The fundamentals of shooting video for news can be divided into five categories: monitoring audio, image stabilization, shooting for a sequence, interviewing subjects and lighting. Mastering these five skills is just a matter of time and practice.
1. Monitor audio
It’s important that you are constantly monitoring audio via the volume meter and headphones. The volume meter will display if your audio signal is peaking or overmodulated. You want to make sure your audio is hitting in the yellow at -6 decibels (dB) with rare hits to the red zone of 0 dB. This way you’ll ensure the audio signal is sufficient but not distorted. Although the volume meter will display an over-modulated signal, it won’t tell you if there is signal interference. This is why you must also use headphones to listen for interference.
Signal interference can occur when you and another person have wireless mics on the same frequency. In these cases, you simply scan the area for a free channel to avoid interference. A good audio signal is important because viewers are twice as likely to stop watching a video if the audio quality is bad.
Lastly, you must make sure your camera is set to receive the correct type of level from the source. The source can be a microphone or a mult box. The output from the source can be “line level,” or “mic level.”
Use a tripod or monopod to make sure your camera shots are steady. Footage that is too wobbly can make the viewer dizzy and consequently stop watching the video. There are extreme cases where you shouldn’t use a tripod, such as when you’re in a hospital operating room, to avoid a safety hazard. In cases such as these, stand firmly with both feet shoulder-width apart. Then hold the camera with both hands tucked against your body. You’ll want to breath steadily with your belly (NOT your chest!), while holding a shot.
There are times when it may seem more convenient to go handheld rather than deal with setting up a tripod/monopod. This is especially true if you’re trying to keep up with a moving subject. Just remember that editing shaky footage can require more time in the post-production process.
3. Sequencing events
Before you hit that record button, try to define the focus of the story in one sentence. Ask yourself, “who feels what?” to determine how the subject of the story is affected in context to a larger issue. It’s a short exercise that will help you shoot with wisely with intention. A good video edit that is dynamic starts from the field the moment you hit the record button.
To shoot for a sequence, the general rule of thumb is to shoot 25% wide, 25% medium and 50% tight shots. Wide shots establish the scene by placing your subject in context. Think of framing shots that show where the story is taking place. Then try to frame your subject within those shots. Medium shots frame the subject from the waist up. It’s a good focal length that allows plenty of room for action to take place within the frame. Tight shots fill the entire frame with finer details. Tight shots are especially important because they are used to break the monotony of a video edit. Think of tight shots as a means to transition between scenes in the edit. They can consist of details or other people in the scene. Don’t be afraid to get close with a long lens.
4. Interviewing subjects on camera
When interviewing subjects it is best to set-up your camera and lighting prior to their arrival. Otherwise, if they watch you set-up all the gear the subject may feel intimidated. You want to do everything possible to make your subject feel comfortable so they’re able to give you honest sound bites on camera. Place the interviewer next to the camera and direct the subject to make eye contact with the interviewer. Your subject will be directly across from the interviewer. The overall goal should create a conversational atmosphere.
You must also determine the story focus before starting an interview. Perhaps the video edit will include the interviewer and their questions. In another case the edit may exclude the interviewer and only use the subject and his/her answers. If it’s the latter, make sure your subject provides complete sentences that rephrase the question in their answer.
Don’t be afraid to adjust your focal length in-between the interviewer’s questions. This will provide the editor with visual variety. Frame tight shots when the interviewer asks intimate or personal questions. Yet make sure there is headroom within your safety margins. As a DSLR shooter, I use a 24-70mm lens as it allows me to switch between a mid-shot and a tight-shot on the subject.
Before setting up your gear, find the best place with a minimal background that isn’t distracting. While scoping a location, think about your lighting. If you do not have a light kit on hand, look for a big window that lets in natural light. Position your subject in front of this light source so that the light shines evenly upon their face. When it comes to shooting news, you want to flatter your subject’s facial features with even light that doesn’t cast shadows on their face.
For a videographer that is always on the go, the most versatile and practical light kit allows you to create a two-point lighting setup. Place one light next to the camera, this will be your “key light,” and its purpose is to cast an evenly dispersed light on the subject’s face. Avoid casting shadows on the subject’s face to create a neutral portrayal of their character. If your subject is wearing glasses, raise the height of the light to alleviate glare issues. The second light should be placed directly across from your key light. It’s known as the “fill light, “and it is used to cast light upon your subject’s back shoulders and hair. The fill light separates your subject from the background. In many cases, if you’re shooting a subject in their natural environment, a small portable LED panel light can also come in handy.
Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via PACAF.