Camcorder Cheat Sheet: 5 Tips for Capturing Great Video

By: Christine Peppler

The quest for better home movies motivates many consumers to invest in digital video camcorders each year. Although these devices give consumers unprecedented ability to edit their home movies after the fact, the ultimate quality of the films they produce are still dependent upon the ability of the person to capture good video during the filming process.

For home movie enthusiasts who are just starting out, a few simple tips can help to produce films that they can be proud to share.

1. Use a tripod when shooting with a camcorder.

Handheld shots are fine in some situations but films will be dramatically improved if a tripod is used to steady the camcorder whether it is a stationary shot or one in which the film maker pans to follow the action.

2. Incorporate the same principles used for getting great photographs to get great video.

&bull Get in close to the subject of the shot.

&bull When outdoors, it's best to avoid shooting film at mid day when the sun is directly overhead.

&bull Shoot with the sun or any bright light behind the camcorder rather than behind the subject. Bright light behind the subject will create a very dark image of that subject. If the bright light can't be eliminated, use an additional external light to brighten the subject.

&bull Because light can cause harsh shadows, its best to bounce light off of a wall or backdrop rather than shining it directly on the subject to avoid this. Diffusing the light using translucent plastic or thin tissue paper over the light can soften it as well.

3. Use the zoom function on the camcorder sparingly.

Zooming in and out is seldom used in scenes from professional videos. The image while zooming is often distorted or blurred and the movement is generally not very "viewable". When possible it is better to simply move closer to the subject. When zoom is used, it should be done slowly, or while the camcorder is off, to improve the quality of the shot. Digital zoom in particular should rarely be used when filming.

4. Don't be afraid to ask others to assist in the filming process.

Others can hold lights, direct unwanted traffic away from the filming scene, and perform other miscellaneous tasks to allow the film maker to concentrate on controlling the camcorder and the images it records.

5. Stay stationary.

Walking with a camcorder can create a very unsteady shot that can be difficult to view. It is better to remain stationary or to use some type of mobile stabilization device. If the film maker must move while filming, it is best to shoot wide as any movement while using telephoto settings is exaggerated. Some videographers fabricate their own slings to help them keep the camcorder stable when moving. Dollies can be useful when moving along a smooth surface and can be home made by devising a stable mount on a wagon.

Like any photography, getting the best images from a camcorder requires some study and considerable practice with lighting, focus, and various filming techniques. However, observing some of the simple suggestions above can help to produce an immediate and noticeable improvement in the quality of the video captured.

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