Home Video Hints: Shoot to Show

Your friend has called you in a panic: His sister is getting married tomorrow and, thanks to an unforeseen emergency, the wedding videographer has just canceled the shoot. You’re already up to your eyeballs in work but you can afford a few hours to help a friend.

In an effort to keep costs low, the bride and groom can pay you for the shoot but they don’t have enough money for an edit. Not the ideal situation for a great finished product, but when you are shooting a live event under hefty time constraints with no money or occasion for an edit, you’re options are severely limited. You’re going to have to edit in-camera.

Plan Ahead

You have about half a day to plan your shoot. With your camera in hand, take some of that time to scout the location, familiarize yourself with the event’s surroundings and devise a plan for working around potential problems. If you need to light the event, take note of accessible power outlets. If sound is an issue, figure out how you will mike your subjects and where you’re going to run cables or wires so that they are safe and out-of-the-way. You will also want to find a remote, yet accessible location to stow your gear.

While still at the location, take some time to pull out your camera. Practice zooming, panning, tilting and making clean cuts in-camera from several angles. Also look through the lens for potential obstacles from various positions around the location. Is there an unruly plant or a podium obscuring your view from one particular angle? Is there an air-conditioning vent that makes sound recording more difficult while shooting from another spot? Scouting the location allows you to weed out problems before you shoot the event and, ultimately, it will save you time in the end.

Once you have finished with your scout, take a few minutes to storyboard the coming shoot or at least create a quick shot list. It’s a wedding, after all: there are some things you can predict. Next, lay out your gear, set your camera batteries to charge and wait.

Pre-Ceremony

The day has come and you have arrived on location a little early. The first thing you want to do is stow your gear in the out-of-the-way location you found the day before. Next, set up any lights or external microphones and then get ready to start rolling tape.

Even though you’re restricted in your edit, that doesn’t mean the basic rules for telling a story don’t apply. Like any other video, this one needs to have a clearly defined beginning, middle and end. So, whether it’s an exterior of the location or a wide pan of the room where the service will take place, begin your production with an establishing shot to set the stage.

No matter what constraints you might face with your edit, as a professional, you obviously want to give the project your best effort. However, your best effort doesn’t always mean all the bells and whistles. On a project like this one, keep it simple, instead of concerning yourself with complicated moves, dramatic lighting or in-camera dissolves.

Once you’ve determined what your establishing shot will be, make sure you check your camera settings before you start rolling tape. Check your shot composition, exposure, white balance and focus. Remember, every shot counts, so once you start rolling on a shot, you’re committed to that shot. When editing in-camera, there are no do-overs.

Now that you have checked your camera settings, practice any moves you want to make during this particular shot. If you want to perform a slow zoom or possibly a pan of the scene, make sure you know where to start and stop your move. In addition, you’ll want to be careful not to shake the camera when starting and stopping tape. It’s also helpful to limit each shot to five or ten seconds in length. A longer shot opens the door to mistakes and tends to make the final piece drag. Remember, this is all pre-ceremony, so we aren’t concerned with coverage at this point.

After you have your first shot on tape, start looking for other shots that will help set the scene. If guests have already arrived, you may want to record some friendly faces for posterity. However, make sure to mix it up. If your previous shot was a wide establishing shot, try shooting a medium shot or close-up followed by a series of medium shots and close-ups to help set the scene and make things flow.

Once again, before rolling you must check your white balance, framing, exposure and focus, especially if you have moved from an outdoor location to an indoor one.

When looking for shots to help move your story along it’s always best to avoid jump cuts. For example, a jump cut happens when you have a close up of one guest talking with another guest and then cut to a medium shot of the same angle, with one of the guests looking in a different direction. After rolling tape on the two guests talking, shoot a close up of a burning candle then cut to your medium shot. It adds a bit of flare and keeps the shot sequence clean.

The Ceremony

Once the actual wedding begins, continuity becomes an issue and so is coverage. The bride and groom will more than likely want to have the entire ceremony committed to tape for posterity, so it might be best to stick with a well-framed shot and just stay there. This doesn’t make for the most exciting video, but staying put on one shot does insure that you will not miss any part of the service. If you do feel the need to zoom or pan during the ceremony, practice it beforehand, and make it a shot that matters, not just because you’re bored and want to do something. And by all means, don’t continuously zoom-pan-zoom-pan. You’ll make your viewers dizzy and lose focus of the purpose of the event. It’s about the wedding, not your skills with the camera.

No matter what you’re shooting, if you leave things to chance, your final product will most likely suffer. When editing in-camera, planning and concentration are important keys to your project’s success.

Michael Fitzer is an Emmy Award winning writer/producer and a partner in Blackfish Films, LLC.


Sidebar: A Nose for News Means Quick Timing and Swift Turnaround

Whether you make videos for fun or for profit, a wedding is only one such setting where an in-camera-edit might take place. In fact, professional news photographers frequently encounter situations where they’re required to perform in-camera-edits in order to meet tight deadlines. Consider this actual account.

It’s 5:15pm. A local news photographer picks up a report of a massive freeway accident involving a truckload full of glue. The scene is a commuter’s nightmare and it needs to be the lead story at 6:00, but there’s no time for an official edit, so an in-camera-edit is required. Here’s what happened:

  • 5:15pm: Scanner alert. Freeway accident involving glue truck on I-64 East near the downtown curve.
  • 5:30pm: Arrive at scene. Pull out camera. White balance. Check exposure.
  • 5:32pm: Find first shot. Wide-angle establishing shot, check framing and focus. Roll tape for 5 seconds. Cut. Look for next shot.
  • 5:33pm: Roll tape on a series of close-up and medium shots. Include the overturned truck, frustrated commuters and police in action, careful to avoid jump cuts and shaking of the camera when starting and stopping the tape.
  • 5:42pm: Ending. Record a long, 60-second wide shot of the whole scene. A long-running shot lets the news director/producer know that the tape is about to run out, yet gives enough of a buffer to make a clean transition to the next story.
  • 5:47pm: Leave scene. Rewind the tape while it’s still in the camera to help save precious time.
  • 5:57pm: Race into the control room. With tape in hand, accept a quick round of congratulations for securing the lead story.

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