Viewfinder: Express Yourself

Camcorders may be easy to use but making good video

It seems that we rarely look at making video purely
as a form of expression. From that perspective, it’s very much like most
other forms of expression. It’s easy to capture a whole experience with
video equipment, but it takes skill to convey an image that has an emotional
impact on viewers.

Making video is deceptively easy because one of the first steps–operating
a camcorder–is not that complex. The technology is so mature that a child
can now capture TV-quality images. Granted, there are numerous variables
in the art of shooting, yet if conditions are right, anyone can use a DV
camcorder on a tripod to shoot a sunset. If the sunset itself is beautiful,
it can be captured with little effort besides getting one’s self in the
right place at the right time and following one or two very simple composition
rules. In this case, the image requires only a decent eye for composition.

Consider another form of expression: writing. Any literate
person can gaze at a beautiful sunset and record his observations in a diary.
Yet he might be completely unable to express his observations so that others
might be moved by the same experience. Developing good writing skills can
take years.

Although video can be deceivingly easy to capture, the process of creating
a final presentation that is more than mere record-keeping requires a great
deal of skill and diligence. Anyone has the basic skills needed to capture
beautiful images. Most video shots, however, are not as simple as the example
of the sunset. Composition becomes more complicated as the number of important
objects within the frame increase. Three people with a cat in front of a
junk yard can present an interesting challenge in composition. There are
many objects competing for the attention of the viewer and there can be
literally hundreds of possibilities.

Lighting and audio can be disciplines of great depth themselves. There are
people in Hollywood who make their entire livings by assisting assistants
in the area of lighting or audio. The location of the electric lights, their
intensity, the use of filters and dealing with natural sunlight are all
important in the craft of lighting. Huge studios are dedicated exclusively
to audio post-production. These disciplines contribute to the final artistic
expression.

The sequence of shots used in the final edited presentation is fundamental
to good story-telling. The shots should tell a story of some type, even
without the audio. As Loren Alldrin explains in "The Editing Saboteurs"
in this issue, there are spoilers waiting to prey on inexperienced and unwary
videographers.

Of all the skills used in making video, I am of the opinion that editing
is by far the most demanding. The decisions made in the editing stage are
of the greatest importance. The editing environment is somewhat forgiving,
in that you can re-edit any decisions that you do not like. But knowing
that, it is very difficult to make aesthetic decisions that reflect what
an average viewer would like to watch. What can separate a good program
from a bad one can be something as simple as a few frames. This rule is
not only limited to readers of our magazine. You can see poor edits every
day on any TV channel. They may be either a bit too abrupt or a little too
delayed. This is a very subjective area, but most of us instinctively know
a bad editing job when we see it.

My point in all of this is not to intimidate newcomers who may have picked
up this magazine for the first time. It is to remind us that, as more and
more people begin using camcorders (over 3 million will be sold this year
in the US alone), their first impression may be that making good video is
easy (because the camcorders are very good these days). I want to encourage
everyone who shoots video to seriously consider the disciplines required
to make good video. If you don’t want to invest time to learn all these
skills, you can still make better video by just taking the time to think
before you shoot.

Experienced videographers as well as beginners should check out this month’s
Getting Started column about simple techniques for being kind to
your viewers. The tips offer a good way to step off from being a rudimentary
recorder of images. Editing skills are reasonably easy to learn for anyone
who has basic communication needs. That is, you do not need to acquire advanced
skills like those of a network TV producer. Take the time and effort to
refine them and you’ll be rewarded with video that has emotional impact.

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