Basic Video Camera Technique
This beginner’s guide will teach you how to hold, operate, and move your video camera so you get great results. Learning these basic video camera techniques is going to improve the look of your footage immensely.
The footage you capture when you press record is only as good as the sum of its parts – what’s happening on camera, and what’s happening behind it. There are certain ways to handle a camera that will take a little while to get used to, but if you master them you can go from shooting shaky, amateurish home videos to smooth and polished, professional-looking products.
How to Hold a Camera
Let’s discuss the best way to hold a camera in your hands, free from other support of any kind. Unless you have a shoulder-mounted TV camera, it’s going to take more than one hand to stabilize. Most people simply slip their fingers through the hand strap and wave it around.
Let me explain something to you: your camera is not a magic wand.
You’re not going to make great videos by whipping the thing around haphazardly and getting an epileptic’s-eye view of your scene.
Standard Camcorder Grip
If you’re shooting at eye level, the hand strap will allow you to keep a firm grip, but your off hand needs to be there too in order to keep it level. Put your hand through the strap and make sure it feels right. If you need to make it tighter or looser, put the camera down onto a flat surface and re-adjust the velcro, clasp or buckle.
Next, place your non-dominant hand on the bottom of the device, using your thumb and fingers to support the weight of the camera. Your dominant, “grip” hand should be used to operate all of its functions: your thumb operates the record button and the on-off switch while your forefinger changes the zoom to frame your shots.
Loose Handle Grip
Certain shots may require you to be more flexible with your camera technique than the standard grip will allow. For instance, you might start with a low-angle shot and tilt or pedestal the camera into position. In a shot like this you can’t have your hand through the strap and your elbow extending out underneath – that simply wouldn’t give you enough room between the camera and the ground!
A loose grip is maintained by again using your off-hand to support and cradle the camera, but this time the fingers on your dominant hand go down through the strap and wrap around it instead of coming up through the strap and wrapping around the camera.
When using a loose grip you may find that flipping out your camera’s LCD screen is not useful because the angle between you and the camera changes as you adjust your shot. Use the thumb and forefinger of your supportive off hand to adjust the tilt of the screen periodically, while keeping your other fingers beneath to support the camera.
Be One, My Son
Practice these two grips and pay close attention to your viewfinder or LCD screen and how the framed area moves as you hold the camera. Get used to balancing the weight of the camera in your hands so that even if you’re one of those fidgety people like me, you maintain a natural and composed grip.
Also be aware of your posture; you may even need to get on the ground and lie prone depending on the situation, but otherwise your steps and the arch in your back should allow the rest of your body movements to stay fluid and smooth. Keeping good posture will allow you to use just the two basic video camera techniques outlined above to get much smoother shots. Your projects will benefit as a result.
For a still shot you can always use a tripod or other flat surface to rest the camera on. Too many action shots in a row can get kind of overwhelming, so for quieter or more relaxed moments in your video you’ll want to throw in plenty of good old “picture frame” moments. The camera – along with your viewer – can just rest there, in place, and soak in what’s going on.
A good, sturdy tripod will let you get smooth pan or tilt movements, but for any other movements you could benefit from a home-made steadicam or another type of weight. I like to use the pendulum metaphor – if you think about what makes a pendulum continue to swing, it’s because from a physics perspective, adding weight to the bottom of an object stabilizes it and lowers its center of gravity.
The simplest way to do this with a camera is to fold up or retract the legs of your tripod and keep the camera mounted on it. This gives you a good amount of weight beneath it and will prevent it from wobbling around to as great a degree as it would otherwise. Using your grips we learned earlier, your support hand goes around the legs of the tripod instead of resting underneath the camera. I’ve written some other tips for things you can use to achieve smooth camera movement.
Practicing Good Camera Technique
Without an electronically operated crane or a professional train track dolly, you’re never going to get an absolutely flawless shot, but with practice and planning you can get pretty close. The key to getting down your basic video camera techniques is to learn to flow with the camera and let it become an extension of your movements. Keep things fluid and smooth and you’ll be heading in the right direction, no matter where your camera is going!
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