Viewfinder - Shooting Ratios

Most of you know the term shooting ratio is the ratio between the total duration shot and the duration of the final edited video. Beginning with celluloid film, duration was originally measured in feet. When video first began to replace film, the same measurement term was used, but not the actual measurement units. In the early years of videotape, it was indeed sold by the foot, but as different formats were launched, it was hard to compare each of them. For example, when Ampex developed Quadruplex videotape, instead of having the tape move quickly past the head (longitudinally recorded) to record enough bandwidth for video, the heads would move fast across the Quadruplex videotape. The name Quadruplex refers to the use of four magnetic record/reproduce heads mounted on a headwheel spinning transversely (width-wise) across the video tape. Given these changes in the technology, it now seems funny that many people still use the term footage to describe duration and in the can to describe shot footage (as opposed to raw footage referring to unexposed film). The term raw stock was used to describe either film or video, which had yet to be loaded in the camera or video tape deck. Another way of describing shooting ratio is the minutes of raw stock used compared to the minutes which appear in final presentation. When raw stock was costly, you can imagine that shooting ratios were low. In the early years, many practiced a very conservative method of editing, which conserved raw stock; it was called in-camera editing. In this case the shooting ratio was 1-to-1.

With today’s video recording media having a cost of essentially zero, there is no incentive to be conservative while shooting. There is, however, a hidden cost. The greater the shooting ratio, the more time is required to log the footage. Even if the video producer doesn’t log every shot, just viewing the footage requires lots of time. In some cases the result is worth the additional cost in editing time, especially with documentaries where capturing “real life” is the goal. Whether shooting subjects who are camera shy or people who are well accustomed to being video recorded, people tend to act differently while a video camera is aimed at them. The goal of the documentary producer is to capture those few moments when the subject forgets that they are being recorded. This is best accomplished by shooting lots of video. Thus, in documentaries there are compelling reasons for the shooting ratio to be high.

The same is true for taking still pictures. If you want a memorable shot, take lots of pictures. In the case of still photography, the camera can catch micro-expressions that take place on the face of the subject for just a fraction of a second. These micro expressions tell a story about the subject’s state of mind. With a video camera, we can’t capture micro expressions, except when we freeze the video, but we can catch someone in a certain mood which may only last a few minutes. So be aware, high shooting ratios have some natural tension in that they can result in fantastic pictures and video, but even in a digital era they carry a hidden cost in consuming your time reviewing the footage and rendering decisions.

Matthew York is Videomaker‘s Publisher/Editor.

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