The pocket video camera is one of the best new tools for journalists who are dipping their toes into the waters of digital reporting. Pocket video cameras are relatively inexpensive (Flip camera $199; Kodak Zi8 $129.95; iPhone $199 with service plan; BlackBerry $129.99 with service plan), easy to operate and extremely easy to carry around on and off assignment.
Of course, carrying around a pocket camera no more makes you a news videographer than having a hammer and nails makes you a carpenter. But, with a few simple techniques, you can add a degree of professionalism to your videos that will make the video professionals respect you. Here are some tips for the two most important elements of good videography: video and audio:
1. USE A POCKET-TRIPOD TO STEADY YOUR SHOTS
If you don’t have a tripod with you, find something to brace the camera against as you shoot. Shaky footage is bad footage.
2. AVOID CAMERA MOVEMENT
Set up and frame your shots and let the action take place in the frame, almost like you’re taking a photograph. Let the action enter and exit the frame. Zoom in or out, or move closer or further away to achieve the best framing for a given scene.
3. SHOOT IN SEQUENCES
of well-framed shots that you can then string together later. A good rule of thumb is to shoot a wide-angle shot, then move or zoom in to a medium distance shot and then get a tight shot of the subject. Think of it as you would upon entering a room. You’d see the room full of students, then notice one student in particular, then finally your eyes would settle on the book he or she is reading: wide, medium, tight. Be sure to hold each shot for 10 seconds. Give yourself plenty of footage for editing. Wide, medium, tight — repeat until you’ve captured more footage than you think you’ll need.
4. FRAME UP INTERVIEWS TIGHTLY
Place the interview subject to the right or left of the frame. Don’t cut off the tops of their heads or leave too much space above them. With pocket cameras, it’s best to have subjects look right at you as you film from directly behind the camera. And, don’t forget that tripod.
5. BE MINDFUL OF LIGHTING
In situations where there is a high contrast in light sources, your footage can easily be rendered unusable. Place interview subjects against dark-colored backdrops where possible. And, of course, avoid shooting in direct sunlight.
6. CLEAR, CRISP AUDIO IS CRITICAL TO GOOD VIDEOGRAPHY
Get in close when attempting to capture an interview.
7. PAY ATTENTION TO BACKGROUND NOISES
They may overshadow the interview, something you might not notice until you start editing if you’re not careful.
8. USE AN EXTERNAL MICROPHONE IF AND WHEN POSSIBLE
The Kodak Zi8 is a great pocket camera, and one of the few with an external audio jack. The Audio-Technica TRS-35S is a great lavalier microphone for pocket cameras for about $29.
And most importantly, carry your Flip, Zi8, iPhone or BlackBerry with you at all times. When a breaking news story lands in your lap, you’ll be glad you’ve got that camera in your pocket.
Jeff Achen is an interactive media strategist for GiveMN.org and independent video production consultant to news organizations and universities. Follow him on Twitter @jeffachen or e-mail