Video Storytelling Guide

Video Storytelling Guide
Video Storytelling Guide
Harness the Power of Visual Communication!
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
Introduction ……………………………………………………
Basic camera shots
Start out playing by the rules: visual composition rules
Moving right along: camera Movement
Playing the angles: what’s your perspective?
Creative camera placement
The horizon line
Screen depth
The Camera ………………………………………………………. 15
Camcorder types
Camera basics
Now hear this: audio for your video
Sizing up the screen
Get a handle on it: controlling your camcorder
Getting it Together: The Editing Process ………………………… 23
Transitions: making connections
The storytelling power of editing
The Hollywood touch: classical shooting style
Shooting sequences can be as easy as 1, 2, 3
The multiple camera look: playing the match game
Visual and sound continuity issues
Making “sound” decisions
A refreshing change of pace
Titling your videos
Interviewing: “Can I ask you a few questions?”
Some bright ideas on lighting
So you want to . . . . editing for effect
The Story ………………………………………………............... 41
Generating story ideas
Story planning
10 Tips for Better Video ………………………………………..
Video Examples List ……………………………………............ Glossary …………………………………………………………. Model Release Form ……………………………………............ Duplication Restrictions Notice! ………………………............ © 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
An Introduction to Video Storytelling:
Atomic Learning Style!
Good news! It’s never been easier to shoot and edit video. Video cameras are commonplace in homes
and schools. Better yet, digital video (DV) has become the standard.
Thanks to personal computers and programs like Apple’s iMovie and Microsoft’s Movie Maker, editing
video no longer means dealing with complicated videotape systems. Editing digital video on a
computer, called non-linear editing, makes it easy to combine images, sounds, music and narration
into a single finished production.
Since this is a “primer” it is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to the entire world of video
production. I’ve tried to keep it as simple as possible while at the same time including the details that
my students have found to be the most helpful. That being said, let’s get to it!
The power is in your hands
We are bombarded with visual images in magazines, television, videos, movies and the web. These
images are designed to inform, convince, or in some way engage our emotions. In short, they are
designed to communicate messages. Video images can be composed and combined in specific ways
to convey a desired message, much like words can be combined into sentences, paragraphs and
stories. There is a “visual grammar” that has its own set of rules, most of which were discovered in
the early days of motion pictures. They form the foundation upon which all films and videos are
based today. Knowing the rules, and knowing when to use them or break them, gives you the power
to tell your stories visually. When you combine that knowledge with the production tools widely
available to individuals and schools today, you have the makings of a video revolution. Power to the
Tell the story you want to tell
“Quality television is a rare medium well done.” --PBS slogan
Make no mistake about it, however your edited video turns out, it will communicate something.
The trick is to communicate what you set out to communicate. You’d like the response from your
audience to be something other than what was that supposed to be? Effective storytelling with video
is something that you learn, like you learn to compose stories with words. The difference is that
making videos is more fun!
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
Composing basic camera shots
A new take on home movies: the “grammar” of video
In written expression, the basic building block is the word. The video equivalent of a word is a
camera shot. I’ll be defining the various types of shots and showing you video examples of each soon.
For now, let’s define a shot as whatever the camera records after you press the record button and
before you hit pause. Using that definition, many traditional “home movies” would consist of only
one or two shots, even though they might last five minutes each.
Don’t be a hoser!
That style of shooting is often referred to as the “garden hose” approach. As you water your shrubs,
the water continually flows while you wave the hose nozzle from side to side, up and down,
concentrating the spray here and there, making sure the whole garden gets a good soaking. The
“garden hose” video maker will stand in one spot with tape running, wave the camera from one side
of the scene to the other, up and down, merrily zooming in and zooming out, trying to capture the
whole scene in one shot. If that shot were a written sentence, it would run on . . . and on . . . and on .
. . and on . . . . and on . . . . . . . . . . . . Good writing is composed of well-chosen words, combined into
thoughtful sentences and logically organized paragraphs. Good video follows a similar structure.
Shoot to edit
The ability to edit what you shoot gives you access to the same compositional tools as the pros. It
also requires you to think about how your shots will be combined together before you take them. That
doesn’t mean that every single edit needs to be planned in advance, but it does require that you
have a sense of what shots you’ll need later when you sit down at the computer. I’ll be exploring
that subject more in the sequences section. Also, record your shots for a longer amount of time than
you think you will use, adding time at the start and the end of each shot. That will give you more
flexibility in editing, where you can always trim the excess.
Basic camera shots
Shots are usually defined by how much of the scene you show in your frame (what you see in your
viewfinder). This can be controlled a couple of different ways. One would be to change the distance
between the camera and your subject by physically moving the camera closer or farther away. The
other would be to change the focal length of your lens, which controls the angle of view. A zoom lens,
which virtually all camcorders have, is a combination wide angle, normal and telephoto lens. You
change the angle of view by zooming in to a narrow angle of view (telephoto) or zooming out to a
wide angle of view. Here are the basic shots:
Long Shot ( LS )
A long shot frames a wide field of view of your subject and its surroundings. It usually requires a
greater distance between your camera and your subject. Most likely you would choose a wide-angle
lens setting (zoomed out). Long shots are also referred to as wide shots or establishing shots. An
establishing shot establishes the subject’s location for your viewers by revealing its surrounding.
It might also be used to cover broad action involving several people in a large area. Use long shots
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
sparingly! Details are lost in long shots. Overuse of long shots is boring.
Medium Shot ( MS )
A medium shot frames more of your subject while still revealing some of the background. If your
subject is a person, a medium shot would show the person from about the waist up. Medium shots
provide more detail than long shots, which makes them more interesting to your viewer.
Closeup Shot ( CU )
A close-up focuses your viewer’s attention on specific details. It demands that the viewer concentrate
on the information you are giving them. In storytelling, close-ups have great emotional impact.
They can also be used to give the audience information the characters in your video don’t have.
For example, showing a close-up of a sign reading “wet paint”, right before a medium shot of your
character in the process of sitting down on a painted park bench, would build anticipation and set up
the audience for the laugh. You will most likely need to use a camera support, like a tripod, in order
to get a steady shot. Check out the camera-handling section. A close-up of a person would frame the
subject from the top of the head to the top of the shoulders. Human emotions are best revealed in
Extreme Closeup Shot ( XCU )
An extreme closeup shot frames only a portion of your subject. It is a very dramatic shot that can
generate great visual excitement. XCUs might be used to show the face of a wristwatch or words
being typed on a computer screen. Like the long shot, extreme closeups should be used sparingly,
when it is important that your viewers see great detail. In most instances you’ll want to choose a
wide-angle lens setting (zoomed all the way out) and move the camera lens as close to the subject as
necessary. Use of a camera support, like a tripod, is a must. Check out the camera-handling section
for more info.
An extreme close-up of a person’s face would detail the eyes, nose and mouth. When framing an
extreme closeup of a face, be sure to include the chin and sacrifice the forehead. The reason for
this has to do with how our imaginations fill in spaces we can’t actually see on the screen, using
something called psychological closure.
When framing human subjects, proper closure can be achieved by avoiding putting natural cutoff lines
of persons (neck, elbows, wrists, waist, knees, ankles) at the bottom of your frame. Instead, frame
your shots to include the area slightly above or below these natural body joints. Your shot will look
awkward if you don’t supply enough visual information for your viewers to project what lies outside
the frame. Television has been described as a closeup medium. That’s because many TV sets have a
diagonal measurement of 32 inches (81 cm) or less. Images that appear small on the screen get lost.
Shoot mostly medium shots, with a generous supply of closeups to keep the audience engaged.
A matter of degrees
You’ll find words like “big” or “extreme” are also used with shot descriptions, as in “big close-up” or
“extreme long shot,” to further qualify a shot. Another popular way to describe shots of people is to
include the number of people in the shot as part of the description. For example, a medium shot of
two people might be called a “medium two-shot”. The medium two-shot is perhaps the most used
shot in movies and television.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
Start out playing by the rules
Some people feel that rules restrict them too much. However, if you’re trying to control the visual
messages your video is sending, you need an understanding of traditional rules of composition.
Then when you go about breaking the rules, you’ll be able to do so with purpose and intent! Many
centuries ago, artists developed rules to guide them when painting or positioning objects in a
rectangular frame. They discovered that certain placements were more pleasing and that the eye was
drawn to some areas of the canvas more readily. You can use what they discovered to help tell your
stories more effectively.
The Rule of Thirds
An offshoot of those artistic rules, used in still photography and video, is called the rule of thirds.
The rule of thirds states that you should mentally divide the frame (what you see in the viewfinder)
into thirds, both vertically and horizontally. What you get is like a tic-tac-toe board overlaying
your screen. When you shoot your video, according to this rule, you should place your key subject
elements along those lines. Where the lines intersect will be the best place for your subject. That
means that centering your subject in the frame will create a less interesting composition.
In most cases you will have control over where you are with your camera. When framing your
subject, move the camera so that the prominent subject elements fall along one of the third lines,
preferably at a point where those lines intersect. If you can’t move the camera to a good spot, try to
move the subject (kind of tough if you’re shooting a mountain!).
A case in point would be the placement of the horizon line in an outdoor shot. Don’t center the
horizon on your screen. Place the horizon on either the top or bottom third line. Which one will
depend upon your subject. If you’re shooting a sailboat on the ocean, do you want to show more of
the ocean or more of the sky? That would be your artistic choice! Which one looks the best to you?
The point is to take control of the situation and try to frame the most appealing shot. Don’t just accept
whatever happens to appear in your viewfinder!
Room at the top
Headroom refers to the amount of space between the top of a person’s head and the top of your
frame. Too much headroom makes the person appear to be sinking. Most novice photographers and
videographers will frame shots of people with too much headroom. Take a look through some old
family photos if you don’t believe me.
Too little headroom places visual emphasis on the person’s chin and neck. When framing shots of
people, pay attention to where the eyes appear. Follow the rule of thirds and place the subject’s eyes
on the upper third line.
Reminder: When framing shots of people, don’t forget to avoid placing the edge of your frame at one
of the body’s natural cutoff lines: neck, elbows, waist, knees and ankles.
Lead them on
Lead space refers to space in front of your subject. Leave extra space in the direction your subject is
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
looking. You might also see this space referred to as look space or nose room. Leave extra space in
front of a moving person or object, like a runner, bicycle, or automobile when following the action.
Not doing so will make it look like your subject is in danger of running into the edge of your frame!
What’s in the background?
Most of your shots will include background elements that are part of the location where you’re
shooting. Make sure what’s in the background of your shot doesn’t draw your viewer’s attention
from your main subject. We’ve all seen live TV interviews, shot on location, where somebody in the
background is waving or making faces at the camera. This is one type of distracting background
you need to try to avoid. Always check what’s in the background of the shot you are framing.
Background clutter or distracting objects, like an overflowing garbage bin, can usually be avoided by
repositioning your camera (moving it left or right, framing a tighter shot, changing the camera angle)
or moving your subject. You might also be able to put the background out of focus by decreasing the
depth of field in your shot. See the screen depth section for more information on controlling depth of
Mergers are another form of distracting background. Background objects or strong vectors that
visually merge with your subject can not only be distracting, they can be down right humorous.
Again, reposition the camera or the subject to avoid mergers.
Moving Right Along: Camera Movement
A pan is the horizontal pivoting of the camera from a fixed point, left to right or right to left. It is used
to follow screen action or to reveal more of a location without zooming or repositioning the camera.
It is a shot that is abused and overused by many beginning videographers. It might be used as an
establishing shot, to follow a moving subject, or to reveal the relationship of one subject to another. A
pan shot should have a beginning, middle, and end. Once started, a pan should continue smoothly in
one direction, at the same rate of speed, until coming to a smooth stop on a well composed shot. Keep
the camera recording as you hold it still at the end of your pan. You’ve chosen to lead your viewers
to this shot by panning to it, so give them a chance to see what it is they were led to. You can always
choose to cut the shot off when editing. Generally speaking, don’t string multiple pan shots together
or pan one way and then back the other way.
Pan tip #1: Move the camera slowly when panning. Most novices tend to pan much too fast. The rate
of your pan should match the pace of the scene you are shooting for. A very fast pan, often called a
swish pan, can sometimes be used as a transition between scenes to signal a change of location and
Pan tip #2: Have a good reason for choosing to use a pan. Most of the time a pan can be replaced by
multiple stationary shots with a more satisfying result. Don’t use pans because you are too lazy to
shoot sequences!
Pan tip #3: Hold the camera still for a few seconds at the start of the pan as well as at the end.
Pan tip #4: Practice the pan shot before recording it, making sure you know where to end the shot.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
If you’re going to be editing your footage you can always just record the shot again and use the best
take for your edited program.
A tilt occurs when you pivot your camera up or down from a fixed position. As with the pan, a tilt
should start and end with a stationary shot that is held for a few seconds. The same tips described in
the pan section apply to tilts as well.
An arc shot is created by shooting while moving in a semicircle around your subject. This shot
has become common on TV dramas. You need to have good control of your camera to perform it
A pedestal shot is the vertical or up and down movement of the camera, without changing the camera
Tracking shots usually involve the use of some sort of wheeled camera support for smooth camera
movement. The pros will actually lay down a section of train-like tracks for the camera to be pushed
along. If you don’t have access to such equipment, you might try substituting a tripod on wheels
(called a dolly) or you could have your cameraperson hold the camera while riding on an office chair,
grocery cart, or wheelchair. It’s generally best to use a wide-angle lens setting to keep camera shake to
a minimum.
Tracking shots come in two basic varieties:
Trucking is the lateral movement of the camera at right angles to the subject. It makes the background
of the shot appear to move. Think of Fred Flintstone running through his cave house. The wall of
his house appears to be moving as the camera appears to run along side Fred. Actually, since it’s
a cartoon, it is the drawing of the wall that is moving! In real life, a trucking shot might be used to
follow two people in conversation as they walk along a path. A trucking shot differs from a pan in
that with a trucking shot, the camera changes location. In a pan shot, the camera stays put and the
direction it is pointed changes. The terms trucking and tracking are sometimes used interchangeably.
A dolly shot is performed by moving the camera toward or away from a subject. The effect can be
vastly different than leaving the camera in a stationary position and zooming (see below). A dolly
shot has the effect of bringing your viewer closer to or farther away from the subject, while zooming
reduces or magnifies the subject and the field of view.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
First off, let me point out that the zoom shot is probably the most overused shot of lazy or novice
videographers. Your video can improve dramatically by resisting the temptation to press the zoom
toggle every time you want a different view. You seldom see a zoom shot on television or at the
movies. That being said, there are some good reasons to use the zoom:
The zoom is a convenient way to quickly reframe a shot in situations where it is impractical to
physically move the camera. You might have just recorded a long shot of a crowd of people at a
sporting event. You now want to pick up a few medium shots of small groups or individuals in the
crowd. Use the zoom to quickly reframe those shots and record them. You might even choose to leave
the camera on record between shots, with the intention of eliminating the in-between zoom footage
when editing. Zooms that serve no purpose are boring.
Don’t try to follow action with the camera zoomed in. You’ll quickly make you audience seasick.
So, what’s a good purpose for a zoom?
A zoom in can serve to concentrate the viewer’s attention to particular subject or detail not evident
in a wider shot. It is more dramatic than a cut from the wider shot to the zoomed in view, but takes
longer. Have a good reason for making your audience wait.
A zoom out can serve to reveal the location or context of the thing that is framed at the start of the
zoom. Picture this. A shirtless young man sporting several facial piercings is sitting in a room with
twenty other people. The camera slowly zooms out from a closeup of his face to reveal the other
people in the room, who are all senior citizens in formal attire!
Playing the angles: what’s your perspective?
I happen to be a couple of inches over six feet tall. Does this mean that all the video I shoot is from my
eye level? Of course not! That would result in video that was predictable, monotonous, and boring.
Worse yet, I’d be missing some great opportunities to help tell my stories by emotionally impacting
my audience.
A variety of camera angles can add considerable interest to your stories. Showing them the world
from different perspectives can help emotionally draw your viewers into your story. Those are good
things to do! When you change the height of your camera in relationship to your subject, you are
providing your viewers with a new perspective. The perspective you choose can have a stunning
psychological effect on viewers.
Flat shot
A flat shot is a shot where the subject and the camera are at the same level. There is little emotional
impact. This might be a shot of another person taken from their eye level.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
High angle
A high angle shot occurs when the camera is raised to a position higher than the subject. A slight
difference makes the viewer feel somewhat superior to the subject. Raise the camera to a more
extreme high angle and the viewer becomes clearly dominant. Frame a closeup shot of a person from
an extreme high angle and the viewer becomes a threatening monster!
Low angle
A low angle shot occurs when the camera is lowered to a position below the height of the subject.
This can make the subject appear larger than life, exaggerating its importance. There’s a reason
why the King and Queen have their thrones on a raised platform. It’s the same reason professional
wrestlers and football players are often photographed from a low angle.
Point-of-view shots (POV)
The first motion pictures were really nothing more than stage plays that were filmed from a fixed
position in the back of the theater. The point of view was that of somebody in the audience, and it
never changed. Directors slowly discovered that changing the point of view, by repositioning the
camera to show things from the perspective of the actors, added a whole new dimension of interest to
their films. Of course it required the film to be edited, which also opened up new worlds of creative
Like those motion picture pioneers, beginning videographers often shoot only from the perspective
of an observer. That can become very boring, and makes every shot appear flat. It’s often refreshing
to place your audience in the middle of the action, putting your camera in the position of the eyes of
the people you’re shooting. Show your viewers the world as the participants in your video see it, and
you’ll add instant interest to your scene. Start mixing in some POV shots!
The movie Raising Arizona makes extensive use of POV shots. In one scene, Nicolas Cage’s character
is attempting to coral a room full of toddlers scampering around a huge bedroom. The camera
provides numerous shots from the point of view of the babies, as they look up at Cage (low angle
shot) and he looks down at them (high angle shot). It travels close to the floor, providing viewers with
a “baby’s eye view” as he crawls across the carpet (tracking shot). The camera provides a floor-level,
side view, as it travels along side another crawling toddler (trucking shot). The use of POV shots
makes the scene thoroughly engaging. Buy or rent the video for many, many more visual treats and
ideas for creative shots.
Over the shoulder (OTS)
An over the shoulder shot (OTS) is a type of POV shot. It is often used when it is impractical for the
camera to be in the same position as the person whose point of view you are showing. It’s also used a
lot when depicting a conversation between two people.
Reaction shot
Showing a subject’s reaction to something that just occurred in your scene is aptly called a reaction
shot. This shot conveys the impact of the moment. In a fictional story, it can be used to give your
audience insight into what a character is thinking. Common reaction shots are closeups of faces that
portray alarm, delight, fear, laughter, suspicion…whatever the moment calls for. Reaction shots are
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
usually cutaways from the primary action, shown from the point of view of someone viewing the
occurrence. When you’re watching a televised performance of a comedian, and the view suddenly
switches from the comedian to a closeup of somebody laughing at the last joke, that’s a reaction shot.
If you don’t want to miss any of the main action, try to record reaction shots before or after the main
event. You can edit these into the production later, wherever they would be appropriate to the action.
Creative camera placement
Today’s small camcorders can fit into spaces that the camera operator can’t. You could create a
shot from inside a locker of somebody opening the door. The same could be done from inside the
refrigerator as your subject opens the door and reaches for a soda (a quick trip to the fridge won’t
hurt the camera, but don’t leave it in very long). The mailbox is another place. Make sure you zoom
out to a wide-angle shot before positioning the camera.
I once had a student take a camera on a downhill ski run. He got a nice POV shot for his video as he
careened down the slope, but he was taking a chance on damaging the camera. Use common sense
when placing a camera for a creative POV shot, especially if you’re using a borrowed unit!
The Horizon line
Carpenters use levels to make sure the doorways they construct aren’t leaning sideways and kitchen
countertops don’t slant to one side. The world is full of vertical and horizontal lines. We expect
vertical objects, like trees and the sides of buildings, to be at right angles to the ground. We expect
horizontal things, like where the ocean meets the sky (the horizon line) to be, well, horizontal! If you
tilt your head to one side, the view or the world you get is an unnatural one. Things seem off kilter
and a bit unsettling. That’s the same effect you will have on your viewers if you compose shots where
the horizon line is not parallel to the top and bottom of your frame.
Reaching for new horizons
However, if your goal is to create tension and add drama to a scene, tilting the camera sideways to
created a slanted horizon would be a good way to do it. Combine a tilted camera with severe angles
and your audience will start to become anxious. It generally works best to use extreme tilts.
Screen depth
Television is a two-dimensional medium. The screen is pretty much flat. Shots that appear to have
depth are more engaging. Adding a 3-dimensional quality to the two-dimensional medium of video
is a matter of illusion. Here are some things that can help you pull off this magic act.
Step aside
A simple way to give a shot a feeling of depth is to show perspective by framing your shot so your
subject is at an angle. Instead of shooting a side view of your car, choose a corner of the car (say left
front) and shoot facing that part of the car. This will create a foreground and a background, which is
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
what you need to show depth. Use this technique on other things, like buses, buildings, bridges, etc.
Using a wide-angle lens setting will help with this trick (as explained below under depth of field).
Near and far
Making sure there are objects in both the foreground and background of your shot (and possibly
points in between) can also establish screen depth. Again, wide angles lens settings are the best for
this (see depth of field). Televised football games often will feature a ground level shot of the field
with a football in the immediate foreground, seemingly almost touching the lens. Since everyone
knows the relative size of a football, the goalpost in the background at the far end of the field seems
indeed very far away. They use an extreme wide-angle lens for that shot, which helps keep both the
football and the far goal post in focus.
A deep subject
Depth of field refers to the range of objects that are in focus at the same time, from your camera lens
to the farthest object in the distance. To borrow from geometry, you could say every shot has an y
axis (horizontal line, screen left to screen right) and a x axis (vertical line, bottom of screen to top
of screen). Depth of field would fall on a third axis, the z axis. This is a line extending out from the
camera lens into the distance.
A shot with a great, or wide depth of field, will have objects in both the foreground and background
in simultaneous focus. One with a narrow, or shallow depth of field will have either background or
foreground objects out of focus. Controlling focus along the z axis gives you some useful creative
Pack ‘em in
Choosing a lens setting with a narrow angle of view (zoomed in) creates a narrow depth of field and
tends to visually compress the distance between objects in your shot along the z axis. You could use
this effect to make a group of people seem more crowded together than they actually are, or make a
line of cars seem bumper to bumper.
It’s all just a blur
You can control what your viewers concentrate on by controlling what part of your scene is in focus.
A distracting background or foreground object can be obscured by placing it out of focus. You’ll
probably need to switch to manual focus to achieve this effect.
Your ability to selectively focus on objects will depend upon your lens setting, your distance from the
subject, and the distance between the subject and the background.
In most cases you’ll need to narrow the angle of view by zooming in. Regardless of lens setting,
screen depth is always greatest when focused on the background. Focusing on the foreground creates
a shallower depth of field, helpful in putting the background out of focus. The closer the foreground
object is to the camera, the shallower the depth of field. You’ll also find that it is more difficult to
achieve screen depth in low light situations.
You’ll most likely need to zoom out to a wide angle setting if you want to keep objects in motion in
focus at all times.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
Rack ‘em up
A rack focus shot is achieved by shifting focus during a shot in progress, typically between the
foreground and background. You’ll need to switch to manual focus to accomplish this shot. You
can use this technique to quickly shift the viewer’s attention between something (someone) in the
foreground and something (or someone) in the background.
Coming right at you
Movement toward and away from the camera, along the z axis, has a stronger impact than movement
across the frame on the x axis. Shooting with a wide angle lens setting will expand the depth of field
and keep your subject in focus. An added bonus is that you won’t have to move the camera to keep
the action in your frame.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
The Camera
Camcorder types
Camcorders can be classified by the type of tape they use. There are professional tape formats and
consumer tape formats. Picture quality is measured in lines of resolution. Simply put, the more lines,
the better the picture quality. You’re most likely using one of these consumer formats:
1. VHS • The regular tape you play in your home VCR. VHS tape records 240 lines of resolution.
2. VHS-C • (C for compact) The same VHS tape in a smaller case with a corresponding shorter
maximum tape length. Camcorders using this format can be made smaller than those using regular
VHS tapes. Adapters allow you to play these smaller tapes in home VCRs.
3. S-VHS • (S for super) This is a higher resolution version of VHS tape. S-VHS camcorders can
record in regular or “S” mode. When in S-VHS mode they record 400 lines of resolution and will not
play back in standard VCRs.
4. S-VHS–C • A compact version of the S-VHS format.
5. 8MM • The first consumer compact tape format. It records the same number of lines (240) as VHS
6. HI-8 • This tape is the same size as the 8MM. It does for 8MM what S-VHS does for VHS. It records
400 lines of resolution.
7. Digital 8 • Developed by SONY to record a digital signal on any of the 8MM tapes. Digital formats
record 500 lines of resolution.
8. MINI DV • The true all-digital recording format, recording 500 lines of resolution.
9. DV-PRO • Not really a consumer format, this tape is slightly larger than Mini-DV, but it records in
exactly the same digital format with 500 lines of resolution.
10. DVD • DVD camcorders are small, fairly portable, and share some of the same features as
Digital8 and Mini DV camcorders. Most DVD camcorders use recordable DVD media like DVD-R,
DVD-RW or DVD-RAM. Some use the mini 3-inch size DVD disc.
11. Hard Drive/Flash Media • These camcorders record onto an internal hard drive built into the
camcorder or flash memory media. This provides for quick transfers of your video files to other
media types. There are compatibility issues however, due to the different file formats used by
various hard drive camcorder manufacturers. The video quality achieved by inexpensive hard drive
camcorders is generally inferior to that of similarly priced Mini DV camcorders.
12. High Definition (HDV) • HDV camcorders record onto a variety of media. The difference is in
the increased video quality resulting from recording at a higher video resolution. Of course, you’ll
need to play back your video on a high definition video monitor to get the full effect. Many newer
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
versions of video editing software will let you edit HDV, but the work done by your computer behind
the scenes is much different than with other digital formats, requiring more computing power.
Non-digital (analog) camcorders output a standard video and audio signal (NTSC in North America,
PAL in most of Europe and many other parts of the world) that is common to all monitors and VCRs.
In addition to the standard signals, S-VHS camcorders also output a higher quality video signal.
Receiving it requires VCRs and monitors that have a special S-VHS video jack.
Digital camcorders often output (and sometimes input) both standard and S-VHS signals. They
also have a special DV jack that is used to directly connect them to computers and other digital
devices. This is called a FireWire (Apple’s tradmark), iLINK (Sony’s trademark) or ieee1394 (industry
standard name) port. I’ll standardize on FireWire, since Apple invented it. A FireWire port carries
the digital video and audio signal in either direction, so it’s both an input and output connection. It
also carries other digital data that allows you to control the camcorder’s functions from a connected
If you combine a digital camcorder, a computer equipped with a FireWire connection (like all current
Macs), and editing software (like iMovie, Final Cut Pro, Premiere) you are all set-up to do non-linear
digital editing.
Some digital camcorders do not have a FireWire port. They use a USB2 connection for transferring
digital video. Your computer will need to have a matching USB2 port in order to transfer video via
USB2. In addition, the video editing software you use will need to recognize digital video coming
through the USB2 port. As an example, if you are using Premiere Elements editing software, and
connect to a DV camcorder via USB2 instead of FireWire, you will need to verify your DV camcorder
supports the USB Video Class 1.0 driver (sometimes advertised as USB over DV, DV Motion, USB
2.0 DV streaming). Mac users will not be able to directly import video through the USB2 port into
The digital advantage
The final product of tape-to-tape analog video editing, your edited master, is always a 2nd generation
copy of the tape you recorded your shots on with your camcorder (the 1st generation tape). In nondigital (analog) formats, copies always suffer a generational loss. That is to say, a copy does not
have as good a picture quality as the tape it is made from. Digital is different. You can download
(input) your camcorder footage to your computer, edit it to your heart’s content, and send your
edited version back out to digital tape without any loss of picture quality. If you have two digital
camcorders, you can make digital-to-digital copies (through the FireWire ports) of that edited tape
without any noticeable generational loss.
Since most people still have a VHS VCR, that may be the format you’ll use for copies of your
programs you want to share with others. Each VHS copy you make from your digital edit master tape
will have all the signal quality that VHS can handle. Conversely, when you make a VHS copy from an
analog edit master, you end up with a 3rd generation tape that has a very noticeable loss of quality.
If you’ll be distributing your video on a DVD, starting out with digital footage will assure that your
DVD will display the highest quality video signal possible for that medium.
If you want to edit on a computer and you don’t have a digital camcorder, all is not lost. You’ll need
to purchase an interface device that converts the standard analog video and audio signals to digital.
There are several converters available, from companies such as SONY, ADS, Canopus, and Pinnacle
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
Systems (a division of Avid). They will convert analog to digital or digital to analog. However, most
camcorders can’t be controlled by a computer when using it (the exception would be when using a
SONY Media Converter 2 with some SONY VCRs and compatible editing software). That just means
you’ll have to use the playback and record controls that are on the camcorder itself, instead of the
control functions of your editing software.
Go digital!
If you have a choice, digital is the way to go. The quality can’t be beat by any other consumer format.
The interaction of digital camcorders and computers makes transferring content back and forth a
snap. Non-linear editing is a major miracle to anyone who ever wrestled with tape-to-tape editing
systems. If you are in the market for a digital camcorder, look for one that has analog inputs. That
way you’ll be able to transfer your old VHS and 8mm tapes to digital. Then you can transfer that
footage to a computer without having to buy a separate media converter.
Camera basics
You need to spend some quality time with your camera. It’s your second most important tool for
visual storytelling, ranking right behind your brain. Most consumer camcorders can operate in a fully
automatic mode, which does a good job under most conditions. Many camcorders also allow you to
shut off some of those automatic controls, making it possible for you to manually control or adjust
things like white balance, exposure and focus. Knowing how to take advantage of these controls can
mean the difference between getting an exceptional shot versus a merely acceptable one. You may
want to (gasp!) read through your camera’s manual to see what features your particular camera has.
Here’s one camera setting you need to guard against. Every camcorder I’ve seen will include the date
and time on the screen if that feature is turned on. Unless you’re shooting surveillance video, turn
date and time off! Once it’s recorded over your shots it is there forever. As a general rule, if you can
see the date and time displayed in the viewfinder or on the LCD screen, it will be recorded!
Here’s another basic. Protect your camera’s lens with a skylight or UV filter. They are very
inexpensive insurance against lens scratches that can ruin your camera (or at least cause a very
expensive repair).
Defining white
All camcorders will automatically adjust their electronics to render accurate colors in different
lighting situations. This is called auto white balance. White balancing is necessary since varying light
sources have different color qualities. Sunlight is different than light coming from a table lamp, etc.
Some camcorders have special modes for shooting outdoors and for shooting indoors under halogen
bulbs. Many camcorders will also allow you to manually set the white balance while filling the
viewfinder with a white object, like a piece of paper or somebody’s t-shirt. Essentially what you’re
doing is telling the camera “this is what white looks like under this light”. Manual white balance
must be reset if the lighting conditions change.
For effect, you may want to intentionally trick the white balance system by choosing the wrong
setting for the light you’re shooting in. Some camcorders will also have a separate adjusting wheel
you can use to tint the picture red, blue, or green.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
An expose´ on exposure
Camcorders will automatically attempt to adjust the exposure of each shot so that your picture has
good contrast between the dark and light areas. Shots with poor contrast appear dark and murky, or
bright and washed out.
The camera controls exposure by adjusting the lens aperture, or iris, and the camera’s shutter speed.
These things determine the amount of light reaching the camera’s image sensor. It’s kind of like what
your eyes do when you’re in a brightly lit room and suddenly the lights go out. Your eyes start to
adjust to the new light level automatically.
In extreme low light situations, camcorders will attempt to electronically boost the video signal (gain).
This will improve the contrast, but the result is often a very grainy picture. Controlling your light
source is the only way to achieve the best quality pictures. Check out the lighting section for more
Better camcorders will allow you to manually adjust the exposure by setting a specific shutter speed
or lens aperture. Others will allow you to incrementally adjust exposure using a + or – exposure dial.
Isn’t that special!
Special lighting situations may require overriding the camera’s auto exposure system. Since
camcorders balance exposure by averaging the bright and dark areas of the scene, shots with extreme
differences in lighting can yield undesired results.
Shots with large bright areas behind your subject, called backlighting, will fool your camera’s auto
exposure system. A medium shot of a man standing in front of a window on a sunny day will most
likely result in a nicely contrasted outdoor scene behind the dark silhouette of the man. If your goal is
to get a recognizable shot of the person and not his silhouette, you need to change the exposure. The
easiest way may be to move the subject so he’s not standing in front of the window! If that can’t be
avoided, your camera may have a backlight button that will force the lens aperture fully open, or you
may be able to do it manually. That will tend to washout the background of the shot, but the subject
will have proper contrast.
Spotlighted shots can have the opposite effect. The auto exposure system may over expose and
washout your subject while trying to compensate for large areas of blackness in the background.
You’ll need to manually adjust the exposure to correct this. Some camcorders have a special spotlight
mode you can select that automatically adjusts the camcorder settings for this situation.
Some locations, like beaches and ski slopes, may be too bright for your camcorder to handle. Too
much light can produce color blooming and smearing. You can correct that by using a neutral density
filter that screws on to the end of your lens. The ND filter will block the bright spots, kind of like what
a pair of sunglasses does for your eyes. They can be had for about $30.00 USD or so. Your camcorder
may have a built-in neutral density filter that you can activate or that is automatically employed in
brightly lit situations. Check the manual.
You must stay focused
Automatic focus systems do a good job trying to keep your shots in focus, but there are situations
where they can be fooled. A shot that won’t hold its focus draws attention to the mechanics of your
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
program and distracts viewers from following your story. Professional camerapeople rarely use
autofocus for just such reasons. They will preset their focus for zoom shots (a trick you can use too)
and adjust the focus manually as the situation calls for it.
There may also be times when you want your shot to be out of focus. Perhaps you need a point of
view shot of somebody who is rubbing their eyes or about to pass out. In editing, a shot that goes out
of focus, followed by another shot that comes into focus, can be used as an effective transition.
Breaking up is hard to view
Digital camcorders often come with digital zoom enhancement that can electronically magnify the
image captured by your lens. The zoom ratio achieved can be as much as 100 to 1, allowing you to
get a close view from a great distance. The problem is that the more you magnify the image, the more
it breaks up into blurred digital fragments. That makes high magnification digital zooms a mostly
unsatisfactory feature, unless you’re trying to show the point of view of a cyborg or somebody using
high-powered binoculars.
Now hear this: audio for your video
A production’s sound track has a deeper effect on the apparent quality of a production than most
people realize. A good sound track can evoke emotions, clarify the action, and shift the mood. It can
make the difference between an average production and an outstanding one. This important aspect of
video making is relatively simple, yet is often underestimated by the beginner.
Sound for your video consists of several different components:
• Ambient sound – the background sounds that come from the environment you shoot in, such as
birds chirping, cars going past, hum from fluorescent lights, etc.
• Primary sound, like on-camera dialog
• Music that you might add to your sound track during editing
• Sound effects added in editing
• Voice over (VO) – voice narration added during editing
Let’s look at the first two. The others will be covered in the editing section.
Camera mics never sleep
Camcorder microphones are always on when you are recording video. On most cameras, the only
way to shut off the built-in mic is to plug something, either another mic or a terminator plug, into the
mic in jack.
Most camcorder mics operate with an automatic gain control (AGC) that adjusts the mic sensitivity
to the level of sound it detects. Low noises are amplified and very loud noises are suppressed to
avoid distortion. Camcorder mics are also usually omnidirectional, which means they pick up sound
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
equally well from all sides. The sound of your finger tapping on the camera body will be readily
recorded. It will also cause the AGC to momentarily lower the mic sensitivity, so that other sounds
you are trying to record may be missed. You’d be surprised how well the cameraperon’s chuckles,
coughs and comments are picked up by the camera mic. Keep things quiet around the camera.
What was that again?
Dialog that can’t be heard clearly will ruin your video. Your audience will have to concentrate so
much on understanding what is being said that all your stellar video work will be ignored. Worse,
they’ll loose interest in your story. Make sure what people say on camera is recorded at a high enough
level. You can help make that happen by shooting in a relatively quiet location, without loud ambient
sound. Most importantly, get the camera mic as physically close as possible to the person or people
doing the talking. Instead of standing in the corner and using the zoom lens to frame a tight shot,
zoom out and move the camera, and thus the microphone, closer.
Investing in a wireless lavaliere mic is a good idea. Placing it on your subject will result in a warmer
and more intimate sound, minimizing unwanted ambient noises. A wireless handheld mic, or a
transmitter that attaches to a wired mic making it perform as a wireless, is nice to have for interview
situations. Make sure you monitor the sound through headphones while recording with external
microphones to make sure the connection is solid.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
Sizing up the screen
The standard television set has a screen ratio of 4 to 3, meaning it is 4 units wide for every 3 units of
height. Movie screens and most newer televisions have a ratio of 16 to 9, making them much wider.
You can’t make a standard sheet of A4 or 8 1/2 X 11 inch printer paper conform to a 4 to 3 format.
Shooting a picture or graphic that fills that paper will reveal what’s behind the paper on at least two
sides. To avoid showing the background you would have to crop the image. Keep the aspect ratio you
are shooting at in mind when creating or selecting graphics cards.
Playing it safe
Our home television sets are over-scanned because more video information is broadcast than TVs
can display. This is done to compensate for the widely varying picture adjustments on televisions.
It assures that the image will fill the screen of everyone’s TV, no matter how badly adjusted. But we
don’t see the entire picture, the edges being lost beyond the border of the screen. The safe action area
is designated as the area of the picture that is “safe” to put action that the viewer needs to see. This
amounts to about 90% of the total picture area. It is symmetrically located inside of the picture border.
Graphics and text need to be positioned on your screen within what is called the safe title area. It is
inside the safe action area and amounts to about 80% of the total picture area. Titles and text are
usually kept within the safe title area to make sure they can be seen in their entirety. Video that is
designed for web playback, like QuickTime for Flash, doesn’t have these limitations.
Get a handle on it: controlling your camcorder
It may seem like a paradox, but today’s small, lightweight camcorders are in some ways harder to
handle smoothly than the big, clunky shoulder-mounted ones. Holding the camera steady is the first
step to shooting good video. The little camcorders are very easy to move, making them harder to hold
still. They can’t be rested on your shoulder for support. The big camcorders, like the giant SONY Pro
Beta cams still favored by many professionals, require a lot of effort to move. Hence, they’re easy to
hold still, if you have the strength to hoist one up on your shoulder and $50,000 USD or so to buy
one! The rest of us need to develop techniques to control the littler ones.
The techniques for holding your camera steady without a camera support will be dictated, in part,
by the camera’s size and design. Small camcorders are designed to be held in front or your face, with
the cameraperson viewing the image on either an LCD screen or through the viewfinder. It’s easier
to hold the camera steady if you provide multiple points of support, so using the viewfinder is best.
It allows you to steady the camcorder against your hands and your head. Using the LCD screen is
convenient for high and low angle shots. Glare off the screen can make the LCD display hard to use
outdoors or under bright lights.
It’s a good idea to take advantage of things in the shooting environment you can use to help brace
yourself: walls, furniture, trees, railings, etc. Holding your breath or shallow breathing while
recording can also keep your camera steady.
Modern cameras often have built-in image stabilization electronics. These systems can help minimize
camera jiggle, but they can also result in a loss of picture quality. Cameras that feature optical image
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
stabilizers help steady your shot while maintaining picture quality.
Support your local camcorder
It is nearly impossible to hold a steady shot when you are zoomed in using the telephoto setting of
your camcorder lens. Zooming magnifies your image, but it also magnifies every movement of the
camera. Even the slightest hand movement will be noticeable when zoomed in. It can look like you’re
shooting while standing up in a canoe that’s careening down a river rapids. When you want your
shot to be still and solid, use a wide-angle lens setting. The other choice is to use a camera support.
The most common camera support is the tripod. Good video tripods will allow you to smoothly pan
and tilt the camera. Tripods designed for still cameras generally lack this feature. Use a video tripod
that is designed to carry the weight of your camcorder. You must make sure the tripod is level before
shooting. I generally start by adjusting the legs to the approximate height I want. Many tripods will
have a balancing bubble on the top (head) of the tripod that you can use as a guide in fine adjusting
the tripod legs. If not, you’ll have to level the tripod by mounting your camcorder and checking the
horizon line in your viewfinder as you pan from far left to far right.
Monopods, as the name implies, are one-legged camera supports. They help you steady the camera,
set up quickly, and are easy to transport. They are, however, more difficult to keep level when
panning. Camera supports that feature a “quick release” mounting system let you rapidly switch
from using the support to hand-held shooting.
A handy camera support you can make yourself is a small beanbag. Make sure there are just enough
beans to allow it to mold around your camera. Just set your camcorder on top of the beanbag and
adjust the angle. You’ll be able to get some steady shots that you can’t capture with any other kind of
camera support.
Getting “Real”
If you want your video to look like it was shot by an amateur (or a chimpanzee), forget about all
the techniques you have developed to keep viewers from paying attention to your camerawork.
This style has become a technique all its own. Camera shakiness, long drawn-out shots, constant
panning and frequent zooming (the garden hose approach) is a way of saying that you’re watching
“home video”. This lack of sophistication in shooting style is sometimes used to imply honesty or
immediacy. The Blair Witch Project movie made a few million bucks with this style. You also see it crop
up on some television commercials, reality TV programs like Cops, some documentaries, and multiple
programs on MTV.
One more camcorder tip
Some camcorders have a tally light on the front that comes on or flashes when the camera is in
record mode. Turn it off. It makes the people you’re recording nervous and can cause them to act
prematurely. Tally light (or lamp) on/off is usually a camcorder menu item. If there isn’t an on/off
control, cover the lamp with a piece of black electrical tape. Hey, that’s how most people get their
home video recorders to quit flashing 12:00 AM, isn’t it?
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
Getting it Together: The Editing Process
The ability to edit video like the pros is now available to anyone with a computer and a camcorder.
That includes a lot of people! Every Macintosh comes equipped to capture and edit video right out of
the box. Laptop Macs, like the iBook, let you do so in any location, completely unplugged.
Just having the tools of the trade doesn’t automatically make you a competent video producer. I own
an impressive array of basic carpentry tools, but you wouldn’t want to live in any house I would
build using them! I don’t know how to use those tools to build anything that resembles the work of
professionals. I’ve seen thousands of houses, so I know what a well-built one looks like. I just have
never learned any of the construction basics all carpenters know and use.
Like carpenters need specialized skills to construct homes from raw lumber, constructing an effective
edited video requires an understanding of the techniques visual storytellers use to combine their raw
materials, images and sounds, into a cohesive story.
Now cut that out!
The most basic use of editing would be to “cut out” the parts of your program you don’t want to
keep. That’s what the early filmmakers did. They took a scissors to their film, snipping off the pieces
that didn’t work out and had to be re-shot. Then they pasted the film back together again, minus the
“bad” footage.
Filmmakers soon learned that they could also use this cutting and pasting process to rearrange the
order of the pieces of film. That marked the birth of the art of filmmaking. It led to the development
of the editing techniques still used today by visual storytellers like you and me.
Electronic editing
In electronic editing, the tape that you take out of your camcorder is never physically cut. Electronic
editing using multiple tape decks, called linear editing, involves the electronic transfer of only the
raw footage that you want to use on to a new tape. That new tape is called an edit master and is your
final program tape.
Electronic editing using a computer involves digitizing, or capturing, the video from your tape on to
the computer’s hard drive. Using software, like Apple’s iMovie, you can then select the parts of the
captured footage you want to include in your project. You can manipulate the order of the shots as
much as you want before sending your program out of the computer and on to videotape (or another
format like QuickTime). This is called non-linear editing.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
Transitions: making connections
The Cut
When editing, you need something to bridge the gap between shots. These bridges are called
transitions. The term cut became synonymous with the instantaneous switch from one shot to
another. It is the transition that is used almost 90% of the time in film and video editing. It’s also the
simplest and most powerful transition in the editor’s toolbox. Hollywood film editor Walter Murch
has called the cut “the filmmaking equivalent of the discovery of flight.” What would earn it such
high praise?
Putting cuts to work for you
Defy orders
The cut allows you to shoot your video out of sequence and out of order. You can assemble the
shots in the order that you choose when you edit, using a cut as the transition or “bridge” between
the shots. You can take all of your shots at a particular location at one time, then move to the next
location and take all of those shots. When you’re done shooting, you can assemble shots from all your
locations into the final production.
Manipulate time and space
It might take a man five or six minutes to leave the twenty-fifth floor on an office building, ride down
the elevator, walk through the lobby, and emerge outside the front door at street level. Actual time
would probably depend upon how many stops the elevator made to drop off and pick up passengers.
If the cut had never been discovered, showing him leaving the building for our video would take
the full time, say six minutes. The cut lets us eliminate showing our audience the boring ride down
(along with avoiding the dreadful elevator music). We could do it with two shots. The first shot
would show the man getting into the elevator. The second shot would be from outside the building
as the man walks out the front door. The transition between the shots would be a cut. Instead of six
boring minutes, we could communicate what we need to in just a few seconds.
You can use a simple cut to transverse great distances in just seconds of screen time. Say a director
wants a character to travel from London to New York. We all know such a trip would take many
hours and include riding to the airport, checking in, waiting in lines, the actual flight, retrieving
luggage, and lots of other miscellaneous happenings. Our director could make this happen in a
matter of seconds. Shot one would show our character disappearing out the door in London, after
announcing that she was off to New York. Shot two would be of a jetliner taking off. Shot three would
be a shot of the Statue of Liberty. In shot four our character would be getting out of a taxi in New
York. Time of trip: about six seconds! The audience would view this as perfectly natural.
A cut is the least obtrusive transition. Done right, it is not even perceived by your audience. It simply
indicates a change in visual information. I’m not going to attempt to explain why people are able to
comfortably account for all the missing time and sudden change of location. It’s enough to know that
we somehow do. Make it a point to watch how cuts are used on television and in the movies. You’ll
find a lot other tricks you can use too.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
Watch out for jump cuts!
Cuts bridging images that don’t have a logical connection or images that don’t follow a logical order,
will be jump cuts. Jump cuts do not make sense to the viewer. They call immediate attention to
Jump cuts break the flow of action and have a disorienting “what the heck just happened?” effect
on your audience. Jump cuts are also created when editing together two shots that are just slightly
different in framing or angle. The resulting edit makes the subject appear to suddenly jump to a new
position on the screen. Make sure that consecutive shots of the same subject are substantially different
in field of view (like a MS to a CU) and/or are substantially different in angle (like flat shot to a high
angle shot).
If two consecutive shots are exactly the same, except objects within the frame are added or removed
in the second shot, those objects will suddenly appear or disappear on the edited tape. It’s jump cut
Another way jump cuts can happen is if you break the 180° rule by crossing the action line when
shooting. Let’s say you and a friend are shooting video at a basketball game. You set up your
camcorder on the south side of the gym at mid court. Your friend sets up at mid court on the north
side. You both record a player driving for the basket on a fast break. Later, when editing, you cut
together the start of the play from your tape and the end of the play from your friend’s tape. The
result will be a jump cut, as the player seemingly reverses direction in mid drive. (See also the screen
direction section)
There may be occasions when you’ll find yourself forced into a situation where you must edit two
shots together, even though the resulting transition is a jump cut. For example, the video you’re
editing shows a continuous medium shot of a speaker addressing a crowd. You’ve been assigned
to edit out some of the speaker’s comments. If you cut out part of the speech, you may end up with
nicely flowing audio, but the edit will make the speaker look like he suddenly jerked his head.
Luckily you also have some video of the audience reacting to the speech that you can briefly insert
to cover the jump cut. That inserted video is known as a cutaway shot. Cutaways are often used to
hide jump cuts when editing single camera interview footage. If you use a cutaway to mask an edit
point, make sure you cut to something related to the scene, or familiar to the audience. If you use an
awkward or unfamiliar shot to cover the jump, you may confuse the audience, and simply trade one
problem for another.
Most of the time jump cuts are mistakes that draw unwanted attention to your edits. There might be
times when you want to alarm, disturb, startle, or make your viewers feel ill at ease. You might also
want to stage a disappearing act. In those cases, jump cuts could be useful. My point is this: learn to
recognize how jump cuts occur. Then you can plan your shots to avoid them, or to create them for
In a fade, the picture gradually darkens to black (fade out or fade to black) or vice-versa (fade in or fade up
from black). It is often used to indicate the end or beginning of a program or a scene within a program.
It can signal a major change in time and place. The audience will expect something substantially
different after a fade to black within your program.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
A dissolve is a gradual transition from one shot to the next, during which the two images overlap and
blend. A dissolve indicates a strong relationship between the images. A slow dissolve gives viewers
time to consider that relationship and provides the smoothest transition. A dissolve can be used to
indicate a change of location. It can also indicate the passage of time, or a change of location and time.
A wipe seems to push one image off the screen as it reveals the next one. Wipes communicate a
deliberate change. If dissolves are soft transitions, wipes are more active and lively. Like the fade, a
wipe generally indicates the end of one scene and the beginning of another. Before computers, there
were only a few classic wipes available. Computers provide an endless array of wipes and other
unique digital transitions. Television programs like Home Improvement invented new wipes for every
show (you might still catch an episode - it’s in syndication).
Just say no!
Resist the temptation to spontaneously use the bevy of “gee whiz” digital transitions available, just
because they’re new and look cool. Save them for a special time when you really want to wow your
audience. Using lots of different digital transitional effects can get in the way of your story, drawing
unwanted attention to the editing process.
The storytelling power of editing
The Hollywood touch: sequences shot in the classical style
The majority of scenes in Hollywood movies, even the big-budget motion picture blockbusters, are
shot using only one camera. So why does it look like they use three or four? Simply put, they shoot
multiple takes of the same scene, repositioning the camera between takes. The actors perform some
of, or even the entire scene again for each camera position. That might include a wide master shot,
shots from various angles, closeups, over the shoulder shots, reaction shots and the rest. The film
editor uses pieces from each take to stitch together the final edited scene. Additional sounds and
visuals might be added during editing as well. It’s called the classical shooting style.
David Tattersall was 16-years-old when he saw Star Wars. He still has vivid memories
of that day - the magical characters and story, and the excitement that rippled through
the audience. “It played in my hometown cinema for 10 months. I saw the movie half a
dozen times,” he recalls. “Star Wars definitely planted the idea of becoming a filmmaker
in the back of my mind.” Some 16 years later, Tattersall photographed Star Wars, Episode
I - The Phantom Menace. He says that director George Lucas totally pre-visualized all the
principal photography.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
“He was very organized and prepared. Every frame was storyboarded. He wanted a
traditional, classical style of shooting - the five Cs (camera angle, continuity, cutting,
close-ups and composition). There was no radical camerawork or lighting, and nothing
to draw attention to the photography. He was particular about wanting good coverage
that he could play with in editing.”
Kodak In Camera newsletter, July 1999
It might seem absurd to associate a science fiction movie that pushed the limits of special effects with
the term classical style, but that’s exactly how much of all the Star Wars films were shot. You can add
the same touch to your videos by borrowing a few of Hollywood’s time-tested techniques.
Shooting sequences can be as easy as 1, 2, 3
The key to telling visually compelling stories with video is to use sequences. Instead of taking one
long monotonous shot, full of pans and zooms, do what the pros do and keep your audience involved
by showing them multiple views.
The time to think about editing is when you are storyboarding and shooting your raw footage. You
have to visualize how the shots you take will fit together. If you don’t, you won’t record the shots
that you’ll need. You’ll have nothing to edit with but a string of unrelated images. Not even a master
editor could save your program. As the saying goes, you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken
A tried and true method of organizing your shots is with a visually narrowing sequence, referred to
as a 1 - 2 - 3 sequence.
1. Start with a wide shot that establishes the location for your viewers.
2. Go to a medium shot that tells them who or what to look for at the location
3. Add a closeup of significant detail
Of course you’ll want to shoot variations on this formula, such as using consecutive medium or
closeup shots. Most of your shots should be medium shots or medium-closeup shots!
The multiple camera look: playing the match game
Shooting Hollywood-style sequences requires more planning before shooting. Storyboarding is the
best way for novice and even professional videographers to plan and visualize a sequence. The idea
is for the action within your sequence to look uninterrupted, even though it is actually made up of
multiple distinct shots. To accomplish this, you’ll have to repeat the action in each of the shots you
plan to edit together. When you edit, you’ll make your cut where the action in each shot matches.
Here’s what I mean. Let’s say you want to depict a conversation between two people who are sitting
at a table. Set up your camera for a side view of the table with both actors, A and B, facing each other.
Record this master shot as they deliver their lines and perform any actions (like drink water, look at
watch, frown, smile, scratch head, etc.). Move the camera and record an over the shoulder shot (OS)
of B from behind A while the actors repeat their lines and actions, exactly like they did in the master
shot. Do the same with an OS shot of A from behind B. You could give yourself even more editing
options by also recording the scene from different camera angles or recording separate closeup
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
reaction shots. Remember the 180° rule to avoid jump cuts!
When you cut to a shot that includes some element or elements of the preceding shot, you are making
a match cut (also called an insert or cut-in). Match cuts are less noticeable than cutaways, since the
shot you cut to contains visual elements the viewer is familiar with. In our example, cutting from
the master shot to an over the shoulder shot of A or B would be a match cut, since both A and B are
visible in the master shot.
You’ll want to look for opportunities to match the action in each shot and make your cuts during it.
Cutting on action helps smooth the edit and convey the illusion of continuous motion. This is where
editing on a computer is really handy. It lets you easily experiment with different shots and edit
points until you find just the right ones to create the multi-camera illusion.
You can apply the Hollywood touch to even the most humble productions. I often have students
in my production classes produce edited tapes that tell a simple story in five or six shots. We’re
not talking Gladiator here! A typical video will have a story line such as sharpening a pencil, opening
a locker, getting a drink of water, or walking to the media center. By using various angles and fields of
view, repeating action, and using match cuts, these simple events can become interesting little “mini
dramas.” Including such sequences in larger stories will give your productions a real professional
Here’s an example of a simple story sequence that uses these techniques. A girl gets into her car and
drives away. As you watch the sequence, pay attention to the use of match cuts and the concept of
cutting on the action. You should also be able to appreciate the various camera positions, angles,
and fields of view that were used. Then check out the “see how we did it” movie to catch our
cameraperson in action!
Visual and sound continuity issues
Positional continuity
Here are a few things from the movies you may not have noticed.
When Jack hands Rose the note at the dinner table the paper is yellow. Later when the note is
read, the paper is white. Titanic (1997)
When the companions are walking down the corridor to the wizard’s room, Toto is on their left
side. Then, the camera view cuts to a shot from behind them, and Toto is suddenly on their right
side. Wizard of Oz (1939)
In the scene in front of the hotel on the night before Rafe ships out to England, Kate Beckinsale
puts a scarf around his neck. There is a camera shot from his back: no scarf. Then another one
from his front, and he’s wearing the scarf again. Pearl Harbor (2001)
During the battle of Carthage, Hagen stands alone with an arrow in his shield. A couple of shots
later, no arrow. A couple of shots later still, an arrow hits his shield. Gladiator (2000)
When Will Smith is dragging the unconscious alien across the desert, the sky alternates between
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
overcast and perfectly sunny. It depends if it’s a closeup or a long shot of Will. Independence Day
In the scene where Jeff Goldblum is getting a bottle out of the refrigerator, he opens the door and
it is full of food. When his ex-wife puts the bottle back in the fridge, it’s virtually empty. It’s full
again when Jeff reaches in to get the bottle back. Independence Day (1996)
At the end, a victorious Maverick is hoisted on the shoulders of the guys. As he goes up, he isn’t
wearing sunglasses. His head goes out of the shot, and when he comes down, he’s wearing a pair.
Top Gun (1986)
All the above are examples of continuity problems. “Real life” goes on during the time the camera
is stopped. Scenes that are shot out of sequence, or consist of shots taken at different times, can
lead to these types of problems. To maintain the illusion of continuous action when editing, you
need to make sure everything is in the same relative position in all the shots of your sequences and
scenes. Clothes and accessories need to match. Actions need to match too. Hollywood directors have
script supervisors especially hired to watch for these things, and they still miss a lot. In addition to
positional continuity concerns, you also need to pay attention to the direction action is moving from
shot to shot.
Directional continuity
Audiences expect movement on the screen to be logical. Remember, they can only see what you show
them. As you plan, shoot, and edit your sequences you need to maintain the direction of motion.
People, pets, bikes, cars and other things that are mobile must be pointed in the same direction
from shot to shot. This will help cement your shots together. If screen direction continuity is not
maintained, your viewers will become disoriented and won’t be able to follow your storyline.
Here is what you need to know about screen direction:
1. There are only two directions to worry about: right and left.
2. Screen direction doesn’t have to equal “real world” direction.
3. You need to follow the 180° rule.
The action line, an imaginary line separating the camera from the subject, is established by the
camera’s position in the first shot of your sequence. It shows the viewers what direction, toward
screen left or toward screen right, the subject (person or object) is facing. If you always keep the
camera on its side of the line and the subject on the other side, screen direction will be consistent. If
you cross the line, the subject’s screen direction will reverse. You might want to review the basketball
game example from the “Watch out for jump cuts” section of the transitions page.
Let’s say you’re shooting a sequence of a girl riding her bike to the store. In the first shot she leaves
the driveway and heads toward the left of the screen until she rides out of the frame. As we follow
her progress in the shots that follow, she should also be heading toward the left side of the screen. She
should arrive at the store by entering the frame from the right, again moving toward the left side of
the screen. In the real world, the girl could change direction and head north, south, east or west. But
if we always record her from the same side of the action line, the video will show her headed toward
the left of the screen in every shot. If the video showed her heading screen left in one shot and screen
right in the second, it would appear to the audience that she was going back home.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
Road trip!
People are used to looking at maps that have north at the top. Their mental geographic map tells
them that motion toward the right of the screen is heading east and motion towards screen left is
heading west. Keep that in mind if your subject is a car driving from Chicago to New York, or if it’s a
person watching the sun set, or rise, over the Pacific.
“Look at me when I’m talking to you”
Here’s another screen direction consideration. If you are showing both ends of a phone conversation,
the people talking should be facing in opposite screen directions. The audience will expect them to be
facing each other when they talk, even though they aren’t even in the same room. Go figure!
Sound continuity
Trinity flies through the window, tumbles down the stairs, and looks back up at the window. You
can see and hear the squeaky light swinging. The next shot shows the light completely still, but
the squeaky sound is still there. The Matrix (1999)
Matching the sound in each shot also provides continuity and disguises edit points. The first
consideration is keeping a consistent volume. Your viewers shouldn’t have to reach for the volume
control to adjust the sound from one part of your video to the next. You can balance the sound if
all your audio sources were recorded at a high enough level. The biggest problem occurs when the
sound on your source tape isn’t loud enough. This will happen if the camera mic was too far away
from the people speaking during taping. When the sound from the mic is not strong enough, boosting
the volume of that track during editing also amplifies the background noise to an annoying level.
“Hey, turn the volume down!”
That’s what my dad used to tell me if I played my guitar “too” loud. Now it’s my wife who gives me
the same message when I crank up the Stratocaster. But, I digress.
Music shouldn’t drown out the dialog or narrations. If background music is played during speaking
parts, it’s volume should be brought down so that the speech is heard clearly. This is referred to as
bringing the music under the level of the competing audio. The music volume can be brought back
to normal volume during lulls in speech. If your music is on a separate audio track, its level can be
adjusted during editing.
“It sure is quiet ……….too quiet!”
Every shooting location has its own ambient, or general background sound. Shots in the same
location should have the same sound ambience. Let’s say you’re shooting a scene that takes place
in the school cafeteria during lunch. Later, while reviewing your footage, you find that you forgot
to shoot a couple of important closeups. It’s no problem to go back to the cafeteria later in the day
and shoot the missing shots. The problem is that the ambient sounds captured at lunchtime will be
missing from the new shots taken later in the day. When you insert your freshly shot closeups, the
change in background sound will be quite noticeable, because the sound continuity will be broken.
You need to add the missing ambient sound to your sound track when editing the closeups. Luckily
you remembered to record some extra room ambience as part of the noontime shoot. You did, didn’t
you? Radio broadcasters refer to times when there is no sound being transmitted as “dead air.” Don’t
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
have moments of “dead air” in your program.
There are techniques you can use to change screen direction without confusing your audience. That’s
covered in the So you want to . . . . . section.
Making “sound” decisions
Voice-overs, music, and sound effects are sound elements you can add to your video during the
editing process.
In certain formats, like documentaries, you may need to record voice-overs. I like to record voiceovers after the video has been edited. Of course, I always make sure my video segments are long
enough to accommodate the length (time) of what I need to say. I’ve seen too many cases where
students wrote voice-overs that were way too long for the video segments they edited. It’s easier to
adjust the voice-over content than to scramble for more video to cover the time.
Most inexperienced scriptwriters tend to write for readers, not viewers. The text of their voice-overs
is padded with unnecessary rhetoric and detail. The voice-over should provide a framework for the
content, not be the content. Remember, you’re producing video, not radio. Voice—overs introduce or
bridge video segments, or they serve to highlight what is shown on the screen. The voice-over needs
to compliment the video. There are few things more confusing than listening to a voice-over that
doesn’t relate to what you’re watching.
You can record a voice using two basic methods. One is to record to tape, using the camcorder and
either the built-in mic or an external mic plugged into the camcorder. You then import the audio from
the tape to your program. For example, iMovie users would import the video to iMovie as a video
clip. Then they would extract the audio (the recorded voice-over) and trash the video portion of the
clip. The other method would be to connect a mic to your computer and record the voice-over as a
sound file. All video editing software allows for recording narration from within the application,
usually as a separate narration track. Avoid using built-in computer mics. They yield generally poor
results. Matching an external microphone to your computer can be a bit tricky. If your computer
has a standard mini-jack for a mic input, you can adapt most any mic to fit by getting the proper
adaptor. However, the mic you have may not produce a high enough signal level to let you record at
an acceptable volume. In that case you may need to put a powered amp or mic mixer in line between
your mic and the computer. Like I said, this can get a bit tricky.
If your computer doesn’t have a mic input but does have a USB port, you’ll need to invest in a USB
microphone or a USB interface device. There are some relatively inexpensive USB microphones on
the market that do a decent job of voice recording. These range in price from $39.00 to $200.00 USD.
Check out the MicFlex from MacMice, the Snowball from Blue Microphones, and the Samson C01U
from Samson International. USB audio adapters and interfaces allow you to use a wide variety of
non-USB mics by providing input jacks for various types of plugs commonly found on the end of
microphone cords. They convert the signal to USB. These range from simple converters, starting
around $30.00 USD, to more elaborate interface devices that have multiple types of input/output
jacks, signal mixing, preamps, phantom power for condenser mics, and a host of other features. They
start at around $150.00 USD and go up from there, depending on features.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
The music you add to your video can greatly effect how your video is perceived. More often than not,
first-time or novice video producers abuse its use. They use music that is inappropriate to the subject
matter, tone, or pace of the video message. Not all videos require music, although most videos can
be enhanced by it. We’re getting into the realm of artistic taste here, but there are a few absolutes.
Don’t use a particular piece of music just because you like it. This may seem obvious to most people,
but a hard-driving alternative rock selection might not fit your video about the senior citizen center.
Music with lyrics has to be used very carefully, since your audience will expect the lyrics to match
everything they are watching. The lyrics become a form of narration. The whole message of your
video can be changed with music. Imagine a video of hockey game action that includes all the arena
sounds, accompanied by a heavy metal soundtrack. Now image the same video footage with a
classical orchestra playing the Blue Danube Waltz as the only sound.
Where do you get music? Understand that almost all commercially produced music is protected by
copyright. There are provisions within the copyright guidelines for some educational “fair use” of
copyrighted music, but that would certainly limit the distribution of your video. Someone has paid
a royalty to the copyright owner for all the music you hear on television programs and commercials.
You can buy libraries of “royalty free” music on CD. The music is usually grouped by length of cut,
tempo, and style. There are also places on the Internet where you can pay a royalty to download and
use production music, such as
Another option is music production software, such as Sonicfire Pro from SmartSound. Software
like this makes it easy to custom make sound tracks by choosing from a library of sound cuts and
building your own songs. Apple’s GarageBand software is a great choice for Macintosh OS X users
who want to compose their own soundtracks from the sound loops it provides, or who want to create
original music scores. Windows users may want to check out Avid’s M-Audio, an inexpensive piece
of music creation software that comes with a basic USB audio converter. Sony’s Acid Music Studio is
another solid and inexpensive choice for the Windows set. The list goes on, with new software hitting
the market seemingly all the time.
You can also use preset music patterns or make your own original music using a digital rhythm
machine. The DR-5 Dr. Rhythm Section from Roland is a virtual “band in a box.” I’ve used one to score
parts of several productions.
One way to help tie your program together is to use the same music for the close that you used for the
opening. Your opening music is kind of the “theme song” for your video. If you bring this theme in
right before you start your conclusion, you send a signal to your audience that the show is wrapping
up. It can help segue from the main body of your story to the ending statement.
Sound FX
Television and movies add special audio effects to just about every scene. Things like screeching tires,
karate chops landing, forest sounds, and shopping mall background noises are all added, ironically,
to provide “realism.” Sound helps sell the action, so professionals use what is called a “foley artist” to
“sweeten” sound tracks. Much or all of the “native sound”, sound that actually occurred at the time
of shooting, is replaced during editing.
You probably don’t need to go to that extreme, but there may be occasions when you’ll want
to reinforce the native sound or add a new sound for dramatic or comic effect. There are many
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
inexpensive sound effects CDs available, lots of digitized sounds can be found online. Your video
editing software probably has a sound effects library too.
A refreshing change of pace
Ever heard the expression “too much of a good thing?” Even the best video can become monotonous
if it moves at the same pace for too long. This applies to a heart-pounding lightning pace as well as a
peaceful snail’s pace. Varying the pace within your program helps keep interest alive. You can slow
down or speed up the pace of your scenes by controlling certain variables.
The length of your shots is perhaps the most basic way to affect pace. Using short shots will create a
fast pace. Staying with each shot longer before moving on to the next one will slow the pace down.
Your video will develop it’s own ebb and flow as you orchestrate the length of your shots. This can
be compared to the rhythm of music. Matching video to the pace of a music track would be one way
to establish rhythm, but you don’t need music to do it. Think about a time when you were a young
child listening to stories read aloud. If the reader droned on in a robotic monotone, chances are your
mind wondered to thoughts of lunch or recess. But, if the reader used expression, talking louder and
faster during the exciting parts and softer and slower during lulls, you probably hung on every word.
When you edit, make sure you periodically play back your work and feel the rhythm of what you are
A variety of kinds of shots can also be used to change the pace. It is generally acknowledged that the
most deadly boring video of all time is the talking head, a continuous shot of a person talking. If that’s
the only video shot that was captured, there’s not much you can do to liven it up during editing. But
if you also captured some cutaways, shots taken from a variety of angles, you could use them to add
some visual variety and keep things a bit more interesting.
The transitions you choose between shots can have a strong impact on pace. Cuts offer the most
immediate changes whereas slow dissolves, fades, wipes, and digital effects are more leisurely.
Faster versions of these transitions can increase the pace. Overall, the speed of the transition is more
influential then its type.
Feel the beat
Wherever you use music, your video’s pace will be controlled by the tempo of that music. When
selecting music it’s often preferable to audition various music cuts until you find one that matches
the pace you want for a particular sequence. Then you can edit your video to match the pace of the
A final thought on pacing
Put yourself in the shoes of your intended audience. Then play back your edited scene. If it tends
to drag, make some changes to pick up the pace. If it goes by so fast your viewers’ heads will spin,
maybe you need to give them a break somewhere.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
Titling your videos
Adding titles to your videos can give them a professional look. The key word here is can. Just like
with music, the use of titles can be abused. The purpose of titles is to provide information without
speaking it. Some camcorders permit you to add titles to your shots, but be careful! Titles recorded
while you shoot are even more permanent than tattoos. They are there forever and can’t be changed.
That’s fine for video you know you will never edit, but in all other cases you should add your titles
during the editing process. Here are some possible places to include titles:
• The title of your program at the beginning. These are usually centered on your screen. Centered
titles demand the attention of the viewer.
• The names of people appearing on camera.
• The names of places or locations.
• Dates and times. These are usually placed in the lower third of the frame. Viewers are used to
reading information here without losing the meaning of what is being said.
• Production credits and acknowledgements at the end. Include everyone who helped in any
substantial way. These titles are usually either scrolled from bottom to tope or are presented in a
series of screens.
• Copyright notice, the “c” in a circle followed by the year and your name or organization’s name.
Example: ©2007 Greg Beck Productions Note: On a Mac, the © symbol is achieved by holding down
the option key while typing the letter “g”.
• There is no need to include a “The End” title in documentary format programs.
Don’t make it worse!
Poorly designed titles can diminish an otherwise excellent program. So what’s good design? Here are
some factors to consider:
Background: You can choose to place your titles over motion video, still frames, colors or gradients.
Choose a background that will contrast with the fonts you use so that they will stand out. Some
editing programs will let you put the background slightly out of focus or apply some other effect that
can help.
Style: There can be a dazzling array of font styles available on your computer. Each font has its own
overall character, or feel. You want to match the feel of the font to the feel and mood of your story.
A story about computers shouldn’t use an Old English or other ornate font style. A Greek myth
shouldn’t be titled with some modern techno-style font. A serious program should have a formal font,
a comic program a more casual and frilly one.
Uniformity: Don’t mix in a bunch of different fonts just to show them off. Typically a program will
use one or possibly two font styles throughout. That’s it. If you need to have certain words on a page
stand out more, try using italics or bold face versions instead of tossing in yet another font.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
Size: You have to use big fonts. How big? You may need to experiment. Make sure you preview
your video on a TV and not just the computer screen. Television sets do not have nearly as good a
resolution as computer monitors. What looks good on the computer might disappear on a TV.
Color: White is the easiest to see, followed by yellow. They will need to be offset by a darker
background. Add a small dark drop shadow if you can. Some programs will let you place a semitransparent background placard behind your titles, which can also help the stand out. Avoid overly
bright colors for fonts. Stay away from bright reds, greens, purples and pinks. These colors can bleed
off the edges of the letters, especially when transferred to VHS. Many editing programs will limit the
range of colors you can choose to those that look best on TV’s limited color scheme.
Lighter colors tend to be easier to read and convey happiness, while darker colors suggest a more
ominous tone. Some color combinations have their won cultural ties. Red and green say Christmas.
Black and orange say Halloween.
Duration: Your titles need to be on the screen long enough to be read, but they shouldn’t overstay
their welcome. A rule of thumb is to leave titles up long enough to be read 3 times. A title that is also
spoken with a voice-over can be dropped right after it’s spoken.
Transition: You may have choices as to how your titles enter and leave the screen. The most gentle
and subtle is the dissolve in/out, the most abrupt the pop in/out. In between those are the fly-ins,
bounce-ins, drop downs, typewriter single letters, and the rest. As with all digital transitions, use
them sparingly and only where they add to, not distract from, the visual message you are trying to
convey. Fancy transitions work best with modern, lighter topics. Reserve scrolls for credits or long
explanatory passages.
Placement: Center items you want to make sure everyone reads. Personal and place names go on
the lower third of the screen. Work with the background when placing titles. Watch for light and
dark areas of background that might washout your titles. Sometimes titles can be used to balance the
background shot.
Safe title area: If you’re producing for broadcast or distribution on videotape, be sure to observe the
safe title area boundaries.
Spelling: Yes, spelling counts! Make sure it’s correct. If you want you and your story to be taken
seriously, get the words spelled write. (Hey, I did that on purpose!) People really dislike it when their
name or the name of their town isn’t spelled correctly. Make sure you take note of the correct spelling
of every person or place you plan to create a title for.
Specialty titles: The computer isn’t the only place to be creative with titles. You can often identify
a place by taking a closeup of an existing sign, like ‘You Are Now Entering Yellowstone Park” or
“Central High School.”
Other things in the environment can also be used. A title in chalk on a blackboard might be good for
a story that takes place in a school. Words drawn in beach sand might work for a story with a beach
locale. Plastic magnetic letters arranged on a refrigerator might be appropriate for a children’s story.
A title hot-branded into a rough-sawn board might be just the thing for a western.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
Interviewing: “Can I ask you a few questions?”
Interviews are often an important part of documentary stories. You’re going to need to gather facts,
which means you’ll be talking with those most closely involved with the subject. Comments from
those “in the know” lend credibility to your story. If you ask your questions while the camera roles,
you’ll get video and audio clips you can use. It’s usually more effective to have the participants
provide pieces of story information on-camera than it is for you to provide the same information in
a voice-over. A mix of both helps vary the pace. Remember, the purpose of the interview is to get
information and quotes you can use to execute your story plan. Here are some ways you can improve
your chances of getting usable responses from the people you interview.
• Whenever possible, conduct a “pre” interview. Do this well in advance of the actual on-camera
interview. This will give you time to prepare the questions you’ll ask when the tape is rolling. If you
have a good idea of what kind of information you’ll get from the interview, you can start figuring out
how and where you want to use it in your story.
• Try to have your equipment all set up and ready to go before your subject arrives. Watching you set
up can make the interviewee nervous.
• Take time before the interview starts to put the person you’re interviewing at ease. Let him/her
know, in a general way, the types of questions you will be asking. Ask if there are some things they
would like to make sure are included. Lead with a question you think they would enjoy answering.
Have the tape rolling during this warm-up. You might get some good responses you can use. Let
them know that the interview will be edited, so if they flub up an answer you can ask the question
• Ask open-ended questions. These are questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes, no, or
other one-word reply. Instead of asking “do you like being a firefighter?” ask “what are the things
you like most about being a firefighter?” A natural follow-up question would be “what are the things
you least like about your job?”
• Ask simple questions, not two-part or other compound questions with long lead-ins.
• If you can, conduct the interview some place associated with the person or with the subject of
your story. This might be a teacher’s classroom, principal’s office or other school setting, mechanic’s
workshop, scientist’s laboratory, etc. People feel more at ease in familiar surroundings, plus you’ll
likely be able to get some shots could use as cutaways, such as things the subject talks about, known
as B-roll.
• Set the tone for the interview. If you’re enthusiastic, chances are the subject will be too. If you’re
somber, he or she will probably follow that lead as well.
• Don’t interrupt answers with your own comments. If the subject pauses for a moment, don’t jump
right to the next question. Given a chance, he or she will often continue.
• Try to maintain eye contact. Listen intently and react to the answers you get with a nod, smile, look
of agreement or surprise.
• Don’t try to wrap-up each answer by saying things like “I see” or “OK then.” Watch out for the
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
echo syndrome, where you habitually repeat your subject’s last words:
Subject: “ ...and I really enjoy working with children.”
Interviewer: “ really enjoy working with children, huh?”
• If the person’s answer is unclear to you, rephrase your question and ask it again. You must have
had a good reason for asking it in the first place, so try to get an answer you can use.
• Make sure to graciously thank anyone who cooperates with your story by giving you an interview.
A follow-up thank you note can go a long ways toward boosting your reputation.
• With the tape rolling, ask your subject to say and spell his or her name. That way you’ll be able to
get the spelling right for titles and credits, and you’ll have the correct pronunciation for voice-overs.
• You may wish to consider having you subject sign a release form if you will be showing you video
in public (which includes the classroom).
Interview editing considerations
Most of the time a documentary style program doesn’t include a shot of the interviewer, or audio of
the questions being asked, in the final edited version. The interview is recorded by framing a closeup
of the person answering the questions. The interviewer is positioned off-camera, just to the camera’s
left or right: the basic interview shot. That will direct the subject’s attention, and eyes, away from
the camera. This is not a speech; it’s an interview answer! The subject should be seen as talking to a
person off-camera, not directly talking to the audience.
In this type of situation, ask the people you interview to include the question in their answer.
Question: “What are some of your favorite TV programs?”
Answer: “Some of my favorite TV programs are . . . . . . “
Answers that contain the implied question give you more choices when you edit.
Some bright ideas on lighting
There really is no substitute for good lighting. Entire books have been written about it. Lighting is
often the last thing beginning videographers consider, if they consider it at all, and that fact shows
in their work. Video lights (the kind you set up on supports, not the ones built-in to or attached to
the camcorder), are usually the last things purchased. Lighting is really more of an art form than a
science. My purpose here is just to get you to think about light when you shoot, recognize problems,
and be able to make some adjustments that can help.
Situation one: backlit subjects
This was mentioned earlier, but is worth repeating. Avoid backlit subjects. The auto exposure feature
of your camcorder will overcompensate for the light, throwing your subject into shadows.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
• Reposition your subject.
• Reposition your camcorder.
• Override the auto exposure feature by manually opening the camcorder’s iris or activating the
camcorders backlight feature, which opens the iris fully. The trade-off is that this will also tend to
overexpose or washout your background.
• Add light to the front of your subject.
Situation two: strong overhead lighting
This is common when shooting outside in the sunlight or inside in a classroom or office that has
ceiling mounted lights. The result can be human subjects that have dark shadows on their face,
especially under the eyes. I call them raccoon eyes.
• Reposition the sun (just kidding).
• You can try opening up the iris manually, but you’re likely to overexpose the non-shadowed
areas. The backlight button may washout the whole image.
• Add light to the front of your subject.
In the situations above you can probably solve the problem by adding fill light. There are a couple
of ways to get fill light. One is to reflect light from the existing light source (sun, ceiling lights, etc.).
The cheap solution is to use a piece of white Styrofoam poster board to direct light at your subject.
You can also buy reflectors. The best one I’ve had is called the Chameleon system. It comes in different
circular diameters, from a 22 inch to a 42 inch model. This reflector system allows you to switch to
either a white, silver (cool tone), or gold (warm glow) cover. It also comes with a soft white diffuser to
tone down bright light sources and a black side to block light. The whole thing collapses into a small
carrying pouch: very handy, especially for outdoor work. Prices run from $50.00 to $100.00 USD,
depending upon size.
The other way to get fill lighting is to buy a light on a stand. If you can only buy one light (and they
are expensive) get one that comes with a stand and a soft diffuser. That will give you a nice, soft fill
light, which is often all you’ll need. The alternative is to get a light with an umbrella. The light is
pointed away from the subject into the special attached photo umbrella, which reflects softer light
back onto your subject.
It is sometimes possible to get fill lighting from a camera-mounted battery powered light in locations
that are generally well lit. If these lights are used as the primary light source, however, be prepared
for harsh bright spots, deep shadows, and people with that “deer in the headlights” expression.
Three Point Lighting
The professional approach to lighting utilizes special lights that allow you to adjust the direction,
pattern and intensity of each source. Three point lighting refers to the use of three light sources. The
main or “key” light and a softer fill light are placed at 45 degree angles from the subject, on opposite
sides of the camera. They usually shine down at a 45 degree angle toward the subject. The third light
is the backlight. It is placed above and behind the subject. It shines down to light the edges of the
subject to set it apart from the background.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
This lighting scheme works well in a studio with hanging lights, but I’m guessing that’s not where
most of the people reading this will be working.
So you want to . . . . editing for effect
Indicate time passing
In this case we want to indicate that time is passing as we watch. Dissolves between shots of the same
location at progressive time intervals can do the trick. You’ve surely scene these (corny but effective)
visual time-passing devices: sunset [dissolve to] sunrise; hands on the clock turning faster and faster;
pages being torn off a calendar; a montage of historical sights and sounds.
Move character to new location
Look for a shot in which your actor, or moving object, leaves the frame. Hold the empty frame for
a beat before cutting to the new location. That moment of empty frame allows the moving subject
travel time before the new location is introduced. This method works just as well the other way: cut
to an empty frame and let the subject enter it.
Create excitement and build tension
In this example, shots of events happening simultaneously are cross-cut. The length of the shots gets
progressively shorter, which adds excitement. The screen direction indicates that the car and guy are
headed for a showdown, building anticipation.
Imply a relationship between shots happening at the same time in different locations.
A dissolve implies some kind of relationship between the two shots it bridges. The audience will try
to discover what the relationship is.
Depict what a person is looking back on: flashback
A slow zoom in to the person having the flashback, a far-away look in the person’s eye, stroking
of the chin, the sound of a harp being strummed, the person’s image going out of focus and the
flashback scene coming into focus – these are the classic ways to indicate a flashback scene. If you
have the ability to do a water ripple transition to the flashback you might try that as well. David
Letterman uses this for the flashbacks to his staged comic remembrances. Yes, it is corny, but it makes
the point.
Change screen direction
You can’t keep action going one way indefinitely, so you need a way to switch screen direction
without drawing attention to the change. The most obvious way to reverse direction is to have the
moving object make a turn, right on the screen. That way your audience can watch it happen The
next best alternative is to insert a neutral angle shot. Here’s an example. Let’s say you have two shots
of a moving car, but the car is moving in different screen directions in each shot. You can insert a shot
of the car coming directly toward the camera, between shots of the car heading in opposite screen
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
directions. That buffer shot will help smooth the transition in screen direction. Another solution is to
insert a cutaway shot, perhaps of the driver, taken from inside the car (as done in the example movie).
Make your audience anxious
The stock-in-trade of horror films. Erie music helps. Extreme tilted camera angles and unsteady
camerawork will also unsettle viewers. Watch The Blair Witch Project (preferably not after a full meal)
for an extreme example of extreme camera shakiness. The films of Alfred Hitchcock are very good
at using tilted camera angles to cause anxiousness, plus they’re a lot more sophisticated (and they’re
easier on the stomach).
Indicate a change in scene
Fade to black at the end of scene one and up from black to scene two, or dissolve between the scenes.
Fading to black is a definite indicator that time has passed. Slower fades indicate a longer passage of
time between the scenes.
Cover a jump cut
Insert a cutaway to a related shot between the two shots you want to join. When you’re out on
location shooting, look for extra footage you can take in case you need shots to use as cutaways.
Shoot location signs, long shots of the location, close-ups of specific details, name placards, or any
other things relevant to your story. You’ll be glad you have those shots when you’re working at the
editing station.
Draw attention to what a person is saying
Zoom or cut to a CU of the person’s mouth as he or she talks.
Pick up the pace
Fast-paced music, quick cuts or other short transitions, and high-energy narration all help create a
fast pace. Thirty-second car commercials, especially those for local dealerships, tend to utilize all
these techniques to get people to buy cars. Hopefully you will have a more noble purpose ;-)
Slow down the pace
Pretty much do the opposite of the above: slow music, long-running shots with little or no motion,
slow dissolves, soft and gentle narration.
Startle audience to attention
Use a cut from a black background to a dramatic opening shot to begin your video. Cutting straight
from black makes viewers feel as though they missed something. That feeling makes them want to
“catch up” with what’s happening in the scene, getting them involved in watching right away.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
The Story
Generating story ideas
Tell a story that interests you! You could be spending quite a bit of time on your video project, so
make sure the concept and subject matter appeal to you in some way. Budding writers are often
advised to write about what they know. Videographers in search of story ideas might use the same
process. Think about your hobbies and interests, groups you belong to, people you know, events
you will take part in. Maybe there is something you’d always wanted to know more about. Turn the
results of your research into a video.
Whatever you do, start out small. Don’t make your first project too complicated and involved. I’ve
witnessed too many student projects that were intended to be feature-length epics but ended up
being agonizingly long mock sword fights on the football field. Simple stories can be the best. A welldone five minute video is no small undertaking. Have a few of those under your belt before taking on
You may already have a backlog of stories waiting to be told, but if not, looking through these
formats and examples might help spark an idea.
• Everything you always wanted to know about getting into college.
• How the United Way supports our community.
• Careers for the 21st century
• Tree to table: the process of making maple syrup
Investigative report
• What’s behind the increase in student activity fees?
• Does our town need a BMX track?
• Should our school switch to block scheduling?
• Should the school store sell healthy foods instead of candy and pop?
• Track and field day at Monroe Middle School
• Homecoming week
• The Governor visits our school
• All-school reunion week
• The story behind the old 1st National Bank building
• How the lumber industry shaped our community
• Our town’s Civil War heritage
• How immigration changed the face of the county
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
• A talented local artist and her work
• Famous graduates of Central High School
• New teachers at our school: their hopes for the future
• Principal Martinez on the new attendance policy
Fiction: comedy
Satires or parodies are often easiest for your audience to relate to. Saturday Night Live does a lot of
parodies of things like movie scenes, TV commercials, game shows, and talk shows. One of the best
parodies I’ve ever seen on TV was a take-off on the Beatles, called The Rutles: All you need is cash. You
might be able to rent it at the video store. Of course, if you’re not familiar with the original, a parody
won’t be all that funny to you!
Fiction: drama
One of my students once wrote and produced an interesting teleplay about teenage drinking and
driving. You might also try a retelling of a fable, myth or tall tale.
Music video
These can either be representations of live performances or they can visually tell a story that is
suggested by the lyrics. Matching the visuals to the beat of the music is very important. Your local
garage band will love it if you make a video featuring their best song!
Promotional / Motivational
Products, services and events are all things that might benefit from a promotional video. Schools and
non-profit groups are often looking for help in promoting their programs and events.
Video can be a great teaching tool. A “how to” video could be useful anywhere groups of people have
a need to be trained in some procedure.
Video montage
In a video montage, selected images centering on a specific theme are sequenced to convey a
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
particular mood or meaning. A montage is often, but not always, accompanied by music. The
montage might be related to a poem that would be read on the sound track. For example, a montage
entitled Signs of Autumn might include pictures and sounds of colorful woodlands, leaves falling,
people raking leaves, birds migrating, kids waiting at the school bus stop and high school football
What’s the big idea?
If you haven’t decided on a story idea on your own, get together with one or more other people
and conduct a brainstorming session. In a brainstorming session, every idea shouted out should be
accepted without being judged. Record all the ideas on paper or on a computer. Another person’s
idea might trigger more ideas in you or others in your group. Take a look at the collective ideas and
sort out the more workable ones. A computer program like Inspiration can be valuable in organizing
your ideas into categories and subcategories, refining your ideas until you find one you like that
seems right.
Story planning
The most important phase of production is pre-production.
Some people don’t want to hear that truth. Maybe you’re one of them! If you heed that advice,
however, you’ll be following in the footsteps of all the successful television and motion picture
directors in the business. Unless you’re taping a “news as it happens” story, you should have a very
good idea of what your finished program will look like before you take out the camera.
What’s it for?
People will be curious about why you’re making a video, especially if you ask them to participate in
it! You should be able to answer the question, “so what’s it for?” Remember, “just for fun” is a fine
reason! If you’ve got more specific goals (and you probably will) you should list them. Consider your
program from the point of view of your intended audience. What do you want them to gain from
watching your program? What should they learn, feel, think, understand, or do?
Who’s going to watch it?
You need to have an idea of who your audience will be. Will they be high school students,
senior citizens, parent groups, local citizens, kindergarteners, medical doctors, college students,
family members or any other group you can identify? It’s important to know the general level of
sophistication of your audience and their level of prior knowledge about the subject matter.
When I taught in a high school, my video journalism class produced a magazine style program of
short feature stories about our school and the community. It was shown on the local cable access
station, which means our audience included anyone in the local area with cable TV. Information my
students took for granted wasn’t necessarily common knowledge in the community. I had to remind
them that non-students might not know what DECA stands for (Distributive Education Clubs of
America) or who Mr. Force is (former principal). They needed to explain such things to the audience
when they made reference to them in a story.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
Now here’s your local forecast
The local forecast is the part of the weather report that we’re most interested in. It affects us directly,
but it’s something the network and national cable outfits don’t provide much detail about. Stories
about people, places, issues or events in your local school or community don’t get much attention
from commercial television either. You won’t find any tapes or DVDs about local interest topics at
the video store. But people are interested in these things! There just aren’t enough of them to make
it profitable for the pros to cover. That can be where you come in. A local take on a national or global
story can also give it local appeal. What’s the situation here? What do local people think about it?
Broadcast and cable television networks do a good job catering to mass audiences. However, they’re
not as likely to do a video about the high school marching band’s trip to Pasadena for an appearance
in the Rose Bowl Parade.
That sounds doable!
As was mentioned earlier, keep your project small enough to accomplish with the resources you have
available. You can always produce a more ambitious sequel! You might want to rethink that story
about snowboarding in the Himalayas, unless your location expense budget is a tad larger than mine.
Consider the timelines of your story. That would include the amount of time you have available to
spend and the time factors of your story’s subject. You might really want to do a story about the local
football team, but if they don’t start practice for two more months it might be impossible to get the
action shots you need.
Do your research
When doing a documentary, biography or other non-fiction story, find out as much as you can about
your subject during the planning stage. Working in these formats is like doing an in-depth news
story. You need to get and provide answers to the who, what, when, where, why, and how questions. The
more answers you have before shooting, the better you’ll be able to plan your production. Visit the
locations of importance to your story. Talk to the people involved. You may discover a better story
lurking about than the one you had originally envisioned.
Call me Ishmael
The classic novel Moby Dick was written as a narrative told by the only survivor of an ill-fated
whaling voyage, an interesting fellow known as Ishmael. The Illustrated Classics comic book version
takes a bit different approach to the story. You’ll need to decide how you want to approach the stories
you tell with video.
A treatment is a brief explanation of what your program is all about and how you intend to tell the
story. Anyone who reads your treatment should walk away with a clear picture of how your story
will unfold. There are usually several ways you can approach the same topic. In the field of news
reporting, a treatment is sometimes referred to as a story angle or slant. One treatment decision to
make is the story’s format. Within each format there are other choices.
If you’re doing some sort of documentary, will the story be told from the point of view of an observer
or a participant? Will there be an off-camera narrator or an on-camera reporter? Will there be a mix of
both? If you interview people for the story, will the interviewer be shown asking questions on camera
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
or will you just use the answers in your edited story? If you’re doing a work of fiction, will there be
on-camera dialog from your actors? Will the story and dialog be read by an off-camera storyteller
as the actors pantomime the action? Will there be a mix of the two, like the old Rocky and Bullwinkle
cartoon adventures?
Let’s take the topic of peer pressure. There are many formats to choose from, and each could have
multiple approaches. Here are a few quick partial treatment ideas. Actual full treatments would need
further explanation.
Treatment 1
This program will define what peer pressure is and give examples of how teenagers are subjected to
it. An off-camera narrator will give a definition of peer pressure and describe various circumstances
in which it can occur. Video of teenagers will be used to illustrate each occurrence cited.
Treatment 2
This program will show the many circumstances in which peer pressure can affect the behavior of
teenage girls. The story will center on the experiences of five teenage girls who have been identified
for the story. Each girl will talk about one form of peer pressure that has affected her behavior in a
voice over. Video will show that girl interacting with her peers.
Investigative report
• National reports have indicated that there is peer pressure for high school girls not to get good
grades or appear too smart. This story will investigate if girls at our school feel this type of pressure,
and if so, why?
• Positive peer pressure can result from being involved in school activities and volunteer groups.
What are the groups at our school that exert positive peer pressure?
A school assembly will be held on November 9th to encourage students to resist peer pressure to
become involved in negative activities. This story will take excerpts from the presentation and get the
reaction from students and faculty as to the effectiveness of the message.
Using old photos (school yearbook and others), video (past editions of the school video yearbook),
and interviews with people of various ages, this program will examine how peer pressure has always
been a part of school life.
A school guidance counselor talks about peer pressure with a student interviewer. The video will
cutaway to shots of kids exhibiting behaviors resulting from peer pressure: smoking, clothing styles,
Fiction: drama
This video will tell the story of Jenny, a school athlete who gets kicked off the team, loses her drivers
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
license, etc. because she gave in to peer pressure to attend a party where there was alcohol being
Music video
Our original rap song You Can’t Pressure Me! will be used as the backing soundtrack. Various kids,
teachers, administrators, and others will each sing a line from the song. They will be taped at various
locations around the school and community.
Promotional / Motivational
This will be a one-minute public service announcement about the positive influence of the school’s
Peer Helper program. It will feature current peer helpers giving one-sentence reasons why they
joined, and what they think the organization has done for them and other students.
This video will demonstrate techniques middle school students can use to counter negative peer
pressure. A series of vignettes will depict students using these techniques in specific situations.
Storyboards and Scripts
These are ways to help you visualize and organize your story elements. Which one do you do first?
To me, that depends upon how your mind works. Through the years I’ve gotten pretty good at
visualizing my stories, so I usually start with a script and then storyboard the more complicated
sequences. If you’re new to video, I’d suggest starting with a storyboard.
“If I can’t picture it, I can’t understand it.” --Albert Einstein
A storyboard provides a visual representation of your program. It helps you decide what video shots
you will need to take in order to edit together good sequences. You should be able to visualize your
program in your mind before shooting. A storyboard helps you clarify how your program will look
on the screen. It can reveal flaws in your plan, such as possible jump cuts. Don’t rely on editing to save
a haphazardly planned scene. If a crucial shot was missed and never recorded, you won’t be able to
create it during the editing process. Every edited video tells a story. Just as there is in written stories,
your video should have a beginning, middle, and end. You introduce your subject and characters in
the beginning, expand upon and develop them in the middle, and leave your viewers with some type
of conclusion. Storyboards can help you check to make sure you’re telling a complete story.
The script is where you match your video action with other story elements, such as dialog, voiceovers, music, sound effects, etc. It is especially important for dialog and acting cues, but every story
can benefit from the organizational structure a script provides. This is where you transform your
treatment into your story. Before writing the actual script, I usually start by making an outline in three
sections that describes the story in terms of the video and audio I will use for each.
1. The introduction. How I am going to grab the attention of the audience and set the table for what is
to come.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
2. The body of the video. A sequential listing of the locations and sequences I will use to present the
content of the story.
3. The conclusion: How I’m going to wrap it up. Conclusions often point to the future or review the
lessons learned.
There are different script formats, but I generally prefer the AV style for most programs. You write
an AV script in two sections. This is usually done by creating two columns along side each other on
a page, one labeled Video and the other Audio. In the audio column, write the text of the narrations,
dialog and voice-overs. Include introductions to comments you have or expect to get as answers
to interview questions. Avoid introductory statements like “I asked Mr. Jones why he likes being a
teacher and here are the things that he said.” Instead, use something that hints at the comment, such
as “Mr. Jones has some strong feelings about the teaching profession.” If there is music, indicate what
it will be and how long each selection will run. Also include any added sounds or effects.
On the video side, detail what video will be playing opposite each audio segment. This might be in
general terms, like “sequence of shots showing students eating lunch” or it might describe each shot
“LS of lunchroom”, “MS of students at a table”, “CU of student 1”, “CU or student 2”, “trucking MS
along south wall”. It might also indicate that this is the place to use a sequence you have made a
storyboard for.
However you design your storyboards and script, you should be able to look at them and see the
story unfold in your mind’s eye.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
10 Tips for Better Video
1. Use camera supports whenever practical, especially for telephoto shots.
2. Shoot mostly medium and medium closeup shots.
3. Tell a complete story that has a beginning (introduction), middle (main message), and ending
4. Shoot to edit.
5. Shoot sequences.
6. Keep it short! Just about every program could be improved by editing out shots and scenes
that are too long or redundant. Cut the shot after it has delivered its message. Most people let
their scenes run much too long, making viewers anxious to hit the road.
7. Vary the pace of your programs. Include a variety of shots.
8. Record 10 seconds extra on the front and back of your shot. Start the camera early, let it run
long. This will give you more choices when editing.
9. The music you use must be appropriate to the video action. Use instrumental pieces (no
words) for background music during narrations.
10. Avoid dressing your subjects in white or placing them in front of bright backgrounds. This can
play tricks with your camcorder’s auto exposure.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
Video Examples List
Videos are available in the online version of the Guide @ Atomic Learning
A. Basic Camera Shots 1.
Angle of view
Zooming in
Zooming out
Long shot
Establishing shot
Medium shot
Close-up of faces
Extreme close-up
Natural cutoff lines
Key #
B. Visual Composition Rules 1.
Rule of thirds
Lead space
Distracting backgrounds
Leading moving subjects
Key #
C. Camera Movement 1.
Pan shot
Tilt shot
Arc shot
Pedestal shot
Trucking shot
Dolly shot
Following action
Zoom in for effect
Zoom out for effect
Key #
D. Perspective 1.
High angle shot
Low angle shot
Flat shot
Point of view shot
Over the shoulder shot
Conversation between two people
Reaction shot
Key #
E. Creative Camera Placement 1.
Creative camera placement
Key #
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
F. The Horizon Line 1.
Horizon line
Tilted shots
Key #
G. Screen Depth 1.
Framing shots to add depth
Foregrounds and backgrounds
Depth of field
Visual compressions
Focus control
Rack focus
Movement along the z axis
Key #
H. The Camera 1.
Autofocus limitation
Presetting manual focus
Digital zoom limitations
Focus as a transition
Key #
I. Audio for Your Video 1.
Camera mic
Key #
J. Sizing up the Screen 1.
Safe title area
Safe action area
Key #
K. Controlling Your Camcorder 1.
Multiple points of support
Using the LCD screen
Bracing yourself
Support when zooming
Camera supports
Quick release
Key #
L. Generating Story Ideas 1.
Video montage
Key #
M. Transitions 1.
Jump cuts
Disappear effect
Action line
Dissolves: a passage of time 5.
Dissolves: change of time and location
Key #
N. Sequences 1.
Mulitple views
1-2-3 shot sequence
Key #
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
O. The Multiple Camera Look 1.
Match cut sequence
How we shot the match cut sequence
Key #
P. Visual Continuity Issues 1.
Screen direction
Key #
Q. Interviewing 1.
Basic interview shot
Key #
R. Lighting 1.
Adding fill light
Key #
S. So you want to . . . editing for effect 1.
Indicate time passing
Move a character to a new location
Create excitement and build tension
Imply a relationship between shots
and action
Depict a flashback scene
Changing screen direction
Making your audience anxious
Key #
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
Here’s a list of terms used in the Atomic Learning Video Storytelling Guide. You might also want
to consult the very complete and detailed glossary from the publishers of Computer Videomaker
Magazine. Also, get the magazine. It’s a great resource for beginning to advanced videomakers, like
180° rule see “action line”
Action line or Action axis An imaginary line drawn between two subjects, or along a line of motion
to maintain continuity of screen direction. Crossing it from one shot to the next will create an error in
continuity. It is often referred to as the “180-degree rule.”
AGC (Automatic Gain Control) Circuitry used to ensure that video and audio output signals are
maintained at constant levels in the face of widely varying input signal levels. AGC is typically
used to maintain a constant video luminance level by boosting weak (low light) picture signals
electronically. Some equipment includes manual gain control.
Analog The term analogue simply means like or similar. Traditional recording media have been
analog, such as tape cassettes and the now-ancient vinyl records. Analog video that is copied or
edited several generations suffers from generation loss and is subject to degradation due to noise and
distortion. Your television and VCR can be analog video devices. To be stored and manipulated on a
computer, analog video must be converted to digital video.
Aperture This refers to the variable opening inside a lens that regulates the amount of light available
to the camera. Also known as an iris.
Artifact Distortion to a picture or a sound signal. With digital video, artifacts can result from
overloading the input device with too much signal, or from excessive or improper compression.
Aspect Ratio The proportional height and width of the picture on the screen. The current standard for
conventional receiver or monitor is three by four (3:4); 16:9 for HDTV.
Auto exposure Circuitry that monitors light levels and adjusts camcorder iris accordingly,
compensating for changing light condition. (see also AGC)
B-roll This refers to certain video you collect. B-roll is any video that isn’t the main action; that
illustrates or shows examples. You might think of it as Background-roll. For example, if you are
interviewing someone about BMX racing you might show footage of an actual race while the person
continues to talk. That would be the B-roll footage.
Bleeding Video image imperfection characterized by blurring of color borders; colors spill over
defined boundaries, “run” into neighboring areas. This is more of a problem with red color hues, and
is especially evident in copies made from VHS tapes.
Capturing Refers to capturing source video for use on a computer. If analog, the captured video is
converted to digital.
CCD (Charge Coupled Device) Light-sensitive computer chip in video cameras that converts images
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
into electrical flows. Less prone to image irregularities -- burn-in, lag, streaking -- than older image
Chrominance The color portion of a video signal.
Component Video Signal transmission system, resembling S-video concept, employed with
professional videotape formats. Separates luminance and two chrominance channels to avoid quality
loss from NTSC or PAL encoding.
Composite Video A video signal in which the luminance and chrominance elements have been
combined into formats, such as VHS.
Contrast The degree to which your video contains very dark and very light luminance value. A
high-contrast picture has more black and white values with fewer values in between. A low contrast
picture has more middle tones without very dark or very light areas.
Crawl Text or graphics -- usually special announcements -- that move across the screen horizontally,
typically from bottom right to left. Produced with a character generator or computer editing software.
Cross cutting Alternating views of one action with views of another. Within a scene, you might
cut from one part of the action to another. For example, to present an interrogation you might cut
frequently between views of the questioner and those of the prisoner. You might also cross-cut
between actions taking place in two different locations. The classic example is the damsel tied to the
railroad tracks. Shots of the victim alternate with shots of the approaching train and shots or our hero,
galloping to the rescue. Disclaimer: don’t try this at home!
Cut The instantaneous, direct switch from one picture to another.
Cutaway A single shot inserted into a sequence of shots that momentarily interrupts the flow of
action, usually introducing a pertinent detail. It is frequently used as transitional footage or to avoid a
jump cut.
Depth of field The amount of space within the view of the lens which will maintain an acceptable
Diffused light Diffused light is experienced on overcast days, when the sun is hidden behind clouds.
This type of light gives the illusion that it originates from many directions. Artificial light sources
need to employ light diffusers that spread out the light. Images have a soft and gentle appearance,
and are void of harsh shadows.
Digital A reference to a system whereby a continuously variable analog signal is reduced and
encoded into discrete binary bits.
Digital camcorders Camcorders that record and playback digital video and audio signals.
Digitize To convert analog video, audio, or both to digital form. The process of converting a
continuous analog video or audio signal to digital data (ones and zeros) for computer storage. The
signal can then be copied repeatedly with no degradation.
Digitizing A method of recording in which samples of the original analog signal are encoded on tape
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or disk as binary information for storage or processing.
Distortion A modification of the original signal appearing in the output of audio equipment,
degrading the sound quality.
DV Abbreviation for digital video. DV can also denote the type of compression used by DV systems
or a format that incorporates DV compression. The DV designation is also used to for a special type of
tape cartridge used in DV camcorders and DV tape decks.
Edited master Video industry term for the tape containing the finished (edited) program.
Establishing Shot Usually a long-shot (LS) at the beginning of a scene which is intended to inform
the audience about a changed locale for the scene which follows.
Exposure The amount of light available in a shot at particular lens settings. Proper exposure yields a
picture with good brightness and contrast.
Fade An optical effect in which the image of a scene is gradually replaced by a uniform dark area, or
vice versa.
FireWire The Apple Computer trade name for the IEEE 1394 digital video standard.
Foley Personal sound effects, like footsteps, breathing or punches used to heighten realism that are
added in post production. Also the name of a small town in central Minnesota :-)
Focal length Technically, it’s the distance from a camera’s lens to a focused image with the lens
focused on infinity. Practically speaking, it is a measurement of the field of view a lens can display.
Short focal lengths offer a broad field of view (wide-angle); long focal lengths offer a narrow field of
view (telephoto). Zoom lenses have a variable focal length.
Frame One complete screen on videotape, lasting 1/30th of a second. There are 30 frames in a second.
Framing Act of composing a shot in the camcorder’s viewfinder for desired content, angle, and field
of view -- overall composition.
Gaffer The chief lighting technician for a production who is in charge of the electrical department
Gain Video amplification of signal strength. “Riding gain” means varying controls to achieve desired
contrast levels.
Generation Relationship between a master video recording and a given copy of that master.
A “second-generation” tape is a copy of the original. “Third-generation” is a copy of a secondgeneration tape.
Generation Loss Created when editing or copying one analog videotape to another videotape. Each
time you copy a tape, some quality is lost. This is most apparent in less expensive video formats, like
VHS. Theoretically absent from digital video editing.
Gigabyte (GB) A unit for measuring computer memory capacity, equivalent to 1,000 megabytes (MB)
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Grip A production crew stagehand responsible for handling equipment, props, and scenery before,
during, and after production.
HDTV High Definition TV refers to TV sets that display the highest resolution picture formats, which
is vertical lines 1,080 and horizontal pixels 1,920, or 720 vertical lines and 1,280 of horizontal pixels.
The aspect ratio for HDTV is 16:9 (wide screen)
ieee1394 The interface standard that enables the direct transfer of DV between devices, such as a DV
camcorder and a computer. IEEE 1394 also describes the cables and connectors utilizing this standard.
ILINK SONY’s copyrighted name for IEEE 1394
Intercutting An editing method whereby related shots are inserted into a series of other shots for the
purpose of contrast or for some other effect.
Iris Camcorder’s diaphragm lens opening or aperture, it regulates the amount of light entering the
Jump cut A jarring edit caused by the choice of shots rather than any technical imperfection.
Unnatural, abrupt switch between shots identical in subject but slightly different in screen location.
Awkward progression makes subject appear to jump from one screen location to another. They are
usually accidental, but they can also be used for purposeful effect.
Key Grip On professional film and video sets this is the chief grip who works directly with the
gaffer in creating shadow effects for set lighting and who supervises camera cranes, dollies and other
platforms or supporting structures according to the requirements of the director of photography. [see
LANC The protocol defined by Sony for enabling external control of video devices and accessing
status information from the device. Also referred to as Control-L.
Lavaliere A small, easily concealed, microphone, typically attached to clothing or worn around the
neck for interview settings.
LCD screen Abbreviation for Liquid Crystal Display, the kind of display used on many camcorders.
Linear editing Analog, tape-based editing. Called linear because scenes are laid in line on the tape. It
has many disadvantages, when compared to non-linear editing, such as the need to rewind and fast
forward tapes. It also requires special editing VCRs and multiple source decks for transitions, other
than cuts, between tape segments.
Luminance The black-and-white portion of a video signal that carries brightness information
representing picture contrast, light and dark qualities; frequently abbreviated as “Y.” [See also
Macro Lens capable of extreme closeup focusing, useful for intimate views of small subjects.
Master shot The shot that contains all of the action in a sequence when shooting for editing with a
single camera.
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Match Cut (match-action cut) A cut made during action or movement between two shots in which the
action has been overlapped, either by repetition of the action or by the use of more than one camera.
Medium-closeup A way of expressing a difference between degrees of closeness, or portion of the
subject that is visible in the shot. A medium-closeup would be framed somewhat less closely than a
closeup in the same sequence. All shot descriptions are relative terms.
Montage The assembly of shots and the portrayal of action or ideas through the use of many short
Noise Undesirable video or audio signal interference; typically seen as snow, heard as hiss.
Non-linear editing Random-access editing of video and audio on a computer, enabling edits to be
processed and reprocessed at any point in the timeline, at any time. Traditional videotape editors are
linear because they require editing video sequentially, from beginning to end. Also eliminates the
need for rewinding and allows for multiple dubs without generational loss.
NTSC National Television Standards Committee. The organization that sets the American broadcast
and videotape format standards for the FCC. Color television is currently set at 525 lines per frame,
29.97 frames per second.
Overscan The portion of a television picture that extends beyond the normal screen size.
PAL (Phase Alternating Line) The European color television standard that specifies a 25Hz frame rate
and 625 lines per frame. Technically a higher quality signal that the American standard, NTSC. The
two are not compatible, meaning a PAL tape cannot be played on an NTSC VCR or displayed on a
NTSC monitor, and vice versa.
Phantom Power Microphones that normally require a battery can be used without a battery if
supplied from a phantom power device, like certain microphone mixers, that supply power through
the audio cable.
Point of view (POV) Movie Shot perspective whereby the camera assumes the subject’s view, and
thus viewers see what the subject sees as if through his/her/its eyes.
Post-production The stage of a film or video project during which previously shot footage is edited
and assembled. Effects, graphics, titles, and sound are added in post-production.
Pre-production The planning phase of a film or video project, usually completed prior to shooting
Production The phase of a film or video project that involves shooting or recording raw footage.
Psychological closure The process in which your mind makes sense of incomplete visual information
by mentally projecting the image beyond the borders of the frame. See the text section and movie on
natural cutoff lines.
QuickTime Short version: a standard for compressing and playing digital video and audio. Long
version: Apple Computer’s multi-platform, industry-standard, multimedia software architecture.
QuickTime is used by software developers, hardware manufacturers, and content creators to author
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
and publish synchronized graphics, sound, video, text, music, virtual reality, and 3-D media.
Raw footage Original, unedited film or video footage that has not been modified
Reaction shot Cutaway view showing someone’s or something’s response to primary action/subject.
RF Abbreviation for radio frequency. Combination of audio and video signals coded as a channel
number, necessary for television broadcasts as well as some closed-circuit distribution. Typically
VCRs will include an RF converter that transforms the video and audio signals it receives into
channel 3 or 4.
Resolution Amount of picture detail reproduced by a video system, influenced by a camera’s pickup,
lens, internal optics, recording medium, and playback monitor. The more detail, the sharper and
better defined the picture.
Reverse angle A shot that is turned approximately 180 degrees in relation to the preceding shot.
Rough cut A preliminary trial stage in the process of editing a video or film. Shots are laid out in
approximate relationship to an end product, without detailed attention to the individual cutting
Safe title area The area that comprises 80 percent of the TV screen, measured from the center of the
screen outward in all directions. The safe title area is the area within which title credits—no matter
how poorly adjusted a monitor or receiver may be—are legible.
Scene A sequence or multiple sequences of related shots, usually constituting action in one particular
Screen time The amount of time an event in a film or video takes after the raw footage is edited to
remove unnecessary action. It can be vastly different from the time we know the same event actually
would take in real life.
Scrubbing The backward or forward movement through audio or video material via a mouse,
keyboard, or other device.
Sequence A term used in gathering video and editing. It refers to a series of related shots. For
example, a sequence could be a wide shot of a classroom, followed by a medium shot of a few
students, followed by a single student asking a question.
Shot All pictorial material recorded by a camera. More strictly speaking, shots are intentional,
isolated camera views that collectively comprise a sequence or scene.
Shutter speed The camera shutter controls the amount of time that incoming light takes to form a
single video field (a video image or “frame” consists of two fields.) NTSC video is recorded at 60
fields per second and normal camcorder shutter speed is 1/60 of a second. Faster shutter speeds,
1/250 sec. to 1/10,000 sec., are usually used to record action that would normally be blurred, such
as a golf swing. The swing will be sharper when played back, but very high shutter speeds will also
result in jerky motion. High shutter speeds require lots of light for proper exposure. Slower shutter
speeds, 1/30 sec. or 1/15 sec., will yield an image with a softer focus. Motion will be blurred at slow
speeds, which may be a way to achieve a special effect. Slower shutter speeds require less light.
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
Split edit Sometimes called an L-cut, a split edit is a transition from one shot to another, where the
picture transition does not coincide with the audio transition. This is often done to enhance the
aesthetics or flow of the video. For example, a conversation between two people can feel like a tennis
match if you always cut the audio and video at the same time. A split edit allows the audience to see
the reaction of the person doing the listening, or the aftermath of speaking, rather than simply the act
of speaking.
Still frame A single frame of video repeated so it appears to have no motion.
Stratocaster A legendary electric guitar design from Fender.
Streaming The process of sending video over the Web or other networks to allow playback on the
desktop as the video is received, rather than requiring the entire file to be downloaded prior to
Sweetening Audio post-production where audio is corrected and enhanced. Music, narration and
sound effects are mixed with original sound elements to “sweeten” the sound track.
Take An individual shot. When time and budgets permit, many takes may be filmed of the same shot.
Talent A generic term for the people or creatures assuming primary on-screen roles when
Telephoto Camera lens with a long focal length, narrow horizontal field of view. Opposite of wideangle, it captures magnified, closeup images from a considerable distance.
Time Line Editing A computer-based method of editing in which video and audio clips are
represented on a computer screen by bars proportional to the length of the clip. These bars can be
moved and resized along a grid whose horizontal axis relates to the time of the program. IMovie
features both a “Clips” view and “Timeline” view.
Transition The change from one video clip to another.
Trimming Editing a clip on a frame-by-frame basis, or editing clips in relationship to one another.
Umbrella What the name implies, a lighting accessory available in various sizes usually, made of
textured gold or silver fabric. Facilitates soft, shadowless illumination by reflecting light onto a scene.
USB Universal Serial Bus. Describes a particular type of computer interface port and its associated
USB2 New high speed version of USB, allows quicker transfer of data. 480Mbits/sec data rate.
Whip Pan Another name for swish pan. Extremely rapid camera movement from left to right or right
to left, appearing as image blur. Two such pans in the same direction -- one moving from, the other
moving to a stationary shot -- edited together can effectively convey passage of time.
Vectors A dominant direction established by screen movement in a specific direction, by a person
looking in a specific direction, or by some other screen element that directs viewer attention in a
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Model Release Form
I authorize ___________________ to create photographs, video and audio recordings
of me, as well as written or recorded oral descriptions of me, my work, and my school
projects (if applicable).
I understand that ______________________ may revise, edit, and otherwise alter
the recorded material to emphasize certain aspects of the material gathered. These
products may be published on the Internet and be distributed to the public.
I understand that _______________________ owns all copyright to these materials. I
hereby release _______________________ and its employees from any and all claims
of any nature whatsoever which now or may hereafter have in connection with these
recorded materials, including but not limited to claims based on defamation, copyright
infringement, trademark infringement, or infringement on my right of privacy or my
right to publicity.
(Interviewee signature)
(Parent’s signature if necessary)
(Printed Interviewee name)
(Printed Parent name if necessary)
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Duplication Information
© 2007 Atomic Learning, Inc.
All Rights Reserved, with the exception of the following duplication rights:
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The right to possess printed copies of the contents of this document is reserved for current subscribers
of Atomic Learning or those covered by a current site-licensing agreement with Atomic Learning, Inc.
More Detail:
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for themselves and for others who are covered by an Atomic Learning subscription or site-license.
If at any time the creator of a printed copy of any of the contents of this document is no longer
a subscriber or is no longer covered by a site-licensing agreement, the creator of such copies is
responsible for destroying all created copies of any of the contents of this document created under
this agreement and is no longer authorized to create or distribute copies of any of the contents of this
For example, a teacher in a school with a current site-licensing agreement with Atomic Learning, Inc.
may create copies of this document for use by students covered under the terms of a current Atomic
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to Atomic Learning but is not a member of a school with a current Atomic Learning site-licensing
agreement may NOT create copies of this document for use by his or her students.
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