanted colour tints and give you the
‘right’ colour balance. However, there are
Pan from one part of the scene to the other
Early morning and late afternoon
light are good examples. White balancing
at these times will “balance out” or
neutralize these beautiful early morning
colours, correcting them back to what
the camera knows is “white” – you’ll
be throwing away the very warm early
morning colours that make this time of
the day so appealing.
Those warmer hues that we see
here are flattering, and the low angle of
the sun ensures that the light is also soft
and diffused – we want to keep this.
Pans like this will offer up helpful choices
in the edit, so don’t be tempted to stop
recording as soon as you arrive at your final
glorious composition. Leave a good ten
seconds static shot at the end. Later in the
edit room you will have a choice to use
the pan and reveal shot if you need to gain
extended screen time – e.g. for additional
narration. The final cut may be better suited
to using just a well composed static shot,
however, there is no doubt that the editing
process is more satisfying when you have a
few options.
Tip 3: Auto = Average
Correct exposure is a critical part of shooting
great videos – creating images that can have
strong impact on your audience. This is why
Better Digital Camera #37
it’s so important to have control over the iris.
Using the Auto setting leaves you very little
control and could better be known as the
Average setting.
of the composition as a means of creating
Correct exposure is a critical part of
recording images that can transform the
ordinary to something far more interesting
for your audience.
Tip 4: Lens Perspective
Set the iris for the area that is lit and ignore the
Based on what it is being composed in
your viewfinder, your camcorder’s circuitry
takes a stab at finding the best exposure
setting, opening or closing the iris based
on what it “sees”. Sometimes it gets it right,
however, at other times the recorded images
can be quite forgettable.
Your camcorder does not know, or even
care, about mood or the character of what
is in the frame so it can only ever hope to
deliver little better than average results. In
flat front-lit scenes it manages quite well, but
beyond that it’s video blands-ville.
Take Control: When you take control
of the iris, you take control of your story. You
gain the ability to saturate colours, to add
depth by recording rich blacks, and images
with solid blacks make it easy to compose
scenes naturally.
For all these reasons it’s a good practice
to ensure that you have the right exposure at
the time of shooting.
Expose for Lit Areas: A way to do this
is to set your iris based on a part of the scene
that has the strongest light falling on it. Look
for the mid tones rather than highlights.
You’ll be able to use the resulting darker areas
It is important to appreciate how lenses
and their fields-of-view work. It helps when
you consider that your zoom lens is the
equivalent of having a whole bag of fixed
focal length lenses – a 10mm, a
25, a 28, a 35 or a 200mm lens.
Why different fieldsof-view?: In most sequences
there should be a combination
of different shots – wide,
medium and telephoto.
A sequence made up of
little more than a swag of wide
angle shots taken from similar
positions will result a series of
awkward jump-cuts which are
tricky to piece together.
On the other hand, a series of shots
edited from a mix of wide-angle and
telephoto along with tripod and hand held
shots, will always work brilliantly and your
edited sequences will have the potential to
affect the emotions of your audience.
Tip 5: Zooming
When to Use & Not to Use the Zoom
Button: Almost all digital video camcorders
have a zoom lens. The zoom lens makes
available a useful range of focal lengths,
all nested neatly into a compact lens built
into the camera body. There is also the
temptation to over-use it by zooming in and
out continuously. Doing that will just devalue
your work. The zoom was not designed solely
for that reason, and there are ways to use it
for your advantage.
Zoom out when you are going to reveal
something to your viewers. The end of the
zoom should always be more interesting
than the start, if not, you lead your audience
A tool for composing: During your
next outing zoom in and zoom out as much
as you like but only when the camera is not
recording. Instead, use it as a framing tool. Use
it to find a more interesting composition or an
unusual or stronger framing. Find
your shot, set the zoom’s position
and then start recording and put
your hand anywhere but near
the zoom lever.
The mark of a good
cinematographer is someone
who knows how to zoom but
chooses not to.
Above, a telephoto compressed perspective
and right a wide-angle shot
Even if you are not intending to
edit your own footage, shooting with
a mixture of zoom sizes will make your
footage, even if viewed straight from
the camera, far more engaging – and
you’ll never have to change a lens.
Tip 6: Hand held –
Energising Your Work
The best advice that I can offer on hand held
shooting is to use the wider angle portion of
the zoom when you take the camera off the
tripod. The wider end of the zoom lens gives
you minimum camera wobble.
Stay Close & Wide: As you cover action,
keep the camera close to your subject and
leave the zoom at the wide-angle position.
This technique is used to minimizes the
wobbles because the camera will engage
and follow the action, disguising much of
the aforementioned. Horizontal oscillations
and camera shakes are absorbed in the
momentum of the activity in front of the
When your are shooting in the wide
screen 16:9 format, jerky movement and
camera wobbles can be tough on the
Tip 7: Depth-of-Field
Perfect out-of-focus images: Detail, and
lots of it, is what we usually think of when
we shoot High Definition video. Is this such a
good thing?
Not always, because there is a lot to
see in a wide-screen frame and sequences
lose impact when they are cluttered with
too much unwanted picture information.
There are times when it can be worth
remembering, as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
said, “Less is More”.
Shallow Depth-of-Field: Depth-ofField (DoF) refers to the distance in front and
behind your focused subject that appears to
be in acceptable focus. There is always less
in focus in front of your focused subject than
behind it.
We hear a lot about DoF in the
context of video cameras these days, but
Video Tips
Right: The point of focus is set and
locked in
Below: Focus holds from front to
Tip 8: Tripod Panning Tip
photographers and cinematographers
shooting on motion picture film alike, have
always loved shallow DoF in certain images
as it creates a very pleasing look, blurring
or defocusing distracting backgrounds
and foregrounds and importantly drawing
attention to the focused subject.
DoF and Small Sensors: Compact
camcorder formats have almost unlimited
depth-of-field. Wide shots result in most
things in the scene being in sharp focus,
regardless of their distance from the camera.
This includes specks of dust resting on the
front element of the lens, to trees on the far
horizon. It is simply a technical shortcoming of
compact video cameras and it’s a challenge to
try to use focus in a creative way.
How can I achieve this with my small
video camera?
In this case, shallow DoF can be
fashioned, partly by the iris setting and partly
by magnification of the image. These two
parameters work as a clever tag team to get
you the best results. Try this:
1. Frame a subject standing close to the
camera and make a note of what is in focus
2. Move to a position much further away
from your subject – back say, ten metres
3. Use your zoom lens to tighten the
angle of view, and frame an exact same
composition as when the camera was close
to the subject
Notice how the background slips nicely
out of focus. Notice how the things in
the scene appear to compress, seemingly
drawing the foreground and background
towards each other.
You have just created shallow Depth-ofField and a far more engaging video image.
This is an easy way to get incredibly
smooth pans when using the
telephoto portion of your zoom.
Compose your shot and lock the
up & down (tilt) lever of the fluid
tripod head. Leave the tripod’s panning lever
unlocked so that the head is free to turn
Instead of using the pan/tilt handle on
the tripod head to move the camera, grip
both hands around the collar of the fluid
head and use it as a fulcrum to turn the
Grip both hands around the collar of the tripod
head to turn the camera
Using the tripod head as the fulcrum
point takes out the lumps and bumps as
you turn the head, making a super smooth
professional looking pan. You should be
able to bring the move to a steady finish,
regardless of the magnification of the image.
Tip 9: Why & When to
Change Shutter Settings
In the fully Auto mode the camera circuitry
takes care of almost everything - this includes
the adjustment of the shutter speed.
A quick shutter speed would be a setting
that is faster than 1/50 of a second. Shutter
settings faster or slower than 1/50 of a
second (the PAL standard) setting can add
Above left: Each video frame is a frozen moment and not always best for video. Above right: Use manual focus to direct the attention of your audience
to your sequences but these speeds will also
draw attention to the mechanism of the
video camera.
There are, however, times to experiment.
Use different shutter speeds to:
• introduce motion blurring using a slow
setting (1/12, 1\6 second)
• prepare footage for SloMo shots made in
the edit using fast speeds
• add an “edge” or tension to a sequence
with very a fast shutter
Bright sunlight & fast shutter speed:
Shooting on a beach, in the snow or in very
bright sunshine provides a good example of
what can happen when the camcorder is left
to do the thinking for you.
In bright conditions cameras auto­
matically close down the iris to reduce the
amount of light falling on the sensor. When
this alone is not enough, it then automatically
selects a faster shutter speed to help achieve
this. You may not be aware of it, but when
this happens, movement in the frame will
appear to have a jerky, staccato look.
Fast shutter: The reason for the
appearance of these motion artefacts is that
the shutter may have been boosted up to
more than 1/1000 of a second so that each
video field/frame is captured far more quickly
and there is no motion blur to blend the
video frames.
Fast shutter speeds are settings that
are faster than 1/50 of a second and can be
used for an interesting effect so it is best to
experiment. The reason for taking control of
the shutter speed in manual mode is to keep
it fixed at 1/50 of a second.
Slow shutter: Setting the shutter speed
to settings below 1/50th of a second delivers
an out of the ordinary streaked effect. It’s
perfect for portraying some surreal situation
for example, but when over-used in my
opinion, it’s just plain irritating.
The slower the shutter speed, the more
obvious the effect. Speeds of 1/12th and
1/6th of a second work particularly well but
again, use it sparingly.
Tip 10: Focus
Get your hands around the focus ring
Like Auto iris, there are times when using the
Auto Focus setting will work just fine. Wideangle shots using Auto focus are not really
that tricky – almost everything from the front
glass to the horizon is in focus.
Focus “Hunting”: Auto focus sensors
in the camera react in an unpredictable
way and attempt to lock-on to closer or
more distant objects if they happen to pass
through the frame.
This situation causes the lens mechanism
to continually shift focus away from the
intended subject – a kind of focusing “hunting
expedition”, in search of anything to focus on.
By focusing manually, you can now
compose shots from positions where people
or objects move through the foreground,
without having any effect on the parts of
the frame that you want to remain locked in
sharp focus.
Setting up great edit points: This
provides some useful edit points by letting
you take advantage of wipes – vehicles,
people or any object that briefly “blocks” the
frame during a shot.
A technique that pros use is to compose
an interesting shot on the telephoto lens
and then allow things to pass through the
foreground. These soft-focused foreground
objects can reveal an ideal moment in your
pre-framed shot – you’ll be impressed with
how good this can look.
The electronics in the lens are turned off
and simply ignore these incidental objects
passing through the frame.
Use Auto + Manual: There is an easy
way to set focus manually:
1. Zoom in to your subject and allow the
lens to focus using Auto Focus.
2. Once it finds correct focus, switch back to
manual focus. This ensures that focus is now
locked on the subject.
3. Start recording and feel free to let
incidental foreground objects move through
the frame.
These are the practices that many
professionals use every day. Trying out a few
of these tips, just a few at a time, will improve
your video shooting, even if it’s just a hobby.
Pieter de Vries is one of Australia’s most experienced
and well known cameramen. Having worked with
his camera in many locations worldwide, he enjoys
an international reputation and has photographed
many acclaimed television series over his career. .
Pieter continues to develop new training ideas
in line with developments in digital technologies.
He holds the industry recognized Certificate 4
qualification in Training and Assessment. To find
out about his training courses please visit the
training website
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