Making an effective baby video rests very heavily upon knowing your audience. Here’s a four-point strategy that will keep everyone happy: Shoot, archive, edit, edit.
You have a new baby? Congratulations! And you have a video camera? Oh, dear.
Every year Americans record millions of hours of video footage of their children. It’s a national pastime, a precious and valuable record of an important time. It’s also, at the same time, one of the easiest and one of the most difficult video projects to undertake. This month we’re going to look at some techniques that will help you produce, edit and distribute videos of your kids that will have friends and relatives begging for more instead of running for the door.
Know Your Audience
You can show a 45-minute un-edited videotape of Junior playing in the sandbox to your parents, and they will happily nominate you for an Oscar. But try that with your office mates or softball buddies, and they’ll be yawning by the third minute.
Your kids are never going to be this young again. Tape is cheap, so shoot, shoot, shoot. A few tips:
- Get down to their level. Adults see the world from five to six feet above ground level, while children see it from six to eighteen inches from the floor. Look at their world the way they do. Getting down to ground level allows you to capture their faces straight on and engage them in their own environment.
- Tell stories with your footage. Look for a beginning, middle and end. Baby videos with themes, such as Going Shopping with Nana, make for a more interesting video than one titled Thursday. Get Grandma to explain what’s going to happen (“We’re going to get shoes for Junior today!”) and do an end recap (“How did you like shopping with me today?”). Having a complete story makes the video much more interesting, entertaining and fulfilling, especially when viewing it years later. Don’t overdo the narration, though; endless chatter is hard to edit.
- Videotape the people around you. Don’t be caught in the moment when thinking about your audience. Right now you think Junior’s the only thing that matters, but when he grows up and watches these videos, he’s going to be just as curious about your life and your friends. Your videos are a time capsule for your children – short interviews about music, politics, the news and vignettes of life, such as a tour of the car or the house, will be fascinating additions to the slices of life you’re capturing. Twenty years from now, your videos will have a whole new audience, and they will be priceless treasures. Recently we were showing a five-year-old some raw footage shot when she was two, and she kept asking, “who’s that talking to me?” because the camera operator never included herself in the montage. Remember to capture your role in these masterpieces!
- Get coverage! Don’t forget to grab B roll for the editing process. Static shots of the environment can save you later when you need to cut the middle out of a long shot. You can also use quick video of items like brochures, receipts, calendars, street signs and landmarks for reference later. Like a video scrapbook, all of these shots tell the story about the child’s life and surroundings at that particular time. How fun it would be to see video of the gas receipt your dad paid when he filled up the car for the first stage of that cross-country trip back in 1965. What was gas then – 30 cents a gallon?
- Capture the world around your child. Don’t forget to get plenty of landscape shots of the child’s house, yard, street, school and other familiar surroundings, to add a wider dimension to the child’s world on the finished video. If there are only closeup shots of the child or the child with family, he/she might not know that the 10-year old bench in the corner of the yard was once shiny and new and was hand-built by his grandpa, or that large lemon tree on the corner was once as small as he was.
- Allow the world to revolve around the child. A two-year-old witnessing an incredible downpour out the window for the first time is experiencing something new and exciting. Allow the child to reflect without an adult’s voice constantly chattering in the background (“Oh, look, see the rain… wow, isn’t that beautiful?… Do you see it, Junior? Clap your hands!”).
Wind, snow, the birds in the trees… all are wondrous sounds to babies, so videotape your children experiencing the symphony and allow the event to dictate the sound. Later, if you need to dub the sound in or shorten the shot, you can, but when you first videotape the child’s world, carry the scenes long.
- Lock and load! Always have your camera ready, with fresh batteries and tape loaded, for those unexpected moments. Take at least three shots of every scene: closeup, medium shot, wide shot – or some variant of these angles. These three shots will then be easier to edit down and sequence into a story within another video later.
- Time is on the child’s side, not yours! Remember, you need to adjust your time to the child and to babies in particular, not the other way around. If you plan a shoot at 2:30 to 3:00 and the baby isn’t awake or ready to “perform” until 2:50, it’s your fault, not the child’s. You will be disappointed in your coverage if you don’t plan your world around the child’s. Slow down. Take your time. The captured images will be well worth it.
- Lose the Clutter. Take a look at the angle you’re planning to capture, and see if there is any clutter like toys or overly-bold prints in the background or foreground that can take away from your subject. Try to make the background soft with one patternless color, to help make the baby’s face pop from the screen.
Videotape is cheap. Shoot a lot, and organize it meticulously. Sort by date, and include a description of the tape’s contents. On the side of the tape, you can write something brief like “July 31, 2009: Zoey and Liam at the park with Chris and Charlie.” If you have the space to write more about the day, that’s excellent. But, at a bare minimum, the tape needs to have the date, the event and a list of the people on it.
Never erase a tape, no matter how trivial you think it is. Reorder when you get low, not when you’re out. Keep a single “emergency tape” in your camera bag as the “tape of last resort.” Keep your originals archived in a safe place (preferably a fire safe). If you are shooting on memory cards or hard-drive cameras, dump that footage regularly, and make sure to practice proper media management to find it later, both through good labeling practice and backup procedures.
Edit, Edit, Edit!
Now we come to the key for making your videos a success. You have done the groundwork: you have great footage – well composed, beautifully lit and endearing. Now to package it for your audiences. When you make videos for the general public – your friends at the office, friends from school, casual acquaintances – remember that these people are interested in your baby videos because they’re interested in you, and their attention span is probably somewhere between a minute and a half and three minutes. For videos that you’re sharing with family and close friends, you can go a lot longer – ten to thirty minutes, depending on how much good footage you have. So edit together your long video first – the one you’re going to show to Mom and Dad. Save it, and then re-edit a second version from that – it will be significantly shorter, just keeping the highlights.
Be kind to your viewers. People know what they’re getting, and they’re here to see the baby, not to be blown away by cinemagraphic genius, so you can actually be a little sloppier than you might normally be. You can edit fast and be a bit imprecise in your cuts, but stick to the good footage. Beware of shots that linger too long without a payoff and keep on track.
Always Leave Them Wanting More
Internet distribution methods like YouTube have really revolutionized video usage. Now it’s possible to upload videos on a very regular basis and allow interested people to subscribe and be alerted when a new video is posted. This means you can post short videos and long videos and let people choose what to watch. Remember, as with all things on the internet, protect your kids’ privacy by creating a private channel when you use a site like YouTube or even social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. Then, if you have a large family-and-friends subscriber base for your baby videos, make them tight and clean and watchable, and your audience will always be delighted when they get an announcement that you’ve uploaded another better baby video for their viewing pleasure.
Contributing Editor Kyle Cassidy is a visual artist who writes extensively about technology.