Professional Camcorder Techniques

Professional Camcorder

Professional camcorders offer much more flexibility in picture quality, lighting controls and lens versatility than consumer camcorders. If you have a more expensive Prosumer or Professional camcorder you should take the time to learn all you can about the manual configurations to get maximum results. Beyond the technical settings, here are a few videography techniques that will make your video look like the pros.

Get to Know The Settings on Your Camcorder

Get to know all the settings on your camcorder. It’s easier to shoot in automatic, but if you’ve spent the extra money for a great camcorder, it’s worth your time to get to know the settings, what works best in low light or sunlight, what zebra stripes mean (see below), use internal and external microphones, shutter speed, gain control and image stabilization. Camcorders vary depending on model and brand, so consult your manual and manufacturer’s website.

Zebra Stripes

Zebra stripes are a lighting exposure guide that, although optional, should always be left on to help you gauge light levels. The zebra pattern doesn’t record onto your picture, but helps you determine when to correct the exposure. Professionals know that the color and brightness levels of viewfinders aren’t as accurate as zebra stripes.

Rack Focus & Manual Adjustments

Manual focus on a professional camcorder can be a very challenging adjustment. For fast action, moving objects, or something far away, auto focus is the way to go. Manufacturers have done an outstanding job with professional camcorder focus, and to get the shot in a hurry it’s best to shoot in auto. But when you have time to set the shot, with nature shots or artistic cityscapes, manual focus can really help you add depth and composition. A camcorder technique called “rack focus” is used to direct the viewer’s attention from one object to another. Set your camcorder and tripod fairly close to the first object, and position the tripod so you can see the second subject off in the distance. Set the camcorder on manual focus so object No. 1 is completely clear and object No. 2 is fuzzy. Press record, count to 5 and then slowly turn the focus ring so object No. 2 comes into focus. Hold that shot and then rack focus back to object No. 1 for a variety of shot options in the editing room.

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Steady Shots Need a Tripod

. There is nothing worse than shaky vacation video. All professional videographers have expensive tripods that can set up and tear down quickly and that are light weight and easy to handle. If you don’t have one, the next best thing is to make yourself into a tripod. Hold your camcorder with both hands, pull your elbows together and then spread your feet apart slightly so your body shape is like a triangle. This will steady your shoulders and arms and give the camcorder a brace.

Change Angles and Positions

One of the first rules taught in media class is to change locations for every shot and don’t be afraid to get close. Shoot your subject from as many angles as you can and always get wide, medium and tight shots for variety. Staying 10 feet away and simply zooming in won’t give you any dimension or depth.

Follow the Sound

The beauty of moving video is that we can hear the sound attached to the shot. Always be aware of the sound around you and try to get close enough so your camcorder microphone can capture good audio as well as video. Some camcorders have zooms on their built in microphones that direct the audio capture more specifically to what you are shooting. “Shotgun” microphones are also a great investment if your camcorder has external audio connectors.

Use a Rolling Chair as a Dolly

All great movie scenes contain a dramatic moving shot. It’s hard to walk, keep your shot steady, deal with focus and make sure you are following your subject. The best way to duplicate those famous Alfred Hitchcock moves is to find a squeak free chair with wheels, get a buddy to push you and roll into or past your subject. Once you’ve mastered that, try rolling forward and zooming out at the same time, creating the “dolly zoom”, a professional camera trick used in suspense and mystery films.

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Shoot Video and Sound Separately

Following a humming bird or bee with a camcorder is difficult enough without trying to capture that wonderful sound at the same time. If you have simple editing software, you can shoot your audio and video separately and then put the best together in post production. First, concentrate on getting the best video shot possible. If you have a hummingbird feeder, your only option may be to videotape the bird through a window. Then, set your camcorder on a tripod very close to the feeder and walk away. The bird will come back and you’ll get perfect sound. Upload both to your video editing software and marry the best clips together. Natural sound like traffic, birds or crowd noises is often indistinguishable from one shot to the next so it’s fine to cheat and add the best audio to your best shots.